Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968)

BLACKBEARD’S GHOST (1968)
Article 3442 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-8-2010
Posting Date: 1-16-2011
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Peter Ustinov, Dean Jones, Suzanne Pleshette
Country: USA
What it is: Shopping cart movie

The ghost of Blackbeard must remain in limbo until he can do a good deed. He finally decides to help a bunch of old women living in an old house that is in danger of being taken over by gangsters. In order to help them, he must help a hopeless track team to win their meet.

The above plot description sounded so silly that, having THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK still strong in my memory, I was expecting this to be one of the worst of the shopping cart movies. The fact that it isn’t is a tribute once again to the care taken in the casting; many of the shopping cart films are full of fun veterans and likable newcomers, and this one is no exception. Still, it’s Peter Ustinov who really makes this one fly. Sure, his Blackbeard probably has very little in common with the historical figure (and the truth be told, I certainly didn’t expect it would in this movie), but he manages to instill a little soul into his character to keep it from being simply a caricature. He’s also had experience with curmudgeon-to-be-redeemed roles; the last movie I saw him in (THE MAN WHO WAGGED HIS TAIL) was of the same ilk. It’s still pretty silly plotwise, but there are worse out there.

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The Bermuda Depths (1978)

THE BERMUDA DEPTHS (1978)
TV-Movie
Article 3441 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-7-2010
Posting Date: 1-15-2011
Directed by Tsugunobu Kotani
Featuring Leigh McCloskey, Carl Weathers, Connie Sellecca
Country: USA / Japan
What it is: Lyrical “Moby Dick” pastiche

A young man returns home to learn the reason for his father’s death, and takes up with a scientist intent on catching a strange creature believed to live in the Bermuda Triangle. He also meets a woman who may or may not be a ghost.

I suspect this movie was originally made as one of the sea monster movies that came in the wake of JAWS, but it doesn’t use that as its model. Rather, it seems a curious cross between “Moby Dick”, NIGHT TIDE, and a Bermuda Triangle movie, which is such an interesting mishmash that I really found myself hoping I would like it. The movie mainly aspires to a sort of lyricism, and occasionally (such as in the opening sequence) it meets that goal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t know when to set aside the lyricism when necessary, so the movie starts to get tiresome. Also, for a movie which shows some real imagination in scenes with very little conversation, it makes the mistake of talking your head off in other scenes, often doing little more than rehashing facts that we’ve already encountered. In short, the movie ends up moving at a turtle’s pace, which makes the fact that the giant sea creature is a turtle an unfortunate coincidence. This is another one of those odd Rankin/Bass USA/Japanese co-productions.

Axe (1977)

AXE (1977)
aka Lisa, Lisa
Article 3440 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-6-2010
Posting Date: 1-14-11
Directed by Frederick R. Friedel
Featuring Leslie Lee, Jack Canon, Ray Green
Country: USA
What it is: Sadists and disturbed girls

Three criminals decide to lay low in the country when they rough up a victim so badly they kill him. They choose as their hideout a remote farmhouse only populated by a young woman and her paralyzed grandfather. They decide to molest the young woman, unaware that she’s not quite sane… and knows how to use farm tools.

This gory but extremely low budget movie actually comes across better than I thought it would, thanks in part by some creative film editing and sharp use of music and sound. It also taps into that sleazy, nasty atmosphere that is probably its primary appeal to some. Unfortunately, the movie drags, and for a movie that runs only 68 minutes, that’s bad; several of the scenes run on far longer than they should, and any movie which stretches out about thirty seconds worth of closing credits to five minutes is a movie desperately trying to pad itself. The movie has its roots in the works of Herschell Gordon Lewis (Producer J.G. Patterson Jr. worked with Lewis on occasion and helmed the Lewis-inspired THE BODY SHOP), but in terms of the gore, this one is much tamer. And it doesn’t quite live up to its “At Last, Total Terror” tagline.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
Article 3439 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-5-2010
Posting Date: 1-13-2011
Directed by John Landis
Featuring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Werewolf movie

Two young American men are attacked by a werewolf while walking the moors in northern England. One dies and finds his soul trapped in limbo; the other survives and carries the curse of the werewolf.

I first saw this movie on commercial TV, and now having seen the theatrical version, I’m definitely classifying this one as one of those movies that can’t survive the bowdlerization necessary to make it palatable on commercial TV. Still, I don’t find myself quite as taken with this movie as some others, mostly because John Landis’s comic style blows hot and cold for me, and though I smile sometimes at the humor in this movie, I never laugh. However, I’m really taken with some of the other aspects of the movie. The transformation sequence is a truly amazing piece of work. The modifications to the werewolf myth are very interesting; I particularly like the fact that the werewolf is haunted by the limbo-consigned spirits of his victims. I think the movie also shows real cleverness in handling cliches; though the ominous villagers in the pub cliche is here in all its glory, they’re given more dimension and variety than I usual find, making them more than a hoary old plot device. And I have to admit to a taking a certain satisfaction at Landis’s decision to turn one standard movie setpiece on its ear; many movies tend to glorify the multiple-car-crash cliche by unrealistically having no pedestrians hurt in the process, but this movie offers no such easy out. By the way, that’s Muppet wrangler Frank Oz as the ambassador, and SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY is a porno film.

Terror at Red Wolf Inn (1972)

TERROR AT RED WOLF INN (1972)
aka Terror House, The Folks at Red Wolf Inn
Article 3438 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-4-2010
Posting Date: 1-12-2011
Directed by Bud Townsend
Featuring Linda Gillen, John Neilson, Arthur Space
Country: USA
What it is: Inn with a dreadful secret movie

A college student wins a free vacation at the quaint Red Wolf Inn. However, the inn holds a dreadful secret…

… And I’m not going to give away that secret here out of respect for those who go into this one knowing nothing about it, but practically every review and plot description gives the game away. Not that it’s any great mystery; though the movie doesn’t explicitly let us know the situation until a long ways into it, anyone familiar with the subgenre of this type of movie will pick up the early hints, particularly in an early extended scene where we see several of the prize-winners chow down with their hosts. My major problem with the movie is that nobody acts with much intelligence; the hosts don’t do a particularly strong job of hiding their secrets from their prizewinners, nor do they show much real initiative when the prizewinners do discover the truth. If it weren’t for the fact that the prizewinners show even less intelligence when they do discover the truth, the hosts’ game would have been up long ago. The movie has a twist ending that is fairly predictable for this sort of movie, and then throws another last second twist that can only be interpreted as showing that the movie can’t be taken seriously. This may well be why the movie is considered a comedy by some, though it doesn’t play that way for most of its length. Still, there are some interesting moments that brighten this very uneven movie.

Tender Dracula (1974)

TENDER DRACULA (1974)
aka Tendre Dracula
Article 3437 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-3-2010
Posting Date: 1-11-2011
Directed by Pierre Grunstein
Featuring Peter Cushing, Alida Valli, Bernard Menez
Country: France
What it is: French horror comedy

A noted horror actor wants to stop making horror movies and play romantic leads. Two screenwriters and two actresses are sent to his castle to convince him to move back into horror.

There’s something about the offbeat premise of this movie that makes me want to like it. However, the movie fights me at every step of the way. Some of it may not be the movie’s fault; my copy is in fairly dismal shape, the running time is short about 14 minutes, and the English dubbing isn’t very good. But I think the real culprit lies in the fact that the movie is edited in this rather herky-jerky style which is immensely disorientating, and it leaves me feeling queasy rather than amused. It’s somewhat similar to being on a carnival ride which you can’t enjoy because the attendant has put your safety straps on too tightly and all you notice is the discomfort. Though the movie has a clear center (the horror vs. romance theme), it’s sometimes nearly impossible to tell what many of the surrounding scenes have to do with this theme, and for a comedy, I found it laughless. I think Cushing is giving a good performance, but in this mess it’s hard to appreciate. This movie is pretty obscure, and from what I can tell, it is deservedly so.

Sweet Sweet Rachel (1971)

SWEET SWEET RACHEL (1971)
TV-Movie
Article 3436 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-2-2010
Posting Date: 1-20-2011
Directed by Sutton Roley
Featuring Alex Dreier, Pat Hingle, Louise Latham
Country: USA
What it is: Psychic investigator TV pilot

A psychic investigator helps a woman who wants to make sure she didn’t psychically cause the death of her husband. He discovers the death was caused psychically… but by whom?

Here’s a TV-Movie pilot that did eventually end up as a series; with some casting changes it emerged as the syndicated TV show “The Sixth Sense”. The story is quite interesting and is fairly suspenseful, and I liked Pat Dreier’s character enough that I regret that he didn’t make the final series. Nonetheless, I do have some problems with the movie. There are a few times where the movie gets strident and hysterical, and I can’t help but notice that the female characters all tend to overacting whereas all the male ones underplay. There are some very clever moments; my favorite is how the psychic investigator gets the police to exhume a body and perform an autopsy on it when he has no hard evidence that they should do so. Apparently, the TV show that arose from this would eventually re-enter syndication; it’s episodes were cut to thirty minutes and added to the syndicated runs of “Night Gallery”.