Who Wants to Kill Jessie? (1966)

WHO WANTS TO KILL JESSIE? (1966)
aka Kdo chce zabit Jessii?
Article 4746 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-20-2015
Directed by Vaclav Vorlicek
Featuring Dana Medricka, Jiri Sovak, Olga Schoberova
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Sci-Fi comic book screwball comedy

A woman scientist develops a drug that can alter the dreams of a man or animal; however, unknown to her, the displaced dreams manifest themselves in the real world. When she thinks her husband is dreaming of another woman, she gives him the drug, unaware that he has been dreaming of several characters from a comic book…

I have to admit that of the many foreign movies I’ve seen for this series, the ones that seem to most consistently delight me are the ones from Czechoslovakia. This is especially true of the comedies like this one; the fact that I have to enjoy them via subtitles doesn’t make them any less funny, and this one is quite hilarious. I love some of the creative things they do with the idea; the comic book characters are a truly odd bunch (a sexy woman scientist, a cowboy and a Superman clone who is one of the villains), and the fact that they still communicate via comic book balloons (a consistently clever special effect in the movie) adds to the charm. I also like that the movie delves into some interesting side issues, such as – when the comic book characters engage in destruction, who is legally responsible? Oddly enough, the movie is structured a bit as a sex farce involving the struggles of a married couple who both find themselves attracted to other people. This is truly and enjoyable, wonderful movie.

The Wednesday Children (1973)

THE WEDNESDAY CHILDREN (1973)
Article 4737 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-16-2015
Directed by Robert D. West
Featuring Carol Cary, Marji Dodril, Tom Kelly
Country: USA
What it is: An end… and a beginning.

Children in a small country town live an unhappy existence with their parents who don’t understand them. This makes them ripe for temptation by a man named Fenton…

This movie is so obscure that at the time it entered my hunt list, there wasn’t even a listing for it on IMDB. So actually, I’m quite amazed that not only did a listing appear recently, but so did the movie itself. Part of the reason for its obscurity is no doubt its extreme low budget; it was written and directed by a preacher in a small Ohio town. I’ve heard it described as a Christian version of CHILDREN OF THE CORN, and to some extent, that’s an apt description. The first half is rather dreary; we spend a lot of time sharing the unhappy lives of unhappy people, and it’s not until the children in question are made aware of a power they can be given that will transform their lives (by a diabolic character known as Fenton) that the movie starts to take shape. Even at that point, the film feels pretty obvious, but there’s an unexpected last minute twist that seems to redefine what the movie is about, especially if we understand that the Fenton character is supposed to represent the devil. The last minute twist is the best part of the movie for me, though I do think the whole thing would have worked better as a half hour short; as it is, it goes on way too long. Still, for such a low-budget obscure indie movie, it has its moments.

Whimsical Illusions (1910)

WHIMSICAL ILLUSIONS (1910)
aka Les illusions fantaisistes
Article 4710 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-16-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic short

A magician performs tricks.

When you consider the lovely hand-coloring here as well as the smoothness of some of the camera tricks, it’s a little tempting to see this one as one of Melies’s more accomplished efforts at the “magician doing tricks” shorts that made up a large percentage of his works. Nevertheless, I have to count myself among the disappointed as far as this one goes. This may largely have to do with the fact that this one is from 1910, and I was a little surprised that he was still churning out shorts like these at that late a date. Furthermore, I don’t really see him pulling off any types of tricks that I haven’t seen him try before. However, there is a bit of novelty in how he stages some of the tricks, such as the one where he makes Santa Claus appear… and then dismembers him. It’s probably that sequence that most sets this one apart from the pack.

War of the Wizards (1983)

WAR OF THE WIZARDS (1983)
aka Phoenix
Article 4704 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-9-2014
Directed by Sadamasa Arikawa and Richard Caan
Featuring Richard Kiel, Charles Lang, Betty Noonan
Country: Taiwan / USA
What it is: Epic fantasy

A fisherman discovers a bamboo book and a magic vessel that gives him great wealth. This makes him the target of assassins and wizards who want his secrets, and he finds himself facing off against a powerful sorceress.

Though it’s hardly a classic, I found this ambitious-but-primitive fantasy from Taiwan to be amusing and fun. Part of the reason it works is that the running time is short enough that it doesn’t wear out its welcome (it comes in at about seventy minutes) and it’s laced with a great deal of humor; my favorite scene has our hero facing off with a succession of assassins at a restaurant who are too busy killing each other to do him much damage. There’s a giant bird, various magic users, a giant stone creature, a magic sword, and Richard Kiel (fighting with iron hands at one point) to add to the mix. The special effects are of the bargain basement variety, but somehow that adds to the charm of this one. For some reason, IMDB doesn’t mention any of the Oriental cast members, but I suspect it may have another title listing somewhere else there. All in all, this is a silly but harmless piece of nonsense.

Whispering Wires (1926)

WHISPERING WIRES (1926)
Article 4668 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-31-2014
Directed by Albert Ray
Featuring Anita Stewart, Edmund Burns, Charles Clary
Country: USA
What it is: “Old Dark House” mystery

An inventor who has escaped from prison embarks on a spree of vengeance against the family of the man who sent him to jail.

This movie was just recently consigned to my “ones that got away” list, but fortunately, it turned out that a friend of mine had a copy and allowed me access to it, for which I am very grateful. I’d read about this movie beforehand from the book “American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films 1913-1929”, which I highly recommend (consider this a plug), and it pointed out that the movie somewhat shoots itself in the foot early on by giving away the identity of the killer as well as the method of murder very early on in the proceedings, and though this does slightly increase the suspense value of a couple of scenes, I think it loses a lot more than it gains by giving away the game so early. But then, I found myself wondering if suspense and mystery was what the movie was really going for. Not only does the movie have too many comic relief characters (two incompetent assistant detectives and the scared black manservant), but I wouldn’t be surprised that if you timed it out, a good sixty to seventy percent of the footage of the movie is spent on those three characters, and they’re far from consistently funny. The end result is more tiresome than entertaining. This is certainly one of the lesser of the silent “old dark house” movies.

Whirlpool of Fate (1925)

WHIRLPOOL OF FATE (1925)
aka La fille de l’eau
Article 4663 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-24-2014
Directed by Jean Renoir
Featuring Catherine Hessling, Charlotte Clasis, Pierre Champagne
Country: France
What it is: Drama

Upon the death of her father, a young woman loses her inheritance to her wastrel uncle, and ends up taking up with gypsies. However, she is also abandoned by them and finds herself all on her own.

Since there’s no mention of it in the plot description, let’s get the fantastic content out of the way first. At one point in the proceedings, the woman, alone and sleeping outside during a thunderstorm, has a hallucinatory nightmare that we get to experience as well, and it’s bizarre enough that, for that sequence, the movie turns into a fantasy. As for the movie as a whole, I regret to say it’s one of those types of stories of which I’ve grown tired of encountering. It is, in fact, a “wringer” movie. Those are movies in which our lead character (usually a young woman) is put through the wringer by having a continuous series of bad events and setbacks happen to her. These movies can be effective at times, but I find them frustrating; you just know the worst is going to happen, and if anything good DOES happen, you know she’s only being set up to have the next bad thing take it all away. After a while, these movies seem rather mechanical, and the only real suspense comes from not knowing whether the movie is going to end in an upbeat fashion (bad things stop happening to her) or a downbeat fashion (she dies or suffers some other irreparable fate), and it pretty much comes down to what the writer or director decides to do. I can’t say I really enjoyed this movie all that much, but it does have some nice visual moments, and I did find the hallucinatory dream (the highlight of the movie for me) to be effective. And I won’t tell you which ending the powers that be opt for in this one.

The Would-Be Conjuror (1899)

THE WOULD-BE CONJUROR (1899)
Article 4649 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-8-2014
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Comic magic short

A yokel helps a magician perform a magic trick. The magician sets the yokel’s hat on the ground and holds the yokel’s nose above it, and then pours coins from the hat. The yokel goes home and tries the same trick on his wife, but….

This short runs less than a minute long, and moves along so swiftly that it’s almost a bit hard to follow. A synopsis I found merely says that the magician “holds the nose” of the yokel, but it certainly looks like he’s making the drippings from the yokel’s nose fall into the hat, which makes this a rather crude trick of sorts. You can probably guess how the yokel’s wife reacts when her husband unsuccessfully tries to pull the same trick on her; it’s amusing and quite logical. No, there’s not much to this one, and the fantastic content really only consists of the trick in question, but it was entertaining enough for its length.

When Dr. Quackel did Hyde (1920)

WHEN DR. QUACKEL DID HIDE (1920)
aka When Quackel Did Hyde, When Quackel Did Hide
Article 4579 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-14-2014
Directed by Charles Gramlich
Featuring Charlie Joy and Edgar Jones
Country: USA
What it is: Parody of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”

Dr. Quackel comes up with a potion to make himself evil; only Seidletz powder can cure him.

I don’t know how many silent parody versions of this story exist, but here’s one that survived. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this version is that, rather than just parodying the central premise, it also parodies some of the side characters and significant scenes from the novel. The biggest problem with the short is simply that it’s not very funny; in fact, other than a couple of moderately entertaining title cards, it’s pretty lame. In fact, it’s the director’s sole credit on IMDB, which does seem to indicate that this one didn’t go over all that well. Still, it’s such a rarity that I’m grateful I had a chance to see it.

Waking Up the Town (1925)

WAKING UP THE TOWN (1925)
Article 4547 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-29-2014
Directed by James Cruze
Featuring Jack Pickford, Claire McDowell, Alec B. Francis
Country: USA
What it is: Odd little comedy

A young inventor dreams of getting the financing to build a hydroelectric plant to harness energy from a nearby waterfall. How will he accomplish this?

IMDB lists the length of this movie as 63 minutes. I found it in a version that runs 41 minutes. The Don Willis guide from which I culled the title claims the fantastic content consists of a dream in which the world comes to an end. At this point, I can only conclude that the dream in question is among the 22 minutes that is missing from this print; though an amateur astronomer goes on about a coming apocalypse (in eighteen months and three days exactly), it remains only talk. However, there is some gadgetry in the movie to give it at least some tinges of science fiction content. As for the story, there’s not a whole lot here to speak of, but that may also be the result of missing footage. In its present form, almost the first half of the movie involves the meet cute between the inventor and the amateur astronomer’s granddaughter, which doesn’t do a thing to advance the plot. The plot itself is about how a local banker is convinced to invest in the inventor’s plan, and this is all pretty threadbare. And, given that the movie isn’t particularly funny, the movie ends up mostly being a curious oddity more than anything else.

The Worm Eaters (1970)

THE WORM EATERS (1970)
Article 4540 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-22-2014
Directed by Herb Robins
Featuring Herb Robins, Lindsay Armstrong Black, Joseph Sacket
Country: USA
What is is: Beyond several pales

A corrupt city council attempts to get hold of a lake area owned by a crazy German immigrant who talks to worms. Then, one day, the immigrant discovers that those who eat his worms turn into worm people.

Ten thoughts on THE WORM EATERS.

1) Look at the title.

2) Be aware that the title is not to be taken metaphorically.

3) IMDB classifies the movie as a Comedy Horror. It is neither scary nor funny.

4) The fact that the movie is not scary is not to say that you won’t have a visceral gut reaction to what you’ll see.

5) The movie is horribly acted. If I were to describe the acting style, it would be to say that the actors deliver their lines as if they were trying to overcome constipation.

6) If the above metaphor is crude, so be it; it’s still classier than this movie.

7) Movies are designed to appeal to several senses. However, when the primary senses that seem to appealed to are those of taste and smell, that’s a warning in itself.

8) I read somewhere that no worms were really eaten during the making of this movie. If that is true, then somebody does an amazing job of special effects during certain sequences. My own opinion is that what I heard was not correct.

9) Even if it were true that no worms were eaten, it nonetheless isn’t true that no worms were killed in the making of this film. That becomes apparent in the opening scene.

10) At this point in time, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a John Waters film. I suspect that this film may be the closest I have ever come to actually seeing one, though.

In summary, I almost find myself at a loss of words with this one. All I can say is that it lives up to its title. Take that as a warning or a recommendation, whichever you choose.