Spiritualist Photographer (1903)

SPIRITUALIST PHOTOGRAPHER (1903)
aka Le portrait spirituel
Article 4265 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-15-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Magic film

A magician turns a woman into a portrait of herself, and then back.

This is a pretty ordinary Melies trick film, and I’d probably be largely finished with this review if it weren’t for one interesting little touch. It opens with a man holding up two placards, one in French and one in English, which convey to the viewer the knowledge that a dissolve effect will be demonstrated in the short without the use of a black background, and that this is a novel effect, and, if the truth be told, I do remember that this particular trick was almost always done with a black background up to this point. I don’t know just how difficult it was to switch to a technique using a white background, but it must have been tricky enough for Melies to take the trouble to explain the change in the film itself. If anything, this does demonstrate that the purpose of some of these magic shorts was to experiment with new techniques, which makes this short at least a little more interesting historically.

Soviet Toys (1924)

SOVIET TOYS (1924)
aka Sovietski igrushki
#4264
Date: 7-14-2013
Directed by Dziga Vertov
No cast
Country: USSR
What it is: Animated Soviet propaganda

A greedy capitalist devours everything and gives nothing back. Can the worker and the peasant force him to put his excess funds into the state bank?

What we have here is another foray in Soviet propaganda; it’s basically an allegory about conditions that arose in USSR at the time that Lenin instituted a New Economic Policy that resulted in the rise of greedy entrepreneurs. Much of the imagery is grotesque, especially the sequence where the capitalist gorges himself, vomits into a barrel, and then drinks the contents of the barrel. It verges into fantasy several times, the most striking of which is the merging of the peasant and the worker into a single two-headed creature that was capable of extracting the funds from the capitalist. The animation has a vaguely Emile Cohl-ish quality to it, which makes it a bit primitive for the time. I found it somewhat interesting but also quite predictable at times, and it is best viewed as a product of its time and place.

Captain Applejack (1931)

CAPTAIN APPLEJACK (1931)
Article 4249 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-14-2013
Directed by Hobart Henley
Featuring John Halliday, Mary Brian, Kay Strozzi
Country: USA
What it is: Almost an “old dark house” movie

An aristocrat, bored of his staid existence, decides to sell his ancestral home and take off for a life of adventure. He finds himself in the middle of one when he encounters a Russian duchess on the run from a spy. In the process, he discovers that the ancestral founder of the home was a pirate, and that a fortune may be hidden in the house.

This movie features hidden passages, a concealed treasure, travelers dropping by the mansion in the middle of rainy night when their car breaks down, and a spiritualist. Put these elements together in a different way and you’d have the makings of an “old dark house” thriller for sure, but this one doesn’t arrange them in the usual way, and isn’t trying for that type of thrill. Actually, the most interesting fantastic element in this one is the implication that the main character may actually be something of a reincarnation of his pirate ancestor, and one sequence of the movie takes place aboard a pirate ship, with the various cast members taking on dual roles as pirates and their victims. It’s based on a play, and the first half suffers somewhat from being rather stage-bound, but it opens up a bit in the second half. It’s also rather racy at times in a way that certainly wouldn’t be allowed when the Code went into effect. All in all, this is an interesting curiosity.

The Cabbage-Patch Fairy (1900)

THE CABBAGE-PATCH FAIRY (1900)
aka La fee aux choux, ou la naissance des enfants
Article 4120 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-30-2012
Directed by Alice Guy
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Novelty short

A woman displays babies found in a cabbage patch.

Sometimes the title is the main source of the fantastic content of the movie; if this one had been called WOMAN FINDING BABIES HIDDEN IN A GARDEN, no one would have seen any fantastic content at all. It’s the title that tells us that the woman is a fairy, and the garden is where the babies come from. Well, at least the movie doesn’t steal any special effects from Melies, but that’s because there are no special effects to speak of; the babies are hidden behind garden displays, and she just finds them and sets them down in our line of vision. And that’s about all this slight little short gives us.

Sonicman (1979)

SONICMAN (1979)
aka Supersonic Man
Article 4060 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-19-2012
Directed by Juan Piquer Simon
Featuring Antonio Cantafora, Cameron Mitchell, Jose Luis Ayestaran
Country: Spain
What it is: Superhero hijinks

Supersonic Man comes from outer space to prevent an evil genius’s plan to conquer the world.

If you’ve committed to making a low-budget rip on SUPERMAN and you know it’s going to end up bad, you could do worse than make it at least colorful and goofy, which this one does. It has Cameron Mitchell as the villain, a flame-throwing robot, lots of people running around with blasters, a comic relief begging wino and a stupid theme song. Granted, it’s not in the same league as INFRA-MAN as far as inspired goofiness goes, but it’s at least much better than THE PUMA MAN. And, truth to tell, I would have liked to see a sequel… but only if they followed up on the ending of this one and gave the comic-relief wino the super powers as they seem to be doing. But I’m not going to hold my breath for the release of SUPERSONIC WINO.

The Night God Screamed (1971)

THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED (1971)
Article 3519 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-10-2011
Posting Date: 4-3-2011
Directed by Lee Madden
Featuring Jeanne Crain, Alex Nicol, Dan Spelling
Country: USA
What it is: Not quite what you’d expect

When her preacher husband is robbed and crucified by a bizarre cult of Jesus freaks, a woman fingers three of the killers, who are tried and sentenced to death. The fourth killer was unidentified because he was wearing a hood. A year later, she returns to the area where the crime was committed to look after the teenage children of the judge, who is leaving town with his wife for the weekend. But have the cultists forgotten the woman who identified their leader…?

You know, there is something to be said about a movie that you can’t quite second guess. In some ways, the movie is a very familiar type of horror movie, but it gets away with it because it seems like a different familiar type of horror movie. There is a certain novelty value to the fact that cultists are not Satanists, as one of my sources misinformed me; they’re actually a Christian cult that considers all other practitioners to be phonies. The script is very clumsy around the edges, and characters frequently act with utter stupidity, but there’s even an explanation for that. It all ends with a double twist; I was half-right about the first twist, but once I realized I was halfway wrong, I immediately figured what the second twist was going to be. I’m not sure how I feel about the twists; part of me feels they were stupid, but another part admires the way they changed my interpretations of the earlier scenes. In fact, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the whole film; it doesn’t quite work and it doesn’t quite fail. I will say this however; this is easily the best movie of the last five or so that I’ve seen.

Les douze travaux d’Hercule (1910)

LES DOUZE TRAVAUX D’HERCULE (1910)
aka Hercules and the Big Stick
Article 3509 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-27-2011
Posting Date: 3-24-2011
Directed by Emile Cohl
Featuring Maurice Vinot, Alice Tissot (?)
Country: France
What it is: Animated mythological epic

Hercules performs his twelve labors with the help of his big stick and whatever else he can get a hold of.

Most of the other Emile Cohl movies I’ve seen have been combinations of live action and animation; this one is entirely animated, which made me rather surprised to see a cast listed on IMDB. Maybe they served as models for the animated characters. Despite given prominent mention in the English title, truth to tell, Hercules’s big stick isn’t particularly effective; though it helps him in wiping out an army, it’s pretty useless against non-human foes. In fact, when he tries to use it on a lion during the first task, the lion eats his big stick and then spits it out him; Hercules has to defeat him by sitting on him and squashing him, which is pretty easy, given the fact the Hercules’s stomach in this one is… well, I’ll be nice and describe it as Herculean. Most of the tasks involve killing beasties, though some of them rely on Hercules calling in some favors from buddies. It’s fairly amusing, though I think it might have been a bit easier for me to follow if I had familiarized myself with his twelve tasks, as the title cards are in French on this one.

And just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I think I ought to tell you that the big stick is a club.

The Stranger (1973)

THE STRANGER (1973)
aka Stranded in Space
TV-Movie

Article 3468 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-6-2011
Posting Date: 2-11-2011
Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Featuring Glenn Corbett, Cameron Mitchell, Sharon Acker
Country: USA
What it is: “The Fugitive” crossed with JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN, TV-pilot style

When something inexplicably goes wrong during a space mission, an astronaut finds himself a virtual prisoner in a hospital. He escapes, only to discover that he hasn’t returned to Earth at all, but is on a planet called Terra which is under a totalitarian state known as the Perfect Order… and he’s too dangerous to be allowed to live.

One of the ground rules I set for myself when I started this movie-watching project is that I would never base my review on a viewing of the MST3K version of the movie. Don’t get me wrong; I’m actually a big fan of the series, but I also believe watching their versions inherently changes the viewing experience, making it impossible to give any fair judgment of the movie. Only twice have I been tempted to break that rule, and in each case, it was due to the difficulty I had in tracking down the movie in question; one of them was RADAR SECRET SERVICE, and this was the other one.

I found this one particularly frustrating to find; I would see the title pop up occasionally in my hunting, but every time I got around to actually purchasing it, it had lapsed into unavailability again. I’m glad to say that I finally found a copy.

The movie is sitting with a lowly 3.6 rating on IMDB, mostly because of overeager Msties giving it a low rating merely because it appeared on MST3K. It’s not a great TV-Movie, but it’s far from the worst I’ve seen. Its worst problem is that the premise is quite far-fetched; it’s really hard to swallow that the planet would be this similar to earth, even to the point that everyone is speaking English. Yet among the implausabilities, there’s some nice ideas and interesting touches in the script. Furthermore, I find Cameron Mitchell’s performance in it to be one of his best; though he’s the primary villain, his combination of conviction and vulnerability (he’s well aware how quickly things could turn against him if he doesn’t recapture the astronaut) makes for a surprisingly complex character. Had this pilot managed to spawn a series, it might have been worth catching for Mitchell alone; however, I find myself wondering if he would have ended up a regular character. At any rate, I ended up liking this one better than I thought I would.

Evil Stalks this House (1981)

EVIL STALKS THIS HOUSE (1981)
TV-Movie
Article 3372 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-25-2010
Posting Date: 11-7-2010
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Featuring Jack Palance, Cindy Hinds, Helen Hughes
Country: USA / Canada
What it is: Strange little horror movie

A father and his two children become stranded on a lonely road when their car breaks down. They take refuge in the home of two old women and their dimwitted son. The man plots a scheme to loot the home, but it turns out the two old women aren’t quite as helpless as they seem…

Near as I can figure, this movie is edited from episodes of the pilot of a TV series called “Tales of the Haunted”, which would have featured Christopher Lee as a host/narrator. The time is listed as 96 minutes, but the only version I’ve been able to find runs slightly under an hour, and Lee is noticeably absent; the abrupt editing of some of the scenes shows that a lot of trimming went into this. The story starts out in typical “old dark house” fashion, but rapidly goes off in its own direction. The main villain is the father, and Jack Palance plays him as an almost cartoonish parody of the actor at his most malevolent; every line is delivered in whispery menace, whether it’s appropriate or not. Not that this really damages the movie much; the whole movie is a bit of goofy lark, and works pretty well in that mode. We get a mysterious witch cult, a deadly spider, and a pit of quicksand in an unlikely place to enliven the proceedings. The ending is a bit of a jawdropper, but within the context of the rest of the movie, it fits in well enough.

Dominique (1978)

DOMINIQUE (1978)
aka Dominique is Dead
Article 3339 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-19-2010
Posting Date: 10-5-2010
Directed by Michael Anderson
Featuring Cliff Robertson, Jean Simmons, Jenny Agutter
Country: UK
What it is: Revenge from beyond the grave…or is it?

A rich woman with frayed nerves believes her husband is trying to drive her crazy. Nonetheless, her loneliness and isolation get the best of her and she commits suicide. However, the shoe is on the other foot now, and the husband begins to see visions of his dead wife come back to haunt him…

The movie opens with a GASLIGHT-style scenario, and though I usually don’t care for this type of story, I like it here, largely because Jean Simmons doesn’t play up the fear as much as the frustration of knowing she’s being manipulated and the sadness of knowing that she is alone and has no one to turn to. Still, the GASLIGHT plot points are only a setup for the rest of the movie. The movie is underplayed, going for quiet chills rather than big scares, and I like that. Unfortunately, the movie never overcomes its major problem, and that is that it’s a little too obvious what is really going on, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of brain work to figure who is responsible. Furthermore, the husband himself is particularly dim in handling his situation; if I had encountered the piano playing itself as he did, I most assuredly know what I’d investigate if I suspected someone was trying to scare me. The most unexpected plot twist comes about two-thirds of the way in after the exhumation of a grave; I became really curious why an unexpected character was flipping out, but even then it didn’t take me too long to figure out what was behind that as well. Ultimately, the movie is a mixed bag; it’s half empty and half full, and how much you enjoy it depends on which half you concentrate on.