The Horrors of Burke and Hare (1972)

aka Burke and Hare
Article 1793 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-10-2006
Posting Date: 7-10-2006
Directed by Vernon Sewell
Featuring Derren Nesbitt, Harry Andrews, Glynn Edwards

Two lower class men decide to augment their incomes by selling a dead body to a medical doctor. Deciding that this is a profitable enterprise, they continue to do so, only taking the extra step of using murder to create the supply.

This movie opens with a rock group called the Scaffold singing a somewhat comic song about Burke and Hare; I would love to know who’s in this group, because one of the background vocalists sounds an awful lot like Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Band. The song should clue you into the way this movie is going to approach the Burke and Hare story – as a bawdy comedy! And when I say bawdy, I mean bawdy; much of the story dwells on the goings-on in a nearby brothel, where we see many naked women cavorting with their customers. This alone pushes the movie into exploitation territory; but somehow, I like it well enough, largely due to some interesting dialogue and energetic direction from Vernon Sewell, whose credits include THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR and CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR; this would be his last directorial effort. The performances are also fun; in particular, Harry Andrews gives a memorable performance as Dr. Knox, who wears an eyepatch and regales his friends with off-color jokes. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, as I wasn’t expecting much.

NOTE: I have tracked down that at least one member of the Scaffold worked with Vivian Stanshall on occasion.

Angel on the Amazon (1948)

aka Drums Along the Amazon
Article 1792 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-9-2006
Posting Date: 7-9-2006
Directed by John H. Auer
Featuring George Brent, Vera Ralston, Brian Aherne

In the jungle, a man meets a mysterious woman hunter who disappears shortly after their meeting. He meets her again at a horse race, and tries to strike up a relationship with her, but she has a terrible secret…

Given the title, I fully expected that I was about to endure another Double-Stuffed Safari-O, probably about a beautiful White Goddess. I began to suspect that this was going to be somewhat better early on, when the movie opens with the mysterious woman fearlessly killing an attacking panther; this scene was directed with a much greater amount of suspense and tension than I was used to for a jungle movie. This feeling persisted into the movie, with unusually sharp dialogue (especially the lines written for Constance Bennett’s character) and some strong moments of suspense (in particular, an attack by a wounded black panther is incredibly tense). In fact, except for flashbacks, the last two thirds of the movie don’t take place in the jungle at all. In reality, this is a romantic drama, and a fairly moving one. There is definitely fantastic content to the movie as well, but other than pointing out that the movie bears a certain similarity to BLACK OXEN , I’m not going to elaborate on the nature of the mysterious woman’s secret. The movie has a few problems; the middle section is rather dull, and Vera Ralston really isn’t a strong enough actress to bring her character completely to life, but despite this, it’s a strong movie, and the ending is quite moving. This one was a definite and welcome surprise, and is recommended.

The Tenth Victim (1965)

aka La Decima vittima
Article 1791 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-8-2006
Posting Date: 7-8-2006
Directed by Elio Petri
Featuring Marcello Mastrioianni, Ursula Andress, Elsa Martinelli

In the future, people can sign up for a hunt game. They can win a million dollars if they win ten rounds, five of which have them hunting another person, the other five of which they are the hunted. This is the story of one hunter and one victim.

This is one of that subgenre of movies about violent futuristic sports movies where the sport in question is usually fatal to the loser. Movies like THE RUNNING MAN, ROLLERBALL and DEATH RACE 2000 all belong somewhat to this genre, but none of them are quite as unique, clever, or disarmingly charming as this one. It’s a duel to the death as romantic comedy, and it is frankly hilarious as Ursula Andress (as the Hunter) and Marcello Mastroianni (as the Victim) try to kill each other while falling in love at the same time. The killing is hampered by contractual obligations; both sides have decided to maximize their profits by agreeing to endorse products so that the resulting kill can be used in an advertising campaign. Despite the undertone of dark satire, this movie has as light a touch as any movie by Rene Clair, and both Andress and Mastroianni are so charming in their respective roles that I found the movie utterly irresistible. Compared to it, movies like DEATH RACE 2000 are heavy-handed and obvious. And I laughed more than once at some of the scenes, my favorite being a long complaint being made by a hunter about all the restrictions about where you can kill people in Rome (no hospitals, for example). The movie was based on a short story by Robert Sheckley.

Rabid (1977)

RABID (1977)
Article 1790 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-7-2006
Posting Date: 7-7-2006
Directed by David Cronenberg
Featuring Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver

After suffering near-fatal injuries in a motorcycle accident, a woman is treated with experimental surgical methods to save her life. She recovers, but the surgery makes her unable to consume anything but human blood, and when she feeds on a victim, it leaves them infected with a virulent form of rabies.

Given Cronenberg’s obsessions with various subjects (medicine, sexually transmitted diseases, bodily changes), it’s no surprise that he would turn to horror after his initial art films. This was his second commercial feature, and it’s pretty good, if not great. The first time I saw this was on the USA network years ago, and it was so cut to ribbons that there wasn’t much left of it; it’s nice to finally see the complete movie. Marilyn Chambers was a good choice for the vampiric woman, as her career as a porn actress made the sexual nature of her predatory character more pointed (though I do wonder what it would have been like had Sissy Spacek, who had been the first choice for the role, had played it). It has its flaws; to these eyes, the foaming-at-the-mouth rabies victims look a little silly, and I never feel that Rose really becomes fully developed as a character, but the suspense is strong, and the downbeat ending is really quite powerful. I also liked the way that the rabid victims end up getting more media attention than Rose herself gets, being only the carrier of the disease and more subtle in her methods of attack.

Black Oxen (1923)

Article 1789 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-6-2006
Posting Date: 7-6-2006
Directed by Frank Lloyd
Featuring Corinne Griffith, Conway Tearle, Tom Ricketts

When a mysterious woman shows up who looks identical to a woman who married into royalty many years ago, an aspiring playwright falls in love with her. He then discovers that she is actually the same woman as the one she resembled, but who had undergone treatments to bring back her youth.

I’m not sure if I’ve seen the complete print of this movie; I’ve heard that only parts of it exist. The rejuvenation angle places it in the realm of science fiction, and in some ways, it does explore the impact that such a rejuvenation process might have. However, since the movie is more of a romance drama than anything else, the primary question it asks is whether the playwright will still want the woman now that he knows that she is really old. The movie itself is mildly amusing, but very slight as a result. In fact, the greatest sociological impact that this movie sees this scientific advance as having is that elderly women would be able to compete with younger women for men, and in this process, might actually teach them something in the way of good manners (the lack of which is exemplified by the role played by Clara Bow here). All in all, it’s more of a curiosity than a classic, though it’s so rare, I feel fortunate at just having had the chance to nab a copy.

Eraserhead (1977)

Article 1788 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-5-2006
Posting Date: 7-5-2006
Directed by David Lynch
Featuring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph

A printer who is on vacation discovers his girlfriend has given birth to what may be a baby. When she leaves, he must care for the baby himself.

I hope no one out there goes by the above plot description to give them an idea of what this movie is like. My favorite plot description for this one was in Danny Peary’s “Cult Movies”; if I had my copy of the book handy, I’d give you his complete synopsis, which consisted of just a few words describing the movie as a series of disturbing dreams, which gives you a far better idea than I could give. I’ve heard about this movie for years, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually seen it. The best description I can give is that it’s like Cronenberg filtered through Cocteau with bits of Polanski’s REPULSION thrown in for good measure. It was shot over a five-year period, and it eventually lead to David Lynch becoming the director for THE ELEPHANT MAN. What exactly is it all about? I don’t know; there is a definite emphasis on unhealthy sexuality, and it is full of sperm imagery, but what it all means is something I would rather not speculate upon, largely because I suspect that I would be limiting this movie too much to talk of it in such terms. There are a few touches of comedy as well, but I really doubt that it’s a comedy. It’s loaded with disturbing, repellent imagery, and you’ll be grateful the movie is in black and white in some scenes. And it is clearly a genre piece; among other things, it is a fantasy movie, there’s a strong touch of horror to the proceedings, and the baby could quite accurately described as being a monster. The movie is certainly unique and personal, and may be brilliant, and I may well watch it again, but only when the mood is just right.

Suspiria (1977)

Article 1787 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-4-2006
Posting Date: 7-4-2006
Directed by Dario Argento
Featuring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci

An American woman arrives at a ballet academy and discovers that several people associated with the academy are dying in horrible ways. She begins to figure out the dread secret of the academy…

This is only the second Dario Argento movie I’ve seen, and it’s considered by many to be his best and one of the scariest movies ever made. Is it the scariest movie ever made? I wouldn’t rate it quite that high; the heavy stylistic touches that flood this film tend to (for me, anyway) detract a little from the scare value of the movie. However, the stylistic touches are almost deliriously intoxicating, and they go a long ways towards making up for the fact that the story doesn’t hold up to close inspection. Still, I do think it’s a great movie, and I like Goblin’s music here a lot more than I did in DEEP RED , though I don’t think it’s always used as wisely as it should be; there’s a scene near the beginning which would have been a lot scarier had there been no music at all. There are a few moments here that reminded me of other witch movies; Suzy’s special diet as prescribed to her by a doctor brought back memories of the diet prescribed to Rosemary by her doctor in ROSEMARY’S BABY, and there are moments surrounding the death of the blind man that made me recall BURN, WITCH, BURN . What I like best about the movie is the way the use of color and light can sometimes make the horror very subtle indeed. Horror fans should also be able to recognize Udo Kier and Joan Bennett in the cast. The movie also featured Alida Valli, who was at one time dubbed “The Next Garbo”, and who passed away only a few months ago.