Swords of the Space Ark (1981)

Article 3113 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-5-2009
Posting Date: 2-21-2010
Directed by Bunker Jenkins and Minoru Yamada
Featuring Hiroyuki Sanada
Country: Japan
What it is: STAR WARS clone via Japanese TV series

Three pilots undertake to destroy the evil Roxia with the help of the hearts of three planets and the woman from the Space Ark, Sophia.

From the moment I saw the title, I suspected a STAR WARS clone. From the minute I heard the rinky-dink theme music, I knew it was going to be a cheesy STAR WARS clone. The minute I saw the way the credits segue into the movie, I knew we were dealing with a movie culled from episodes of a TV series, and I was wondering which TV series it would be. The second I saw the first actual human character, I knew it was from a Japanese TV series. And the minute I heard the Chewbacca-style talking ape mention banana daquiris, I knew we were at the bottom of the barrel.

The series was “Uchu kara no messegi: Ginga taisen”, it ran 27 episodes of 23 minutes each, which puts it at 623 minutes. Since this movie only runs 70 minutes, it’s missing almost 8/9ths of the footage. Fortunately, the movie does remain a little coherent, though it’s obvious that events are rushed at all points. You get space battles, beautiful women disguised as old crones, a mystical spaceship, retractable swords, evil betrayals, good and bad twins, talking apes with unmoving mouths, lots of things blowing up, and badly dubbed actors mouthing idiotic dialogue. This movie is either bad movie paradise or unwatchable dreck, depending on who you are (and you know that better than I).


Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Article 3074 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-7-2009
Posting Date: 1-13-2009
Directed by Mel Stuart
Featuring Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum
Country: USA
What it is: Live-action children’s musical fantasy

A poor young boy desires more than anything to get a golden ticket to visit the Willy Wonka candy factory, which is a mysterious, perpetually-locked and forbidding place. When he does manage to acquire a ticket, he finds himself being tested for his honesty and goodness of heart.

I’ve not read the book by Roald Dahl, but my wife has, and she tells me that the movie doesn’t really capture the spirit of the book. Dahl himself was unhappy with this adaptation of his work (though he is credited as the writer, his screenplay was extensively rewritten) and refused the filmmakers permission to produce the sequel. I do smell the air of compromise here, and the movie does make me want to seek out the original book to get a sense of what it’s really like. Nevertheless, despite a few caveats with this production (I found only two of the songs memorable and only one pleasantly so, and the parts where the movie is obvious stand out noticeably when surrounded by the unpredictability of the rest of the movie), I discovered that I really like the movie and can understand its strong cult following. The first half is an often hilarious satire of ballyhoo, with the out-of-control media coverage of what is essentially a fluff story even more relevant today than in its time; this is definitely something that it’s easier to appreciate when you’re an adult. The second half is anchored by a brilliant performance by Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, who manages to achieve his acting goal of making his character utterly unpredictable while still managing to have a clearly defined character; his half-hearted calls of admonishment to the children who break his rules show us that he is slyly aware of and even eager to see their comeuppance. Several other great actors were considered for this role, but Wilder’s performance makes me glad he was the final choice. I also like the touches of Lewis Carroll and Dr. Seuss that pop up, and I always wonder if the tunnel sequence was influenced a little by a similar sequence in 2OO1: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Quite frankly, this movie seems to improve with time, though I do still hope to read the original book.

Till Dawn Do Us Part (1972)

aka Straight on Till Morning
Article 3055 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-18-2009
Posting Date: 12-25-2009
Directed by Peter Collinson
Featuring Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant, James Bolam
Country: UK
What it is: Offbeat Hammer psychothriller

A plain young woman dreams that her life can become like the fairy tales she writes. She leaves home and goes to live in London to find the man of her dreams. She is eventually drawn to a young man who lives in a big house and who has a Peter Pan infatuation, and she moves in. But the man is not sane…

The first part of this movie uses a lot of jagged fast-paced editing which makes it a little difficult (though far from impossible) to get to know the characters and their situations. This is surprisingly effective, because it puts the viewer on edge despite the fact that it takes a while for the thriller aspects to really manifest themselves. The story is highly character-driven, and the movie takes the time to establish and develop those characters. Rita Tushingham is excellent as the neurotic, fragile woman who is drawn into the web of a man who she doesn’t even recognize as a threat because their respective fantasy fixations dovetail so neatly. The movie eventually settles down into a more straightforward style, and the story almost becomes predictable, but it still has some surprises even after this point. The movie does turn the screws very nicely, and it makes the psychosis of Shane Briant’s character seem real. My biggest problem with the movie is the ambiguously downbeat ending; we’ve become so attached to the central female character that it’s unsatisfying for it to end this way. Incidentally, the title that I watched this under is obviously one of those that have been tacked on for a video release of some sort; the freeze-frame and cheesy graphics when it appears are a dead giveaway. I much prefer the original title, STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING, which will become quiet clear once the Peter Pan references start to crop up. All in all, this is an interesting if really odd movie from Hammer.

Till Death (1978)

Article 3052 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-15-2009
Posting Date: 12-22-2009
Directed by Walter Stocker
Featuring Keith Atkinson, Marshall Reed, Belinda Balaski
Country: USA
What it is: Love from beyond the grave

A man has a nightmare that he is locked in a crypt with a dead woman stalking him. He is awoken by a phone call from his fiancee, who he will marry that day. They marry, but she dies in a car accident on their wedding night. He survives the accident, but is torn by guilt. He decides to visit her in the crypt where she’s buried…

This earnest but cheesy horror film seems so out of place in the late seventies that I was sure that it had been shot earlier. And sure enough it was; it was made in 1974 and sat on the shelf for four years. I’m tempted to describe it as a cross between CARNIVAL OF SOULS and the second half of 100 CRIES OF TERROR, except that makes it sound more complex than it is; the plot is obvious and threadbare, and, unless you find the endless conversations about love to be heartfelt and compelling, it’s probably going to bore you. It must have been made on a tiny budget, and it remains Walter Stocker’s sole directorial credit, though he did have a career as an actor, and appeared in the infamous THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN. I’m not surprised it has its supporters, though; it has a certain low-budget charm for all its problems.

Rocket Attack U.S.A. (1961)

Article 3042 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-5-2009
Posting Date: 12-12-2009
Directed by Barry Mahon
Featuring Monica Davis, John McKay, Phillip St. George
Country: USA
What it is: Cold War Sputnik Nuclear Attack Paranoia

Spies are sent to the Soviet Union to find out whether Sputnik is transmitting critical information to the communists. They not only find that such is the case, but that a nuclear attack on New York is being planned.

The first three-quarters of this movie is thrill-an-hour spy stuff (since this sequence only takes forty-five minutes, I’m assuming the thrill would have occurred during the next fifteen minutes had it continued). The rest of the movie shows the aftermath of the result of the spy mission. I’ve dealt with director Barry Mahon before; he gave us BLOOD OF THE ZOMBIE and THE BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN, both of which are awful and both of which are better than this one. It’s something of an update of INVASION U.S.A. with Sputnik and nuclear paranoia thrown into the mix; it’s a compendium of stock footage and extremely static and poorly-acted new footage that falls flat for practically every second of its running time. Still, even with a loser like this one, I do find a couple of things to admire. The Russians actually speak Russian, and they don’t use subtitles, which is a novel idea for the time. Furthermore, the final part of the movie spends some time with the lives of ordinary people in New York who don’t know what is about to happen, and it gives it an unexpected human touch. If the static direction wasn’t so deadly, these ideas might have given the movie a bit of a lift; unfortunately, as it is, they’re just good ideas poorly used. You’re better off with INVASION U.S.A., which has better acting and a certain amount of energy.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

aka Le charme discret de la bourgeeoisie
Article 2932 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-18-2009
Posting Date: 8-24-2009
Directed by Luis Bunuel
Featuring Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphin Seyrig
Country: France / Italy / Spain

Six friends are thwarted by circumstance in their attempts to have meals together.

Given that Luis Bunuel is one of the great surrealistic directors, I’m surprised that I haven’t covered more of his work; this is only the second movie I’ve covered of his, the first being THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL. It’s basically a plotless series of setpieces tied together by the concept of several friends trying to have a meal together, but who are constantly interrupted by any number of bizarre events; the events get stranger as things go along, and eventually any sense of linearity or reality goes out the window when the events turn out to be dreams (and even dreams within dreams). One meal is cut short when the hosting couple sneak out of the house to have sex and the other guests fear that the reason for their departure was an impending police raid (it turns out some of the characters are involved in drug smuggling); another is interrupted when the chosen restaurant is keeping a dead body in the next room. There are various distractions and side issues, such as the attempted assassination of the Mirandan ambassador and the appearance of a bishop that wants to be a gardener. Three of the distractions are ghost stories, which further adds to the fantastic content. What does it all mean? Well, I have no doubt there’s some political subtext (I’d expect that from any movie with the word “bourgeoisie” in the title), but it really doesn’t matter to me; I find the movie positively hilarious at times, and it’s a great deal of fun, albeit in an art-house film way. It’s recommended for anyone with an absurdist sense of humor.

Blood for Dracula (1974)

aka Andy Warhol’s Dracula, Dracula cerca sangue di vergine… e mori di sete!!!
Article 2733 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-30-2008
Posting Date: 2-5-2009
Directed by Paul Morissey
Featuring Joe Dallesandro, Udo Kier, Vittorio De Sica
Country: Italy / France

Dracula must leave Romania because of the distressing lack of virgins; he can ingest only the blood of the untouched. He goes to Italy, where he’s sure the religious traditions will make a virgin bride easy to find.

When this movie played in my area during the seventies, I remember the local reviewer gave it the lowest rating I’ve ever seen; he used to rate them on a scale of 1 to 100, but he rarely gave ratings less than 80. He gave this one a 20. I don’t think the movie is anywhere near that bad, though I do think it’s so-so at best. It’s at least partially conceived as a comedy, with our Dracula here being perhaps the least intimidating version of the character I’ve seen; he’s sickly and given to vomiting, especially if he’s drunk the blood of a non-virgin (for what it’s worth, actor Udo Kier does an excellent job of vomiting, though I’m not sure it’s a talent really worth pursuing). Despite the fact that it’s an Italian/French movie, there’s no dubbing problem, as it was shot in English, and we get a fascinating cornucopia of accents, what with the Count’s Romanian accent, the Italian accents, and Joe Dallesandro’s New York accent. In the sex and gore departments, it’s out to out-Hammer Hammer, and though this may make it of some interest to horror fans, as a comedy it’s not really that funny (my favorite moment here was hearing Vittorio De Sica ruminate on Dracula’s name), and once you get the gist of where it’s all going, it’s fairly predictable. The movie features two famous directors in the cast; the aformentioned De Sica, and a cameo from Roman Polanski who plays a bar game in one of the movie’s more memorable scenes. One question I’ve always had is this; just how much artistic input did Andy Warhol really have in this one? And I’d love to hear confirmation on one curious fact; according to the “Fantastic Cinema Subject Guide”, Italian sources do not credit Paul Morrissey as the director of this movie, but Antonio Margheriti.