Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972)

Article #1226 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-23-2004
Posting Date: 12-20-2004
Directed by Robert Butler
Featuring Kurt Russell, Cesar Romero, Joe Flynn

Due to a freak accident, a science student creates an invisibility formula. He hopes to use it to win a science award, which will allow the dean of the college to pay off the mortgage to gangsters intent on foreclosing on the college to open a casino on the property. However, the gangsters discover the invisibility formula, and must have it for themselves.

If you take a peek at the cast and the plot description, you won’t need to be told that this movie is from Disney to know that we’re deep into “shopping cart” territory here. Invisibility comedies are nothing new, of course, but the folks at Disney do manage to find some new twists to the gimmick and they do have the special effects wherewithal to pull it off for the most part. The golf game is a bit of disappointment; with an invisible man guiding the ball, we do expect it to do impossible things, but for the most part, those movements don’t look as if they were being guided by an invisible man; the ball is just doing strange things. The best special effects are in the final chase scene, where the students and the cops combine forces to chase the crooks in an invisible car; not only are they effective, but they’re fun and creative, and this is easily the best part of the movie. One odd little touch; since the most memorable image of an invisible man is that of him being wrapped from head to toe in bandages, it’s rather ironic that the only character who ends up wrapped in this fashion is not due to invisibility. The movie also features Jim Backus and Ed Begley Jr.

Nightmare in Blood (1978)

Article #1225 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-22-2004
Posting Date: 12-19-2004
Directed by John Stanley
Featuring Kerwin Mathews, Jerry Walter, Dan Caldwell

A horror star invited to appear at a horror convention in San Francisco turns out to be a real vampire.

This movie was written and directed by John Stanley, who served as a horror host for six years in Oakland, California, and has since published several editions of a “Creature Feature” horror guide. His movie has a good premise and an interesting backdrop for the action, and it attempts to connect the dots between any number of horror concepts. Vampires are combined with slasher characters (the Burke and Hare characters), and has a Nazi background (the Van Helsing character Ben-Halik is Jewish). We have a comic-book worshipper, a Sherlockian, a sarcastic horror host, and a crusading psychologist (who condemns horror films) in the mix, as well is a janitor who misses the silent horror movies. There is a wealth of posters and comic-book covers on display, famous horror actors are name-dropped right and left, and several movies are referenced, including THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD). As a result, there is quite a bit here to catch the interest of a horror fan. Unfortunately, it’s lifelessly directed, it never really gels, and though it offers the possibility for some satire, it never really takes advantage of the opportunity. One interesting touch is that the title of this movie is also the title of one of the movies in which the horror actor appeared; its opening credits provide the end credits for this one. Kerwin Mathews only appears in the first three minutes of the movie.

The Night Strangler (1973)

Article #1224 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-21-2004
Posting Date: 12-18-2004
Directed by Dan Curtis
Featuring Darren McGavin, Jo Ann Pflug, Simon Oakland

Kolchak covers a series of strangulation murders which point to a killer who may be more than one hundred years old.

I first became familiar with Carl Kolchak via the TV series, and when I watched THE NIGHT STALKER for the first time many years after this, I was slightly put off by the differences in Kolchak’s character from that movie in comparison to how he would later develop. The Kolchak here is much closer to the one of the series, and this TV-movie plays somewhat like an extended episode of the series, though I would have to say that it does a better job of building the tension, especially during the final fifteen minutes. Darren McGavin and Simon Oakland are excellent as usual here, and it’s a great deal of fun watching Carl Kolchak interact with characters played by the likes of John Carradine, Wally Cox, Al Lewis, and the wicked witch herself, Margaret Hamilton. That was one of the joys I’ve always had from the Kolchak series; though the character of Kolchak is one the greatest and most memorable I’ve ever encountered, the stories never relied solely on his appeal, but were peopled by other strong and interesting characters. The basic story is a variation on THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET, and the cast also included Jo Ann Pflug and Richard Anderson.

Night of the Bloody Apes (1968)

Article #1223 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-20-2004
Posting Date: 12-17-2004
Directed by Rene Cardona
Featuring Armando Silvestre, Norma Lazareno, Jose Elias Moreno

A doctor desperate to save the life of his son transplants the heart of a gorilla into his body. Unfortunately, this turns his son into a half man / half beast who then goes on a violent rampage.

One of the things I love about much of the Mexican horror I’ve screened so far is underneath all the silliness and wrestling there was a sense of charming innocence. This remake of DOCTOR OF DOOM has certain things going for it. For one thing, I like the use of color; especially during the wrestling scenes. Also, I like the fact that the doctor performing the operations is not a madman out to rule the world, but a grieving father who wishes to save the life of his only son. However, the sense of innocence is gone. In its place, we get gratuitous gore (open-heart surgery, several graphic mutilation sequences) and gratuitous sex and nudity (a rape sequence and a lot of female nudity). It’s always a bit gratuitous to have a woman interrupted while she’s in the shower; to have it happen twice in the same movie also shows a real lack of imagination as well. In some ways, it shows a bit more skill than some other Mexican horror movies, but I really mourn the loss of innocence here, even if much of the silliness is still intact; after all, how many movies have their monster running around in pajamas during the last half?

Hello Down There (1969)

Article #1222 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-19-2004
Posting Date: 12-16-2004
Directed by Jack Arnold and Ricou Browning
Featuring Tony Randall, Jim Backus, Janet Leigh

A man who designs an underwater house tries to prove its effectiveness to his employer by having his family live there for thirty days.

Fans of science fiction movies from the fifties should recognize the names of Ivan Tors (who produced GOG, THE MAGNETIC MONSTER and RIDERS TO THE STARS) and Jack Arnold (who directed CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN). Here they combine forces for another science fiction movie, and the viewer can’t be blamed for hoping for something more than this lame little comedy. There are definite pleasures here; the underwater scenes are fun to watch (courtesy of co-director Ricou Browning), the animals are entertaining, the visions of a hurricane as seen from underwater are fascinating, and (for me, the biggest surprise) the songs are actually not too bad; sure, the cutesy underwater lyrics are dumb, but they’re catchy enough in a pop/bubblegum way. It’s the comedy that falls flat, despite an impressive cast that includes Tony Randall, Jim Backus, Janet Leigh, Roddy McDowall, Ken Barry, a young Richard Dreyfuss and (in cameos) Arnold Stang, Harvey Lembeck and Merv Griffin. So unless you consider the sight of Ken Berry being kissed by a seal to be the height of hilarity, there’s very little that is really amusing here. And for anyone hoping that the subplot about the Navy’s sonar being jammed by rock music will develop into anything significant, I’ll warn you now is that all it does is lead to a unmemorable end to the movie. Incidentally, Richard Dreyfuss would encounter sharks once again six years later in JAWS.

Night Gallery (1969)

Article #1221 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-18-2004
Posting Date: 12-15-2004
Directed by Boris Sagal, Steven Spielberg, Barry Shear
Featuring Joan Crawford, Ossie Davis, Richard Kiley

Rod Serling puts on display three paintings, each with a tale of horror behind it.

It’s easy to see why this TV-movie pilot produced a series; it’s an excellent movie, well directed, written and acted throughout, and the three stories are all quite effective. The actual paintings play pivotal roles in both the first and third stories; in the second story, the painting does appear, but it is not crucial to the proceedings. The first story is probably the weakest of the bunch; the final twist seems a little forced to me, and I really got tired of hearing the name of the Ossie Davis character repeated ad nauseum. Both the second and third are truly wonderful, and both have final twists that are truly satisfying. The middle one was directed by Steven Spielberg, and you can see various touches that demonstrate exactly why he would later become such a renowned director. All three of the stories were written by Rod Serling.

Bloodthirsty Butchers (1970)

Article #1220 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-17-2004
Posting Date: 12-14-2004
Directed by Andy Milligan
Featuring John Miranda, Annabella Wood, Berwick Kaler

A murderous barber kills customers for their jewelry and leaves the bodies to the woman next door who uses them for meat pies.

We all knew this was coming sooner or later; my initiation into the oeuvre of Andy Milligan. Having only seen one movie of his certainly doesn’t make me an expert on him, but I do feel the need to document my first impressions of Milligan’s work.

As a writer, Milligan is actually not too bad with dialogue; he even manages to come up with a good line or two here and there. At any rate, bad film fanatics won’t find the quotable dialogue of an Ed Wood movie in an Andy Milligan film. He is somewhat verbose; the characters do talk at length. But Milligan at least has enough of a sense of pace to have them talk and reply to each other quickly so we don’t get those deadly big gaps between cues. At any rate, I find a Milligan dialogue scene to be much easier to take than an equivalent scene from Jerry Warren.

However, in terms of story, Milligan is less successful. The problem is that there really isn’t a story. It’s largely a succession of scenes of characters talking to each other, usually followed by one of them killing the other. In fact, only one of the many murders actually occurs in the barber shop.

The acting is variable; it ranges from the competent to the annoying. All in all, the acting is somewhat better than you’ll find in your average Herschell Gordon Lewis film. Granted, that doesn’t take much…

The sound is horrible. It’s even worse than it is in a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie, and that’s saying a lot. And that ludicrous music that plays in the background throughout any given scene is fairly tiresome; fortunately, it tends to fade into the background.

The camerawork and lighting are both truly awful; indeed, it appears to be on a technical level that Milligan really stinks. In some scenes, it’s very difficult to figure out what’s going on, simply because it’s hard to see anything. As for the editing, it’s also pretty awful, though I am left wondering just how much of Milligan’s movies were left intact by distributors. The gore effects are certainly none too convincing.

So, those are my initial impressions of the work of Andy Milligan. He’s not quite as bad as my imagination led me to believe he would be, but there really isn’t anything I can truly recommend here. Between the unpleasant characters and the cheap, sleazy nature of the proceedings, I don’t see myself really looking forward to catching the rest of his stuff.

And one side note; I once heard that Milligan claimed that he made his movies period pieces so they could be replayed years later and no one would know when they were made. That would work if you had the budget to make a convincing period movie; as it is, all I see is a bizarre hodgepodge of costumes from various eras, and there’s no period sense to the settings at all. Based on the haircuts, it looks like it was made in the late sixties/early seventies. I don’t think his idea worked.