Video Wars (1983)

Article 5175 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-3-2016
Directed by Mario Giampaolo
Featuring George Diamond, Dennis Warren, Maria Anna
Country: USA
What it is: …

A supervillain uses video games to take over the world and blackmail the countries. Superspy Scattergood is sent to the supervillain’s home nation to defeat his plan.

If you’re lucky, this review will be the only evidence you ever encounter that even acknowledges this movie exists. I’m not even sure it does myself. I do vaguely recall something that resembles a low-budget parody of a superspy film, and I remember one vaguely amusing line that made me think of smiling. I also recall some stunt men doing a halfway decent job of falling out of snowmobiles. I also recall a few snatches of cheesy soundtrack music (much of it sounding like it comes from video games) that somehow get repeated ad infinitum. But ninety percent of this movie is a black hole of footage that does nothing, goes nowhere, serves no purpose, and sucks the life out of everything with which it comes into contact. I hesitate to mention that it has lots of beautiful women, but don’t let that fool you; it doesn’t make the experience any less soul-sucking than it is. This movie is extremely obscure, and if we all work together as a team, I can only hope that it can remain that way and ultimately suck itself into its own black hole and vanish. In fact, I’m not even sure this review exists….

Venom (1981)

VENOM (1981)
Article 5081 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-15-2016
Directed by Piers Haggard
Featuring Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed, Nicol Williamson
Country: UK
What it is: Crime thriller with a touch of horror

A trio of criminals plans to kidnap a boy for ransom, but the plan goes awry when the boy (who collects exotic pets) is inadvertently given a deadly poisonous black mamba snake.

For the most part, this is a crime thriller, and plays out like one. The sole horror element is the presence of the black mamba, which brings it into the “scary animals” horror category. Actually, the presence of the snake is the most problematic element here from a story perspective; its very existence has the air of being a deus ex machina in the making, and this somewhat short-circuits the suspense of the basic situation. Nonetheless, I rather enjoyed the movie, thanks in part to some familiar faces (Klaus Kinski and Oliver Reed in their only film together, Sterling Hayden and a cameo from Michael Gough). From reading the trivia on IMDB, this movie had a very troubled production; Piers Haggard was pulled in as a replacement for Tobe Hooper, and Reed and KInski didn’t get along at all; Haggard was quoted as saying that the snake was the nicest person on the set. Incidentally, the character played by Michael Gough was based on a real-life reptile expert from the London Zoo who helped with the production. Incidentally, the movie sets itself up for a sequel that never happened.

Vampyres (1974)

aka Vampyres – Daughters of Darkness
Article 5080 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-15-2016
Directed by Jose Ramon Larraz
Featuring Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska, Murray Brown
Country: UK
What it is: Vampire story

Two lesbian vampires set traps for passers-by to lure them into a castle with the promise of sex and then kill them for their blood. One of them tries to keep one of her conquests alive.

I’ll give director Larraz some credit here. He does direct with a certain nice visual sense, I do like how he handles the sex and gore scenes (which are often the same scenes), and his taste in women runs a little closer to my own than those of, say, most Italian directors. However, the movie is much longer than the story he has to tell, and I’m afraid I see little talent here for covering up that long stretches of this movie have very little happening; there are just too many scenes of people wandering around to little or no purpose. Part of the reason is that there just isn’t much in the way of mystery here; nor is there much in the way of surprising developments. I’ve seen several of Larraz’s movies, and I’d have to say this is one of the better ones, but it does fall short of being truly satisfying. Incidentally, there are several different versions of the movie; I appear to have watched the complete uncut version.

Vous pigez? (1955)

VOUS PIGEZ? (1955)
aka The Diamond Machine
Article 5031 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-27-2015
Directed by Pierre Chevalier
Featuring Eddie Constantine, Maria Frau, Francoise Perrot
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Lemmy Caution movie

Lemmy Caution is on the trail of a kidnapped scientist who has developed a machine that can manufacture diamonds.

The only copy I’ve been able to find of this movie was in French without English subtitles, so any elaborate plot description or detailed critical evaluation would be beyond me. I can, however, say a few things. This was one of Eddie Contstantine’s many “Lemmy Caution” movies, and it appears to be a somewhat light-hearted spy movie. The fantastic content consists of a machine that manufactures diamonds, but the machine doesn’t appear until about the last ten minutes of the movie. Or, perhaps I should say, “a” machine appears, as it doesn’t really do what the movie says it should do, so it may be a decoy of sorts. Most of the movie seems to be concerned with spies good and bad trying to get their hands on the plans for the machine, so I can say this much; if the machine is real, it serves as little more than a Gizmo Maguffin in a spy story. I like Eddie Constantine, and the movie looks rather fun, but it also doesn’t look like anything special. The most interesting moment visually is when a party scene with dancing on a boat is juxtaposed with a fight scene taking place below the decks.

Les victimes de l’alcoholisme (1902)

aka Alcohol and Its Victims
Article 4956 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-13-2015
Directed by Ferdinand Zecca
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Social conscience movie

A well-to-do man lives a happy life with his happy family. Then he discovers alcohol…

There’s a point in the print that I saw of this movie in which we see the alcoholic’s family reduced to living in a squalid freezing hovel. Suddenly we see the alcoholic himself lying prone on the floor; he wasn’t in the scene at all previously. It’s obviously a jump cut, and we’re missing a bit of the film. I will return to this observation shortly.

Given that I’m watching these movies for their fantastic content, I wasn’t really surprised to find a movie about alcoholism pop up; after all, the concept does lend itself to using fantastic content. In particular, if the movie deals with the alcoholic going through the D.T.s, the hallucinatory images would give us an opportunity for fantastic content. And, as luck would have it, this silent short does have a scene where the main character undergoes the D.T.s while in a padded cell. However, in terms of fantastic content, this scene is very disappointing; though it’s obvious the man is hallucinating, we, the viewing audience, do not see what he’s seeing, and to my mind, that disqualifies the movie in terms of fantastic content. However, since there is some footage missing (as mentioned above), there is a possibility there could have been in there. Still, I find that highly unlikely; if they didn’t take advantage of the D.T.s sequence for that content, they probably didn’t for a scene where the man drunkenly enters a room and falls down, which is what I imagine is in the missing footage. As a result, in terms of fantastic content, I have to classify this one as a false alarm. As an expose of alcoholism, there’s little in the way of surprises, but I wouldn’t really expect any in a five minute movie.

Vanishing Lady (1898)

Article 4940 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-26-2015
Directed by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith
Featuring Albert E. Smith
Country: USA
What it is: Early trick short

A magician makes a lady vanish.

The above plot description captures what I saw in its entirety; it’s like a shorter and less interesting version of Melies’s movie of almost the exact same name (THE VANISHING LADY) from two years previously. I found it on YouTube in a set of short silents edited together, but it clearly says that the Edison movie VANISHING LADY is among them. Still, it’s always a little difficult to tell if you’ve actually netted the correct version of a movie. Just a few weeks ago, I was hunting for a movie titled THE VANISHING LADY from 1897 from the U.K. which was a attributed to Robert W. Paul. I found a site on YouTube that claimed that it was that movie, but it was actually Melies’s PYGMALION AND GALATHEA. If there’s not much to say about today’s movie, I just wanted to take this time to note how tricky and confusing it can be sometimes to know if you’ve located the right one. I do know this one is not the Melies version, so I’m going on trust that this is indeed the Edison version.

Vampyros lesbos (1971)

aka The Heiress of Dracula
Article 4907 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-22-2015
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Soledad Miranda, Dennis Price, Paul Muller
Country: West Germany / Spain
What it is: Franco vampire movie

A female lawyer becomes entwined with a vampiric Countess who is the heir of Dracula.

I always feel a little bit self-conscious about reviewing Jesus Franco movies; there are a number of people I respect who consider him brilliant and a number of others who I also respect who consider his work a waste of time. As for me, I’ve decided that dealing with his work is a voyage of discovery of sorts, and I’m not sure ultimately on which side of the fence I’ll end up, that is if I ever get off the fence at all. I’ve seen quite a few of his movies that are indeed a waste of time, but I’ve also seen a few that are quite striking and do indicate a real talent at work. However, even at his best, he does take some getting used to; I have to acclimate myself to the slow, languorous pace of his work, and he’ll never probably be a favorite of mine simply because I don’t share his obsessions with lesbian sex and the Marquis de Sade. That being said, this is one of his better movies; it’s directed with a good sense of style, the musical score is effective and unusual, and I like the way it hovers around and parallels the story of Dracula without being an imitation of it. He references himself with another incarnation of Morpho (from the Dr. Orloff movies), and the movie feels like an organic whole with one exception; the sadistic character played by Franco himself seems to belong to a different movie. Still, I am left with a question; are there really nightclubs in Europe that specialize in these pretentious erotic dances that pop up so often in his movies? But then, I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that one.

Von Einem, der Auszog, as Gruseln zu lernen (1935)

aka The Boy Who Wanted to Learn Fear

Article 4852 by Dave Sindelar

Date: 6-20-2015
Directed by Ferdinand Diehl
No cast
Country: Germany
What it is: Puppet animated short

A seemingly fearless boy spends several nights in a haunted castle.

This obscure animated puppet short just recently fell off my hunt list and went to my “ones that got away” list, but someone quickly pointed me in the right direction. As you might expect, the boy does turn out to be afraid of something, but that revelation is saved for the end of the short. In the meantime, there’s quite a bit of horror atmosphere as he encounters a variety of ghosts and spooky figures, and even spends a night camping out and sleeping underneath a gallows populated by three bodies. It’s quite entertaining, though the title cards are unreadable by me and the spoken translation of them (in German) didn’t help me much, so certain plot elements were lost to me. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and the puppet animation is top notch. This one was worth taking the time to find.

The Voyage of the Bourrichon Family (1913)

aka The Haunted Hotel, Le voyage de la famille Bourrichon
Article 4763 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-20-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic mayhem

A family goes on vacation to escape creditors. The creditors conspire with the servants to follow the family and torment them.

This was the last film of Georges Melies, and though it does have a smattering of special effects, the emphasis is not on elements of the fantastic but rather on comic lunacy. That is an unfortunate choice on his part; in terms of humor, he worked best when the wit grew naturally out of the proceedings, but when he tried too overtly for comedy, the result was usually an unfocused and unfunny mess. That’s the case here; his fondness for multiple characters in long shots result in us viewers not being sure who or what to watch when the mayhem gets underway, and he never really figures out a good way to take a comical situation and transform it into workable comic bits. There are a few fantastical moments here and there, but they not only seem not particularly original, but out of place as well, considering the situation. In the end, this one just doesn’t play to Melies’s strengths, and it’s sad it would turn out to be his last work.

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.