Shanks (1974)

SHANKS (1974)
Article 3427 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-22-2010
Posting Date: 1-1-2011
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Marcel Marceau, Tsilla Chelton, Philippe Clay
Country: USA
What it is: Very strange horror fantasy

A mute puppeteer is hired as an assistant to a scientist who has learned how to animate the dead. When the scientist dies, and the puppeteer finds himself at the mercy of his own abusive family, he uses his new knowledge and his puppetry skills to regain control of his life.

This was William Castle’s last directorial effort (though he would go on to produce BUG), and he couldn’t have gone out on a stranger note. The movie is an intriguing but uneven mixture of horror, fantasy, fairy tale, mime and silent movie pastiche; in fact, the silent movie influence is so strong that it’s quite jarring whenever a character speaks. Marceau not only plays two roles, but he served as choreographer as well; the humans who become living puppets have obviously been trained well. The novelty value of this one is enormous, and the casting of Marceau is obviously much more than a gimmick. However, the movie doesn’t quite capture that fairy tale quality that it aspires to, and the direction isn’t quite strong enough to bring some of the duller sequences to life. Still, there’s nothing else like it out there, and is worth catching at least once.


Der Student von Prag (1935)

aka The Student of Prague
Article 3417 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-10-2010
Posting Date: 12-22-2010
Directed by Arthur Robison
Featuring Anton Walbrook, Theodor Loos, Dorothea Wieck
Country: Germany
What it is: Doppelganger film

A student falls in love with a beautiful singer, and sells his soul (in the form of his mirror reflection) to win her. He then finds himself haunted by his reflection.

Since my copy of this is in unsubtitled German, I’m doing a little guessing on the plot, but since I’ve seen the two earlier versions of the story, I’m guessing it’s accurate enough. Though this is supposed to be the weakest of the three versions I’ve seen, I quite liked it, even with the language difficulties. Several of the scenes are quite striking, and the performances by Anton Wolbrook and Theodor Loos are quite memorable. The ending is particularly memorable here; I don’t recall the endings of the other two versions to be quite as moving as this one’s. Maybe someday I’ll get to see a subtitled version and really be able to appreciate it.

Silent Mobius (1991)

Article 3413 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-6-2010
Posting Date: 12-17-2010
Directed by Michitaka Kikuchi
Featuring the voices of Toshiko Fujita, Koichi Hashimoto, Chieko Honda
Country: Japan
What it is: Anime science fiction occult movie

The daughter of two powerful mages finds herself targeted for recruitment by a squad of women with psychic powers to help fight an attack of demons from another dimension.

This anime movie sat on my hunt list for years, evading every attempt I made to find it; every time I did a hunt, I would locate episodes of an identically-named TV series from a few years later. Eventually the movie fell off of my hunt list and ended up in my list of movies I could’t find. When it finally manifested itself, it was in Japanese with Italian subtitles, but I was nevertheless glad to find it. Anime movies can be a little difficult to follow in the first place even without these difficulties, but I was able to find enough about the basic premise and the storyline to help me through this one. I found it entertaining enough, though after a while some of the screaming got on my nerves; there’s a lot of it in this movie. One thing I was never able to quite grasp was the nature of each character’s psychic powers, but it didn’t seem really important at this point. Apparently, this was adapted from a Manga series and concentrates mostly on one character named Katsume Liqueur; most of the movie is told in flashback and covers the events surrounding her recruitment. There was a sequel made the next year, but who knows when I’ll get to that one.

The Sand Castle (1961)

Article 3400 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-24-2010
Posting Date: 12-5-2010
Directed by Jerome Hill
Featuring Barry Cardwell, Laurie Cardwell, George Dunham
Country: USA
What it is: Unusual children’s movie

A young boy and his sister are left on the beach by their working mother for the day. The boy passes the time by building an elaborate sand castle.

The first two-thirds of this movie is almost a plotless children’s art film of sort; as the boy builds his sand castle we encounter several of the other beach visitors. They make for an odd assortment; just to pick a few right off the top, there’s an elderly woman in a veil who can’t stand the sun, an artist who paints the boy at work, a skin-diver who is mistaken for a monster by a little girl, and a group of nuns playing baseball (a sight so unusual that it actually draws away the crowd that has gathered around the making of the sand castle). There’s a touch of humor and a bit of surrealism to this sequence. The last third of the movie switches from black-and-white to color and from real life to paper-figure animation, as the boy falls asleep and dreams he is a knight in the castle who encounters all of the people he met on the beach as paper caricatures of themselves. On a certain level, this is rather engaging and fascinating; though there’s no real plot, you end up wondering where it will all go. On the downside, it’s more than a little dull on occasion, probably due to the fact that there IS no plot and that the dreamlike atmosphere goes a ways towards lulling you into sleep; I found myself nearly nodding off at times. Still, part of me finds this as almost a natural reaction to this unique, slightly melancholic and bittersweet movie. If anything, it reminds me that children’s movies can sometimes take you on cinematic journeys to places other types of films would never venture to go. It’s worth catching if you can find it.

Sexo Sangriento (1981)

aka Bloodthirsty Sex
Article 3381 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-4-2010
Posting Date: 11-16-2010
Directed by Manuel Esteba
Featuring Ovidi Montllor, Mirta Miller, Diana Conca
Country: Spain
What it is: Sleazy Spanish horror

A group of young women get stranded in a seemingly deserted village when their car breaks down (in reality, the car was sabotaged). They end up staying with a female artist, but one of the women begins to have sinister visions. Then the killings begin…

My copy of this movie is in unsubtitled Spanish, and is consequently rather hard to follow. Granted, with an English title like BLOODTHIRSTY SEX, you should have an idea of what to expect. Yes, there’s plenty of nudity and sex, the latter mostly of the lesbian variety. It remains rather bloodless until the last third of the movie, though the soundtrack goes off enough that you’ll know that scary things are just around the corner. Most of the murders are pretty conventional, though there is one that is sick enough to live up to the title. I found it pretty hard to evaluate the film without subtitles or dubbing, but I’d have to say I wasn’t particularly impressed by it; the horror has kind of a distant, detached feel to it.

The Sadistic Baron von Klaus (1962)

aka La mano de un hombre muerto, Hand of a Dead Man
Article 3375 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-28-2010
Posting Date: 11-10-2010
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Howard Vernon, Hugo Blanco, Gogo Rojo
Country: Spain
What it is: Evil from beyond the grave

The Von Klaus family is under a curse; an evil ancestor returns as a ghost and possesses one of his descendants to go on a sadistic murder spree.

Here we have another of Franco’s earlier films; in fact, it may be the earliest film I’ve seen from his oeuvre. It’s one of his better films, but I wouldn’t rank it with his best; this one is pretty slow out of the gate and doesn’t really get moving until the latter half of the movie. It was also rather daring for its time, so much so that a dungeon scene of torture and nudity was censored, though my copy has the scene restored. It seems that several of the films that I’ve seen of his recently all deal with sadism, and they all come across as some of his better work; there’s no doubt that the subject interested him. As usual, Howard Vernon is quite memorable. The ending is also very good.

Souls for Sale (1962)

aka Confessions of an Opium Eater
Article 3340 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-21-2010
Posting Date: 10-6-2010
Directed by Albert Zugsmith
Featuring Vincent Price, Linda Ho, Richard Loo
Country: USA
What it is: Exploitation melodrama

An adventurer goes to Chinatown and becomes entangled in a slavery racket.

No, it’s not a horror movie, but between some of the macabre imagery and the whole fever-dream style of the movie, it has enough atmosphere that it doesn’t matter that much. The plot doesn’t make much sense, but that hardly matters either; the rush of strange characters, odd images, and surreal action gives the movie a momentum all its own. I’ve encountered director Albert Zugsmith before with SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE and THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ADAM AND EVE, and though both of those were pretty weird, they didn’t prepare me for this. Let’s face it; any movie where a score by Albert Glasser is one of the subtler touches is a movie to be reckoned with. The most memorable character is a Chinese midget played by Yvonne Moray; she steals every scene she’s in, which isn’t an easy thing when you’re working with Vincent Price. Some people describe it as being “so bad it’s good”, but I think this one transcends any ordinary scale of quality; it just is. Angelo Rossitto plays a newsboy near the beginning, and that’s just another odd touch in a movie swimming with them.