Der var engang (1922)

Der var engang (1922)
aka Once Upon a Time
Date: 6-16-2018
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Featuring Clara Pontoppidan, Svend Methling, Peter Jerndorff
Country: Denmark
What it is: Fairy tale

The Prince of Denmark tries to woo a haughty princess who has rejected every suitor.

The only movies I’ve seen yet from Dreyer are VAMPYR and DAY OF WRATH, and they were both so somber and serious that I was a little surprised to see the light touch employed in the first half of this movie; this sequence is rather fun. However, once the princess is exiled and forced to leave the castle so she can live with a potter, it takes a definite somber, even bleak, turn. Still, I’d find the basic plot a little depressing to begin with; it’s a variation on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”, and there’s something a bit unpleasant about any movie that focuses on breaking the spirit of a spirited woman. Still, it’s a tribute to Clara Pontoppidan’s performance that she makes her character’s changes feel like growth rather than destruction. I ended up quite liking the movie, though it is incomplete; it looks like some of the movie had to be shown as a still restoration, and that includes the climax of the movie, so that makes it a little hard to judge. I also do find myself wondering about the elaborateness of the plan the Prince uses to win the princess, as it appears that it requires him to be a skilled potter as well.

As far as the fantastic content, one of the plot points revolves around a magic pot, and if I’m not mistaken, the pot is a gift from a mystical creature and has real abilities. However, it seems to be the only fantastic content in the movie, and for some odd reason, it feels a bit out of place and unnecessary.


Voodoo Black Exorcist (1974)

aka Vudu sangriento
Article 5418 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-8-2017
Directed by Manuel Cano
Featuring Aldo Sambrell, Tanyeka Stadler, Alexander Abrahan
Country: Spain
What it is: Better than Sominex

A man is executed for adultery during a voodoo ceremony and his body is placed in a sarcophagus. A thousand years later he emerges from the sarcophagus to claim the reincarnation of the woman he loved.

I find it almost perverse that a movie with a title like this one should turn out to be essentially a mummy movie, though this one probably owes more to the original Karloff THE MUMMY than any of the Kharis movies. It’s also one of those movies that just sits like a dead weight on your chest while daring you to find the needed energy to follow the threads of the plot; it feels like it can’t be bothered to pique the viewer’s interest. It’s a bit of shame; it adds a couple of interesting touches to the usual mummy plot such as having the monster be able to make himself look human for certain periods of time. It also has one rarity – a comic relief character that is actually funny; the police inspector’s deadpan observations on the events of the movie actually made me smile and laugh, and he’s about the only interesting character in the movie. Sadly, he’s not enough to compensate for the energy-sucking black hole of the rest of the movie. Not recommended.

Der Verlorene (1951)

aka The Lost One
Article 5378 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-22-2017
Directed by Peter Lorre
Featuring Peter Lorre, Karl John, Helmuth Rudolph
Country: West Germany
What it is: Bleak drama

A doctor working as an immunologist for the Nazis is told that his fiancee has been leaking his secret work. He ends up strangling her and his murder is covered up. However, he has developed a homicidal instinct to kill women he’s attracted to…

I found this movie on YouTube, but it was in German without English subtitles; fortunately, it turns out that the listing for the movie in THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE gives a fairly elaborate description of the plot, so I was able to more or less follow the story. Despite the above plot description, this isn’t a horror movie (though the serial killer aspect provides the movie’s genre content), but rather a depressing drama about the German post-war experience, and despite the fact that it is a little reminiscent of M, it goes in a different direction entirely. It is the sole directorial effort of Peter Lorre, and he shows a good eye for interesting visuals. Lorre’s performance is equally good; I really admired the way he would use his hands to express his mental state. The movie was not a hit in Germany, which at that point preferred escapist entertainment; if it had been a hit, I wonder if Lorre would have continued as a director. As it is, it’s a bleak and unsettling drama, and the final image is unforgettable. This is recommended especially to Peter Lorre fans.

Variations on a Circle (1942)

Article 5365 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-6-2017
Directed by James Whitney
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Abstract animation

Rectangles, triangles and circles appear, disappear and interact.

In the Walt Lee guide, the title is listed as simply VARIATIONS, but since IMDB lists only one John Whitney movie from the given year, I’m assuming it’s the same one. That being said, I have to admit that I never feel more useless than when I’m covering these abstract animated shorts (and from my experience in the last year, I’m guessing I’m going to be covering lots of these). The trouble is I feel there’s just not much I can say about them. Granted, some of them give me a little more than pure abstraction to play with; however, this isn’t one of them. IMDB says it runs nine minutes. The print I saw ran only five minutes, and that was more than enough for me, especially as it didn’t have accompanying music. There’s some fun in trying to pretend the images are Rorschach drawings and trying to figure what you see (I saw lots of sticks of gum with eyes appearing on them). But that, too, wears old fairly quickly. In short, this one is not one of my favorites of the form.

V for Victory (1941)

Article 5360 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-1-2017
Directed by Norman McLaren
No cast
Country: Canada
What it is: Victory bonds commercial

Buy Victory Bonds!

This is another one of those shorts that ends up being a virtual fantasy by dint of the simple fact that it’s non-realistic. The action consists of a stick figure man marching to a rousing march; he keeps transfiguring himself into a giant V which causes the words “Victory Bonds” to appear; it’s obviously intended to help the war effort. So, basically I’m reviewing a public service commercial, but I’ve done that before. I couldn’t help but notice that the short basically uses the same animation approach to the work of Emile Cohl, albeit more focused and less given to “stream of consciousness”. It’s entertaining enough, but I’m glad it doesn’t run much longer than two minutes.

Le vampire (1945)

aka The Vampire
Article 5268 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-11-2016
Directed by Jean Painleve
Featuring Max Schreck
Country: France
What it is: Science documentary on the vampire bat.

We learn how a vampire bat attacks its victims.

Jean Painleve was a film-maker who specialized in science documentaries, but his style showed a flair for surreal images, and I have to admit to being quite impressed at all the weird creatures on display and the sharp photography that allows us to see such detail. Max Schreck only appears in archive footage from NOSFERATU during a segment where the film-maker expresses little surprise that a creature like the vampire bat would inspire a human counterpart, though I do wonder if the bat was named after the monster or vice versa. The short opens with footage of a variety of strange creatures before it settles in on its study of the vampire bat and its feeding off a poor guinea pig. One of the odd touches of the short is the presence of some bawdy-sounding jazz music, and it makes the bat’s attack come off as some sort of bizarre mating ritual. Yes, it’s disturbing and a bit repellent, but it’s fascinating as well. The surreal air to the proceedings as well as the NOSFERATU footage are its main claim to its inclusion in the realm of fantastic cinema. And, like a few other animals, I can see the vampire bat being viewed as something of a monster.

Vacation in Reno (1946)

Article 5259 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-1-2016
Directed by Leslie Goodwins
Featuring Jack Haley, Anne Jeffreys, Wally Brown
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy

A hapless husband stages a fake argument with his wife to teach some friends a lesson, but his marriage is threatened when some of the arguments hit too close to home. He tries to fix the problem, but things spiral out of control.

After watching this movie, I had to go back to the Don Willis guide in which this was listed in order to figure out the fantastic content. One thing I learned is that sometimes you have to listen closely. At one point in this story the main character goes hunting for treasure with a metal detector, and I think I may have missed the dialogue that mentioned that the metal detector was of his own invention. I’m not sure to what degree this pushes the movie into the realm of science fiction; after all, prototypes of metal detector design were created as far back as the nineteenth century.

At any rate, I almost guessed that the fantastic content would be the incredibly high coincidence ratio of the main plot developments here. Basically, in a secondary plot tied to the marital problems plot, our hero is the only person to see the faces of a pair of bank robbers. The bank robbers bury their stolen loot and hide out at a dude ranch. To test his metal detector, the hero just happens to go to the same dude ranch and finds the buried loot. Fortunately, this outrageous coincidence is appropriate to a comedy. As for the whole movie, it’s mildly amusing, as is Jack Haley and the various situations that arise. However, I do sense that it could have been a lot funnier than it is; in its present condition, it feels pretty contrived.

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.