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)

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)

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)

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.

Sugar Hill (1974)

SUGAR HILL (1974)
Article 1786 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-3-2006
Posting Date: 7-3-2006
Directed by Paul Maslansky
Featuring Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Colley

A black woman takes revenge on a mob boss (who killed her boyfriend) by hooking up with a voodoo priestess to conjure up Baron Samedi and his zombie minions and sending them out to kill.

Now this one is just plain goofy. This cross between blaxploitation and horror is about as funky as you can get (for a PG-rated movie anyway) and the zombie victims die most horrible deaths (for a PG-rated movie that is). It’s also incredibly dumb, utterly predictable, and the movie largely unfolds as a series of cliches that follow up each other with the speed of falling dominoes. As a horror movie, it’s a washout, but as an unintentional comedy, it’s pretty entertaining. Most of the acting is pretty bad, but Don Pedro Colley seems to be having a lot of fun with the role of Baron Samedi, and fans of the Count Yorga movies will be glad to see Robert Quarry on hand as the mob boss whose men start dying in horrible ways. I don’t know how Baron Samedi was able to find so many zombies that all died from freak pinball machine accidents (which is the best explanation I can give as to why their eyes are like they are). The funniest line comes from the mob henchman who, upon being lifted up by the zombie minions to be tossed into a pigpen of starving carnivorous hogs, turns to Sugar Hill and asks “You’re not going to do anything funny, are you?”

Space Monster (1965)

SPACE MONSTER (1965)
(a.k.a. SPACE PROBE TAURUS)
Article #1785 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-2-2006
Posting Date: 7-2-2006
Directed by Leonard Katzman
Featuring Francine York, James B. Brown, Baynes Barron

Astronauts go to space, meet alien with flicking tongue, are attacked by seafood.

The poster for this movie (which appears on the cover of my VHS casing) features the text, “Horror so incredible, it stretches the mind of man past the breaking point!” I’m telling you, it wasn’t horror that was stretching my mind on this one; I think boredom is closer to the mark here. This movie was the last gasp of fifties-style science fiction, and gasp is the key word here; this movie is about as inept as they come. In fact, this movie is so inept, it even fails in the task of basic exposition; it’s not until an hour into the movie that they even mention that the purpose of the space mission is to visit Taurus and find land suitable for human colonization. It would have taken one line of dialogue to establish this near the beginning of the movie. Its omission leaves a gaping hole in the movie; you watch each scene in the hope of picking up the thread of a storyline without any clue that all you’ll undergo is a series of loosely connected events. Granted, the movie still wouldn’t have been much good even with the correct exposition; I stopped taking it seriously when we first meet the crew, and the captain begins complaining about how he doesn’t like the fact that there is a woman aboard the spaceship, a concept so hackneyed that it only underscores how dated this movie was in 1965. This, combined with uninspired acting, a plodding pace, and subpar special effects, makes for a way-below-average space adventure. And this was the movie where I finally realized that one sure way to try to build suspense and fail is to have someone trying to reach earth on the radio and failing about a hundred times in succession. Years from now, you’ll only remember one thing about this movie, and that is a tongue darting in and out of an alien’s mouth.

Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE (1972)
Article #1784 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-1-2006
Posting Date: 7-1-2006
Directed by George Roy Hill
Featuring Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, Eugene Roche

Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time, finds himself flitting back and forth through his life, including his time as a prisoner-of-war in Dresden and his abduction by aliens from Tralfamadore.

I was once a voracious reader of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read one of them. For some reason, I never warmed up to this novel (I preferred Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions), but from what I remember, the movie seems reasonably true to it, and I liked the movie enough that I plan to revisit the novel in the near future. It’s supposed to be his greatest work, but I suspect that I was really not mature enough at the time of my reading of it to appreciate the many dark ironies that make up the story here. And it is, after all, dark ironies that drive this story, from the circumstances that surround the death of his wife to the fact that the greatest threat to his life during the war is not the Germans but a fellow American. Adapting this work must have been a daunting task, but George Roy Hill manages it by largely shunting back and forth between two storylines; the incidents surrounding the fire-bombing of Dresden and the story of his life after his return home. Humorous at times, darkly tragic at others, you become attached to the many characters you meet, especially to his wartime friend played by Eugene Roche. Other Vonnegut characters pop up in the story; Eliot Rosewater was from Vonnegut’s “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” and Howard Campbell was from “Mother Night”. There are several familiar names in the cast, including Ron Leibman, Valerie Perrine (almost her motion picture debut), Holly Near (who is primarily known as a folksinger), Perry King, and the ever-popular John Dehner.

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974)

SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1974)
Article #1783 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-31-2006
Posting Date: 6-30-2006
Directed by Theodore Gershuny
Featuring Patrick O’Neal, James Patterson, Mary Woronov

The owner of a large deserted house returns home after a long absence. He catches fire in his house and burns to death, and is buried. The house is inherited by his son, who has never seen it. Twenty years later, the house is put up for sale. On discovering this, a violent inmate in a nearby insane asylum breaks loose, and before long, people are dying…

What is it about the song “Silent Night” that seems to inspire the titles for Christmas-themed horror movies? I fully anticipated that I was about to watch another of those killer-Santa-Claus movies, and I wasn’t expecting much. Such is not the case, though – there are no killer Santas to be found here. Instead, I found myself sucked in by this one. It’s not a great movie, but it is surprisingly suspenseful at times, largely due to the fact that a certain amount of creative style went into it, and the central mystery/backstory is truly intriguing. I guessed at least one aspect of the mystery before it was all over; the committee of townspeople that greets the lawyer (a group which includes John Carradine as the editor of the newspaper, who, oddly enough, can only speak in a croak and does most of his communicating by ringing bells) in charge of selling the house all have something in common that makes them specific targets for the lunatic. The acting is quite uneven, and it looks like the movie was heavily edited at one point; there are a number of abrupt jump cuts that seem unnatural. At other times, the editing is fascinating, and the use of Christmas music on occasion is unexpectedly haunting. This one was better than I expected it would be.

She (1965)

SHE (1965)
Article #1782 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-30-2006
Posting Date: 6-29-2006
Directed by Robert Day
Featuring Ursula Andress, Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins

When an adventurer receives a map to a lost city from a beautiful but mysterious woman, he and two friends make the journey to Kuma, the land of Ayesha, She who must be obeyed.

If I had just seen the beginning and end of this movie, I would have considered it a fine adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s adventure story; those parts of the movie are energetic and fun. Unfortunately, when watching the movie as a whole, you have to contend with the middle of the movie, and there is the problem. Once the journey begins, the movie is singularly dull; the journey itself is uneventful and full of cliches (do we really need to see all three adventurers throw away their empty canteens?), and things don’t really improve much when they reach Kuma, as the movie becomes mired in endless and ponderous chatter. Even Peter Cushing, as adept he is at bringing his dialogue to life, can’t quite overcome the triteness of some of his ruminations, and Ursula Andress comes across as  unexpressive throughout the movie. At a hundred and six minutes, the movie could really have used some major trimming. I do like some of the changes made to the story in this version, though; in particular, the movie manages to get Ayesha into the story without resorting to the extended flashbacks of most other versions. However, the subplot about the high priest seems to exist only to give Christopher Lee a more prominent role in the proceedings. Nonetheless, this must have been an ambitious undertaking for Hammer studios.

The Shaggy Dog (1959)

THE SHAGGY DOG (1959)
Article #1781 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-29-2006
Posting Date: 6-28-2006
Directed by Charles Barton
Featuring Fred MacMurray, Jean Hagen, Tommy Kirk

A teenager puts on a ring that places a curse upon him so that he will sporadically turn into a dog. His father is a mailman who hates dogs. Hilarity ensues.

Witness, if you will, the birth of the shopping cart movie. It’s relatively subdued for the form; it even takes itself a little more seriously on occasion than they normally do. It’s a little sluggishly paced and runs on a bit too long, but it has an amusing cast that features Fred MacMurray, Jean Hagen, Tommy Kirk, Annette Funicello, Cecil Kellaway, Paul Frees, Strother Martin, Jack Albertson, Jim Bannon and Gregg Palmer. It’s pretty predictable, and most of the humor revolves around people reacting to a dog talking, driving, getting out of locked rooms, etc. Later shopping cart movies would perfect the formula but would get quite a bit sillier in the process. Good trivia question to ask about this one: In which movie does Fred MacMurray chase his son with a shotgun?