Poltergeist (1982)

POLTERGEIST (1982)
Article 3727 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-13-2011
Posting Date: 10-28-2011
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Featuring Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight
Country: USA
What it is: Horror, Spielberg style

A suburban family discovers that their home is the source of paranormal activity, but they really begin to panic when their youngest daughter is spirited away into another dimension.

I remember that when this movie came out, it was considered something of a companion piece to E.T. – THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL, as both movies came from the mind of Steven Spielberg and dealt with various aspects of childhood, with this movie concentrating on childhood fears. I remember there was a bit of controversy about how much of the movie was Spielberg’s work and how much was Tobe Hooper’s; after all, the movie feels a lot more like a Spielberg movie than anything from Hooper. There’s a lot I really like about the movie. The way it taps into childhood horror is quite memorable, with the creepy tree outside of the window being my favorite touch. The typical Spielbergian touches in the dialogue can be quite fun, and Zelda Rubenstein steals the movie as a diminutive psychic who intends to clean out the house. There are some great ideas as to the nature of the horror as well, though I don’t think the movie overall quite uses them as well as it could. Still, I have to admit that I find the movie more interesting than scary; there’s something about all of the special effects pyrotechnics that actually makes the movie seem less scary to me, especially during the big finale. In some ways, I feel about this movie’s horror content as I feel about Spielberg’s 1941’s comedy content; both movies end up trying too hard to be big to effectively keep focused on their primary intent. Nevertheless, that’s not a fatal flaw in this case, as the movie does remain consistently interesting.

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Beyond Belief (1976)

BEYOND BELIEF (1976)
Article 3726 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-12-2011
Posting Date: 10-27-2011
Directed by Alan Baker
Featuring Richard Mathews
Country: USA
What it is: Documentary about psychic phenomena and UFOs

Footage is shown involving psychic experiments, poltergeists, key bending and UFOs.

Like any documentary of this kind, what you’ll get out of it is bound to be tied up with what you bring in with you in the first place. Believers will probably go along with it, skeptics won’t, though I suspect the former will enjoy the movie more than the latter. My own approach would be to decide if it was entertaining and/or well-made. As for the latter, the answer is no; the only new footage shot for the movie was that of the narrator; the rest was lifted from other documentaries and thrown into the mix, with the UFO section in particular feeling as if it was lifted from somewhere else at the last minute and tacked on to make the movie last longer. It’s not well-organized, nor does it build up to any real point. Entertainment-wise, I found it mostly dull, with little in the way of anything new or novel. I did find a couple of moments a bit interesting. One is during the second half of the poltergeist sequence, in which one man discovers he can calm down the poltergeist activity if he empties his mind and lets the forces take control of his hand to write messages. The other was in an interview with an astronaut during the UFO sequence, in which he is asked if UFOs exist. For once, someone addresses that UFO stands for “Unidentified Flying Object”, and so anytime you see something flying you can’t identify, you have technically seen a UFO; most of the time, when UFOs are envisioned, it’s almost always attached to the concept of spaceships from other planets. Nevertheless, despite these moments, I found this movie singularly dull.

Massacre at Central High (1976)

MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH (1976)
Article 3725 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-11-2011
Posting Date: 10-26-2011
Directed by Rene Daalder
Featuring Derrel Maury, Andrew Stevens, Robert Carradine
Country: USA
What it is: Tale of bloody revenge… but only on the surface

A new student at Central High discovers that his best friend has fallen in with a trio of bullies who terrorize the other students. Despite the fact that he could stay under the protection of the bullies, he can’t stand their tactics, and when violence erupts between them, the new student ends up crippled when the bullies drop a jacked-up car on him. When the student finally returns to school, the bullies begin to die one by one…

On the surface, the story seems to promise little more than the usual “bloody revenge” plot type of thrills. But an uncommon amount of thought went into the characters, the motivations, and the political subtext, and this gives the movie a surprising degree of depth. The political subtext clearly emerges where most movies of this ilk end; once the bullies are dead, we see what happens to the students they formerly oppressed, and it’s not a pretty sight, and the sad reality that having been oppressed does not necessarily ennoble oneself becomes a key theme. The new student is also a fascinating character; though he hates the injustices he sees, he is also aware that he himself has an anger that can spiral out of control; one of my favorite character moments in the movie is when he reveals the trick he has of managing his anger, because once he is crippled in the accident, we know that he can no longer rely on that trick. In some ways, the movie is a fantasy; despite the high school environment, we don’t see a single adult authority figure around; the only authority figures that do appear are some faceless policemen at the very end of the movie, and the only other adults that appear are alumni at a dance near the end of the movie, which means they can be considered as extensions of the students rather than as authority figures. Nevertheless, despite the strengths, there were some problems with the movie; apparently the original script had some pretty bad dialogue, and rather than using it, much of it was improvised on the spot, and the only character who was instructed to keep to the lines as originally written was the boy in the library, and if you can imagine all the other characters talking like he does, you might have an idea of how badly this movie could have ended up. The choice of music for the soundtrack is also pretty weak, and apparently the director never saw the finished film because he himself couldn’t stand the music that was used. Nevertheless, movies with this much thoughtfulness behind them are uncommon, and whatever its flaws, the movie is definitely worth viewing.

Graduation Day (1981)

GRADUATION DAY (1981)
Article 3724 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-11-2011
Posting Date: 10-25-2011
Directed by Herb Freed
Featuring Christopher George, Patch MacKenzie, E. Danny Murphy
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher film

A high school student dies upon the completion of a race at a track meet. Shortly after that, the other members of her track team begin to be killed off one by one. Who is the killer? Is it the deceased student’s strange sister? The bad-tempered coach? The harried principal? The father of the deceased girl? The stupid pot-smoking cop? One of the students?

Right before I watched this movie, I read a couple of blurbs about it from some of my sources, plus I recalled a short review that I’d read about it some time ago that purported to give away the end of the movie. After having actually watched the movie, I found myself a little amused by the fact that each of the blurbs had been inaccurate. The ending given away by the one source turned out to be wrong, though I’m willing to entertain the idea that it may have been purposefully inaccurate in order to throw off the reader. One emphasized the use of field and track equipment as murder weapons, but I’m not aware of any track and field events that use boards of spikes, switchblades or swords. And one review magically concocts an elaborate backstory (involving a “Dear John” letter, some pitchfork murders, and a the revival of a traditional Graduation dance as the event that sets off the murders) that simply doesn’t exist in any way, shape or form in the movie I saw. Maybe they weren’t from faulty memories; after all, many of these slasher movies come off as clones of each other, and I bet it’s hard to keep them straight at times. As for the movie itself, it’s pretty bad. The murder scenes are singularly devoid of suspense, some of the murders are pretty silly, there are too many unnecessary characters, and its handling of some of the slasher film cliches is pretty clumsy (especially the cliche about the discovery of the dead bodies at various times and locations being used for shock effect). There’s a few interesting tricks in editing that would have been effective had the rest of the movie worked, but I’m particularly disappointed on how the movie fails to use the killer’s gimmick (he carries a stopwatch to time out the murders) in any way to increase the tension. At least it doesn’t hint at a sequel, and none was forthcoming.

Ruby (1977)

RUBY (1977)
Article 3723 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-9-2011
Posting Date: 10-24-2011
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Featuring Piper Laurie, Stuart Whitman, Roger Davis
Country: USA
What it is: Revenge from beyond the grave

A gangster is betrayed and killed by members of his own gang. Years later, the spirit of the dead gangster haunts a drive-in theater owned and operated by his former moll and which employs members from his own gang. They start dying one by one in horrible ways…

After her memorable performance as the mother in CARRIE, Piper Laurie made this rather muddled horror movie which tries to be a combination of the standard “revenge from beyond the grave” plot with touches from THE EXORCIST. The uneasy mixture of possession and bizarre murders never gels, partially because some crucial characters remain ciphers; the title character in particular seems to be a different person in every scene, and it’s really difficult to become involved in her story when she never comes across as a distinct person. Some of the murders are more goofy than scary, with the most memorable one involving a soda pop machine. I remember catching the movie many years ago, but all that stuck in my memory was the soda pop machine scene and the ineffectual ending. Watching it again, I didn’t find it any better, and found myself getting more enjoyment from the footage from ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN, the feature playing at the drive-in.

Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974)

BARRY MCKENZIE HOLDS HIS OWN (1974)
Article 3722 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-8-2011
Posting Date: 10-23-2011
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Featuring Barry Crocker, Barry Humphries, Donald Pleasence
Country: Australia
What it is: Wild Aussie comedy

When Barry McKenzie goes abroad with his Aunt Edna, the latter is mistaken for the queen of England by Transylvanian spies who intend to kidnap her and take her to the castle of Count von Plasma, a communist vampire. Can Barry rescue her?

This Australian comedy (an example of the current renaissance of Australian culture, or so the man tells me at the beginning of the movie) is what is generally described as “outrageous”; it’s certainly not politically correct, with its flirtations with racism and homophobia, and it’s often crude and very lowbrow (with its incessant foul language and its emphasis on bodily functions, sex, scatology, and nonstop beer-drinking). And, truth to tell, it’s only sporadically funny. But what may be more to the point is that even when the movie doesn’t work, it doesn’t annoy me; the jokes that fall flat don’t do so in a way that makes me cringe. In truth, I think, on a whole, the movie more or less works. I think it’s because it succeeds in its primary purpose, which I believe is to present a somewhat endearing yet over-the-top parody of broad Australian stereotypes. Somehow, all the cussing sounds natural when peppered with a plethora of Australian idioms, so it doesn’t grate on the ear. My favorite moments are the musical numbers; somehow, these crude ditties gain a lot of comedic value when whole crowds of people sing along with them. I do find myself wondering just how much of the budget of the movie was dedicated to creating the geyser of foam that emerges from every can of Foster’s opened during the run of the movie. Sadly, one of the things that does not work is Pleasence’s performance here; his vampire character is saddled with a bad speech impediment that simply isn’t funny.

Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985)

BABY: SECRET OF THE LOST LEGEND (1985)
Article 3721 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-7-2011
Posting Date: 10-22-2011
Directed by Bill L. Norton
Featuring William Katt, Sean Young, Patrick McGoohan
Country: USA
What it is: Dinosaur film

A female paleontologist and her husband discover a family of brontosauruses living in an African jungle. When a rival paleontologist discovers them, he captures the mother dinosaur, and the father dinosaur gets killed in the process. Can the husband and wife rescue the mother dinosaur while keeping the rival from also kidnapping the baby dinosaur?

Because in my heart, I believe that dinosaur movies will always have a special magic for children, I believe that when they’re made, the filmmakers should take a certain amount of consideration of that audience. I think that’s why this movie leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth; though the basic story itself could appeal to children, the movie is peppered with touches that make it somewhat inappropriate for that audience; there are nasty and mean-spirited characters, an ugly strain of sexism, a certain preoccupation with sex, and too much violence, much of which could have been left out without harming the basic story. I also found the special effects to be a real mixed bag; the dinosaurs look more impressive in full body shots and from a distance than they do in the up-close head shots, where they look rather unexpressive. Quite frankly, the movie betrays a certain lack of care and thought. In the end, the problems sapped the fun out of the movie for me.