A Voyage to Arcturus (1970)

Article 4750 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-5-2015
Directed by William Holloway
Featuring David Eldred, Leon Holster, Tom Hastings
Country: USA
What it is: Avant-garde science fiction

A man journeys to Arcturus and undergoes a transformative quest.

When a movie enters my hunt list which has no listing on IMDB, I usually despair of actually finding a copy, but this one practically fell into my lap. I’m thinking the reason it doesn’t have a listing is that it’s more of a student film than a professional production. It’s based on a novel from 1920 by David Lindsay. The novel appears to have a cult following, and C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are counted among its admirers. I’ve not read the novel in question, but it appears to have been an allegory of various philosophical systems. I suspect it’s the type of book that would have to be read slowly and carefully to be fully appreciated. I also suspect that it’s unfilmable; though there’s some very creative direction going on here, I emerged from the movie more confused than enlightened, and I wonder if the movie is best appreciated by those who have already read the book. It is extremely ambitious for a student film, and it even has a little stop-motion animation. And I will say one thing about the movie; it’s made me very curious about the novel itself.

The Visitor (1979)

aka Stridulum
Article 4738 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-17-2015
Directed by Giulio Paradisi
Featuring Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen
Country: USA / Italy
What it is: Contortionistic tale of good vs. evil

An eight year old girl embodies an evil alien force, and evil men want her mother (who carries the genetic code) to become pregnant and give birth to a brother for the child. However, a cosmic savior from another world seeks to prevent the evil from taking hold on the Earth.

If you can somehow imagine an amalgamation of THE OMEN, THE BIRDS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND filtered through a fever dream that encompasses such elements as an exploding basketball, a creepy mechanical talking bird, a strangely choreographed fight scene in a skating rink, and lots of broken glass (especially during a house of mirrors sequence), you might have a chance of preparing yourself for this outlandish American/Italian co-production. The fact that it’s peopled with quite a few name stars (on top of those listed above, we also have John Huston, Shelley Winters and Sam Peckinpah) just makes it weirder. Still, I don’t find it quite as incoherent as some people claim; if you’re playing close attention, you have something of an idea of what’s going on. It is stylishly directed, and some of the scenes look wonderful. On the down side, some of the scenes look pretty cheesy, and given the choice, I would redo the musical score, which is sometimes way too bombastic for its own good. I don’t know how I feel about the movie yet; I’m not quite sure that I can call it a good movie, though it is a fascinating one to watch. I do, however, think that it deserves better than it’s current 4.6 rating on IMDB, and there’s enough here to make me think that it is worth a second viewing.

The Vault of Horror (1973)

Article 4534 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-14-2014
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring Terry-Thomas, Tom Baker, Daniel Massey
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Horror anthology

Five men find themselves trapped in an underground vault and tell their recurring dreams to each other. In the first, a man seeking to inherit a fortune stays too long on the wrong side of town. In the second, an annoyingly fastidious neatness freak drives his wife to distraction. In the third, a magician stoops to murder in order to get hold of a magic rope. In the fourth, a man plots a way to collect insurance on his own death, but the plan backfires. In the final story, an artist uses voodoo to exact revenge on those who have cheated him.

I’d have to double-check, but I suspect that this is the last of the Amicus horror anthologies that I’ll be covering for this series. Like TALES FROM THE CRYPT, the stories are taken from EC comic books, though it appears that none of them actually came from “The Vault of Horror”, though four of them did appear in “Tales from the Crypt”. It’s a decent enough anthology; none of the stories really stand out, but there aren’t any real clinkers, either. My favorite is perhaps the fourth story about the man faking his own death to claim the insurance; there’s a sense of humor to this one that somewhat sets it apart from the other stories. One advantage this movie has is that with five stories and only eighty-three minutes to tell them, none of them outstays its welcome; one disadvantage is that all five stories are basically variations on the same plot, which is about the comeuppance of a man who has succumbed to his evil impulses. I also rather like the framing story, which is rather charming in its simplicity.

Vampire Circus (1972)

Article 4532 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-12-2014
Directed by Robert Young
Featuring Adrienne Corri, Thorley Walters, Anthony Higgins
Country: UK
What it is: Vampire movie

15 years after the residents of a small town stormed a castle and destroyed a vampire, they find themselves blocked off from the rest of the world due to a plague running rampant. Somehow, a circus manages to get around the roadblock, and it sets out to entertain the villagers, but one of the members of the circus is a relative of the vampire, not to mention being one himself, as are other members of the circus.

I must be nearing the end of the Hammer horror movies, so there’s a possibility that this may be the last one I cover. It’s heavier on the exploitation elements (there’s a lot of blood, nudity and sex), but it has a certain offbeat quality to it, especially during the circus sequences. This is the first directorial credit of Robert Young, and he gives the movie some interesting stylistic touches to add to the mix. I like the first two-thirds of the movie very much, but the final third gets predictable and silly; in particular, I find it hard to swallow that a vampire would be terrified of a vaguely cross-shaped metallic adornment on a crossbow. One of the more interesting aspects of this one is that it emphasizes one aspect of vampirism that is often ignored or underplayed by other vampire movies, and that is that children would be considered prime targets for vampires; if I recall correctly, that’s one of elements of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.

La valise de Barnum (1904)

Article 4301 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-31-2013
Directed by Gaston Velle
Featuring Gaston Velle
Country: France
What it is: Trick short

A showman puts up posters showing the acts in his sideshow. After making his assistants disappear, he then goes through the posters again, only this time the images in the posters come to life.

In terms of its special effects, this short doesn’t really do anything that Melies hadn’t done (with the possible exception of a short stop-motion sequence at the end). Still, the difference in style gives the short a bit of its own identity, and the sideshow theme also adds some novelty value; the images include a bearded lady and a strong man, as well as the obligatory dancing girl. This one is passable.

A Very Honorable Guy (1934)

Article 4218 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-3-2013
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Featuring Joe E. Brown, Alice White, Robert Barrat
Country: USA
What it is: Runyonesque comedy

Due to a run of bad luck, a well-intentioned but unlucky man of integrity loses everything and finds himself owing a debt to a loan shark that he won’t be able to pay. He decides to sell his body to science with the hope that the money will help him pay off his debts and allow his last month on Earth to be comfortable. Then he suddenly becomes lucky…

This is a fairly amusing comedy based on a Damon Runyon story and is filled with the type of characters and ambiance that you would expect from a Damon Runyon story. If there’s any one thing I really got out of this one, it was that Joe E. Brown was actually a very good actor. Yes, he was playing a certain stock character most of the time, and he was always a bit upstaged by that memorable face of his, but he did tap into the feel of the movies he did and made sure his character fit into the general mood of the picture; here, for example, he comes across as quite Runyonesque, which wasn’t the case in the other movies I’ve seen of his. Overall, I was quite entertained by this one, though there are times where the plot contrivances are a little too forced.

However, there is a secondary issue here as far as the fantastic content goes. The Don Willis guide mentions a plot element about a scientist experimenting with rejuvenation, which would qualify the movie by making it at least marginally a piece of science fiction. The Walt Lee guide consigns it to the Exclusions list; it lists the same fantastic content, but places a question mark after it. In this case, the Walt Lee guide had the correct instincts. There is one doctor in the story (the one who purchases Joe E. Brown’s body), but he never mentions anything about experiments with rejuvenation, and only seems interested in Brown because of the shape of his head. The closest the movie comes as far as any fantastic content goes is that one of the characters is revealed to be quite mad, and since this is demonstrated in a comic rather than horrific way, it’s really too marginal to consider. Therefore, this is another of the false alarms, and really doesn’t qualify.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

aka Valerie a tyden divu
Article 3992 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-28-2012
Directed by Jaromil Jires
Featuring Jaroslava Schallerova, Helena Anyzova, Petr Kopriva
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Arty free-form vampire flick, among other things

A thirteen year old girl named Valerie, just coming into adulthood, must contend with strange events in her life, including the arrival of potential lover and the appearance of a vampire-like creature known as Weasel.

Is this the artiest vampire flick since VAMPYR? I’m not really sure, but I will say this much; it’s the most compellingly arty vampire flick since that one, and on a simply visual level, it’s stunning. Storywise, it doesn’t make a lot of linear sense, though the central theme seems to be the perils of the girl’s budding sexuality. The story, such as it is, centers around a pair of earrings and the power they give her to resist the perils of the vampire, a lusty parish priest, and the knowledge of her own parentage. The movie is decidedly non-realistic; everything feels as if it comes out of a stream-of-consciousness Freudian fairy tale, and this tends to render some of its taboo subject matter (there’s lots of touches of incest, for example) bearable. There’s no way to adequately describe this one, but anyone demanding linear storytelling will want to stay away. Those willing to undergo more abstract movies may well find this one quite fascinating, as I did.

The Vanishing Riders (1935)

Article 3968 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-3-2012
Directed by Robert F. Hill
Featuring Bill Cody, Bill Cody Jr., Ethel Jackson
Country: USA
What it is: Weird Western

A former lawman who has adopted the child of a criminal takes up work with a lady cattle rancher. The other workers turn out to be members of an outlaw gang headed by Wolf Lawson. The criminals have an Achilles heel, however; they’re superstitious and scared of the ghosts in a nearby abandoned silver mining town town. Can the former lawman use this against them?

The fantastic content in this B western include the concept that the old silver mining town is haunted, and the scheme which the lawman and adopted son use to defeat the outlaws; they dress up as skeletons (and they dress up their horses the same way) and frighten them into submission. It’s a silly idea, and should have made for a fun B western, and the skeleton outfits are actually fairly scary looking. However, there’s something rather dull and lethargic about this western, especially during the first half; it takes forever for things to get moving. Budd Buster adds a bit of fun as western-style comic relief, but overall, this is one of the weaker weird westerns out there.

Visiting Hours (1982)

Article 3895 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-4-2012
Posting Date: 4-13-2012
Directed by Jean-Claude Lord
Featuring Michael Ironside, Lee Grant, Linda Purl
Country: Canada
What it is: Psycho-killer movie

A psychopathic misogynist becomes obsessed with killing a crusading female journalist, but when his first attack fails to kill her, he takes to trying to stalk her in the hospital where she’s staying.

In some ways, this is a very interesting psycho-killer movie, largely due to elements in the script and the direction. It tries very hard to make the psycho an interesting character; he’s given a backstory and a world to live in inhabited by various characters, and the script keeps the character from lapsing into the type of hystrionic monologues that often lend themselves to over-acting. It also uses some very interesting cinematic techniques; I like the way that a scene will sometimes be left unresolved only to have another scene later reveal the outcome of the unresolved one. You can see the strings being pulled at times, but they’re usually being pulled in creative ways. Unfortunately, the movie has problems. One is that it’s just way too long; at an hour and forty-five minutes, I found myself really getting tired of the movie’s attempt to keep me on the edge of my seat, and it stopped being fun and started being wearying. Furthermore, the psycho, interesting as he is, isn’t quite interesting enough to sustain the amount of time the movie spends on him; when you get around to it, his motivations are pretty simple. Furthermore, the movie often gets distracted by side issues. Combine that with a plot that often relies on some pretty wild coincidences, and an attempt to make a statement about violence that seems a little forced, and you have a movie that wears out its welcome a ways before it’s over. There are good performances from Michael Ironside and Lee Grant, but William Shatner is wasted as one of those characters who really doesn’t have anything to do.

The Vengeance of the Zombies (1973)

aka La rebelion de las muertas
Article 3894 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-3-2012
Posting Date: 4-12-2012
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Featuring Paul Naschy, Romy, Mirta Miller
Country: Spain
What it is: Zombies, voodoo style

A woman, distraught at the death of her family, takes residence at the home of an Indian mystic for healing. However, the home has an evil history… and the mystic has a few skeletons in his closet as well.

We’re talking zombies of the voodoo variety here, rather than of the flesh-eating type. It’s also another encounter with director Leon Klimovsky, who gave us THE VAMPIRES NIGHT ORGY, which I covered a couple of days ago. This time he has Paul Naschy along, who not only plays three roles in the movie but wrote it as well, though none of his three roles ends up being the hero (although one makes a game effort of it). However, the script is pretty confusing, and I’m not sure it ever really sorts itself out; it might take a few viewings to decide whether it hangs together or not. Once again, the music is flat out strange, sounding peppy and upbeat at the oddest of times; it certainly destroys any mood of horror when it comes on. As is often the case in Paul Naschy films, Naschy is the best thing about it, if for no other reason that he has a certain degree of charisma going for him.