Deranged (1974)

DERANGED (1974)
Article 2560 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-8-2008
Posting Date: 8-15-2008
Directed by Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby
Featuring Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee, Leslie Carlson
Country: USA

On the passing of his mother, a man’s mental condition deteriorates. He digs up his dead mother and keeps her in his house, engages in grave-robbing and taxidermy to keep her from falling apart, and eventually turns to cannibalism and murdering women.

The Ed Gein story was one of the inspirations for, among others, PSYCHO, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS; there’s no doubt that it touches a horrific nerve somewhere. This one is rather modest; rather than using the story to horrify, it attempts to tell a more straightforward account of the Ed Gein murders. I don’t know how accurate the movie is in this respect, but there’s one thing I can say; thanks to some fine casting (especially Roberts Blossom as Ezra Cobb, the Ed Gein role) and a real sense of authenticity, the movie comes across as utterly convincing. Blossoms is really a wonder here; he manages to come across as sympathetic despite his derangement, and we can understand why those close to him didn’t know what he was doing and felt he was no more than a harmless eccentric. Even the conceit of having an onscreen narrator tell us the story on occasion doesn’t break the feeling that we’re seeing a re-creation of real life events. The movie even manages to show a sharp sense of humor on occasion. This movie is powerful, sad, and rather modest in telling its tale.

 

Sleeping Beauty (1964)

SLEEPING BEAUTY (1964)
aka Spyashchaya krasavitsa
Article 2559 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-7-2008
Posting Date: 8-14-2008
Directed by Apollinari Dudko and Konstantin Sergeyev
Featuring Alla Sizova, Yuri Solovyov, Natalya Dudinskaya
Country: Soviet Union

When she is not invited to the party celebrating the birth of a daughter to the king and queen, an evil witch puts a curse on the young girl. When the girl grows into a young woman, she is pricked by a needle and falls into a deep sleep. Only a handsome prince can revive her with a kiss.

Sure, it gets boring; it’s a ballet. After all, we’re talking about a movie here in which, for all intents and purposes, the plot is over while there’s still fourteen minutes of movie to go (which brings back memories of HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE, and I marvel that I found the opportunity to reference that piece of silliness in this review). But when I’m not being crankily lowbrow, I can really marvel at the discipline that goes into this form of dance, and I have a vast admiration for the elegant control these dancers have over their bodies. The movie itself manages to walk an effective line between cinema and photographed ballet; most of it is as stagebound as you might expect, but the use of special effects (with witches vanishing and the like) gives it that extra bit of flavor that makes it more fun to watch. It also helps that Tchaikovsky (oddly missing the first T in the opening credits) was one of my favorite classical composers. Still, I will say this; I was spending the whole day expecting I would be watching DERANGED: CONFESSIONS OF A NECROPHILE when I got home, and when that movie got trumped by the arrival in the mail of this one, it was very difficult to switch the mental gears. Still, there’s always one thing I can say about ballet in general; at least it’s not opera.

 

The Demon Lover (1977)

THE DEMON LOVER (1977)
Article 2558 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-6-2008
Posting Date: 8-13-2008
Directed by Donald G. Jackson and Jerry Younkins
Featuring Christmas Robbins, Val Mayerik, Gunnar Hansen
Country: USA

When his coven-in-the-making walks out on him, a dabbler in the black arts conjures up a demon to get revenge.

Some of the killings show a bit of creativity in this no-budget horror movie, and it’s obvious the filmmakers are having a bit of fun when the character names include Peckinpah, Frazetta, Ackerman, Ormsby and Romero. Given the extremely low budget, it’s no surprise the special effects are bad, so I won’t harp on that. However, it’s the atrocious script and the incredibly bad acting that really make this one memorably bad; I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many bad lines badly delivered in my life. In fact, it’s so bad that I found myself wondering if the movie was intentionally bad in the sense that, say, a Troma film is bad; that is, actually aspiring to badness for the humor value. That may be the case; director Donald G. Jackson would go on to make at least one film for Troma. Still, the movie did give me a chance to see what Gunnar Hansen looks like without the Leatherface mask, and, for the record, he’s one of the few actors who doesn’t embarrass himself in this one. But then, he’s about the only member of the cast who has acted in other movies.

 

Death: The Ultimate Mystery (1975)

DEATH: THE ULTIMATE MYSTERY (1975)
Article 2557 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-5-2008
Posting Date: 8-12-2008
Directed by Bob Emenegger and Allan Sandler
Featuring Cameron Mitchell, Gloria Prince, Don Felipe

After having had a near-death experience, a photojournalist embarks on a study of the ultimate mystery, death.

This documentary uses the concept of a reporter searching for the truth in its exploration of death. I don’t know if this is supposed to reflect a true situation (i.e. that it’s telling the story of a real reporter’s journey of research), but I can say this – the movie’s attempt to weave the reporter’s research into the subject is one of the biggest strikes against the movie’s credibility. For one thing, if there is a real reporter, why doesn’t he use his own voice rather than that of actor Cameron Mitchell? Also, we never see the reporter’s face; he’s always shot from behind or in the shadows, and at certain times it becomes apparent that the movie is going out of its way to keep his face hidden. Though I suspect this is to provide us with the sense of him being Everyman (and thus, putting us in his place to share his journey), it also gives us a sense that a lot of the movie was staged rather than happening spontaneously. There’s a certain amount of verisimilitude here; it’s obvious that most of the people you meet are non-actors (though the reporter’s female psychologist friend is the most glaring exception here).

As for the subject matter itself, there’s very little new here. Only two tidbits of information that presented itself interested me; one was that, according to one individual who studied the subject, death may not be an unpleasant experience as the shutting down of the body’s organisms may have a feeling somewhat akin to taking morphine, and the other was that one doctor reported that not all near-death experiences involve going joyously toward a light, but that some of them were, in fact, quite dark indeed; it’s just that the people who had these experiences don’t like to talk about them. Other than that, most of the movie is a dull, lifeless retread of stuff I’ve encountered before, especially the last half of the movie in which we have an extended session of hypnotic regression into previous lives followed by a follow-up fact research of the related experience; in short, it’s the whole Bridey Murphy thing regurgitated one more time. And the lifeless direction and editing make this documentary a real snooze.

 

The Haunted Castle (1897)

THE HAUNTED CASTLE (1897)
aka Le Chateau hante
Article 2556 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-4-2008
Posting Date: 8-11-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies

Country: France

A visitor to a castle is frightened by moving furniture and strange visitations.

By all rights, I should have covered this one with the Melies-a-thon. However, since I’m a little too dependent on listings from IMDB to organize my watching, I missed this one because there is no listing for it on IMDB. Usually, if a movie is not listed on IMDB, I rightfully suspect that my chances of finding and seeing the movie are next to impossible. However, I suspect that the reason this one isn’t listed is that someone at IMDB believes this is the same movie as LE MANOIR DU DIABLE, and, given that both movies use THE HAUNTED CASTLE as alternate titles and are only a year apart, I can understand the confusion.

At any rate, the movie is like THE BEWITCHED INN, except that in place of vanishing furniture, we have appearing and disappearing characters, including a ghost, a knight, and a skeleton. Plotwise, there’s little here; it’s just one character (who looks like it’s Melies himself) reacting to the various apparitions. It’s extremely short (probably around thirty seconds) and has some hand-coloring as well. Fun, but it’ll be over before you know it.

Postscript: In the interim since I first wrote this review, IMDB has indeed added a separate entry for this one

 

The Daydreamer (1966)

THE DAYDREAMER (1966)
Article 2555 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-3-2008
Posting Date: 8-10-2008
Directed by Jules Bass
Featuring the voices of Tallulah Bankhead, Victor Borge, Patty Duke, and many others
Country: USA

A young boy dreams of leaving the drudgery of learning his lessons to find the Garden of Paradise. He meets a mermaid, two tailors, and a tiny girl in his quest.

Due to its inclusion in a filmography of Boris Karloff’s, I’d known about this movie for years and hoped to see it someday, largely due to the presence of the great horror actor as the voice of The Rat. Karloff’s presence, as well as that of many other well-known actors such as Tallulah Bankhad, Victor Borge, Patty Duke, Jack Gilford, Sessue Hayakawa, Margaret Hamilton, Burl Ives, Hailey Mills, Cyril Richard, Terry-Thomas, Ed Wynn and Ray Bolger can’t help but keep the interest level up, as also does the fact that it comes from Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. Unfortunately, the movie is marred by a somewhat aimless story and underdeveloped characters, and though many of the songs are melodic enough, they’re a bit on the treacly side and don’t really stand out much. It’s basically a hodgepodge of Hans Christian Andersen stories and characters, and though the movie is well-intentioned, it never becomes compelling or even much fun. For me, the most memorable thing was the giant frog who threatens Thumbelina and the title character at a couple of points in the story. Horror fans will enjoy Karloff as The Rat, of course, as well as the spooky house of his friend, the Mole.

 

Children of the Full Moon / Visitors from the Grave (1980)

CHILDREN OF THE FULL MOON/VISITOR FROM THE GRAVE (1980)
Article 2554 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2008
Posting Date: 8-9-2008
Directed by Tom Clegg and Peter Sasdy
Featuring Christopher Cazenove, Celia Gregory, Diana Dors
Country: UK

Two tales of terror; in the first, a young couple find themselves stranded at an isolated manor that is menaced by a werewolf; in the second, a woman kills an attempted rapist and is then haunted by his vengeful spirit.

Sometimes I don’t know if I’m stretching the rules or not; the John Stanley book lists the first title, which is an episode of the TV series “Hammer House of Horror”, and mentions that it was released on a tape hosted by Elvira that also includes another episode, “Visitor from the Grave”. Whether the two episodes were edited together to appear to be a single feature, I don’t know, and I was unable to locate the tape release in question. So, to emulate the experience, I watched the two episodes back to back from the recent “Hammer House of Horrors” series release, and experienced them that way. If I’m stretching the rules here…well, that’s my prerogative.

From these two episodes, I get the sense that the TV show was pretty ordinary; neither episode did much for me. Still, when I do a ratings comparison on IMDB, I notice that these two episodes hover near the bottom of the list, so I should probably reserve judgment. The first episode manages to dredge up a couple of twists to the werewolf myths, but it doesn’t really save it from being rather predictable; nor do I understand why the husband was left alive and allowed to return home half-way through the story; wouldn’t it have been a lot safer for the werewolves to finish him off on the spot? Still, it’s better than the other episode; the minute I noticed that the “wife” (I’m not sure the couple were married, hence the quotes) was a rich basket-case given to hysterics and the “husband” was a bit of an insensitive jerk, I knew (and didn’t care for) exactly where it was going, and sure enough, I was right, and the addition of a second twist at the end only made it dumber.

Once again, I don’t appear to have caught the show at its best. Maybe other episodes will give me a better impression of this series.

 

The Black Pit of Dr. M (1959)

THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M (1959)
aka Misterios de ultratumba
Article 2553 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-1-2008
Posting Date: 8-8-2008
Directed by Fernando Mendez
Featuring Gaston Santos, Rafael Bertrand, Mapita Cortes
Country: Mexico

Two doctors make a pact that whomever dies first will return from the grave and give the other doctor the information on how to overcome death. However, the death of the first doctor brings about a series of events that will doom the other doctor.

I’m so used to having seen Mexican movies without dubbing or subtitles that I neglected to check for subtitling when I first watched this one, and I was rather confused by the story. However, I discovered afterwards that the movie had subtitles, but not wanting to sit through the whole thing again, I caught bits and pieces of it that helped to me to figure out the basic storyline. Whatever you can say about these Mexican horror movies, there’s no doubt that they’re brimming with horror atmosphere, and this one pulls out all the stops, with a ghostly presence inexorably guiding characters to their fates, a lunatic asylum, and a vengeance-driven acid-scarred man added to the mix. This is definitely one I’m going to watch again, and when I do, you can bet I’m going to make sure the subtitles are on for the whole thing.

 

Aranas infernales (1968)

ARANAS INFERNALES (1968)
aka Hellish Spiders
Article 2552 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-31-2008
Posting Date: 8-7-2008
Directed by Federico Curiel
Featuring Bianca Sanchez, Marta Elena Cervantes, Alejandro Munoz Moreno
Country: Mexico

Spiders from outer space threaten the world with zombie minions. However, Mexican wrestler Blue Demon is out to defeat their evil scheme.

I can understand a little the concept of borrowing footage from other movies to pad out a film; it’s useful if you want to make your movie look a little classier than you can afford or if you want to save time. However, if you go lifting footage from PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE and TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE (as this movie does copiously), it’s obvious that it’s time you’re trying to save. Other than that, it’s business as usual for the Mexican wrestler genre, at least as far as I can tell from the undubbed and unsubtitled copy in Spanish that I watched. The cheesy giant spider (smaller than the one in TARANTULA, bigger than the one in A TERRIBLE NIGHT) is laughable, but it does look better than the flying saucer footage from PLAN 9. The movie has way too much wrestling; only the match that is essential to the plot (in which Blue Demon takes on a seemingly indestructible zombie wrestler) is worth catching, as it features the moment when Blue Demon discovers his opponents Achilles heel (his right arm) and witnesses a truly memorable monster transformation.

You know, as many of the Mexican wrestler movies as I’ve done, I still have the feeling I’ve only scratched the surface…

 

Dead of Night (1977)

DEAD OF NIGHT (1977)
TV-Movie
Article 2551 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-30-2008
Posting Date: 8-6-2008
Directed by Dan Curtis
Featuring Anjanette Comer, Joan Hackett, Patrick Macnee
Country: USA

A trio of stories is presented. In the first, a man restores an old car and finds himself transported back to the past. In the second, a vampire appears to be on the loose in a castle, and in the third, a woman uses the black arts to conjure her son back from the dead.

Dan Curtis takes a second stab at the anthology format (the first was TRILOGY OF TERROR), and I think it was interesting that he didn’t try to come up with a framing story. Maybe it’s just as well, I’ve found that framing stories usually don’t work all that well, though the best example of one could be found in the British horror entry from the forties which bears the same name as this one. In general, the third story is considered the best, but it didn’t really do much for me. I think it’s because I’ve never really cared much for the basic approach to horror used in this one; it’s the “stalker and stalked” plot, in which person A stalks person B, and we’re supposed to be frightened because person B is frightened. Though I understand the theory behind it, I feel the same way about that approach as I would if a movie tried to be a comedy by having a person A telling jokes and person B laughing at them, and we’re supposed to think it’s funny because person B is laughing. I suppose not liking this particular plot is something of a sacrilege for a horror fan, but there it is. The second story is largely a one-twist affair that I saw coming merely from the title of the story. This leaves the first one as my favorite, which is usually considered the weakest; for some reason, I found the gentle fantasy of this one far more interesting than the blatant scare tactics of the third one.

I can only conclude I’m out of step with a lot of horror fans on this one, but it’s not the first time, and probably won’t be the last.