Timothy Owen Driscoll (pulpjunkie) wrote,
Timothy Owen Driscoll

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Move review capsules for films watched in the first two weeks of October

I'm watching more movies lately, after a summer largely spent playing computer games. Thought I'd toss off some review capsules, since it's easier than writing something coherent for Mark of Zorro (maybe tomorrow on that one.) Here come those reviews now...

Film Crew: Wild Women of Wongo (1958, USA/2007,USA)

The Film Crew is Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Tom Corbitt, the main cast of the latter
seasons of MST3K, minus the robot puppets. And the Film Crew video series is
essentially just that. Mike Kevin and Tom offer off-screen commentary to some execrable
piece of film from ages past. The series started with the seedy and uninteresting
Hollywood After Dark (featuring Rue McClanahan as a stripper.) Next came Killers
From Space
with Peter Graves, more incoherent and mind-numbing than any other
1950's sci-fi film I've ever seen. Never has chaos been so uninteresting. And now, Wild
Women Of Wongo
, a film we actually failed to finish at my "Wild Women" filmfest last
year. It picks up a little in the last half hour, but it's slow going til then. Fortunately, the
Crew's commentary works more often than not. If you're feeling nostalgic for MST3K,
these should satisfy. Next up for the Film Crew: Giant of Marathon, a post-Hercules
Steeve Reeves in ancient Greece flick.

Curse of the Crying Woman (La Maldición de la Llorona, 1963, Mexico)
The Best Mexican horror movie ever? Possibly, though I've only seen a half-dozen or so
(Cronos would be the second contender, though with an entirely different tone and
intent.) Borrowing visuals and stylistic elements from Browning's Dracula and Bava's
Black Sunday, Curse is very loosely based on the Mexican folk legend of the "crying
woman," a banshee-like figure said to foretell death in a family. Here, the crying woman
is a legendarily evil witch of generations past, whose descendants are cursed to be
overcome by her evil. Nice low budget weirdo-gothic atmospherics, and some
out-of-nowhere bizarre touches enliven this fairly unpredictable (except for the climactic
cataclysm) story.

Princess Raccoon (Operetta tanuki goten, Japan, 2005)

Japan seems determined to keep giving indivdualistic avant garde or cult directors the job
of directing wide-appeal or family-oriented pictures. Beat Takeshi directed Zatoichi,
Takashi Miike did Great Yokai War and that Versus guy did that awful Godzilla: Final
fiasco. And now, old time surrealist subversive Seijun Suzuki brings us Princess
, an all-ages sentimental musical folktale. Except this is apparently Suzuki's
dream project, which he's been trying to get produced for 25 years now. (It still fits the
trend, since someone waited 'til now to actually give him the money for the production.)
An evil lord is obsessed with his own beauty, and, becoming jealous of his son's good
looks, orders the young prince to be killed, Snow White fashion. The prince, however is
inadvertently saved by Princess Raccoon, who falls in love with him. (I know a few people
who will be irritated by the usual substitution of "raccoon" for the Japanese "tanuki";
different, though superficially similar, animals, plus the tanuki has a well-established
folkloric role in Japan as a shape-changing trickster.) The love of the human and tanuki is
looked upon with great skepticism by the other tanuki, plus the prince's Dad is still out to
kill him. After a run-in with Pops, the princess is left wounded and on the verge of death,
and our hero must quest to retrieve the Frog of Happiness! Presented largely on a combo
of minimalist sets and CG backgrounds (some resembling paintings, or woodcuts, or
collages), this is a gorgeous piece of work. The songs occur fairly frequently, in a wide
range of musical styles. (I was pleasantly surprised to see that the house band at Tanuki
Palace is none other than Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra!) One of the most interesting
characters is the evil lord's right-hand woman, that weird follower of foreign mysticism
(i.e. Christianity) known as Virgin Hag! She gets a great "My Way" style send off during
her death scene! Princess Raccoon is graced with an all-star cast, of whom only Zhang
Ziyi will be familiar to many Americans. The rest are, as they say, Big In Japan. The
pacing meanders at some points, and leaps suddenly ahead at others, (providing its
"avant garde" cred, I guess) but for those willing to overlook its few flaws, Princess
Raccoon offers a healthy portion of joy.

The Invisible Woman (1940, USA)
The third of Universal Pictures' invisible person movies, this isn't actually a sequel to the
previous two. An eccentric scientist uses a formula to turn an unemployed fashion model
invisible. Gangsters want the formula. Wackiness ensues. Yep, it's a comedy, and not
really a good one. John Barrymore is a thorough pro as the eccentric scientist, acting
like he's in a movie whose script is actually funny. Shemp Howard(!) appears as one of
the gangster's goon squad. Oddly, the film acquires some actual sexual tension between
the model and the scientist's wealthy young investor, due to the amount of time our
heroine spends completely naked (though invisible); probably half the film!

The Return of Dracula (1958, USA)
Dracula, beset by vampire hunters on his native soil, decides it's time to emigrate to the
new world. Taking the identity (and the life) of an oppressed artist going to live with his
American cousins, the Count ends up getting a room in small-town America. Much
tedium follows, (mostly Drac trying to hit on the younger, blonder cousin) until the latter
half of the movie. A "young girl" (who looks about 30) is vampirized, Drac must bump off
a nosy Immigration man, and the vampire hunter shows up in the last reels.
Points of interest: when the vampire girl is staked, the film suddenly switches to color,
but only for this brief burst of blood. When Drac gets impaled after falling down the old
mineshaft, the copious blood is in black and white. (They stole this bloody color insert
idea from The Tingler, if I've got my chronology right.)
Aside from the climactic bits of violence, this is a very tame affair. Poor old Drac is
reduced to playing poor relative to an excruciatingly white-bread family. His object of
desire is the not-memorably-pretty blonde daughter of said family. His rival is the varsity
jacket wearing schmuck next door (who also is the direct cause of Drac's demise.) The
presence of certain Cold War elements is mildly interesting, but nothing really is made of
them (they're just there as a natural consequence of doing a contemporary story set in
late '50s America. The core element of the film, (vampire moves into a normal American
neighborhood) came off much better in Fright Night, where they had the brains to
realize that their vampire of modest ambitions really shouldn't be Dracula himself.

The Last Man On Earth (1964, USA/Italy)
The first film adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel "I Am Legend," starring Vincent
Price in the title role; it was subsequently filmed as The Omega Man (with Charlton
Heston) and the upcoming I Am Legend (with Will Smith). And I used to think Bela
Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman were very different Draculas!
Price plays a doctor who appears to be the sole human survivor of a plague that turns
people into feral, bloodthirsty vampires - it even gives them an aversion to garlic and
mirrors. By day, our hero wanders the deserted streets of the city, scavenging for
supplies and killing any of the infected he runs across. By night, he locks himself in his
garlic, cross and mirror bedecked house, cranks up the record player, and tries to ignore
the nightly siege of the "undead." This routine existence changes when he runs across
another survivor: a woman who flees from him in terror... A long, slow, atmospheric setup
leads to a twist which is probably more startling to our hero than to the audience, but still
satisfies. Filmed in Italy, Price appears to be the only English speaker in a mostly silent
Tags: 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 2000s, film: comedy, film: japan, film: jungle, film: musical, film: science fiction, film:horror, movie reviews, vampire, vincent price
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