Monday, January 28, 2013

Short Film: Bimbo's Initiation (USA, 1931)

For a long time now we here at A Wasted Life have thought about presenting a Betty Boop cartoon as the Short Film of the Month, but the big problem faced was that there are so many excellent early Betty Boop cartoons out there — especially among the pre-Hays Code productions — that to choose just one is a daunting task. 
Those that immediately come to mind are, of course, the great if slightly racist I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You (1932 / full cartoon), in which Betty joins her pals Koko and Bimbo for a jungle safari and runs into trouble with cannibals (a very young Louis Armstrong and his band), and Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle (1932 / full short), which features her famous "topless" hula dance, and naturally any of the cartoons featuring Cab Calloway, like The Old Man of the Mountain (1933 / full short) or the classic Minnie the Moocher (1932 / full short), the latter of which indicates a German Jewish ancestry on Betty's part.
But while going through the Betty Boop films on YouTube, we stumbled upon this oddity, Bimbo's Initiation, which — as the title indicates — is less a Betty Boop vehicle than a Bimbo short. Bimbo was a dog character introduced in Max Fleischer's Out of the Inkwell series (1918 to 1929) that, along with his fellow Out of the Inkwell alumni Koko the Clown, was an early and popular star of the Fleischer animated films. Betty Boop, in her original incarnation with doggy ears (seen above with Bimbo from Bimbo's Initiation) as introduced by her creator Grim Natwick (seen here to the left) in the less-than-spectacular short Dizzy Dishes (1930 / full short), was initially a tertiary character who often served as Bimbo's girlfriend or foil — a good example being her fourth doggy-eared appearance, as "Nan McGrew", in The Bum Bandit (1931 / full short)  in which, despite her doggy ears, she is well on her way to appropriating the look of the non-Betty character Betty Co-ed (1931 / full film) — seen below to the left from the short — to become the good-time gal we all know and love. (If you watch with but a little attention, by the way, you will see a split-second appearance of Mickey Mouse in The Bum Bandit; Mickey, in his early form, appears briefly in many a Fleischer carton, including Bimbo's Initiation.)
Prior to deciding on Bimbo's Initiation, we considered featuring Mysterious Mose (1930 / full short), which is definitely a strange and cool film and also features more of a still-unnamed Betty than Bimbo's Initiation. (In Mysterious Mose, as in B.I., Bimbo is still the credited star of the short; Betty herself was already a feature character in cartoons as early as, say, Dizzy Red Riding Hood (1931 / full cartoon), but she only got her own headlining series of cartoons beginning in 1932 with Stopping the Show [full short].) But the fact of the matter is, Bimbo's Initiation is not only the far more consistently weird short of all that are mentioned in this blog entry, it is also the most sadistic and fucked-up and, in a bizarre way, also features the most Betties.
It is also an early attempt to brainwash the American youth and convert them all into devil-worshipping sodomites, if we are to believe the blog The Open Scroll, which points out among other things — "Betty was a secret transvestite or a hermaphrodite, a sodomizer." The Vigilant Citizen, in turn, offers the more convincing argument that the short "is all about secret societies and the ordeals an initiate must go through to be accepted."
Encyclopedia Britannica rightfully calls Bimbo's Initiation "a prime example of the Fleischers' quirky perverseness," while the great Jim Woodring says, "[The film] is an ingenious piece of work, made by men who I now realize were well aware of its metaphysical content, as evidenced in part by the use of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld in the soundtrack. Perhaps its creators were trying to amuse themselves by making a cartoon that combined madcap whimsy with philosophical depth. Or maybe they were just high." You needn't be high to enjoy the short, though...
Six minutes long, directed by Dave Fleischer, animated by Grim Natwick, produced by Max Fleischer, and with Mae Questel doing Betty' voice, Bimbo's Initiation is an early and totally surreal masterpiece of animation. Enjoy it! And keep your eyes open for the obligatory split-second appearance of Mickey Mouse.
The full story of Betty and her creation, by the way,  can be found here at Wikipedia; we here at A Wasted Life personally think that Helen Kane got shafted when she unjustly lost the case against the Fleischer studios, but not only is that another story, we also all know that justice is not blind when it comes to who has the cash.
The GIF of Bimbo running comes from Gif Movie.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ten Best in 2012

And now, for the fourth year in a row, A Wasted Life presents its list of the 10 Best Films in 2012. Again, as is the case every year, the films chosen need not have been made or released within the year in discussion, they need only to have been watched for the first time in 2012.
In 2012, of the 82 blog entries, 12 were Short Films of the Month, 26 were career / R.I.P. reviews and only 44 were actual critiques of films. In 2009, the first time we made this list, we arbitrarily decided that short films could not be placed on the list — a decision we keep this year as well. And thus, despite how amazing we personally find them, the short film for February, A Day in the Death of Donny B, (USA, 1969), for  October, The Little Girl Who Was Forgotten by Absolutely Everyone (Including the Postman) (USA, 2008), and for December, the fucking fab gore short Treevenge (USA, 2008), are not on the list. Still, if you haven't watched them yet, you should... 
Likewise, any film that we had already seen prior to viewing them again and reviewing them for the blog are, like every year, not eligible for the list. That means one film that definitely would be on the list otherwise is not there: Stuart Gordon's masterpiece Re-Animator (USA, 1985) a film that is as great today as it was the day it hit the grindhouses. Watch it now. In theory, Daybreakers (Australia, 2009) also cannot be included on the list because we only reviewed it after seeing it a second time within one month, but in all truth as much as we liked that film we would be hard placed to say it is one of the 10 Best in 2012. Good, yes; excellent, not quite — unless, of course, you compare it to the directors' first film, the well-shot but aggravating horror comedy entitled Undead (Australia, 2003 / trailer): then Daybreakers suddenly seems like a fucking masterpiece. But be what it may, we saw Daybreakers twice before writing about it and thus it is banned from this list. 
Of the remaining 42 films we reviewed, we still had a hard time trimming the list down to only 10, but in the end we managed with only an occasional gritting of our teeth. They are all, for the most part — see:  Cannibal Holocaust (Italy, 1980) — new discoveries, and as such they made it onto A Wasted Life's list of the Ten Best Films in 2012. One or two films are, as always, not really that good, but they were all a pleasant surprise (or at least made for such entertaining viewing) that we feel they belong where they are. 
The order in which they are listed is not necessarily a statement of preference. To see what A Wasted Life had to say about the given film when first viewed, follow the linked titles to the respective original review. Enjoy our selection—and feel free to have something to say about it!

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl
(Japan, 2009)

Teenage love and angst in Nippon High — over-the-top pop art gore with fountains of blood, catchy tunes and purty young things that can bite us on the neck any time they want to. Japanese burlesque horror at its best... we loved it, and so will you! A bit racist in one or two characterizations, maybe, but it fits the overall ridiculousness of this great gore film. Cute but bloodthirsty Vampire Girl steals a twinky boy out from under the nose of another local Lolita who ends up dead but returns from the other side ready for revenge as Frankenstein Girl... who needs reality in cinema when you can have ridiculously fun scurrility like this.

Boogie, el aceitoso
(Argentina, 2009)

Tasteless animation with a decidedly less-than-complimentary view of the US, this movie bathes in its own P.I. with gusto. You don't need to see it in 3D to laugh, but the technology does support the movie's decidedly odd mixture of animation styles. Plot: gun happy misogynist hitman gets even after being double-crossed by his boss, leaving a trail of bodies and body odour behind.

Dellamorte Dellamore
(Italy, 1994)

In all truth, we began working on this list one dull early December day, long before we saw this film here. And amongst the Ten Best in 2012 we had chosen at that point was undoubtedly one of the worst films we saw in 2012: Ich Piss' auf deinen Kadaver. Ich Piss' auf deinen Kadaver is truly terrible — the script and the acting and the cinematography suck like a vacuum cleaner with teeth, and there is nothing about the film that in any way at all indicates talent or even technical proficiency. Indeed, if there was a script, it was made as it was being filmed, and the actors appear mostly to simply be strangers picked off the street. But the film had us laughing our heads off and we weren't even stoned. (One chase scene is truly memorable for illustrating exactly what is meant when they say someone runs like a girl.) But we enjoyed it so much when we saw it, that we thought we should include it... Still, anyone with even a dingleberry of good taste would probably hate the film — and, really, although it was on our preparatory list, it shouldn't be on anyone's final "Best of" list. Which is why we're happy that this film stumbled before our eyes in December 2012, for Dellamorte Dellamore is indeed a film that should be on many a "Best of" lists. A truly unique and funny and weird film that enjoys cult popularity but has nevertheless remained generally unseen by the masses. Help change that — watch it now!

The Locals
(New Zealand, 2003)

Two boys out for a weekend of surf and fun do the typically stupid thing of ignoring a "No Trespassing" sign in hope of a short cut and stumble upon two babes out to party — and a yitload of homicidal men. The Locals is a low key but pleasant horror film from the land of kiwis that manages to toss in a surprise or two — not high on gore, but the camera work is quite nice at times, and we've always had a weakness for New Zealand accents. There is nothing about this film that is particularly flashy or splashy or shocking or explosive, but it is tightly made and not only catches and keeps your interest, but succeeds well in building its mood and carrying it through to the end...

Mutant Aliens
(USA, 2001)

Bill Plympton films are always good for a gander and they do keep us laughing. This alien invasion revenge film is typically off-the-wall and drenched in a total lack of respect for the mainstream — in other words, it should be required viewing in kindergartens across the USA. A surprisingly mean film for one as funny as it is, in Mutant Aliens Plympton tells the tale of an astronaut left to die in space who returns with a band of mutant aliens to get revenge upon those who left him to die — his now adult daughter and her horny fiancé lend a helping hand...

Die Beauty / Du Sköna
(Sweden, 2010)
Never heard of this film? Neither has anyone else we know. We stumbled upon it purely by accident and loved it. Swedish surrealism, we think.... or could it be that life in Sweden is really like this? An extremely calm film that meanders to an end that could just as well be a new beginning, and that starts less at the beginning then it does just suddenly take up a variety of narrative strands about unhappy wives and missing husbands and young blonde daughters and an unhappy German prostitute and other peripheral characters living in the oddly bizarre backwaters of Sweden. The painting above was found at the film's website.

Bao chou / Vengeance
(Hong Kong, 1970)

This 1970 Shaw Brothers film is not exactly a typical example of Shaw Brother sock-em, chop-em kung fu costume madness. Set in 1920s Peking, Bao chou / Vengeance does feature flying fists and high kicks, but knives and even guns make an appearance in a tale that follows the narrative schema of good ol' U.S. Film Noir. Tough-fighting man in love with a shady, traitorous lady is killed when one of his two-timing wife's lovers decides he's a bother; his tougher-fighting brother shows up to revenge his death, hitting the town like an unstoppable bulldozer... The bodies pile and love blooms, but tragedy is predestined.

Tourist Trap
(USA, 1979)

This film got lost in the slew of horror films that was released in the late 70s, early 80s and it didn't help any that it was rated PG and released at the same time as Halloween (1979 / trailer). As a result, one of the most quirky and original horror films of the time was completely overlooked and sank into oblivion, where it has pretty much remained to date. OK, Tourist Trap has achieved a certain level of cult popularity over the years due to word of mouth, but the film is still an under-appreciated treasure that is not even half as well known as it deserves to be. We went into it thinking it to be a typical body-counter, and though you can count the bodies it is anything but a typical body count movie. Rather unlike the promise of the French poster above, Tourist Trap has a lack of uncovered boobage, but for that it is incredibly creepy and consistently surprising. The final showdown throws in one of the least expected mind fucks ever expected...

Castle Freak
(USA/Italy, 1995)

To simply re-use the opening paragraph of our review (which can be found by following the linked title above): "In-between his popular cinematic fart Fortress (1992 / German trailer) and his much less popular but far more entertaining flop Space Truckers (1996 / trailer), Stuart Gordon flew to Italy to make this direct-to-video horror film for Full Moon. Based ever so loosely on H. P. Lovecraft's short story The Outsider, Castle Freak is a modernized Gothic horror story along the lines of, say, The Virgin of Nuremberg (1963 / Italian trailer), but instead of a woman in her nightie being confronted by a mad woman-killer driven crazy by the disfiguring experiments he experienced under the Nazis, we have an emotionally damaged American family of three unknowingly sharing their inherited castle with a now-malformed monster that had been maimed and mistreated deep in the cellar for 40 years by his literally castrating mother. [...]" Perhaps not the best of Gordon's films, but definitely one of his better ones, which makes it so surprising that it is so under-appreciated...

The Brain that Wouldn't Die
(USA, 1959)

Like most people, we long knew this film by name but had never bothered to watch it... but when we finally did, we found out that it is a true masterpiece of vintage trash. Perverse sleaze like this is always fun to watch, and we found it grand — and we weren't on drugs, either. Wonder how we ever missed catching this piece of fabulous flotsam back in the days of Creature Feature. Plot: A driven scientist bereft of morals goes shopping for a new body for his fiancée, who is a living but bodiless head since a car accident. The Brain that Wouldn't Die is great film for the whole family. 
Full film:

Honorable mention: 
Cannibal Holocaust
(Italy, 1980)

This film definitely should be on the list, 'cause it is a distasteful and disturbing work of art that truly leaves an impression. Its soundtrack is one of the most memorable the great Riz Ortolani ever composed, an unforgettable easy listening track that is as soothing as the film itself is disturbing. But while we wrote our review in 2012 after having seen the film in its entirety for the first time, the movie wasn't exactly unknown to us: oddly enough, back in the days of VHS, three totally different times in our prior life in the USA we stopped by friends to drop something off (or by dealers pick something up) and a video of this flick was playing on the tube. Each time, we stayed as long as we could to see as much as we could, but were unable to watch it till the end due to other commitments (namely: work). Thus, though we saw the whole film for the first time in 2012, we saw too much of it in piecemeal to truly say Cannibal Holocaust is a new film for us. Thus, this masterpiece of Italo exploitation is relegated to a simple honorable mention — and the recommendation that if you haven't seen this nasty flick yet, you truly should. Cannibal Holocaust is nothing less than mandatory viewing for those types of folks that waste their lives reading blogs like this...
The unforgettable theme to Cannibal Holocaust:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Per Sempre (Italy, 1987)

(Spoilers.) Also known as Until Death, this film is occasionally touted as an unofficial sequel to the popular Canuck horror film of 1980, The Changeling (trailer), which was directed by the facile Peter Medak (the man behind the much-maligned trashspectacle, Species II  [1988 / trailer]). In form and substance, however, Per Sempre owes little to that slow but affective and effective ghost story.
The third of four Italian TV movies originally broadcast as a segment of the horror series Brivido giallo (1986–87), to which the other Lamberto Bava DVD release Graveyard Disturbance (1987) also belongs, the central driver of the plot of Per Sempre owes a far more noticeable nod to The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946 / trailer or 1981 / trailer) than The Changeling, though in Lamberto Bava's film the postman — or fate — never even rings once, let alone twice; instead, the slowly crumbling, murder-overshadowed relationship is confronted with a far more tangible if supernatural entity. At which point, in truth, the film also begins to owe aspects of its plot to Mario Bava's last film before he died of a heart attack in 1980, the 1977 Italian horror flick Shock, aka Beyond the Door II (trailer); in that film, as in Per Sempre, a couple disintegrates when faced by the revengeful ghost of the woman's murdered husband. In Lambert's film, however, the ghost is oddly if unexplainably corporal. 
Per Sempre opens with a scene that initially could be misconstrued as a strained rainy night rush to get the pregger wife to the hospital on time, but this trite concept is quickly cast aside when it becomes clear that a corpse lies wrapped up in the back of the van. No, the pregnant Linda (Gioia Scola of Conquest [1983 / trailer] and Raiders of Atlantis [1983 / trailer]) and her handyman lover Carlo (David Brandon of The Emperor Caligula: The Untold Story [1982 / trailer] and StageFright: Aquarius [1987]) are on their way to do away with the body of the inconvenient husband Luca (Roberto Pedicini). A short time later, the film jumps forward roughly a half-decade and we find Linda and Carlo are now a squabbling couple running the locally popular waterside restaurant and boat rental that Linda took over after her husband "left for up north"; Carlo, a paranoid wreck who is convinced that everyone suspects them, lacks all fatherly feelings for her sensitive son Alex (Marco Vivio of Demons 2 [1986 / trailer]), while Linda's enjoyment of the relationship seems both forced and confined to Carlo's exceptional bedroom technique — though they seem to always need an argument as foreplay. Into this fragile constellation a hunky stranger arrives from "up north," the good-looking Marco (Urbano Barberini of Demons [1985 / trailer]), who has a soft spot for Alex and seems to know more about the house and the couple than should be... 
The version of Per Sempre we saw was, regrettably, obviously gone at with a hacksaw despite the DVD box claim that it was "the full version"; thus we missed such important scenes — some of which are found in the trailer above — as that of the "dead" Luca regaining consciousness long enough to grab Linda's earring (a trinket that plays an important part later in the film), and also suffered some odd gaps in continuity (one important death goes from bottle-over-the-head-but-conscious to corpse-on-the-floor, while an earlier scene infers a scissor-stabbing never shown), but though these and other obvious cuts do dampen the viewer's enjoyment or cause occasional momentary perplexity, they in no way hamper the effective mood and mostly excellent acting that infuse what is almost a chamber play consisting of four main actors (five if you count the occasional appearance of the policeman [Giuseppe Stefano De Sando]) and one primary location.
The hunky Urbano Barberini is oddly charming while simultaneously unnerving as Marco, and David Brandon's Carlo is a convincingly macho and dislikeable asshole struggling to maintain control of things even as he falls apart; the most accolades, however, are due Gioia Scola, who plays Linda as an oddly slippery figure: both motherly and at times slutty, Linda, whether decked in sexy skimpies or dirty work clothes, remains both likeable and a figure of identification throughout the film despite, in the end, basically being just as much of a murderer as Carlo — and, in the long run, a far more cooler-headed one. If she is redeemed at all in the end, it is only due to the fact that her motherly love and instincts are greater than her own ego... 
Per Sempre does leave a few glaring questions unanswered by the time it draws to a close, the smallest of which being why it took more than a half-decade for the revengeful ghost to return and seek retribution. No, the biggest questions never answered are the what and why and how of his appearance as Marco and why, if his goal is to destroy the murderous pair, he doesn't just do it instead of dragging things out and even terrorizing his innocent son (initially in his dreams and, towards the end, in reality). But then, were he not to do so, the film would have very little to build its (effective) suspense and aura of guilt and disintegration upon — so let's ignore those nagging inconsistencies and enjoy the movie for what it is: a tight, creepy and effective supernatural thriller that, unlike so many of Bava's films we've seen, eschews all unnecessary and mood-destroying comedy.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Piranha 3-D (USA, 2010)

We have to admit that the original Piranha, the low budget Roger Corman production from 1978 (trailer), as out-of-date and as creaky as it might be, is one of our favorite nature-gone-wild films of the Golden Age of Grindhouse. But we also really have nothing against remakes, especially if they are more revisionary than template-driven. For that reason, we never made it through the Roger Corman produced TV remake of Piranha from 1995 (trailer) starring William Katt because, basically, was as similar to the original version as Gus van Sant's version of Psycho (1998 / trailer) was to Hitchcock's original film (1960 / trailer) — but whereas van Sant was playing an intellectually driven practical joke, Corman was obviously just trying to milk a dead cow. 
Here, however, in the case of Piranha 3-D, Alexandre Aja's film might share the same name and the same basic concept of an endangered lakeside amusement park and flesh-eating fish, but from there onwards he takes his film in as much of a different direction as, say, the unjustly maligned 2005 re-visioning of The House of Wax (trailer) or the stupid but fun Ghost Ship (2002 / trailer). And like those films, the new version of Piranha might have its share of questionable if not problematic aspects, but on the whole manages to be enough of a new film to be enjoyable: for the most part, Piranha 3-D not only changes virtually every other aspect of the original plot, but also ups the ante of gore and tits to such an extent that it literally out-grindhouses the original and, in turn, becomes a film all of its own. It is, totally, much more "inspired by" than "a remake of" — hell, if this flick is a remake, than one could also argue that all films in the world featuring a killer shark are a remake of Jaws (1975 / trailer), much like all flesh-eating shuffling zombie flicks are simply a remake of Night of the Living Dead (1968 / full film / trailer). 
Ah, Jaws: the film that actually inspired the original version of Piranha — and Alligator (1980 / trailer), for that matter (both films of which were written by the auteur filmmaker John Sayles). Aja opens the film with a direct nod to the mother source, the mini-special appearance of Richard Dreyfuss as the fishing Matt Hooper who sings Show Me the Way to Go Home, the same song his character sang (along with Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw) in Jaws just before the great white attacks. Here, however, first there is an earthquake and a laughably fake-looking CGI whirlpool, and then Dreyfuss' special appearance comes to an end. Just how acceptable the scene is rests more on one's ability to appreciate "wink-wink" homages and special appearances than on actual execution, for the overall execution of the opening scene is truly half-assed. Luckily, however, the special effects not only improve but Piranha 3-D quickly picks up speed thereafter, swiftly explaining the concept of prehistoric flesh-eaters freed from an underground lake even as the film introduces the masses of fish-food (with and without names and faces) and the obligatory survivors so as to barrel as single-mindedly as possible to the blood- and breast-heavy mayhem that is the film's reason for even being made. 
Be warned, for all its gore and titties Piranha 3-D is a highly cheesy and almost traditional film, and is definitely not meant for viewing by those that don't like the visceral, don't want to see (mostly) silicon tits by the yitload, or have an aversion to the concept of a severed CGI prick floating by in the water and being eaten by meat-eating fish. But if those three features sound in any way appealing to you and your sense of humor, then you will probably enjoy this "horror" film a horror film that is far less in any way scary, or even suspenseful, than it is funny. Horror and suspense are generated by a sense of dread or possible danger; Piranha 3-D is totally lacking both, as all characters that appear literally have "I'm gonna die" or "I'm gonna survive" written all over their faces or their bodies, if only in invisible ink. The classic rule of the traditional body-counter is fully at play here, the one that mandates that if you have sex or are a sexual person you are going to die — only Aja increases the female death toll by adding an addendum to that rule: If the babe got big titties, she gonna die! (A good example of blood, death, titties and laughs without any suspense is the topless hang-gliding gal played by the pulchritudinous porno actress Gianna Michaels; perhaps the only woman in the film with naturally huge, swinging orbs, her death is as predictable as it is gory and, in its excess, very funny.) 
Piranha 3-D is breast-heavy, blood-drenched cotton candy for gorehounds. The slumming Elisabeth Shue — anyone remember when she won the Oscar? — as the town's sheriff gives the film more thespian professionalism than it actually deserves, but in general the plethora of familiar faces aside from Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd and Eli Roth immediately come to mind — are severely underused. One or two deaths seem less necessary than simply mean — the gal that gets her face ripped off, for example, or the "nice" gal-gone-wild (Kelly Brook), who dies only because the other women present at that point are all less obviously sexual and never exposed their (smaller) breasts at any point in the film.
Whether or not you see Piranha 3-D in 3-D is really of no importance: unlike the film's (much more stupid but nevertheless almost more enjoyable) sequel, Piranha 3DD (2012 / trailer), the 3-D here was added as an afterthought and, for the most part, even looks like an afterthought. As such, it neither truly adds nor detracts from the events onscreen — unlike much of the strangely cheap-looking CGI, which at least adds to the film's overall cheese factor. 
On the whole, Piranha 3-D is simple, empty but titty-heavy, blood-drenched fun and, as such, fits well to pizza and beer and/or pot. Like all junk food, is enjoyable while it's there but is just as quickly forgotten once it's gone. As such, we say: get that six-pack and give it a go!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Coast of Skeletons (1964, GB/Germany)

The third film based on Edgar Wallace's book Sanders of the Rivers, one of his earliest works of fiction, which was first published in 1911. Wallace based the hero of his stories on an actual man, a Belgium civil servant in the then Belgium Congo, who had acted as a sort of unofficial policeman for his government. Wallace met the man while in Africa working as a reporter for the Daily Mail and was so inspired by the civil servant's exploits that he wrote a number of books around the man, renaming him Sanders. The first film version, likewise entitled Sanders of the Rivers, was made by the legendary Zoltan Korda in 1935; Korda's version presents the character as truly heroic and a British exemplification of all that is good about Colonization. (The movie is even dedicated to "the handful of white men whose everyday work is an unsung saga of courage and efficiency.") Needless to say, Korda's Sanders of the Rivers has dated badly — though its location shooting still packs some punch.
The two other movies based on the book that came later, this movie and Death Drums along the River (1963), pretty much jettison the entire concept of colonization and simply go for adventure. Actually, Death Drums along the River (1963) and Coast of Skeletons work almost as a two-instalment series since they both feature the same person, well-known character actor Richard Todd (of House of the Long Shadows [1983 / trailer] and Stage Fright [1950 / trailer]), playing the title character. Furthermore, both films also share a number of other actors, but unlike Todd these actors do not repeat the same roll and instead play completely new characters in each film. (Including Marianne Koch, who that same year played the part of Marisol, the lead female role opposite Clint Eastwood's Man-with-No-Name in the spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars (1964); Koch left the industry by 1971 to become a medical internist.)
In Coast of Skeletons, Sanders (Todd) returns briefly to England from the "Republic of Gondra" after being unceremoniously fired by the newly independent land. Taking on a job at an insurance company, he is promptly assigned to accompany the Texan entrepreneur A.J. Magnus (Dale Robertson of Son of Sinbad [1955 / scene with Lily St Cyr dancing]) to West Africa, were the business man is attempting to excavate diamonds off the coast of the continent. Arriving in Africa, Sanders first survives a murder attempt only by chance, and then comes too late to save Piet van Houten (Dietmar Schönherr, who achieved cult immortality in Germany two years later as Cliff Allister Mclane of Raumschiff Orion [1966 / trailer]), the son of Magnus' previous (and dead) partner. Piet had come to tell Sanders all that he knew about the prior boat of Magnus that sank off the coast (and cost the insurance firm Sanders works for a small fortune), only to have his neck broken by Magnus' right-hand man. The captain of Magnus' new ship, Johnny von Karston (Heinz Drache of Hypnosis [1962]), in an attempt to keep his superficial wife Elisabeth (Elga Andersen) by his side rather than by that of Magnus, uses the excavation as a chance to locate a fortune of gold that he knows sank in the area during the Second World War. Sanders discovers proof that Magnus' previous ship was sunk on purpose and Magnus finds out about the sunken treasure, so the latter locks everyone — including Helga (Marianne Koch), von Kaston's photographer sister and convenient love interest for Sander — in the ship's hold and opens all the hatches... 
Do they all escape? Do they all trudge through the dessert to the now-landlocked shipwreck that holds the gold? (It seems that the water at the coast of Africa is steadily receding every year, so a ship sunk two miles off shore 20 years previously is now actually in the middle of the desert two miles inland). Are guns shot and do bad guys get double-crossed? Does a superficial girl seemingly simply disappear from one scene to the other? Does dynamite explode and all the good guys fly away? What do you think? 
According to Florian Pauer in his book Die Edgar Wallace Filme, Coast of Skeletons is the first Wallace film treated to both color and widescreen. Keeping this in mind, it almost seems a bit odd that director Robert Lynn was chosen to helm the project, considering that he was primarily a TV director and his only feature film of note was Dr. Crippen (1964), a low budget B&W film based on the true story of the pathetic, murdering doctor, starring Donald Pleasence as Dr. Crippen and an unknown Samantha Eggar as the woman he kills for, Ethel le Neve. (Just how true the story is, actually, is now open to speculation seeing that DNA tests have cast doubts on Dr. Crippen's guilt.) Perhaps the producers were simply looking for an affordable director and took note less of Lynn's solo work than of some of the sumptuous color films he had previously worked on as a second unit director, such as the Hammer classics Horror of Dracula (1958 / trailer) and Revenge of Frankenstein (1958 / trailer). Needless to say, Coast of Skeletons is hardly as lush as those two Gothic horrors, but Lynn does a competent if unimpressive directorial job. 
All in all, Coast of Skeletons is a slight film that feels more like an extra-long episode of one of those popular television series of the 60s that always took place in the outback of Australia or Africa, like Daktari. True, the plot is both more believable and much better constructed than the average episode of those adventure series of yesteryear, but the violence is comparably bloodless with the dead always lying limply with closed eyes and the punches thrown always obviously missing the face of the person who then goes flying backwards. Coast of Skeletons isn't bad for what it is, but anyone over the age of 13 will probably find it both juvenile and dated. 
We couldn't find any trailer or outtakes online from Coast of Skeletons — or Sanders und das Schiff des Todes, as it was entitled in Germany — but there is a public domain version of Korda's offensively dated Sanders of the Rivers to be found online. It should be noted that the great Afro-American actor Paul Robeson was so disgusted by the final edit of Korda's film that at one point he supposedly tried to buy up all copies so as to ensure that the film could never be seen. He failed.
Korda's Sanders of the Rivers (1935), full film: 

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