Mysteries of the Gods (1976)

aka Botschaft der Gotter
Article 5066 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-31-2016
Directed by Harald Reinl and Charles Romine
Featuring William Shatner, Robert Charroux, Jeane Dixon
Country: West Germany
What it is: Ancient astronauts documentary

William Shatner takes us on a tour of more of the evidence of extraterrestrial visitations in the past.

The first half covers more ancient paintings and works of architecture used to back up the theory that we were visited by ancient astronauts in the past. The second half is about UFO sightings and the possibility of the aliens returning and how we will greet them when we do. So what we have here is basically a retread of CHARIOTS OF THE GODS and IN SEARCH OF ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS; there’s a new narrator (William Shatner) and some new things to look at (like a crystal skull), but the mood and the style are largely the same. I sat for a bit after watching it trying to think of what I would say about it, and I finally found myself asking something I never asked before – Why couldn’t they have made a good documentary on the subject? I’m not really talking about the subject matter; I’m talking about finding a way to bring these subjects to vivid life in a documentary. There are many examples out there that do so; they can make a subject fascinating even if you’re not all that interested in it. This movie, and so many like it on similar subjects from the era are so stolid, static, talky and vague that they practically embalm the subject rather than bring it to life. A documentary like this, done well, could be interesting whether you were a believer, a skeptic, or on the fence, and it would have generated far more lively discussion that this one, which is, sadly, a dull bore.

Murder in Space (1985)

Article 5065 By Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-30-2016
Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern
Featuring Wilford Brimley, Michael Ironside, Martin Balsam
Country: Canada / USA
What it is: TV-Movie Science Fiction/Mystery

A spaceship with an international crew of nine members is returning to Earth after a trip to Mars. However, the death of a female cosmonaut aboard the ship raises concerns about a possible alien virus, but then evidence begins to mount that she was murdered…

Yes, it’s a bit corny, but then, I’d rather expect that from an attempt to cross-pollinate the science fiction and old-fashioned murder mystery genres (with just a dollop of international intrigue). This TV-Movie was originally shown on Showtime without the ending as a part of a competition for people to pick out the murderer, a task which initially seems easy (after all, there are only eight suspects) but becomes more difficult as several other people are killed as well, and not all by the same hand. Wilford Brimley is quite entertaining as the director of the project who has to sort out the mystery as well as deal with the international repercussions of the murders. The movie doesn’t have much of a reputation, but I enjoyed it enough to forgive it its flaws; the production is a little chintzy, it descends into melodrama and soap opera at times, and, as mentioned before, it does get corny. Nevertheless, I found it fun.

Death Weekend (1976)

aka The House by the Lake
Article 5064 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-29-2016
Directed by William Fruet
Featuring Brenda Vaccaro, Don Stroud, Chuck Shamata
Country: Canada
What it is: Gang of psychos thriller

A dentist picks up a model to take to an isolated house for the weekend, but the couple ends up crossing swords with a carful of psychos, who track them down and terrorize them.

I’ve probably said this before, but if so, I’m going ahead and saying it again anyway; one of my least favorite subgenres of horror is the one in which the movie consists of a small group of people in an isolated area being terrorized by a gang of psychos. For one thing, they usually don’t have much of a story; once the psychos start their reign of terror, what you usually get is a string of atrocities performed by the psychos followed by a string of atrocities performed by their victims in self-defense or revenge, with the subtext usually turning out to be about how thin the veneer of civilization is. They’re manipulative, unpleasant, and rather obvious once you’ve seen enough of them. Well, here’s another one, and though it’s adequately mounted and decently acted, it still doesn’t add anything really new to the mix to make it stand out from the others other than the fact that the female victim is a well-known actress. If you’re partial to this type of movie, I suppose it’s not too bad; if not, it’s just another one to avoid.

Flashman (1967)

Article 5063 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-28-2016
Directed by Mino Loy
Featuring Paolo Gozlino, Claudie Lange, Ivano Staccioli
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Camp superhero pastiche

Flashman takes on a criminal who has stolen an invisibility formula.

If the Flashman theme song sounds pretty reminiscent of the theme song of a certain American superhero who had a campy hit TV series in the mid-sixties, it’s no coincidence. This is basically an Italian take on Batman, with a hero who is a tycoon who fights crime in a mask, and this movie tries to work in the same campy vein as the TV series. It’s a little difficult to say how well it works; not a lot of care went into the English dubbing, and as is often the case when you’re dealing with dubbed comedy, much of the humor can be lost in translation. Certainly, the humor in the English language version falls flat as a pancake; nor am I impressed with the invisibility effects or the action sequences. The stupid comic-relief policemen are a particular annoyance. There’s not much to recommend here.

Dr. Butcher, M.D. (Medical Deviate) (1980)

aka Zombi Holocaust
Article 5062 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-27-2016
Directed by Marino Girolami
Featuring Ian McCulloch, Alexandra Delli Colli, Sherry Buchanan
Country: Italy
What it is: Gore mishmash

The culprit of a series of body parts thefts at a city hospital turns out to be a man with connections to a cannibal cult on a distant island, so a voyage is made to the area. There the investigators encounter cannibals, zombies and a mad scientist.

“He’s a depraved homicidal killer… and he makes house calls!” screamed the ads for this much-ballyhooed gore picture, but you needn’t worry; unless you live in the East Indies, he’s probably not going to be dropping by any time soon. Actually, the English title is probably a bit more accurate than the original Italian title, or for that matter, most of the alternate titles of the movie (most of which contain the word “zombie” or a variation thereof). This is not to say that there are no zombies; there are zombies. But they’re not the flesh-eating murderous fiends so common to this era; they rack up a body count of zero, and ultimately come across more as minions, which makes them more similar to the zombies of WHITE ZOMBIE than those of DAWN OF THE DEAD. The mad doctor fills his share of the gory duties, but it’s really the cannibals that do most of the bloody mayhem here. Yet, for all that, this isn’t quite an Italian cannibal movie as we understand them; it lacks the nihilistic attitude or the sense of verisimilitude that is usually associated with that genre, and as far as I could tell, not a single animal was killed in this one (which I’m sure a lot of us would consider a plus). So if it’s not really an Italian zombie movie or an Italian cannibal movie, what is it? I’d describe it as an Italian version of the Eddie Romero/John Ashley Blood Island movies from the Philippines; that’s what the movie mostly feels like. Gorehounds will probably be satisfied with this one; those looking for more subtle scares will want to go elsewhere. However, I do have to comment on how ill-chosen some of the music seems to be; when cannibals are intent on their bloody mayhem, the music shouldn’t be conjuring up visions of skating rinks.

Ghost-Cat of Ouma Crossing (1954)

aka Kaibyo Omagatsuji
Article 5061 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-26-2016
Directed by Bin Kado
Featuring Michiko Ai, Kotaro Bando, Takako Irie
Country: Japan
What it is: Ghost cat movie

In order that her sister can be the leading actress, a woman forms a conspiracy to remove the current leading actress from a troupe, a plot that eventually ends in murder. But sometimes there can be revenge from beyond the grave…

So what separates this ghost cat movie from the other three I’ve seen so far? English subtitles! And what do they tell me? Only what I’ve been able to figure out from the other ones I’ve seen so far. This is to say that it confirms my deduction that your basic ghost-cat story involves a woman who is dealt a grave injustice and killed, and then returns to wreak vengeance. The biggest difference between the movies is the nature of the initial injustice. The wreaking of the vengeance is usually the same; among other standard vengeance procedures, the ghost-cat usually lures someone into killing an innocent person by appearing before it, and also, using cat-like gestures, forces an evil woman into doing acrobatic stunts. From what I gather, Takako Irie practically made a career playing ghost-cats, and she is good at it. However, my suspicion that most of these movies are interchangeable continues to bear itself out with this one; outside of having one with subtitles, it doesn’t appear particularly different from the others I’ve seen. And I have plenty more to see before it’s all over…

The Devonsville Terror (1983)

Article 5060 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-25-2016
Directed by Ulli Lommel
Featuring Suzanna Love, Robert Walker Jr., Donald Pleasence
Country: USA
What it is: Witch’s curse movie

300 years ago, the citizens of Devonsville formed their own inquisition and executed three women who were believed to be witches, bringing down the curse of one of them. Today, three women from outside have arrived in town. Could this be the curse finally coming to light?

Not only do I see Ulli Lommel’s name prominently in the credits, but I also see two other familiar names as well; one of the associate producers was Bill Rebane, and David L. Hewitt was in charge of the visual effects. I think you can understand a bit why I went into this one expecting the worst. The fact that the movie opens with one of the most hackneyed horror plotlines certainly wasn’t encouraging, but I do have to give Lommel some credit here; he zeroes in on the misogynist partriarchy subtext early on and keeps squarely focused on it. He also opts for a low key approach (after the opening of the movie, that is) that is a bit refreshing, though people who like their horror bloody and loud won’t care much for it. Still, low-key isn’t the same as subtle, and there are times where the movie becomes so obvious in what it’s doing (such as underlining the parallels between the witches of 300 years ago with the women of the present) that it becomes annoying. It’s also pretty threadbare; other than one rather nasty family, a handful of kids, a doctor, and the newcomers, one wonders if Devonsville has any other residents at all. The weirdest touch is having Donald Pleasence on hand plucking worms out of a hole in his arm as a rather bizarre side effect of the curse. It’s sometimes dull and sometimes silly, but, all in all, I found this one of the more watchable Ulli Lommel movies I’ve seen for this series.

Claws (1982)

CLAWS (1982)
Article 5059 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-24-2016
Directed by Alan Nathanson and Essy Niknejad
Featuring Jason Roberts, Brian O’Shaughnessy, Sandra Prinsloo
Country: South Africa
What it is: Not what it said it was

When a farmer breaks his leg after falling off a horse, he and his mother are taken to the hospital in Capetown. Their little boy is left to watch over the farm in his absence. He has a hard time of it, and when an unseen beast begins killing the livestock…

This was apparently marketed as a horror film about a farm boy under attack by “mutant felines”. Well, let’s put that to bed, if we may. I don’t know how long you’ll be into the movie before it occurs to you that this is no horror film; it’s a “boy coming of age” drama that just happens to have a subplot involving a feline predator. It’s no mutant; it’s a lynx, and there’s only one of them. I will admit that some wild animals can elicit a certain amount of horror reaction, but if a single lynx is on the list at all, it’s very low on it. So what we’re left with is the “coming of age” drama, and that’s a pretty tepid affair here. Part of the problem is that the central character of the boy here is rather unappealing; he’s tiresomely self-pitying, specializes in one expression that says “I’m having a hard time of it!”, and spends an inordinate amount of time walking or riding around the area calling out the names of people or animals (usually his dog). In fact, I’d call that a general rule – if more than five percent of your film involves someone walking around yelling a name, the film is probably a stinker. And let’s not get started on the boy’s bizarre semi-erotic dreams…

Ma femme est une panthere (1961)

aka My Wife is a Panther
Article 5058 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-23-2016
Directed by Raymond Bailly
Featuring Jean Richard, Jean Poirot, Michel Serrault
Country: France
What it is: Comedy

Thinking that he’s preventing a murder, a man meets a colonel who keeps a panther in his house; the colonel tells him that the panther is the reincarnation of his wife. When the man returns home, the panther stows away in his car, and follows him into his apartment. When a sexy neighbor shows up, the man believes she is the panther transformed into her human form. Hilarity ensues.

For the record, this French comedy remained unavailable to me for some time and the movie fell into my “ones that got away” list. However, it recently became commercially available, albeit in French without English subtitles. In this case, it’s no big problem; if you know the basic premise of the movie, it’s extremely easy to follow, as most of the humor is visual. In fact, it’s so easy to follow that I may have enjoyed it more than I would have otherwise because I was happy not to have to struggle through the language barrier; I rather enjoyed it, though from its 3.0 rating on IMDB, it’s reputation is very low. Admittedly, it’s a silly trifle, but I thought some of the gags worked well enough for me. The language content does make it a little difficult to gauge its fantastic content, though; though the transformation from panther to woman is clearly a misunderstanding, there’s a slightly hallucinatory scene where the man believes he’s driving his car through Africa that I found difficult to explain. At any rate, I’m glad to have found another movie that I thought had eluded me completely.

El secreto de la momia Egipcia (1973)

aka Lips of Blood, Love Brides of the Blood Mummy
Article 5057 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-22-2016
Directed by Alejandro Marti
Featuring George Rigaud, Michael Flynn, Catherine Franck
Country: Spain / France
What it is: Not the best eighty minutes I’ve spent

A revived mummy needs blood to live. Women are kidnapped for their blood. Movie goes around in circles and then gets weird.

I’ve only been able to find this one in Spanish without English subtitles. Still, this one isn’t really all that difficult to figure out. Most of it is told in flashback with snatches of narration and very little dialogue, so it relies on visuals a lot. Unfortunately, one of the problems is that there isn’t a whole lot of story here; once it’s established that the mummy has been revived and needs blood to live, it’s just a series of kidnappings, mummy attacks and blood-drinking until someone decides that they’d better get rid of the mummy. The most interesting element in the story is a sequence involving a crawling hand that features a bit of stop-motion animation, but you should be able to figure out what’s going on there as well. I get the feeling that those drawn to the movie for its campy alternate English title will emerge a little disappointed. Ultimately, I found the movie to be tiresome and lacking in suspense; unless there’s something really interesting buried in the Spanish dialogue, there’s not much here.