Dark Forces (1980)

DARK FORCES (1980)
aka Harlequin
Article 2771 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-8-2008
Posting Date: 3-15-2009
Directed by Simon Wincer
Featuring Robert Powell, David Hemmings, Carmen Duncan
Country: Australia

When a mysterious faith healer cures a senator’s son of leukemia, the family ends up taking him in. However, the political forces conspiring to move the senator into a key position find themselves at odds with the mysterious man.

The tagline in the ads for this movie in the US was “Can anyone survive?”, which seems to indicate that it was marketed as a horror movie. I would imagine anyone going into this rather bizarre fantasy/parable expecting a horror movie would emerge frustrated and disappointed; in fact, I could describe it as an inverted horror movie, one in which the usual roles of good and evil have been reversed. Oh, it’s a fascinating movie in its way; the movie gets a lot of mileage over the mysteries surrounding the faith healer’s powers and intentions. Stylistically, it’s a bit uneven; the opening scenes are done extremely well, but some of the scenes in the middle of the movie have the feel of a made-for-TV soap opera, and the faith healer’s mystic comments get rather tiresome. However, there’s nothing else out there quite like it, and despite the fact it’s basically about the struggle between good and evil, it never comes across as simplistic. On a side note, the movie was based on two historical events; one is about the mysterious disappearance of an Australian Prime Minister while swimming, and the other (much more familiar to horror fans) is the story of Rasputin.

H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come (1979)

H.G. WELLS’ THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME (1979)
Article 2770 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-7-2008
Posting Date: 3-14-2009
Directed by George McCowan
Featuring Jack Palance, Carol Lynley, Barry Morse
Country: Canada

Delta Three is the only planet that can supply the Earth with a drug that can combat radiation poisoning. When Delta Three is taken over by a tyrant who plans to cut off supplies of the drug unless he is acknowledged as supreme ruler, a group of heroes leaves the moon to defeat him.

It’s my own personal belief that if you stick the name of a well-known author in the title of a movie you’re making, you should make sure the movie has something to do with the author in question. Still, Mr. Wells need not worry about one thing; I’m positive that he had no hand whatsoever in this idiotic STAR WARS clone. Granted, I didn’t expect much of this one from the beginning; there’s nothing like seeing the name of Harry Alan Towers that makes me pull out my cheese detector, and believe me, there’s a lot of cheese here to get through. Jack Palance does nothing interesting with his role here, but then, the script doesn’t give him anything to work with; he was obviously cast on the strength of his menacing presence alone. At least he was appropriately cast; Carol Lynley (an actress who seems to me to be much more appropriate in roles where she is required to freeze up and become totally useless in times of crisis) is horribly miscast as the leader of a group of rebels (the type of role in which your character should never freeze up and become useless in times of crisis). Throw in some lame robots that look like shorter versions of the ones in TARGET EARTH, a comic relief robot that remains utterly lame, horrible dialogue, and a cliched plot, and you have a thoroughly unsatisfying piece of product.

The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)

THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (1965)
Article 2769 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-6-2008
Posting Date: 3-13-2009
Directed by Don Sharp
Featuring Christopher Lee, Nigel Green, Joachim Fuchsberger
Country: UK / West Germany

Nayland Smith, despite having witnessed Fu Manchu’s execution, begins to suspect that his arch-enemy is still alive when a series of murders begin happening in London. His fears turn out to be true when Fu Manchu kidnaps a scientist who has figured out how to concoct a terribly destructive poison.

I’ve been told that this is the best of the series of movies made during the late sixties that revived the Fu Manchu character, and I do have to agree; unlike some of the other movies in the series, it is coherent, it doesn’t feel like Christopher Lee is merely walking through the part, and certain sequences are very effective (the opening execution, for example). However, it’s not a great movie; it’s merely passable. Neither Nayland Smith nor Fu Manchu come across as formidable foes; in fact, at times their mistakes seem quite stupid, and they seem to fool and outwit each other quite easily. The script does feel pretty formulaic for these sorts of movies as well. It’s watchable enough, but for a movie that kicks off a franchise, it’s a pretty weak beginning.

Duel (1971)

DUEL (1971)
TV-Movie
Article 2768 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-5-2008
Posting Date: 3-12-2009
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Featuring Dennis Weaver, Eddie Firestone,Gene Dynarski
Country: USA

A businessman on a road trip suddenly finds himself targeted by a truck and its unseen driver.

One could argue whether this movie really belongs in the horror genre, but the truck does make for an effective “monster”, and the whole scenario is certainly nightmarish. It’s definitely an early triumph for Steven Spielberg, and is as nail-biting as JAWS as the action escalates throughout the movie. The original version ran 74 minutes, so I’m assuming I saw the expanded version released to theaters abroad; there’s some mild cussing that most certainly wouldn’t have aired on television here. I don’t know which scenes were added for the longer version, but I do know there are a few moments that don’t really work; the entire school bus section could have been excised and I wouldn’t have missed it one bit. Still, it does grip the attention, and you’ll find yourself, like actor Dennis Weaver’s character here, trying desperately to find some way to outwit the pursuing truck, or to find some weak spot that will give you the advantage. One thing is for sure; this is one TV-Movie that feels nothing like a TV-Movie, and Spielberg would move on from TV-Movies to theatrical releases after this one.

Dr. Frankenstein on Campus (1970)

DR. FRANKENSTEIN ON CAMPUS (1970)
aka Flick
Article 2767 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-4-2008
Posting Date: 3-11-2009
Directed by Gilbert W. Taylor
Featuring Robin Ward, Kathless Sawyer, Austin Willis
Country: Canada

A student named Viktor Frankenstein must contend with the fact that he bears the same name as the scientist in Mary Shelley’s novel. When he is unjustly expelled due to a compromising newspaper story, he uses his knowledge of brain control to exact revenge.

This movie is one bizarre compendium of mad science, the drawbacks of having a notorious name, drugs and the counterculture. It’s a strange movie; it seems almost plotless for the first half, some of the dialogue is quite florid, and it gets fairly arty on occasion; one scene uses both double exposure and subliminal images. It also has a neat twist ending. Unfortunately, the movie is utterly unconvincing; the opening scene features the worst sword fight I’ve ever seen, there are characters who make monumentally stupid decisions (such as the three men whose drinks are openly tampered with by Frankenstein but have no suspicion they’re being drugged), and some scenes are just difficult to believe, like the one where the students protest the arrival of a new computer. It’s also hurt by the fact that Robin Ward’s performance as Frankenstein is more distracting than effective. It’s a bit of a shame; there’s some interesting ideas here, and a better script and stronger direction could have made this one more effective. As it is, it’s more of a curious misfire than anything else.

The Body Beneath (1970)

THE BODY BENEATH (1970)
Article 2766 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-3-2008
Posting Date: 3-10-2009
Directed by Andy Milligan
Featuring Gavin Reed, Jackie Skarvellis, Berwick Kaler
Country: UK

A clan of vampires living in Carfax Abbey are planning on finding a way to regenerate their bloodline, which has been thinned by inbreeding.

It’s another Andy Milligan film here, folks; that’s one way to make me wish I was still covering Mighty Mouse shorts. This one looks a lot better than the other ones I’ve seen, and it avoids a number of the problems I’ve had with his other films. This is not to say that it’s good; the script is muddled, the editing is pretty bad, and the use of music is horrible. Still, the movie’s worst problem is that it’s incredibly talky. It has a couple of gory moments to catch the attention, but, beyond that, the movie largely consists of people standing around talking. Even in the big scene near the end, where we have a meeting with a whole clan of vampires, they do little more than talk, debate, argue, etc. – it’s a little like going to a horror movie and finding yourself at a speech contest instead. I suppose that’s a step up; whereas most of the other Milligan films I’ve seen have ended up annoying me, this one just bores me. Or is that a step down?

The Racket Buster (1948)

THE RACKET BUSTER (1948)
Animated Short
Article 2765 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-2-2008
Posting Date: 3-9-2009
Directed by Mannie Davis
Voice cast unknown

Mighty Mouse is kidnapped by gangster cats, locked in a safe, and dumped into the ocean. The gangsters then begin to terrorize the mice in the neighborhood.

This Mighty Mouse cartoon plays down the humor and ups the action; it’s more like a gangster picture (as you might expect from the title and plot description), and my favorite touch was that the head of one of the gangsters was modeled off of Edward G. Robinson. Despite the gangster angle, though, the fantastic content increases at the end of the cartoon by having the climax occur in outer space.

Well, that’ll do with Mighty Mouse for the moment.

Anti-Cats (1950)

ANTI-CATS (1950)
Animated Short
Article 2764 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-1-2008
Posting Date: 3-8-2009
Directed by Mannie Davis
No voices
Country: USA

Mighty Mouse comes to the aid of three mice who are stranded outside during winter by taking on the cat that won’t let them in the house.

Curiouser and curiouser. The three Mighty Mouse cartoons I’ve seen have all been quite different from each other; I’ve certainly not seen a standard plot. This one plays something like a Tom and Jerry cartoon; Mighty Mouse comes in the house dressed in a disguising trench coat and proceeds to torment the cat in typical cartoon fashion; in fact, he barely uses his superpowers in it. Furthermore, the singing is dropped here; in fact, not a word is spoken (or sung) during the length of the cartoon. Still, it’s a fairly average cartoon. And I’m becoming more curious about seeing more of the rest of the series, if for no other reason than to figure out if there is a standard plot, and if so, which cartoons are the anomalies.

The Magic Slipper (1948)

THE MAGIC SLIPPER (1948)
Animated Short
Article 2763 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-30-2008
Posting Date: 3-7-2009
Directed by Mannie Davis
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA

Cinderella, through the help of her fairy godmother, is able to go to the ball to meet the prince. Complications arise when midnight strikes, and she must leave before the spell wears off. The prince must find the person whose foot fits the glass slipper left behind.

This is a Mighty Mouse cartoon. So where does Mighty Mouse fit into this? I was asking myself that for the first third of the cartoon, which is mostly a rehash of the Cinderella story. It’s only when the wolf shows up and steals the prince’s clothing in order to pursue Cinderella herself do you know where it’s really going. Mighty Mouse himself doesn’t show up until the final third of the cartoon. This one is fairly ordinary on all levels, though it is nice when we get to take a break from the operetta for a little jazz during the ball sequence.

Beauty on the Beach (1950)

BEAUTY ON THE BEACH (1950)
Animated Short
Article 2762 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-29-2008
Posting Date: 3-6-2009
Directed by Connie Rasinski
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA

At a seaside amusement park, Mighty Mouse must save Pearl Pureheart from the evil machinations of Oilcan Harry.

Sometimes I find some of the choices in my various movie source books to be rather curious. In the shorts section of the first volume of Don Willis’s “Horror and Science Fiction Films”, the Fleischer “Superman” series is listed, but only two individual titles specified (a requisite for me to include a cartoon on my hunt list). On the other hand, he also lists the Terrytoon’s “Mighty Mouse” series, and list around twenty titles or so, which seems a little bit odd to me, as I would consider the Superman series in to be more authentically science fiction than the Mighty Mouse series. At any rate, that may explain why I’m covering Mighty Mouse cartoons before I’ve started any of the Superman ones.

Now, the idea of an opera-singing supermouse sounds to me like more of a horror concept (that is, with my aversion to opera), but, strictly speaking, Mighty Mouse isn’t singing opera – he’s singing operetta, which is a slightly different form (think Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald instead of Wagner). In this particular cartoon, the Eddy/MacDonald comparison is apt, as Pearl Pureheart is obviously modeled off of the latter. It’s also a parody of serials, as it sets itself up like the last episode of one, opening with a cliffhanger in which the heroine is tied to the tracks of a roller-coaster (she doesn’t seem too concerned, as she’s doing her needlepoint). The cross between serial and operetta ends up working quite well, and the cartoon makes good use of music as well as containing some good gags; one of my favorites does a nice twist on the old gag of two characters trying to get rid of a bomb by passing it back and forth to each other, with the variation consisting of the fact that they are also passing one character’s hat back and forth as well, with a logical bit of confusion as a result. All in all, I found this one quite enjoyable, which is good, as I have a few others to get through in the next few days.