Wild Beasts (1984)

aka Wild beasts – Belve feroci
Article 5154 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-12-2016
Directed by Franco Prosperi
Featuring Lorraine De Selle, John Aldrich, Ugo Bologna
Country: Italy
What it is: Nature goes wild

When drugs get into Frankfurt’s water supply, animals at the zoo are exposed to it. They become savage, and when they escape the zoo, the city is terrorized.

Before seeing this, you may want to be aware the director Franco Prosperi’s oeuvre mostly consists of (sometimes uncredited) directorial work on movies like MONDO CANE, which are known as shockumentaries. This may prepare you for one of the most offensive elements of this movie; for the sake of realism, real animals were killed for this movie, and this is mostly noticeable during two sequences, one in which a swarm of rats is set on fire, and one in which some of the wild animals are let loose in a slaughterhouse where they attack cows, pigs and horses. Other scenes give me the sense that he had the animals just let loose in certain environments and filmed whatever happened, such as a scene where cattle on a stampede break into a restaurant. It’s a latecomer in the “nature gone wild” subgenre that became popular in the seventies, and we get attacks of marauding rats, cheetahs, tigers, elephants and a polar bear. Some of the scenes are effective, but others are not and much of the acting is terrible. There’s a bizarre theme about parents and children being at war with each other that pops up sporadically, and this will give you a clue to the climax of the movie. Whatever its merits (some people find it effective, others don’t), the treatment of the animals makes it a movie I find impossible to enjoy.

Wacko (1982)

WACKO (1982)
Article 5153 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-11-2016
Directed by Greydon Clark
Featuring Joe Don Baker, Stella Stevens, George Kennedy
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher parody

Thirteen years ago, a killer wearing a pumpkin head did away with teenagers going to the Halloween Pumpkin Prom. Today, a cop believes the killer will return, but who will it be? Is it Zeke, the janitor? The Weirdo? The Looney?

I have to admit that my heart goes out to this one, if for no other reason that in attempting a parody of the slasher genre (and any number of other horror movies such as THE OMEN, THE EXORCIST, PSYCHO, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, etc.), it chooses to approach it in the throw-everything-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks style of AIRPLANE!. If more of it stuck, it might have been good, but I’d say a good eighty percent of it falls flat. The only thing that sticks consistently (and easily the best thing in the movie) is Joe Don Baker as the cop who is determined to catch the killer. He does a hilarious parody of the slob cop type of role that he did in MITCHELL, and he proves remarkably adept at comedy. The movie’s biggest problems were that it often played things way too broadly (AIRPLANE! was often very deadpan), and it had a tendency to beat its running jokes into the ground. Still, I’ll give it a few points for trying, and Baker makes it worth catching.

Woodpecker from Mars (1956)

Article 5142 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-27-2016
Directed by Paul J. Smith
Featuring the voices of Del McKennon and Grace Stafford
Country: USA
What it is: Woody Woodpecker cartoon

Woody is mistaken for an extraterrestrial bird and becomes the subject of scientific experiments.

The cartoon slapstick content here is pretty lame and obvious. However, there are points of interest. One is that the cartoon adopts a UPA style of animation that is occasionally quite striking, even though Woody himself seems a little out of place in it. The other is that the cartoon has some interesting satirical aspects, particularly at the beginning when Woody takes part in a juvenile science fiction TV show that is far more interested in hawking products than providing adventure. It’s these other elements that elevate what would otherwise be a very weak cartoon.

When Mousehood Was in Flower (1953)

Article 5139 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-25-2016
Directed by Connie Rasinski
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Mighty Mouse cartoon

In days of yore, an impoverished noblemouse is unable to pay the tax on his castle unless his heroes win the jousting tournament. However, the tax collector is the infamous Black Knight, who appears unstoppable. Can Mighty Mouse come to the rescue?

This is Mighty Mouse in full operetta mode, although it does dispense with the serial trappings of some of the others. It’s a fairly routine entry in the series. Having watched several of these fairly recently, I do find myself wishing that the Terrytoons era Mighty Mouse had been given a more elaborate character; as it is, he’s simply a superhero archetype embodied in a tiny animal, and it never really goes beyond the gimmick stage. All the other characters are standard melodrama stereotypes, and so the cartoons primarily have to rely on their gags, which are usually passable but rarely inspired. As a result, the cartoons in this series feel like mechanical regurgitations of the same plot over and over again. But then, we have to remember that many of the cartoons were made for children, who are more inclined to like repetition. For some of us, they get a little monotonous.

Wombling Free (1977)

Article 5095 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-1-2016
Directed by Lionel Jeffries
Featuring David Tomlinson, Frances de la Tour, Bonnie Langford
Country: UK
What it is: Fantasy environmentalism

The Wombles of Wimbledon Commons seek to make their presence known to a family known as the Frogmortons so they can spread their anti-littering message.

The Wombles are a group of short, fat, furry creatures largely invisible to humans who clean up the litter the others leave behind. They started out as characters in an English children’s book series from the late sixties. They gained fame in England when they were featured in a TV series that brought them to life via stop-motion animation in five-minute segments. I’d heard about them some time ago, but my only encounter with them up to this point was in a song called “Wombling Summer Party” from a collection of summer songs that I’d picked up at one point. This movie marks my first visual encounter with them.

I have to admit that the stop-motion animated series does intrigue me a bit; it sounds like the presentation would add quite a bit of charm to didactic nature of the series. Unfortunately, this movie does not feature stop-motion animation. Here, the Wombles are people in costumes, sort of like the Sid and Marty Krofft productions of the sixties and seventies. Also, what might be charming in five-minute segments might become less so in a full-length movie, and, quite frankly, the whimsical nature of the proceedings starts to wear thin very quickly here, especially since the story is disjointed and episodic. At times things get pretty weird and even a bit unpleasant; a dinner party scene with a drunk hostess seems rather out of place in particular. There is a charming little sequence where the Wombles fantasize they’re appearing in famous movie musical sequences; for me, this was the high point of the movie. The rest of the movie strikes me as being mostly memorable as a curio. Apparently, Jon Pertwee voices one of the Wombles.

Witchboard (1986)

Article 5087 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-22-2016
Directed by Kevin Tenney
Featuring Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nichols
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Evil ghost possession story

When a woman becomes obsessed with a friend’s Ouija board, she unleashes a malevolent spirit that wishes to possess her.

On the positive side, I really like how this movie cares about its characters enough to develop them; that’s not something that usually happens with horror movies. On the other hand, it has a fondness for cliche phrases (you’ll have a bad feeling about that), annoying secondary characters (like the psychic and the policeman), and really bad false scares (way too many and not well done). Taken in the balance, though, I do have to say I was moderately entertained by this one, though I do find the final confrontation with the evil a tad disappointing. And for someone’s first movie, this is actually pretty good.

Welcome to Blood City (1977)

Article 5085 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-20-2016
Directed by Peter Sasdy
Featuring Jack Palance, Keir Dullea, Samantha Eggar
Country: UK / Canada
What it is: Not what it seems

Five people find themselves lost in a wilderness without any memory of their past lives and the only identification is a card telling them how many people they’ve murdered. They find themselves in a western town where a persons’ status is dependent on how many people they kill. One of them begins having flashbacks of this previous lifeā€¦

Jack Palance is an intriguing actor; even in a role that seems tailor-made for him like he has here, he never quite gives the performance you’d suspect, and here he imbues his role with a touch of comic weirdness. For that matter, Keir Dullea also gives a rather odd performance, and I don’t mean these comments as criticisms, because their performances contribute a great deal to the atmosphere of this rather odd movie. All we really know at the beginning of the movie is that there’s something not-quite-right about the western scenario the characters are trapped in, and as the movie progresses, we learn more about the truth of the situation, revelations that push the movie into the dystopian science fiction popular during the seventies. Other aspects of the movie are less interesting; the direction is fairly indifferent, the script has some problems and the ending it a bit too pat. Nevertheless, the movie does make for an offbeat viewing experience.

Warp Speed (1981)

Article 5083 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-18-2016
Directed by Allan Sandler
Featuring David Chandler, Camille Mitchell, Adam West
Country: USA
What it is: Space mystery TV-Movie

When a spaceship bound for Saturn returns home stripped of its equipment and missing its crewmen, a psychic is sent aboard the spaceship to track down the events that happened.

I’ve encountered Allan Sandler before; he’s co-directed/co-produced a few movies with Robert Emenegger, sometimes in concert with Steven Spielberg’s sister Anne and various relatives of Cameron Mitchell (two of which appear in this movie). The movies generally have interesting ideas and concepts, but are otherwise not particularly well done, and sometimes it’s a bit of a close call trying to figure out whether its strengths or flaws dominate. This is one of those where the strengths win out; the acting and direction may be uneven, but I did find the story interesting enough to hold my attention, right up to a bizarre but not-entirely-unexpected twist ending. It’s a little confusing at first, and the cheapness of the production is a little off-putting, but I found it was worth the effort to stick with it. It’s probably the best of the movies I’ve seen from this director and his cohorts.

Wynken, Blynken & Nod (1938)

Article 4947 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-4-2015
Directed by Graham Heid
No voice cast listed
Country: USA
What it is: Disney Silly Symphony

Wynken, Blynken and Nod go fishing for star-fish.

I’m at the point that I pretty much know what to expect from a Disney Silly Symphony. It will be well animated, have some music, and is likely to be mildly whimsical rather than side-splittingly funny. That pretty much captures this one. The three title characters sail off into the heavens, have some tussles with star-fish, encounter the winds, and eventually return home to the dreams of a sleeping boy. There are some nice visual moments, and a few chuckles to be had, but it never quite reaches the heights of the best cartoons out there. Like so many of Disney’s Silly Symphonies, I like it well enough, but I don’t love it.

Will Power (1936)

Article 4946 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-3-2015
Directed by Arthur Ripley
Featuring Edgar Kennedy, Florence Lake, Kitty McHugh
Country: USA
What it is: Comic short

A put-upon husband concocts a scheme to get his mooching brother-in-law to find a job – he fakes a heart attack and then uses mystic will power to make sure his brother gains employment.

This is pretty amusing comedy short starring slow-burn comic actor Edgar Kennedy. It’s also a bit on the bizarre side and even has a bit of atmosphere when Kennedy goes into a trance to force the issue; it’s both effectively acted and well-photographed. Granted, since this is a comedy short, you know the plot is going to backfire, but that’s part of the fun. It’s an interesting comic take on the old hypnotism plot element.