Atomic Rulers (1964)

aka Atomic Rulers of the World
Article 1815 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-4-2006
Posting Date: 8-1-2006
Directed by Koreyoshi Akusak, Teruo Ishii and Akira Mitsuwa
Featuring Ket Utsui, Junko Ikeuchi, Shoji Nakayama

Starman (aka Super Giant) (Aka Prominent Equipment Man) does battle with an evil country which is planning to use atomic power to take over the world.

Yes, folks, it’s Starman again, and he’s here to save the Emerald Planet from being contaminated from radiation from nuclear tests on the planet Earth. Given that the Emerald Planet exists in another galaxy, I wouldn’t think that would be such an urgent problem, but apparently it is, so they send Starman to save the Earth (and themselves). On the plus side, this is one of the more coherent Starman movies I’ve seen; on the down side, he only does battle with humans, and there are no atomic mimes to be seen (as they were in EVIL BRAIN FROM OUTER SPACE ). It’s edited down from a couple of features, and occasionally they have to use narration to fill in the gaps, but this doesn’t happen overmuch. As always, Starman is the biggest friend to children next to Gamera, and he entertains them by bending guns in half. He’s still good at those quick costume changes and those backward leaps as well. Yes, the Starman movies are rather silly, but I find them a lot easier to enjoy than their imitations, PRINCE OF SPACE and INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Article 1814 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-3-2006
Posting Date: 7-31-2006
Directed by Frank Capra
Featuring Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair

A dramatic critic discovers that his two loveable aunts have been poisoning lonely old men as a charity.

I’ve long been a fan of the Joseph Kesselring play on which this movie was based, and at least part of this affection is derived from the role it played in the career of Boris Karloff, who rightly enough played the role of Jonathan Brewster on Broadway. I directed a scene from the play in college, and then went on to appear in a production of it several years later. This movie adaptation features many favorite actors of mine, including Cary Grant, Peter Lorre, James Gleason and Edward Everett Horton, and also features both Josephine Hull and Jean Adair in the roles in which they appeared on stage. The movie was also directed by Frank Capra, one of the most accomplished directors in his time. Yet, despite all this, the movie just falls short of being a real favorite of mine, largely because of two circumstances. Despite my affection for his work and despite the fact that his comic timing is impeccable here, I’m still put off by Cary Grant’s performance; I think he’s way over the top and that the role would have worked much better with a more subdued performance. I also can never quite bring myself to be won over by Raymond Massey’s performance in the Jonathan Brewster role, not because of anything he does wrong but just because every time he opens his mouth, I imagine what it would be like to actually hear the words coming from Karloff’s mouth, and I never quite accept what I’m actually hearing. Karloff was unavailable for the movie, as he was busy with the Broadway production of the show, so I can’t really blame anything but circumstance, but I do feel his absence tremendously, and it does hamper my enjoyment of the movie. This doesn’t bother a lot of other people, and quite frankly, I envy them for it. And I’m afraid that THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU isn’t quite an acceptable substitute, either.

The Vampire (1957)

THE VAMPIRE (Mexican) (1957)
aka El Vampiro
Article 1813 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-2-2006
Posting Date: 7-30-2006
Directed by Fernando Mendez and Paul Nagel
Featuring Abel Salazar, German Robles, Ariadne Welter

A vampire threatens the residents of an estate.

I must admit that the appeal to me of many Mexican horror movies has little to do with how scary or effective they are, but rather has to do with how strange and silly they look to my eyes; they’re fun, all right, but I can’t take them seriously as horror movies. Still, there are a few exceptions, and this is one of them; it attempts to tell a serious and straightforward vampire story, and except for the fact that it has a few dull stretches, it succeeds. It hearkens back to the Universal horrors of the thirties and forties, but it manages to find its own voice. I like some of the touches, especially the woman running around in secret passages doing her bit to battle the vampire. I also like the Abel Salazar character; usually, this person would be of the Van Helsing variety, but Dr. Enrique is not only a skeptic, but he’s a bit of a coward as well. All in all, the movie is very effective; it is only marred by the clumsy K. Gordon Murray dubbing. It marked the screen debut of German Robles, who would become something of a Mexican Bela Lugosi; he played vampires in the immediate sequel (THE VAMPIRE’S COFFIN ), as well as in THE CASTLE OF THE MONSTERS and all the Nostradamus movies. Salazar produced as well as starred, and he is also remembered for playing Baron Vitalius in the hilarious THE BRAINIAC , which would also feature Robles in a small role. This one is recommended for anyone wishing to experience Mexican horror at its best.

Unknown World (1951)

Article 1812 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-1-2006
Posting Date: 7-29-2006
Directed by Terry O. Morse
Featuring Victor Kilian, Bruce Kellogg, Otto Waldis

A group of scientists intent on saving civilization design a machine to travel deep into the earth to find a new place for people to live.

I’ve heard this movie described as DESTINATION MOON , only going the other direction – deep into the earth rather than into outer space. It’s a good description up to a point, but I think it’s really a lot more similar to ROCKETSHIP X-M , the movie that was made to cash in on the publicity surrounding DESTINATION MOON that managed to beat it to the theaters. Like that movie, it’s more concerned with its message of nuclear destruction (though most of the preaching in this one comes near the beginning of the movie) and the relationships between the various characters than with the scientific problem solving that was the soul of DESTINATION MOON. Sadly, the movie isn’t really up to the level of either of these potential models for its story; the script is weak, and the acting is uneven. It’s fairly dull for the most part, despite the fact that plenty of people are brought along on the trip so we can have several of them die on the way. It doesn’t really come to life until they finally reach their destination, a huge well-lit underground cavern with massive waterfalls. Still, the ending is certainly more upbeat than that of ROCKETSHIP X-M.

Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules (1961)

aka Ulisse contro Ercole
Article 1811 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-28-2006
Posting Date: 7-28-2006
Directed by Mario Caiano
Featuring Georges Marchal, Mike Lane, Alessandra Panaro

Jupiter sends Heracles on a mission to capture Ulysses as a punishment for the latter’s blinding of Polyphemus.

It’s sword-and-sandal time again, folks! And not only that, it’s another “Son of Hercules” movie as well. So, who’s the son of Hercules this time? It’s some guy named Heracles! But wait a minute – isn’t Heracles just another name for Hercules? Why, yes it is! So, the son of Hercules is Hercules himself? Uh-huh.

Okay, now the big question – How can Hercules be his own son? Well, I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet it has something to do with the fact that Maciste has a time machine. I think it also has something to do with the song “I’m My Own Grandpa”. Beyond that, I think I’ll let this little conundrum go by the wayside.

Actually, this is a rather unusual peplum; the basic story arc doesn’t really cover the same ground as is usually tread by these movies. It’s more of a buddy movie of sorts. But then, what do you expect of a movie which puts two characters that are normally thought of as heroes in their own right against each other? Yes, it does have some silliness; neither the bird people nor the troglodytes are very impressive, for example. Nonetheless, I liked that one of our heroes is one who uses his brain instead of brawn, and I like the sequence where the evil king quizzes Ulysses to find out if he really is the famous conqueror of Troy. As such, this isn’t bad for this type of movie; it’s certainly less cheesy than most of the other entries in the Sons of Hercules series.

Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon (1965)

aka Gariba no uchu ryoko
Article 1810 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-27-2006
Posting Date: 7-27-2006
Directed by Masao Kuroda and Sanae Yamamoto
Featuring the voices of Herb Duncan, Robert Harter, Chiyoko Honma

A young boy meets Gulliver, who has built a rocket ship for his next set of travels. They go to the Star of Hope, where they encounter a civilization menaced by robots.

Fans of the exuberant melodies of composer Milton Delugg (most famous for “Hooray for Santa Claus” from SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS ) will have a great time with the English dub of this movie, as he supplies the music and the songs. Those not taken with his particular muse will find this Japanese science fiction/fantasy tougher going. Still, both groups will have to contend with the song where they give the talking crow a few verses to warble. It’s not so much that he’s a bad singer (“Hooray for Santa Claus” didn’t exactly have the finest vocalists ever produced by kiddom); it’s just that when he demonstrates this inability to sing, he does so in the aggressive raucous spirit of Ethel Merman, and the results are almost painful. Still, singing crows notwithstanding, this isn’t a bad children’s movie; it takes a little while to get going, but the sequences on the Star of Hope are actually rather interesting. Granted, I’m no real judge of children’s movies, though I do admit to having a little fondness for those that get rather weird and silly. This one was interesting enough that I may well watch it again sometime. Just excuse me if I turn down the sound at a crucial moment…

Twice-Told Tales (1963)

Article 1809 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-26-2006
Posting Date: 7-26-2006
Directed by Sidney Salkow
Featuring Vincent Price, Sebastian Cabot, Brett Halsey

Three tales based on the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne are presented. In the first, a doctor inadvertently discovers the secret of eternal youth. In the second, a man concocts a scheme to keep any man from taking advantage of his daughter. In the third, a woman marries a man whose family line suffers from a curse.

For those looking for a good companion piece to AIP’s TALES OF TERROR , this should suffice; an adaptation of three tales from Nathaniel Hawthorne. In fact, for me, this has one advantage over TALES OF TERROR; whereas I’m extremely familiar with the Poe stories used in that anthology, I have never read the Hawthorne stories that served as the basis for this one, so there was more of an element of surprise for me. The movie itself is pretty good, if not great, with solid acting and interesting stories. I enjoyed the first two stories the best; for one thing, I have read enough Hawthorne to know that his favorite theme is sin (whereas Poe’s favorite theme is madness), and this is apparent in both of the first stories. I’m less taken with the third, an abbreviated version of “The House of the Seven Gables”. I’ve never read the novel, but I remember that the earlier movie version of the movie I’d seen had only slight horror elements. Not so this one; what with ghosts and blood pouring from paintings, cracks in the walls, lockets, etc., this story is given the full horror treatment, but it feels grafted on, and it is this episode that most feels like an imitation of the AIP Poe series. Still, I liked the anthology overall, especially the middle story.