The Norliss Tapes (1973)

Article 3485 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-23-2011
Posting Date: 2-28-2011
Directed by Dan Curtis
Featuring Roy Thinnes, Don Porter, Angie Dickinson
Country: USA
What it is: Horror TV pilot

In order to find out why a writer of his (who has been working on a book debunking the supernatural) has disappeared, an editor begins listening to a series of cassette tapes that chronicle the writer’s investigations. The first tape deals with a dead man who has returned to life… but for what purpose?

When you get right down to it, this TV-Movie pilot is a slight reworking of the basic Kolchak scenario. Still, I wouldn’t have minded if this one had been made into a series, but I somehow doubt that both this one and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” would have made the cut, and if I’d had a choice, I’d go with the series that got made. The main advantage this one would have had is that it had a framing story that would have lent itself to repeated forays into the supernatural whereas in “Kolchak”, it was mostly driven by coincidence. The biggest disadvantage would have been that writer David Norliss simply isn’t as much fun a character as Carl Kolchak, and though this movie is actually pretty good, it lacks the wit that enlivened “Kolchak”. I do wonder if the series would have had an overriding arc that would investigate the writer’s disappearance, but we can only speculate. Nevertheless, this is a solid and exciting TV-Movie that does leave you wishing for more, and it’s quite enjoyable on its own.

Lifepod (1981)

LIFEPOD (1981)
Article 3484 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-22-2011
Posting Date: 2-27-2011
Directed by Bruce Bryant
Featuring Joe Penny, Jordan Michaels, Kristine DeBell
Country: USA
What it is: Low-budget science fiction

The first cruise spaceship to the planet Jupiter goes on red alert, and the passengers evacuate to the moon of Callisto, leaving a small contingent of passengers and crew behind. Most of these people make their way to a lifepod to make it to a nearby moon where they can expect rescue, but the captain stays behind because he suspects that the red alert was faked by the main computer. And why is the creator of that computer (who is aboard the lifepod) so afraid of it?

I was initially put off by this movie’s extreme low-budget effects, synthesizer score, low-key-to-a-fault acting, and somewhat confusing exposition. But I stuck with it and soon found myself intrigued by the central mysteries of the plot. Why did the computer fake a red alert? Why did the computer become sentient? What is the creator’s secret? The plot uses the basic HAL the computer scenario from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for its jumping off point, and builds from there. The acting is actually quite good, and the script does weave an ultimately very satisfying story, one in which we’re not quite sure whether the computer or its creator is the real villain. Though I was initially disappointed at the central revelation, I grew to like it more and more as the movie wound down. The movie only has a rating of 4.8 on IMDB, but if you’re like me, you might find yourself liking this one quite a bit despite its flaws.

Legacy of Satan (1974)

Article 3483 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2011
Posting Date: 2-26-2011
Directed by Gerard Damiano
Featuring John Francis, Lisa Christian, Paul Barry
Country: USA
What it is: Devil worship antics

A young wife is targeted by a devil cult.

Director Gerard Damiano was primarily a porn director, and, if the user comments on IMDB are correct, this was supposed to be a porn movie, but all the explicit sex was cut and it was released as a straight horror movie. This is probably why the movie has a scant 68 minute running time and has noticeable jump cuts. It actually has a certain atmosphere to it, and certain scenes are a bit startling, but it’s extremely muddled, occasionally very silly (that glowing sword), badly scripted, poorly acted, and has a truly annoying synthesizer score. Ironically, I suspect the movie would have worked better as a porn film.

Last Cannibal World (1977)

aka Ultimo mondo cannibale, Jungle Holocaust, The Last Survivor
Article 3482 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-20-2011
Posting Date: 2-26-2011
Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Featuring Massimo Foschi, Me Me Lai, Ivan Rassimov
Country: Italy
What it is: Italian cannibal film

A plane lands in the jungle, but the passengers discover that the camp they were searching for has been deserted and the residents eaten by cannibals. In their attempt to rescue one of their own members, they get lost, and must contend with the cannibal tribe while trying to get back to their plane.

My copy of this movie opens with a short interview from Ruggero Deodato in which he makes some interesting comments about the movie. He talks about the grueling process in which it was made (it was shot in a remote difficult-to-access area using real natives), praises the bravery of his cast (which, given the actions they are asked to do, seems fitting), and denies responsibility for the animals-killing-animals footage, which he claims were added by the producer against his wishes. Maybe so; the scenes of snakes attacking and killing other animals do feel tacked on and don’t always match the surrounding footage. However, some of the human-killing-animals footage doesn’t feel tacked on, and the scene where a crocodile is killed and eviscerated in onscreen detail looks too real to be faked, and provides a plot point, so I’m not sure I can hold Deodato blameless in this regard.

Of the Italian cannibal movies I’ve seen to this point, this is easily the most savage and the nastiest; it is also better made than the others I’ve seen. However, since the whole genre is rather offensive, one almost wishes it was poorly made so one could discard it; as it is, like it or not, the movie does have a certain power to it. It was the first of a trilogy of cannibal films helmed by Deodato, the second of which (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) is perhaps the most notorious of the whole genre. During the interview, Deodato talks about how the success of this movie gave him the means to shoot that later movie the way he wanted to, but how the censorship problems caused by the latter movie left him unable to work for three years. The movie is grotesque and nasty, and though it’s effective in some ways, there are some real ethical problems to contend with. I couldn’t help but wonder about the natives that were used in the movie; were they even cognizant of what they were doing and how the movie was portraying them?

You know, when I started this whole series, I never envisioned the day when I would have to start dealing with Italian cannibal movies, and had I even considered it, I would have thought that I would probably have abandoned the project long before they would come up. Well, I’m still doing it, and here they are, and I can’t help feeling a bit nostalgic for the days when I was still looking forward to the next Universal classic to come up on my list. As it is, I’m forging on ahead.

Island of the Lost (1967)

Article 3481 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2011
Posting Date: 2-24-2011
Directed by Ricou Browning and John Florea
Featuring Richard Greene, Luke Halpin, Sheila Welles
Country: USA
What it is: Island Lost World story

A scientist takes a voyage to discover some theoretical lost islands. He finds one of them… and it’s inhabited by prehistoric creatures and puts him at the mercy of angry island natives.

When I was young, I associated Ivan Tors with a series of TV shows featuring animals that were popular throughout the sixties and seventies, such as “Flipper”, “Daktari” and “Gentle Ben”. It was only later that I became familiar with his science fiction movies and his interest in the sea. This movie has the novelty of combining all three; much of the action takes place in the sea (hence, the presence of Ricou Browning as one of the directors), there are plenty of animals on hand, and it has a premise somewhat similar to that of THE LOST WORLD. Granted, when I mention prehistoric creatures, I’m not talking dinosaurs; we have sabre-toothed wolves, nine-gilled sharks, strange looking alligators, and vicious prehistoric ostriches. The latter are a particularly odd choice for a threat; though ostriches can be quite dangerous, their ungainly looks tend to make them seem comic. There’s also a pet seal named Drip for animal cuteness. The movie is only so-so; the production values are low, the script is often silly, and there’s very little in the way of surprises. The script is one of the few writing forays of actor Richard Carlson, and based on this, I don’t think he had a keen ear for dialogue. The occasional good scene and some unusual camera shots are the most striking things here.

Frightmare (1983)

aka The Horror Star
Article 3480 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-18-2011
Posting Date: 2-23-2011
Directed by Norman Thaddeus Vane
Featuring Ferdy Mayne, Luca Bercovici, Nita Talbot
Country: USA
What it is: Undead horror actor movie

A hammy horror star with a penchant for killing his directors dies and is buried. Fans of the star kidnap his corpse and bring it to a mansion for a party. The corpse revives, and soon the fans are dying in horrible ways.

The movie starts out interesting as kind of a cross between MADHOUSE and CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS. And there’s no doubt that the movie has a certain affection for old-time horror. But ultimately the call of the slasher film proves a bit too strong, and once the star revives, it’s largely an exercise in the various fans being stalked and knocked off by the corpse of the horror star. The movie also tries way too hard to ride on atmosphere; it’s so heavy on the swirling fog and the scary/creepy sound effects/music that it becomes downright laughable. But I think the saddest problem with this one is that the movie is sadly lacking in wit, and when your horror star is supposed to be something of a cross between Vincent Price and John Carradine, that’s a definite shortcoming. Some of the murders are quite ridiculous as well. Chalk this one up as a well-intentioned piece of bungling. As a side note, the existence of this film forced the identically titled 1974 movie to be released as FRIGHTMARE 2 on video to avoid being confused with it.

Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (1973)

Article 3479 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-17-2011
Posting Date: 2-22-2011
Directed by Joseph McGrath
Featuring Jim Dale, Spike Milligan, Angela Douglas
Country: UK
What it is: Giant dog comedy

A sheepdog accidentally ingests a substance that turns it into a giant. Complications ensue.

Had this movie been truly wretched, the title might have been its own self-review, but it’s nowhere near that bad. It’s a British cross between boy-and-his-dog movies, giant monster on the loose movies, and Disney shopping cart films. The emphasis is on the latter, probably, with most of the movie engaged in the comic complications, which include a German scientist mistakenly concluding that an animal psychologist thinks he’s a dog, a pair of acrobat crooks kidnapping the dog to sell him to a circus, and an over-eager Colonel who wishes to destroy the dog. It plays up a bit of the tear-jerkiness of boy-and-his-dog movies, especially in the opening sequence and near the end, when we’re afraid the dog may die. It does appear that the movie is at least a little familiar with the giant monster movies it’s parodying, and even has a sequence that emulates a mummy attack. Some of the gags are bizarre head-scratchers, but it occasionally works; my favorite bit features a dotty aunt who gets a call from her nephew while the television is on. Oddly, some of the humor is a little risque for what is in essence a children’s movie. It’s uneven, but not awful.