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.

 

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A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)

A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1973)
aka Christina, princesse de l’erotisme, Among the Living Dead
Article 2368 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-19-2007
Posting Date: 2-5-2008
Directed by Jesus Franco, Jean Rollin, and Pierre Querut
Featuring Christina von Blanc, Britt Nichols, Rosa Palomar

A woman who has been separated from her family ever since she was a child visits them for the reading of her father’s will. However, she finds the family exceedingly strange and dreams she is being attacked by zombies.

I wavered back and forth on this one quite a bit while I was watching it, but I’ve decided that finally that it’s one of the better Jess Franco movies I’ve seen. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this review and checked on IMDB that I found out that the movie was also directed by Jean Rollin. At first, I thought that this went a long way towards explaining why I found some of the dream sequences of this movie quite compelling, especially one where the heroine follows the hanged body of her father through the forest; however, this was also Franco’s work, as all Rollin did was add some poor zombie footage for a re-release of the movie. There are also other moments that caught my attention; the translation and dubbing of this movie is better than usual for a Franco movie, and there are moments where the dialogue achieves real lyricism. There’s also a great sequence in which the lawyer reads the will of the father. The movie also actually tries to be scary on occasion, and this isn’t always something that happens in a Franco horror movie. These pluses compensate somewhat for some of Franco’s more annoying habits; I’ve never liked those scenes where the camera jumps from one person to another and then zooms in or pulls away while the plot goes nowhere. I also found the lack of character continuity to be bothersome, though the end of the movie explains this somewhat. Nevertheless, I think the movie somewhat achieves its balance of horror movie and art film, and it is one of those films of his that I’d be willing to watch again. It’s times like these where I realize that Franco has real talent; if he were more consistent about it, I’d like his movies better in general. As it is, I consider this one one of his high points.

Special thanks to doctor kiss for explaining the nature of Jean Rollin’s contribution to the movie.

 

The Vampires (1961)

THE VAMPIRES (1961)
aka Maciste contro il vampiro, Goliath vs. the Vampire
Article 2350 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-1-2007
Posting Date: 1-18-2008
Directed by Sergio Corbucci and Giacomo Gentilomo
Featuring Gordon Scott, Leonora Ruffo, Jacques Kurtik

Goliath (or is it Maciste) swears revenge on raiders who have attacked and murdered or kidnapped all the people in his village. He goes to the raiders’ island home, and discovers that they have been forced to do the bidding of an evil vampire-like monster.

The amount of fantastic content in sword and sandal movies varies wildly with the movie. In some, the sole fantastic content is that the hero is fairly strong (HERCULES AGAINST THE SONS OF THE SUN comes to mind), while others ratchet up the fantastic content quite a few notches, such as this one. In fact, this one belongs to that small group whose horror content is particularly heavy, such as HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD and NIGHT STAR, GODDESS OF ELECTRA ; the vampire-like creature known as Kobrak is quite effective, and he has an army of faceless zombie slaves to do his bidding. Our hero is extremely strong here, so much so that I was a bit surprised to find that it is really a Maciste movie; in most of the other Maciste movies I’ve seen, his strength is considerably less. In this one, he pulls pillars out of the center of buildings (twice) lifts a myriad of heavy things and throws them, and takes on several people all at once. As for other fantastic content, there is a race of blue men that are fighting the vampire along with our two-named hero. Overall, it’s a slightly better-than-average sword-and-sandal movie, but horror fans will want to give this one a look.

 

The Venetian Affair (1967)

THE VENETIAN AFFAIR (1967)
Article 2318 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-31-2007
Posting Date: 12-17-2007
Directed by Jerry Thorpe
Featuring Robert Vaughn, Elke Sommer, Felicia Farr

A down-and-out journalist who used to be with the CIA finds himself investigating the bombing of a conference in Venice. There he encounters his former CIA boss and his ex-wife, who are also embroiled in the mystery.

I remember this movie popping up on TV a few times during my youth, but on viewing the teasers, I didn’t think it looked promising, despite the fact that Boris Karloff was in the cast; perhaps the fact that he was always mentioned fourth was a further tip-off that it really wasn’t the type of movie I liked. Having watched it now, I feel that I was right; it wouldn’t have interested me much back then. For that matter, it only interests me marginally more now. I do admire it a little; despite the fact that spy movies were in no short supply during the sixties, this largely applies to James Bond movies and their various knock-offs; serious spy movies were in much shorter supply, and I like that this one aspires to be one of the latter. Still, it’s so low key that I found it dull and difficult to follow for the first half, and it didn’t exactly inspire me to pay close attention to the plot details. Things do improve during the second half, though, but not enough. Part of the problem is that for this story to work, the main character has to be complex and interesting enough for us to get caught up in his situation; unfortunately, though I do think Robert Vaughn works just fine in certain roles, I don’t think he really gives his character sufficient depth to make me interested in him. I have no problem with many of the other familiar names in the cast, such as Karloff, Elke Sommer, Roger C. Carmel or Ed Asner, all of whom hold my attention and interest me when they’re on the screen. As it is, I find this spy thriller middling at best.

Oh, and I almost forgot – the fantastic content of the movie is one of the plot secrets that isn’t really revealed until near the end of the movie, but it thrusts the movie into the realm of science fiction. Let’s just say that a scientist has created something that is of use to the villains in the story.

 

A Voyage Around a Star (1906)

A VOYAGE AROUND A STAR (1906)
aka Voyage autour d’une etoile
Article 2259 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-24-2007
Posting Date: 10-19-2007
Directed by Gaston Valle
Cast unknown

An astronomer, smitten by heavenly bodies in the stars, decides to fly into space in a soap bubble to meet them.

In one way, I was quite impressed with this attempt to mimic a George Melies movie; it’s the one that most looks like Melies might have done it himself. Of course, one of the big factors is that it includes one of Melies’ continuing characters – namely, the cranky guy in Saturn. You know, you really don’t want to mess with the cranky guy in Saturn; he doesn’t take kindly to those flirting with his heavenly bodies, as the astronomer finds out here. Still, the most striking thing about this short is the ending, which is rather grotesque for what is for the most part a light-hearted comedy.

Incidentally, this movie was at the top of my hunt list, so I’ve been looking for it a long time.

 

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)

VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1968)
Article 2225 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-19-2007
Posting Date: 9-15-2007
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Featuring Mamie Van Doren, Mary Marr, Paige Lee

A group of astronauts come to Venus to explore. A group of telepathic female Venusians who worship a pterodactyl try to destroy them.

This is what amounts to Peter Bogdanovich’s first theatrical film, in which he took (or was given) the Russian science fiction epic PLANETA BUR, edited in footage of beautiful Venusians in seashell bikini tops, added a lot of dubbing and narration, and voila! instant movie. The movie isn’t totally useless, largely because PLANETA BUR has some nice moments to it; the scene with the robot in the lava is the most memorable, but I also like the killer plant and the final revelation about the rock. The new footage is pretty bad, but sometimes memorable in its own right; the scenes where they hold a funeral for their pterodactyl god (who looks pretty rubbery and may be the best competitor with the monster in THE GIANT CLAW for the goofiest cinematic flying beastie) and the one where they find a new god qualify. Still, it’s fairly easy to find copies of PLANETA BUR anymore, so this version may be unnecessary, unless you absolutely have to see Mamie Van Doren in the seashell bikini top.

Incidentally, this movie is part of a group of three from the mid -to-late sixties which I associate with each other because it’s so easy to get them confused. The other two movies are VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET, and WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET. To further complicate things, one of these movies also makes extensive use of footage from PLANETA BUR. Talk about recycling…

 

Voodoo Tiger (1952)

VOODOO TIGER (1952)
Article 1897 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-25-2006
Posting Date: 10-22-2006
Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Jean Byron, James Seay

Jungle Jim has to contend with headhunters who worship tigers, a Nazi in hiding with a large stash of art, some greedy white men, and a tiger that escaped from a crashed airplane.

Why are the natives in Africa worshiping a tiger? Well, the movie may be smart enough to ask the question, and it may be smart enough to bring in a tiger from outside, but it’s really not smart enough to answer the question. Not that it really matters that much; maybe it’s just me, but, despite the fact that the movie tries to throw everything it can at me jungle-wise, my only impression was one of enduring another routine jungle movie. It’s the kind of movie that cuts away from a potentially exciting scene (Jungle Jim fighting a lion in a cage) to show us what antics Cheeta (pardon me, Tamba) is getting into. Quite frankly, I’ve been here before, and I’ve been here under much more interesting circumstances. A few exciting scenes stand out here and there, but not enough to compensate for the overall dreariness of this one.