The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967)

THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (1967)
aka BLOOD DEMON, DIE SCHLANGENGRUBE UND DAS PENDEL
Article 2139 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-23-2007
Posting Date: 6-21-2007
Directed by Harold Reinl
Featuring Lex Barker, Christopher Lee, Karin Dor

A lawyer receives a mysterious message which promises to unveil the secret of his past. He visits the castle of Count Regula in the company of a baroness, her servant, and a priest, only to discover that Count Regula was a sorcerer who was drawn and quartered thirty-five years ago. However, this doesn’t mean that he’ll remain dead…

Despite the fact that a lot of the krimi have horror elements to them, the fact of the matter is that not a lot of horror movies came from Germany during the sixties. This is one of the exceptions, and it’s an odd one; the basic plot is very familiar indeed, but it has bizarre and decidedly eccentric touches to it. The music is pretty uneven, the American title is a lie (there is no Dr. Sadism in the movie) and the credits weren’t carefully researched (just for the record, “The Pit and the Pendulum” was not a novel). The German title is accurate enough; there is a snake pit, and there is a pendulum. Outside of the debt it owes to Poe, it also owes one to Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY; in fact, heroine Karin Dor looks quite a bit like Barbara Steele. It’s not a particularly coherent movie, but the best scenes stick in the memory; my favorite moment is a carriage ride through a spooky forest littered with dead bodies, and the scene where Count Regula rises from the dead (which involves his body attaching itself back together) is great. The set design is excellent; Count Regula’s castle walls are decorated with paintings that look like they were done by Heironymous Bosch. I saw this one as a kid, and I never forgot it, and I think it still holds up pretty well today.

 

The Twentieth Century Tramp; or, Happy Hooligan and his Airship (1902)

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY TRAMP; OR, HAPPY HOOLIGAN AND HIS AIRSHIP (1902)
Article 2094 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-9-2006
Posting Date: 5-7-2007
Unknown director
Featuring J. Stuart Blackton

A tramp flies over New York City until his machine explodes.

The Edison company put out a number of early shorts that featured panoramas of famous places. This combines that idea with some special effects to give us the image of a tramp in a flying machine passing over a panorama of the New York skyline. Granted, special effects were far from perfect at this time, but the split screen effect here is painfully obvious, with clearly defined lines separating the top of the screen from the bottom of the screen, and these are noticeable despite the fact that my copy of this movie is in such poor condition, it’s hard to make out any details. At the end, the flying machine explodes, but it happens so quickly (and the print is so bad), that I found myself wondering if there was just something wrong with the print. Before the explosion, nothing happens other than seeing the tramp flying around. This is a curio, but little else.

 

The Tin Man (1935)

THE TIN MAN (1935)
Article 2079 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-24-2006
Posting Date: 4-22-2007
Directed by James Parrott
Featuring Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, Matthew Betz

Two women and a escaped criminal find themselves trapped in a spooky house with a mad scientist and his robot.

One of the pleasures of this project is when a movie that has been sitting on my hunt list a long time finally manifests itself so I can watch it. This is true even when the movie in question isn’t very good. This was one of a series of short comedies Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly made in the early thirties until Thelma’s death in 1935. Most of the humor comes from their interaction with the robot, who drinks what I can only assume is oil, pours water on one of the women’s heads, and short-circuits when water is thrown on him. The escaped criminal gets the worst of it. It’s amusing enough, but the gags just aren’t strong enough to pass muster. Still, it’s nice to cross this one off the list at last.

 

El Topo (1970)

EL TOPO (1970)
aka THE MOLE
Article 2053 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-28-2006
Posting Date: 3-27-2007
Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Featuring Alejandro Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, Jose Legarreta

A man wanders the desert with a naked child. He deserts the child for a woman who urges him to find and defeat four masters in the desert.

This is one of those unique, personal, and somewhat abstract films that end up falling under the fantastic categories simply because the events are so bizarre that it ends up having fantastic elements almost by accident. In this case, some of the masters in the desert have supernatural powers, and the main character is able to draw water out of stones (just one of many religious references). It was the first movie to really gain fame as a midnight movie, and for this reason alone it is historically interesting.

Still, I find it a little difficult to cover movies like this. It’s too personal for me to really pretend that I understand it enough to make much in the way of meaningful commentary, and usually what I end up doing is giving my gut-level and personal reaction to it (which, given that the movie is very personal in the first place, makes it somehow appropriate). Somehow, I sense that this movie isn’t quite as complex and impenetrable as it might seem; certainly, the religious references seem like definite starting points for exploration. But as far as personal cinematic statements go, I don’t find it quite as compelling as some others I’ve seen; I think that I would be more likely to watch ERASERHEAD or THE TESTAMENT OF ORPHEUS (both of which strike me as somewhat more unique and sincere) than this one. At heart, this movie feels like a combination of spaghetti western, samurai film and religious epic, and somehow the fact that those same elements can also lead you fairly close to the TV show “Kung Fu” makes it all seem a little less impressive. Still, I did find it a consistently interesting watch.

 

Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! (1964)
Article 2023 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-28-2006
Posting Date: 2-25-2007
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Featuring William Kerwin, Connie Mason, Jeffrey Allen

A group of northerners travelling in the South find themselves guests of honor during a centennial in a small southern town called Pleasant Valley. What they don’t know is that the guests of honor are slated to die in horrible ways as vengeance for an atrocity that occurred during the Civil War.

Herschell Gordon Lewis’s best film? Based on what I’ve seen of his work so far, I’m inclined to agree. Sure, it’s got plenty of problems; some of the acting is quite awful, (though both William Kerwin and Connie Mason are better here than they were in Lewis’s earlier BLOOD FEAST) and the final revelations are cliched and run on too long, to name a couple. But the movie lacks that static hangdog air that plagues so many of Lewis’s other movies; it’s the only movie I’ve seen of his that doesn’t seem to flaunt how low its budget is. Instead, there’s a surprising amount of energy here most of the time, and I attribute this to a variety of reasons. For one thing, it wasn’t produced by Lewis himself, and the budget was somewhat higher than is usually the case for his movies. But the biggest reasons may be the use of crowd scenes and the bluegrass music of the Pleasant Valley Boys; both of these elements add a marked energy to the proceedings.

There are also some striking and unusual moments here; the scene after the bloody “horse race” where one of the party organizers has to browbeat the shocked residents and the Pleasant Valley Boys into enjoying the proceedings really leaves one wondering whether this vengeance is the agenda of the whole town or only of a selected dictatorial few. I also liked a moment where a couple of the residents marvel at the invention of the car and speculate as to what sort of inventions they’ll have to play with at the next centennial. It’s moments like these which add a bit of dimension to what would otherwise be a one-note affair.

 

Triumph of the Son of Hercules (1963)

TRIUMPH OF THE SON OF HERCULES (1963)
aka TRIONFO DI MACISTE
Article 2022 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-27-2006
Posting Date: 2-24-2007
Directed by Tanio Boccia
Featuring Kirk Morris, Cathia Caro, Liuba Bodina

An evil queen is sacrificing peasant maidens to a fire god. Maciste is enlisted to defeat her and free the people.

I like to joke a little about how the same elements appear again and again in sword-and-sandal movies, and there is at least one storyline that repeatedly pops up in the form. The best known version of it is HERCULES UNCHAINED. The basic plot is this; an evil queen is doing something horrible to the peasants, a muscleman decides to stand up to her, the muscleman is captured by the queen, the queen gets the hots for the muscleman and uses magic to wipe out his memory and make her love him, he recovers his memory and escapes, he saves an imperiled women while peasants stage a revolt and defeat the evil regime.

That’s pretty much the plot in this one once again, and it makes this peplum utterly predictable; the only thing missing is a scene where Maciste bends the bars of a prison wall. The fantastic elements are the usual ones; Maciste has super strength, the queen has a magic sceptre, and the fire god is served by a race of horrific Uri men with long fingernails. Despite the fact that I have a soft spot for sword-and-sandal movies, I do find their repetitiveness rather tedious at times, and I’m afraid that’s the case here.

 

Terrified (1963)

TERRIFIED (1963)
Article 2021 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-26-2006
Posting Date: 2-23-2007
Directed by Lew Landers
Featuring Rod Lauren, Steve Drexel, Tracy Olsen

A variety of people are being terrorized by a masked killer in a ghost town. All the people have something in common; they have close ties with a young woman.

This low-budget fright flick, the last movie by veteran director Lew Landers, has a mixed reputation; some people have fond memories of being scared by the movie, while others find it cheap and unconvincing. Me, I find both sides evenly matched on this one, as I feel both ways about it. There are times where the characters show a surprising degree of intelligence (I love the moment where one potential victim figures out that the murderer is purposefully trying to lure him away from the cemetery, and resolves to go there at once to find out why), but I think the movie is least successful when it’s trying to be frightening. The killer’s cat-and-mouse game with his victim (where he places him in peril, then allows him to escape only to capture him again) is pretty clever in theory, but it’s so badly marred by his harping on how scared his victim should be that it undercuts the effectiveness of the ruse; personally, I think it would have been a lot better if the killer didn’t say a word during his acts of terror. The identity of the killer is painfully obvious; I knew who it was ten minutes into the movie, but the movie actually works itself up to an effective ending once the unmasking occurs and we get some insight into why he’s doing what he’s doing. In short, this is one very mixed bag, but it has its moments, I think is worth catching for these alone.