Telefon (1977)

TELEFON (1977)
Article 5071 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-4-2016
Directed by Don Siegel
Featuring Charles Bronson, Lee Remick, Donald Pleasence
Country: USA
What it is: Spy thriller

A Russian provocateur seeking to start a war between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. comes to America and begins activating sleeper agents (people unaware that they are under post-hypnotic suggestion) to attack military installations. The KGB send their own agent to stop the provocateur before an international incident erupts.

One of the things I’ve discovered over the years I’ve worked on this project is that I’m a sucker for a spy movie, though I should specify that my affection is much more for the more serious, straightforward examples rather than the fanciful superspy antics attached to James Bond movies and their imitators. I noticed that I even tend to like the ones that don’t have much of a reputation, such as this one. The use of hypnosis is the main fantastic content here (the sleepers are activated to perform their sabotage via coded telephone messages), though the CIA’s use of a computer that can respond to a human voice (a very minor story element) pushes it into science fiction territory. Charles Bronson gives a stolid performance as the KGB agent sent to catch the villain (played by Donald Pleasence), but Lee Remick’s perky fellow agent is so jarring in this context that she seems to be in a different movie. The movie takes a while to really get going, and some of the plot elements don’t make a lot of sense, but I have to admit that I enjoyed it.

Splatter University (1984)

Article 5070 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-4-2016
Directed by Richard W. Haines
Featuring Forbes Riley, Ric Randig, Dick Biel
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher film

A paranoid schizophrenic escapes from a mental hospital. Three years later, students and teachers at a university are being knocked off by a serial killer. Who could it be?

Sometimes a title will tell you all you need to know. Just looking at the title of this one, I figured it would be a not-very-good slasher movie. And, sure enough, that’s what I got – a not-very-good slasher movie. I had the killer picked out ten seconds into the character’s first scene, and that was before the movie began bending over backwards to try to convince me it was someone else. To give you an idea of the sloppiness of the production, there’s a scene where two women are having a conversation on a park bench, and it keeps cutting back and forth between two camera angles, one of which has a purple filter and the other of which does not. The movie is loaded with tiresome, uninteresting characters, especially when it comes to the students. I’ll give the movie credit for having one surprise up its sleeve; unfortunately, it’s so late in the game that it can’t compensate for the dullness and predictability of the rest of it. Don’t enroll.

Night of Horror (1981)

Article 5069 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-3-2016
Directed by Tony Malanowski
Featuring Steve Sandkuhler, Gae Schmitt, Rebecca Bach
Country: USA
What it is: How low can your budget go in Baltimore?

Four travelers get stranded. They encounter ghosts from the Civil War that ask a favor.

According to IMDB, the estimated budget for this movie was about four thousand dollars. And, if you assume that the Civil War footage that takes up about ten minutes of the screen time is stock footage (I’m guessing it’s from a Civil War reconstruction event of some kind), then, yes, I’d say that’s about how much it looks went into this movie. The movie is horrid, and it’s not necessarily due to the low budget; the opening scene of the movie is a ten-minute conversation between two men at a bar in which both of the characters spend most of the time with their backs to the viewer is a good example of a bad directorial choice that has nothing to do with budget. The script is another problem; there’s about five minutes of story here with a running time of fifteen times that, so most of the movie involves trying to pad things out. So we get fifteen minutes of framing story (the two guys talking at the bar), lots of scenes of an RV tooling around, several other static conversation scenes, the arbitrary aforementioned Civil War footage, and, by having the ghosts speaking in halting, hard-to-hear distorted voices, it manages to make them take twenty minutes to explain what could be easily managed in thirty seconds. In style, the movie reminds me of MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE, but it even lacks that movie’s unsettling qualities; this one just drones on to no good effect. Quite frankly, this is one of the dullest stretches of celluloid that I’ve had the misfortune to negotiate in some time.

Night Cries (1978)

Article 5068 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-2-2016
Directed by Richard Lang
Featuring Susan Saint James, Michael Parks, Jamie Smith-Jackson
Country: USA
What is it: Psychological or psychic?

After losing her daughter at childbirth, a woman finds herself plagued by nightmares about her baby being alive, and she starts becoming distant from her husband. She finally decides to see a psychiatrist who specializes in dreams, but are the dreams merely symbolic… or is her baby still alive?

This is a strong and intriguing TV-Movie which gets a great deal of its power from a strong performance by Susan Saint James as the distraught mother. Given that my series revolves around movies with fantastic content, I’m naturally drawn to the hope that there is a psychic element to the dreams. However, James’ performance as a woman who is haunted by painful repressed memories and who is in denial is so compelling that I found myself really hoping for a psychological explanation to the dreams, at least to find out what skeletons there are in her (literal) closet. At any rate, I’m glad that the movie ends up pulling off a nice trick by recognizing that two different explanations may not necessarily be mutually exclusive. The movie also has a nice performance from William Conrad as the psychiatrist. I quite liked this one.

Mystery in Dracula’s Castle (1973)

Article 5067 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-1-2016
Directed by Robert Totten
Featuring Clu Gulager, Mariette Hartley, Johnny Whitaker
Country: USA
What it is: Family thriller

Two boys making their own Dracula movie decide to use a lighthouse for their castle, unaware that the men living there are actually jewel thieves.

No, it’s not some forgotten vampire movie; it’s your basic comedy thriller that made its debut on “The Wonderful World of Disney”. As such, it’s light-hearted, disposable kiddie fare; it’s not bad, but it’s predictable and pretty minor. It’s most interesting aspect to fans of fantastic cinema is that it uses a “monster kid” tradition as its backdrop, as one of the maguffins in the plot is the children’s desire to film their own Dracula movie, and much of this movie features the shooting of that movie. The movie opens with the children watching a Dracula movie at the local theater, but I suspect that this footage is not from an already existing movie but was filmed exclusively for this one. A few observations – the filming title of the children’s movie is GRIP OF DRACULA, but the final title is DRACULA AND THE SHERIFF’S DAUGHTER. Also, I can’t help but notice that the monster on the posters in the boys’ bedroom look similar to the Universal monsters, but also look different enough that they probably didn’t need to get permission from Universal.

Mysteries of the Gods (1976)

aka Botschaft der Gotter
Article 5066 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-31-2016
Directed by Harald Reinl and Charles Romine
Featuring William Shatner, Robert Charroux, Jeane Dixon
Country: West Germany
What it is: Ancient astronauts documentary

William Shatner takes us on a tour of more of the evidence of extraterrestrial visitations in the past.

The first half covers more ancient paintings and works of architecture used to back up the theory that we were visited by ancient astronauts in the past. The second half is about UFO sightings and the possibility of the aliens returning and how we will greet them when we do. So what we have here is basically a retread of CHARIOTS OF THE GODS and IN SEARCH OF ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS; there’s a new narrator (William Shatner) and some new things to look at (like a crystal skull), but the mood and the style are largely the same. I sat for a bit after watching it trying to think of what I would say about it, and I finally found myself asking something I never asked before – Why couldn’t they have made a good documentary on the subject? I’m not really talking about the subject matter; I’m talking about finding a way to bring these subjects to vivid life in a documentary. There are many examples out there that do so; they can make a subject fascinating even if you’re not all that interested in it. This movie, and so many like it on similar subjects from the era are so stolid, static, talky and vague that they practically embalm the subject rather than bring it to life. A documentary like this, done well, could be interesting whether you were a believer, a skeptic, or on the fence, and it would have generated far more lively discussion that this one, which is, sadly, a dull bore.

Murder in Space (1985)

Article 5065 By Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-30-2016
Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern
Featuring Wilford Brimley, Michael Ironside, Martin Balsam
Country: Canada / USA
What it is: TV-Movie Science Fiction/Mystery

A spaceship with an international crew of nine members is returning to Earth after a trip to Mars. However, the death of a female cosmonaut aboard the ship raises concerns about a possible alien virus, but then evidence begins to mount that she was murdered…

Yes, it’s a bit corny, but then, I’d rather expect that from an attempt to cross-pollinate the science fiction and old-fashioned murder mystery genres (with just a dollop of international intrigue). This TV-Movie was originally shown on Showtime without the ending as a part of a competition for people to pick out the murderer, a task which initially seems easy (after all, there are only eight suspects) but becomes more difficult as several other people are killed as well, and not all by the same hand. Wilford Brimley is quite entertaining as the director of the project who has to sort out the mystery as well as deal with the international repercussions of the murders. The movie doesn’t have much of a reputation, but I enjoyed it enough to forgive it its flaws; the production is a little chintzy, it descends into melodrama and soap opera at times, and, as mentioned before, it does get corny. Nevertheless, I found it fun.

Death Weekend (1976)

aka The House by the Lake
Article 5064 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-29-2016
Directed by William Fruet
Featuring Brenda Vaccaro, Don Stroud, Chuck Shamata
Country: Canada
What it is: Gang of psychos thriller

A dentist picks up a model to take to an isolated house for the weekend, but the couple ends up crossing swords with a carful of psychos, who track them down and terrorize them.

I’ve probably said this before, but if so, I’m going ahead and saying it again anyway; one of my least favorite subgenres of horror is the one in which the movie consists of a small group of people in an isolated area being terrorized by a gang of psychos. For one thing, they usually don’t have much of a story; once the psychos start their reign of terror, what you usually get is a string of atrocities performed by the psychos followed by a string of atrocities performed by their victims in self-defense or revenge, with the subtext usually turning out to be about how thin the veneer of civilization is. They’re manipulative, unpleasant, and rather obvious once you’ve seen enough of them. Well, here’s another one, and though it’s adequately mounted and decently acted, it still doesn’t add anything really new to the mix to make it stand out from the others other than the fact that the female victim is a well-known actress. If you’re partial to this type of movie, I suppose it’s not too bad; if not, it’s just another one to avoid.

Flashman (1967)

Article 5063 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-28-2016
Directed by Mino Loy
Featuring Paolo Gozlino, Claudie Lange, Ivano Staccioli
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Camp superhero pastiche

Flashman takes on a criminal who has stolen an invisibility formula.

If the Flashman theme song sounds pretty reminiscent of the theme song of a certain American superhero who had a campy hit TV series in the mid-sixties, it’s no coincidence. This is basically an Italian take on Batman, with a hero who is a tycoon who fights crime in a mask, and this movie tries to work in the same campy vein as the TV series. It’s a little difficult to say how well it works; not a lot of care went into the English dubbing, and as is often the case when you’re dealing with dubbed comedy, much of the humor can be lost in translation. Certainly, the humor in the English language version falls flat as a pancake; nor am I impressed with the invisibility effects or the action sequences. The stupid comic-relief policemen are a particular annoyance. There’s not much to recommend here.

Dr. Butcher, M.D. (Medical Deviate) (1980)

aka Zombi Holocaust
Article 5062 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-27-2016
Directed by Marino Girolami
Featuring Ian McCulloch, Alexandra Delli Colli, Sherry Buchanan
Country: Italy
What it is: Gore mishmash

The culprit of a series of body parts thefts at a city hospital turns out to be a man with connections to a cannibal cult on a distant island, so a voyage is made to the area. There the investigators encounter cannibals, zombies and a mad scientist.

“He’s a depraved homicidal killer… and he makes house calls!” screamed the ads for this much-ballyhooed gore picture, but you needn’t worry; unless you live in the East Indies, he’s probably not going to be dropping by any time soon. Actually, the English title is probably a bit more accurate than the original Italian title, or for that matter, most of the alternate titles of the movie (most of which contain the word “zombie” or a variation thereof). This is not to say that there are no zombies; there are zombies. But they’re not the flesh-eating murderous fiends so common to this era; they rack up a body count of zero, and ultimately come across more as minions, which makes them more similar to the zombies of WHITE ZOMBIE than those of DAWN OF THE DEAD. The mad doctor fills his share of the gory duties, but it’s really the cannibals that do most of the bloody mayhem here. Yet, for all that, this isn’t quite an Italian cannibal movie as we understand them; it lacks the nihilistic attitude or the sense of verisimilitude that is usually associated with that genre, and as far as I could tell, not a single animal was killed in this one (which I’m sure a lot of us would consider a plus). So if it’s not really an Italian zombie movie or an Italian cannibal movie, what is it? I’d describe it as an Italian version of the Eddie Romero/John Ashley Blood Island movies from the Philippines; that’s what the movie mostly feels like. Gorehounds will probably be satisfied with this one; those looking for more subtle scares will want to go elsewhere. However, I do have to comment on how ill-chosen some of the music seems to be; when cannibals are intent on their bloody mayhem, the music shouldn’t be conjuring up visions of skating rinks.