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)

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.

Las Vampiras (1969)

aka The Vampires
Article 3328 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-8-2010
Posting Date: 9-24-2010
Directed by Federico Curiel
Featuring John Carradine, Mil Mascaras, Maria Duval
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican masked wrestler movie

Vampires are on the loose, and it’s up to Mil Mascaras to defeat them.

A name horror actor in a Mexican wrestler movie? The idea boggles the mind somewhat, but now that I know one exists, I’m not surprised the actor in question is John Carradine. He appears to be having the time of his life as well; his performance is gleefully over the top, so much so that you’ll wonder if his aged vampire character is caged up throughout most of the movie because he’s suffering from senility. The aptly named Mil Mascaras dons quite a few different masks during the length of the movie, though he eventually settles on a red one during the last half of the movie; my favorite mask has a spiral on it that I’m sure would have made his opponent in the ring dizzy. The female vampires in this movie are a hoot; not only do they flap their arms about even when they aren’t bats, but they’re the world’s worst drivers (they wreck two cars during the course of the movie). I just wish it was all subtitled in English; I have no idea what’s going on most of the time, though it is entertaining. It is rather jarring, though, to hear the voice they used to dub Carradine.

The Vulture (1967)

Article 3305 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-16-2010
Posting Date: 9-1-2010
Directed by Lawrence Huntington
Featuring Robert Hutton, Akim Tamiroff, Broderick Crawford
Country: UK / Canada / USA
What it is: Ineffectual monster movie

A vulture with the head and hands of a man is terrorizing the members of a family.

Whatever expectations you have going into this movie, I suggest you lower them. It’s by no means a good movie; in fact, it’s just plain ludicrous, with a silly monster, a ridiculous backstory, and a budget-strapped threadbare look. None of these things necessarily make a movie unenjoyable, but even those who come to laugh will be a little disappointed; there are some laughs to be had (especially when the hero explains what’s going on or the monster attacks), but most of the movie is a gabfest of the dullest sort. It’s something of a cross between THE FLY and THE FLYING SERPENT. For me, the most memorable thing about the movie is the scientific question it left me pondering – could a bird the size of a man become airborne while carrying Broderick Crawford in his claws?

Village of Eight Gravestones (1977)

aka Yatsuhaka-mura
Article 3288 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-26-2010
Posting Date: 8-15-2010
Directed by Yoshitaro Nomura
Featuring Kenichi Hagiwara, Mayumi Ogawa, Tsutomu Yamazakie
Country: Japan
What it is: Supernatural revenge mystery

When an orphan discovers he is the heir to a rich family in a small village, he goes to the village to meet the family. But family members start dying one by one, and he discovers that the village lives under a curse; years ago, eight fugitive warriors were betrayed and slaughtered by the villagers for money, and one of the warriors cursed the village previous to his death. The curse has manifested itself several times over the years… and may be returning again.

Due to events I won’t go into here, I was unable to watch this movie in one sitting, and there was a gap of about a month between my watching the first half of the movie and the second half. Perhaps this was a plus for me; had I watched it all at once, its two-and-a-half-hour running time might well have worn me out, and I notice on IMDB that some of the negative reaction to it is tied to its length. As it is, I found that when I watched the second part, I was still able to recall enough of the first part to keep me from getting lost, and it was still strong enough in my memory that I was able to appreciate the way one of the final scenes in the movie matched one of the first scenes in the movie. I found it a successful merging of mystery and supernatural horror, which doesn’t happen very often; usually, the addition of a mystery element has the effect of negating the fantastic elements of a movie, but that’s not the case here. The fantastic elements revolve around the curse, while the mystery surrounds the manifestation of the curse; there must be a human element in the cause of the deaths, and though the villagers blame the newcomer, we soon learn that there is a real question about his true parentage. It’s a complex, fascinating movie that manages to satisfy as both genres; I was quite impressed by it all. Still, that length may well prove daunting for a single sitting, so I’d recommend taking a break after the first hour or so.

Visions of Evil (1975)

aka So Sad About Gloria
Article 3201 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-22-2010
Posting Date: 5-20-2010
Directed by Harry Thomason
Featuring Lori Saunders, Dean Jagger, Robert Ginnaven
Country: USA
What it is: Disturbed woman in a scary house movie

An heiress is released from a mental hospital and tries to rebuild her life. She meets a man and marries him, despite her uncle’s misgivings. They move into a house that was the setting of an axe murder. Soon she’s hearing sounds and having strange visions…

For what it’s worth, this movie manages to take a storyline that usually annoys the hell out of me and keeps it from bothering me, which is something of an accomplishment. Nevertheless, the movie has a whole other set of problems. The dialogue is clumsy, often belaboring cliches, tossing in odd literary references (to Tolkien and Shakespeare, for instance), or breaking into a semi-poetic mode that just sounds odd. The pace is painfully slow at times; though the axe murder scene during the first twenty minutes is bit on the gratuitous side, it may be the only thing during the first hour of the movie that will make you stick with it till the end. One big problem is that director Harry Thomason has too much of an affection for the romantic montage, a problem that afflicted the previous movie I’ve seen of his, ENCOUNTER WITH THE UNKNOWN. Dean Jagger is also saddled with a character who ultimately becomes unworkable; you won’t buy his last scene. Still, when it works, it works, and the woman’s recurring dream about a man trying to open a crate with an axe at a railway station actually does come to an interesting conclusion. Still, once the movie shows its hand, you’ll probably be able to anticipate its very final twist.

Voodoo in Harlem (1938)

Article 3194 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-6-2010
Posting Date: 5-6-2010
Directed by Rudy Zamora
Featuring Walter Lantz
Country: USA
What it is: Musical cartoon

During a stormy night, an inkwell is tipped over, leaving a big black blot on a piece of paper. Out of the blot emerge several black natives, who sing “Voodoo in Harlem”.

I found this cartoon on a set of banned cartoons – those cartoons which can’t be shown on television anymore because of the racial stereotypes they perpetrated. In this cartoon, it is the black caricatures that consign this cartoon to its current state. There are some great cartoons out there that can’t be shown for similar reasons; however, this one is fairly forgettable. Outside of a beginning and end that feature some live action footage (a cartoonist drawing a character and then a cleaning lady cleaning up afterwards), there’s little novelty to this one. It primarily consists of animated characters singing and dancing to the title song, and though the song isn’t bad, it doesn’t really make for an interesting cartoon. It doesn’t even try for comedy, but maybe that’s just as well, given that the comedy would probably have resorted to jokes involving watermelons and dice. And, unless the characters arising out of the inkwell count, no voodoo is in use during the cartoon.