Panic in the City (1968)

PANIC IN THE CITY (1968)
Article 3041 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-4-2009
Posting Date: 12-11-2009
Directed by Eddie Davis
Featuring Howard Duff, Linda Cristal, Stephen McNally
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller with marginal SF elements

When a mysterious man is found in the street with a high radiation count, an agent from the National Bureau of Investigation is called in to investigate. He eventually discovers a foreign plot to build and detonate an atomic bomb in the city of Los Angeles.

The basic plot is fairly ordinary, but it’s well-written and concentrates on the cat-and-mouse game between the NBI and the agents. The direction is rather unimaginative, but it keeps itself focused on the plot, which helps through some of the duller scenes. The acting is good, and it handles its story realistically and without sensationalism. The end result is a mildly engrossing thriller, one that rises above its low budget and occasionally shows moments of inspiration. My favorite line is from Linda Cristal (about paying the telephone bill), and my favorite moment is the final one, where we can see, without a word spoken, how she is going to handle her grief. The cast also features Nehemiah Persoff, Oscar Beregi Jr., Anne Jeffreys, John Hoyt, George Barrows, and Dennis Hopper. Not bad at all.

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Prophecies of Nostradamus (1979)

PROPHECIES OF NOSTRADAMUS (1979)
Article 3040 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-3-2009
Posting Date: 12-10-2009
Director unknown
Featuring Kirk Alexander, Richard Butler, John Waters
Country: Australia
What it is: Speculative documentary involving prophecies and future predictions

The life of Nostradamus is told, and the prophecies in his quatrains are examined.

In terms of the speculative nature of this sort of documentary, I do feel compelled to point out two facts right off the bat. Apparently the quatrains were purposefully written in an elusive manner and in several different languages so he could avoid the stigma of witchcraft. Secondly, during a sequence which explores a prophecy that took place during his lifetime, Nostradamus was quoted as saying that his prophecies could be avoided. These are what I think of as “outs”; if a prophecy doesn’t come true, we either a) didn’t understand them, or b) avoided them. In short, we’re asked not to judge him on the basis of the prophecies that don’t take place.

As far as the prophecies that did take place, I’ll have to reserve judgment; I’ve never read the prophecies themselves, and I’m no expert on the historical events they are purported to have predicted. If the movie itself can be trusted in this regard, than I will say that some of them do seem quite accurate. However, the last third of the movie consists of predictions of the future. Now the interesting thing about watching a documentary of this nature thirty years after the fact is that we can look at these predictions, and ask “Did they come true?” Considering that the prophecies state that World War III should have started somewhere between 1981 and 1998, I’d have to say that the predictions are way off. But there are those “outs” mentioned above; were the prophecies misunderstood? Did we avoid them? Or are they a load of hooey?

At any rate, I do think this is one of the better documentaries of this nature, though it’s another case where you’ll probably know ahead of time whether you’d want to bother with this one or not.

The Locket (1946)

THE LOCKET (1946)
Article 3039 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-2-2009
Posting Date: 12-9-2009
Directed by John Brahm
Featuring Laraine Day, Brian Aherne, Robert Mitchum
Country: USA
What it is: Psychodrama thriller with very slight horror element

On the day that a rich gentleman is about to be married to a seemingly perfect woman, he is visited by a psychiatrist who claims to be the woman’s former husband. The psychiatrist claims that the woman is a thief and a murderer, but is he telling the truth…?

John Stanley’s CREATURE FEATURES MOVIE GUIDE STRIKES AGAIN, in which this was listed, makes it sound like more of a horror movie than it really is. Though there’s no doubt that madness plays a role in the proceeding, the woman in question is never played with that evil veneer that would give the movie that horror edge; instead, she’s played as a perpetually misunderstood victim, an approach which makes me feel that she genuinely believes her lies, which in itself is an unsettling form of madness. If the horror content is slight, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie; it’s excellent, and it features a memorable performance by Robert Mitchum, whose final scene here is one of the high points in the movie. It’s directed by John Brahm, who gave us THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE, and though I don’t think this movie is quite as consistent as either of these, he does give us a great ending scene in which one character’s guilt overtakes them. The structure itself is interesting; most of the story is told in flashback, which itself contains further flashbacks, and they get nested three deep at one point. The locket of the title plays both a role in the deepest flashback, serves as a key element in the psychological description of the woman, and returns as an element of the story in the final scenes.

Ring of Terror (1962)

RING OF TERROR (1962)
Article 3038 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-1-2009
Posting Date: 12-8-2009
Directed by Clark L. Paylow
Featuring George E. Mather, Austin Green, Esthur Furst
Country: USA

A medical student seems to be afraid of nothing; he even wheels the dead bodies in and out of the autopsy room and throws rattlesnakes out of his girlfriend’s car. However, he may have a secret fear, and the initiation into his fraternity is coming up…

What we have here is one of those movies based on an old urban legend. The trouble with urban legends is that they’re usually tight, compact stories that would be better handled in an anthology format rather than as stand-alone movies. This movie is pretty short, but it still is heavily padded; we have a whole slew of unnecessary characters, an opening and closing segment in which an undertaker tells us the story (with a long, pointless sequence in which he hunts for his cat, promptly steps on its tail when he finds it, and then hunts for it again), subplots about the student’s romantic life, a slew of other fraternity stunts, a beauty contest and a running joke about fat people who eat a lot. The presentation is so static that I felt I had to check the director’s listing on IMDB to see if he had any other movies to his credit. I was quite surprised to see that he had; though this is his only feature film as a director, he did direct several episodes of “Sky King”, worked in other capacities (including assistant/second unit director) on a variety of other movies, including THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN, I BURY THE LIVING, THE CONVERSATON, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and BOG, as well as a variety of beach party movies. There is a bit of campy fun to be had with this movie, though, especially in an unbelievable autopsy sequence which primarily consists of several students looking like they’re about to throw up. But, for the most part, this movie is dead in the water and couldn’t scare a fly.

The Return of Dr. Mabuse (1961)

THE RETURN OF DR. MABUSE (1961)
aka Im Stahlnetz des Dr. Mabuse
Article 3037 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-31-2009
Posting Date: 12-7-2009
Directed by Harald Reinl
Featuring Gert Frobe, Lex Barker, Daliah Lavi
Country: West Germany / France / Italy

Evidence that incriminates an American crime syndicate is stolen from a murdered man. Inspector Lohmann investigates the murder, but every path he takes leads to another murder. He begins to suspect that there is another criminal mastermind behind it all. Could it be that Dr. Mabuse is not dead after all?

I really like the Dr. Mabuse movies; they’re much easier to follow than a lot of the Edgar Wallace krimis of the time. I like this one as well; Gert Frobe is fun and likable as Inspector Lohmann, and there’s a number of intriguing plot elements as well. However, some moments don’t work very well; in particular, the murder of a man just as he’s about to reveal an important clue comes off as a tad comic, and there are moments where I feel elements have been borrowed from other Dr. Mabuse movies (the flooded room in particular). Wolfgang Priess is back on hand as the title character, but, because his character mostly remains a mystery, he only appears physically for a short period of time, though his voice pops up quite a bit. This was the first Dr. Mabuse movie not directed by Fritz Lang; Harald Reinl would also helm this one’s immediate sequel, THE INVISIBLE DR. MABUSE.

Class Reunion Massacre (1978)

CLASS REUNION MASSACRE (1978)
aka The Redeemer: Son of Satan!
Article 3036 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-30-2009
Posting Date: 12-6-2009
Directed by Constantine S. Gochis
Featuring Damien Knight, Jeanetta Arnette, Nick Carter
Country: USA

Six alumni attend their tenth year class reunion, but are surprised to find they are the only ones there. However, they soon find they are locked in the building where the reunion is being held, and someone is knocking them off one by one.

This is a movie with a message, and therein lies the problem. Though on the surface it seems like your typical slasher film, the surrounding details are anything but routine. The murders have something to do with a boy who appears out of a lake and a preacher who sees evil in the hearts of several of the students who graduated from his school; these are the same students who attend the reunion. It obviously has something to say about religion, but I’m not quite sure whether it’s catering to religious fanaticism or criticizing it. The answer lies in the true nature of the boy from the lake; is he the “Son of Satan” (as one of the titles of this movie suggests) who has given the preacher the power to pursue his twisted sense of justice and redemption? Or is he a Christ figure (his name is Christopher) helping the preacher to take revenge on the sins of the world? Given that the “sins” of those attending the reunion don’t seem extreme enough to deserve this kind of justice (one is an athlete who’s a bit of a jerk, one is a woman who married a rich man, one is a criminal defense lawyer, one is gay, one is lesbian and one sleeps around), one is certainly not hoping gleefully for their demise. Furthermore, the first murder is committed against a man who isn’t even part of the class reunion. Overall, the message seems to be against the hypocrisy of the religion, but things are just a little too muddled to be clear. It would be interesting to hear commentary from the director and the writer, but neither of them seem to have made any other movies; yet, the movie does show a certain amount of professional polish. Could they be pseudonyms?

At any rate, if the movie has a big problem beyond the message, it’s that some of the dialogue is just plain weird; some of the patter made by the inspector feels like a bizarre stream-of-consciousness diatribe, and the murderer’s various guises are occasionally long-winded, incomprehensible and boring. Some of the characters are stereotypes, particularly the gay actor. Some moments are quite interesting; I like the way the movie will occasionally clue you in to what is happening with very few words being spoken.

Still, in some ways, this is one of those movies that will get you thinking about it, whatever its quality.

Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966)

RAT PFINK A BOO BOO (1966)
aka Rat Pfink and Boo Boo
Article 3035 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-29-2009
Posting Date: 12-5-2009
Directed by Ray Dennis Steckler
Featuring Carolyn Brandt, Ron Haydock, Titus Moede
Country: USA

A pop singer’s girlfriend is kidnapped by sadistic thugs intent on netting a large ransom. However, what the thugs don’t know is that the singer is actually the noted crimefighter, Rat Pfink.

The first half of this movie is a really bad crime thriller that gives little hint of what is to follow; it’s similar in some ways to Steckler’s own THE THRILL KILLERS. The second half is a really bad comic riff that does to TV’s “Batman” what Steckler’s THE LEMON GROVE KIDS did to the Bowery Boys. So which half do I prefer? I’d have to say the second; whereas the first half is far weaker than THE THRILL KILLERS, I think the second half is better and less annoying than THE LEMON GROVE KIDS. Granted, it’s in the running for the cheapest movie ever made; most of it seems to have been shot silent, and the dialogue has obviously been pasted on after the fact. The two halfs don’t mesh well, though; the first half is a little too nasty to make it appropriate for kids, whereas the second half seems primarily aimed at them. The title supposedly came about as a result of mistake on the part of the title designer, but Steckler apparently denies this in an audio commentary; does this mean that he wanted this title? At any rate, my favorite line is “He always carries his guitar with him in case he is called on to sing!” That’s Bob Burns as Kogar the gorilla.