The Red Spectre (1907)

THE RED SPECTRE (1907)
aka Le spectre rouge
Article 5199 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-7-2016
Directed by Segundo de Chomon and Ferdinand Zecca
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic short plus

A devilish skeletal figure presents his magic act; unfortunately, he may be thwarted by a good spirit.

This short can be described as a variation of Melies’s many magic-themed shorts in which a magician appears and does his act. What sets this one apart is that the magician is a devilish skeletal figure whose tricks are surrounded by a hellish atmosphere, and the presence of the whisper of a plot involving his conflict with a good spirit. The plot as such isn’t much, but the vivid hand-coloring of the print and the macabre atmosphere add so much flavor to the proceedings that this becomes one of the most entertaining variations I’ve seen of this theme. I think my favorite moments involve the main character advancing to the camera to perform some of this tricks up close; this is an approach that I don’t think Melies ever tried. It’s not as slickly done as the Melies shorts at their best, but this still may be my favorite example of the early silent era magic short.

Revenge of the Mysterons from Mars (1981)

REVENGE OF THE MYSTERONS FROM MARS (1981)
Article 5164 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-22-2016
Directed by Brian Burgess, Robert Lynn and Ken Turner
Featuring the voices of Francis Matthews, Ed Bishop, Donald Gray
Country: UK
What it is: TV-Movie compilation of episodes from “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons”

Spectrum agent Captain Scarlet and his cohorts match wits with an alien race known as the Mysterons.

This TV-Movie has four episodes from “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” stitched together to create a feature; they are “Shadow of Fear”, “Lunarville 7”, “Crater 101” and “Dangerous Rendezvous”; the last three episodes do seem to be semi-sequels to each other, though they weren’t originally shown in direct succession. It was another one of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Supermarionation series. I suspect the Andersons took these shows quite seriously; a lot of effort went into making the marionettes as lifelike as possible, and sometimes when you squint they almost look and act human. However, they never found an effective way to show them walking, so the shows were framed so you never saw their legs moving. That’s why so many of the action sequences were more likely to involve hardware and vehicles. I don’t know if there was any resolution to the central conflict between Spectrum and the Mysterons in the original series, but if there was, it would have come in the last episode, which is not among the bunch in this compilation, so the movie never really resolves itself. It’s mildly entertaining, but the series is better experienced in thirty-minute segments; it gets rather dull stretched out to a feature. Nowadays, this feature version is probably best remembered as one of the first features to have gotten the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment back in its KTMA days, though the episode hasn’t been in circulation in years and probably will never be.

Le retour d’Ulysse (1909)

LE RETOUR D’ULYSSE (1909)
aka The Return of Ulysses
Article 5145 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-2-2016
Directed by Andre Calmettes and Charles Le Bargy
Featuring Paul Mounet, Madame Bartet, Albert Lambert
Country: France
What it is: Homeric adaptation

Ulysses returns after a twenty-year delay from the Trojan War to deal with suitors to the queen Penelope.

Anyone familiar with Homer’s “The Odyssey” knows the story is full of fantastic content, with the most famous part of the story involving Ulysses’s encounter with the cyclops Polyphemus. However, the main thrust of the story involves the hero’s return home to deal with a group of abusive suitors who are trying to force the wife of Ulysses to pick a king, and this segment of the story is much lighter on the fantastic content, and it would be possible to adapt it without any fantastic content whatsoever, especially if you eliminate the roles of the gods and goddesses. This bare-bones version of that part of the story does have a little fantastic content; Penelope has a precognitive dream of Ulysses that makes it appear as if he disappears into thin air at one point, and references are made to the goddesses Calypso and Minerva in the title cards (the latter supposedly stopping time) but not appearing as characters in any capacity. The short mostly deals with the more famous aspects of that part of the story – the tapestry ruse and the bow-bending competition. As such, it’s a passable if uninspired adaptation of that part of the epic, though the actress playing Penelope really chews the scenery. Still, there are other versions of the story preferable to those seeking the fantastic content.

Rim of the Canyon (1949)

RIM OF THE CANYON (1949)
Article 5127 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-9-2016
Directed by John English
Featuring Gene Autry, Champion, Nan Leslie
Country: USA
What it is: Weird Western

When his stagecoach crashes in a race, Gene Autry becomes stranded in a ghost town in which he must deal with three escaped convicts looking for stolen money… and possibly a real ghost as well.

Most of the B-movie weird westerns I’ve encountered so far have been rather pallid affairs with extremely mild fantastic content and very low production values (which is not to say that there isn’t something inherently entertaining about the form). This one is relatively upscale. It has an interesting, offbeat story (which is complicated enough to include two lengthy flashbacks), a sense of genuine emotional warmth, well-choreographed action sequences, and interesting characters. The fantastic content concerning the ghost is actually a prominent plot element that adds a real air of mystery to the proceedings, and though it is eventually debunked, a passing comment near the end of the movie hints that maybe it hasn’t been debunked after all. Yes, Gene Autry’s horse gets second billing, but he merits it; the horse manages to function as an authentic character in the proceedings, and his fate means as much to us as that of the human characters. All in all, I can say this was one of the most enjoyable weird westerns that I’ve seen for this series so far.

Roger Corman: Hollywood’s Wild Angel (1978)

ROGER CORMAN: HOLLYWOOD’S WILD ANGEL (1978)
Article 5084 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-19-2016
Directed by Christian Blackwood
Featuring Allan Arkush, Paul Bartel, David Carradine
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Documentary

This is an appreciation of Roger Corman and his facility for finding and introducing major new talent into Hollywood.

I was posed with a dilemma today; I could either spend forty dollars on an old VHS copy of this hour-long documentary, or I could watch in for free on YouTube with the catch being that the YouTube presentation featured additional voices translating the narration and interviews into Spanish. Hmmm, decisions, decisions….

Well, I just finished watching this documentary with the equivalent of someone yelling Spanish into my ear the whole time, Did this interfere with me fully appreciating the movie? I’d be lying if I didn’t say that, yes, it did interfere. However, I was able to catch some of what was said, and fortunately, when trailers were used, the change to less-intrusive subtitles was less problematic. Still, at only an hour’s length, one wonders just how much depth the movie could have gone into, and I figure I’d probably get a lot more from a good book or article about Corman anyway. The first half of the movie concentrates on his work as a producer during the seventies, and we get interviews from several directors and actors he worked with. Most of the movies in this half are action/exploitation pictures, with HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD and DEATH RACE 2000 being the ones with the most fantastic content; we see clips from both films. The second half features footage from the sixties where he was still primarily working as a director, and we get footage from A BUCKET OF BLOOD, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE RAVEN, DEMENTIA 13, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and GASSSS! It gives him a chance to highlight some of the discoveries who weren’t interviewed for the film (Jack Nicholson and Francis Ford Coppola in particular). All in all, it looks mildly interesting, but I doubt it would have been worth the forty dollars I would have had to fork out to see it without the Spanish. And, looking over at Amazon.com, I see several books that would not only tell me more, but would much more affordable.

Return from Witch Mountain (1978)

RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1978)
Article 5045 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-10-2016
Directed by John Hough
Featuring Bette Davis, Christopher Lee, Kim Richards
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction light

The two children from Witch Mountain return to Earth. When the boy saves the life of a man falling from a building, a mad scientist finds out about his abilities and kidnaps him. Can his sister save him before the scientist uses him in a nefarious plot to take over the world?

Apparently, ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN was popular enough to warrant a sequel. I felt lukewarm about the original; this one feels like reheated leftovers. My problem is that the premise (the two children have the powers of telekinesis and telepathy and they are sought after by evil people who want to make use of their powers) is too easy and predictable; you know whatever the problem is, the children will handle it with their powers, and they do, again and again and again and again…you get the picture. Furthermore, the use of those powers is put on display so frequently and mechanically that the magic quickly dissipates. The movie compensates a bit by the use of star power, but it doesn’t help a lot. Bette Davis apparently only did the movie so she could make something her grand-children could watch; her character is one-dimensional, and though it might have been fun if she’d taken the opportunity to ham it up a bit, but instead it feels like she’s mostly just earning her paycheck here while being aware the role is beneath her. Christopher Lee comes off a lot better; he’s done this type of role before, and he handles it with his usual skill. Like the previously movie, it feels like a slightly more serious “shopping cart” movie, only this one is sillier than the original. It’s not awful, but it is quite routine.

Repo Man (1984)

REPO MAN (1984)
Article 5044 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-9-2016
Directed by Alex Cox
Featuring Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, Tracey Walter
Country: USA
What it is: Bizarre punk comedy

In desperate need for money, a young punk takes a job as an apprentice repossession man. He becomes entangled in the hunt for 1964 Chevy Malibu with “something” hidden in the trunk.

I saw this movie many years ago, and all it did then was leave me scratching my head. Watching it this time, I found it charmingly weird and flat-out hilarious at times. It’s something of a punkish “slice of life” comedy (director/writer Alex Cox worked as a repo man at one time) and science fiction conspiracy thriller, and it’s awash with strange running gags (such as the fact that all the products on display in the movie are generic) and odd characters. Estevez is solid as the punk, but Harry Dean Stanton and Tracey Walter are great as the repo man who recruits him and a conspiracy theorist who also works at the agency. Sy Richardson also appears as another repo man, and if you keep your eyes open, Angelique Pettyjohn pops up in a cameo. There’s a couple of other odd musical connections to the movie outside of the punk genre; Jimmy Buffett pops up as a Federal agent, and the movie was executive produced by former Monkee Michael Nesmith.

Re-Animator (1985)

RE-ANIMATOR (1985)
Article 5043 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-8-2016
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Featuring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton
Country: USA
What it is: Wild Lovecraft adaptation

A new student to Miskatonic U. discovers a green fluid that can bring the dead back to life… but with messy results.

Whatever else you can say about this over-the-top gore comedy, it seems to have staked out its own notorious place in film history. However, as much as I would like to see more H.P. Lovecraft adapted to the screen, this does seem a far cry from the type of horror I would expect from him, and I suspect he would have been rather appalled by this one, especially with the sex. The gore here is a force to be reckoned with; however, I must admit that I really didn’t laugh much, though there are a number of rather witty cinematic moments. However, I have to admit overall that I was a bit disappointed by this one; I’m not sure what I was hoping to find here, but I never quite found it. My favorite joke – Herbert West figures out a way to keep a decapitated head upright in a tray.

Rana: The Secret of Shadow Lake (1981)

RANA: THE SECRET OF SHADOW LAKE (1981)
aka Croaked: Frog Monster from Hell
Article 5042 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-7-2016
Directed by Bill Rebane
Featuring Paul Callaway, Richard Lange, Glenn Scherer
Country: USA
What it is: Monster on the loose

A man returns to an island he visited in his youth and recounts the story of his encounter with a strange beast who lived in the lake.

I will give the primary title of the movie a bit of credit; it’s actually a bit moody and evocative. However, that secondary title is so silly that I find myself crediting the folks at exploitation-happy Troma for coming up with that one. However, once I saw the directorial credit of Bill Rebane, I got the sense that the movie wasn’t going to live up (or down) to either of these two titles. Sure enough, most of the movie is a talky snoozefest with little to hold the attention. They keep us from getting a clear look at the monster for most of the movie, but I’m not sure why they bothered; when you see it in its full glory, it certainly wasn’t worth the wait. The special effects were by the ironically-named company Spectacular Effects. The only thing that saves this one from being Rebane’s worst movie is that MONSTER A-GO GO is still out there.

The Raiders of Atlantis (1983)

THE RAIDERS OF ATLANTIS (1983)
aka I predatori di Atlantide
Article 5041 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-6-2016
Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Featuring Christopher Connelly, Gloia Scola, Tony King
Country: Italy / Philippines
What it is: Action smorgasbord

The raising of a downed Russian nuclear sub accidentally causes Atlantis to rise from the sea, and a pair of former Vietnam Vets must do battle with descendants of the Atlanteans which mean to rid the world of its current residents.

So this is what Ruggero Deodato makes when he isn’t working on Italian cannibal films! The tagline reads ” Action Unlike Any This Side of MAD MAX and RAMBO!” The Rambo connection comes from the fact that this is an action film featuring Vietnam veterans, and the Mad Max connection comes from the fact that the Atlantean descendants look like refugees from THE ROAD WARRIOR. When you finally get to Atlantis you’ll know why the title has the word RAIDERS in it as well. The overall rating for this one on IMDB is 4.7, but if you check the distribution of ratings, you’ll find they’re equally spaced all over the board. It’s easy to see why; if you just love nonstop action, you’ll probably love this movie. On the other hand, if you’re allergic to cliches and sheer dumbness, you’ll break out in hives. I am a bit taken with the fact that the story is a big mish-mash of unexpected elements; if it hangs together at all, it’s by the movie’s clear focus on being a big, dumb action flick. Beyond that, I can’t help but note that despite all the bizarre punk-like costumes of the Atlantean descendants, about the only thing they show any talent for is lining themselves up to be mowed down in quick succession. The movie is probably best enjoyed if you just don’t ask any questions.