Starik Khottabych (1956)

aka Old Hottabych, The Flying Carpet
Article 3497 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-11-2011
Posting Date: 3-12-2011
Directed by Gennadi Kazansky
Featuring Nikolai Volkov, Aleksei Litvinov, Gennadi Khudyakov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Children’s fantasy

A child discovers an urn which contains a genie who has been sealed up for 1000 years for being obstinate. The genie wishes to serve his new master and make him happy, but his willful nature causes the boy more problems than it solves.

This being a Russian movie, it has a tendency to get a little propagandistic at times; the children in particular seem a little unnatural in their unswerving dedication to the communist cause. That aside, the story takes an interesting tack in that it is really not a story about the possibilities that the genie opens up for the boy (the usual approach). Instead, it is a fish out of water story; the genie’s detachment from the world during his confinement has left him ill-suited to understanding the modern world, and his knowledge is antiquated. To this mixture is added a genuine warmth and affection (the genie and the child truly care about each other), and when the genie’s magic causes things to go awry, he is honestly upset and confused. Nikolai Volkov’s sly performance as the genie is the glue that holds it together, and this turns out to be an interesting and entertaining children’s fantasy. One of the alternate titles is THE FLYING CARPET, but that item plays a part in only a short segment of the proceedings.


The Spaceman and King Arthur (1979)

aka The Spaceman in King Arthur’s Court, Unidentified Flying Oddball
Article 3492 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-1-2011
Posting Date: 3-7-2011
Directed by Russ Mayberry
Featuring Dennis Dugan, Jim Dale, Ron Moody
Country: UK
What it is: Shopping cart movie, British style

A young inventor gets caught inside an experimental rocket, and ends up being hurtled through time to end up in the days of King Arthur.

This doesn’t feel like your typical Disney “shopping cart” movie, but I’ve noticed that their British movies do have a different feel about them. I find a copy of this one on YouTube, but I must admit that the copy is pretty wretched. This may have affected my feeling that the movie itself is one of the weakest ones of its type; it feels tired, forced and obvious, and, were it not for some curious historical humor from a certain Sir Winston and a sight gag inspired by falling dominoes, I wouldn’t have laughed once. The presence of Ron Moody as Merlin and Kenneth More as King Arthur adds a bit of fun, but Dennis Dugan is one of the least memorable of Disney’s comic leads. This wasn’t the last of the shopping cart movies (at least one of the Herbie movies came after it), but it was awfully close to the end of that cycle, which had kicked off in the late fifties, hit its peak in the early sixties, and then went into a long decline. And if you want a King Arthur comedy, I’d suggest you hunt for one that came from Monty Python.

Santo and Blue Demon vs. the Monsters (1970)

aka Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstruos
Article 3490 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-29-2011
Posting Date: 3-5-2011
Directed by Gilberto Martinez Solares
Featuring Santo, Blue Demon, Jorge Rado
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican wrestling monster mash

An evil scientist is resurrected from the dead, and gathers together an army of monsters to do his bidding. He also creates an evil duplicate of Blue Demon. Can Santo defeat the monster army and rescue the real Blue Demon from the scientist’s clutches?

I was fully expecting to be watching another Spanish language movie without subtitles, so I was delighted to find English subtitles popping up when I put this one into my DVD player. In the final analysis, though, I don’t think it matters. The movie doesn’t really have a plot; it has a premise, a resolution to that premise, and it fills the rest with typical Mexican wrestler movie scenes (there’s two wrestling scenes and a nightclub scene) and stuffs it to the gills with monster attack mayhem. The movie is a tribute to demented excess; the first clue I had to this was when I realized that the scientist’s assistant was both a midget and a hunchback. We have a vampire, a set of female vampire minions, a mummy, a werewolf, the Frankenstein (excuse me, Franquestain) monster, a bizarre furry cyclops, a short little monster with an exposed brain (this one seems to be for atmosphere; he does little but stand around), and a set of zombie hordes whose green makeup doesn’t quite go up to the actors’ hairlines. The opening credits sure make it look like this is the Santo movie to end all Santo movies. Questions abound. Why does Raul Martinez Solares, a child actor with no previous movie acting credits, get fifth billing when he does little more than run away when his parents are attacked by the werewolf? Does the Frankenstein (excuse me again; Franquestain) monster have a valid driver’s license? Why does the movie stop the action dead in its tracks so we can visit a nightclub where they’re putting on what looks for all the world like a Mexican version of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS? Did they have to keep changing the batteries for the Cyclops’s eye? Don’t worry; the movie moves so fast you’ll barely have time to think about these things. It seems to me that this is the movie that ASSIGNMENT TERROR and Al Adamson’s DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN could only wish to be. I can’t really call it “good” per se, but as an example of insane overkill, it’s hard to beat.

The Sadist of Notre Dame (1979)

aka L’eventreur de Notre-Dame, Demoniac
Article 3477 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-15-2011
Posting Date: 2-20-2011
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Jesus Franco, Lina Romay, Catherine Lafferiere
Country: Belgium / France / Spain
What it is: Another Jack the Ripper clone

An excommunicated priest is knocking off loose women to save their souls.

One of the problems of a movie-watching project like mine is that sooner or later you just get tired of certain types of movies. I realized after watching this one that I am sick to death of movies about serial killers with sexual hang-ups going around killing women. For every movie that actually does something interesting with the subject, there are about 20 or 30 that just use it as an opportunity to give us lots of sex, nudity and violence. The fact that movies like this can be made on extreme low budgets probably explains why there are so many of them. I will give a little credit to Jesus Franco here, though; there are a couple of touches that I find interesting, like the fact that our madman has a little more dimension than you usually find, and I’ve rarely seen a movie of this type end the way that this one does. Furthermore, it’s one of the rare times where Franco gives himself a prominent role in the cast, and he does a decent job. But the rest of it is the usual stuff; when it’s not belaboring the cliches of the genre, it’s belaboring all of the usual Franco obsessions. Apparently, there are several different versions of this movie out there with varying degrees of sex and violence; the one I saw was the one with the title I gave above, and I’m just not interested enough in Franco to hunt down all different versions for the sake of comparison.

The Stranger (1973)

aka Stranded in Space

Article 3468 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-6-2011
Posting Date: 2-11-2011
Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Featuring Glenn Corbett, Cameron Mitchell, Sharon Acker
Country: USA
What it is: “The Fugitive” crossed with JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN, TV-pilot style

When something inexplicably goes wrong during a space mission, an astronaut finds himself a virtual prisoner in a hospital. He escapes, only to discover that he hasn’t returned to Earth at all, but is on a planet called Terra which is under a totalitarian state known as the Perfect Order… and he’s too dangerous to be allowed to live.

One of the ground rules I set for myself when I started this movie-watching project is that I would never base my review on a viewing of the MST3K version of the movie. Don’t get me wrong; I’m actually a big fan of the series, but I also believe watching their versions inherently changes the viewing experience, making it impossible to give any fair judgment of the movie. Only twice have I been tempted to break that rule, and in each case, it was due to the difficulty I had in tracking down the movie in question; one of them was RADAR SECRET SERVICE, and this was the other one.

I found this one particularly frustrating to find; I would see the title pop up occasionally in my hunting, but every time I got around to actually purchasing it, it had lapsed into unavailability again. I’m glad to say that I finally found a copy.

The movie is sitting with a lowly 3.6 rating on IMDB, mostly because of overeager Msties giving it a low rating merely because it appeared on MST3K. It’s not a great TV-Movie, but it’s far from the worst I’ve seen. Its worst problem is that the premise is quite far-fetched; it’s really hard to swallow that the planet would be this similar to earth, even to the point that everyone is speaking English. Yet among the implausabilities, there’s some nice ideas and interesting touches in the script. Furthermore, I find Cameron Mitchell’s performance in it to be one of his best; though he’s the primary villain, his combination of conviction and vulnerability (he’s well aware how quickly things could turn against him if he doesn’t recapture the astronaut) makes for a surprisingly complex character. Had this pilot managed to spawn a series, it might have been worth catching for Mitchell alone; however, I find myself wondering if he would have ended up a regular character. At any rate, I ended up liking this one better than I thought I would.

The Seven Dwarfs to the Rescue (1951)

aka I sette nani alla riscossa
Article 3465 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-2-2010
Posting Date: 2-8-2011
Directed by Paolo William Tamburella
Featuring Rossana Podesta, Roberto Risco, Georges Marchal
Country: Italy
What it is: Fairy tale sequel

While Prince Charming is off to the wars, Snow White is kidnapped by the evil prince of darkness, who is intent on making her his queen. It’s up to the plucky seven dwarfs to come to her rescue.

Advance word has it that this particular children’s movie is the bottom of the barrel, the worst of the worst, so bad it’s funny, etc. Well, I’ve seen worse, including a few that don’t even have the excuse of having been dubbed into English from other languages. I’ve also seen bad children’s movies that have been funnier and weirder; practically anything from Mexico would fill the bill here. And though it’s been obviously shot with a badly undernourished budget, the movie does dredge up a bit of authentic (albeit austere) fairy tale atmosphere. Also, it has enough energy to keep you from nodding off. Its worst problems involve its attempts at humor; the comic antics of the seven dwarfs are terribly lame, and the jokes about Snow White’s fat nanny certainly don’t improve things. My question is – did they find time to come up names for all of the seven dwarfs? I only caught five myself; Mousey, Toto, Chubby, Andy and Nicky. Strangest sequence: the dwarfs fall into a trap that takes them underwater into a kingdom of water nymphs.

Stone Cold Dead (1979)

Article 3449 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-15-2010
Posting Date: 1-23-2011
Directed by George Mendeluk
Featuring Richard Crenna, Paul Williams, Linda Sorenson
Country: Canada
What it is: Crime drama

A serial killer is on the loose who snaps pictures of the victims before killing them. A policeman investigates while dealing with pimps. corrupt cops, and various lowlifes.

Despite the presence of a serial killer, this is definitely more of a crime drama than a horror thriller. In fact, the movie loses focus on the main plot thread so often that I began to wonder if it was more interested in giving us a snapshot of the seedy milieu than telling a story. However, since the characters and situations never become more than cliches, I eventually came to the conclusion that the movie is just too distracted to tell a story. Still, a few things stand out. I’ve decided that Paul Williams is an ideal choice for creepy little lowlifes, as he is here. Also, it’s one of the rare times where a song on the soundtrack of the movie actually shows a direct influence on the editing; Bob Seger’s “The Fire Down Below” is actually illustrated visually as it plays, and though it’s an interesting touch, it starts to feel a bit too easy and obvious. And, finally, the oddest touch of the movie is that the main cop has a Rube Goldberg device to feed his fish, a bizarre touch that seems out of place in the movie. The rest of the movie is blahsville.