Sette note in nero (1977)

SETTE NOTE IN NERO (1977)
aka Seven Notes in Black, The Psychic
Article 2383 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-4-2007
Posting Date: 2-20-2008
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Featuring Jennifer O’Neill, Gabriele Ferzetti, Marc Porel

A woman with psychic powers has a vision of a murder that took place in a room in a house owned by her husband. She breaks open a section of the wall where she believes the body was hidden, and discovers a skeleton. When the police arrest her husband for the crime, she uses the memory of her vision to help find evidence to clear his name and get him released. However, she begins to notice strange inconsistencies in the details about the murder and her vision…

Lucio Fulci is one of the more familiar names in Italian horror cinema, and I usually find him mentioned in conjunction with Mario Bava and Dario Argento. I’m quite unfamiliar with his oeuvre at this point, but this is supposed to be one of his better movies, and if it is, then I don’t quite put him up to the level of the other two. Still, this one is quite good; the story is interesting, and there are some very strong moments here, especially when our heroine is having her psychic visions near the beginning of the movie. I also like the way that she uses her visions to find harder evidence to get her husband freed, as she knows that merely having a vision doesn’t constitute proof. The midsection of the movie get a bit slow, and Fulci overuses certain techniques (we get too many close-ups of Jennifer O’Neill’s eyes), but the story and its details are strong enough to help you through these problems. It should prove interesting to see more of his movies.

 

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Allegro Non Troppo (1977)

ALLEGRO NON TROPPO (1977)
Article 2382 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-3-2007
Posting Date: 2-19-2008
Directed by Bruno Bozzetto
Featuring Marialuisa Giovannini, Nestor Garay, Maurizio Micheli

And now, presenting, a totally original idea – classical music pieces set to animation. And those guys from Hollywood are lying when they say some guy named Prisney already did this.

FANTASIA was supposed to be the first of a series of similar movies from Disney, but its commercial failure kept it from happening. A sequel only appeared six decades later, after the movie became a critical and cult favorite and achieved classic status. To fill in the gap, we have this tasty little treat, a parody/tribute to the Disney film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It opens with a presenter trying to convince us that this is a totally original idea, only to be interrupted by an angry call from Hollywood when he uses the word “fantasia”. The orchestra consists of little old ladies, the conductor is a cigar-smoking bully, and the animator was convinced into cooperating by being chained to a wall in his cell. We then see six renditions of classical pieces interspersed with live action sequences, the best of which includes a Laurel-and-Hardy inspired tit for tat sequence between the conductor and the animator. Despite the overt comic tone of the movie, not all the animated sequences are comic – “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” is a melancholy tale of an aging satyr, “Bolero” is an ambitious segment which shows the evolution of life on a distant planet that grows from what was left over in an abandoned pop battle, and “Valse Triste” is a wonderful piece about a cat in an abandoned and decrepit building dreaming of the people who used to inhabit it. The other three pieces are more comic – “Slavian Dance” is about a man seeking revenge on his neighbors because they imitate his every act, “The Firebird” shows the travails of a bee trying to sit down to a meal but having to contend with amorous picnickers, and “Concert in C-Major” shows what happens when the serpent from the garden of Eden decides to eat the apple himself. I’m assuming that if the serpent hadn’t scared off the old ladies, we would have gotten a seventh piece, but fortunately, an animated hunchback is on hand to pick out a finale for us. The movie is consistently amusing, and only runs about seventy five minutes in the US version (the original ran ten minutes longer). Recommended.

 

Dance of Death (1968)

DANCE OF DEATH (1968)
aka House of Evil
Article 2381 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-2-2007
Posting Date: 2-18-2008
Directed by Jack Hill and Juan Ibanez
Featuring Boris Karloff, Julissa, Andres Garcia

Relatives visit the mansion of a wealthy man who is near death. However, the wealthy man is convinced that one of his relatives has inherited an illness from a dead family member who went crazy and killed people by digging out their eyes. Sure enough, people start dying…

I first saw the four Karloff Mexican movies some time ago when I got a complete set of them, and I mentally disposed of this one as simply the dullest of the lot. Watching it a second time, I’m now willing to give it credit for being the most accessible of the lot; it’s certainly less weirdly incoherent than the others. Not that it’s good; like the others, it’s quite bad. It is, however, easier to follow. This is probably because it works in very familiar territory; it’s a rehash of the “old dark house” movies where relatives gather for the reading of the will and are then picked off one by one. You won’t be watching this one too long before you realize this fact, but once you do, you will realize with horror that Boris Karloff (the only reason to watch this one) is playing the part of the man whose will is to be read, which means he’s going to die early in the proceedings. And, sure enough, he does. Naturally, this leaves you in a quandary; either the movie has just killed the goose that laid the golden eggs, or it’s setting up a twist that is so patently obvious that there will be no surprise when it happens. In a sense, it hardly matters; when he dies, you know it’s going to be a long stretch of time before you see Karloff again in the movie, if at all. In fact, there is precious little in the way of surprises at all in this movie.

I’ve got one more of Karloff’s Mexican movies to cover, and I then I can finally be done with them.

 

The Horror of Party Beach (1964)

THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (1964)
Article 2380 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-1-2007
Posting Date: 2-17-2008
Directed by Del Tenney
Featuring John Scott, Alice Lyon, Allan Laurel

Underwater radioactive waste reactivates human skeletons, turning them into bloodthirsty sea beasts who come on land and murder people. Scientist try to figure out how to destroy them. The Del-Aires swing out six big beat songs. Eulabelle swears it’s the voodoo.

With its poor cliche-ridden script, dumb characters and uneven acting, it’s tempting to dismiss the movie completely. But let’s give credit where credit is due. For a group that is largely known for their appearance in a movie, the Del-Aires aren’t bad at all as far as these things go. Some of the attack scenes also have a certain savage effectiveness. Granted, one of the reasons these scenes are effective is that they’re so dark that you can’t really see what’s going on clearly, and that means you can’t see the monsters very well, and, with their googly eyes, hot dog-filled mouths, and bad posture (they walk like they’ve all just undergone a painful wedgie), the less clearly you can see them, the better. The movie is at its worst when it’s trying to be funny; much of the early humor seems to be lifted from a bad joke book, and Eulabelle is an unfunny throwback to the black comic stereotypes from two decades previous. The humor is further enhanced by dumb blondes and drunks. The movie has its advocates, but I’m afraid that I think this is Del Tenney’s weakest movie.

 

The Barefoot Executive (1971)

THE BAREFOOT EXECUTIVE (1971)
Article 2379 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-30-2007
Posting Date: 2-16-2008
Directed by Robert Butler
Featuring Kurt Russell, Joe Flynn, Harry Morgan

An ambitious mailboy at a TV network discovers that his girlfriend’s chimp can pick the best-rated TV shows. He decides to use the chimp’s ability to help his own ambitions to move up the executive ladder.

Apparently the fantastic content of this show is that a chimp is better able to pick hit TV shows than Joe Flynn and Harry Morgan. Though I don’t mean this as a slap against either Flynn of Morgan, I see nothing fantastic about this concept; with the recent spate of popular reality TV shows, I find it quite plausible that a chimp may be in charge. At any rate, I don’t think there’s enough fantastic content to qualify this one as genre. Nevertheless, I found this one of Disney’s more enjoyable shopping-cart movies; like many of their better comedies, it has a satirical edge and (for the most part) eschews over-the-top slapstick. As usual, there’s the great cast of familiar faces; on top of those listed above, we also have Wally Cox (who steals the movie as Flynn’s nervous chauffeur), Hayden Rorke, John Ritter (in his first theatrical movie role) and one-time serial actor Tristram Coffin (as a sponsor). One of my favorite things in this movie is to listen to the names of the various programs and then try to figure which real-life programs are being referenced; you’ll find references to “Star Trek”, “Laugh-In”, “I Love Lucy”, “I Spy”, and others. And, remember, “Abe Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog” is not the same as “Abe Lincoln’s Dog’s Doctor”.

Hey, here’s an idea for a reality show – “Can your Pet Be a Big TV Executive?”. People bring in their pets and they compete to see who will be the next head of a network. Let me run that one past the chimp and see if it will fly…

 

The Brain Machine (1977)

THE BRAIN MACHINE (1977)
aka Grey Matter
Article 2378 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-29-2007
Posting Date: 2-15-2008
Directed by Joy N. Houck Jr.
Featuring James Best, Barbara Burgess, Gil Peterson

Four volunteers are involved in a scientific experiment designed to explore the problems of overpopulation and pollution. However, unbeknownst to all, the experiment is being used as a front by secret government agency experimenting with mind-reading.

I figure that we’re all entitled to like certain movies that the rest of the world has no use for. And with a 3.3 rating on IMDB, it’s apparent that this movie doesn’t have much love coming its way. Nevertheless, I found myself entranced by this one. In some ways, it comes down to how you respond to the confused story; where I’m sure other people find annoying muddle, I found alluring mystery. I found myself caught up in the characters who volunteered for the experiment, especially James Best’s troubled reverend. I also found some of the philosophical questions about truth and mortality to be rather interesting. Still, I do agree that in the final analysis, the movie doesn’t make much sense, and I also found it rather hard to keep track of the characters not directly involved in the lab experiment. Nevertheless, I found it fascinating enough that I’d be willing to give it another viewing to try to sort things out, though I do understand why others wouldn’t bother with it. The cast also features Gerald McRaney as one of the other experimental subjects.

 

The Great Rupert (1950)

THE GREAT RUPERT (1950)
Article 2377 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-28-2007
Posting Date: 2-14-2008
Directed by Irving Pichel
Featuring Jimmy Durante, Terry Moore, Tom Drake

A family of down-and-out vaudevillians move into an apartment, not knowing how they will pay the rent. Then, every Thursday, fifteen hundred dollars floats down to them out of heaven. They think it is a miracle; in truth, it is a squirrel cleaning money out of his sleeping place left there by a greedy landlord.

When I think of Irving Pichel and George Pal, I think of DESTINATION MOON . However, they worked together one other time, and that’s here, in this rather harmless piece of fluff in which a talented squirrel helps a family with their personal problems. The fantastic content consists of the bogus miracle and the super-talented squirrel; the latter is animated in much the same way as George Pal’s “Puppetoons” were. The movie is all right, I suppose, for those who like gentle, feel-good comedies, but, for my purposes, there’s not near enough of the stop-motion-animated puppet squirrel to make this one really fun; once the squirrel hides himself in the house, he does little more than throw one-hundred-dollar bills through a hole. Outside of the squirrel, the most interesting character is a combination bear-skin rug and radio. Oh, and Jimmy Durante isn’t bad either, but I don’t think anyone would like to claim they were upstaged by a squirrel and a rug.