Terror in the Wax Museum (1973)

TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1973)
Article 2427 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2007
Posting Date: 4-4-2008
Directed by Georg Fenady
Featuring Ray Milland, Elsa Lanchester, Maurice Evans

The curator of a wax museum is murdered, and the primary suspect is… the wax figure of Jack the Ripper. Does the figure come to life? Or is there some other explanation…

It’s nice to see an old-fashioned horror-mystery full of familiar old-timers. The cast features Ray Milland, Elsa Lanchester, Maurice Evans, John Carradine, Louis Hayward, Patric Knowles, and Broderick Crawford, all of whom have noteworthy credits in the annals of fantastic cinema. It’s a pity the movie is bore; the horror is tepid and the mystery isn’t much better, and the only real pleasure is seeing the familiar faces. Director Georg Fenady would go on to direct ARNOLD, a better movie with a sense of humor and something of a cult following, and which would also feature a wealth of familiar faces, but then he would return exclusively to TV and TV-Movie work. Somehow, this is no surprise; this movie felt more like a TV-Movie than a theatrical release.

 

The Iron Claw (1941)

THE IRON CLAW (1941)
Article 2426 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-18-2007
Posting Date: 4-3-2008
Directed by James V. Horne
Featuring Charles Quigley, Joyce Bryant, Forrest Taylor

A treasure from an old Spanish galleon is the goal of various members of the Benson family as well as a gang of thieves. One of these people doubles as a caped and masked villain (with an iron claw for a hand) called The Iron Claw. Who is it? Two reporters and a comic-relief cop try to find out.

The opening scenes of this mystery serial are so confusing that it really started off on the wrong foot for me, and, in general, I don’t care much for mystery serials, as I don’t think the form really lends itself to mysteries very well. After a while, though, this one began to win me over, largely thanks to the fact that it takes a somewhat campy, over-the-top approach to its thrills, and I found this a relief from most of the other serials I’ve seen recently, most of which have been latter-day Republic serials (after they abandoned the warehouse-wrecking fights and settled for blandness). The Iron Claw himself represents the horror content here; he’s your typical masked villain with a gimmick. The heroine screams a lot, the reporter’s photographer buddy Flash gets beat up a lot, and I’ll never understand why the police department chooses to send out its comic relief cops to solve these cases. At least they keep the bail-out cliffhanger resolutions to a minimum.

 

To Trap a Spy (1964)

TO TRAP A SPY (1964)
Article 2425 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-16-2007
Posting Date: 4-2-2008
Directed by Don Medford
Featuring Robert Vaughn, Luciana Paluzzi, Pat Crowley

Napoleon Solo investigates the partial report of a now-deceased agent who indicated that an assassination would take place when several representatives from the newly-formed government of an African nation tour a plant.

This is one of the classiest of the movies derived from the TV series, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”. I also found it one of the most interesting, as it was expanded from the pilot episode of the series (“The Vulcan Affair”), and it gave me a chance to see how the series was originally conceived. It’s the most overtly Bondian of the series, with a lot of footage dealing with Solo’s flirtation with various beautiful women. It also answered a question I’ve long had about the series – why it was called “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” rather than “The Men from U.N.C.L.E.” Here, Napoleon Solo largely works alone; David McCallum’s appearances as Illya Kuryakin are minimal and confined to the opening half hour of the movie. The villain is a group called WASP (not THRUSH), and Leo G. Carroll’s Mr. Waverly does not exist; instead, a Mr. Allison (played by Will Kuluva) is the head of U.N.C.L.E. As usual with this type of genre, the fantastic content is marginal, confined to the slight science fiction elements having to do with the technology that is used by the spies and villains.

 

The Touch of Satan (1971)

THE TOUCH OF SATAN (1971)
Article 2424 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-15-2007
Posting Date: 4-1-2008
Directed by Don Henderson
Featuring Michael Berry, Emby Mellay, Lee Amber

A wandering young man encounters a beautiful woman in the country. He doesn’t know that she is a witch, and that the ancient woman who lives with her is a) her sister, and b) a homicidal maniac.

This movie has occasional interesting visual and story touches, and it could have made for a decent thriller. Unfortunately, the script is pretty weak with several awful lines of dialogue, and the turgid pace and poor acting turn the movie into a dreary, dismal experience. The cast is mostly made up of unknowns who would remain that way, but the director (here working under the nom de plume of Don Henderson) would go on to a certain degree of fame as the star and director of the “Billy Jack” movies.

**NOTE** The Tom Laughlin mention is in error; the movie was actually directed by someone named Don Henderson and not Laughlin at all.

 

The Swarm (1978)

THE SWARM (1978)
Article 2423 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-14-2007
Posting Date: 3-31-2008
Directed by Irwin Allen
Featuring Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark

Mutant African killer bees invade Texas! Michael Caine yells a lot! Ben Johnson and Fred MacMurray compete for the affection of Olivia de Havilland! Slim Pickens threatens the military’s ability to use the bathroom! Richard Widmark gets his butt kicked by a mess of bugs, and develops a fondness for sunflower seeds! Henry Fonda shows us he can sweat and grimace while hallucinating giant bees!

The king of the disaster movie manages to achieve disaster with this one; it was both a critical and financial failure. Actually, I think the special effects are decent, the score is good, and it makes nice use of color. But the script is a train wreck, full of overheated and unbelievable dialogue, and the many name actors that make up the cast struggle valiantly but unsuccessfully with it. My heart goes out to Ben Johnson, Olivia de Havilland and Fred MacMurray in particular, who are forced to deal with the clumsiest romantic triangle I’ve ever seen, and even the script seems to get its fill of it when it puts an end to it through the use of a particularly appropriate (especially given my description of the script above) plot device. The rest of the cast deals with the hilariously bad dialogue with varying success. Outside of the ones listed above, other cast members include Richard Chamberlain, Lee Grant, Jose Ferrer, Patty Duke, Bradford Dillman, and, as a special bonus, Cameron Mitchell, who has appeared in so many bad movies during his career that he should feel right at home with this one. Apparently, Irwin Allen refused to talk about this movie.

 

Sisters (1973)

SISTERS (1973)
Article 2422 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-13-2007
Posting Date: 3-30-2008
Directed by Brian De Palma
Featuring Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning

A woman reporter witnesses the murder of a black man in the apartment of a separated siamese twin. When the police don’t believe the story, she decides to conduct her own investigation and find the proof.

This is the first movie I’ve covered by director Brian De Palma, though I have seen other movies of his at one time or another. Quite frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about him as a director and writer; though he is often clever and occasionally brilliant, his obsession with Hitchcock is so obvious that it’s rather distracting; I find it a little hard to appreciate this movie on its own terms when I spend so much time dwelling on how he managed to combine elements of both PSYCHO and REAR WINDOW for it. As a result, many of his movies feel contrived to me. Still, I can appreciate the cleverness he uses in putting together a story that references both of these movies, and he’s clearly a master at using the split screen technique; I never get the sense he’s showing off when he does this, because he only uses it at times when it is really effective. And there’s one thing he borrows from Hitchcock here that I have no trouble enjoying completely; bringing in Bernard Herrmann to compose the music was a masterstroke. I also love the odd, bizarre and hilarious final scene of the movie.

 

Our Mother’s House (1967)

OUR MOTHER’S HOUSE (1967)
Article 2421 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-12-2007
Posting Date: 3-29-2008
Directed by Jack Clayton
Featuring Dirk Bogarde, Margaret Brooks, Pamela Franklin

When a religious invalid woman dies, her seven children, fearing that they will be sent to an orphanage, keep her death a secret and learn to fend for themselves. They have sessions (known as Mothertime) where they commune with their mother’s soul and make decisions. Then, one day, their world is turned upside down by the appearance of their estranged father…

Though it’s not really a horror film, it’s easy to see the similarity between this movie and the better-known THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE . It does have some fairly creepy moments, though; the Mothertime sessions are truly unsettling, as we see that there is some distinct unhealthiness in their obsession with their saintly mother, and the scene where the little girl is punished by having her long hair shorn is rather traumatic. Had the movie continued in this vein, it might well have turned into a full horror movie, but the arrival of the father shifts the movie in another direction, as it splits the solidarity of the group of children apart as they deal with the new presence. In the process, they learn more than they bargained for, especially in respect to their beloved mother. It’s a powerful and very sad movie. Director Jack Clayton had a very interesting career as a director and producer; he gave us both THE INNOCENTS and SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, and between these three movies, it shows he had a clear affinity for working with children.

 

Night of the Lepus (1972)

NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972)
Article 2420 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-11-2007
Posting Date: 2-28-2008
Directed by William F. Claxton
Featuring Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun

An experiment to control the population of rabbits goes awry when one of the test rabbits gets loose, and ends up producing a herd of giant rabbits intent on destruction and death.

Well, I’ll give the movie some credit; it does try. It has some decent miniature model work, the acting is quite good, and it tries to spice up the proceedings with copious amounts of gore. But it’s a lost cause; the moment you see the bobbing and bouncing bevy of bucktoothed behemoth bunnies, you’ll be more inclined to shriek with delight as you run to the pet store rather than scream with fear and run for the theater exit. Quite frankly, it should have been played for laughs, and, if my memory is correct, I recall hearing that the original novel on which it was based (Russell Braddon’s “The Year of the Angry Rabbit”) was comic; if this is true, then this is the second movie in a row I’ve seen which took a comic effort and tried to make a straight movie out of it. I vividly remember the ads for this movie that played on TV after I got home from school in the early seventies; it looked rather scary then, but it never once made explicit that the monsters were rabbits. Somebody came to their senses. The movie also features DeForest Kelley in a fashionable seventies haircut.

 

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982)
Article 2419 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-10-2007
Posting Date: 3-27-2008
Directed by Amy Holden Jones
Featuring Michelle Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villella

Teenage girls throw a slumber party. It’s crashed by a homicidal maniac with a power drill. Mayhem ensues.

This movie was written as a parody by feminist Rita Mae Brown, but she was only responsible for the first draft; it was filmed as a straight horror movie. Still, one can find hints of the intended humor, and even certain elements which may have been intended as feminist statements, but within this context, with all the usual nudity and gore inherent to the slasher genre, they’re ludicrous. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this one is how utterly it fails to generate any real suspense; the scare scenes are telegraphed and devoid of surprises, and there is a an overabundance of fake scare scenes. I have to admit that this movie made me appreciate the way that FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH at least manages to generate a few scares along the way. This one is utterly routine at best.

 

Night Fright (1968)

NIGHT FRIGHT (1968)
Article 2418 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-9-2007
Posting Date: 3-26-2008
Directed by James A. Sullivan
Featuring John Agar, Carol Gilley, Ralph Baker Jr.

A monster from a downed spacecraft is loose in Satan’s Canyon and the law investigates.

Whatever you do, don’t confuse this movie with FRIGHT NIGHT; that one is good. If you do, you’ll know you made a dreadful mistake, especially if you put down good money on it. This movie is so dull and inept that it almost makes me want to revise the old motion picture code from the Hays office. How about a motion picture code that monitors tedium rather than morality? For example, you would only be allowed so much time per movie to have characters wandering in the woods. Quite frankly, this movie would have blown out the maximum allotted time for such footage before it even hits the opening credits. It would also monitor scenes of teens dancing and people standing around waiting, both of which are represented here as well. Heck, if you took all of the dull scenes out of this movie, you just might have enough footage for a trailer. All in all, this movie reminded me of a Larry Buchanan movie, but that’s no surprise; director James A. Sullivan worked with Buchanan on several of his movies. The only problem is that Larry Buchanan would have made a better movie than this one, and you can’t say that very often. But then, what can you say about a movie in which John Agar (while wandering in the woods) is startled by some boars; think of the homonym for that last word, and you’ll know you’ve been warned.