Tag Archives: 1981

47*. THE MYSTERIOUS CASTLE IN THE CARPATHIANS (1981)

Tajemství hradu v Karpatech

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“This story is not fantastic ; it is merely romantic. Are we to conclude that it is not true, its unreality being granted ? That would be a mistake. We live in times when everything can happen — we might almost say everything has happened. If our story does not seem to be true to-day, it may seem so to-morrow, thanks to the resources of science, which are the wealth of the future.”–Jules Verne, “The Castle of the Carpathians”

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Michal Docolomanský, , , , Evelyna Steimarová

PLOT: Despondent after a failed love affair, Count Teleke explores the Carpathians with his manservant in hopes of forgetting his misfortune. The pair discover a mysterious castle on a mountainside and a man half buried in the road, and make their way to the village of “West Werewolfston,” where they learn more legends about the stronghold. Accompanied by the buried man, a civil servant who’s also obsessed with the castle, Teleke decides to investigate the mysterious edifice, where an evil Baron and a mad scientist are developing a powerful weapon.

Still from The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians (1981)

BACKGROUND:

INDELIBLE IMAGE: For all the incredible gadgetry that appears in The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians, the most unforgettable one may be the tiny pistol, no larger than a thumb, that the count pulls out to protect himself at the first sign of danger. (The bullets would have to be about the size of water drops, and locating the tiny trigger would be a chore).

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Eyes and ears on a staff; desiccated diva

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians is the steampunk, slapstick Czech parody of Gothic literature you never knew you needed—until you heard it described in just those words.

Restoration trailer for Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians

COMMENTS: The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians is the last entry in a loose Czech trilogy parodying genres popular in the West: Continue reading 47*. THE MYSTERIOUS CASTLE IN THE CARPATHIANS (1981)

CAPSULE: VISITORS FROM THE ARKANA GALAXY (1981)

 Gosti iz galaksije; AKA Visitors from the Galaxy

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DIRECTED BY: Dusan Vukotic

FEATURING: Zarko Potocnjak, Ksenia Prohaska, Lucie Zulová

PLOT: An aspiring science fiction writer finds he has materialized the aliens from his long-gestating novel, including a space monster.

Still from Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy (1981)

COMMENTS: Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy is a curious artifact from nowhere. Or at least, from nowhere that exists anymore: a co-production between Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, two countries that have since splintered into bits, produced under a vanished political schema.

So perhaps its not entirely surprising that Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy is like a movie that might have been itself created by aliens. The conditions that produced it—Iron Curtain envy of Western science fiction spectacles like Star Wars, and a desire to put their own Slavic spin on the genre—evaporated decades ago. But with its mishmash of tones and the reckless absurdity of its plotting, Arkana was probably still an oddball even in its own day. Let’s examine the evidence….

It begins as a sort of sitcom, sans the laughs. Robert is an aspiring science fiction author who plots endlessly, dictating into his tape recorder while wearing a toy cosmonaut helmet. His wife Biba feels neglected, and she and his relatively wacky neighbors—a photographer, his overbearing mother, and their furball dog—constantly interrupt his attempts to work. He’s also obliged to spend time with Biba’s similarly wacky family, including a headphone-wearing pop-music obsessed little sister-in-law and a blind accordion playing grandpa. It’s not funny, but the setup does establish a tone as a gentle, G-rated comedy before the first plot development: the characters from Robert’s long-gestating novel, a female android named Andra (who looks a little like a sexy C3PO) and two blond space children, contact their author via tape recorder. You see, from childhood Robert has been able to materialize the things he imagines in his mind, an ability which barely surprises his physician (who diagnoses him with “tellurgy” after Robert explains how, as an infant, he gave his widowed father big boobs so he could breastfeed to his heart’s content).

From that revelation onward, Arkana accelerates the crazy: villagers decide the safest way to approach the aliens is for everyone to approach them in the nude. Robert and Andra engage in some weird android/human sex stuff in front of psychedelic green screens. A space brat uses his eye lasers to turns Biba into a pocket-sized metal cube, a development which does not seem to amaze or upset anyone as much as it probably should. Finally, the large-snouted, slithery-tongued, slime-and-flame-spewing alien space monster (designed by none other than Jan Svankmajer!) shows up at Biba’s family dinner and massacres most of the party while grandpa plays the accordion!

So there it is: a light, kid-friendly sci-fi satire with lots of gratuitous nudity and decapitated heads thrown into soup bowls. The effects are simple but abundant, with lots of glowing blue space balls and fingers shooting lime-green laser beams, scored to synthesizer noises the subtitle track helpfully describes as “science fiction sounds.” They resemble American TV shows of the period like “Battlestar Galactica” or “Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century.”

Despite all of this apparent madness, Arkana is not seriously weird; it’s not serious at all. There are no consequences, since anything bad that happens can be reversed by the push of a robotic panel accompanied by some helpful science fiction sounds. With its mixture of innocence, spectacle, and a little taste of naughtiness, it seems aimed at teenage boys: something that, with a little cultural translation, could have fit into the catalogues American B-movie outfits of the period like ‘s New World Pictures or ‘s Full Moon Pictures. Instead, it plays like a sci-fi sitcom made by actual aliens.

Deaf Crocodile’s 2023 Blu-ray release includes a commentary track by Samm Deighan and five fairly surreal animated shorts from director : Dusan Vukotic, including “Surogat,” which won the Short Animated Film Oscar in 1962.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The humor is ‘Absurdist Sitcom Weird’:  the people are cute and likable, and the emphasis remains on gentle Sci-fi satire.”–Glenn Erickson, Trailers from Hell (Blu-ray)

(This movie was nominated for review by Devon, who called it “a bizarro sci-fi comedy.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: GALAXY OF TERROR (1981)

aka Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terror

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 DIRECTED BY: Bruce D. Clark

FEATURING: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Robert Englund, , Taaffe O’Connell, , , Bernard Behrens

PLOT: On a mission to investigate the disappearance of a lost spaceship, the crew of the Quest confronts an alien monster that hunts them by preying upon their worst fears.

Still from Galaxy of Terror (1981)

COMMENTS: No one ever accused Roger Corman of failing to capitalize upon someone else’s success. Having seen Alien reap box office gold, he and his mercenary studio New World Pictures quickly put together a film based upon a simple principle: an alien hunts a space crew one by one. Of course, what Corman and his cohorts never seemed to consider (or, more likely, could not be bothered to care) was that Alien was much more than merely a slasher film transplanted into outer space. The earlier film used foreboding and patience in a way that its imitator couldn’t even contemplate. Where Alien carefully developed the complex interpersonal relationships of the crew of the Nostromo, Galaxy of Terror just spits out one-line motivations and outsized character tics and hopes that will generate some empathy. We’ve got the blueprint here, but the only parts that carried over were the alien and the dead crew.

Galaxy of Terror is cheap. After all, it’s a Roger Corman production. But amazingly, it doesn’t look cheap, and a great deal of credit goes to the production designer, a promising young fellow by the name of James Cameron. (He also served as second-unit director and took on other behind-the-scenes roles.) The spaceship milieu is rich and convincing – the set is allegedly supplemented with spray-painted McDonald’s containers – while a walk through the chambers of an alien pyramid is vividly unfamiliar. The visual style readily evokes Cameron’s future endeavors, such as The Terminator and Aliens, and it’s entertaining to see him deploying his talents early on.

The story is considerably less accomplished. That notion of an enemy that can exploit your worst nightmares is intriguing (and would later be explored extensively by co-star Englund), but is only haphazardly pursued here, usually by a character announcing their worst fear and promptly being confronted with it in the next scene. Moran is claustrophobic, but her particularly grim fate is sealed less by confined spaces than by the vicious tentacles that attack her. Haig’s demise at the hands of his own crystal throwing stars is one of the film’s most effective pieces of visual horror, but makes little sense when you realize his weakness isn’t fear, but faith. In most cases, one has to assume that what the victims fear most is a large-clawed, bloodsucking monster, because that’s what most consistently does them in.

Which leads us to the film’s most notorious sequence, in which Continue reading CAPSULE: GALAXY OF TERROR (1981)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ROAR (1981)

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“The most dangerous film ever made.”–Roar promotional materials

“Never work with children or animals.”–

DIRECTED BY: Noel Marshall

FEATURING: Noel Marshall, , , Kyalo Mativo

PLOT: A family runs a wildlife conservation habitat for lions, tigers, leopards, and various exotic wildlife, struggling to coexist peacefully with the animals while maintaining a funding grant.

Still from Roar (1981)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Roar is a movie that breaks all the rules, including our standards here. The movie itself, on paper, isn’t weird at all. What’s bizarre is the extraordinary circumstances of its making. With a cast of dozens of untrained and barely-half-tamed big cats, unscripted scenes with actors actually getting attacked and bleeding real blood, and the shocking commitment of the crew beyond all limits of sanity, Roar earns its place next to vérité oddities like Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932). Nobody will be crazy enough to make another movie like this again, so there will always be exactly one Roar.

COMMENTS: Roar is the story of a wildlife refuge for exotic animals, particularly those from the African plains, tended by a family with a heavy “live in harmony with nature” message. If that was all we told you, you might expect this to be a specimen from the mid-1970s slew of mediocre G-rated theater spam of the same ilk, family pictures like The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams or The Adventures of the Wilderness Family (from Sunn Classic Pictures and Pacific International Enterprises, respectively). And that is probably the original intent behind Roar (1981), but then things went… wrong.

As the opening titles proudly remind us, no animals were harmed in the making of this movie. But seventy members of the cast and crew were. This only counts the injuries requiring hospital treatment; Hedren later admitted in interviews that the injury total was closer to a hundred or more. Highlights include cinematographer Jan de Bont (lion attack, 220 stitches to the scalp), Tippi Hedren (elephant attack, fractured leg and head injuries), Noel Marshall ( multiple feline attacks, numerous injuries, hospitalized with blood poisoning and gangrene), and John Marshall (lion attack, 56 stitches). Injuries or not, most of the takes with an attack in them ended up in the final film cut. Understandably, staff turnover was brisk, including one incident where twenty members of the production crew walked off the set all at once. Melanie Griffith also left at one point, telling her mother Hedren “I don’t want to come out of this with half a face.” She had a change of heart and returned to complete her role, whereupon she promptly almost lost half her face (lion attack, 100+ stitches and facial reconstructive surgery).

On paper, the story is a big yawn. Patriarch Hank (Noel Marshall) Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ROAR (1981)