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.

 

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Zebra Force (1976)

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.

 

Zardoz (1974)

ZARDOZ (1974)
Article 2293 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-5-2007
Posting Date: 11-22-2007
Directed by John Boorman
Featuring Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman

In the future, a savage infiltrates a society of immortals in an attempt to find a way for his fellow savages to break through the barrier.

This is the type of movie where I love to go to IMDB and check the movie’s user ratings. Generally, if you discard the top and bottom ratings (this eliminates that large group of people who give extreme good and bad ratings to everything), you get the classic bell curve, with the peak pointing to a general critical consensus of the movie. Though the bell curve is there for this one (and it peaks somewhere between six and seven), the number of votes for each level of the rating scale is quite high, which means that this movie gets a large variety of reactions from those that view it. I fully expected this; it’s one of those movies that could elicit a different reaction from me each time I see it.

As for me, I just don’t know how I feel about this movie. It’s nowhere near as bad as some of the reviews I’ve read would lead me to believe, but it’s no classic either. At heart, I think the movie is unnecessarily arty and self-indulgent; the basic premise of the movie (that immortality may well prove to be a painful burden rather than a boon) actually seems simple enough that I don’t think it required this level of artiness. Yet, some of those arty scenes are quite compelling, and I suspect that the movie just wouldn’t be the same without them. So, in short, I don’t know. To anyone who is curious about this one, I’d say to give it a shot; it just may be the right movie for you. You could also hate it. Or you could hate it one moment and love it the next. It’s just one of those types of movies.

 

Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952)

ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE (1952)
Article 1801 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-18-2006
Posting Date: 7-18-2006
Directed by Fred C. Brannon
Featuring Judd Holdren, Aline Towne, Wilson Wood

Martians hatch a plot to save their dying world by blowing the earth out of its orbit and having Mars take its place. They will have to contend with Larry Martin and his rocket suit.

There are some movies that have made such a strong initial impression on me that I can’t watch them again without having those original feelings rush back. This is not necessarily a good thing, especially if that initial impression was bad. This serial is one of those unfortunates. For years, I’d heard about serials and they sounded like so much fun, I couldn’t wait to see one, and this one came along, and almost singlehandedly turned me away from the whole serial genre permanently. Usually, the first episode of a serial is one of the strongest, but not in this one; it’s merely the longest episode, and it feels no different than the rest of them. What does it say about this one that its first two cliffhangers largely consist of footage from other serials? And that when it comes time for the inevitable recap episode (Chapter 10, for those who want to be forewarned) that most of the footage here is from those first two cliffhangers? This is a tired, lazy, and uninspired serial, and with Republic’s trademark fights long gone by this time, the footage that doesn’t look like it was borrowed from other sources mostly consists of dull heroes and villains standing around talking. There are a few good moments; the robot is fun, and the final episode has a bit of life to it. Other than that, there’s little to recommend here, unless you really have to see every serial with the rocket man outfit in it or you really have to see Leonard Nimoy in a Martian outfit.

The Zodiac Killer (1971)

THE ZODIAC KILLER (1971)
Article #1632 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-2-2005
Posting Date: 1-30-2006
Directed by Tom Hanson
Featuring Hal Reed, Bob Jones, Ray Lynch

A homicidal maniac known as The Zodiac Killer is on the loose in San Francisco.

The opening of this movie takes pains to point out that it is a true story, and that if some of the dialogue sounds strange, the viewer should remember that it all really happened. I don’t know the actual details of the case, so I can’t say how accurate this movie is, but as for our psycho, he’s apparently a rabbit-loving, woman-fearing ex-postman who believes that all his victims will be his slaves in the afterlife, which also has something to do with the rising of Atlantis. There’s an interesting user comment on IMDB about this movie from someone who claims to know the makers of the movie; he says that the purpose of the movie was to catch the killer himself, who would of course have found a movie about himself to be irresistible. Since the killer was never caught, I’m assuming that it didn’t work. If the movie has any message, it’s probably that we should all be scared to death that some psycho will knock us off at any moment and that the world is full of such psychos just waiting for their chance; both the beginning and the end of the movie deliver this message. Unfortunately, some of the murders come off as more comic than terrifying, the movie itself is pretty muddled (for example, a scene with a psychic goes precisely nowhere), and the overall effect it had on me was one of indifference. Certainly, anybody seeing the movie in the hopes of gaining any real insight into the psyches of serial killers will probably come up short.

Z.P.G. (Zero Population Growth) (1972)

Z.P.G. (ZERO POPULATION GROWTH) (1972)
Article #1303 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-8-2004
Posting Date: 3-7-2005
Directed by Michael Campus
Featuring Oliver Reed, Geraldine Chaplin, Don Gordon

To stem the rise of overpopulation, the government makes a new law forbidding child-bearing. A couple decides to break the law and have a baby.

You want dystopia? You got dystopia! First of all, you have a totalitarian government similar to something you might find in 1984 or FAHRENHEIT 451. They’re so totalitarian that they even booby-trap their libraries (the scene where Oliver Reed is whisked off to an interrogation chamber after watching part of a tape on “premature birth” is one of the most energetic scenes in the slow-moving movie; it’s just a shame that the scene is unintentionally comic). The world is also heavily polluted; unfortunately, the pollution is represented by having all of the outdoors sequence take place in a thick rolling fog that a) obscures the action (this is the foggiest movie since THE SLIME PEOPLE) and b) looks entirely too clean to be pollution. All of the animals are dead, people eat from tubes, etc. etc; the movie is quite relentless with how depressing this world is. Then there’s the central premise, which seems a little extreme; even given the totalitarian government, the decision to ban all child-bearing seems extreme, but then I’m not a politician, so what do I know? The movie is slow moving, arty, and has a musical soundtrack that makes me wish that it had no musical soundtrack. Everyone is also acting in that detached style borrowed from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY; I guess some film-makers thought science fiction was supposed to be like that. However, it’s theme can’t help but have a little power, and there’s a sequence about two-thirds of the way through the movie where the couple with the baby is discovered by another couple, who, instead of turning them in, begin blackmailing them so that they themselves can have time with the baby, and this easily marks the best sequence in the movie, as you can really feel the strong desires of all concerned. The ending is inconclusive and unsatisfying. You have to really like dystopias to like this movie.

Zoo in Budapest (1933)

ZOO IN BUDAPEST (1933)
Article #1108 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-27-2004
Posting Date: 8-24-2004
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
Featuring Loretta Young, Gene Raymond, O.P. Heggie

Three refugees find themselves trapped in a zoo overnight. One is an orphan girl trying to escape the orphanage before she is bonded out to someone, the second an employee whose habit of stealing and burning fur coats from the visitors has gotten him in trouble with the law, and the third a young boy who escapes from his mother so he can ride the elephant at the zoo.

The title certainly doesn’t make this sound like a movie with fantastic elements; for that matter, neither does the plot description. Having seen it, I myself am not so sure whether it has or not; other than the fact that the zoo employee has an unusually high rapport with animals, I don’t think it does, and I’m not so sure that the rapport is enough to make it qualify. It is charming, however, with Gene Raymond’s athletic and spirited performance a particular highlight. And if the movie doesn’t really have fantastic elements, nonetheless it has certain spectacular elements; in particular, the last twenty minutes of the movie involves the escape of several wild animals (tigers, lions, leopards, elephants and the anomalous porcupines) and a daring rescue operation. In summary, if the slight fantastic elements don’t appeal to you, you still might find this one a good watch, particularly if you’re an animal lover or a fan of love stories.