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well produced not heavy or action of beefcake--as these things go
The setting and time is odd, It feels like Hercules is walking around nearly naked amid much later European armor wearing troops. Another thing that may or may not be true is that there are some beautiful shots of lots of extras storming the castle, but when we are usually with the principal actors we rarely see anything of this scope and or are on interior sets with poor fake skies. So I'm saying there may be stock footage being used here.
Regardless of this the sets are quite well made and the photography in 2:35 is also frequently impressive and the film has a good music score as well. The story is decent but it's not heavy on fighting or action for the most part. The 2 fight scenes with animals are pretty bad, with the pretty big snake, or really bad, with the floppy pillow they call an alligator. And yeah why is there an Alligator in Poland or did the Huns bring it from Mongolia with them? Wait there aren't any alligators there either.
But the basic story, more of a kind of romance amid the barbarians is good and the women sexy and Mark Forest gets to do some acting and doesn't do it too badly. Despite what may or may not be stock footage the outdoor photography is good as is the interior costuming and photography. The weak thing is those bad set build "exteriors."
Still this is a real movie and not a super cheap or shoddy entry in this genre, nor is it a kind of hidden treat for beefcake fans--be they men or women. Music score and production design is above average and there are a lot of well done sets.
Not typical in good ways but low on action overall and most of the action is in the final third of the film. Above average acting and casting in this one--the Mongols actually look like Mongols not Italians.
Can't say this is great. Can't say it's terrible either.
Sanatorium pod klepsydra (1973)
Striking but odd attempts at comedy and slack pace and length become tedious
The director, as he did with Sargosso Manuscript, seems more interested in trying for comic surreal than drama/horror or psychological depth.
This is not to say that Surrealism doesn't work when it has a comic edge, but that this director doesn't do surreal comedy that well, while when he gets serious, and visual he's so good you just wish he'd really stick with that.
As in the previous film the more serious aspects are the best elements, this film is more impressive visually but a good part of that is that it's in color. I admit the first time I saw this film I thought quite highly of it and in seeing it again I thought it would get even better as I'd understand more of how the pieces came together and what they meant. But after a long gap between viewings the film almost fell apart for me. Despite a powerful wrap up sequence.
After a strong start the script just doesn't come together or feel like it's rushing into nightmare or meaning, it plods along. Some of the episodes just seem pointless--especially the soldiers near the boat and the manikin sequence. These set pieces aren't really that funny and go on forever. And most of the manikins are obviously people trying to stand still so you end up watching to see them breath or move when you should be reading subtitles. Another thing about the attempts at antic bizarre comedy is that these are the talkiest sections of the film, really almost like a stage play in these spots.
These have nothing to do with the core story which is the man and his father sort of loose in time. At one point the son talking to his father says these various episodes are "hard to discern, the meaning." He's got that right!
The Jewish seuqences and elements are interesting--especially coming from a Communist country at the time it was made is praise worthy.
And yes indeed Blade Runner owes this film a debt.
But aside from the stunning sets and transitions you just don't know what is going on some of the time and with a film that is a bit over 2 hours in length you just stop caring. You can still sit there and marvel at the images, but this is not enough. It's almost like footage cut out of a great movie because it didn't advance the story.
The film also tends to get really talky in spots. The best moments and sequences are silent. The whole thing feels like a missed opportunity despite some great silent sequences and a great core idea, it doesn't hold you or hold together for the whole length. Opening and closing sequences are the best though there are scattered images and an excellent, if sparsely placed, music score. For the record there is also a fair amount of female nudity involving a brothel, though this too seems a bit forced after awhile and is played with a leering comic quality never with any erotic intent.
Though it has some great dream images it fails ultimately to convince us there is a dream logic at work here.
All in all an almost fascinating film that becomes frustrating instead. Have to fault the script as all the elements on a production level were there ready to make a great film, but as is so often the case you need a great script to make a great movie no matter what genre.
One final note I have read THE SARGOSSA MANUSCRIPT, I have not read the source material to this film, so I make an assumption about the director's interest in comedic twists rather than more serious horrific ones based on what he did with the first film and book.
Serpent of the Nile (1953)
Beyond the obvious problems, really not bad, well written
The thing is this movie overcomes it's problems and is a worthwhile version of this story. It gets off on a bad foot right away with a bad action scene, not just cheap, it's bad. All but one scene of historical battling are really poorly staged. If you can only afford to have ten guys fighting you'd hope that at least the fighting would be good but no. These scenes are at times inept and Castle, though cheap by choice and or by circumstance was rarely an inept director. But the script knows to keep these scenes to a minimum and Burr and Fleming are frankly pretty good, especially Burr who quickly makes you forget his Perry Mason persona. There is a fun and campy girl painted gold dance scene which also features gals dressed as Roman's with whips. This is probably the high low light of the film and you don't see it coming. After this scene the movie constantly becomes better. I stopped hoping for a campy disaster of a film and found an actual film here, hampered by the afore mentioned lapses.
This is a different take on this story. The movie begins with Caesar dead on the floor and the story then focuses on Celopatra's political reason for pretending to love men and Anthony's friend trying to stop him from throwing it all away. Anthony is called a man who knows only war and pleasure and he's just tired enough of war to let pleasure overcome him. And all this is handled well by the writing and the performances. Admitting that Lundigen is miscast and doesn't look Roman, you get over this as he and Burr's chemistry as friends and rivals works well.
Besides, there is a scene with guys wrestling a real Bear, not a guy in a suit!! And there is one mostly good action scene involving some daringly placed cameras under the hooves of charging horses and chariots. You get used to the cheap sets and bad matte paintings and get over the usually poor action scenes as the story and characters hold together and gain interest. And there are a lot of costumes for a cheap film.
The stock music score is well put together and it all ends with a rather nice slow dissolve. Castle proves that if he can't be embraced totally he cannot be shunned or dismissed either. Credit to a good script and lead performances and to Wild Bill Castle for keeping it moving and colorful--something he always did.
La danza de la realidad (2013)
diverting then tedious, then fantastic last few shots
The film sets up a style of the director himself literally embracing his younger self and talking to the camera and his younger self in the midst of things going on. Add to this his comical intense cruel-to-be- kind, father and his mother who sings all her dialog and you have a unique narrative that is funny strange and compelling for the first third of the film. But then the story shifts to only the dad's story taking care of a horse and this section bogs down, as other sections tend to whenever the older and younger self aren't part of the action at all. And mom's singing gets a little tiresome as well though her singing voice is very good. Music in the film is uniformly fine. Then you get into some graphic nudity, urination and torture scenes, all of which seem to go on forever, and I fell out of love with it.
But it's almost redeemed by a final section where finally the older and younger director/character return for a farewell scene involving a dock and a boat. If this does turn out to be his last film it's one of the great film exits in history.
So it's too bad the script loses focus right in the middle and that the whole thing feels way too long. Might be a film that plays better if you don't watch it all in one sitting.
Visuals are typically vivid but now have a video quality that the HD "photography" that is distracting at first when comparing the richer film colors of his earlier work.
A worthy film that unfortunately can't sustain a strong first third.
Secret of Treasure Mountain (1956)
Some above average elements, uneven, well written
This starts out as seeming like it's going to be a typical low budget western, but the script helps lift it later on.
The first third of the film is the weakest element. Watching Burr's poor stunt double and then watching the real Burr climbing up and down off of horses is not a real encouraging start. But the by the numbers set up has some unusual pay off elements later. Burr is fun, as he always was playing a bad guy, his career is a testament to changing and image as he became a highly successful good guy on television for the rest of his life after a career as bad guys in supporting parts in films. He's really a supporting player in this film too as there is a large section in which his character is off screen.
Once the movie settles down with the mismatched group --Bad guys, good guys, English father and daughter, Mexican and Native Americans who are all stuck in a house and the possibility of Spanish gold nearby the plot takes some nice twists and turns. The script introduces a few elements of racial tension and bigotry but these elements don't work very well with the poor performances of non-Indian actors in these parts.
The film seems to be a totally low budget bad guys on the run from a posse affair when it starts but don't give up on it. The photography by later A list DP (Credited here as Ben Kline, later to be known as Benjamin H. Kline) helps and elevates it throughout. There is/ are some poor stunt doubles in a few spots and a really poor rubber snake.
But on the plus side there is a large scale flashback scene to a set bound battle, and there is a well done real outdoor series of scenes with a character searching out clues to the missing gold. There are some not bad, for the time, special effects and the highlight of the film is a longish fist fight that goes on against and across various steep cliffs---it would make a good scene for a James Bond film. And there is some nice plot shifting that will lead you to wonder just who the heroes and bad guys really may be.
Too bad the supporting parts aren't better acted and more convincingly cast. It's a short movie with its heart in fast pace and B action, but that actually helps the film. Also this isn't necessarily a western, this plot could work just as well in other settings. Not that that makes the film good or bad, just another slightly unusual element in a film that has some usual low budget problems. The movie seems to use some stock footage in spots though this is pretty well done. The films virtues, and pretty well done script, help off=set these problems, if not totally overcoming its faults.
Twisted Tales (2013)
shockingly bad, talky, illogical, predictable, cheap, incompetent
This show feels like it was made in the late 1980's, rejected only to be unleashed on a world that has come to tolerate less quality. The show is endlessly tirelessly talky, you can turn off the picture and probably imagine a better show than what you'll see. Though it wouldn't be a good radio show as the dialog is dull and the ideas shop worn and don' t vary much from episode to episode.
Holland at times seems unable to shoot a scene so that it will even cut together properly. What physical effects are attempted are poor and the bulk of them are bad CGI. Poorly matched real elements with fake 2 dimensional backgrounds, terrible fake blood spurts and fake explosions. All of them look like state of the art CGI from say 1987. Some genre names pop up to get a paycheck. Ray Wise comes off OK the rest just seem to be slumming.
The show looks cheap and one assumes that Holland and the name cast took most of what was probably too little to produce the show properly anyway. But as pieces of writing the stories are predictable but worse than that the stories fail to hold together for any length of time. The best example of this, and this is not a spoiler, one character demands the combination to a lock from another character, he is given the combination, uses it to lock himself inside a room, then the character who just gave him the combination goes and gets a gun and demands the door be opened or he will shoot. WTF? The key pad for the combination is right there in front of him. In this fashion rules are set up then broken immediately in multiple episodes. Small bits of action or horror are sloppily done but mostly the not very good actors just stand around and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk some more. It feels like padding but the episodes weren't limited or restricted to certain time length or slot--as most TV is, so the assumption has to be that Holland though this was good dialog. The supporting cast members are generally poor and the cheap post production sound just is more cheapness layered on top of the whole waste of time thing.
Hard to imagine that Holland's name was ever attached to anything good if this was all you are to see. This is a hard one to forgive
Deserto di fuoco (1971)
More Edwige more widescreen more action
Edwige is really a supporting player in the film which plays out as more of an unlikely drama than an adventure for treasure story. Watching it from a Greek full frame VHS tape was not the way to see it but was/is the only way to at the time of this writing. There are shots where people who are talking are totally out of the frame and some closeups that are almost impossible to figure out.
But for those curious to see it this will be one way to see, if not really enjoy, it for now. It doesn't seem to be a great film though even giving it the benefit of the doubt. Though it does feature nudity in a few brief instances it's not an exploitation film or geared that way. This is not a fun Edwige starring and disrobing fest. So then what should you expect? Well that's hard to answer but it does have some virtues.
The long, mostly dialog free, opening chase sequence has promise and features the very odd "weapon" of a gold guitar!?! The most interesting character is a multi-ethnic character that seems to be the villain but gains sympathy as the story progresses--slowly. Then we just meet a series of characters and the film turns into a talk fest. There seems to be no real villain or ticking clock, no race against time. or pressing danger to the film that seems to amble along. For a film called Desert of Fire there are no scenes of people trapped in the desert. Edwige doesn't even appear in many scenes or at all for the first nearly 30 minutes of the film. The music score is quite good, if a bit repetitive, but much of the story is inside of rooms or tents and is dialog driven. There is one quite impressive explosion in the film. But the film never takes off, though it improves whenever Edwige is on screen which isn't enough to really say starring her, though of course that's how they sold the film at the time. She looks great and gets to do some real acting and yes it's true that she does spend much of her screen time in a kind of ridiculous mini dress, but mostly she's just not around.
The drama of her character being a half breed and especially her hard riding gun shooting mother is interesting, but the film is kind of stuck and never really becomes either a drama or a desert adventure film or an exploitation movie. The story also develops so slowly that the relatively simple plot becomes confusing. Much of it involves some back-story that a flashback would have really helped keep clear in your memory, but for once there is no flashback in an Italian film!!! Just when you need one too.
Certainly a widescreen good looking transfer would help a lot, but that might not be enough to turn this into a successful movie. For now have to say for a good music score and for Edwige completists only.
Kaidan semushi otoko (1965)
Japanese "The Haunting" works well
At the time of this writing the film is only available in Italian with no subtitles and a cropped down watery looking image. But these sever problems can't hide what is a good movie. The Haunting is a clear influence here, there is even a scene with a bulging door, a creepy stature, and I suppose creepy evocative sound fx are also a important element in this film along the black and white widescreen photography. But there are some elements--birds for instance--that appear in this Japnese director's other films, along with some of the same cast members that make this more its own film than a copy of anything else. He may not be an auteur(though he may I haven't seen enough of his films to know) but he's an effective director of genre material with a personal vision style wise and and a good visual storyteller.
And despite the references to, or steals from, other films this is not a rip off it has, especially in its style an approach of its own. It doesn't seem, even with an all Japanese cast, to be very Japanese in feel, especially in the most Italian element which may be the female wailing voice used in the film's score. What I'm saying is this film in unique in several ways.
The opening of the film is especially well done but it has effective evocative moments right on through. A better title might be GHOST and the HUNCHBACK, as the Hunchback isn't a ghost, or of course the film's original title which better reflects what the film is about. A brisk pace helps it move and the visuals are striking.
This effective and interesting film deserves proper presentation at 2:35 aspect ratio and translation.
a misfire but occasionally interesting
The idea of a race car driver turned ESP detective with his spunky female side kick is an odd one to cast Leonard Nimoy in. He plays the part as if he were a William Shatner type playboy. Though it's fun to see Nimoy play a girl chasing devil-may-care part, it doesn't play into his strengths. He also is forced to wear a horrible array of bad clothing-- witness the pink turtle neck sweater that would be something he'd steal out of his grandmother's closet, or the array of safari type leisure suit jackets he's forced to wear. But this aside, if you can look past these poor and distracting choices what you have is still rather odd sometimes in a good way but often in doesn't-really-work way.
The opening pre-credit sequence is well done--despite poor rear screen car footage--these first precognition flashes to images as he's driving are well done, setting up a "what the hell is going on here?" feeling. Then you have a really awful title sequence with some awkward freeze frames of actors smirking in what seems like it should be tense situations and some terrible Brit sounding jazz pop music behind it all.
So at that point you have pretty much seen the best and worst the movie has to offer, but now the story begins. The lead character doesn't seem all that deeply baffled by his ability to see into what turns out to be the future, more or less. He almost seems to say "Hey man, I guess I have visions now, groovy, so let's have some lunch and hang out."
He heads off to U.K. with spunky gal sidekick and then proceeds to mostly just hang out at a sort of B and B where he meets various but not too compelling or in-jeopardy characters. Nothing much seems to be going on until it seems there is a character who has returned from he dead. This seems like the moment tension will start to build but it seems to have no impact on most of what's going on for a very long time afterwords. It's like the film has no interest in the one really interesting thing that's happened since the pre credit sequence.
There are other occasional flashes of him recognizing elements he saw at the start of the show, and or seeing new things. There is one very nice false lead he gets that's quite clever. It's very late in the show before he and his sidekick sit down to talk about possible suspects, which is a good thing as up to that point it doesn't seem like they are paying much attention to whatever little is going on.
But there is no growing sense of danger to the show and the suspense and style of ESP bits take up very little screen time. The Director does a good job with those ESP bits but the rest of the show is flatly directed and though the music score is bad there is also almost no music to give real context for the seeming random conversations between people that take up much of the running time. And for something intended for commercial television there doesn't seem to any interest in holding the viewer through the occasional fade to blacks where the commercials would have been.
Then there is a decent wrap up to it all, followed by kind of cheesy set up for it to go into series form which it never did.
I watched the recent DVD release and watched the longer of the two versions on there--it certainly felt too long, but I didn't watch the ten minute shorter version mostly because it is a stretched and distorted version of the 4:3 aspect ratio version I had just watched. I hope this is just a manufacturing mistake and they didn't think you'd be fooled into thinking this was truly a widescreen version of the film.
So there you have it, I guess I was satisfied to see it as I had long heard of it, but if you aren't a die hard Nimoy fan you could well be baffled and bored into wondering why you bothered. Nimoy and the girl do have some chemistry but without a consistently involving story it doesn't matter much, especially in a one off movie as it exists now.
Death by Invitation (1971)
Has a few memorable moments
This film does have the feel of an Andy Milligan movie from around this same time zone of 1968-1974. But it rises above that level in spots. It starts rather lamely with a protracted witch trial sequence but then effectively and abruptly cuts to modern day. The modern story plays off the troubles of the times, the family breaking apart with the hippie children and 50's era work ethics of the parents and their strick religious belief--which mirrors a bit the witch trial beliefs.
The modern day version of the wronged witch uses these tensions to help her revenge. As in other films like this the same actors appear in the modern day story who are also in the "flashback" opening. Parts of the flashbacks continue through the whole film and eventually we see more of the flashback story than is presented at the start. Though some of this flashback stuff does just seem like padding in spots.
There is also an underplayed and non-nudity sexual element to the film-- also part of the era. Would the film be more powerful if it had more nudity? Probably given how the story would lend itself to that. I say all this just to give some context to the film as those elements will all seem alien to people watching it now, by and large anyway.
The acting is not great, but not inept either, which is pretty much true of the whole film in most regards. I saw this on TCM and the description says it's about an ax murderer which it isn't, though an ax figures into one scene. Though slowish the film has some memorable things, a double murder, a head floating in a bag full of blood, odd attempts at comedy in one office scene, and the story of the Brazilian tribe of female hunters. That's probably the most memorable scene in the film and is well acted by the generally good looking female lead Shelby Leverington, who went on to a full-on career in acting. The film has that poverty row NYC feel in spots in a good way. It also features that oddly thick blood from the era. Yes this is for fans of the fringes of filmmaking and indie horror, but what's wrong with that? The ending is good and unexpected. The music score is odd and usually dated and ineffective but it too has some good moments. The film has a very thin sound mix and sometimes uses only music in an effective way. If you like this kind of supernatural revenge story and the feel of films of this era give it a shot, it has a few shocks and value amid the clumsy or dullish bits.