The Trail of the Octopus (1919)

Article 4141 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-28-2013
Directed by Duke Worne
Featuring Ben Wilson, Neva Gerber, William Dyer
Country: USA
What is is: Wild silent serial

A private detective investigates attempts by criminals to get a hold of an Egyptian artifact known as “The Devil’s Trademark”.

When I was a child and first heard about movie serials, I thought they sounded nifty. When I was an adult, and first saw one, I was promptly underwhelmed, and I’ve never quite overcome that feeling. I’ve had to see lots of serials for my project, and though I’ve come to terms with my reduced expectations, I never quite warmed to them. I did start to suspect, however, that the form may have been in something of a decline during the sound era, but most of my encounters with serials during the silent era were either non-representative (I’ve seen some impressive French serials, but they’re something of a different animal from the American ones), incomplete (most silent serials are missing most of their episodes), or were in pretty decrepit shape.

Well, with this one, I’ve finally had a chance to see a silent serial that is mostly complete (there’s one episode in the middle missing, and a few stray moments of missing footage throughout the rest), is in excellent shape (thanks to Serial Squadron), and has a fine score. It’s also heavy on the fantastic content (what with ancient Egyptian cursed artifacts, hypnotism, disembodied floating eyes, machine-enhanced astral projection, comets diverted from their course to crash into the Earth, a mysterious masked villain, an evil Oriental genius, an ape man, etc), and it trots through its various plot elements with a sort of reckless abandon. No, it doesn’t always make sense, and I suspect certain plot changes were made midstream, but that doesn’t matter because of the energy and sense of fun to the whole affair. At least one of the central mysteries is never resolved (possibly due to the fact that a few minutes of crucial footage are missing from the final episode and no known plot synopsis exists of the missing scene), and the title turns out to be only a metaphor trotted out in the final episode. Oh, it’s pretty silly, but I don’t think I’ve ever had quite as much fun with a serial before.

Tunnel Vision (1976)

Article 4088 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-24-2012
Directed by Neal Israel and Bradley R. Swirnoff
Featuring Phil Proctor, Howard Hesseman and Beans Morocco
Country: USA
What it is: Television satire

A congressional investigation on the damaging effects of TV programming results in a condensed viewing of one day on the schedule of the new network, Tunnel Vision.

The fantastic content of this movie is that it takes place in the future, after the first uncensored free TV network has been on the air for several months. Now, I can understand what the appeal might have been at the time for movies to lampoon television; after all, they could get away with outrageousness that TV itself couldn’t touch at the time. TV was an easy target. But just because your target is easy doesn’t mean that you should settle for lazy writing and lame jokes, and unless you find the use of sex, crudity, nudity, drug references, and racial slurs automatically funny, you’re going to be waiting a long time for any laughs to come along in this one. This is not to say that those subjects are automatically unfunny; it’s saying that it takes more than the simple use of them to conjure up laughs, and this movie miserably fails in getting laughs. Furthermore, time has not been kind to this one; given the crudeness of some of the TV shows nowadays, much of the edge of this one has been lost with the passage of time. Yes, it does have several actors who went on to be stars, like John Candy, Chevy Chase, Howard Hesseman, Larraine Newman, etc., but then, the cast is so big that I would have been more surprised if none of them had become famous. All in all, I found this one pretty pathetic.

Tres citas con el destino (1954)

aka Witchcraft, Three Dates with Destiny
Article 4085 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-21-2012
Directed by Fernando de Fuentes, Leon Klimovsky and Ray Florian
Featuring Manuel Arbo, Ricardo Argemi, Felix Briones
Country: Spain / Mexico / Argentina
What it is: Themed anthology movie

A cursed diamond travels the world, bringing bad luck to all who possess it.

This is basically an anthology movie in which three stories are told. Each segment takes place in a different country and features a different director. I’ve encountered at least two of the directors before; Fernando de Fuentes also directed EL FANTASMA DEL CONVENTO, while Leon Klimovsky has directed several Paul Naschy movies. The entire movie is in unsubtitled Spanish, so I can’t say I quite understood it. The Spanish segment was first, and seems pretty talky. The segment in Argentina is the longest and most interesting, as it involves a doctor and a criminal changing identities and places, and I think the plot revolves around an attempt by the doctor to prevent being killed by his wife, who is having an affair. This segment is sandwiched between the two halves of the Mexican segment, which seems to involve a criminal attempt to defraud a jeweler out of the diamond. Again, I can’t quite pass judgment on it because of the language difficulties, but this is another movie that had been consigned to my “ones that got away” list, and I’m glad to have finally have had a chance to see it.

The Twin Pawns (1919)

Article 4080 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-16-2012
Directed by Leonce Perret
Featuring Mae Murray, Warner Oland, Jack W. Johnston
Country: USA
What it is: Melodrama

An opportunist discovers that an impoverished waif is in reality a missing twin daughter of an industrialist. He uses the information in a plot to get hold of the industrialist’s fortune… and he’s not above using murder to further his ambitions.

The fantastic content is of the horror variety, but it doesn’t come into play until the last third of the movie; the elements involve fake ghosts and incarceration in an asylum. Yet neither element is enough to really shift the movie out of the realm of melodrama. The story itself is pretty far-fetched, both in terms of the villain’s plot itself, but how the various parties choose to react to the plot as it unveils. It is interesting to see Warner Oland from his pre-Chan days; like Basil Rathbone, he seems to have mostly played heavies and villains, but gained fame by playing a famous detective. All in all, this one was pretty minor.

Toute une vie (1974)

aka A Lifetime, And Now My Love
Article 4029 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-11-2012
Directed by Claude Lelouch
Featuring Marthe Keller, Andre Dussollier, Charles Denner
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Love story

A boy and a girl meet.

This movie entered my list under the title A LIFETIME, which is listed in John Stanley’s CREATURE FEATURE MOVIE GUIDE STRIKES AGAIN. Unfortunately, the only info they give about it refers the reader to the first edition of the book, which I possessed at one point but not any more. Since no search on the title on IMDB would yield any help, the movie limped along on my hunt list until it dropped into my “ones that got away” list, where a fellow member of CHFB (who had a first edition of the book) was able to research the title and point me in the direction of this movie. I’m really glad to have finally found out about the movie, and was able to net a copy, albeit one without English subtitles.

Fortunately, the lack of subtitles didn’t make the movie a total loss for me; the movie is always visually interesting, and I found the central conceit of it fascinating. It’s a love story that spans three generations and nearly a century of time, and it ends where most love stories begin – with the lovers meeting. As tempting as it is to call that a spoiler, I actually think this is one of those movies that is made more interesting by knowing where it’s going to, especially near the end when we see the two people who we’ve spent so much time with getting closer and closer in space and time. Nevertheless, the first part of the movie, which emulates silents and relies on visuals, is probably the most satisfying part for someone who doesn’t understand the language.

Still, the central conceit itself isn’t enough to qualify this movie as belonging to the fantastic genres, and therein lies the most problematic thing about this movie. When it was first released in the US, it ran a hair over two hours, though the original length was two and a half hours. From what I gather, what was removed was the last stretch of the movie, where the action stretches into the future, thus pushing the movie into the realm of science fiction. However, most of the comments I’ve found about this section of the movie feel that it betrays the rest of the movie by subverting the central conceit, as it all takes place AFTER the lovers meet. Since I wasn’t able to follow the dialogue, I’m not really qualified to comment, but I do have to admit that futuristic section feels terribly out of place, and that it occurs right after the movie has reached what would ideally be its ending. It might well be that the shorter version in this case would be the better movie, though that version wouldn’t qualify for inclusion in this series. Still, I guess that’s what makes this journey through the fantastic genres all the more interesting.

Touch Me Not (1974)

aka The Hunted
Article 4014 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-26-2012
Directed by Douglas Fithian
Featuring Lee Remick, Michael Hinz, Ivan Desny
Country: UK / Spain / West Germany / France
What it is: Thriller

Industrial spies send an agent to romance the secretary of an oil magnate while tapping his phone lines. The spy is not above killing to cover his tracks, and when the secretary discovers the truth…

So what does a movie from UK / Spain /West Germany / France look like? Well, if this one is any indication, it looks roughly like one that came from Canada. In fact, given some of the misinformation I’ve encountered with this one, I’m wondering if we’ve got a case of mistaken identity here. My source for this title (John Stanley’s CREATURE FEATURES MOVIE GUIDE STRIKES AGAIN) describes it as a version of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. However, beyond the fact that we have someone being stalked by someone else, there is simply no connection between the two movies. In fact, if it weren’t for a left-field plot twist which reveals that one of the characters involved isn’t playing with a full deck (thus throwing a bit of madness into the mix), there wouldn’t be anything here to qualify this one even marginally as genre. As it is, the first two thirds of the movie is dull industrial espionage, mostly highlighted by an interesting performance by Michael Hinz as the savvy industrial spy pretending to be an awkward suitor. The stalking sequence doesn’t come into play until the final third of the movie, and that part of the movie isn’t particularly engaging, either, thanks mostly to dull direction. And I found the twist, as unexpected as it was, actually had the effect of reducing the little suspense there already was. No, there’s little to recommend here.

To All a Goodnight (1980)

Article 3988 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-23-2012
Directed by David Hess
Featuring Jennifer Runyon, Forrest Swanson, Linda Gentile
Country: USA
What it is: Santa slasher

Two years ago, a girl fell to her death during Christmas vacation due to a sorority prank gone wrong. Now someone in a Santa suit is knocking off the girls one by one.

Director David Hess is most well known for having played Krug, the main murderer in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. I hope you find the little tidbit of news interesting, because it’s far and away the most interesting thing about this movie. It’s the slasher movie at its most formulaic; teens are killed off (usually right after having sex) one by one in various ways by a killer in a Santa Claus outfit. The movie makes no use of the Santa Claus gimmick, the murders are poorly staged, the dialogue suffers from a short attention span and a tiresome need to state the obvious and repeat previous statements, and the killer is glaringly obvious. The only point for creativity it gets is for ditching one of the most obvious slasher cliches for a new twist, though in truth, it does this so clumsily that it loses the point it just gained. Quite frankly, this is for slasher completists only.