Valley of the Lions (1961)

VALLEY OF THE LIONS (1961)
aka Ursus nella valle dei leoni, Ursus in the Valley of the Lions
Article 3715 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-1-2011
Posting Date: 10-16-2011
Directed by Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia
Featuring Ed Fury, Moira Orfei, Alberto Lupo
Country: Italy
What it is: Peplum

When a usurper takes the throne, the surviving son of the original king manages to survive by being raised by wild lions. When his existence is discovered, he becomes embroiled in a rebellion that wants to remove the usurper… but will the usurper destroy the son before he can lead the rebellion?

This one is a little skimpy on the story, problem because the movie spends quite a bit of its footage showing Ed Fury’s stand-in playing with the lions while Ed Fury carries on a comic patter about his feline friends. It’s actually quite a ways into the movie before he is captured by the usurper (played by Alberto Lupo, who played the title character in ATOM AGE VAMPIRE) and then meets the rebels. As you might guess, Ursus has super strength, which is especially noticeable when he takes on some trained elephants; the concept of his having been raised by lions adds to the fantastic elements. There’s no evil queens in this one, though there is some intrigue among the slave girls. At least Ed Fury adds some light-heartedness to the proceedings. My copy of the movie is in black and white, though it was shot in color. It’s a minor entry into the sword-and-sandal genre, but it has its moments.

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The Vampire Happening (1971)

THE VAMPIRE HAPPENING (1971)
aka Gebissen wird nur nachts

Article 3668 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-15-2011
Posting Date: 8-30-2011
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Pia Degermark, Thomas Hunter, Yvor Murillo
Country: West Germany
What it is: Vampire comedy

An American actress inherits a castle and becomes baroness. While at the castle, she opens the tomb of her great-grandmother, who is not only the spitting image of the actress, but a vampire as well. Complications ensue.

This movie does have a certain amount of surreal imagery to give it flavor, and those who like lots of sex and nudity with their vampire flicks will find it more than satisfying. Me, I found it really hard to get past the fact that I found it thoroughly unfunny; with the exception of one line from Dracula (played by Ferdy Mayne) which references a well known horror actor, I didn’t laugh once, and I found the movie as a whole (a sort of psychedelic variation on THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS) to be tiresome. Granted, most of the actors have been dubbed, and sometimes humor doesn’t survive the translation, but I doubt that subtitles would have made it any funnier. This is not my favorite vampire comedy by a long shot.

Voyage a la planete Jupiter (1909)

VOYAGE A LA PLANETE JUPITER (1909)
aka Le voyage sur Jupiter, A Trip to Jupiter

Article 3594 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-31-2011
Posting Date: 6-17-2011
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Early space travel film

A king, after having spent the evening looking at the planets with an astronomer, dreams that he climbs a ladder to Jupiter.

Though it’s obvious the Segundo de Chomon was familiar with Melies’s A TRIP TO THE MOON, he doesn’t slavishly imitate it. In this case, the trip is a dream, and the method of travel (a ladder) is certainly novel. Getting there is half the fun, which is just as well; not a whole lot happens when he gets there; the king encounters some tumbling space people and meets another king who has fire in his touch, and then he is unceremoniously tossed off the planet. It’s entertaining enough, though it’s simply not up to the level of the Melies classic.

Venus in Furs (1969)

VENUS IN FURS (1969)
aka Paroxismus

Article 3589 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-26-2011
Posting Date: 6-12-2011
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring James Darren, Barbara McNair, Maria Rohm
Country: UK / West Germany / Italy
What it is: Ghost story

A jazz musician finds the body of a beautiful woman washed up on the shore in Istanbul, a woman who he may have seen killed during a sadistic orgy. Then, in Rio, he encounters the woman, seemingly alive, and has a love affair with her. Meanwhile, the other participants of the orgy begin dying one by one.

Jesus Franco’s masterpiece? Given the fact that I think Franco has wasted more celluloid than practically any other director I know, you would think I would be hesitant to proclaim any movie of his a masterpiece. But, truth to tell, when he’s good, he’s very good, and when he’s working on movies where his obsession with sadism dovetails well with the story, he can be very effective, and such is the case here. The movie is focused and has a story, the arty touches are fun and interesting, and even the constant music interludes serve a purpose; after all, the story is largely being told through the point of view of a jazz musician who feels more at ease communicating with his music than with words. Some of the dialogue is fairly dated, and I don’t really care for the touch that the soundtrack breaks into the “Venus in Furs” song after each death, even if it does play a role in the final twist of the movie; I think this latter problem could have been fixed by omitting the vocalist until the final sequence. Yet these are very minor problems, and I don’t think they really detract from what may well be Franco’s most fully realized work. So, yes, I will say this one is probably his masterpiece.

Virus (1980)

VIRUS (1980)
aka Fukkatsu no hi
Article 3456 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-22-2010
Posting Date: 1-30-2011
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Featuring Glenn Ford, Chuck Connors, Olivia Hussey
Country: Japan
What it is: Ambitious end of the world epic

A deadly biological weapon is unleashed that decimates the world. Soon, only a small group isolated in Antarctica is left alive to find a cure.

I’ve heard tell that the full version, which runs 156 minutes, is much better than the abbreviated 103 minute version I have. I’m willing to buy that; my version has a somewhat unfocused, rushed and confusing feel that could easily be the result of large chunks of footage having been cut. Still, the end result isn’t disastrous, and at about the halfway point a new development (involving an earthquake and an automatic missile launching system) gives the movie some much needed focus just when it needs it. I do like the international flavor of it; though it was a Japanese production, it uses actors of many countries and has a number of familiar faces; outside of those listed above, you’ll also see Henry Silva, Robert Vaughn, Sonny Chiba, Bo Svenson and Arthur Kennedy, just to name a few. Still, the movie proved to be a major flop, and given the ending, I’m not really surprised.

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969)
Article 3455 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-21-2010
Posting Date: 1-29-2011
Directed by Jim O’Connolly
Featuring James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson
Country: USA
What it is: Dinosaur/cowboy movie

A wild west show discovers a hidden valley with prehistoric creatures which could prove to have great attractions for their show… if they live to capture one.

The concept for Gwangi originated with Willis O’Brien, but it never got made in his lifetime, though MIGHTY JOE YOUNG used some of the ideas and the concept did get some use in THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN. Seeing this Ray Harryhausen movie certainly makes you understand why the idea of pitting cowboys against dinosaurs was so attractive; it’s seems a bit far-fetched until you see it in action, but then it works just fine. The plot is nothing special; it’s merely a reworking of THE LOST WORLD, though in some ways it should be pointed that this could also be said about KING KONG. But then, the plot is pretty secondary here; it’s the action setpieces that make the movie. It’s worst problem is that it takes too long to get to the action; the opening half of the movie spends too much time of relationships and characterizations that are neither novel in and of themselves or of any importance when the action gets underway. Once it gets going, it’s engrossing, with the ending sequence particularly striking. It’s not a great movie overall, but it is more than satisfying for dinosaur fans.

The Velvet Vampire (1971)

THE VELVET VAMPIRE (1971)
Article 3341 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-22-2010
Posting Date: 10-7-2010
Directed by Stephanie Rothman
Featuring Michael Blodgett, Sherry Miles, Celeste Yarnall
Country: USA / Philippines
What it is: Arty vampire tale

A young couple is invited to spend some time in the home of a mysterious woman who lives in the desert. They begin to suspect she is a vampire… and has designs on both of them.

Stephanie Rothman was one of the directors who worked on the bizarre hodgepodge TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE; having watched this movie, I suspect that she was responsible for the dancing on the beach sequence at least. She returns to vampires here, and the result is not unlike DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, in which a seductive older bisexual female vampire gets involved in the lives of a young couple. She’s got an impressive visual sense, especially with montages; there’s a luxurious sensuality to this movie, and there’s something so appropriate at having a vampire live in the middle of the desert, an area that seems to have been drained of life. She also has a nice sense for the music; the score is quite haunting. I’m less impressed, however, with some of the other aspects of her work; the dialogue is terse and lacks the sensuous quality of the visuals, the story becomes obvious and rather silly, especially towards the end, and the acting is often mannered and fairly weak. Still, these strikes against it don’t take away the visual sense, and the movie lingers. Had it been better around the edges, it might have been a classic.