Child’s Play (1954)

Article 2496 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-3-2008
Posting Date: 6-12-2008
Directed by Margaret Thomson
Featuring Christopher Beeny, Ernest Scott, Patrick Wells
Country: UK

A group of English children manage to split the atom with the help of a child’s atomic research kit and a rock from Krakatoa. They use the knowledge to create a new type of popcorn called Bangcorn.

I suspect that this movie was an attempt to start a series of movies about a group of precocious children called “The Holy Terrors”. If so, it apparently was not a success in this regard; this is the only movie they made together. Initially, I thought that this movie was going to be insufferable, but the fast-moving comedy, the innumerable funny lines, and the satiric undercurrent all won me over. There’s a few interesting names in the credits; story writer Don Sharp would go on to direct several Hammer films, and Mona Washbourne had a long distinguished acting career; she appeared in other genre films, including ALIAS JOHN PRESTON, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA and the 1964 version of NIGHT MUST FALL. The science fiction content is of course the miniature atomic reactor/bangcorn machine built by the kids; however, even within the context of the story itself, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt as it is told to us by the child with the reputation for lying and exaggerating.



The Dead Don’t Die (1975)

Article 2495 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-2-2008
Posting Date: 6-11-2008
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Featuring George Hamilton, Ray Milland, Linda Cristal
Country: USA

A man is framed for the murder of his wife. On the eve of his execution, he begs his brother to find out the truth. The brother investigates on his own, but his investigation takes a strange turn when he sees his freshly-executed brother alive.

Though this mid-seventies TV-Movie isn’t exactly a bundle of energy, I found myself quite entertained by it. First of all, I like the fact that they couched the story as a mystery; as a result, I found my attention caught up in finding out the details of the situation, and I was quite happy when the story (which starts as a straightforward mystery) finally takes its turn into the fantastic. I also like various little touches, such as the attention to detail during the execution sequence, and the fact that a dance marathon (where tired dancers drag each other across the floor like zombies) adds to the atmosphere. A cast of familiar faces also helps; we have George Hamilton, Ray Milland, Ralph Meeker, Joan Blondell, Reggie Nalder and, in smaller roles, Milton Parsons (as an undertaker, and you think I would have been able to spot him instead of finding out by reading the credits), Yvette Vickers, and one-time Bowery Boy William Benedict (IMDB doesn’t say who he’s playing, but I wonder if he’s the night watchman in the warehouse). Horror fans will also recognize the names of the director (Curtis Harrington) and the writer (Robert Bloch). One smart move: the name of our protagonist is Donald Drake; given that this is not a comedy, it’s wise they never mention his full name.


Samson and the Sea Beast (1963)

aka Sansone contro i pirati
Article 2494 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-1-2008
Posting Date: 6-10-2008
Directed by Tanio Boccia
Featuring Kirk Morris, Margaret Lee, Daniele Vargas
Country: Italy

Samson does battle with a pirate who has been kidnapping women and selling them on the slave market.

Sword-and-Sandal stalwart Samson doing battle with a Sea Beast? Sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure who the Sea Beast is. It could be Murad, the seventeenth-century pirate mentioned in the plot summary above (thereby rendering the term “sea beast” into metaphorical terms and stripping the movie of its most promising fantastic content other than Samson’s considerable strength). Or it could be that crocodile that Samson does battle with in the last reel. Yes, on the surface, that sounds like an improvement, but just wait till you get a look at this crocodile; I’ve never seen a more blatant example of a truly lifeless inanimate object passing itself off as a real-life beastie in my life – even the stuffed tiger in FORBIDDEN JUNGLE would be embarrassed to go up against this one.

So let’s now move on to the obvious question that you know I’m going to ask (we’ve been here before, you know) – Just what is Biblical hero Samson doing battling seventeenth century pirates? He can’t use the excuse that he’s that time-traveler Maciste in disguise; the Italian title clearly says “Sansone”. I’m guessing that Maciste makes a few bucks on the side renting his time machine to other muscle-bound heroes. I’m also guessing he was smart enough to avoid this one; this spiritless Sword-and-Sandal swashbuckler is one of the duller ones out there, and it manages somehow to regurgitate the usual cliches of the genre. The only differences are that there is more swordfighting and we get fireworks instead of liturgical dance. Even by Sword-and-Sandal standards, this one is weak.


Cannibal Girls (1973)

Article 2493 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-31-2008
Posting Date: 6-9-2008
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Featuring Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Ronald Ulrich
Country: Canada

A young couple visit a small town and go to a restaurant, unaware that it is a haven for female cannibals.

The most interesting thing about this movie is in the above credits. Director Ivan Reitman would go on to success as a director of comedies with MEATBALLS, STRIPES and GHOST BUSTERS, and fans of SCTV will certainly recognize Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin as the young couple. Martin and Levy were hired for their improvisational abilities, and much of their dialogue was improvised. This gives the movie a slightly offbeat feel to it, and the humor is more wry than laugh-out-loud funny. Unfortunately, the movie overall is fairly weak; the story is pretty obvious, and there are unnecessary subplots that really don’t go anywhere interesting. Another problem is that the movie gives too much away too soon; for example, it lets on that the whole town is in on the racket early on, when it would be better for it to have been saved a surprise for the final reels. There was also a gimmick similar to those of CHAMBER OF HORRORS and TERROR IS A MAN, in which a bell is supposed to go off so you can close your eyes during the gory parts; unfortunately, my print omits that detail. All in all, it’s a disappointment.


The Burning Court (1962)

aka La Chambre ardente
Article 2492 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-30-2008
Posting Date: 6-8-2008
Directed by Julien Duvivier
Featuring Nadja Tiller, Jean-Claude Brialy, Perrette Pradier
Country: France/Italy/West Germany

An eccentric but rich old man dies, and when one of the brothers gets the bulk of the inheritance, the other brother vows to prove that the old man was murdered. The mystery deepens when the body disappears from the coffin.

This is another rather curious movie that I’d heard about but hadn’t seen until now. In some ways, it’s in pretty familiar territory; it’s basically one of your “old dark house” movies with dead patriarchs and frustrated heirs. Throw in an ancient family curse, and the territory just seems all that more familiar. The identity of the murderers is no real mystery; it’s certain specific details of how the murder was committed that drives the story, as well as questions about the disappearance of the corpse. There are some strange scenes; in particular, the old man’s “wake”, in which couples waltz around his coffin, is likely to stay in your memory. The solution to certain parts of the mystery are intriguing, especially when you discover how a certain person managed to walk through a wall (and, for once, it’s not a secret passage). On the down side, the movie is too confusing at times, the subplot about the descendant of the woman who laid a curse on the family goes nowhere, and the ending left me feeling rather unsatisfied. I’ve heard tell that the novel this is based on is very interesting indeed, and that it may well be unfilmable. At the very least, this movie has piqued my interest in this direction.


Blood Stalkers (1978)

Article 2491 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-29-2008
Posting Date: 6-7-2008
Directed by Robert W. Morgan
Featuring Ken Miller, Toni Crabtree, Jerry Albert
Country: USA

Two couples visit a cabin in the Everglades, but are warned that the area is home to some murderous hairy creatures known as Blood Stalkers.

John Stanley describes this one as “a thinking buff’s gore flick”, and I think he’s right. However, I wouldn’t have been able to tell from the first forty-five minutes of the movie, where the cliched plot, annoying characters and stupid dialogue (punctuated by seemingly over-serious moments of character development) made me think that Mr. Stanley was being ironic. It’s not until the monsters go on the attack that the movie comes into its own, and it’s at its best when it’s at its most ambitious; in particular, the climax of the night attack sequence is very impressive, with some masterful editing and great use of music. It’s good this part works so well; otherwise, the revelations near the end of the movie would have backfired in a major way, and the fact that some of the suspenseful scenes come off as a bit comic would have driven the final nail in the coffin. The movie is ultimately derivative of two different kinds of movies, one of which (the bloody revenge drama) isn’t necessarily in the horror genre. It’s uneven, but when it works, it works well.


The Babysitter (1980)

Article 2490 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-28-2008
Posting Date: 6-6-2008
Directed by Peter Medak
Featuring Patty Duke, William Shatner, Quinn Cummings
Country: USA

A troubled family hires an eighteen-year-old to clean, cook, and look after the twelve-year-old daughter. She begins to exert a sinister influence over the family, subtly driving wedges between the various family members.

The acting is very good and some of the characters are very well drawn in this made-for-TV suspense thriller. Yet, even while admiring these positive qualities during the first half of the film, I found myself less impressed by the overly-familiar formula of the story, in which a psycho worms her way into a family, and those who can see her evil influence can’t convince those who can’t. The most interesting question for me during most of the movie was – Why is she doing this? Unfortunately, this question became less and less intriguing as the movie wore on, and I got tired of watching the psycho manipulate the family, the family falling for it, and the dysfunctional screaming matches that came about as a result. The movie gets harder to swallow as it goes on, as well. It was what the movie tried to do at the end that really lost me, though; by attempting to engender sympathy for the primary villain of the piece at this time, it didn’t manage to tug on my heartstrings (as was obviously intended), but rather, gave me the rather queasy feeling that the movie was trying to have it both ways. All in all, it’s a misfire with some positive elements.


The Drums of Fu Manchu (1940)

Article 2489 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-27-2008
Posting Date: 6-5-2008
Directed by John English and William Witney
Featuring Henry Brandon, William Royle, Robert Kellard
Country: USA

Fu Manchu has a plot to acquire the scepter of Genghis Khan, which will give him the power to conquer Asia as a result of a prophecy. Dr. Nayland Smith and his youthful associate Allan Parker do battle with him.

Let’s face it; most serials were churned out on fairly low budgets with little effort expended on a decent story and with largely recycled cliffhangers. Unless you’re particularly partial to the form, only a small handful of them are really worth the effort to watch them. This is one of them. Fu Manchu is one of the great villains, and this serial manages to do him justice, thanks primarily to an engrossing plot and a fine performance by Henry Brandon in the role. He’s one of the most effective serial villains; he has some great lines, refuses to confine his villainy to sitting behind a chair and barking commands to henchmen, and is even allowed to win a bit of our sympathy on occasion. There’s also a real sense of atmosphere, a rarity in serials. The story matters this time around; each episode advances the plot, and the sense that the whole plot largely exists in the first and last episodes does not exist here. This is not only a great serial, it’s one of the very best cinematic versions of Fu Manchu; only THE MASK OF FU MANCHU gives it any competition, and it’s far better than any of the movies in the late-sixties resurrection of the character. Amazingly enough, Fu Manchu is allowed to survive at the end of the movie, in defiance of the Motion Picture code that would ordinarily require his death. It seems to promise a sequel that never appeared. There’s plenty of fantastic content, what with all of the horror atmosphere, the legion of Fu Manchu’s minions (rendered that way by an operation on the brain), and Fu Manchu’s mystical hypnotic powers. Highly recommended.


The Ape Creature (1968)

aka Der Gorilla von Soho
Article 2488 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-26-2008
Posting Date: 6-4-2008
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
Featuring Horst Tappert, Uschi Glas, Uwe Friedrichsen
Country: West Germany

Foreign millionaires are turning up drowned in London. Witnesses believe that a gorilla may be responsible for the murders, and authorities begin to suspect a charitable institute and a criminal organization known as “The Gorilla Gang”.

It’s hard to know what to make of this frenetic, rather twitchy comic Edgar Wallace krimi, especially since my print runs only 67 minutes; from what I gather, my copy is missing a lot of the sleaziness. The whole trend must have been pretty close to running its course by this time, and director Alfred Vohrer had already adapted this particular story once before in DEAD EYES OF LONDON. Its fast pace keeps things rather entertaining, though, and the fact that I’ve seen two other versions of the story (the earlier Vohrer version and THE HUMAN MONSTER) means that I can navigate the confusing plot with a minimum of effort. It’s the odd comic approach that is the most disconcerting; the (badly dubbed) dialogue is almost a non-stop barrage of clipped, snippy humor, and the character names include a Dr. Jeckyll and a Sgt. Pepper. No, it’s not very good (in fact, it may be pretty bad), but it’s more entertaining than I would have guessed.


The Skeleton Dance (1929)

Animated Short
Article 2487 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-25-2008
Posting Date: 6-3-2008
Directed by Walt Disney
No cast
Country: USA

Skeletons dance in a graveyard.

How about that – this is the fourth movie in a row in which not a word of English is spoken. All right, this one doesn’t count – it has no dialogue at all. It’s one of Disney’s Silly Symphonies and features animation from Ub Iwerks. As a matter of fact, I’ve heard that it was the very first one of the series. There’s no plot to speak of; it’s just a series of dancing skeleton gags. It’s very amusing, though; I’m especially fond of the strange creature the four skeletons merge into at the end of the movie. This makes a fine addition as an opening short to any night of classic horror viewing.