Tarzan and King Kong (1965)

Article 5334 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-2-2017
Directed by A. Shamsheer
Featuring Randhawa, Mumtaz, Bela Bose
Country: India
What it is: An exercise in expectations

Tarzan rescues survivors of an airplane wreck and becomes the target of an evil native king.

This is probably the most famous title of an Indian series of Tarzan movies, and let’s face it – the title is a bit irresistible, even if you know disappointment is inevitable. Most of the movie is about Tarzan (as you might expect), and he’s your standard stocky guy in an animal skin with one of the dullest Tarzan yells on record. Still, you have to respect the yell, as it summons forth a huge legion of elephants to his aid (though I should point out that most of that is stock footage), and it is Tarzan’s “ace in the hole”, as you realize when you reach the end of the movie. Still, if you’re like me, the real question on your mind is “how do they pull off King Kong?” All I’m going to say is – think “man in a (not very good) gorilla suit in both execution and size”. Heck, the fight between Tarzan and Kong isn’t even the climax of the movie. There’s lots of singing and dancing (of course), a lot of fight scenes (and some go on way too long), a bit of wrestling (including a wrestler that looks like a cross between Tor Johnson and Mad Dog Vachon). Yes, it’s a disappointment, but not out of line with what I was expecting. All in all, the title is the best thing about it, and I do think an interesting movie could be made mixing Kong and Tarzan. Just not this one.

I should also mention that my copy didn’t have English dubbing or subtitles, but I’m not sure it’s one of those movies where it makes a difference.

The Witch’s Cat (1948)

aka Mighty Mouse in The Witch’s Cat
Article 5266 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-8-2016
Directed by Mannie Davis
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Mighty Mouse cartoon

Mice celebrating Halloween are threatened by a witch who wants to feed them to her cat. Can Mighty Mouse save the day?

At first this looks like it’s shaping up to be largely a repeat of the approach used in GYPSY LIFE; it’s another operetta-style cartoon without the serial elements. However, unlike that earlier cartoon, it concentrates less on the singing and tries to add a little humor to the mix; the latter doesn’t always work, but I’m glad they gave it a try. Instead of a bunch of evil cats, there’s only one this time and he’s rather stupid. Furthermore, Mighty Mouse doesn’t have quite as easy a time with things as he usually does, as the witch comes up with a potion that takes him out of the action for a bit. Ultimately, I like this one better than that previous example. And, for those who are into slightly risque humor, try counting how many pairs of bloomers the witch wears.

Whistling in the Dark (1933)

aka Scared!
Article 5264 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-6-2016
Directed by Elliott Nugent and Charles Reisner
Featuring Ernest Truex, Una Merkel, Edward Arnold
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy thriller

When a milquetoast crime writer’s car breaks down while trying to elope, he and his girlfriend end up in the hideout of criminals who force him to come up with a way to commit the perfect murder.

In terms of its fantastic content, this is a bit of a washout; the closest it gets to being scary is a very mild sequence in which the lights go out, and though there may be some science fiction to the fact that the hero jury-rigs a radio to connect to a phone line, I suspect this is way too mild as well. As for the movie itself, it’s…well, mild. Ernest Truex mostly plays for mild, subtle laughs, and though he and Una Merkel do decent jobs in the humor department, the rather static nature of the movie (it was based on a stage play and looks it) and the preponderance of talk make it a bit on the dull side. It does get a little suggestive in a pre-code way during a sequence in which Merkel’s character, fearing that she and her husband-to-be may not survive to marry, gets it in her head to go for an early consummation. The movie’s all right, and it is a little bit different, but it’s not essential.

Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)

aka Quien puede matar a un nino?, Island of the Damned
Article 5213 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-24-2016
Directed by Narciso Ibanez Serrador
Featuring Lewis Fiander, Prunella Ransome, Antonio Iranzo
Country: Spain
What it is: Demonic children movie

An American couple takes a vacation to the island of Almanzora, only to discover that all the children on the island have become homicidal.

There have been quite a few “evil children” movies made over the years, but of those I’ve seen so far, this one digs the deepest into the theme of the inherent wrongness of the killing of children; to the vast majority of human beings, the killing of children is a moral atrocity. The movie is in some ways a variation of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, only instead of crusty cannibalistic zombies (the killing of which does not carry moral consequences, which is to some extent the reason for the popularity of the “zombie apocalypse” subgenre), we have homicidal children. The movie implies that the reason for this event happening is that it may be a revenge for the irresponsibility of adults in their management of the world and the way the children suffer most from it; the movie opens with a series of historical snapshots in which children were horribly treated (such as the Holocaust). At any rate, the movie is effective enough that I can easily see it upsetting any number of people; in fact, it certainly ranks as one of the strongest Spanish horror movies I’ve seen. It’s a bit too long and there are times where I think the characters make very poor decisions, but it does make for an interesting “what would YOU do?” viewing experience, though it’s definitely not for everybody.

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.