#16 – Götz von Berlichingen

(1927, Ger, 156 min original (44 min surviving), b/w) Dir Lupu Speyer. Cast Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Wera Engels, Alfred Abel.

The product, like the same years’ Metropolis, of the late twenties film budget excesses and, also like Metropolis, a less than resounding success at the box office. The two film’s paths have diverged since, with Metropolis accumulating praise and restorations while Götz von Berlichingen has never been easily available in any format. This reviewer, for example, has only seen it by virtue of the shockingly truncated copy held as part of the collection of a wealthy aficionado (whose name must remain anonymous). Loosely based on Goethe’s play of the same name, the surviving film includes the most famous parts of von Berlichingen’s life such as the loss of his arm by cannonball (rendered in full gory glory) and its replacement with one made of iron. In a move typical of the liberal national mood of the time, von Berlichingen’s famous statement during the siege of his castle at Jagsthausen – “…sag’s ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken!” – is included in full as a title card, something unthinkable before or after. It is perhaps this, in addition to the films irreverent attitude to a person who had both submarines and a Panzergrenadier division named after him by the Nazis, that meant that it was suppressed in the years that followed as ‘degenerate art’. It’s not a perfect film – at least as far as can be judged in its current form – but its well shot, well acted and deserves to be seen by more than the occasional dedicated hunter.

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#15 – Octolossus

(1964, Phil, 80m) Dir Ferdinand Diaz. Cast Paul Murray, Maria Vilma Cruz, Franklin Sereno, Mandy Santos, Pip.

Of all of the discount Godzilla that sprang up in the Big G’s wake this must be the cheapest. Paul Murray, our obligatory white American lead, is John Blueford, the Manila based reporter for US paper the Daily Sun, investigating tales of strange lights off the north coast of Luzon. It appears that dastardly soldiers from Japan have been testing some new super weapon in the sea there, unmindful of the consequences to the innocent Filipinos. And what consequences – before his very eyes emerges Octolossus, an enormous octopus with a thirst for destruction rendered by a stumbling man in a disgusting oozing suit. Murray races to Manila to rescue his insipid love interest (Cruz, wet), argue with the military and engage in a few scenes of slapstick with child star Pip that seem to have been inserted at random. Soon enough Octolossus and his drooling slime have come to town followed by the US navy who have turned up to shell the city on top of that. Of course Octolossus isn’t destroyed – the country had three more sequels to endure following this to say nothing of the series relaunch in the 1980’s. Painful schlock that may be improved with alcohol or brain damage but that’s no guarantee.

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#14 – Baba Yaga, The

(2010, US, 81 min) Dir James Patrick Francis. Cast Ellen Moscovicz, Jim Beemer, Sal Jordan, Olive Merchant.

If ever there was a concept unsuited to the found footage fad its Baba Yaga, the fairy tale witch who lives in a shack that moves around on giant chicken’s feet and travels through the air by means of a flying pestle and mortar. If you had the money you could possibly do it, much like Cloverfield and Troll Hunter worked, but the producers of Baba Yaga haven’t that kind of coin. So how do they get it to work? Simple – by ignoring all existing literature and turning the titular hag into a generic spook. A quartet of American teens enter the woods of an ill-defined Eastern Europe (filmed in Canada) on the premise that they’re on the trail of the ‘truth behind the legend’. In no time they’re being picked off by a fast-moving crone when they’re not turning on each other, giving the film a ten to one ratio of annoying bickering to scares. And that’s it – beyond pointless with nothing to differentiate it from the million other found footage films that abound.

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#13 – Baba Yaga

(1957, Ukr, 70 min) Dir Alexander Illienko.

Fantastic mix of colourful live action and stop motion. Young Fadar (a live action boy) is left in the woods by his mother and when he wakes in the night is approached by the stop motion Baba Yaga, first seen by him emerging from the dark of the woods and stepping into the moonlight like a raw ingot of silver. It is one of the great introductions in cinema and that it is of a wood carved old woman makes it all the more impressive. The remainder of the film sees the young boy having adventures with the witch Yaga, taking to the sky by pestle and mortar to spread good or ill-will as the fancy takes her. Everything is perfect – the cinematography, the tone of the script, the eerie soundtrack. Illienko seemed from this, his first feature, to be a considerable future talent both in animation and live action but following his defection to the West three years following Baba Yaga’s release he made only two more films before his death in 1977, both produced in straightened circumstances. At least there is this, his incandescent Baba Yaga, to treasure.

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#12 – Jaguar, The

(1964, GB, 102 mins) Dir John Gilling. Cast Noel Willman, Eithne Dunne, Colin Blakely, Harry Towb.

In darkest Cornwall at the turn of the last century returns Doctor James Walker from his latest South American expedition, eagerly awaited by his wife. She suspects that something has changed in him since he’s been away and despite her protestations her haggard husband now spends all his time in his study with his expedition’s spoils, the centrepiece of which is his favourite, a gold statue of a jaguar . Before you can say ‘cursed idol’ the local villagers are being savaged by an unknown beast. Thankfully a renowned hunter of big game in Africa is holidaying nearby and is enlisted by the villagers to hunt down the beast which he, of course, spies as being a Jaguar. Mrs Walker suspects that her reclusive husband with his South American connection has some part to play in this but is compelled to protect him, thus setting the stage for an emotional finale. Despite the inevitability of it all this is a handsome and stately entry to the Hammer canon, shot atmospherically on location.

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#11 – One for the Road

(1992, GB, 116 min) Dir Peter Medak. Cast Bob Hoskins, Peter Capaldi, Emily Lloyd, Maureen Lipman.

An adaptation of Hans Fallada’s The Drinker transplanted into London in the 1930’s, following Hoskins’ businessman Eddie Summers as he descends into alcoholism. Led down the path by a single bottle of wine, before long he’s harassing Emily Lloyd’s saucy barmaid and being cheated out of his money by Capaldi’s mild but scheming Locke. By the end of the film he’s incarcerated in a sanatorium, spitting at his wife (Lipman) and, in a haunting final monologue, wishing on his death for the dim promise of the one last drink it will give him, the ‘One for the Road’ of the title. Medak has the period setting down following The Krays and Let Him Have It and, perhaps feeling liberated after the previous year’s Super Mario Brothers, Hoskins gives a committed central performance that humanises a difficult, unlikable character. Despite fears that Hoskins’ salesman character and the period setting would invite comparisons to Pennies from Heaven this grim spiral out-bleaks even it. Unfairly overlooked on release, time has unfortunately rendered it more obscure.

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#10 – Dorakyura no gyakushū (Dracula vs. the World)

(1960, Jap, 100 min) Dir Kon Ito. Cast Kon Ito, Fumiko Miyata, Yuki Maebara, Kanjūrō Arashi.

An unauthorised Japanese sequel to Hammer’s first Dracula film and an uncannily exact one at that – if you compare the last image of the first film and the first of this one the sets and the photography are perfect recreations, made all the stranger by every actor being Japanese. A labour of love for Kon Ito who wasn’t a director by trade – the owner of a steel company, he sunk his own money into the film’s production and plays the Count himself. But anyway, this expensive bit of fan fiction begins with the resurrection of Count Dracula via black magic from a handful of his dust from the end of the last film. Immediately he drains one of his saviours and with them as his army he sets out on nothing less than world domination! Not a bad film and certainly a gorier one than the original though it recreates the original’s turgid pacing along with the sets etc. A game cast of unknowns around a not embarrassing Ito also helps. It was released in drive-ins in the US for about six months under the title Dracula vs. the World before it was tied in the legal knots that have kept it within Japanese borders ever since. With the world being how it is these days there is a fanslated version floating about on the web (though you didn’t hear that from me).

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