Les Vampires (1915)

LES VAMPIRES (1915)
aka The Vampires
Article 2753 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-20-2008
Posting Date: 2-25-2009
Directed by Louis Feuillade
Featuring Musidora, Edouard Mathe, Marcel Levesque
Country: France

A reporter matches wits with a criminal organization known as the Vampires.

Nowadays this is probably Louis Feuillade’s most famous serial, though I think I prefer FANTOMAS. I’m glad it is a serial; at more than six and a half hours, this is the longest single work I’ve reviewed for this series, and it was nice to be able to stretch the viewing over several nights, with each episode preceding my movie. Still, they were long nights, since the serial is only ten episodes, and some of the episodes clock in at almost an hour.

Despite the title, the closest we get to a real vampire is a character in a musical performance in the second episode. Still, there are some marginal fantastic items throughout; there’s a few light science fiction items (various types of poison, including one that paralyzes its victims) and a few horror touches (a severed head, people seemingly coming back from the dead, a crooked medium, hypnotism, etc). In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if every episode had some element that would push it at least marginally into fantastic territory, though the serial as a whole remains squarely in the crime genre. It’s quite entertaining and fairly light-hearted, though the preponderance of coincidence as a driving plot element makes it somewhat hard to swallow. I like the general structure; the early episodes are shorter and keep the plots simple, but as the serial progresses, more characters are introduced and the plots get more elaborate. In fact, I had to restart and rewatch one episode when I lost the plot thread of it, something that I rarely have to do with other serials. At points, the complexity becomes almost comic; in my favorite episode, two different groups of criminals plot to steal a fortune from another criminal, only to discover that that criminal’s fortune has fallen into the reporter’s hands.

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Vanishing Point (1971)

VANISHING POINT (1971)
Article 2688 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-6-2008
Posting Date: 12-22-2008
Directed by Richard C. Sarafian
Featuring Barry Newman, Cleavon Little, Dean Jagger
Country: USA

A professional driver known as Kawalski attempts to drive a souped-up 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in fifteen hours. He becomes a target of the police and gets help from various strangers enroute.

First of all, I’m not rightly sure that this 1970s cult item is really within my chosen genres; a lot depends on how much you make of the psychic link between the driver (Barry Newman) and a blind, black DJ named Super Soul (Cleavon Little). This link is not made explicit, but is implied in some of the comments made by the latter character. We’re in hazy territory here, and most of my sources don’t include this title, but John Stanley’s guide does, so I’m covering it.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of car chase movies, but for the first half of this movie, it’s something special. Rather than trying for a thrill-a-minute action spectacular, it actually manages to achieve a certain zen-like transcendence; the scenes where we see him speeding down the road while soothing guitar music plays on the soundtrack gives the movie a mystic edge, and the superb photography and location footage gives the it a haunting feel quite unlike any other movie. Unfortunately, the movie falters; as it goes along, it starts to get rather self-conscious and it gets too mired in its late sixties/early seventies “counterculture vs. the establishment” theme to really stand the test of time as well as it could have. I think it would have been better had it fully embraced some of the mythic power it taps into, and jettisoned some of its unnecessary baggage. When it works, it works beautifully; I just wish it worked all the way through.

 

Very Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind (1978)

VERY CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FOURTH KIND (1978)
aka Incontri molto ravvicinati del quarto tipo
Article 2680 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-30-2008
Posting Date: 12-24-2008
Directed by Mario Gariazzo
Featuring Maria Baxa, Monica Zanchi, Mario Maranzana
Country: Italy

Three students try to seduce their physics teacher by pretending to be aliens. They manage to have close encounters.

Ah, just what the world needs; a softcore Italian sex comedy inspired by Spielberg’s UFO movie. I’m tempted to say the only reason Spielberg isn’t rolling over in his grave is that he isn’t dead yet, but, in truth, I think this movie is too inconsequential for such a comment, and besides, as far as these things go, this one really isn’t too bad; in short, I’ve seen worse. Still, in terms of its fantastic content, this one is for completists only, and since it establishes early on that the space aliens are really college students, there’s really no reason to bother. Chalk this one up as another one out of the way.

 

Visions of Death (1972)

VISIONS OF DEATH (1972)
aka Visions… TV-Movie
Article 2666 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-7-2008
Posting Date: 11-30-2008
Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Featuring Monte Markham, Barbara Anderson, Telly Savalas
Country: USA

A psychic has visions of a bomber terrorizing the city. When he reports his visions to the police, he not only finds himself the prime suspect, but a target of the real bomber as well.

The basic story here is pretty standard; I know I’ve seen the storyline about a person trying to prevent a crime becoming the prime suspect many times. However, this TV-Movie does a surprisingly good job with the story; it has a stronger sense of style than most TV-Movies, and it does an excellent job of maintaining the suspense. My favorite character moment occurs when the psychic’s information does manage to avert tragedy, and he’s relieved that finally, after all these years, he’s been able to use his ability to save someone. His visions are nicely handled by the movie; I especially love the jarring vision he has of someone when he can tell they’re going to die soon. It’s also nice that this TV-Movie doesn’t feel like a pilot for a series, though it could have been turned into one. As it turned out, Telly Savalas (who plays a cop here) would shortly get a chance to do a series in a similar role with “Kojak”.

 

Valkoinen Peura (1952)

VALKOINEN PEURA (1952)
aka The White Reindeer
Article 2615 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-2-2008
Posting Date: 10-10-2008
Directed by Erik Blomberg
Featuring Mirjami Kuosmanen, Kalervo Nissila, Ake Lindman
Country: Finland

A woman gets a shaman to cast a spell to bring her husband back. The spell works, but there’s a side effect; the woman now transforms into a reindeer intent on leading men to their deaths.

I had to use some plot summaries I found to sort out some of the plot details above, as my copy of the movie is in Finnish without subtitles. It’s basically a werewolf (or werereindeer, as the case may be) story of sorts, but it seems very well acted, and it has the added boost of having a wonderful setting; it takes place in the snow-covered wilds of Lapland, where natives herd reindeer for a living. The footage of these people among their herds of reindeer are truly evocative, and it makes the movie a real visual treat. I always like it when a movie brings me into a different culture. There are some great scenes here; two of my favorites include a scene where a man who survived an encounter with the reindeer recognizes the woman as its alter ego and accuses her of being a witch (which is what I assume the word “noita” stands for), and one in which the woman must endure seeing all the men of the village forge weapons to be used to destroy the menace. Much of the movie is shot like a silent, with no talking but lots of background music. I found this one striking and memorable, even in its unsubtitled state.

 

The Vanishing Lady (1896)

THE VANISHING LADY (1896)
aka Escomatage d’une dame au theatre Robert Houdin
Article 2538 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-17-2008
Posting Date: 7-24-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Jeanne d’Alcy, Georges Melies
Country: France

A magician makes a lady vanish and reappear, though he ends up turning her into a skeleton at one point.

This is Georges Melies at the point of learning his craft; it’s a straightforward recreation of a stage magic act enhanced with the advantage of movie special effects; it even features a curtain call and a bow. If its interest is primarily historical, it is interesting to note the innate showmanship with which Melies plies his craft in the role of the magician here; when he makes the skeleton appear, his shocked and surprised reaction adds a bit of humor to the proceedings. If anything, one senses that Melies had a sure hand even at this point with his special effects.

 

The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967)

THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU (1967)
Article 2430 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-23-2007
Posting Date: 4-7-2008
Directed by Jeremy Summers
Featuring Christopher Lee, Douglas Wilmer, Tsai Chin

Fu Manchu attempts to become the head of a super crime syndicate and engineers a plan to do away with his foe, Nayland Smith, at the same time.

This isn’t really a bad Fu Manchu movie; the plot is straightforward and easy to follow, and the basic story is interesting (even if certain plot elements don’t stand up to close scrutiny). Yet, it made me realize just how much the whole sixties Fu Manchu series disappointed me. I’m glad they made the attempt, but as a whole, I found the movies to be rather glum and just not much fun. The character of Fu Manchu seems detached in these movies, and neither the scripts nor Christopher Lee’s performance do much to alleviate this problem. The most imposing thing about Lee’s Fu Manchu is his height, and that simply isn’t enough to bring the movies to life. The heroes are little better; Nayland Smith never comes alive as a character in any of the movies I’ve seen, and I just don’t think he’s supposed to be this dull. At their best, the movies seem competent but uninspired, as if everyone was working for the paycheck but little else. I think there was some potential for this series that never got realized.