Seven more movies

There are so many good movies out there — a hundred years of old movies, plus thousands of odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten or DIY movies made just for the joy of making 'em — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out. 

All these films are streaming for free and without commercials, if you have a good adblocker. Sites like Putlocker are torrent indexes, and thus legally questionable, so experts recommend using a VPN.

The Beast from Haunted Cave (1959) — YES — Ski noir! Crooks go on a ski vacation, plotting to trigger an explosion in a mine, which they hope will keep the authorities distracted during the robbery. It’s a Roger Corman movie, so there’s also a monster in the snowscape.

It’s nonsense, but more than the plot, this is powered by low-key scenes where key characters joke, flirt, or talk about things unrelated to the story. This lackadaisical pacing makes everything (even the monster) seem more real. I mean, what’s more realistic than when nothing happens? 

After low-key digging the movie, I looked up the author, Charles B Griffith, on IMDB — he wrote the original Little Shop of Horrors, Flesh and the Spur (below), the biker flick Wild Angels, and some classic science fiction I remember fondly — It Conquered the World, and Not of This Earth, and much, much more. Collect them all! Be forewarned: I intend to watch some of the much, much more, on purpose.


Flesh and the Spur (1957) — YES — In the old west, a prison escapee steals a horse and a gun, and kills someone unnecessarily, just to establish that he’s a bad bad-guy. His brother swears vengeance. This opening sequence is without dialogue, a cool stylistic choice. Dialogue is minimal throughout, and it’s a dark movie with ample racism, sexism, and just general meanness.

Then there's a water attack and fist fight, and it’s Touch Connors to the rescue. He later starred on TV as the private eye Mannix, one of my favorite shows when I was a dumb kid, but here he’s racist and rapey and not a good guy.

The opening credits say it was filmed in PatheColor, but it’s black-and-white, and if this movie exists in color I can’t find it. I found a very poorly colorized version, but that doesn't count. Every on-line copy is choppy with bad sound, and midway through I gave up on the freebie version and paid 99¢ to watch it on Amazon, still in black-and-white, but it was the same sucky print. What I could see and hear of Flesh and the Spur was worth seeing and hearing, and this movie deserves a restoration.

Memorable moments:
• “I got an eye for guns, like most men have for women.”
• “My intentions are honorable. At this point.”
• More than slightly insane traveling snake-oil salesman.
• “My mother trusted my father, and look what happened — me.”
• Spur-fight in the saloon.


Indestructible Man (1956) — MAYBE — The death threat from a man on death row — “I’ll kill you even after I’m executed” — is genuinely chilling, maybe because the condemned man looks suspiciously like Lon Chaney Jr.

Nominally sci-fi or horror, this is more a police-procedural inspired by the “just the facts” patter of Dragnet, which had been a hit movie a couple of years earlier. There are lots of close-ups of Lon Chaney’s eyes, which is supposed to be scary and he tries his best, but up close, sorry, he just looks like a nice old man to me.

Irrelevant trivia: I’m a public transit enthusiast, and especially enjoyed the ride up the original Angels’ Flight funicular in downtown L.A., which — I did not know — has been relocated and reopened for business

Killers from Space (1954) — BIG NO — Many golden-era sci-fi movies were inspired by the development and use of America’s nuclear weapons, but this one literally starts with an A-bomb test drop. Peter Graves is a test pilot / scientist whose plane crashes nose-first into the ground — and yet, he somehow survives, with only an unexplained surgical scar on his chest. 

It's all stilted and dry, cheesy, unimaginative. The only semi-interesting thing here is that they got permission to film the finale inside a 1950s power plant, so the ‘sets’ for that scene are marvelous. Everything else is cardboard.


Night of the Living Dead (1968) — BIG YES — It’s the third time I’ve seen this movie, but it’s been at least 25 years, and I’d forgotten that it isn’t simply a well-made low-budget zombie thriller. It’s smart, scary, tense, and absolutely believable (well, except for the part about zombies walking around and eating the flesh of the living).

I would recommend this movie even if you don’t care about zombie movies. I don’t, myself — to me, there’s nothing intrinsically scary about zombies. They’re ordinary people with movie makeup, walking slowly, trying to eat your brains. Not a primal fear, for me. Pop ‘em with a baseball bat.

But this zombie movie grabbed me by the nads. George Romero didn’t invent zombies, but he invented the only zombies worth being scared about. His script focuses as much or more on the drama between humans, trying to figure out how they can defend themselves, as on the zombies. Trapped in a rural house, a handful of characters one-by-one reveal their backstories, and their character.

It has a no-star cast, and some of the actors in smaller roles can’t overcome the ludicrousness of it all, but Romero wisely put his better actors in the bigger roles — Ben (Duane Jones), the level-headed black man who becomes leader of the refugees, Barbara (Judith O'Dea), who’s in shock from everything going on, Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman), who’s been hiding in the basement with his wife and sick child, and don’t forget the newscaster (Charles Craig) reading ridiculous updates over the TV in exactly the right tone of incredulity.

Night of the Living Dead was made in 1968, so Romero gets extra credit, in my opinion, for casting a black actor in the leading role, and Jones is quite good. There’s an early scene where Jones repeatedly smashes a white zombie’s skull, before the audience understands what’s going on, and I wonder how moviegoers in Southern theaters responded to that in 1968? Three years before Shaft, one year after In the Heat of the Night, this was perhaps the second movie to show a black character heroically kicking white people’s asses.

Memorable moments:
• “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”
• The attack on the car.
• “They’re dead. They’re all messed up.”
• The final confrontation between Ben and Cooper.
• The daughter’s awakening.
• Mr & Mrs Cooper’s return.
• And of course, the movie’s ending — holy crap!


The Relic (1997) — YES — A reliable source promised me this was a fun movie, and indeed it is. It's pure popcorn with no nutritional value, but hey, who doesn't love popcorn?

Something scary and mysterious arrived with a shipment of relics to Chicago’s famous Field Museum, and whatever it is, it’s murderous. Meanwhile, all of the city’s elite is gathering on the red carpet for a big fundraising gala the very same night, at the very same museum. What could possibly go wrong?

The movie chugs along for the first hour, setting up cliché characters and settings, but doing it well enough that it’s not boring. Then it starts ratcheting everything up until you can’t look away. The conclusion makes no sense to me but it’s certainly cinematic, and you’ve had a great time getting there.

Monster effects by Stan Winston, best in the business. We don’t see much of the monster until the movie is nearly over, but when we see it, it’s quite terrifying.

Quibble: Two great actors, Linda Hunt and James Whitmore, in minor, inconsequential roles.

Memorable moments:
• A big bug.
• All the rich people running in panic.
• Telling off the Mayor.
• Descending from the skylight.
• Ascending to the skylight.


Svengali (1931) — NO — John Barrymore plays the famous fictional womanizer and music teacher who falls in lust with a young singer, and hypnotizes her onto the stage and into marriage. Barrymore, an actor so famous he’s still famous a century later, hadn’t yet figured out how to ratchet down his stage presence for a filmed performance, so he comes off hammier than Shatner. And it doesn’t help that he’s wearing a ridiculous paste-on nose and beard.

It’s all as anti-Semitic as your average Republican, but it improves after the creaking and awful first twenty minutes, if you can abide the distasteful story and all the dirty Jew jokes. It’s the feel-bad movie of 1931!


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  1. >Quibble: Two great actors, Linda Hunt and James Whitmore, in minor, inconsequential roles.

    I remember Linda Hunt in The Relic as maybe a coroner? I don't remember James Whitmore. Glad you consider me a "reliable source."

    1. See, that's the crime. If you've got James Whitmore in a movie, nobody should ever be able to say "I don't remember James Whitmore."

      He was Penelope Ann Miller's boss, but he had nothing to do with the plot. Linda Hunt ran the museum, and also had nothing to do with the plot.

  2. I saw Flesh and Spur a few years ago , don't remember where or how, and there was a lot of uncomfortable race and sex stuff but you nailed it, a good movie in spite of it.

    1. It was mostly anti-native racism, and threats of raping a woman, and it annoys and offends me because I'm 2021, but the movie was 1957 and set in 1857 and I know the reality was way worse than anything in the movies.

  3. Night of the Living Dead is honestly one of the great American movies. It deserves more respect.

    1. If it's not on someone's Top 100 list, they must not have seen it. Or they saw it but didn't understand it, which was me until a week ago.

  4. You don't like zombie movies? Two of your all-time favorite movies are zombie movies -- Invasion of the Body-Snatchers I and II.

    1. Somehow I never thought of it that way, but I won't argue. Saw another great zombie movie yesterday. I guess zombie movies are one of my favorite genres and I never even knew...


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