The Mystery of Rampo (aka: Rampo) (1994) Naoto Takenaka stars as notorious Japanese mystery writer Edogawa Rampo (his nom de plume was a play on “Edgar Allan Poe). After his latest book is banned by a censorship board, he falls into a slump, but subsequently finds inspiration in a turn of events that seem inextricably linked to his story. He becomes enthralled by a strange woman who was accused of murdering her husband, using the exact same methods his story described. Directors Rintaro Mayuzumi and Kazuyoshi Okuyama do a good job of skirting the line between fiction and reality, and with the help of cinematographer, Yasushi Sasakibara, display a strong eye for visuals. While the story is a bit thin, it’s a great looking modern film noir that rewards with beautiful imagery and a plot that will keep you guessing.
Rating: *** ½. Available on DVD
The Devil Doll (1936) If you ever wanted to see Mr. Potter in drag, now’s your chance. This curiosity from director Tod Browning, based on Abraham Merritt’s novel Burn Witch Burn, might be one of his silliest. Lionel Barrymore plays escaped convict Lavond, a former bank executive convicted of embezzlement. After serving 17 years in prison, he vows revenge against the three bankers who framed him. Along with skunk-haired mad scientist Malita (Rafaela Ottiano), Lavond plots an elaborate scheme involving tiny people (people shrunken to doll size) that obey his bidding. He appears as a kindly old lady (similar to Lon Chaney in The Unholy Three) to hide his identity, and sets up a toy shop as a cover. In the process of exacting his revenge, he attempts to re-connect with his estranged daughter Lorraine (Maureen O’Sullivan). Although it’s hard to believe anyone would fall for his disguise, Barrymore is always watchable as the bitter Lavond. Despite a ridiculous plot device and iffy special effects, it’s impossible not to submit to the film’s earnest charms.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD
Santo y Blue Demon Contra Dracula y El Hombre Lobo (1973) The fact that my knowledge of Spanish is spotty at best and the DVD didn’t have English subtitles did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of this Mexican wrestling flick with a horror twist. It’s a classic tale of good versus evil, with our hero Santo and his buddy Blue Demon going toe to toe against the dark forces of the night. Dracula (Aldo Monti) and The Wolfman (Agustín Martínez Solares) are revived and on the prowl, with the assistance of their loyal minion, and only our masked heroes (seriously, they never take them off) can stop them. The plot is something like a wrestling match. Just when you think Santo and his tag team partner Blue Demon are down for the count, you know they’ll prevail in the end. Good stuff.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD
Werewolves on Wheels (1971) It’s Easy Rider with werewolves. At least that’s what director/co-writer Michel Levesque would have you believe with this genre hybrid featuring an abundance of wheels, but a shortage of werewolves. When the members of a motorcycle gang, Satan’s Advocates, stumble into a ceremony with some demonic monks, predictable consequences ensue. While the movie is only 79 minutes long, you’ll wish it ended sooner, with interminable scenes of the annoying bikers wandering aimlessly in the desert, getting drunk/stoned, and arguing. The title creatures don’t make an appearance until roughly half-way through the film, and even then you only catch a momentary glimpse. Many scenes are so dark, poorly shot and edited that I had no idea what was going on. As a biker film it’s weak, and there are too many decent werewolf movies to justify watching this, even for die-hard enthusiasts. My advice: keep looking.
Rating: * ½. Available on DVD.