The Entity (1981)

THE ENTITY (1981)
Article 3211 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-3-2010
Posting Date: 5-30-2010
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Featuring Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David Labiosa
Country: USA
What it is: Supernatural thriller

A woman is being assaulted and raped repeatedly by an invisible demon. She seeks help from both psychiatry and parapsychology.

According to the end crawl, this movie is a fictionalized account of a true story. This means that the movie in and of itself can’t be considered a true story, and one would have to know the true story (whatever it is) to compare with the movie to know what supposedly happened and what has been made up. For what it’s worth, the movie does at least one thing to give it a sense of verisimilitude; true events don’t wrap themselves into tidy, neat little packages, and neither does this movie. Unfortunately, as a result, the movie isn’t quite satisfying since there are a number of things that are never really resolved. Still, the movie does feature a strong performance from Barbara Hershey, and it shows some good insight and intelligence at times. And, given the subject matter, it’s probably about as tasteful as it could be without wimping out altogether. It would have helped had it been a bit shorter than its two hour five minute running time.

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Dracula (1979)

DRACULA (1979)
Article 3210 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2010
Posting Date: 5-29-2010
Directed by John Badham
Featuring Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence
Country: USA/UK
What it is: Another take on the Stoker classic

Dracula arrives in England and takes possession of Carfax Abbey. He begins preying on the women staying at Dr. Jack Seward’s home, which is also an insane asylum.

Sometimes I marvel at the way adaptations will take the various elements of a novel and rearrange them. Like most of the other versions I’ve seen, this adaptation dispenses with the Arthur and Quincy characters. However, in this one, Dr. Seward has been changed from one of Lucy’s suitors to Lucy’s father. Mina has become the daughter of Van Helsing. The roles of Mina and Lucy have been somewhat reversed, making Jonathan Harker (who never goes to Transylvania) the beloved of Lucy. This is one of the few adaptations to retain a character called Mr. Swales, (the role I played on stage in a local version of the story); however, his character has been completely changed to that of one of the asylum attendants.

None of these changes would really make a big deal of difference if the movie worked. And, to be truthful, the movie works middlingly well, thanks in part to an interesting performance by Frank Langella in the title role; he manages to come up with his own interpretation that doesn’t owe a lot to either Lugosi or Lee. Certain key phrases and moments do pop up in this version, though at odd and unexpected times, and some of the changes are clever. However, on the disappointing side, the character of Renfield is severely reduced here, and Van Helsing himself isn’t near as formidable a foe to Dracula as he was in other versions of the story. However, most disappointing at all is that the movie really isn’t scary; despite all the atmosphere, the movie feels a bit distant and dry. The movie also marks a turning point in the perception of vampires; the recent perceptions of vampires as hot, sexy, romantic figures may well have its start here. Granted, that’s been a subtext in the story for many years, but this movie moves it from subtext to text. Personally, I think something is lost when that happens, and I do feel it’s interesting that, unlike the original Universal and Hammer outings, this one inspired no sequels.

Death Ship (1980)

DEATH SHIP (1980)
Article 3209 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-1-2010
Posting Date: 5-28-2010
Directed by Alvin Rakoff
Featuring George Kennedy, Richard Crenna, Nick Mancuso
Country: UK/Canada
What it is: Haunted ship movie

A cruise ship is purposefully rammed and sunk by another ship in the night. The survivors, initially in a lifeboat, climb aboard a deserted black ship anchored in the middle of nowhere. But the ship has a will of its own, and it wants blood…

Given that this movie was made right in the middle of the slasher craze, it had the potential to be real novelty item for the time, and as the movie starts to unfold, I was really hoping for something good. And, sporadically, it delivers; I especially love when the ship appears out of nowhere behind the lifeboat. It’s also graced with a decent, solid cast who gives it their all. Unfortunately, the script is inconsistent, and it gets more muddled, confusing, and illogical as the movie proceeds. It’s one of those movies that starts trying anything for a scare, whether it makes sense within the context of the story or not, and eventually it founders due to its lack of direction. It’s a real shame; this could have been so much better. Still, I do have one question; during the course of the movie, an old movie musical gets shown in a projection room where little people come out of the sheet music on a piano and dance; I’d love to know which movie this is from.

Curse of the Fly (1965)

CURSE OF THE FLY (1965)
Article 3208 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-31-2010
Posting Date: 5-27-2010
Directed by Don Sharp
Featuring Brian Donlevy, George Baker, Carole Gray
Country: UK
What it is: Mad scientist tale

An escapee from a mental institution meets and falls in love with her rescuer, and they marry. He takes her to his home, where his father has been experimenting with teleportation. However, some of the father’s experiments weren’t quite successful, and what is left of his subjects aren’t entirely human…

This, the second sequel to THE FLY, ditches the human/fly gene mixing of the first two films and tries for some vaguer type of horror. The experimental subjects don’t seem to be crosses with other creatures; they’re just misshapen. The movie has some effective moments, especially when two of the misshapen creatures are teleported together and come out as something truly abominable. However, the movie has its fair share of problems; the situation with the son marrying an escapee from a mental institution (the movie opens with her breaking out dressed only in her underwear and running away) is heavily contrived, the reactions of the characters to various events are hard to swallow, and the acting is variable. It’s one of the movies where I can sense that Brian Donlevy had been drinking; though he’s professional enough, some of his line deliveries seem strange and unfocused. The motivations of the female servant seem very odd; why does she leave the photograph of the escapee’s husband’s previous wife in her bedroom at one point? The slow pace during the first half of the movie also drags things down a bit, though the ending is pretty good. This is a mixed bag.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
Article 3207 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-30-2010
Posting Date: 5-26-2010
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Featuring Richard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Teri Garr
Country: USA
What it is: Alien contact story

When a lineman encounters a UFO, he becomes obsessed with a shape that will lead him to the meaning of his experience.

This beloved UFO movie appears on a lot of people’s best ten lists for science fiction movies. There’s no doubt that in many ways it is a brilliant movie. Spielberg has a truly profound understanding of film language, and the way he has of telling a story and imparting information is wondrous. He also has the ability to come up with some truly impressive crowd scenes. The sense of mystery is strong here, and we feel for the various characters as they try to deal with their lives after their encounters. In many ways, this is a stunning movie.

Yet I resist the movie a little; for some reason, I’m a little disappointed with the ending. This may seem like a ridiculous statement; the ending is a masterpiece of special effects technology at the very least. But for me, the ending lacks a certain emotional resonance that I was hoping for. After doing a lot of thinking about it, I decided the problem is that the ending is a little too heavy on the “awe” end of the scale; in my mind, an encounter with aliens from outer space would have a more complex set of reactions than this. The rest of the movie has touches of fear and paranoia that seem to vanish at the end, and I don’t think they should vanish. Which is not to say that the movie should have a darker ending; I’m just saying that the existence and acknowledgment of that darkness would go a ways toward making the end of the movie a more complete experience.

Nevertheless, I must admit that I found this less of a problem this time than with my previous two viewings of the movie. Spielberg’s vision is breathtaking, and there are new things to be observed on each re-viewing. Whatever its flaws, the movie is a rich experience.

Bluebeard (1972)

BLUEBEARD (1972)
Article 3206 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-29-2010
Posting Date: 5-25-2010
Directed by Edward Dmytryk and Luciano Sacripanti
Featuring Richard Burton, Raquel Welch, Joey Heatherton
Country: France/Italy/West Germany
What it is: Updated take on the Bluebeard story

A World War I veteran, presently a Nazi, has murdered several of his wives. His current wife discovers where he has hidden their bodies, and, in order to save her own life, tries to get to the bottom of his problem.

In the opening scene of this movie, we discover that the title character actually does have a blue beard. It could be argued that this revelation is actually a surprise, I suppose, as you don’t really expect that degree of obviousness; nevertheless, there was something about the literalness of it that annoyed me. As for the rest of the movie, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Our title character has a pet falcon, plays the organ, and keeps his dead mother in the attic, with all of these conventional horror trappings, I tried to figure out if it was straight horror or camp, but the movie never really veers one way or the other. It’s only when he starts to tell the tales of his previous wives that the movie takes a definite direction, as the movie clearly becomes a black comedy; unfortunately, it doesn’t stay on that level. And once you find out the reason he’s killing all his wives… well, let’s just say the revelation isn’t worth the two-plus hour length of this movie. Richard Burton actually underplays for much of the movie, which may have been a mistake; I think this is one movie that could have used a bit more hamminess. In the end, the movie is an unsatisfying mixture of horror, black comedy, sex comedy and drama, and I emerged from more confused and frustrated than anything.

Barracuda (The Lucifer Project) (1978)

BARRACUDA (THE LUCIFER PROJECT) (1978)
Article 3205 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-28-2010
Posting Date: 5-24-2010
Directed by Harry Kerwin and Wayne Crawford
Featuring Wayne Crawford, Jason Evers, Roberta Leighton
Country: USA
What it is: Starts out as JAWS ripoff, then changes

Barracudas have begun attacking and killing people. A student investigates the possibility of pollution in the cove of a small town. Are these incidents related…?

It starts out as a simple JAWS ripoff; all well and good. Then it layers on the pollution subplot, which gives the movie two types of seventies movies from which it can borrow its plot trappings. By the time it gets around to throwing the paranoid conspiracy thriller into the mix, the barracuda attacks have definitely been placed on the back burner. And once you know you’re dealing with a paranoid conspiracy thriller, you’ll know how it’ll end. Though some of our heroes are likable enough, the indifferent acting, slow pacing, and the repetitive music start to take their toll. If the movie had concentrated on the subplot about behavioral changes of the townspeople, it might have worked itself up to something really interesting; as it is, it tries to cover too many over-familiar and exploitable bases at once and comes up short. But then, with a production company called Marketing Film, what do you expect?