Voyage Into Space (1970)

VOYAGE INTO SPACE (1970)
TV-Movie
Article 3072 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-5-2009
Posting Date: 1-11-2010
Directed by Minoru Yamada
Featuring Jerry Berke, Toshiyuki Tsuchiyama, Hirohiko Sato
Country: Japan
What it is: Several episodes of a Japanese children’s science fiction show edited together to masquerade as a feature film.

A young boy hooks up with a secret agent and gains control of a giant robot (known as Giant Robot). He joins the agents organization known as Unicorn, and helps battle an invasion from outer space by the evil Emperor Guillotine, his minions (the Gargoyle Gang), and a variety of giant monsters.

First of all, who concocted that title? I suspect it was thrown onto the movie by someone who watched the opening thirty seconds and noticed a spaceship going through space; hence, the title. However, that’s just the flying saucer arriving on earth, and beyond a short sequence into the movie where the Giant Robot goes into outer space, there is nothing in the way of real space voyaging here. Still, that’s a side issue.

As said above, this movie consists of several episodes of a TV series edited together. The series is “Jonny Sokko and his Giant Robot”, and the five (not four, as some sources state) episodes are “Dracolon, the Great Sea Monster”, “Nucleon, the Magic Globe”, “Destroy the Dam”, “Transformed Humans”, and “The Last Emperor Guillotine”. It’s basically a variation of Ultraman with a more prominent kid’s role and continuing invasion from outer space theme. It’s pretty silly, but fun. Some of the monsters that show up include a bizarre plant monster, a giant bowling ball, a giant eye, and a giant version of the evil space emperor, who can blow up mountains with his fingernail. The Giant Robot looks like a metallic Lou Reed wearing an Egyptian headdress. The episodes encompass the first one which sets up the plot, and the last one (which finished the storyline), so it at least feels a bit more unified than some other attempts at this sort of thing. For this sort of thing, recommendations are irrelevant; I suspect that if you’ve read this far, you’ll know whether it’s your cup of tea or not. Me, I find it irresistible.

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Vampire Men of the Lost Planet (1970)

VAMPIRE MEN OF THE LOST PLANET (1970)
aka Horror of the Blood Monsters
Article 3071 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-4-2009
Posting Date: 1-10-2010
Directed by Al Adamson
Featuring John Carradine, Robert Dix, Vicki Volante
Country: USA
What it is: Black-and-white Filipino caveman movie doctored to look like color American science fiction/horror epic

Spacemen are forced to land on a planet in which chromatic radiation has caused mutations. They must find a way to get fuel or die.

Al Adamson does a Jerry Warren-style adaptation of a forgotten (and possibly uncompleted) Filipino movie called TAGANI. Since the original movie was in black-and-white, the scenes were tinted to make it look like it was in color, and new footage was added, much of which seems focused on trying to explain the monochromatic color schemes of the Filipino footage. It’s all a pretty awful mess, but, for the record, Adamson does a better job than Warren ever did trying this sort of thing; at least Adamson’s new footage isn’t utterly without interest value. The silly opening footage (with low budget vampires wreaking havoc on a badly lit soundstage somewhere) is amusingly campy, but it’s also been obviously tacked on. The new footage includes John Carradine (an old hand at this sort of thing), and Adamson regulars Robert Dix and Vicki Volante. When dubbing does take place in the Filipino movie, you’ll be hearing an awful lot of Paul Frees, often talking to himself. Let’s not forget the footage from WIZARD OF MARS and ONE MILLION B.C. either, and, yes, Rumsford and Ignatz reappear for a short reprise of their fight scene. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one sat on the bottom of double bills for years confusing people under a variety of different titles.

La valse du gorille (1959)

LA VALSE DU GORILLE (1959)
aka Operation Top Secret
Article 3065 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-28-2009
Posting Date: 1-4-2010
Directed by Bernard Borderie
Featuring Roger Hanin, Charles Vanel, Jess Hahn
Country: France
What it is: Probably a Gizmo Maguffin spy thriller

Plans for a method of returning space rockets to earth become the prize in a battle of wits between spies.

The title above translates into THE GORILLA’S WALTZ, which is an interesting title; I wouldn’t have an idea what the movie was about from that one. However, the title under which it first entered my list isn’t that ambiguous; I’d expect a movie called OPERATION TOP SECRET to be a spy movie of sorts. My copy is in French with no subtitles, and a good deal of the plot description above is from John Stanley’s “Revenge of the Creature Features Movie Guide”, and that is pretty sparse. It was apparently based on a novel that was part of a series of spy novels by one Antoine-Louis Dominique (a former secret agent), and the Gorilla is apparently the nickname of the main character here. The movie has a low rating on IMDB, so I’m assuming the story is fairly weak, but it has some odd little touches, such as the spy with the magnetic hook for a hand. Still, the movie was largely impenetrable to me, so I’m going to have to reserve any judgment.

Valley of the Dragons (1961)

VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS (1961)
Article 3063 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-26-2009
Posting Date: 1-2-2009
Directed by Edward Bernds
Featuring Cesare Danova, Sean McClory, Joan Staley
Country: USA
What it is: Low-budget caveman antics masquerading as Jules Verne epic

Two duellists are whisked up by a comet, where they find themselves in a prehistoric world that had been whisked up on the comet’s previous journey to earth.

I’ve been curious about this movie ever since it was mentioned in a quiz in Cracked Mazagine (and I’m sure some of you see no spelling mistakes there). In the quiz, they showed a series of stills from horror/science fiction movies, and you were supposed to pick out the name of the movie from a multiple-choice list. This was pretty easy, as the other titles were obvious fakes (I remember one called THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME WEARS BELL-BOTTOMS). This movie was one of the answers that was supposed to be correct, and the photo showed a real cool-looking dragon. However, as I was to discover a few years later, the dragon on display was actually the one from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. This raised a question to me; did the mazagine get the wrong photo, or did VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS cop footage from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD? As I’d never seen VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS, I didn’t know.

Well, now I’ve finally seen it, and I can say that no Harryhausen footage (new or borrowed) appears in this movie at all. Which is not to say that this movie was above borrowing stuff from other movies; the prop spider from CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON appears at one point, as does footage from RODAN and (especially) ONE MILLION B.C. Yes, this means we have Ignatz and Rumsford going through their battle once again, and we get the volcano destruction footage as well (just how many times have I seen that woman fall under the advancing lava?). It did make me wonder if ONE MILLION B.C. and all its footage vanished from the face of the earth, how many other movies would be swept up in the wake. Well, that’s a side issue. As far as this movie goes, despite the outlandish premise, it’s pretty much standard caveman escapades, with the addition of a couple of semi-modern (that is to say, nineteenth century) Engish-speakers to add to the comprehensibility and to teach the two tribes of caveman about cooperation (if the modern men had been named Ernie and Bert, I could make a good Sesame Street joke here). To its credit, the volcano footage doesn’t destroy this world in its entirety. It also has a bit of a sense of humor, which, given that the movie was directed by Edward Bernds (who helmed a lot of the Three Stooges shorts), is no real surprise. Overall, it’s no better than it sounds, but at least it isn’t a whole lot worse.

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970)
Article 2846 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-21-2009
Posting Date: 5-29-2009
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring Ingrid Pitt, George Cole, Kate O’Mara
Country: UK

A mysterious woman worms her way into households which have beautiful young women in them. When the women begin turning up dead, it is believed that the vampiric Karnsteins, which were once believed to have been destroyed, have come back to plague the village.

After having read “English Gothic”, the history of the British horror movie, I’m not surprised that Hammer turned to nudity (which appears here for the first time in a Hammer horror) to spice up their offerings; since they lacked the financial wherewithal of their American counterparts, they needed to add cost-effective and marketable elements to their movies that the American filmmakers were reluctant to add to theirs. Furthermore, Ingrid Pitt certainly has the body for this type of thing, though I must admit I’m less impressed with her as an actress. At least they found a vehicle that effectively incorporates these exploitable elements into the story; the sex and lesbian overtones here are essential to the story rather than having been layered on without reason. Many of the performances are very good, with fourth-billed Peter Cushing doing a fine job as usual in a part that emphasizes his work with an ensemble; though he’s easily the biggest star here, he never steals focus from anyone. It’s a very good movie. Some of the scenes of the vampires walking in the misty cemetery are very eerie, and I like the way the movie works out the details by which Carmilla/Mircalla/Marcilla insinuates herself into the various families to gain access to their beautiful daughters. Hammer’s product was on a downhill slide at this point of time, but this one is still quite strong; it’s certainly superior to its immediate sequel, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, though I can’t as of yet compare it to TWINS OF EVIL, the third movie in the Karnstein trilogy.

Les Vampires (1915)

LES VAMPIRES (1915)
aka The Vampires
Article 2753 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-20-2008
Posting Date: 2-25-2009
Directed by Louis Feuillade
Featuring Musidora, Edouard Mathe, Marcel Levesque
Country: France

A reporter matches wits with a criminal organization known as the Vampires.

Nowadays this is probably Louis Feuillade’s most famous serial, though I think I prefer FANTOMAS. I’m glad it is a serial; at more than six and a half hours, this is the longest single work I’ve reviewed for this series, and it was nice to be able to stretch the viewing over several nights, with each episode preceding my movie. Still, they were long nights, since the serial is only ten episodes, and some of the episodes clock in at almost an hour.

Despite the title, the closest we get to a real vampire is a character in a musical performance in the second episode. Still, there are some marginal fantastic items throughout; there’s a few light science fiction items (various types of poison, including one that paralyzes its victims) and a few horror touches (a severed head, people seemingly coming back from the dead, a crooked medium, hypnotism, etc). In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if every episode had some element that would push it at least marginally into fantastic territory, though the serial as a whole remains squarely in the crime genre. It’s quite entertaining and fairly light-hearted, though the preponderance of coincidence as a driving plot element makes it somewhat hard to swallow. I like the general structure; the early episodes are shorter and keep the plots simple, but as the serial progresses, more characters are introduced and the plots get more elaborate. In fact, I had to restart and rewatch one episode when I lost the plot thread of it, something that I rarely have to do with other serials. At points, the complexity becomes almost comic; in my favorite episode, two different groups of criminals plot to steal a fortune from another criminal, only to discover that that criminal’s fortune has fallen into the reporter’s hands.

Vanishing Point (1971)

VANISHING POINT (1971)
Article 2688 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-6-2008
Posting Date: 12-22-2008
Directed by Richard C. Sarafian
Featuring Barry Newman, Cleavon Little, Dean Jagger
Country: USA

A professional driver known as Kawalski attempts to drive a souped-up 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in fifteen hours. He becomes a target of the police and gets help from various strangers enroute.

First of all, I’m not rightly sure that this 1970s cult item is really within my chosen genres; a lot depends on how much you make of the psychic link between the driver (Barry Newman) and a blind, black DJ named Super Soul (Cleavon Little). This link is not made explicit, but is implied in some of the comments made by the latter character. We’re in hazy territory here, and most of my sources don’t include this title, but John Stanley’s guide does, so I’m covering it.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of car chase movies, but for the first half of this movie, it’s something special. Rather than trying for a thrill-a-minute action spectacular, it actually manages to achieve a certain zen-like transcendence; the scenes where we see him speeding down the road while soothing guitar music plays on the soundtrack gives the movie a mystic edge, and the superb photography and location footage gives the it a haunting feel quite unlike any other movie. Unfortunately, the movie falters; as it goes along, it starts to get rather self-conscious and it gets too mired in its late sixties/early seventies “counterculture vs. the establishment” theme to really stand the test of time as well as it could have. I think it would have been better had it fully embraced some of the mythic power it taps into, and jettisoned some of its unnecessary baggage. When it works, it works beautifully; I just wish it worked all the way through.