Delirium (1972)

Article #1468 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-22-2005
Posting Date: 8-19-2005
Directed by Renato Polselli
Featuring Mickey Hargitay, Rita Caleroni, Raoul Rossi

An impotent doctor tries to make up for his inability to satisfy his wife by committing gruesome murders on beautiful women. When he tries to set himself to be caught by the police, though, his own attempt at murder is interrupted by another murder.

I must admit that I distrust the giallo subgenre; I’m never quite sure to what extent the extended, graphic murders of women common to that form are really examples of “violence as art” or just plain sadistic pandering. If the movies I’d seen had consisted of nothing more than stretches of sadistic violence, I would definitely opt for the latter; however, there always seemed to be something else going on as well, and it’s this extra layer that makes them somewhat more interesting and less offensive.

Still, I was tempted to forgo the more explicit international version of this movie with the shortened American version, and since the DVD jacket points out that the two versions have different subplots and develop in different ways, I could have made the argument that neither version was probably definitive (the American version apparently has a subplot about the Vietnam war). Nevertheless, I opted for the longer version as the more legitimate of the two (and I really didn’t feel up to watching both versions). The murders are pretty nasty, less for explicit gore and more for the sadistic sexuality behind them. It’s something of a mixed bag; it’s confusing at times, laughable at others (especially the silly fantasy sequences), and just because you’re watching the Italian version doesn’t mean you’re not going to be set upon by bad dubbing. Certain plot points are utterly predictable; though I was surprised when a second murderer came on the scene, it took me less than ten minutes to figure out who it would be. Some of the other touches make it intriguing, though; in particular, I found myself fascinated by a the character of the parking lot attendant who somehow ended up being on the scene for practically every murder and naturally becomes the main suspect. Of course he’s not guilty, but I found myself asking why he just happened to be there; was it bad luck? Sheer stupidity? Or was there some ulterior motive to it all? At any rate, his presence adds a bizarre comic touch to the proceedings, which is all to the good, especially since the somewhat outrageous, over-the-top ending has a comic tinge all its own, if for no other reason than it pushes the envelope as to just how many perverted psychos you can cram into one movie.

The Day of the Triffids (1962)

Article #1467 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-21-2005
Posting Date: 8-18-2005
Directed by Steve Sekely
Featuring Howard Keel, Nicole Maurey, Janette Scott

A breed of killer plants infests the earth at just the time when almost the entire human race has been stricken blind by a meteor shower.

Those who have read John Wyndham’s novel on which this movie was based generally find this movie to be a disappointment. Fortunately, there is a 1981 TV version of the novel that is much better in this regard. This earlier version is largely a monster movie, and I think for the most part it works well enough on that level; in fact, in some ways, it is genuinely terrifying. It’s not so much the plant monsters that are scary (though the sound they make does raise some goose bumps); it’s the premise of a blinded human race that gets to you, and this movie does make good use of the concept. Still, it really does have problems; Howard Keel is a little too bland here to be memorable, the special effects fall short at times, and neither the ending of the Howard Keel storyline (which is somewhat dull) nor the lighthouse storyline (which is a little too pat, though flashier) really satisfies.

Incidentally, I first saw this on my local Creature Feature years ago. Now, in order to fit these movies into the proper time slots, they were usually cut. For this movie, the cut was very simple; all the lighthouse scenes were excised. I was quite surprised at these sequences when I first saw the complete movie on videotape.

The Inheritance (1947)

(a.k.a. UNCLE SILAS)
Article #1466 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-20-2005
Posting Date: 8-17-2005
Directed by Charles Frank
Featuring Jean Simmons, Katina Paxinou, Derrick De Marney

The young heiress of a vast fortune finds herself under the guardianship of her Uncle Silas, who has evil plans for obtaining her fortune.

Given the above plot description, and taking into account that the plot involves an elaborate deception, an evil governess, drugged wine and a locked area of a mansion with a secret, we’re definitely in Tod Slaughter-style melodrama territory; in fact, this movie could have been easily adapted for Slaughter with him playing Uncle Silas. That movie would have been a lot of fun, but I think it would have lacked some of the nicer points of this one, which takes itself a little more seriously than your average Slaughter opus. It’s not a horror movie, but by tapping in to its strong Gothic roots, and by shooting several of the scenes with a gloomy and forbidding atmosphere, it has the feel of a horror movie on occasion; there are spooky cobweb-filled passages and a frightening face in the window just for starters. It also has fine performances from all, with special mention going to Katina Paxinou, whose hard-drinking French governess character is unsettlingly creepy. It takes a while to get rolling, and some of the pacing is awkward, but it builds up to a truly satisfying climax. One thing I’m sure of, though; if Slaughter had played the character of Uncle Silas, the end of the movie would have changed drastically, as Slaughter would most likely have never performed the final act of that character in this movie.

Cry of the Banshee (1970)

Article #1465 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-19-2005
Posting Date: 8-16-2005
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Featuring Vincent Price, Hilary Heath, Carl Rigg

A witch places a curse on the family of a magistrate after he slaughters several members of her coven. The curse causes a banshee to kill off the magistrate’s family members.

You know, I’ve been pretty hard on some of Corman’s Poe movies. I honestly wish I had watched this unpleasant, unsatisfying movie before reviewing them; I found it made me really appreciate them. This one opens with a quote by Poe, but at least it doesn’t claim that the story comes from him. The basic premise isn’t bad, and Vincent Price is always fun to watch in action, but I found this movie to be merely unpleasant and exploitative. The main focus of the movie seems to be on the degradation (via torture and stripping) of as many young female characters as it can fit into its plot, and the character development exists almost entirely to bring this about; in short, there’s a lot of sadistic characters. Even Price’s character is woefully underdeveloped, though he does his best to fight this. It also doesn’t help that with a few exceptions (Price, Elisabeth Bergner, Marshall Jones and Hugh Griffith), the acting is pretty subpar. And (unless I’m very much mistaken) I really think they should have gotten a real dog to do the barking for the mad dog in the movie; someone’s dog imitation just doesn’t pass muster here.

Countdown (1968)

Article #1464 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-18-2005
Posting Date: 8-15-2005
Directed by Robert Altman
Featuring James Caan, Joanna Cook Moore, Robert Duvall

For political reasons, the leading candidate for the job of the American astronaut to make the first moon landing is replaced by a man with no military connections, who must then take a crash course in learning the ropes for his trip to the moon.

Robert Altman is one of those directors I more admire and respect than actually like, and though I really like some of his more bizarre efforts (BREWSTER MCCLOUD and 3 WOMEN come to mind), some of his masterpieces leave me cold (I’ve seen MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER twice, and it still does nothing for me). This one was made a couple of years before he would hit it big with MASH, and I consider it a mixed bag. It’s very well acted and I find that Altman is particularly strong at handling scenes with several people, but it’s so low-key that I find my attention wandering quite a bit of the time. I also don’t care much for the musical soundtrack; it’s conventionally melodramatic, and often I felt that it was trying too hard to add suspense and excitement to scenes that would have been better handled in silence or with a more subtle soundtrack. The movie does have its moments though. I’d seen this one before, and the one moment that embedded itself into my memory is so beautifully and simply done that I’ll probably never forget it. I won’t give it away since it occurs near the end of the movie, but I will say that it has to do with the reflection of a red light. The executive producer for the movie was William Conrad, who I most remember for playing Frank Cannon on the TV series “Cannon”, though he’s also well known for being the voice of Matt Dillon on the radio version of “Gunsmoke”, and doing narration for various Jay Ward productions.

Charly (1968)

CHARLY (1968)
Article #1463 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-17-2005
Posting Date: 8-14-2005
Directed by Ralph Nelson
Featuring Cliff Robertson, Claire Bloom, Lilia Skala

A mentally challenged man is given an operation to increase his intelligence, and he begins to see the world with new eyes.

When I was in junior high, I read the novel “Flowers for Algernon” as part of a literature class. A few years later, I took up reading science fiction, and consistently found and enjoyed the short story version in any one of several SF anthologies. I then appeared as Dr. Strauss in a production of the stage version of the story. Throughout the years, I grew to love this story, and I have strong feelings about it to this day.

However, this screen version of the story does not partake of this affection. In fact, had I reviewed the movie after my first viewing some years ago, I would have expressed a virulent hatred for it. I have seen the movie twice since then, and though my hatred has cooled quite a bit, I still consider this version of the story a misfire.

It’s certainly not the fault of Cliff Robertson, who gives a truly worthy performance as Charly Gordon. My problem is that the direction is wildly inconsistent. In my opinion, the primary concern for anyone handling this story is to make sure that viewers connect with and relate to Charly Gordon on an emotional level; the focus should be on intimacy. Unfortunately, the movie was made during the height of the psychedelic era, and it engages in arty experimental techniques, including an embarassing montage sequence and some bad use of split-screen. It also woefully mishandles certain scenes. In particular, the scene where Charly attempts to seduce his teacher is a travesty; it plays like a horror movie (with Charly Gordon as the monster). Instead of getting us to try to understand him, the scene seems to want us to hate him. This is so diametrically opposed to the feeling of the book (which is told via entries in a journal written by Charly) that it almost destroys the movie for me. And the scene in which Charly confronts a group of scientists and barks out cynical sound bites to their questions also hits all the wrong chords with me.

Still, not every scene is like that, and when the movie focuses in on Charly and lets us know him and experience his feelings, it works best. And it does manage to move us at times. But the movie’s batting average in this regard is very weak in comparison with the literary versions of the story. There are a couple of TV versions of the tale that I haven’t seen, so maybe one of those is definitive. If not, this is one story that would merit a new cinematic version.

Chandu on the Magic Island (1935)

Article #1462 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-16-2005
Posting Date: 8-13-2005
Directed by Ray Taylor
Featuring Bela Lugosi, Maria Alba, Murdock MacQuarrie

Chandu must save Princess Nadji from a cult which intends to put her soul in the body of their goddess.

Bela Lugosi played the villain in CHANDU THE MAGICIAN, but when the time came to make a serial based on the character (THE RETURN OF CHANDU), he was given the role of Chandu himself. The serial was then edited into two features; the first feature (from the first half of the serial) was also called THE RETURN OF CHANDU, while this was the second one (from the second half). Watching a feature version of half of a serial is hardly an ideal way to enjoy it, especially if you haven’t seen the serial or the other feature version. It should be no surprise that this one is missing a goodly amount of exposition, and that it has that pervasive lack of variety of feature versions of serials. Still, it doesn’t descend into the trap of repetitive non-stop action like so many of them do, probably because this wasn’t an action-oriented serial. It’s creaky as hell, but it does have certain qualities I rarely find in serials; it’s quite atmospheric and has a real sense of fantasy to it. Actually, I find myself looking forward to seeing this serial at some later date, though I suspect that it may prove to be rather static and tiresome over the length of several episodes. Still, I have to say this is one of the better feature-versions-of-serials I’ve seen to date.