Deadly Blessing (1981)

Article 3451 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-17-2010
Posting Date: 1-25-2011
Directed by Wes Craven
Featuring Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner
Country: USA
What it is: Odd Hittite horror film

A woman’s ex-Hittite husband is killed by a tractor. Two friends of the woman come and stay with her, but the local Hittites object to their presence… and there are killers about.

I saw this movie on TV many years ago, and I swear that the final scene was cut. I’m not sure why that would have been the case, as there doesn’t appear to be anything in the scene to make it objectionable, but it did leave me a little confused at the end. Not that I’m really less confused after having seen the ending, mind you. I’ve heard some claim that this is one of Wes Craven’s best movies, while I’ve heard others dismiss is as a misfire. I can actually understand both reactions; the Hittite milieu gives it a truly different flavor, and the movie, though made of some common elements, is fairly original. However, I’m not sure it holds together, especially after watching the whole thing; the revelations at the end still leave me wondering who exactly was responsible for what murder where, with the final revelation feeling almost tacked on. Ernest Borgnine gives a very focused performance as the Hittite elder, and the scary-looking Michael Berryman is also memorable as a Hittite man-child. There’s some good scenes here, some of which are hard to forget. If it’s a misfire, at least it’s not an uninteresting one.


What the Swedish Butler Saw (1975)

aka Groove Room, Chapagnegalopp
Article 3450 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-16-2010
Posting Date: 1-24-2011
Directed by Vernon P. Becker
Featuring Ole Soltoft, Sue Longhurst, Charlie Elvegard
Country: Sweden / USA
What it is: Sex comedy

In Victorian England, a young man discovers the joys of sex at a brothel, and sets his sights on winning the heart (and body) of a beautiful minister’s daughter.

I have to admit that this is one of the more embarrassing titles I’ve covered for this series, but at least it’s a little better than one of the other alternate titles, TEENAGE TICKLE GIRLS. As a sex comedy, it’s mildly amusing and mildly titillating, and if it stands out in any way, it’s that the Victorian milieu gives it a little bit more flavor than others of its ilk. As for the fantastic content, it mostly consists of two things; the seduction scenes involve a couple of sex machines that move it into the realm of science fiction, and there’s a minor subplot about a house with secret passages that is the hiding place of Jack the Ripper, who makes several abortive attempts to kill the main character. Though it’s one of the better movies of its type, it’s hardly essential viewing.

Stone Cold Dead (1979)

Article 3449 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-15-2010
Posting Date: 1-23-2011
Directed by George Mendeluk
Featuring Richard Crenna, Paul Williams, Linda Sorenson
Country: Canada
What it is: Crime drama

A serial killer is on the loose who snaps pictures of the victims before killing them. A policeman investigates while dealing with pimps. corrupt cops, and various lowlifes.

Despite the presence of a serial killer, this is definitely more of a crime drama than a horror thriller. In fact, the movie loses focus on the main plot thread so often that I began to wonder if it was more interested in giving us a snapshot of the seedy milieu than telling a story. However, since the characters and situations never become more than cliches, I eventually came to the conclusion that the movie is just too distracted to tell a story. Still, a few things stand out. I’ve decided that Paul Williams is an ideal choice for creepy little lowlifes, as he is here. Also, it’s one of the rare times where a song on the soundtrack of the movie actually shows a direct influence on the editing; Bob Seger’s “The Fire Down Below” is actually illustrated visually as it plays, and though it’s an interesting touch, it starts to feel a bit too easy and obvious. And, finally, the oddest touch of the movie is that the main cop has a Rube Goldberg device to feed his fish, a bizarre touch that seems out of place in the movie. The rest of the movie is blahsville.

Simon (1980)

SIMON (1980)
Article 3448 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-14-2010
Posting Date: 1-22-2011
Directed by Marshall Brickman
Featuring Alan Arkin, Madeline Kahn, Austin Pendleton
Country: USA
What it is: Offbeat comedy with science fiction touches

Five scientists at a think tank hit upon the idea of brainwashing an assistant professor of psychology into believing he is an extraterrestrial. However, when the professor then becomes a national celebrity, they find they have more than they bargained for.

From the very opening of this movie, I got a strong sense of Woody Allen’s influence, and that’s no surprise, given that writer/director Marshall Brickman worked with Allen on some of his movies. I’ve been curious about this movie for years, and I’m glad to finally have seen it. There are some truly hilarious moments here; I love some of the scientists’ other projects, and some of the suggestions the brainwashed professor gives to society are highly amusing. If the whole movie were as strong as its high points, the movie would be a minor classic. However, the movie has some problems; for one, it really doesn’t have a plot, and this becomes fairly apparent when it limps to an unsatisfying ending. It’s also a movie that has dated badly; much of the content may be impenetrable to someone who is significantly younger than me. The performances are quite good, though for me the real treat was catching Fred Gwynne as a military man. It’s also interesting to catch a movie that contains an unambiguous reference to a movie I just saw two days ago, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

A Jolly Bad Fellow (1964)

aka They All Died Laughing
Article 3447 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-13-2010
Posting Date: 1-21-2011
Directed by Don Chaffey
Featuring Leo McKern, Janet Munro, Maxine Audley
Country: UK
What it is: British black comedy

A science professor at a university discovers a drug that places its victim in a euphoric state before killing them in a way that looks like natural causes. He begins using the drug to remove troublesome people in his life.

The basic concept has been used before many times. Think of how many mad scientist movies follow the same basic pattern; for me, THE DEVIL BAT came to mind. However, it’s never been quite handled in this style before. The mood is one of quiet British black comedy, with the humor mostly very subtle and with a certain amount of wit to the proceedings. I also found that there was a touch of melancholy to the mix; though he may be amoral, Leo McKern’s title character is likable enough that it’s a little sad seeing him give in so readily to temptation. Janet Munro fans will really like this one; as the professor’s assistant and lover, she is at her sexiest, and though there’s no nudity, the movie is pretty daring with how much skin she shows. I do feel a little ill at ease about one thing though; the scene of the rat going euphoric really leaves me wondering if the animal was being mistreated, though it is hard to tell. The movie is uneven, but interesting.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
Article 3446 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-12-2010
Posting Date: 1-20-2010
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Featuring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Landmark science fiction movie

The discover of an alien artifact on the moon prompts a space mission to the moons of Jupiter.

This is one of those films that I dreaded covering for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s one of those movies that has been endlessly discussed elsewhere, making it highly improbable that I will find anything new to say about it. Furthermore, since I’ve already seen it several times, I found myself wondering whether I’d be able to see anything new myself. For the record, the movie is considered a masterpiece by some, and highly overrated by others; I am of the former group. If I could sum up the main reason for my admiration of this film, it is that it tackled a science fiction story as sophisticated as much of the written work of the time, and does so without sacrificing the visual aspect of cinema instead of descending into a series of long stretches of dialogue trying to explain the concepts. This does render the movie difficult to understand, but it’s far from impossible. That being said, I must admit that some sequences do tend to get dull on the umpteenth viewing; the trippy passage through the star gate comes to mind, and certain other scenes rely quite a bit on your affection for the classical music to keep your attention. But my favorite sequences are still intact, most of which occur in the third section of the movie; there’s the chilling moment when you realize that HAL can read lips, the ominous movement of the pod right before the death of Poole, and the shutting down of the computer. Of the things I noticed for the first time on this viewing, I observed that the structure is quite interesting in that the second and third sections of the movie don’t reveal their connections with the early sections of the movie until the end of that section. And perhaps my favorite observation this time was that Frank Poole and Heywood Floyd have conversations with family members about birthdays, and, given the ending of this movie, I now recognize these scenes as being subtle hints about the movie’s end.

Casino Royale (1966)

Article 3445 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-11-2010
Posting Date: 1-19-2011
Directed by Val Guest, Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Richard Talmadge
Featuring Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, David Niven
Country: UK / USA
What it is: James Bond parody

The original Sir James Bond comes out of retirement to take over investigation of the disappearance of secret agents from all over the world.

Yes, you saw right; there are six directors on this movie. You should also be aware that there are twice as many writers credited on IMDB. This is almost a sure sign that the resulting movie is a mess, and this is no exception. Actually, it doesn’t start off too bad; the opening scenes establish an interesting premise, in that the current James Bond actually got his name from a respected old-school spy who finds the woman-chasing gadget-ridden style of spydom to be ridiculous, and had the movie kept its focus on the theme of the conflict between the two styles, it might have worked. Unfortunately, the movie descends into a confusing quagmire shortly after this and never recovers. It ends up being neither exciting or funny; several people seem to be playing below their abilities (I was particularly disappointed with Orson Welles and Peter Sellers here), and only two actors managed to get a laugh out of me – Woody Allen (who probably wrote most of his own dialogue) and George Raft in a cameo. I’m almost tempted to to say the end of the movie shows enormous desperation, but I don’t think that really describes it; my impression is that the whole movie seems blithely unaware of how badly it’s failing. I don’t have a problem with the Burt Bacharach score; he seems an odd choice for a James Bond movie (even a parody), but he does give the music an authentic sixties flavor. The real stars of this movie are those responsible for the art and set design; quite frankly, the movie is stunning to look at throughout, and I’m especially taken with the Caligari-like design of the sets in the Berlin sequence. It’s a pity they didn’t have a solid movie to film on those sets.

Sebastian (1968)

Article 3444 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-10-2010
Posting Date: 1-18-2011
Directed by David Greene
Featuring Dirk Bogarde, Susannah York, Lilli Palmer
Country: UK
What it is: Romantic comedy

A woman takes a strange job in the civil service working under a brilliant but eccentric mathematician. She turns out to be working in a department that breaks secret codes, and she finds herself romantically tangled with her boss.

Yes, this is a romantic comedy, and though the “comedy” tag could be debated (it has some funny moments, but overall I’m not sure it’s a comedy), it does follow the patterns of that genre. It’s the milieu, characters, and situations that set this one apart. The secret-code breaking scenario puts everyone in a somewhat paranoid atmosphere, which is certainly not conducive to romance, and that’s one of the themes of the movie. Also, Dirk Bogarde’s eccentric title character’s distracted nature further impedes the romance, and the woman’s attempts to “fix” him also plays into the story. I found the movie quite interesting, but I’m also a puzzleholic with some mathematical background, and I think that helps somewhat to appreciate this one. The fantastic content is a little hard to pin down, and it may not really qualify. On one hand, we have a genius with a specialized talent, which might fall marginally into the area of science fiction. Furthermore, the espionage angle puts the movie in the spy genre, and that often juts up against science fiction. Furthermore, there is a scene where the mathematician has been drugged that plays like a bad nightmare, which adds a bit of horror to the proceedings. Still, none of these are really strong enough to do anything but have me consign this one to the realm of marginalia.

Capricorn One (1977)

Article 3443 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-9-2010
Posting Date: 1-17-2011
Directed by Peter Hyams
Featuring Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro
Country: USA / UK
What it is: Space travel conspiracy movie

Three astronauts discover that their planned trip to Mars is actually being faked by NASA, but are forced to go along with the sham because their families are threatened. Meanwhile, a reporter stumbles across a key to the conspiracy, but will he live long enough to follow it up?

Because I give no credence to the conspiracy theory that the moon landing was faked, I didn’t exactly go into this movie with a positive mind set. However, since this movie makes no such claim about the moon landing and sticks to a hypothetical Mars mission, I found it a little easier to give the movie a chance. As such, I found the movie a so-so thriller; the story doesn’t really hold up under close scrutiny (we have a conspiracy elaborate enough to completely eradicate any trace of the existence of one human being but find themselves unable to kill one lousy reporter) and much of what happens is far-fetched (especially the final chase scene). The script is occasionally very clumsy, and certain characters really strike false notes. On the plus side, I’m at least glad that the movie doesn’t bow down to every conspiracy movie cliche. Still, I really don’t have much use for this one.

Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968)

Article 3442 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-8-2010
Posting Date: 1-16-2011
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Peter Ustinov, Dean Jones, Suzanne Pleshette
Country: USA
What it is: Shopping cart movie

The ghost of Blackbeard must remain in limbo until he can do a good deed. He finally decides to help a bunch of old women living in an old house that is in danger of being taken over by gangsters. In order to help them, he must help a hopeless track team to win their meet.

The above plot description sounded so silly that, having THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK still strong in my memory, I was expecting this to be one of the worst of the shopping cart movies. The fact that it isn’t is a tribute once again to the care taken in the casting; many of the shopping cart films are full of fun veterans and likable newcomers, and this one is no exception. Still, it’s Peter Ustinov who really makes this one fly. Sure, his Blackbeard probably has very little in common with the historical figure (and the truth be told, I certainly didn’t expect it would in this movie), but he manages to instill a little soul into his character to keep it from being simply a caricature. He’s also had experience with curmudgeon-to-be-redeemed roles; the last movie I saw him in (THE MAN WHO WAGGED HIS TAIL) was of the same ilk. It’s still pretty silly plotwise, but there are worse out there.