Zero for Conduct (1933)

aka Zero de conduite: Jeunes diables au college
Article 4862 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-4-2015
Directed by Jean Vigo
Featuring Jean Doste, Robert le Flon, Louis Lefebvre
Country: France
What it is: Surreal school rebellion

Several students stage a rebellion at their dictatorial boarding school.

I don’t know if I’m going to end up covering the whole oeuvre of Jean Vigo, but I’ve covered half of his output in the last week. He was the son of an anarchist who had a troubled childhood and suffered from ill health his whole life; he died at the age of 29 having made only four movies. His style was clearly ahead of his time, and his work was initially banned in France; it didn’t get much distribution until after WWII. This is a strange movie, full of surreal imagery that occasionally slips over into the realm of the fantastic (a disappearing ball and a drawing that comes to life are its most notable manifestations). The strange textures he created with water in the Jean Tarin film are here recreated with the use of pillow feathers near the end of the movie. I can’t quite evaluate it at this point; it’s one of those movies that may require several viewings to fully appreciate, but it is clearly innovative and proved quite influential.

Zapped! (1982)

ZAPPED! (1982)
Article 4542 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-23-2014
Directed by Robert J. Rosenthal
Featuring Scott Baio, Willie Aames, Robert Mandan
Country: USA
What it is: Teen comedy with telekinesis

A high school science student has a lab accident that gives him telekinetic powers. Hilarity ensues.

The one thing that really struck me about this teen comedy was that it never really seemed to decide what it wanted to be. Most of the movie feels like a Disney shopping cart movie (albeit one with little in the way of energy or inspiration), but when it doesn’t feel like one, it goes for ANIMAL HOUSE-like crudity and sex comedy with lots of nudity. However, one aspect of the movie remains utterly consistent; it is witless throughout. Not only did I not laugh once throughout the movie, I hardly ever even got close to being vaguely amused; the closest I ever got was early on, when I heard the explanation for the diving mice experiment. There are scattered references to other movies; TAXI DRIVER, CARRIE and THE EXORCIST come to mind, but they don’t really add more than a vague sort of annoyance to the proceedings. You know, when it comes to movie-watching, I don’t think anything is quite as depressing as a comedy that totally fails to amuse, and I think this is one of the worst examples I’ve encountered in some time; even the execrable THE WORM EATERS was funnier.

Zelig (1983)

ZELIG (1983)
Article 3999 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-7-2012
Directed by Woody Allen
Featuring Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Patrick Horgan
Country: USA
What it is: Fake documentary comedy/satire

The story is told of a celebrity of the twenties, a man named Leonard Zelig who is a “human chameleon”; he takes on the physical characteristics and viewpoints of those that surround him.

I was so intrigued by the premise of this movie that it was one of those rare cases where I went out to catch it at a movie theater. I ended up being mildly disappointed at the time, and mostly appreciated it for its stunning visual trickery, whereby Woody Allen and Mia Farrow were incorporated into actual footage of the period, most noticeably in a sequence during an Adolf Hitler rally. I liked it much better on my recent viewing; I can now appreciate more its satirical views of the desire to be liked, the need to conform, and the vicissitudes of fame. I also couldn’t help but notice how, in some ways, the story parallels that of the movie version of THE ELEPHANT MAN. Still, I do think Woody Allen is an odd choice to play a man who has no personality of his own while trying his best to adopt the personalities of everyone around him; Allen has a very distinctive personality, and in the scenes where we hear his voice, you mostly get the sense that he’s playing himself again. Had the movie been formatted in such a way that we actually saw Zelig interacting with the people he’s imitating, it most likely would have required an actor of much greater range. Still, Allen does have a grasp of the psychological underpinnings of the character, which is probably the reason he wrote and directed the movie in the first place. And the footage throughout does look pretty authentic.

Zoltan: Hound of Dracula (1978)

aka Dracula’s Dog
Article 3936 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-16-2012
Posting Date: 5-23-2012
Directed by Albert Band
Featuring Michael Pataki, Jan Shutan, Libby Chase
Country: USA / Italy
What it is: Vampires with fleas

When a vampire’s tomb is unearthed in Romania, a half-vampire manservant of Dracula’s is revived as well as a vampiric dog. Together they seek the last of the Dracula line, who is living in Los Angeles. Their mission – to turn the man into a vampire so they can serve him.

Okay, I’ll buy that if Dracula had a dog, he’d name him something other than Fido or Rover. The movie has a pretty bad reputation, and although I think it’s a little better than that, I mean by only a hair. The biggest problem is the rather silly plot, though it’s not appreciably sillier than the title would lead you to believe. There’s a scene of a dog having a flashback, lots of close-ups of Reggie Nalder (I think Nalder has a great face for a horror movie, but it’s possible to overuse him, and this movie does so), a side character whose only purpose in the movie is to be torn to shreds, lots of glowing dog eyes, and a twist ending that won’t surprise anyone because it’s been set up a little too memorably to be forgotten by the time it’s needed. Despite the silly story, it still might have worked had the direction been stronger; as it is, the title is really the most memorable thing about the movie.

Zombie (1979)

ZOMBIE (1979)
aka Zombi 2
Article 3533 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-23-2011
Posting Date: 4-17-2011
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Featuring Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson
Country: Italy
What it is: Zombie movie

When a doctor’s sailboat drifts into New York with the crew missing, the doctor’s daughter and a reporter seek the island the doctor was known to have visited. But the island is overrun with flesh-eating zombies, and they’re hungry…

When George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD played abroad, it did so under the title ZOMBIE. This movie was made as an unauthorized sequel with the title ZOMBIE 2, though it was released in the US as just ZOMBIE. I have yet to see the Romero film, so I can’t make a comparison. Most of the reviews I’ve seen mention two scenes in the movie – the Zombie vs Shark battle and the scene with the wooden splinter. These two scenes probably stand out because they’re the most memorable moments during the first half of the movie, and though in some ways they can be a bit impressive, they also feel a bit out of place, as if they were thrown in to keep the first half of the movie from dragging. Once the people in the boat finally reach the island, the pace picks up quite a bit, and the final twenty minutes probably owes more to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD than its sequel. In the final analysis, the movie is not bad; it does work itself up to a decent amount of suspense in the final half, though I do think some of the characters act rather stupidly. This is probably Fulci’s most famous movie in the US, though his best work was probably in some of the giallos he made during the seventies. It’ll be interesting to compare it to DAWN OF THE DEAD when I eventually get around to seeing that one.

Zachariah (1970)

Article 3096 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-11-2009
Posting Date: 2-4-2010
Directed by George Englund
Featuring John Rubinstein, Patricia Quinn, Don Johnson
Country: USA
What it is: Psychedelic Western

The lure of gunfighting draws a man and his blacksmith friend into becoming members of an outlaw rock band called the Crackers. However, when he discovers that the ultimate consequence of his becoming a great gunfighter will require the death of his friend, he has second thoughts about his career choice. But his friend has no qualms…

There’s a scene in this movie where a gunfighter by the name of Job Cain (played by Elvin Jones) shoots down a challenger and then plays a killer drum solo. As silly as this sounds, it was at this point that I realized that this surreal, “electric” western was actually working for me. It’s at least partially based on Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” (which I’ve not read), and coscripted by all four members of the Firesign Theater; however, despite this last fact, the movie isn’t a comedy, though the scenes with the Crackers (played by Country Joe and the Fish) are mostly comic. I wasn’t really surprised to see that its rating of 5.1 on IMDB consisted of a fairly wide distribution of votes; I can easily see how this movie may be hated by some and loved by others. Me, I was charmed, captivated, and even a little touched by the movie. As for the fantastic content, the combination of old west and electric guitars pushes into a fantasy alternate universe, thus its inclusion here. No, it’s not for everyone, but neither is EL TOPO. Me, I’d really love to have the soundtrack.

Zontar: The Thing from Venus (1966)

Article 3076 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-9-2009
Posting Date: 1-15-2010
Directed by Larry Buchanan
Featuring John Agar, Susan Bjurman, Tony Huston
Country: USA
What it is: AIP science fiction thriller remake, Larry Buchanan-style

A rogue scientist communicates with a creature from Venus who has plans to “save” the human race. Little does the scientist know the carnage that will result from his actions to bring the alien to Earth.

I’ll give this much to Larry Buchanan; he came up with a nifty title for this one. It not only inspired an episode of SCTV, but a fanzine as well, “Zontar, the Magazine from Venus”. Still, when it came time for the editors to come up with an accompanying image for the magazine, they bypassed the lame creature here for the silly-but-inspired vegetable creature from IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, which is the movie of which this is a remake. And, like the other Larry Buchanan remakes of AIP features, it stinks; one is especially aware of how the conviction of the cast in the original made much of the dialogue work despite its clunkiness, an advantage that this version of the movie does not have. I’m especially aware of how poorly Susan Bjurman does in the Beverly Garland role. Still, this may be the best of Buchanan’s AIP adaptations, for what that’s worth.

002 agenti segretessimi (1964)

aka Oh Those Most Secret Agents
Article 2754 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-21-2008
Posting Date: 2-26-2009
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Featuring Franco Franchi, Ciccio Ingrassia, Ingrid Schoeller
Country: Italy

Two incompetent burglars are mistaken for secret agents and find themselves pursued by spies from several countries.

Just when you thought it was safe to see another Italian spy comedy, here’s Franco and Ciccio again. Well, maybe I’m being too hard on them; after all, most of the work I’ve seen of theirs so far has been in unsubtitled Italian, and the only English movie I’ve seen (DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS) is reputedly one of their worst. In truth, I have no problem with Ciccio (the tall, skinny one), but Franco is one of the most incessant muggers in cinema history; he makes Jerry Lewis, Larry Storch and Jim Carrey all seem subtle and restrained. Nonetheless, they made a whole slew of movies, and that wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t doing something right. I’m guessing that they did possess a certain comic timing; every once in a while, a joke hits home in a way that even transcends the language barrier, and they do get an occasional laugh out of me. Still, I will argue that this is despite (not because of) Franco’s mugging. There’s also some good ideas here; I like the concept of two comedians trying to cope with bad sunburn, and the scene in the seductress training class is amusing. The most obvious fantastic content in this one is the talking computer one spy uses, and I will credit the movie for having a good feel for the spy genre. I just wish Franco’s mugging didn’t make it all so heavy-handed.

Zotz! (1962)

ZOTZ! (1962)
Article 2683 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-1-2008
Posting Date: 12-17-2008
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Tom Poston, Julia Meade, Jim Backus
Country: USA

A professor discovers an ancient coin that gives him magical powers.

I quite like a number of William Castle’s movies, but, despite the fact that occasionally he shows some wit and humor (especially in his trailers), I don’t think he has a particular affinity for comedy. That’s what he tries for in this adaptation of the Walter Karig novel, and the result is like one of the Disney shopping-cart movies, but lacking the special-effects savvy and the pace of the Disney movies. One of the problems is that the script is not very good; except for one, the powers that the coin gives (the ability to cause pain, the ability to make things go in slow motion, and the ability to kill) don’t really lend themselves to the kind of light comedy Castle is striving for, and the one that does (the slow motion) is fairly lame. It’s not surprising that it is the ability to cause pain that is used the most for comic effect, largely because this is the only one that can be triggered inadvertently; the best moment here is when our hero asks for directions at the Pentagon. Had the movie gone for black comedy, it all might have worked better. Still, Castle does a good job of casting the movie; it features Tom Poston, Jim Backus, Fred Clark, Cecil Kellaway, Margaret Dumont and Mike Mazurki, all of whom are quite capable, but all of whom would have done better with a stronger script. Other odd touches (the professor’s health-food obsession and a patriotic ending at the Lincoln memorial) seem strangely tacked-on.


Zebra Force (1976)

Article 2682 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-31-2008
Posting Date: 12-16-2008
Directed by Joe Tornatore
Featuring Mike Lane, Richard X. Slattery, Rockne Tarkington
Country: USA

A group of Vietnam vets decide to make their fortune by robbing the mob. However, they have a gimmick designed to throw pursuit off their trail; they disguise as blacks when they do their hits.

The John Stanley book includes this movie with the argument that the vets “inexplicably” turn into black people when they make their attacks on the mob. This would have been an intriguing idea, but I think Mr. Stanley may have missed a scene that I caught in the movie, in which it is revealed that the change is not in any way “inexplicable”; they change into black men by putting on masks, and they do it to throw the mob off their scent. This revelation turns the fantastic content I expected in this movie to a clearly non-fantastic gimmick, thereby moving this otherwise standard-issue action movie outside of the realm that I usually cover. Still, there is another marginal fantastic element; the leader of the vets is very badly mutilated, thereby giving us a little touch of horror to the proceedings, though it remains only marginal, as he is not played for horror effect at all. Unless you find the gimmick pretty interesting or are a big fan of action movies, there’s little reason to check this one out. However, I will give the movie an extra point for a fun little twist ending that adds a touch of comic irony to the proceedings.