September 15th, 2008

THIS IS NOT A TEST (1962) ** ½

A group of disparate strangers (including a womanizing truck driver, a beatnik, a serial killer, an old coot, and a cuckolded husband and his cold as ice wife) encounter a police roadblock on a mountain road just hours before a nuclear attack on America.  The marble-mouthed copper (the awesomely named Seamon Glass) lets his authority go to his head and pretty soon he starts bossing everyone around.  His big plan to survive the impending attack is to hide in the back of the trucker’s 18 wheel rig, but it quickly goes down the tubes once a band of mischievous looters show up. 


This is Not a Test is a bleak look at the end of the world (at least for a flick from the early 60’s) and would probably make a good double feature with Invasion, USA.  (The 1952 version, not the one with Chuck Norris.)  The opening scenes are filled with a lot of substandard soap opera theatrics, but thankfully the flick gets better as it goes along.  It’s worth sitting through all the pointless bickering and inane melodrama to get to the hopelessly downbeat ending, one that you are unlikely to forget any time soon.  


That said; the film is filled with a lot of missed opportunities.  Chief among them was the fact that very little was done with the serial killer that was in the survivalists’ midst; and the scenes involving the killer himself weren’t handled very well either.  Director Fredric Gadette may have dropped the ball when it came to the fidgety killer, but I at least have to give him credit for sticking to his guns and having the guts to film one heck of a depressing ending. 


The cranky beatnik gets the best line of the movie when he chides another survivor:  “You must be out of your nut!”

MACISTE IN HELL (1925) *** ½

The envoys of Pluto, the king of Hell, come to Earth to tempt Maciste, a kindhearted, pipe-smoking strongman.  Since he is “physically and spiritually stronger than most”, he resists them.  The envoys then kidnap a little baby and force its mother to take the Lord’s name in vain.  Maciste doesn’t take kindly to that shit and promptly rescues the kid.  When he goes to give those devilish fuckers a piece of his mind, they send his ass down to Hell.  Once there, Maciste fights for the damned souls who are forced to work on a chain gang and tries to resist the temptation of kissing Pluto’s Women; whose lips mean a permanent stay in Hell. 


Of course, who can resist one little old kiss, right? 


So Maciste kisses one of Satan’s broads and becomes a citizen of Hell (complete with horns and cloven feet).  When a hot-headed fallen angel sets his sights on taking over Hell and dethroning King Pluto, Maciste comes to the rescue.  Now that he’s one of Hell’s Angels, Maciste’s already great strength is multiplied and he single-handedly stops the revolution.  For his bravery, King Pluto grants him one wish.  Naturally, Maciste thinks there’s no place like home and packs his bags for Earth. 


I’ve seen a lot of silent movies in my time, but this is one of the best.  The sets, make-up, and camera effects are amazing for the time and dwarf those being used as much as 50 years later.  The art design for Hell is simply spectacular and it probably went on to influence many a filmmaker (most notably Jose Mojica Marins).  The scenes of hundreds of extras wearing furry togas and brandishing pitchforks are equally jaw-dropping, as is the final mass grave Maciste builds for all of his fallen enemies. 


The special effects are particularly impressive.  There’s this great scene where Maciste punches a devil guy in the face and leaves an imprint of his fist, then slowly, the creature’s skin starts to puff back out and fix itself.  Sure the effect is a little primitive, but considering the fact that this was made in the mid 20’s is pretty remarkable.  We also get an awesome scene where a guy gets his head cut off and then someone throws it to him like they were throwing a basketball and he reattaches it.  Again, you can tell how they did it, but this is a silent movie we’re talking about here.  Cinema was just getting its proverbial feet wet and here’s this maniac director, Guido Brignone chopping off people’s heads and putting them back on.  You got to respect this guy; especially for dressing Pluto’s Women up really slutty like (they resemble Princess Leia in her metal bikini get-up).  There’s also a big ass dragon in this movie and I have no idea how they did it, but it looks pretty damn cool (even if it is a little on the “cute” side). 


More people should check this out.  When you mention silent movies, most people think Nosferatu or Phantom of the Opera, but this one is almost as good.  The only complaint I had is like most silent flicks, it’s a little slow going at times, even if it does only run 65 minutes.  That’s okay though because the Hell sequences in this movie are worth the price of admission and it’s crammed with all sorts of crazy ass title cards; my favorite being when Maciste calls someone an “Accursed owl!” 


Maciste in Hell has loads of innovative imagery and slinky, sexy, silent sluts to make its way onto The Video Vacuum Top Ten Silent Movies of All Time List, landing it at Number 8; which puts it directly under the immortal The Cabinet of Calagari and above Laugh, Clown, Laugh, starring Lon Chaney. 


A pair of Foreign Legionnaires goes wandering into the Sahara desert where they run smack dab into the underground city of Atlantis.  Yes folks; the mythical aquatic kingdom is actually located in a DESERT.  If that isn’t the first sign that this flick is gonna be bad; then I don’t know what is.  Anyway, Atlantis is ran by the beautiful but bitchy Antinea (Brigitte Helm) and while the one Legionnaire guy wants nothing more than to escape, all the less sensible guy wants to do is sit around and ogle Antinea all day, which embroils the duo in a lot of boring palace intrigue. 


You know I usually will justify putting a movie into my DVD player for fairly odd reasons.  The justification behind this one was that I got to see the hot Bridgette Helm from the silent classic Metropolis speak on screen and dress like an Egyptian slut.  I got that but little else from this movie. 


Several things pissed me off about this flick.  First and foremost was the fact that I found myself watching an Atlantis movie that had nothing but SAND in it.  Excuse me; isn’t Atlantis supposed to be filled with water and shit?  There ain’t a drop of water to be had in this flick!  Secondly, this movie had less to do with Atlantis and more to do with two clueless Foreign Legionnaires stumbling around the desert for 77 minutes.  Seriously movie, if I wanted to watch two knuckle-knobs tomfooling around the desert, I would’ve put on Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion.  Another thing was that this film featured more scenes of people wandering around empty hallways looking for other people than any movie has any right to.  Every five minutes some guy was lost or ran off or something and the other guy had to go pussyfooting around the palace to find him.  But the thing that disappointed me the most was Helm.  Sure she looked great, but her performance was downright awful.  I liked her better in Metropolis when she was silent.  To be fair, I lose interest pretty fast once any woman opens her mouth to talk, so it’s nothing personal Brigitte. 


And what was up with that long ass chess playing scene?  Was that some jackass’ idea of FOREPLAY or something?  I’m sorry but if I’m captured by a sexy Atlantean slut, the last thing I’m going to be doing with her is play CHESS for Christ’s sake.  Naked Co-Ed Twister, definitely; but not fucking CHESS!


Wherever Atlantis DID get lost to, be it at sea or in the middle of the desert, I wish this movie would follow. 


AKA:  The Lost Atlantis.