Scream and Scream Again (1969)

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1969)
Article #1780 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-28-2006
Posting Date: 6-27-2006
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Featuring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing

A serial killer is on the loose. This is somehow connected to a man who finds his limbs being amputated in a hospital and a murderous official in a foreign country.

On a certain level, I admire this horror / science fiction thriller for what it’s trying to do. It’s really rather ambitious in structure, juggling several story threads before winding them all together in the end. I just don’t think it does it very well. For the most part, the movie comes across as a confusing mess. One of the problems is that it becomes difficult to figure out who the main characters are. The presence of three horror stars should have made this easier, but Vincent Price has only two brief cameos before the climax of the movie, Peter Cushing has one scene in the middle, and Christoper Lee’s entire performance consists of about three cameo appearances. The best scene of the movie is probably the pursuit of the serial killer by the police (and it features the most memorable moment, which involves a man handcuffed to the bumper of a car), but part of the reason this is so is that it’s the first time the movie ever dwells on one thread long enough for the movie to gather some momentum. Fortunately, this thread is also the one most worth following if you want to keep track of the story. Still, I find the movie generally a disappointment; the ending in particular feels is a bit of a letdown, despite the fact that it features the only scene in which two of the horror stars interact. Still, I think this is the best of the Gordon Hessler horror movies I’ve seen so far.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
Article #1779 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-27-2006
Posting Date: 6-26-2006
Directed by Roman Polanski
Featuring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon

A woman and her actor husband move into a new apartment in a building with a long, bizarre history. She meets some of her strange neighbors, and begins to suspect that they may be witches who have designs on her unborn child.

One of the shrewdest things William Castle ever did was that when he acquired the rights to Ira Levin’s novel, he decided to pass the directorial chores to Roman Polanski rather than try to direct himself; he must have had an inkling that this project required something special. It’s probably Polanski’s greatest foray into horror, and it manages to hold up very well on rewatching. The greatest strength of the movie is that the witches are such an interesting, strange bunch, with Ruth Gordon stealing the show as the busybody neighbor whose intrusiveness has much more sinister motives than mere irritating nosiness. All the performances are good, though, with strong showings from Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Sidney Blackmer and Ralph Bellamy. There are a lot of familiar faces and voices popping up along the way as well, with Victoria Vetri as a woman taken in by the Castavets, Elisha Cook Jr., Charles Grodin, Roy Barcroft and Tony Curtis as the voice of the blinded actor. Still, the best cameo comes from William Castle himself as the mysterious man near the phone booth; it’s hard not to laugh when he turns around and we see him and his cigar. The one thing I really noticed this time around was that, though Rosemary does know that the witches have designs her, she is wrong about what exactly they are up to.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964)
Article #1778 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-26-2006
Posting Date: 6-25-2006
Directed by Byron Haskin
Featuring Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, Adam West

The co-pilot of a spacecraft finds himself stranded alone on Mars with a minimum of food, water and air. He must find a way to survive.

Initially, the title of this movie didn’t promise much to me; it sounded vaguely juvenile, like PINOCCHIO IN OUTER SPACE. In truth, the title is quite apt; the movie is actually an attempt to tell a survival drama of the same sort as the original Daniel Defoe novel; in fact, Defoe is actually given story credit. It is on the level of a survival drama that I enjoy this movie most; I like the movie’s leisurely pace as he addresses each issue of survival (heat, shelter, food, air, water, companionship) and somehow manages to solve each problem (sometimes by sheer luck). The movie pays a lot of attention to detail, and this makes the story quite intriguing for the most part. The movie is too long, though, and when the story shifts to Draper and Friday’s trek to the polar regions, my interest level starts to drop. I like a lot of the nice touches, like the sand mechanism Draper builds to wake him up periodically so he can breathe some oxygen, and the fact that, in an attempt to locate water, he resorts to watching a near-useless instructional training video. The spaceships that bring Friday to Mars were built from revised plans from THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, and Vic Lundin played the very first Klingon ever seen on the “Star Trek” series.

The Reptile (1965)

THE REPTILE (1965)
Article #1777 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-25-2006
Posting Date: 6-24-2006
Directed by John Gilling
Featuring Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Ray Barrett

After the death of his brother, an army man and his new bride move into the home formerly inhabited by his sibling, only to discover a that a series of strange deaths are occurring in the vicinity.

Long before I ever got a chance to actually see this movie, I remember running across stills of the snake woman from it and thinking how hokey the makeup looked. Therefore, when I finally got a chance to see the movie, I didn’t expect a very convincing monster. I found myself very surprised at how good the makeup looked in the actual movie, and I’ve always felt a rather warm feeling about the movie since.

As a result, I still like this movie. The atmosphere is quite strong, and it does generate a fair amount of suspense; in fact, it even had one of those rare moments that made me jump when I watched it. The plot isn’t the strongest; I’m never quite sure why the snake woman attacks people at the time she does, nor am I sure what the Malaysian is trying to accomplish at this point in the proceedings, and having the snake woman speak in English towards the end was a miscalculation. Nonetheless, I like many of the touches of the movie, and it was nice to see Michael Ripper in a more extensive role than he was usually given. I wouldn’t say it was one of the best Hammer horrors, but, for some reason, it remains one of my favorites.

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! (1972)

THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! (1972)
Article #1776 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-24-2006
Posting Date: 6-23-2006
Directed by Andy Milligan
Featuring Hope Stansbury, Jackie Skarvellis, Noel Collins

A man marries into a family of werewolves.

Is Andy Milligan the worst director of all time? I guess that depends on your point of view. This is the second movie of his I’ve seen, and some of the observations I made still stand; as a writer, he can’t really structure his stories well, but he actually wrote some fairly good dialogue on occasion, and some of the acting is far better than I would have anticipated; in particular, I like Douglas Phair’s performance as the strange patriarch of the family. He also avoids one of the biggest problems of bad directors; he makes sure his actors pay attention to the pace and pick up their cues. On this level alone, he is far better than Jerry Warren. However, the bad sound and his inability to vary the pace of the dialogue results in a greater level of annoyance as the movie proceeds, and his attempts at humor are abysmal. The action sequences are so hideously photographed that they are almost impossible to follow. And, in this film, I do take a strong issue with his treatment of animals, especially the scene where a rat is tormented with a knife before being killed onscreen. There’s really no excuse for this type of unpleasantness. Still, I can’t bring myself to call him the worst director of all time, and I still find this movie easier to endure than, say, THE HEADLESS EYES.

Ten Little Indians (1965)

TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965)
Article #1775 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-23-2006
Posting Date: 6-22-2006
Directed by George Pollock
Featuring Hugh O’Brian, Shirley Eaton, Fabian

Several people are invited to a party at a mansion by a mysterious man named U. N. Owen. They discover that they have all been found guilty of murder, and are going to be executed one by one.

I’ve read the play version of this movie. I’ve also seen the Rene Clair version AND THEN THERE WERE NONE several times. I mention this to underline the fact that I have a good familiarity with the story, and (especially) the ending. The trouble is – if you know how a mystery ends, it takes some of the fun out of watching it. And this is a rather famous mystery at that.

Now, if you’re doing remake of a well-known mystery, there are several approaches you can take. You can do a faithful version of it in the hope of appealing to those who aren’t familiar with it, but this makes it less fun to those who are. You can change the ending to add a surprise element for those who do know the story, but the problem I have with this is that it potentially underlines the arbitrariness of the resolution; in a good mystery, the identification of the killer should make you realize just how logical it was that this (and only this) particular person was the guilty party. A third approach is to make a totally different story, but if you want to do that, why do a remake? Quite frankly, none of these are really satisfactory.

This movie opts for the first approach. Sure, some of the characters have different backgrounds (the prince of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE gives way to the rock star here, for example), some of the names have been changed, and the ways that many of the characters meet their demise is different; nevertheless, the movie stays pretty close to the original story. As a result, the movie was a little predictable to me, and the mediocre direction does little to recommend it. However, the cast is quite good for the most part, and it can be a little fun to play the game of choosing who you ended up preferring in certain roles between different versions (Mischa Auer or Fabian? Barry Fitzgerald or Wilfred Hyde White? Stanley Holloway or Roland Young?). I’ll still prefer the elegance of the Clair version myself, but those who don’t really have an affinity for Clair or prefer movies in which both Shirley Eaton and Daliah Lavi appear in their underwear may opt for this one. To each his own.

Psychomania (1971)

PSYCHOMANIA (1971)
Article #1774 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-22-2006
Posting Date: 6-21-2006
Directed by Don Sharp
Featuring Nicky Henson, Beryl Reid, George Sanders

A young member of a motorcycle gang discovers the secret of eternal life and invincibility, and kills himself with the intent of rising from the dead. He does so, and convinces his fellow motorcyclists to do likeways. They then go on a rampage.

The opening credits of this movie roll while we see slow motion images of the motorcyclists riding through a grassy area populated with large stones. This sequence is incredibly eerie. The rest of the movie doesn’t live up to it, but that doesn’t make the movie a waste of time. The sheer strangeness of the story makes it somewhat watchable, as do the presence of Beryl Reid and George Sanders (in one of his last movie roles before he committed suicide). For a movie that features a motorcycle gang going on a violent homicidal rampage, it’s surprisingly subdued and bloodless. In fact, much of it is played as comedy, especially the sequences where the motorcycle gang members commit suicide. Somehow, it all has to do with deals with the devil, frogs, and a strange mirror locked in a room in a mansion. There are some clever scenes; in particular, I like the scene where the police set a trap for the cyclists, in which the set-up and final results are told by a roving camera that pans across the room in such a way that you get to see none of the middle action. It doesn’t quite all hold up, but it made for interesting viewing. Doctor Who fans should keep their eyes peeled for John (Sergeant Benton) Levene as a constable.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

PLANET OF THE APES (1968)
Article #1773 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2006
Posting Date: 6-20-2006
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Featuring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter

When several astronauts crash-land on a planet, they find themselves in a world where apes are the dominant species.

Though I like the whole “Planet of the Apes” movie cycle, when it comes right down to it, this is the only one that really matters. It is, at heart, a satire on the faith vs. science controversy that surrounds evolution, but it drives its points home by reversing the species and putting an intelligent man in the position of the lower animal on the scale, and, as a result, also becomes about the inhuman treatment of animals. The acting is fine from all concerned, the Jerry Goldsmith score (which occasionally even mimics the sound of simians) is excellent, and the ape makeup is outstanding; they would cheapen the process in the later films of the series, and it showed. Still, there are a few problems. I’ve never quite reconciled the fact that the apes are experimenting with brain surgery and have high-powered guns while living in what seems to be a relatively primitive environment (horse, stone buildings) that would seem to contradict their ability to manufacture such items (the test footage with Edward G. Robinson indicates that the original conceptions were somewhat different), and the sense of humor is forced, in particular the “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” gag feels contrived (though it was nice to finally see the whole thing in widescreen). Still, the movie has earned its classic status and still holds up very well today. And, even if you already know the ending (and who doesn’t?), it’s still a great one.

Pharaoh’s Curse (1957)

PHARAOH’S CURSE (1957)
Article #1772 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-20-2006
Posting Date: 6-19-2006
Directed by Lee Sholem
Featuring Mark Dana, Diane Brewster, Ziva Rodann

An archaelogical expedition attempts to find the tomb of a pharaoh, but the members begin dying at the hands of a blood-sucking mummy.

I saw this on my local Creature Feature when I was a kid, and for years, all I could remember besides the title was the scene where the mummy’s arm is pulled off. Several years ago I watched it again. Afterwards, all I could remember was (once again) the scene where the mummy’s arm was pulled off. I have a funny feeling that in a few weeks, all I’ll remember from this third viewing will have something to with a mummy’s arm.

You know, in some ways, I admire this movie; it does try to do a few new things with the mummy concept. The makeup is also fairly good, and a couple of the attack scenes are well done. However, the direction is plodding, the story lacks any forward momentum, the plot is muddled, and the ending is severely anti-clmactic. As a result, I can’t really recommend this one, unless you really have a hankering to see a scene in which a mummy’s arm is pulled off.

***NOTE*** I have received clarification from several sources that the mummy in this movie isn’t really a mummy, but a modern man who has become a mummy-like creature. Feel free to substitute the phrase “mummy-like creature who really isn’t a mummy” where ever appropriate in the above write-up.

Face of Fire (1959)

FACE OF FIRE (1959)
Article #1771 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2006
Posting Date: 6-18-2006
Directed by Albert Band
Featuring Cameron Mitchell, James Whitmore, Bettye Ackerman

When a handyman attempts to save a child from a burning building, he ends up horribly disfigured and mentally handicapped. As a result of his injuries, he and anyone who harbors him become pariahs in the town in which he lives.

If it weren’t for its poor ending, I BURY THE LIVING would rank with my favorite horror movies from its era. Much of what I do like about the movie is Albert Band’s taught direction, and I’m really glad to catch another one of his movies. This one is not a horror movie, but its subject matter and central themes (deformity and fear) are cut from the same materials as many horror films; in fact, it was based on a story by Stephen Crane called “The Monster”. No, this is at heart a drama, and a painful and devastating one at that. It takes a long, hard look at how people would react to a man suffering such extreme deformities, and often their reactions are just as ugly as his visage. It is quite harrowing to see their reactions, especially when they think he is dead and begin hypocritically praising him for his bravery. What makes it most painful is its air of truth; it is quite easy to see people acting this way when you know that they (and we) are capable of it when we let fear take control of us. James Whitmore and Cameron Mitchell are both excellent as the deformed handyman and the doctor (whose son it was that was rescued from the fire) who cares for him, even when he himself becomes a pariah and has to watch his son cope with the situation. I found myself very grateful for the ending of the movie, since it generates a spark of hope from what has begun to look like a hopeless situation. This is a powerful film, and I highly recommend it.