Sebastian (1968)

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)

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)

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.

The Bermuda Depths (1978)

THE BERMUDA DEPTHS (1978)
TV-Movie
Article 3441 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-7-2010
Posting Date: 1-15-2011
Directed by Tsugunobu Kotani
Featuring Leigh McCloskey, Carl Weathers, Connie Sellecca
Country: USA / Japan
What it is: Lyrical “Moby Dick” pastiche

A young man returns home to learn the reason for his father’s death, and takes up with a scientist intent on catching a strange creature believed to live in the Bermuda Triangle. He also meets a woman who may or may not be a ghost.

I suspect this movie was originally made as one of the sea monster movies that came in the wake of JAWS, but it doesn’t use that as its model. Rather, it seems a curious cross between “Moby Dick”, NIGHT TIDE, and a Bermuda Triangle movie, which is such an interesting mishmash that I really found myself hoping I would like it. The movie mainly aspires to a sort of lyricism, and occasionally (such as in the opening sequence) it meets that goal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t know when to set aside the lyricism when necessary, so the movie starts to get tiresome. Also, for a movie which shows some real imagination in scenes with very little conversation, it makes the mistake of talking your head off in other scenes, often doing little more than rehashing facts that we’ve already encountered. In short, the movie ends up moving at a turtle’s pace, which makes the fact that the giant sea creature is a turtle an unfortunate coincidence. This is another one of those odd Rankin/Bass USA/Japanese co-productions.

Axe (1977)

AXE (1977)
aka Lisa, Lisa
Article 3440 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-6-2010
Posting Date: 1-14-11
Directed by Frederick R. Friedel
Featuring Leslie Lee, Jack Canon, Ray Green
Country: USA
What it is: Sadists and disturbed girls

Three criminals decide to lay low in the country when they rough up a victim so badly they kill him. They choose as their hideout a remote farmhouse only populated by a young woman and her paralyzed grandfather. They decide to molest the young woman, unaware that she’s not quite sane… and knows how to use farm tools.

This gory but extremely low budget movie actually comes across better than I thought it would, thanks in part by some creative film editing and sharp use of music and sound. It also taps into that sleazy, nasty atmosphere that is probably its primary appeal to some. Unfortunately, the movie drags, and for a movie that runs only 68 minutes, that’s bad; several of the scenes run on far longer than they should, and any movie which stretches out about thirty seconds worth of closing credits to five minutes is a movie desperately trying to pad itself. The movie has its roots in the works of Herschell Gordon Lewis (Producer J.G. Patterson Jr. worked with Lewis on occasion and helmed the Lewis-inspired THE BODY SHOP), but in terms of the gore, this one is much tamer. And it doesn’t quite live up to its “At Last, Total Terror” tagline.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
Article 3439 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-5-2010
Posting Date: 1-13-2011
Directed by John Landis
Featuring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Werewolf movie

Two young American men are attacked by a werewolf while walking the moors in northern England. One dies and finds his soul trapped in limbo; the other survives and carries the curse of the werewolf.

I first saw this movie on commercial TV, and now having seen the theatrical version, I’m definitely classifying this one as one of those movies that can’t survive the bowdlerization necessary to make it palatable on commercial TV. Still, I don’t find myself quite as taken with this movie as some others, mostly because John Landis’s comic style blows hot and cold for me, and though I smile sometimes at the humor in this movie, I never laugh. However, I’m really taken with some of the other aspects of the movie. The transformation sequence is a truly amazing piece of work. The modifications to the werewolf myth are very interesting; I particularly like the fact that the werewolf is haunted by the limbo-consigned spirits of his victims. I think the movie also shows real cleverness in handling cliches; though the ominous villagers in the pub cliche is here in all its glory, they’re given more dimension and variety than I usual find, making them more than a hoary old plot device. And I have to admit to a taking a certain satisfaction at Landis’s decision to turn one standard movie setpiece on its ear; many movies tend to glorify the multiple-car-crash cliche by unrealistically having no pedestrians hurt in the process, but this movie offers no such easy out. By the way, that’s Muppet wrangler Frank Oz as the ambassador, and SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY is a porno film.

Terror at Red Wolf Inn (1972)

TERROR AT RED WOLF INN (1972)
aka Terror House, The Folks at Red Wolf Inn
Article 3438 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-4-2010
Posting Date: 1-12-2011
Directed by Bud Townsend
Featuring Linda Gillen, John Neilson, Arthur Space
Country: USA
What it is: Inn with a dreadful secret movie

A college student wins a free vacation at the quaint Red Wolf Inn. However, the inn holds a dreadful secret…

… And I’m not going to give away that secret here out of respect for those who go into this one knowing nothing about it, but practically every review and plot description gives the game away. Not that it’s any great mystery; though the movie doesn’t explicitly let us know the situation until a long ways into it, anyone familiar with the subgenre of this type of movie will pick up the early hints, particularly in an early extended scene where we see several of the prize-winners chow down with their hosts. My major problem with the movie is that nobody acts with much intelligence; the hosts don’t do a particularly strong job of hiding their secrets from their prizewinners, nor do they show much real initiative when the prizewinners do discover the truth. If it weren’t for the fact that the prizewinners show even less intelligence when they do discover the truth, the hosts’ game would have been up long ago. The movie has a twist ending that is fairly predictable for this sort of movie, and then throws another last second twist that can only be interpreted as showing that the movie can’t be taken seriously. This may well be why the movie is considered a comedy by some, though it doesn’t play that way for most of its length. Still, there are some interesting moments that brighten this very uneven movie.