Tarzan and the Trappers (1958)

TARZAN AND THE TRAPPERS (1958)
Article 3292 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-30-2010
Posting Date: 8-19-2010
Directed by Charles F. Haas, Sandy Howard and H. Bruce Humberstone
Featuring Gordon Scott, Eve Brent, Rickie Sorensen
Country: USA
What it is: Tarzan movie

Tarzan must deal with illegal trappers, a safari for a lost city, and a hunter intent on capturing him.

I was tempted to dismiss this one as a Tarzan movie at its most uninspired, but the episodic nature of the movie began to make me suspect that it wasn’t really intended as a movie at all. And, sure enough, it was cobbled together from three episodes of an unsold TV series, though it does look as if the three episodes are at least somewhat related. It’s a pretty humdrum affair all around; the story does little new or interesting with the Tarzan idea, and it all feels rather uncompelling. What I like best is that it keeps the Cheta antics to a minimum (it even allows Cheta to heroically save Jane’s life in one of the opening scenes), and I do rather like the plot idea in which a hunter decides to track down the most dangerous animal in the world (see THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME) in the person of Tarzan, even if the movie makes little use of the idea in the final analysis. The fantastic content is little more than the marginal fantasy content of the Tarzan series. This is not essential Tarzan viewing.

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The Three Stooges Meet Hercules (1962)

THE THREE STOOGES MEET HERCULES (1962)
Article 3259 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-22-2010
Posting Date: 7-17-2010
Directed by Edward Bernds
Featuring Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Joe DeRita
Country: USA
What it is: Sword and sandal spoof

An inventor, his girlfriend, and three employees of a pharmacy go back in time to ancient Greece, where their appearance causes Ulysses to lose a war to a usurper named Odius. They must return Ulysses to the throne and save the girlfriend, who is in the power of the usurper.

I’m not sure I can think of a comedy team that lasted in movies as long as the Stooges did. I suspect that one reason is that their slapstick knockabout humor transcended trendiness; good timing is timeless. I also suspect that another reason was that they held off on making features until the end of their careers; people are quicker to forget a short that falls flat than a feature that does. None of the features really holds a candle to their best shorts, but given how long in the tooth they were, it’s perhaps amazing that the features were as good as they were. This one gives the whole sword-and-sandal genre a good nose-tweaking, and it’s just well-produced enough so that it does a good job of it. Perhaps my favorite scene is the battle with the Siamese Cyclops, which were played by a set of twins, which is an interesting if unnecessary gimmick, since the makeup is so heavy that it wouldn’t matter if they were really twins or not.

Theater of Blood (1973)

THEATER OF BLOOD (1973)
Article 3257 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-20-2010
Posting Date: 7-15-2010
Directed by Douglas Hickox
Featuring Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry
Country: UK
What it is: Shakespearean revenge flick

When members of a Critics’ Circle are being murdered one by one in gruesome ways, the evidence points to a spurned Shakespearean actor who was denied an actor-of-the-year award by the Circle. However, the actor was supposed to have died by suicide… or did he?

This wasn’t Price’s final horror movie, but it was his last starring role in a horror movie that really mattered. It’s often praised as the pinnacle of his horror career, maybe so much so that I always find myself a hair more disappointed at it then I feel I should be. The basic story itself is a reworking of THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES; once again, a man believed dead takes revenge on his enemies (those responsible for the death of his wife in the earlier movie, and for the death of his career in this one) who uses a set group of murder methods to do away with his victims (the plagues of the pharaohs in PHIBES, the murders in the last season of his Shakespeare productions in this one). One of the big differences is that this movie gives Price a character which, by dint of being an actor, allows him to play a greater variety and range of characters than the Phibes movie could, allowing Price to really shine in that capacity. The movie also tones down the campy elements of the Phibes movie, though it doesn’t abandon them entirely. However, what this movie lacks is a director like Robert Fuest, whose sense of style and fun brings the earlier movie to life; Douglas Hickox does all right, but he doesn’t come across as inspired. In the end, I just don’t have as much fun with this movie, and I tend to notice the problems more; the fencing sequence has never worked for me because it seems painfully obvious that there’s a stand-in for Price, and the police, though superficially seeming far more competent than the ones in PHIBES by dint of not being played as comic buffoons, actually seem to do a far worse job of protecting the critics. In short, while I still respect this movie and Price’s performance in it, in the end, I’d opt for the Phibes movies.

Torticola contre Frankensberg (1952)

TORTICOLA CONTRE FRANKENSBERG (1952)
aka Twisted Neck vs Frankensberg

Short
Article 3232 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-25-2010
Posting Date: 6-20-2010
Directed by Paul Paviot
Featuring Michel Piccoli, Roger Blin, Daniel Gelin
Country: France
What it is: French art film as parody of creaky horror movie in the form of a silent serial

The sinister Dr. Frankensberg plans to experiment on a beautiful woman, but will the monster that loves the girl object?

The first hint I had that this was meant to be comic was during an eerie scene when hooded monks make their way around a Stonehenge-style rock arrangement; one of them obviously trips, breaking the mood completely, and the fact that the scene was left in on purpose clearly stated the intention of the short. Given that it’s in unsubtitled French, I can’t say I understand the film completely, but I was consistently amused, especially in the way it plays with horror style; I’ve never seen a coffee-sweetening scene with as much foreboding as I did here. On top of Frankensberg and Torticola (think of Frankenstein and his monster), we have an assistant with an agenda of his own, an old woman who sharpens scalpels on an old whetstone, a man who thinks he’s a cat, a cat who speaks English, the maiden in distress, and the ever-present procession of chanting monks (if you want a few extra laughs, listen carefully to the melodies they chant). I’d love to see it English; in particular, I’d like to figure out the references to Freud. Though it’s a classier film in every way, I couldn’t help but be reminded of two other horror-themed shorts I’ve seen; MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY and THE PROFESSOR.

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971)
aka The Blind Dead, La noche del terror ciego
Article 3197 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-20-2010
Posting Date: 5-16-2010
Directed by Amando de Ossorio
Featuring Lone Fleming, Roger Whelan, Maria Elana Arpon
Country: Spain / Portugal
What it is: Spanish zombie flick

A woman jumps off of a train in the middle of nowhere and ends up camping out in the deserted ruins of a monastery. However, the ruins are the home of rotting blind Templars who have used black magic to gain eternal life… and who still thirst for human blood and flesh.

I’ve not been impressed by any of the other films I’ve seen by Amando de Ossorio, but I also kept in mind that he also had directed this one, the first of the “Blind Dead” series. I’d originally seen this one many years ago and had been quite impressed with it at the time; watching it now, there are still things I admire and other things I don’t. On the plus side, the blind dead themselves are very memorable and eerie, especially when they trot around on their horses in slow motion (the use of sound during these sequences is effective). I also like some of the settings, such as the creepy monastery and the warehouse full of dummies. I’m less impressed with the plot holes, the poorly thought out characters, certain unnecessary scenes of exploitation value, and the lapses of logic; in particular, given the logic behind the nature of the Templars, there is no reason why one of their victims should come back to life and start attacking people. I rather liked the idea that the Templars had to track their victims by sound, but then giving them the ability to hear heartbeats felt something like a cheat. Still, this is certainly Ossorio’s scariest and best movie.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (1933)
aka Le testament du Dr. Mabuse
Article 3157 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-3-2010
Posting Date: 4-6-2010
Directed by Fritz Lang and Rene Sti
Featuring Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Thomy Bourdelle, Karl Meixner
Country: Germany
What it is: Crime movie with supernatural undertones

A series of nearly perfect crimes seems to be the result of arch-criminal Dr. Mabuse, but he’s committed to an insane asylum. So who is the mastermind behind them…?

Hey, wait a minute…didn’t I already cover this movie? Yes and no. I’ve covered the German language version, but I discovered that at the same time he was directing that one, Fritz Lang was also directing, on the same sets, a French language version with a mostly different cast (I think Rudolf Klein-Rogge is the only actor among the major roles to appear in both). This was a common practice during the early thirties. When this version first entered my list, I suspected that I would probably not be able to find it, but I was wrong; the recent Criterion release of the movie features both versions. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the original version, so I can’t do a strong compare of the two, though this one is a good twenty-seven minutes shorter. Still, it’s nice to see it again; this is one of those movies that follows so many threads of the plot at once that it can be a bit overwhelming on first viewing, and repeated viewings do help sort them out. Watching both versions together would, at the very least, probably give us a good idea of how editing can effect a movie.

Test Pilota Pirxa (1978)

TEST PILOTA PIRXA (1978)
aka Test Pilot Pirx
Article 3151 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-28-2010
Posting Date: 3-31-2010
Directed by Marek Piestrak
Featuring Sergei Desnitsky, Boleslaw Abart, Vladimir Ivashov
Country: Poland / Soviet Union
What it is: Science fiction space/robot drama

A test pilot is sent on a mission to the rings of Saturn with a crew of of five other people, one of whom is a actually a robot, but the pilot does not know who. The mission is a test of whether it will be safe with humans to work in tandem with robots, or if robots will endanger the humans.

The plot description above should be taken with a grain of salt; it’s compiled from a few sources which give only a cursory sense of what the story is about, and since I viewed this movie on YouTube in Russian with no English subtitles, my own viewing didn’t necessarily clear things up. I did gather the movie had something to do with robots interacting with humans, and I suspected that one or more of the crew would turn out to be robots. There are a few striking scenes, including one involving a car chase and another in which a robot’s hands become detached from its body. However, it’s a conversation-heavy movie, and I couldn’t figure out a lot of the plot details. It’s based on a book by Stanislaw Lem, and since I’ve liked what I read by the author, I might see if I can find the book. As for the movie, I’ll have to reserve judgment, though I did notice that the special effects were rather uneven; in some instances, they could even be described as cartoony.