Scalpel (1977)

SCALPEL (1977)
aka False Face
Article 3546 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-5-2011
Posting Date: 4-30-2011
Directed by John Grissmer
Featuring Robert Lansing, Judith Chapman, Arlen Dean Snyder
Country: USA
What it is: Southern melodrama

A plastic surgeon rescues a mutilated stripper with the intent of changing her face to that of his daughter’s, who disappeared some time ago. The purpose: to get his hands on a fortune inherited by his daughter. However, complications arise…

The plastic surgery doppelganger plot doesn’t really make this a horror movie, but the fact that the plastic surgeon isn’t just unscrupulous but downright insane does add some horror touches to the plot. It has its fair share of twists; I thought I had anticipated one twist, but it turns out I was dead wrong, and I like a movie that can surprise me. The performances are solid, and the story is interesting, but things do get a little dull at times, and I did get a little annoyed with a couple of the fake-out scenes thrown in on occasion. Nevertheless, this is a mildly engaging little melodrama.


Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977)

Article 3545 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-4-2011
Posting Date: 4-29-2011
Directed by Greydon Clark
Featuring John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jack Kruschen
Country: USA
What it is: Really silly

A group of cheerleaders aren’t aware that their school’s janitor is a member of a Satanic cult, and soon they find themselves in danger.

To its credit, this movie isn’t quite as stupid as its title, but it’s not for lack of trying. The first half of the movie is mostly concerned with the antics of the cheerleaders, and they are as vapid as you might fear. The Satanists really come into play during the second half, and though this section is not really a great improvement over the first half, it does have at least one plot complication to add to the interest factor. That, in a nutshell, is the reason I give the movie a few extra points; based on its title, I didn’t expect any plot complications to break up this movie at all. I suppose the movie does deserve a point or two for not taking itself too seriously, even during the second half. And, despite a couple of small pluses, the movie is really only for those who are impressed by the title.

Os Deuses e Os Mortos (1970)

aka Of Gods and the Dead

Article 3544 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-3-2011
Posting Date: 4-28-2011
Directed by Ruy Guerra
Featuring Norma Bengell, Othon Bastos, Itala Nandi
Country: Brazil
What it is: Brazilian New Wave with surrealism

An adventurer (who has already been shot seven times) gets involved in a battle for a cacao plantation, setting loose a wave of bloody killings.

This movie entered my list from John Stanley’s “Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again” book under the mistranslated title OF GODS AND THE UNDEAD. With that kind of title, it’s little wonder that he thought the plot involved people rising from the dead, and, to be honest, Othon Bastos’s gruesome makeup certainly makes him look like the living dead. In truth, the movie is an art film, part of the Brazilian “Udigrudi” movement, an offshoot of “Cinema Novo”. Aware of the art movie credentials of this one, discovering that “Udigrudi” subverted traditional narrative film structure, and knowing that my copy was without English dubbing or subtitles, I went into this one without any expectations that I would understand what was going on, and the above plot description is taken from what IMDB has about the film. As usual in this case, I was forced to rely on the visual aspects of the film, and on that level, I can say quite frankly that I was blown away. Perhaps the most impressive aspect I found was the direction and the camerawork; many of the scenes are shot with a what looks to be a hand-held camera, and given that some of the long scenes in this movie were shot in one take, I became fascinated by the way that the camera would weave in and out among the actors, focusing in on the most interesting visual pictures and then moving on, not showing you certain details until late in the scene… whatever else you can say about these scenes, they are stunning pieces of cinematic choreography. The music is also startling and effective, and the movie certainly seems to delve into fantasy and horror before it’s all over. Just on a visual level, it’s often breathtaking, and the movie won a whole slew of Brazilian cinema awards. Even if I never come by a copy in English, I’ll probably give this one another viewing just to appreciate its visual brilliance.

Der Hexer (1964)

DER HEXER (1964)
aka The Mysterious Magician
Article 3543 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2011
Posting Date: 4-27-2011
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
Featuring Joachim Fuchsberger, Heinz Drache, Sophie Hardy
Country: West Germany
What it is: Krimi

Scotland Yard investigates the murder of a woman whose body was found in the Thames. It turns out the woman is the sister of a known vigilante known as the Ringer who now lives in Australia. When the Ringer’s wife shows up in London, they suspect the Ringer himself is in town. Scotland Yard now has a double mission; catch the murderers of the woman and also prevent them from being killed by the Ringer.

Outside of a little horror atmosphere in this one, there’s really not much in the way of fantastic content here. It is, however, one of the most entertaining of the krimis; it’s easy to follow, has an interesting premise, and the humorous content is fairly good. The movie even has a bit of William Castle-like gimmick feel to it; a card comes up near the end of the movie to ask the audience if they’ve identified who the Ringer is (for the record, I got it wrong). The version I saw was dubbed into English, but the title and writing throughout is in German, so I’m probably seeing the original print. One thing that is curious is that on IMDB, the USA version runs 13 minutes longer; I’m really curious as to what was added. At any rate, this is a very good choice for anyone out there interested in trying out a krimi.

Robinson Crusoe of Mystery Island (1966)

Article 3542 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-1-2011
Posting Date: 4-26-2011
Directed by Ray Taylor and Mack V. Wright
Featuring Mala, Mamo Clark, John Picorri
Country: USA
What it is: Serial thrills in convenient feature form

A federal agent is sent to Clipper Island to investigate the possibility of sabotage being performed on a dirigible company. It turns out the island is the hideout of a gang of international spies who are manipulating the natives by controlling the volcano.

It seems like eons since I’ve covered a feature version of a serial. Not that I really missed them, mind you; I always thought that serials crammed into features generally come off as repetitive; what works in twenty minute spurts doesn’t necessarily work in a 100 minute chunk, especially if you feel compelled to edit out plot points to make room for more action. This one is pretty typical; jagged editing leaves the storyline a confused mess. Nowadays, the original serials are easier to find than these condensations, so there’s no real reason to hunt for these, unless you’re a completist like me.

Grandfather’s Pills (1908)

aka Les dragees du grand-pere
Article 3541 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-31-2011
Posting Date: 4-25-2011
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Early trick film

A grandfather buys some pep pills to give him vim and vigor, but when a boy tries the pills, it gives him super-powers and he terrorizes the neighborhood.

This one is pretty amusing; the antics of the boy (including throwing cops around like rag dolls and lifting barbells with ease) are rather funny; it’s rather like a slapstick cross between a supervillain and THE BAD SEED. I wonder if this was the first movie about juvenile delinquency. Well, at any rate, this is another movie rescued from the ashes of my “ones that got away” list.

Firebird 2015 A.D. (1981)

FIREBIRD 2015 A.D. (1981)
Article 3540 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-30-2011
Posting Date: 4-24-2011
Directed by David M. Robertson
Featuring Darren McGavin, Doug McClure, George Touliatos
Country: Canada
What it is: Lighthearted political science fiction

The president passes a law that forbids the use of gasoline and motor vehicles by private citizens, and organizes a group called DVC to enforce the law. A group of renegade car-lovers and mechanics do battle with DVC to fight the unjust law.

Based on the short description I found of this one, I was expecting something along the lines of THE ROAD WARRIOR, a movie that has had more than its fair share of imitators. To this movie’s credit, it goes off in its own direction, and I’d say it owes more to the various car-crazy movies of the seventies along the lines of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT than it does to the Mad Max movies. Truth to tell, the movie does find its own voice, though admittedly it is a pretty slight movie (most of the movie involves people tooling around in their vehicles) and probably deserves it’s lowly 3.9 rating on IMDB. But I kind of like the movie; Darren McGavin is always fun to watch, the political cant is kept light-hearted and fun, and the movie does have on really interesting character in the mad brother of a DVC operative; he dresses like an American Indian and hunts down and destroys car drivers (known as burners). There’s a bit of suspense, but it’s one of those movies that is so harmlessly good-natured that you’ll feel pretty confident it will have a happy ending. It’s far from great, but it’s got some charm and is pretty harmless.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1982)

Article 3539 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-29-2011
Posting Date: 4-23-2011
Directed by James L. Conway
Featuring Martin Landau, Charlene Tilton, Ray Walston
Country: USA
What it is: Classics Illustrated Poe adaptation

An architect brings his wife to the house of childhood friend Roderick Usher, where he is asked to repair a crack in the foundation of the house. However, the house is under an evil curse, and soon they’re all in danger…

A few minutes into this movie the wagon carrying the architect and his wife has a mishap, and they are forced to go to a local inn to ask for a ride to the house of Usher, and the minute they walked into the inn, I knew they were walking into one of the hoariest old horror cliches of them all. This was my first clue that this adaptation wasn’t going to do Edgar Allan Poe’s story any justice. However, I’m glad I watched it, as it’s encouraging me to rethink my views on the Roger Corman Poe adaptations of the sixties; I was a little harsh on them when I covered them. One thing I realized while watching this movie was that Poe wasn’t just a horror story writer; he was also a poet, and that feel carries through to his prose work. Whatever flaws I found in Corman’s Poe movies, I began to realize that they did indeed capture some of the poetry of Poe, and for that they are to be commended. This movie, with its thuddingly literal dialogue and its trotting out of horror movie cliches (the house’s evil secret, the fact that Madeleine’s illness also causes her to try to assault people with medieval weapons, etc) is so bereft of poetry that it’s painful. The cast tries their best, but the script is against them at every turn, and this may be the worst adaptation of this Poe story I’ve seen.

Doctor Franken (1980)

Article 3538 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-28-2011
Posting Date: 4-22-2011
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky and Jeff Lieberman
Featuring Robert Vaughn, Robert Perault, David Selby
Country: USA
What it is: TV-Movie take on the Frankenstein story

A brilliant surgeon experiments with transplants on an unknown man brought to the hospital, much to the chagrin of a fellow doctor who has a secret of his own to hide.

The name that really caught my attention in the opening credits wasn’t that of any of the stars, but co-director/writer Jeff Lieberman, who I’ve liked ever since I saw SQUIRM. His presence gave me hope for something more interesting than just another TV-Movie rehash of the Frankenstein legend, which is what the title alone led me to expect. And I think it does, though the lowly 5.2 rating for this one on IMDB does leave me feeling that I’m somewhat out of step with the tastes of others on this one. I found it an unusual and interesting take on the story; the doctor is not trying to create life, but is trying to trying to develop new transplant techniques, with his guinea pig being a man who is technically dead because of his lack of brain activity; he is as surprised as anybody when the man returns to life. The movie does put forth the questionable premise that memories may exist in other parts of the human body than the mind; within the context of this story, the “creature” that is created has memories that originated from the man whose eyes he has received. The story itself is rather contrived, but the characters are well drawn, and both Robert Vaughn and Robert Perrault give very good performances. It’s not until the end of the movie that the movie gives off the air of a failed TV pilot; I suspect that the series would have involved the creation experiencing memories from any of his other transplanted parts, as well as trying to figure out his own identity. It’s an interesting idea, but in the context of a weekly series, it would have come across as increasingly silly. All in all, it’s a mixed bag, but one I must admit to liking.

Prehistoric Poultry (1916)

Animated Short
Article 3537 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-27-2011
Posting Date: 4-21-2001
Directed by Willis H. O’Brien
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Early stop-motion animation

A chicken takes sides in a duel between two caveman.

The appeal here is primarily the stop-motion animation of the various characters; two cavemen, a cavewoman, a dinosaur and a dinornis, which is a prehistoric chicken. It’s certainly not the plot, but when you’re talking about a movie that’s only three minutes long, I guess that’s to be expected. All in all, a minor historical item from the oeuvre of a pioneer special effects master.