The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947)
Article #1633 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-3-2005
Posting Date: 1-31-2006
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Featuring Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders

A widow decides to move into a cottage by the sea despite the fact that it is believed to be haunted by the sea captain who once lived there.

When I first saw this movie years ago, I went into it with fairly low expectations; first of all , it was one of my least favorite cinematic forms (the love story), and secondly, the main experience I had had with the title up to this point was with the late sixties TV series, a show which I haven’t seen in years but which struck me as exceedingly bland at the time. The movie is something else again, and much of the thanks goes to the fine performances from all concerned (especially Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison), the fine and assured direction of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the superb score by Bernard Herrmann (I am all too lax in crediting the work of composers during this series of write-ups, but I couldn’t help but notice how well the music underlines the emotional tenor of the scenes in this one), and the story itself. One of the reasons I don’t usually like love stories is that the barriers set up between the lovers are all too often artificial and contrived; here, with the barrier between the lovers being that they actually live on separate planes of existence, the barriers are profound and can only be gotten around by the slow, steady march of time, and I like the fact that when the Captain decides to leave the life of the widow, the movie does not rush to the ending but understands how a deliberately paced study of the passing years is necessary to give the ending its maximum impact. I also like the fact that it is a drama rather than a comedy. Yes, it does contain some comic scenes and moments, but I’m glad it avoids some of the easy traps of a comedy; in particular, it avoids (with the exception of one appropriate scene) the Topper-style shtick of having someone talk to the ghost while in the presence of others and being thought crazy. It’s a tribute to the movie’s skill that the ending does bring tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat.

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The Zodiac Killer (1971)

THE ZODIAC KILLER (1971)
Article #1632 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-2-2005
Posting Date: 1-30-2006
Directed by Tom Hanson
Featuring Hal Reed, Bob Jones, Ray Lynch

A homicidal maniac known as The Zodiac Killer is on the loose in San Francisco.

The opening of this movie takes pains to point out that it is a true story, and that if some of the dialogue sounds strange, the viewer should remember that it all really happened. I don’t know the actual details of the case, so I can’t say how accurate this movie is, but as for our psycho, he’s apparently a rabbit-loving, woman-fearing ex-postman who believes that all his victims will be his slaves in the afterlife, which also has something to do with the rising of Atlantis. There’s an interesting user comment on IMDB about this movie from someone who claims to know the makers of the movie; he says that the purpose of the movie was to catch the killer himself, who would of course have found a movie about himself to be irresistible. Since the killer was never caught, I’m assuming that it didn’t work. If the movie has any message, it’s probably that we should all be scared to death that some psycho will knock us off at any moment and that the world is full of such psychos just waiting for their chance; both the beginning and the end of the movie deliver this message. Unfortunately, some of the murders come off as more comic than terrifying, the movie itself is pretty muddled (for example, a scene with a psychic goes precisely nowhere), and the overall effect it had on me was one of indifference. Certainly, anybody seeing the movie in the hopes of gaining any real insight into the psyches of serial killers will probably come up short.

Womaneater (1957)

WOMANEATER (1957)
Article #1631 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-1-2005
Posting Date: 1-29-2006
Directed by Charles Saunders
Featuring George Coulouris, Vera Day, Peter Wayn

A scientist experiments with a plant that produces a serum that can revive life. Unfortunately, the plant only produces the serum if it is fed a steady supply of nubile young women.

This movie was made in England, land of Shakespeare and Quatermass. It features a truly provocative title. The main character is played by an actor who made a memorable appearance in CITIZEN KANE. And it features a killer plant. Now, with all of these elements, you’d think this movie would have something going for it, wouldn’t you?

Well, truth be told, the most interesting thing about this movie is Vera Day. In particular, the most interesting thing about this movie is Vera Day’s Mamie Van Dorenesque figure. It’s not only the most physically interesting thing in the movie, it’s also the most intellectually interesting thing in it, and that’s not a good sign. The script itself feels like an outline of a science fiction / horror movie; it has about fifteen minutes worth of plot, and the rest of the time seems padded out with shots of people looking at things. It isn’t even much fun on a campy level. Plotwise, it reminded me alternately of KONGA and THE LEECH WOMAN, neither of which I care much for and both of which are much better than this one. Director Saunders and actor Coulouris had previously joined forces with MAN WITHOUT A BODY, another awful movie which at least has a certain amount of unintentional humor going for it.

The Witchmaker (1969)

THE WITCHMAKER (1969)
Article #1630 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-31-2005
Posting Date: 1-28-2006
Directed by Anthony Eisley, Thordis Brandt, Alvy Moore

Psychic investigators go into the bayou where several murders have been committed. They find themselves in peril from a coven of witches headed by a man called Luther the Berserk.

This one is definitely a mixed bag. At its worst, it is muddled and tedious, and whenever it tries to play up the exploitation elements it just gets silly. At its best, however, it is moody, suspenseful and surprisingly soulful; in particular, some of the speeches given to Alvy Moore’s character are rather touching, in particular one in which he talks about how certain students stand out in his memory. Moore, who also served as an associate producer for this movie, also gives a strong performance; his presence is unusual for a horror movie, and this gives the movie some of its offbeat feel. The movie gets better as it goes along and builds up to a strong ending. All in all, I found the positive qualities of this one to outweigh its weaknesses. Incidentally, Moore and Executive Producer L. Q. Jones would join forces several years later to bring make A BOY AND HIS DOG, one of the few adaptations of a Harlan Ellison story to make it to the big screen.

The Wild World of Batwoman (1966)

THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN (1966)
Article #1629 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-30-2005
Posting Date: 1-27-2006
Directed by Jerry Warren
Featuring Katherine Victor, George Mitchell, Steve Brodie

Batwoman tries to prevent the evil Rat Fink from stealing an atomic-powered hearing aid.

Given the comments I’ve made heretofore about Jerry Warren’s directorial style, one would think that the man’s work was of a piece, with no marked difference to distinguish one of his movies from another. That’s not strictly true; Jerry Warren did on occasion learn from his mistakes, and not all of his movies are snoozefests. That isn’t to say that his work evolved (which implies a step up, a deceptive statement if ever there was one); nor did it devolve (which implies a step down, which was impossible). Rather, let’s say it mutated, and not into something pretty.

Let’s take this movie. It manages to accomplish something that none of his other movies to date (with the possible exception of MAN BEAST) have achieved —it maintains a rudimentary interest level throughout; in short, it doesn’t put you right to sleep. But how did he accomplish this? I’m guessing that he realized that the only original footage he shot for ATTACK OF THE MAYAN MUMMY (in opposition to the footage he took from THE AZTEC MUMMY) that held any sort of interest level was the scene in the malt shop, where the distracting sight of a girl’s wiggling derriere provided the only reason not to nod off during a tedious dialogue sequence. What did he learn from this? He learned that if you want to keep people awake, throw in distracting action during the dialogue sequences. As a result, every time this movie hits an expositional scene or one where important information is imparted, he throws in background distractions such as mugging comic relief characters, wiggling derrieres (of course) and horseshoe tugs-of-war (huh?). Yes, it manages to hold your interest, but just try to keep track of the story. Granted, the story is such a mess that trying to follow it was probably a lost cause anyway, and the fact that this was Warren’s attempt to make a really sixties movie (designed to recall, among other thing, spy movies, horror movies, beach party movies and TV’s “Batman”) that is fun-filled and campy only magnifies the confusion. As a result, Warren does manage to avoid a snoozefest here, but at a price; instead of a refreshing sleep, you’ll have migraines.

So what was Jerry Warren’s reward for this undertaking? A lawsuit for his use of the Batwoman name. This, with the exception of an early eighties movie called FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND, brought Warren’s directorial career to an end.

The White Gorilla (1945)

THE WHITE GORILLA (1945)
Article #1628 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-29-2005
Posting Date: 1-26-2006
Directed by Harry L. Fraser
Featuring Ray Corrigan, Lorraine Miller, George J. Lewis

A safari guide stumbles into a trading post and tells the people there a “story” about his encounter with a white gorilla.

If there’s any other jungle movie out there that gives FORBIDDEN JUNGLE a run for its money as the worst of the jungle genre, this is the leading contender. Sometimes, I can’t decide which one is worse. Sure, FJ is absurdly bizarre, has laughable special effects at time, and features dialogue that sounds as if it were written by Ed Wood. Still, it does tell a coherent story and actually seems rather sincere. This one is a piece of cynical hackwork from the moment of conception; it’s an attempt to cobble together a feature made of about thirty minutes of new footage and thirty minutes of footage from an old serial. This would have resulted in a poor movie in the best of circumstances; however, the serial that provided the rest of the footage was a silent serial, and that makes things even worse. I’m not sure there’s even a story, but if there is one, the story told by the silent footage (which involves jungle explorers and a white boy with supernatural powers over animals) and the one told by the new footage (about an angry white gorilla and an angry black gorilla) never intersect; in fact, when it comes time to wind up the silent footage, an expedition is sent out to rescue the characters from that footage, but comes back only to say they couldn’t find anything but some bones in a tiger pit. To tie it all together, we have Ray Corrigan spending a lot of time in a tree watching things from a distance and pondering as to how he can help out, which of course he can’t, because he’s only in the new footage. Perhaps the funniest scenes here are the gorilla attacks, which, despite the fact that they’re supposed to be brutal, are anything but. The opening credits give the stars as “Ray Corrigan, Lorraine Miller, and An All-Star Cast”, the latter of which they never mention by name; I guess they must have felt that since they were all stars, no introduction was necessary. And no, I didn’t recognize a single one of them.

Shattered Silence (1972)

SHATTERED SILENCE (1972)
(a.k.a. WHEN MICHAEL CALLS)
Article #1627 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-28-2005
Posting Date: 1-25-2006
Directed by Philip Leacock
Featuring Ben Gazzara, Elizabeth Ashley, Michael Douglas

A divorcee begins receiving phone calls from her nephew Michael, who died fifteen years ago.

Despite a certain predictability to the proceedings, this isn’t bad for TV-Movie horror thriller; despite the cliches, it does an acceptable job of trotting out the thrills. It’s pretty easy to figure out if you follow the simple rule – “Whenever you watch a movie about a mysterious homicidal murderer whose identity is supposed to be a secret, make sure to pay close attention to whichever cast member is credited as ‘Special Guest Star’.”‘ This is also one of those movies where the psycho acts perfectly normal until the scene where you’re supposed to figure out he’s the psycho, and then acts crazy for the rest of the movie.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me get down to my real business today – reviewing the blurb on the back of the DVD. And I quote –

“SHATTERED SILENCE is a story of a torrid romance that takes on suspenseful overtones as Michael Douglas and the irresistible Elizabeth Ashley are driven to desire in this shocking love triangle. What sets out to be a romantic love affair, with Michael Douglas (Craig) using his irresistible charm to capture the heart of Elizabeth Ashley (Helen), becomes a triangle of horror and sheer terror as the son Helen believed she has lost 15 years ago returns to terrorize her acquaintances.”

Some observations –

“Torrid” and “shocking love triangle” – Just how torrid can an 1972 TV-Movie be? Well, I think Michael Douglas kisses Elizabeth Ashley on the forehead once. He does this not because he’s her lover; it’s because he’s her nephew! And no, this movie does not deal with incest; the fact of the matter is that there is no romance between Douglas and Ashley, and consequently, no triangle. So why did the blurb-writer claim there was? My guess was to make you buy it in the hopes of seeing something like FATAL ATTRACTION.

“..as the son Helen believed she lost 15 years ago…” – The last part of the blurb is the only part that is even remotely accurate, and even this gets it wrong; Michael is not her son, but her nephew.

Moral: Never trust a blurb writer.