Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)

Article 4352 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-30-2013
Directed by Lamont Johnson
Featuring Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Ernie Hudson
Country: Canada / USA
What it is: Somewhere between STAR WARS and THE ROAD WARRIOR

An adventurer undertakes a rescue of three women stranded on a planet that has been ravaged by plagues.

Well, I will say this much; it isn’t quite the STAR WARS clone that I expected it to be from the opening credits; once the adventurer lands on the planet, the movie remains, for lack of another word, earthbound. If anything, it borrows more from THE ROAD WARRIOR at that point. I will say this much about the movie; the art direction is easily the high point of the movie; I just like the ugly makeshift junky look of everything on the planet. However, the story doesn’t have much to recommend it, the action is often confusing, the characters are forgettable, and since I saw it flat, I can’t really say how it would have looked in 3D. There’s the odd moment here and there that works, but the movie is mostly a loud, obnoxious, tiresome blur.

The Seeds of Evil (1974)

aka The Gardener
Article 4351 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-29-2013
Directed by James H. Kay
Featuring Katherine Houghton, Joe Dallesandro, Rita Gam
Country: USA
What it is: Mysterious doings with plants.

A young wife hires a gardener who loses his job when his former employer dies. The gardener proves to have an amazing talent with raising plants as well as a hypnotic effect on the women he meets… and some of the plants may not be safe.

Early on in the movie, I found myself checking the credits for the director on this movie on IMDB under the suspicion that I would discover that this was first directorial effort, and sure enough, it was. It is, in fact, his sole directorial credit, and given the fact that a number of IMDB reviews trot this one out as one of the worst movies ever made, I’m not entirely surprised. I don’t rate it that low myself, though I don’t really think it’s a success; it has an interesting premise and a definite sexual subtext, and it has a strange dreaminess around the edges. It’s also somewhat underdeveloped in the script department, with the result that there’s a fair amount of dead time in the movie where nothing much is happening. There’s also some strange, awkward editing, which was the thing that made me check the director’s credits; there’s a number of times where one scene cuts to another when the previous scene doesn’t seem to have properly ended. I think the director had a real vision, but lacked the expertise to really pull it off; it looks like he never got the chance or the desire to try again. Ultimately, it’s an oddity with some points of interest.

The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Article 4350 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-28-2013
Directed by Dan O’Bannon
Featuring Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa
Country: USA
What it is: Zombie comedy

Canisters containing a gas that resulted in the zombies from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD being created are misdelivered to a medical supplies warehouse. When one of them breaks open, a local cemetery is doused with the gas, resulting in a an outbreak of zombies.

I read a lot of trivia on this one, but I can’t vouch for how much is true, so if I’m wrong on some of this, bear with me. The original screenplay of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was co-written by George Romero and John Russo. They had a parting of ways, and for the rights to the story, Russo got the “living dead” phrase, while Romero had to use “the dead” for his sequels. Russo’s treatment sat on the shelf for several years until it was offered to Dan O’Bannon for his first directorial assignment; O’Bannon refused to take the original treatment due to its being overly similar to the original movie, and rewrote it to make it a comedy. This is the result.

As far as I’m concerned, O’Bannon was on the right track. Done straight, this would have been just another zombie movie. As it is, the frantic pace is ideal for comedy, and O’Bannon (who penned the scripts for both ALIEN and DARK STAR) certainly knew his way around the genres. It’s only a semi-sequel to the original movie; the movie uses the explanation that the original movie was based on a true event, but the makers were denied the right to tell the story truthfully by the military, and changed a lot of the facts around. As a result, this movie uses the opportunity to change the zombie lore. The zombies move a lot quicker, they’re able to talk, they’re able to reason, and they don’t eat people in their entirety; they’re just after brains. They’re also nearly impossible to kill. All these changes are used for both horrific and comic effect, and the movie ends up being fast-moving and fun. It’s so fast-moving, in fact, that I was seriously wondering whether the movie would have enough incident to keep enough characters alive to fill out a 90 minute running time. This is also the movie that made Linnea Quigley (who spends most of her running time naked) a scream queen. All in all, this was a worthy reworking of the “living dead” concept of the original.

Psycho II (1983)

PSYCHO II (1983)
Date: 10-27-2013
Directed by Richard Franklin
Featuring Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly
Country: USA
What it is: Sequel to a classic

Having been cured of his madness, Norman Bates has been released from the mental institution. However, on returning to his home, he begins to find clues that his mother is still alive…

I’m going to forgo the question as to whether there should have been any sequels to the original Hitchcock masterpiece in the first place. Instead, I’m just going to be grateful that the first sequel, whether it should have been made or not, didn’t take the easy way out and merely recycle the original. Rather, it addresses the issue as to what might happen if Norman was released from the asylum, and how those who would rather he stayed there for life react to such an event. As such, it does give Anthony Perkins a chance to elaborate on the character for which he was most famous, and the story does have its share of effective moments and decent plot twists, though with plenty of references to the original movie. In short, it’s not an embarrassment. It is, however, far from perfect; the plot is extremely contrived, and there are several plot holes to make the road somewhat bumpy. I do feel rather ambivalent about the ending; as much as I admire the audacity of taking the movie in a full circle with the original one, I can’t help but feel a little dismay that it sets things up so that any further sequels can feel free to imitate the original movie if they wish. And, though I haven’t seen them yet, there were further sequels.

Prisoners of the Lost Universe (1983)

Article 4348 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-26-2013
Directed by Terry Marcel
Featuring Richard Hatch, Kay Lenz, John Saxon
Country: UK
What it is: Epic fantasy

A woman TV host, an electrician and a scientist fall into a machine that warps them to a different dimension. There they must battle an evil warlord.

While I was watching this movie, I looked up the director’s name on IMDB to see what else he did, and I was surprised to discover that I’d encountered him before; he also gave us HAWK THE SLAYER. That movie had a few good moments, but was badly flawed. In this one, the director tries a somewhat lighter touch, but that turns out to be a mistake; he really doesn’t have the feel for it, and the humor feels forced. The movie does have some effective moments, such as when a bunch of demon men rise out of the ground. But the budget seems even lower than it was last time, and the flaws seem deeper. Probably one of the worst problems I had with this one was with the female character; she’s obviously supposed to be cute, lovable, spunky, and the moral center of the movie, but she comes across as annoying, not particularly smart, and humorless. She becomes more and more unlikable as the movie progresses, and seeing how the main plot thread involves rescuing her from the evil warlord, we begin to care less and less whether that happens or not. There are better epic fantasies out there.

The Night Before Christmas (1933)

Article 4347 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-25-2013
Directed by Wilfred Jackson
Featuring the voice of Donald Novis
Country: USA
What it is: Christmas cartoon

While the children sleep, Santa comes down the chimney and sets out toys for the children.

It’s a Disney “Silly Symphony” from the thirties. It’s very well animated and packed with whimsy. The toys help Santa to decorate the tree, Santa fills up the stockings, the kids hear something and come to investigate, Santa escapes before they arrive… you know, when you get down to it, this is the kind of stuff I’d expect from an animated Christmas cartoon. So why am I somewhat disappointed? It’s because, for all the whimsy, there’s nothing that happens that is truly surprising or causes the cartoon to become something special. In short, as well done as it is, it’s not really inspired. It’s Disney on automatic, and I doubt I’ll remember much about it after I finish this review.

Nurse Sherri (1978)

Article 4346 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-24-2013
Directed by Al Adamson
Featuring Geoffrey Land, Jill Jacobson, Marilyn Joi
Country: USA
What it is: Sex and horror

When a cult leader dies on the operating table, his spirit takes possession of a nurse and seeks to destroy everyone involved with the operation.

The opening ten minutes of this movie deals with a diabetic cult member who was told by the leader that he no longer needed to take insulin if he just believed in the powers that the leader had. The cult member dies, and he cult leader is convinced that he can solve the problem by using the powers to bring the boy back to life. I found that a much more intriguing premise than the one that is the center of this movie; it turns out that the whole beginning is merely a set-up to get the leader to have a heart attack and wind up on the operating table, and it never returns to the earlier ideas. This is another Al Adamson movie, and if there’s one thing I can say about him, it’s that he has a discernible style; if it weren’t for the endless parade of softcore sex scenes to pad out the movie, it could fit in easily with his late sixties/early seventies output. As it is, the sex scenes may be the only thing that keep you awake, as the movie is lifeless and dull; the script is silly, and the acting is weak. You know, I can’t help but notice that ever since I moved from the silent shorts I was watching to the more recent movies, I’ve had the misfortune to encounter Jerry Warren, Larry Buchanan, Andy Milligan and Al Adamson all within one month. Maybe I should have stuck with the silent shorts….