The Night We Got the Bird (1961)

THE NIGHT WE GOT THE BIRD (1961)
Article 3467 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-5-2011
Posting Date: 2-10-2011
Directed by Darcy Conyers
Featuring Brian Rix, Dora Bryan, Ronald Shiner
Country: UK
What it is: Reincarnation comedy

When a crooked antique dealer dies, his employee marries the widow. As a wedding present they receive the gift of a parrot, not knowing that the parrot is the reincarnation of the former husband.

This is one that fell off my hunt list into my “ones that got away” list, but I finally managed to find a copy. It’s a silly comedy, mostly relying on broad slapstick and ridiculous situations for its laughs. Fortunately, there’s enough good laughs to make it a fun watch; I particularly like the jokes surrounding a fake antique mirror made from a toilet seat. There’s also an amusing sequence where a fake antique bed and a real one have to be switched. A lively pace and a strong supporting cast add to the fun.

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The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)
Article 3466 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-4-2011
Posting Date: 2-9-2011
Directed by Wes Craven
Featuring Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer
Country: USA
What it is: Family feud

A middle-class family gets stuck in the middle of nowhere looking for a silver mine, and find themselves the target of a family of cannibalistic mutants.

It was a good half a decade before Wes Craven returned to horror movies after his notorious THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and this is the result. It lacks that gritty sense of reality that made his earlier movie so memorable, but the production values are higher, it’s better paced, and it avoids the comic relief that badly marred the other movie. Yet, I find myself somewhat disappointed by this one. The first half of the movie works the best; with one exception, our glimpses of the mutant family are so fleeting and quick that a genuine sense of dread is built up. However, once we start seeing the mutants regularly, the dread starts to dissipate; they’re overly chatty and even a little bit cartoony. Furthermore, the concept that this middle class family will prove just as violent and brutal as the mutants (the element that is supposed to make the movie disturbing) isn’t new, even for Craven; that was one of the whole points of the last part of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT as well. Still, Michael Berryman is scary just standing there. There would be a sequel, as well as a remake.

The Seven Dwarfs to the Rescue (1951)

THE SEVEN DWARFS TO THE RESCUE (1951)
aka I sette nani alla riscossa
Article 3465 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-2-2010
Posting Date: 2-8-2011
Directed by Paolo William Tamburella
Featuring Rossana Podesta, Roberto Risco, Georges Marchal
Country: Italy
What it is: Fairy tale sequel

While Prince Charming is off to the wars, Snow White is kidnapped by the evil prince of darkness, who is intent on making her his queen. It’s up to the plucky seven dwarfs to come to her rescue.

Advance word has it that this particular children’s movie is the bottom of the barrel, the worst of the worst, so bad it’s funny, etc. Well, I’ve seen worse, including a few that don’t even have the excuse of having been dubbed into English from other languages. I’ve also seen bad children’s movies that have been funnier and weirder; practically anything from Mexico would fill the bill here. And though it’s been obviously shot with a badly undernourished budget, the movie does dredge up a bit of authentic (albeit austere) fairy tale atmosphere. Also, it has enough energy to keep you from nodding off. Its worst problems involve its attempts at humor; the comic antics of the seven dwarfs are terribly lame, and the jokes about Snow White’s fat nanny certainly don’t improve things. My question is – did they find time to come up names for all of the seven dwarfs? I only caught five myself; Mousey, Toto, Chubby, Andy and Nicky. Strangest sequence: the dwarfs fall into a trap that takes them underwater into a kingdom of water nymphs.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)

THE GHOST AND MR CHICKEN (1966)
Article 3464 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-31-2010
Posting Date: 2-7-2011
Directed by Alan Rafkin
Featuring Don Knotts, Joan Staley, Liam Redmond
Country: USA
What it is: Haunted house comedy

A timid typesetter, aspiring to become a reporter, agrees to spend the night in a mansion that was the site of murders several years ago, and is now believed to be haunted.

The idea of a comedy star appearing in a haunted house comedy was certainly nothing new at the time, and this could have easily ended up being just another in a long tradition. Fortunately, the movie foregoes the usual plot mechanisms of that type of movie and gears the story to take advantage of Don Knotts’s strengths. When his character makes an embarrassing mistake, it’s not for the sole purpose of getting a laugh, because the movie shows the repercussions of that embarrassment, and we feel his pain and frustration at his self-awareness, and this gets us emotionally attached to his character. The haunted house scene that is the centerpiece of the movie is fairly short; most of the movie deals with the fallout of the story of his stay, and the eventual need to prove to all concerned that what he experienced wasn’t merely the result of an overactive imagination. Overall, the story doesn’t really hold up, but when you get down to it, the story is merely a springboard to use the talents of Don Knotts, and he does his usual very good job.

Killah Priest (1977)

KILLAH PRIEST (1977)
aka Shao Lin zu shi, Killer Priest, Kung Fu Exorcist, Shaolin Tamo Buddhist Monk
Article 3463 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-29-2010
Posting Date: 2-6-2011
Directed by Fu Di Lin
Featuring Chin Hai Chen, Lei Chen, Sing Chen
Country: Hong Kong / Taiwan
What it is: Mystical martial arts mayhem

A doctor is suspicious of a Taoist priest who has come to his village to solve their drought by praying for rain. The priest is not to be trusted… but fortunately, a Buddhist monk shows up with the mission of making the doctor his pupil and teaching him the 18 styles of Shaolin kung fu.

This movie first entered my list under the title KUNG FU EXORCIST; it remained so elusive (partially because the original Chinese title was unknown) that I finally consigned it to my “ones that got away” list. However, doctor kiss recently passed on new information to me about the original Chinese title, and was able to point me in the direction of finding the movie under the other English title (under which it had a VHS release in this country) listed in the heading. I think this may prove to be my first real encounter with the whole Hong Kong Kung Fu genre, though INFRAMAN may also qualify, and my hats go off to the hardy souls who research these movies; my head was swimming just trying to match the movie credits on the actual print with those listed on IMDB, as the variant spellings of names are mind-bogglingly confusing.

Of course, there was no way this movie was going to live up to the KUNG FU EXORCIST title, but I didn’t expect it would. The main fantastic content is a revelation towards the end of the movie, but it could be argued that the whole thing is a fantasy as well. The martial arts sequences are almost giddily unrealistic; they’re thoroughly unconvincing while nonetheless remaining fascinating pieces of gymnastics and choreography. I don’t know how many of these movies I’m going to see, but I’m willing to bet there are as many conventions to the genre as there are for sword-and-sandal movies. If I do catch more of these, I wonder how often I’ll run into the phenomenon of Sound-Enhanced Gesturing; a lot of the training sequences involve people making gestures to vivid sound effects. There’s also lots of flips and tree-jumping.

I’m going to hold off on a critical evaluation; I suspect I’ll have to see more of these movies to gain a perspective. Nevertheless, this makes for an interesting introduction.

Catacombs (1965)

CATACOMBS (1965)
aka The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die
Article 3462 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-28-2010
Posting Date: 2-5-2011
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Featuring Gary Merrill, Georgina Cookson, Jane Merrow
Country: UK
What it is: Thriller

A man is stuck in an unhappy marriage with a rich but dominating woman. He hatches a plot with one of his wife’s business associates to kill her for the money. However, complications arise…

One of these days I’m tempted to make a list of the most imitated movies of all time, and on that list will appear a French thriller from the fifties that inspired a whole slew of imitations. Here’s another one of them, and once you recognize the pattern, there will be very little to surprise you plotwise here. However, it does get some points for interesting characters and the avoidance of stereotypes; Gary Merrill gives a strong performance that makes you feel just what it must be like to have to make love to a woman who repulses you, and Georgina Cookson’s domineering wife character has some really fascinating ways of wielding her power. This was also Gordon Hessler’s first movie as a director, and overall it holds up pretty well; it’s certainly easier to follow than some of his more famous movies. Not bad.

The Wizard of Gore (1970)

THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970)
Article 3461 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-27-2010
Posting Date: 2-4-2011
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Featuring Roy Sager, Judy Cler, Wayne Ratay
Country: USA
What it is: Gory head games

A magician named Montag the Magnificent performs extremely gory magical tricks on audience members; they leave the stage unharmed but later are found dead with their wounds intact. Could someone be stalking his volunteers and imitating the horrible tricks… or could it be Montag himself who is responsible?

Unless I’ve miscalculated, this should mark the end of my coverage of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s infamous gore movies from the sixties and seventies, though I’m probably not through with him yet; he has a few non-gore movies from the period that qualify, and he has resumed film-making in the last decade. This may be his most interesting movie since 2000 MANIACS, if for no other reason than the plot goes off into bizarre directions having to do with the nature of dreams and reality. Taking this into account, the bizarre jagged editing during the gore sequences actually contributes to a dreamlike atmosphere where you’re not supposed to be sure what the reality is. It’s almost as if he took the tacked-on ending concept for MONSTER A-GO GO and made a whole movie around it, one that would sustain the idea. Granted, the movie is still atrociously made; the acting is mostly abysmal, the pacing is bad, the sound is horrible…it’s the usual flaws you find in his movies. Furthermore, certain plot elements seem to promise revelations that never come; I’d like to know why Montag is stealing the corpses of the volunteers, but we never find out, and the movie even acknowledges that we don’t. Still, the movie does demonstrate that there was more to him than just the gore. Nevertheless, despite his positive qualities, I do find myself realizing that after I’ve seen each one of his gory movies, I really don’t have much motivation to watch any one of them again, which makes me suspect that his appeal will remain largely to gorehounds.