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.

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.