The Picture of Dorian Gray (1973)

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1973)
TV-Movie
Article 2338 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-20-2007
Posting Date: 1-6-2008
Directed by Glenn Jordan
Featuring Shane Briant, Nigel Davenport, Charles Aidman

A young man wishes that a portrait made of him would age instead of him. When he embarks on a life of cruelty, sin and debauchery, he finds out that his wish has come true; the picture ages while he remains youthful.

Dan Curtis’s TV adaptations of horror classics were all quite well done, and this one is no exception; it’s literate, well-acted from all concerned, and manages to show a class and a sense of period that is often missing from TV-Movies from the period. Nigel Davenport steals the movie as the cynical but witty Lord Harry Wotton, but that’s to be expected; as the primary exponent of Oscar Wilde’s wit as well as the character who lures Dorian Gray into temptation, it’s the type of character that’s destined to steal the movie. Still, I do feel a bit in the way of disappointment for this one. One reason is over-familiarity with the story; though the story is certainly very good, it’s not one that I find really grows with repeated viewings, and when I watch a version of it anyway, I find myself more enticed with Lord Harry’s bon mots than with the story details and revelations itself. As a result, the movie seemed overlong to me, especially during the second half when Lord Harry rarely appears. I almost found myself wishing that the movie would stray enough from the familiar story just for the sake of variety. As it is, I hope that there will be a fairly large gap between my viewing of this version and my viewing of whatever new version comes along. simply in the hopes that the story will seem a little fresher.

 

Advertisements

Neither the Sea nor the Sand (1972)

NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND (1972)
Article 2337 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-19-2007
Posting Date: 1-5-2008
Directed by Fred Burnley
Featuring Susan Hampshire, Frank Finlay, Michael Petrovitch

A woman on vacation has an affair with a young man. She is devastated when he dies. But then he appears at her door, seemingly alive, the next day…

If you sat through the first forty minutes of this movie, you probably wouldn’t think there was any fantastic content to it, and the title certainly doesn’t give it away. It’s only with the lover’s return from the dead that the fantastic content manifests itself. I’ve seen him alternately described as a ghost and a zombie; I do know that he doesn’t eat, he has trouble motivating his movements (though not always), and he speaks without opening his mouth. IMDB classifies it as Fantasy, Horror and Romance, all of which fit, but none of which quite encapsulates this rather curious movie. In particular, I’m not sure whether it works well as either a romance or a horror story; the more overtly horrific the movie becomes, the more it feels forced. In particular, I’m not sure whether the character of the lover’s brother really is necessary, though he’s an interesting character. And the scene where she kisses the zombie/ghost and ends up revolted by the taste of death on him isn’t going to endear itself to romance fans. Still, the basic premise about love outlasting death is a fairly old idea that has popped up many times, and this is largely a rather odd take on the same subject. All in all, it’s interesting, but not quite satisfying, and could easily bore those expecting something more horrific.

 

The Lost World of Sinbad (1963)

THE LOST WORLD OF SINBAD (1963)
aka Dai tozoku
Article 2336 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-18-2007
Posting Date: 1-4-2008
Directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
Featuring Toshiro Mifune, Tadao Nakamaru, Mie Hama

Sinbad does battle with an evil premier who is planning to poison the king and marry the princess himself. Sinbad enlists the help of a gang of bandits and a cursed magician to help him. He must face the palace guard, a pirate, and an evil witch as his foes.

All right, it isn’t really Sinbad; in reality, it’s a character named Luzon which got changed to the more familiar Sinbad for American audiences. And he doesn’t visit any “lost world”, either; don’t strain your eyes looking for dinosaurs and prehistoric monsters. Still, even if it isn’t technically a Sinbad movie, the plot is certainly familiar enough to those familiar with Arabian Nights cinema, what with an evil premier conniving to get the princess for his own. The biggest plus is the presence of Toshiro Mifune in the title role; he’s such a charismatic actor that he still manages to entertain tremendously in one of his lesser roles. The witch (played by a man) is incredibly ugly and desperately needs a good orthodontist; she’s the closest thing to a monster here. The special effects are variable; some are good, and some are not so good. The fight scenes are very exciting, though, and the movie delivers a satisfying amount of spectacle. If you can get past the weak dubbing, you might find this one quite enjoyable.

 

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)
Article 2335 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-17-2007
Posting Date: 1-3-2008
Directed by John Hough
Featuring Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill

A physicist, his wife, a mental medium and a physical medium are hired to enter a haunted house and find proof of life after death. They find themselves at the mercy of a truly frightening menace.

I’d heard about this movie for years, and I have vivid memories of seeing the ads for it on television in the early seventies. I’m quite happy to finally be watching it, and I’m also happy to discover that it is not a disappointment. In fact, I’m adding it to my list of favorite haunted house movies, along with THE HAUNTING , HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and THE UNINVITED . It starts out conventionally enough, with four people setting out to spend a week in the haunted house, with Roddy McDowall in what amounts to the Watson Pritchard role; he’s the sole survivor of another party that stayed in the house, and much of his early dialogue centers around how they’re all doomed. However, as the movie progresses, the exact nature of the haunting becomes more complex, as do the characters themselves, and the movie is full of fascinating and intriguing revelations. The performances are all fine, with McDowall giving one of his very best ones here. The use of sound is simply outstanding; silent is used to good effect, and the music and sound effects that do show up actually seem to lurk around the edges of the movie rather than coming out front and center, giving a truly eerie air to the proceedings. Not everyone will survive, but the movie is set up in such a way that you simply don’t know who will live and who will die. And, to top it all off, the movie has a great uncredited cameo appearance, and for those who haven’t seen the movie, I won’t give away who it is; I didn’t know, and I was surprised and delighted when the moment came. This is one I definitely recommend.

 

The Perfect Woman (1949)

THE PERFECT WOMAN (1949)
Article 2334 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-16-2007
Posting Date: 1-2-2008
Directed by Bernard Knowles
Featuring Patricia Roc, Stanley Holloway, Nigel Patrick

A dotty inventor has created a robot modeled off of his lovely niece. He hires a down-and-out playboy and his butler to take the robot on the town as a test run. The inventor’s niece, tired of being cooped up all of the time, decides to take the place of the robot. Hilarity ensues.

Usually when I use the phrase “hilarity ensues” in my plot description, it should be taken ironically. However, this movie isn’t half bad; Stanley Holloway is consistently amusing as the put-upon butler, and there is the occasional good laugh (usually involving Holloway or Miles Malleson as the inventor). It is, however, not as funny as it would like to be; the basic setup is rather forced, and the more frantic and shrill it gets, the less funny it becomes. The Swiss bellhop and the hotel manager are both potentially funny, but neither one is used well, and I do think they could have been more creative with the robot’s reactions to the various orders that are given; I’m thinking of some of the shtick they gave to the robot Hymie on “Get Smart” as examples. At least the robot is given enough screen time that it doesn’t turn out to be just a Gizmo Maguffin, and there have been science fiction comedies that have been far worse than this one.

 

Hawk the Slayer (1980)

HAWK THE SLAYER (1980)
Article 2333 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-15-2007
Posting Date: 1-1-2008
Directed by Terry Marcel
Featuring Jack Palance, John Terry, Bernard Bresslaw

When an evil man kidnaps an abbess and holds her for ransom, his good brother reunites with a dwarf, a giant and an elf in an attempt to defeat him.

Most of the fantasy I’ve covered to date has been of the light variety; true epic fantasy was fairly rare in cinema until the eighties, when special effects technology began opening up the possibilities of what could be done. There was some epic fantasy in earlier years, but most of it based on mythology or fairy tales. I like epic fantasy enough that I feel the desire to cut this movie some slack; it was really one of the first of its kind. And every once in a while, it actually has a nice moment here and there that indicates that someone had a feel for what they were doing. Unfortunately, these end up just being moments; the movie suffers from a plethora of problems, not least of which is an inadequate budget. Weak direction, uneven pacing, and highly variable acting also serve to undermine the movie, which comes across as cheesy and/or corny way too often. It’s also very hard to buy the quite youthful John Terry and the sixty-one year old Jack Palance (and he looks every year of it) as brothers. Terry fails to project an engagingly heroic persona, but the biggest disappointment is Palance’s performance; though Palance is fully capable of giving great performances and has the ability to exude menace with the best of them, he chooses to really chew the scenery in this one, and it becomes impossible to take him seriously. Maybe it’s no surprise that the movie depends too much on tepid comic relief. I don’t know how well this movie did at the box office; I only know that it never played in any theater near me, and that it sets itself up for a sequel that never happened, so I’m betting it was a flop.

 

Halloween (1978)

HALLOWEEN (1978)
Article 2332 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-14-2007
Posting Date: 12-31-2007
Directed by John Carpenter
Featuring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes

A man, institutionalized for fifteen years after having killed his sister with a knife when he was a child, escapes from his asylum. He returns to his home town to commit more murders with the doctor from the asylum in hot pursuit of him.

I must confess at this point that I’ve long suffered from two problems as a fan of fantastic cinema; I’m a bit of a crank and a bit of a snob. I now believe these to be character flaws (and one of the reasons I undertook this whole Movie of the Day series was an attempt to overcome that), but I didn’t always believe that; when I was younger, I would often avoid movies for no other reason than that they were quite popular, and would often argue that they couldn’t hold a candle to the older movies. It should be no surprise under these circumstances that I avoided this movie like the plague when it was in its initial run. I wish I had seen it; I might certainly have understood why it spawned the whole slasher craze. After all, crazes like these are usually started by some truly great movie that created the template, and this one fits the bill.

So here I am, almost three decades after the movie was released, seeing it for the first time. I can understand why it brought both John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis into the limelight; Carpenter is definitely at the peak of his powers here, and Curtis made for the definitive slasher heroine. I’m also fascinated with the way it chooses to defy logic and reason; we’re given no real explanation for why Michael Myers is what he is or does what he does, other than the fact that he is an evil boogeyman. It defies our initial assumptions (such as that Myers is essentially human), and plays with our expectations. Many of the attacks come at unexpected moments, often after the movie has supplied countless opportunities for Myers to make his move; the babysitter that gets caught in the window comes to mind. But, on top of this, I also like the fact that Carpenter includes a fair share of nods to the past, including the presence of Donald Pleasence who had already had a long association with horror at this point, and the use of footage from THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) and FORBIDDEN PLANET . It’s almost as if Carpenter was acknowledging that he was part of a long tradition even as he was creating a new template. I also quite like Pleasence’s performance, especially in the light that he was given a character as single-minded as Watson Pritchard in HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL , but still manages to deliver his variations of the “Michael Myers is pure evil” theme with believable panache.

My favorite moment: one babysitter notices something funny about the windshield of the car.