La revanche des humanoides (1983)

aka Revenge of the Humanoids
Article 4743 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-27-2015
Directed by Albert Barille
Featuring the voices of Annie Balestra, Roger Carel, Claude Chantal
Country: France
What it is: Animated space opera

Space travelers have adventures and battle evil.

Yes, the plot description is extremely vague, but that’s because the only copy I could find of this one was in French. Usually, when the plot is a simple good-vs-evil story, that’s not a big problem; however, I’m not sure that summary is quite accurate for this one, though it seems so at first. I had quite a few impediments in trying to follow the story visually. The first problem is simply that the movie is several episodes of an animated series edited together; the series was a French animated series called IL ETAIT UNE FOIS…L’ESPACE, and any time you edit a series like this into a movie, it’s usually hard to follow even if you understand the language. Furthermore, because much of the animation is of the limited variety, you can’t read character expressions very well to tap into the emotional sense of the dialogue. Combine that with a bewildering array of characters, and the movie becomes rather impenetrable, and the fact that several sequences seem to be flashbacks certainly doesn’t help. So I’m mostly at a loss with this one; all I can say is it starts out feeling like an animated STAR WARS imitation but seems to end on cosmic/mystical note. Well, at least I can mark this one as “seen” on my list.

Robot Holocaust (1986)

Article 4705 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-10-2014
Directed by Tim Kincaid
Featuring Norris Culf, Nadine Hartstein, J. Buzz Von Orsteiner
Country: Italy / USA
What it is: Awful sci-fi epic

After the Robot Holocaust, humanity is enslaved by an evil being known as the Dark One. A band of fighters decide to invade his power station and defeat him.

One of the biggest factors that played into whether a movie would be given the MST3K treatment was the affordability of the movie; that’s why they did so many public domain offerings. What does it say for this movie that it became affordable enough for them to use a mere four years after its release? Yes, it’s atrocious; it’s devoid of suspense, the action scenes are embarrassing, the script is a compendium of poorly-executed cliches, and the characters fall into one of two categories – devoid of personality or actively annoying. There is, however, one element of this movie that makes it stand out from the crowd, albeit not in a good way, and that is the awesome ineptitude of Angelika Jager’s performance as the Dark One’s female henchman, Valaria; she makes the rest of the cast look good, and they aren’t. It’s really hard to decide what aspect of her performance is the worst; her body language is twitchy, unmotivated and inappropriate, her facial expressions give us the impression that she’s trying to look hot in a model session for some fashion magazine, and her poorly-enunciated line deliveries come across as if she’s trying to project a stylistic and aggressive boredom. Throw in a pathetic comic-relief robot and some horrible special effects, and you have a stinker of the first class.

The Return of the King (1980)

Article 4684 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-17-2014
Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Featuring the voices of Orson Bean, John Huston, Theodore Bikel
Country: USA
What it is: Tolkien adaptation

Samwise must figure out a way to rescue Frodo from the tower of Cirith Ungol, while Minas Tirith must prepare for an invasion by the legions of Sauron.

When it became obvious that Ralph Bakshi had no intention of making a follow-up to THE LORD OF THE RINGS (which takes us a little less than halfway through the trilogy), Rankin-Bass (who had previously helmed an adaptation of THE HOBBIT) decided to mount their own adaptation of the third book in the series. Between these three movies, it could probably be said that roughly the whole series had been filmed before Peter Jackson tried it, and in fact, I saw the three movies all packaged together in a Best Buy recently. Still, I would imagine anyone watching the whole set as a single whole would be rather disconcerted by the change of voices in the movies as well as the stylistic differences between Bakshi and Rankin-Bass, not to mention that huge chunks of “The Two Towers” are missing from the story. However, taken as a stand-alone film, THE RETURN OF THE KING can’t help but be a clumsy affair; the story is so lopsided and rushed that it is anything but a satisfying experience. It doesn’t help that the movie comes to a screeching halt every five minutes for song after song after song. Granted, the songs have the proper epic atmosphere for the story, but there are just too many of them. Nevertheless, I’d definitely jettison that “Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way” orc marching song for the title alone. Most of the voices are well chosen, but I’m afraid Casey Kasem’s as Merry has such a familiar voice in TV animation (he was Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo cartoons, among others) that it takes me out of the movie every time Merry opens his mouth. All that being said, the movie does manage to maintain the right tone, and the book is taken seriously enough, even though the dialogue is often stilted and melodramatic. Still, if you aren’t familiar with the book, you’ll probably have a hard time figuring out what’s going on in this one.

Raw Force (1982)

RAW FORCE (1982)
aka Kung Fu Cannibals
Article 4679 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-12-2014
Directed by Edward D. Murphy
Featuring Cameron Mitchell, Geoffrey Binney, Hope Holiday
Country: USA / Philippines
What it is: Action movie

Vacationers hope to visit an island that is rumored to be the place where disgraced martial artists go to die. The island is inhabited by monks that can revive the corpses of the dead martial artists by cannibalizing women. The vacationers run afoul of criminals who sell women to the monks in return for large jade deposits on the island.

I usually don’t go into all that much detail on my plot descriptions, but there are times when a more elaborate list of the various plot elements can tell you a lot more than I can do in my commentary. Be aware that the movie features lots of gratuitous nudity and violence, zombie martial arts masters, sinister monks, cannibalism, white slavery and Cameron Mitchell. All of this together in one movie just screams “grindhouse” to me, and it’s a warning that the movie isn’t to be taken very seriously. For that matter, nobody on hand seems to be really taking it seriously either, and perhaps that’s for the best; it’s silly and dumb but free from any pretensions, and if you watch it on that level, it’s passable enough. I am a bit disappointed that the zombies are a pretty anemic bunch, but I do find it hilarious that the vacationers are actually drawn to this island by a travel brochure on it. It’s one of those movies where you just shake your head and take it all in.

Riding with Death (1976)

Article 4653 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-12-2014
Directed by Alan J. Levi and Don McDougall
Featuring Ben Murphy, Katharine Crawford, Richard Dysart
Country: USA
What it is: Two episodes of “Gemini Man”

A secret agent with the power to turn invisible is sent out on two missions. In the first, he is sent out to deliver a super-fuel, unaware that the fuel is unstable. In the second, he goes undercover at a race track to find proof against a man believed guilty of sabotage.

According IMDB, this movie’s rating is just a hair above the one for yesterday’s atrocity. It’s actually not near as bad as yesterday’s movie, but this one suffers from the burden of having been an episode of MST3K, the fandom of which is known to give every movie featured on the show the lowest possible rating on the site. This, combined with the fact that the movie has few defenders (or even people who have bothered to see it outside of its appearance on MST3K), is what makes the rating so low. Granted, there’s not a whole lot to defend here; it’s one of those movies edited together from two weak episodes of a poor short-lived TV series (“Smithereens” and “Buffalo Bill Rides Again” from GEMINI MAN) that is largely forgotten, and it’s not even much fun on a campy level. The two episodes have a few other things in common; they both feature singer Jim Stafford as a guest star, they both prominently involve driving vehicles, and they both feature the same climax in which the hero has to drive a dangerous vehicle about to explode out of a crowded area to save the lives of the innocent. The fact that two episodes out of a twelve-episode series had to make use of the same climax certainly doesn’t bode well for the quality of the series, but the most disappointing thing is that it barely makes use of the invisibility gimmick; each of the episodes could have been adapted so the invisibility played no part of it. Nor is the concept of the series particularly novel; the TV series THE INVISIBLE MAN from the year before largely had the same approach, and thought it was a little better, it lasted about as long as this one. All in all, this one is pretty forgettable.

Reel Horror (1985)

Article 4652 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-11-2014
Directed by Ross Hagen
Featuring Alexandra, John Hayden, Howard Honig
Country: USA
What it is: Recycled

A female exorcist arrives at a movie studio that is being haunted by footage from old movies.

Well, here’s one way to recycle your old movies, though not a good way. Five movies from the seventies are edited down into roughly fifteen minute bits, and the footage is interspersed with new footage showing how each of these movies is haunting someone working at the studio. The five movies are DADDY’S DEADLY DARLING, CYCLE PSYCHO, NIGHT CREATURE, MAXIE and NICOLE. I’ve seen the first three for this series, but not the other two, and based on the fact that I found it nearly impossible to follow the plots of those two, I’d say the editing of the movies isn’t particularly good. All five of these movies looked like they were low-budget affairs, but the new footage looks even cheaper. I suspect the new footage is supposed to be funny, but it’s just pathetic. IMDB shows a DVD image from the movie which prominently features John Carradine’s name, but his footage takes up about two seconds of screen time. Is the movie any good? I’d say it would be better to ask if the movie is a complete waste of time, and if you did, I’d say yes. This is perhaps the most worthless thing I’ve seen in the last year or so. The best thing I can probably say about it is that the promised sequel, REEL MONSTERS, appears never to have gotten off the drawing board.

Rabbit Test (1978)

Article 4651 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-10-2014
Directed by Joan Rivers
Featuring Billy Crystal, Alex Rocco, Joan Prather
Country: USA
What it is: Pregnant man comedy

After a one night stand, a man discovers he is pregnant. He tries to cope with his condition but becomes an international celebrity.

Ideally, I feel that I should give every movie I see a fair shake, but sometimes you can’t help but feel trepidation about certain movies. This one had three strikes against it going in. First, I’ve never been a fan of Joan Rivers, and I can’t think of a single joke she ever made that even made me smile, much less laugh, though I am willing to believe this may simply be due to the fact that I’m not part of the audience she was trying to reach. Secondly, if I were to make a list of the fantastically-themed subjects that would least draw me into seeing a movie, I’m pretty sure that the concept of the pregnant man would make that list, somewhere just above the antics of the Smurfs and just below the adventures of Care Bears. Thirdly, I noticed the rating on IMDB for the movie was 2.9, which is shockingly low. As a result, I didn’t go into this movie with a positive frame of mind. Having seen it, I’m afraid I have to say that it is as bad as I feared it would be. What I didn’t anticipate was just how weirdly bad it would turn out to be; not only do the vast majority of the jokes miss the mark, but with quite a few of them, I had no idea what or where the mark was. I think the movie’s main problem was Joan River’s direction; it’s her sole directorial effort, and she just doesn’t seem to have a knack for it. I suspect a more skilled, experienced comedy director would have made a number of the gags work. The movie is so weird at times that it exudes a certain fascination, but that wears off rather quickly, and after awhile, the most fun is had by spotting the guest stars; there’s Paul Lynde, George Gobel, Roddy McDowell, Billy Barty, Jimmie Walker, Alice Ghostley, Rosey Grier and a few others as well. The movie tries to be energetic, but feels distant and detached; it’s alternately crude, politically incorrect and impenetrable. It’s just not funny.

Round Trip to Mars (1957)

Article 4589 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-25-2014
Directed by Paul J. Smith
Featuring the voices of Dal McKennon and Grace Stafford
Country: USA
What it is: Woody Woodpecker cartoon

When his vacation is interrupted by a professor’s attempt to build a rocket to Mars, Woody Woodpecker hoodwinks the takeoff so the professor lands back on Earth, and then pretends to be a Martian.

Ordinarily, a movie with a title like this in which it turns out all the action takes place on the Earth would have its fantastic content seriously compromised, but since we’re also dealing with a talking woodpecker, we’re still pretty solidly in fantastic territory. Yes, it’s another cartoon, but it’s interesting to see examples from different studios so close together, as it gives me something to compare. Already you can see that Walter Lantz was toying with limited animation, but it’s still more elaborate than the last Terrytoons cartoon I saw. The gags are of the variety you would expect from a Looney Tunes cartoon, but the presentation is weaker; the timing is not quite as good, the voice acting is merely adequate, and the score doesn’t add much to the mix. In short, it’s somewhere in between; it’s better than a Terrytoons cartoon but not as good as a Warner Brother’s. Still, it’s always a bit depressing to watch how limited animation wormed its way into theatrical cartoons; one is aware of how much richer the animation was in the previous decades.

Rembrandt 7 Antwortet Nicht…(1966)

aka Z7 Operation Rembrandt
Article 4490 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-30-2014
Directed by Giancarlo Romitelli
Featuring Lang Jeffries, Joachim Hansen, Christiane Maybach
Country: West Germany / Italy / Spain
What it is: Spyghetti

Secret Agent Mark Donen is sent out on a mission to prevent criminal elements from getting the secret to a German scientist’s new super-weapon.

Here’s another movie I’ve only been able to find in an unsubtitled foreign language edition; it’s cobbled together from a couple of different prints of the movie in different languages, but the only thing in English is the title song. As a result, I couldn’t really follow the story, but I wish I could; this one looks pretty good. The fact that the super-weapon is a death ray of sorts is the type of thing that usually fails to impress, but the opening scene where it is used is pretty impressive. In fact, it looks like there’s quite a bit of gimmickry to add to the fantastic content, and there are plot points having to do with making an exact duplicate of a man and a secret hidden on a painting. It looks efficient, fast-moving and exciting, and I suspect it’s one of the better examples of the Eurospy genre.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Article 4488 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-28-2014
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Featuring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman
Country: USA
What it is: High adventure

In 1936, an archaeologist is recruited by the US government to find out what the Nazis are looking for in an archaeological dig near Cairo. It turns out to be the Ark of the Covenant, and the archaeologist is sent on a mission to lay his hands on it before they do.

This is an excellent adventure tale, exciting and well made, it has definite elements of the fantastic, and it’s probably the best movie I’ve seen in the last few months. Yet, I have to admit that I’ve been dreading the time when this movie would come up on my hunt list. This is largely because it’s one of those movies that has been somewhat spoiled for me by the extreme hype that I’ve been subjected to about the film over the years. It’s not just that a lot of people were telling me that it was really good; it’s more that so many of them were carrying on as if this movie was the single finest accomplishment by all humanity since time immemorial. Yes, I’m exaggerating a bit, but not by much. I have to admit that I’m a bit of a contrarian; if a lot of people keep insisting to me that I’m absolutely going to love something, I feel very inclined to hate it for that reason alone. When I finally saw it years ago, I didn’t expect it to live up to the hype (nothing could have done that), and I was really curious what I would end up feeling about it. In the end, it turned out to just what I expected it would be – a very good and well made action/adventure film. But in order for it to even get close to the hype I encountered, it would have to have been something very special above and beyond that, and, sadly, for me, it wasn’t. Part of it is that I’m not a big action fan to begin with. Nor am I a big fan of Harrison Ford. Still, I do have to admire one aspect of this movie’s history that makes it a fairly rare animal; it’s one of those big-budget blockbusters with a huge fandom that appears to have avoided generating a backlash of those who hate it. That’s something that certainly doesn’t happen very often.