Candles at Nine (1944)

Article 3536 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-26-2011
Posting Date: 4-20-2011
Directed by John Harlow
Featuring Jessie Matthews, Beatrix Lehmann, John Stuart
Country: UK
What it is: Old dark house movie

A singer is the heir to an old man’s fortune, but she can only inherit if she spends a month living in the old man’s spooky mansion.

By the mid-forties, the “old dark house” genre was on its last legs, but this movie does have some novelty value. First of all, unlike most of the others, this one comes from Britain. Secondly, the plot does occasionally go off in different directions other than what you’d expect from the genre. Unfortunately, this is because the movie wanders a bit; I get the feeling that the makers weren’t quite sure what to do with the concept, as if they realized they were swimming in heavily cliched waters and knew they had to do something to freshen things up, but weren’t sure what to do. As a result, the movie just doesn’t achieve any consistent tone; it tries a bit of everything (some comedy, some music, some mystery, some horror, some romance) but never really settles on anything. The mystery elements come across as weak; the true villains are obvious, and the backstory that explains the events is held back from us by the detective until the end of the movie for no real good reason. My favorite character is the old man, who has one great scene before he dies, but that’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened in this genre. Jessie Matthews was apparently a big star in her time, but this catches her on the way back down the ladder, though she would pop up in movies and TV shows for another 35 years.

Thunderbirds to the Rescue (1981)

Article 3535 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-25-2011
Posting Date: 4-19-2011
Directed by Alan Patillo and Desmond Saunders
Featuring the voices of Peter Dyneley, Sylvia Anderson, Shane Rimmer
Country: UK
What it is: Puppet action

The members of the International Rescue Organization try to save an airplane from certain destruction in the form of a bomb, and then must figure out why aircraft have suddenly began disappearing mysteriously.

I’ve not seen the “Thunderbirds” TV series; I’ve only seen the two movie offshoots of it and this, a movie cobbled together from two episodes of the series. One thing that struck me when I was watching the movies and struck me again when I watched this was the way it tries to avoid feeling like a puppet show; it’s shot in such a way that you can imagine it wouldn’t look that much different if the show had been made with live actors. The two episodes edited together here are “Trapped in the Sky” and “Operation Crash-Dive”; the first one was the pilot for the series, and, if the IMDB ratings can be trusted, may be the best episode of the series, while the other one is a direct sequel to that episode, making it a good second episode to combine with the first. The first half is indeed the better episode, as it actually builds up a decent amount of suspense in the rescue effort, especially during final rescue attempt. One could argue that the characters are wooden, but character isn’t really the point; it was an action series, after all, and it keeps itself moving on that level. Things only really drag when the movie gets a little too enamored with its hardware, but that doesn’t happen frequently enough here to be a problem. Actually, it’s not a bad introduction to the series.

Ulysses (1967)

ULYSSES (1967)
Article 3534 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-24-2011
Posting Date: 4-18-2011
Directed by Joseph Strick
Featuring Barbara Jefford, Milo O’Shea, Maurice Roeves
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Ambitious literary adaptation

The events in the lives of two men in Dublin for a single day are recounted.

Personally, I’m amazed anyone would actually aspire to adapt this James Joyce novel to the screen; it is such a singularly literary work that it may be untranslatable to any other medium. It’s no surprise that quite often the movie just takes passages from the book and adds visuals to it, especially the long nighttime musings of Molly Bloom that end the book. I read the novel many years ago, but I don’t remember it and I can’t say that I got much out of it, but I must admit that I had never prepared for this assault on such an extremely difficult work; I do plan to give the novel another try. Still, my lack of memory about the book makes me unwilling to judge this movie until I can make a decent comparison. On its own terms, the movie is sometimes interesting, sometimes quite dull, and it certainly doesn’t make the story seem easy to grasp. In fact, I’m not even sure I should be covering this one. It probably made the list for a few fantasy sequences in the imagination of Leopold Bloom, and perhaps for the fact that the novel itself somewhat parallels the story told in “The Odyssey”. For the record, my source for this one is “The Motion Picture Guide” which classifies the movie as a fantasy, as it has done for several other odd choices.

Zombie (1979)

ZOMBIE (1979)
aka Zombi 2
Article 3533 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-23-2011
Posting Date: 4-17-2011
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Featuring Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson
Country: Italy
What it is: Zombie movie

When a doctor’s sailboat drifts into New York with the crew missing, the doctor’s daughter and a reporter seek the island the doctor was known to have visited. But the island is overrun with flesh-eating zombies, and they’re hungry…

When George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD played abroad, it did so under the title ZOMBIE. This movie was made as an unauthorized sequel with the title ZOMBIE 2, though it was released in the US as just ZOMBIE. I have yet to see the Romero film, so I can’t make a comparison. Most of the reviews I’ve seen mention two scenes in the movie – the Zombie vs Shark battle and the scene with the wooden splinter. These two scenes probably stand out because they’re the most memorable moments during the first half of the movie, and though in some ways they can be a bit impressive, they also feel a bit out of place, as if they were thrown in to keep the first half of the movie from dragging. Once the people in the boat finally reach the island, the pace picks up quite a bit, and the final twenty minutes probably owes more to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD than its sequel. In the final analysis, the movie is not bad; it does work itself up to a decent amount of suspense in the final half, though I do think some of the characters act rather stupidly. This is probably Fulci’s most famous movie in the US, though his best work was probably in some of the giallos he made during the seventies. It’ll be interesting to compare it to DAWN OF THE DEAD when I eventually get around to seeing that one.

Xanadu (1980)

XANADU (1980)
Article 3532 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-22-2011
Posting Date: 4-16-2011
Directed by Robert Greenwald
Featuring Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck
Country: USA
What it is: I don’t know, but I hope it’s curable

An artist and a former jazz musician join forces and, with the help of a muse named Kira, open a roller disco nightclub called Xanadu.

First off, I like the Electric Light Orchestra. Second, the movie opens with a fun little riff on the Universal logo of the early thirties that is actually kind of fun. Thirdly, I admire the movie’s love for an earlier era of music, and the scene where a modern rock band and a forties dance band merge into a single entity gets a few points for being audacious. But I’ve never been a fan of Olivia Newton-John, the script (which was being written as the movie was being shot) is vapid, the acting is horrid, and it’s incredibly depressing to see Gene Kelly appearing in such an embarrassment for his final movie. I may like ELO, but they’re working way below par here. The end result is like watching story not worth catching in the first place being interrupted by a series of obnoxious music videos. It’s been claimed that the movie is a remake of DOWN TO EARTH, though that appears coincidental; in fact, DOWN TO EARTH (another movie I loathe) is really starting to look much better to me now.

This movie is about making your dreams come true. Me, I just need something to make the nightmare go away.

Coleridge should sue.

Rentadick (1972)

Article 3531 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-21-2011
Posting Date: 4-15-2011
Directed by Jim Clark
Featuring James Booth, Richard Briers, Julie Ege
Country: UK
What it is: British comedy

A detective agency is hired to guard a secret paralysis gas. However, some of the detectives at the same agency have been hired to steal the formula for the gas. Hilarity ensues.

When I heard that the movie was co-written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman, my expectations went up in the hopes of enjoying some Python-style humor. My first clue that all was not well should have been the opening credits, where the names of Cleese and Chapman do not appear; in fact, the only writing credits are for “additional dialogue”. It turns out that upon seeing the movie (based on a script of theirs with the less racy title RENTASLEUTH), the pair asked that their names be removed. I don’t blame them; this is a desperately unfunny farce, confusing, unfocused and messy. The only gag that even approached being funny was having one of the detectives become trapped inside a mansion and being thwarted in his every attempt to escape. The fantastic content is a nerve gas that paralyzes people from the waist down, but it’s used mostly as a Gizmo Maguffin, and given the bawdy title, I was surprised that the concept wasn’t used once for a suggestive joke; in fact, outside of a couple of near-naked shots of Julie Ege, the movie is surprisingly tame. The basic premise could have resulted in an interesting and fun comedy, but I’m afraid this one is a disaster.

The Prey (1984)

THE PREY (1984)
Article 3530 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-20-2011
Posting Date: 4-14-2011
Directed by Edwin Brown
Featuring Debbie Thureson, Steve Bond, Lori Lethin
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher film

Teens go out to woods. Maniacal killer lives there. Teens meet maniacal killer. Carnage ensues.

Let’s see… poor acting… threadbare plot… rotten script… token name actor Jackie Coogan in cameo that opens with him flushing the toilet… plot mostly involves teens having sex… movie gets hijacked by a thirty-minute backstory that mostly involves gypsies having sex… movie sets itself up for a sequel that never happened… director’s other films mostly have titles like A THOUSAND AND ONE EROTIC NIGHTS and HOTTEST PARTIES… tagline was “It’s not human, and it’s got an axe!”… tagline not particularly accurate, as it is human and only uses an axe once…

Conclusion: This is one of those movies that amply demonstrates why slasher films don’t get that much respect.

Our Man Flint (1966)

Article 3529 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-19-2011
Posting Date: 4-13-2011
Directed by Daniel Mann
Featuring James Coburn, Lee J. Cobb, Gila Golan
Country: USA
What it is: Bond-style spy thriller

When a cabal of scientists discovers a way to control the weather, thereby gaining the ability to cause worldwide destruction, an outside agent known as Derek Flint is recruited to find and defeat the scientists.

For my money, the Flint movies were the best James Bond knockoffs to follow in the wake of that phenomenon. If anything, I may even like them better. This movie is more overtly comic than the Bond movies without becoming merely farcical. It’s less stunt-oriented than the Bond series, but since I’m no big fan of stunts for the sake of stunts, I’m fine with that. I also like the twists that Flint has to the superspy prototype; he also has a lightning speed deductive ability similar to that of Sherlock Holmes, for example. It’s also nice to see a spy movie of this type that doesn’t try to confuse you with the plot; never did I find myself confused as to what was going on. It takes a quick, direct jab at James Bond when Flint encounters agent 008. All in all, I found this one satisfying and fun. My favorite joke – Flint is introduced to Dr. Wu and Dr. Schneider.

Die Nonne von Verona (1973)

aka Le monache di Sant’Arcangelo, The Nuns of St. Archangelo
Article 3528 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-18-2011
Posting Date: 4-12-2011
Directed by Domenico Paolella
Featuring Anne Heywood, Luc Merenda, Omella Muti
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Nunsploitation

On the death of the mother superior, a nun of the convent uses political manipulation to gain her position. However, the convent has attracted the attention of the Inquisition…

I’m a bit mystified by the appeal of the whole “nunsploitation” genre, but because it doesn’t of necessity end up in the genres I’m covering, I’ll probably only be watching a fraction of them. In this case, the only reason for its inclusion in this series is the presence of a handful of torture sequences, nudging it in the direction of horror. By the standards of the genre, this one is pretty mild; there’s sex, nudity and torture, but less than I expected. Most of the movie is actually concerned with the plot, which is based on a true story, and the story itself is fairly decent until it decides to get all preachy with its message (that the judges of the corruption at the convent are equally corrupt themselves). Still, the movie occasionally gets a little too desperate in employing its exploitation elements; when one nun is dying of poison and rips open her clothes so we can see her breasts, I get the sense it’s a cheap attempt to work in one last bit of nudity before the movie closes. Granted, that’s probably what fans of this genre want.

Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)

DR. BLACK, MR. HYDE (1976)
Article 3527 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-17-2011
Posting Date: 4-11-2011
Directed by William Crain
Featuring Bernie Casey, Rosalind Cash, Marie O’Henry
Country: USA
What it is: Blaxploitation horror

A black doctor works on a serum designed to rebuild damaged livers, but is unable to solve the problem of its side effects without human guinea pigs. He tries the serum on himself, and turns into a superhuman crazed white man with a penchant for killing hookers.

Well, the movie is sincere, features some authentic locations, has some good acting moments from Bernie Casey, and has one good jump scene. The script, however, is horribly uneven and inconsistent, particularly in its portrayal of the Mr. Hyde character and the nature of his powers. For one thing, the movie is simply not consistent in just how much in control of himself Hyde is; sometimes he seems coherent and focused, other times he seems like an inarticulate animal. Furthermore, the side effects are way over the top; having him turn white and become a crazed killer is one thing, but endowing him with superpowers really strains credibility. And they aren’t even consistent with that; sometimes he’s invulnerable to bullets, other times not. When the script actually gives Bernie Casey something to play with (such as when he tells the story that explains his desire to cure liver ailments AND his distrust of hookers), he does a fine job, but the script all too often leaves him foundering. Somewhere in here, there’s a better movie waiting to get out, but the script was in need of a few more revisions.