Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

La nave de los monstruos (1960)

...aka: Nave del mostri, La
...aka: Ship of Monsters, The

Directed by:
Rogelio A. González

Never released in the United States and also never dubbed or subtitled in English, this crazy little B-movie is still well worth checking out even if you don't understand the language. Voluptuous Venusian beauties Gamma (Ana Bertha Lepe) and Beta (Lorena Velázquez) are sent by their Queen (Consuelo Frank) across the galaxy to gather male specimens to help repopulate their planet. After having some problems with their spaceship, they're forced to crash land on Earth and end up in a small Mexican town. The first person they run across is amiable singing cowboy Lauriano (Eulalio González); a widower with a young son who seems to spend most of his time riding around on a horse or hanging out in the local saloon. Also aboard the ship is a big, specially-equipped cardboard-box robot named Tor as well as four different kinds of monsters. One is a little alien with a giant head, giant eyes and an giant exposed brain. There's also a scaly cyclops, something that looks like a giant spider with flexible arms and a lizard with pinchers. The monster designs are pretty great in a cheap movie kind of way and better yet, all of the monsters talk! I had no idea what any of them were saying, but the voices were hilarious.

While Gamma and Lauriano start getting romantic, the evil Beta is up to more devious things. She turns out to be some kind of vampire who turns into a giant flying bat at one point, attacks a man and sucks his blood! She also seems power-mad and eventually unleashes the monsters into the town. One of them eats a cow! Another beats a horse to death! Things lead up to a climax which features an impalement, an eyeball exploding when hit with a rock shot out of a slingshot, a melting head and one of the monsters being set on fire! Not enough for ya? The alien babes also have plenty of gadgets at their disposal, including plastic ray guys that shoot fire, a teleportation device and a box that can freeze people. And in addition to being a cheap horror/sci-fi film with shoddy effects and comic sound effects, it's also a musical, with three songs being performed by our hero, as well as a song-and-dance number set in a foggy cave.

The lead actor (apparently a famous comedian in Mexico) seems almost like Mexico's answer to Gene Autry here, except he has a personality and his acting isn't wooden. The lead actresses both look good and seem to be having fun, especially the lovely Velázquez, who is best known in America for starring in a series of cult classic "Wrestling Women" flicks. The effects are silly as can be and enjoyable (some of the better space shots were actually swiped from a 1958 Russian film) and there's some pretty good cartoonish set design, particularly the interiors of the spaceship. I wouldn't even consider this "so bad it's good" because it seems well aware of what it is the entire time and doesn't take itself seriously. Hell, during the opening credits, they even list all the "monsters of the galaxy" (Uk, Utirr, Tagual, Tor and Zok) along with the human actors. And it ends with a duet being performed by the robot and a jukebox! Fun stuff.


Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake, The (1959)

Directed by:
Edward L. Cahn

I'm sure this one freaked out or shocked quite a few people back in 1959! Over a century ago, Captain Wilfred Drake and troops slaughtered the male population of an entire South American headhunter tribe, save for one witch doctor, who effectively placed a curse on the Drake family. Ever since, each male member has mysteriously died of a heart attack at the age of sixty. Strangely, at some point, the heads of each body have been removed and the skulls later returned to the family crypt. Haunted by visions of floating skulls, Jonathan Drake (Eduard Franz) seems to be next in line after his brother Kenneth (Paul Cavanagh) becomes victim number three. Mysterious Swiss archaeologist Dr. Emil Zurich (Henry Daniell) - an expert in Amazon tribes and customs - is orchestrating all of this with help from tall, skinny, wrinkly Zutai (Paul Wexler), a witch doctor. Zutai uses a thin metal blade dipped in curare to paralyze victims before removing their heads with a bamboo knife. The heads are then brought back to Dr. Zurich's lab, where the skulls are removed and the heads are shrunk using hot sand. After Jonathan is attacked and almost killed, police lieutenant Jeff Rowan (Grant Richards) and Jonathan's daughter Alison (Valerie French) try to get to the bottom of things.

Though limited in budget, and with a few cardboard performances, this is still a fairly enjoyable effort with an imaginative premise, decent b/w photography and some rather ghoulish content for its time. Veteran B-movie director Edward L. Cahn (best known for IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, which went on to influence the hit ALIEN) keeps things moving at a pretty fast pace and doesn't shy away from showing gruesome things such as headless corpses and decapitated heads. The creepy Zutai character, who has dark wrinkly skin, stitched-up lips and poisonous blood, runs around in sandals made of human flesh and leaves behind fingerprints containing tiny skull imprints, is the most interesting character. The performances are uneven, but Daniell does a pretty good job as the cultured bad guy, who may or may not actually be a ghost. Worth watching.


Homebodies (1974)

Directed by:
Larry Yust

Looking for something different? Then look no further! HOMEBODIES is an absolute gem of a film that has unfortunately become difficult to find over the years. In fact, it's been released on a home viewing format in the States just one time - in 1984 - by Embassy Home Entertainment. Now that the tape is 25-years-old, I think it's about time someone rescued this one from complete obscurity and put it out on DVD already. Why we need a dozen special edition reissues of films like "Friday the 13th Part 20" and a great film like this is able to slip through the cracks is something I'll never quite understand.
In Cincinnati, Ohio, a construction company is busy at work erecting a huge skyscraper. Across the street, the city has condemned a block of tenement buildings. One by one, the buildings are being demolished after its elderly citizens are dragged from the comfort of their homes to live in some colorless, sanitized new apartment home against their wishes. However, the tenants of one of the buildings set to be torn down are not going down without a fight. This is, after all, their home we're talking about. They've been living there 30 years. And since no one seems to care about them and their welfare, why should they return the favor? Mattie (Paula Trueman), who spends her days sitting by the construction site munching on prunes, witnesses a fatal accident and then conspires with her friends to rig similar accidents to delay the destruction of their home. One thing leads to another and before long they're resorting to stabbing a cold social worker and burying a wealthy land developer alive in wet cement! One could accuse the film of being far-fetched, but most dark comedies are, and the film manages to skillfully blend social drama, horror and black comedy together in an entertaining, thought-provoking and unique way.
One of the big pluses here is that the plight of the low-income elderly is shown in a grim, though very realistic and plausible, light. These people are often bullied, pushed around and treated if they don't matter, so despite their murderous schemes, there's never a moment where we don't identify with, and sympathize for, the people involved. Another huge plus is the cast and level of characterization. Many genre filmmakers mistakenly believe the target audience for these films only want to see hot young things strutting their stuff, not a bunch of senior citizens. They're wrong. Here we get six veteran character actors capable of adding those intangibles to their roles that only come with experience.
Trueman as the spunky, unpredictable and increasingly more unstable Mattie seems to be the centerpiece of the film and she does an excellent job. Just as good are Ian Wolfe as the building superintendent, Ruth McDevitt as his wife (also the conscience of the group), William Hansen as a widowed writer, blind Peter Brocco and Frances Fuller as a wig-wearing agoraphobic who still talks to her dead husband and hasn't left the building in 20 years. Each of the performers bring a human element to their role, and the characters aren't just tenants. They're created their own little microcosm in the building and each depend on one another in equal measure to simply get by. To disrupt their environment is to destroy their lives, so why should they care if a bunch of greedy big wigs or whoever else go down with them? Co-stars Douglas Fowley, Linda Marsh and veteran horror/sci-fi star Kenneth Tobey as the construction boss also deliver fine performances in less-sympathetic roles.
Quirky, unique, thoughtful, very well-written, directed and acted on a modest budget; this independently-produced film is probably not going to be for all tastes, but for fans of both horror flicks and black comedies, I can't recommend this one enough. It's worth the search.

Score: 8.5 out of 10
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