Blue Sunshine (1976)

BLUE SUNSHINE (1976)
Article 3321 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-1-2010
Posting Date: 9-17-2010
Directed by Jeff Lieberman
Featuring Zalman King, Deborah Winters, Mark Goddard
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction thriller

A man who accidentally kills a friend who went on a murderous rampage finds himself on the run from the police who believe he is guilty of all the murders. The fugitive stumbles across a thread that connects the murders to a rampage committed by a policeman. What is it that is causing people to lose their hair and go insane? What does this have to do with the phrase “blue sunshine”? And how is a local congressional candidate involved?

I suspect that a real close examination of the plot will reveal a number of holes. Furthermore, the story is overreliant on coincidence, and the lead character practically goes out of his way to make mistakes that will make him look like the guilty party. But director Jeff Lieberman (who also gave us the killer worm movie SQUIRM) has a way of sucking you into the story, getting you interested in the characters, and can occasionally set up some very clever suspense moments; I was on the edge of my seat during the operation sequence in particular. I very much admire the way the movie disperses the credits between three separate scenarios, one involving a doctor, the second involving a babysitter, and the third involving a policeman; these three scenarios seem unrelated except for the fact that all the characters in question seem to be very stressed out. The movie is fictional, though the ending crawl has fooled a few people into thinking that this is based on a true story. Lieberman pulls very good performances from a cast of mostly unknowns; the only one I recognized immediately was Alice Ghostley, though Ray Young did seem a little familiar; it turns out he played Mango in BLOOD OF DRACULA’S CASTLE.

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Blackenstein (1972)

BLACKENSTEIN (1972)
Article 3320 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-31-2010
Posting Date: 9-16-2010
Directed by William A. Levey
Featuring John Hart, Ivory Stone, Joe De Sue
Country: USA
What it is: Really bad horror blaxploitation

A woman scientist’s boyfriend loses all his limbs in the Vietnam war. She encourages him to see her old instructor (and present employer), Dr. Stein, who is experimenting with DNA. However, a jealous assistant hoodwinks the treatment, turning the boyfriend into a homicidal monster.

There’s one decent performance in the movie, and there are some nice arty shots, but that about covers it for all the positive things I’ve found in this one. I’d heard this movie was bad, but even I was surprised at how bad it was in certain ways. I knew the monster’s makeup was ludicrous (I’d seen stills), so I wasn’t surprised by that. What surprised me was its other problems. For one, the movie is threadbare in so many departments; the script is barely there, the characters are almost all woefully underdeveloped, the pacing is turgid, the dialogue is awful, and the only good thing about the special effects (the use of Strickfadden’s lab machinery) is compromised by the fact that it looks utterly out of place in this context. The one good performance is from Bob Brophy, but he’s playing a character so hateful that you’re glad he only has two scenes. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this movie is how singularly unfunky it is; outside of the stand-up comedian (who was most likely making up his own dialogue), every black character in this movie could have been changed to a white character and not a single line of dialogue would have needed to change. The tagline for this movie was “To Stop This Mutha Takes One Bad Brutha” and it’s funkier than the whole movie. This one is just pathetic.

Beyond the Door (1974)

BEYOND THE DOOR (1974)
Article 3319 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-30-2010
Posting Date: 9-15-2010
Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis and Robert Barrett
Featuring Juliet Mills, Gabriele Lavia, Richard Johnson
Country: Italy / USA
What it is: EXORCIST ripoff

A pregnant woman is possessed by the devil.

To its credit, this movie does not attempt a completely blatant ripoff of its source inspiration. The basic story line is really quite different; for example, there really isn’t even an exorcist character in the movie. Nor does it appear to slather on layers of sex like some of the other imitations I’ve seen have, but then, one must remember that I’ve watched only the 99 minute US version of the movie and not the one that is ten minutes longer. Instead, our story line takes a bit of plot line from ROSEMARY’S BABY, but throws in a rather different backstory, with the possessed woman once having had a relationship with a Satanist who is now in desperate straits in trying to grab a few extra years of life before being dragged to damnation. Quite frankly, this is a potentially interesting story line. Unfortunately, the movie is just not scary at all, the story line goes out of control into some pretty silly side issues, such as the little boy’s invisible friend and the demonic dolls. And, of course, once the possession is in full swing, the effects do little more than borrow from THE EXORCIST, only with the result being much cheesier and far less effective. It’s a shame that this is perhaps the best known of the ripoffs of THE EXORCIST; it’s probably the worst of the ones I’ve seen. It has two supposed sequels, but they appear to be sequels in name only, and have nothing really in common with this movie.

The Bed Sitting Room (1969)

THE BED SITTING ROOM (1969)
Article 3318 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-29-2010
Posting Date: 9-14-2010
Directed by Richard Lester
Featuring Rita Tushingham, Ralph Richardson, Peter Cook
Country: UK
What it is: Absurdist post-apocalypse satire

It’s after the apocalypse. Various survivors wander amidst the rubble. Some characters mutate. The police warn everyone to keep moving.

If Richard Lester wanted to make a stranger movie than HOW I WON THE WAR, he succeeded here. It’s so pervasively absurdist that it’s nearly impossible to pin down a precise meaning. It is, however, sporadically amusing enough to hold the attention. Various mutations occur; an old woman turns into a cupboard, a British lord turns into a bed sitting room, a police sergeant turns into a dog and an old man turns into a parrot. Familiar faces abound; Rita Tushingham is the 17-months pregnant daughter wandering around with her family, Ralph Richardson seeks help for his mutation, Spike Milligan cracks jokes and delivers pies to the face, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore drive around warning everyone to keep moving, and Marty Feldman (his first movie) plays a nurse. Running gags abound; everyone has trouble saying the word “bomb”, and the national anthem has been changed to “God Save Mrs. Ethel Shroake”, apparently the next in line to the throne. I can’t say it really all comes together in any coherent way, so how much you get out of it depends on your tolerance for strange British comedy. It even has a happy ending… I think.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971)
Article 3317 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-28-2010
Posting Date: 9-13-2010
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, Roddy McDowall
Country: USA
What it is: Musical fantasy

During World War II, an apprentice witch (who has agreed to lodge and care for three children who have been sent away from London to escape the bombing) finds her mail-order course in magic has been discontinued due to the war. She seeks out the instructor only to discover he is a charlatan who got the spells he sent her from an old book. They find the old book, but it is missing the final pages, so she begins on a search for the rest of it…

I went into this movie with the expectation of it being a not-bad attempt by Disney to repeat the success of MARY POPPINS, and that’s pretty much what I got out of it. Oh, the story is very different, but the basic production strategy is the same; once again we have a substitute mom with magical powers taking on the care of some children, and leading them on a series of magical adventures. Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson more or less substitute for Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, they both have English settings, and there is a sequence where we have live action and animation combined. The dance sequences here aren’t near as amazing as the ones in MARY POPPINS, but given that we have much older leads here, that’s not surprising, and the underwater dance has a certain magic to it. None of the songs are as memorable as the best ones from MARY POPPINS, though “The Beautiful Briny Sea” was originally intended for that movie. The movie is good, but not great; the cast is appealing (Angela Lansbury is very likable especially), but there’s something of a hangdog air about the proceedings, and the sense of magic that moves through MARY POPPINS is much more sporadic here. Still, one wonders what it would have been like had things happened differently; apparently, much of the development for this film took place during the development of MARY POPPINS because for a while, rights issues threatened to make the P.L. Travers novel unavailable to Disney. Had things not cleared up, this movie might well have been made in its place.

On a side note, you’ll notice that Roddy McDowall is listed third, and that’s where he is listed in the credits; yet, his role is so abbreviated that you might well forget that he’s in it altogether (incidentally, I saw the 117 minute version rather than the fully restored 139 minute version). I do think that it’s a bit of a shame that the child actors who have much more substantial roles are placed so much lower on the credits.

Baffled! (1973)

BAFFLED! (1973)
TV-Movie
Article 3316 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-27-2010
Posting Date: 9-12-2010
Directed by Philip Leacock
Featuring Leonard Nimoy, Susan Hampshire, Rachel Roberts
Country: UK/USA
What it is: Psychic mystery movie, failed TV pilot style

A race car driver discovers he has psychic visions. He teams up with a female reporter who is an expert on psychic phenomena to try to prevent a crime in an English manor house.

You know, you can just tell sometimes by watching the opening credits sequence of a TV-Movie if they were planning to make a series out of it, and this is one example. I’m not really surprised that this one failed to make the grade. It’s not so much the story itself; though in some ways the story is obvious, in others it does have a few surprises up its sleeve. No, the problem is either in the dialogue and/or the casting. The dialogue is overripe, artificial, and rather annoying. Still, there’s part of me that suspects that it might have gotten by had another actor been in the lead role. Make no mistake; I think Leonard Nimoy is a fine actor, but the role he’s playing demands the qualities of airy lightness and casual charm, and though Nimoy tries his best, he never really feels natural or comfortable in the role, and in a series this would have become dreadfully apparent. In the end, the movie feels contrived and forced, despite certain good moments.

Nightmares (1983)

NIGHTMARES (1983)
Article 3315 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-26-2010
Posting Date: 9-11-10
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Featuring Cristina Raines, Emilio Estevez, Lance Henriksen
Country: USA
What it is: Horror anthology

Four tales of terror are presented. In the first, a woman decides to go out for cigarettes despite the fact that a serial killer is loose in the area. In the second, a boy becomes obsessed with reaching the possibly non-existent thirteenth level of a video game. In the third, a priest suffers a crisis of faith and then finds himself terrorized by a big black truck. In the fourth, a family’s rat problems turn out to be bigger than they think.

This anthology was culled from stories originally intended for the anthology series “Darkroom” that were considered too intense for TV. The first story is fairly standard, but it does have at least one very good twist near the end, and it has a moral – smoking is bad for your health. The second is the weakest, at least partially because it’s far too long (the first ten minutes should have been trimmed down especially), but also because its very existence in this sort of anthology tells you a lot about just where it’s going; there’s no surprises here. The ending of the third story isn’t particularly surprising either, but it has the best performance in the movie by Lance Henriksen as the priest suffering a crisis of faith, and it is somewhat interesting as a variation of DUEL with religious overtones. The final story is the monster story which is something of a cross between POLTERGEIST and the “Devil in the Dark” episode of “Star Trek”; it’s a little silly at times, a little shrill at others, but acceptable. As a whole, I found the movie entertaining enough, though I suspect that only the third story will really stick with me.