Asylum (1972)

ASYLUM (1972)
Article 3604 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-12-2011
Posting Date: 6-27-2011
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom
Country: UK
What it is: Anthology horror

A psychiatrist who has come to an asylum to apply for a job is given a test; he is to interview the patients and figure out which one is actually the former director of the asylum.

This is the Amicus horror anthology that I was the most curious about, largely because it’s the only one I remember seeing ads for on TV. The first story is a “revenge of the dead” story which, though a bit on the obvious side, does have the advantage of taking the “crawling hand” horror gimmick to the next level. The second, which features Barry Morse and Peter Cushing, is the most offbeat; it’s about a down-on-his-luck tailor who is hired to make a suit from a mysterious material, and it’s easily the least predictable of the bunch. The third, which features Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ekland, is about a troubled woman and her friend named Lucy; this one works better if you don’t figure out the twist, but I was able to pick up the clues in the story. The fourth story (which features Herbert Lom and Patrick Magee) is tied to the framing story; it’s a bit perfunctory, but it does have some memorable moments and contains the scene that stuck in my mind from the original ads. Then there’s a final twist to the whole thing as well. All in all, it’s not bad; it’s more consistent than some of the other Amicus anthologies, but I’m afraid it doesn’t have a story that matches the high points of some of the other anthologies; for example, there’s nothing here that has the impact of the story about the Poe collector in TORTURE GARDEN.

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The Screaming Woman (1972)

THE SCREAMING WOMAN (1972)
TV-Movie

Article 3603 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-11-2011
Posting Date: 6-26-2011
Directed by Jack Smight
Featuring Olivia de Havilland, Ed Nelson, Laraine Stephens
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller

A rich but possibly mentally unstable old woman discovers that a woman has been buried alive in the ruins of an old smokehouse on her property. Her attempts to get help to save the woman are met with disbelief in her mental capacities, and time is running out for the buried woman…

It’s been years since I read the Ray Bradbury short story on which this movie was based, but the entry in John Stanley’s “Creature Feature Movie Guide Strikes Again” reminded me that in the original story, the person who discovered the burial was not an old woman but a child. It would have been more interesting had the movie retained this approach; after all, I think the fear of not being believed because you were just a kid is more universal than not being believed because you’re a mentally unstable rich woman, but I suspect the latter route lent itself to more standard TV-Movie dramatic approaches, which was no doubt a factor. Still, that doesn’t mean that the movie doesn’t more or less work; it does, in fact, work well enough. Still, it could have been better. There’s a few false moments here and there; in particular, the old woman’s reaction to her discovery of the burial (she runs through the woods screaming nonstop) is way too overwrought and melodramatic to be convincing. I would also have liked the movie better if it had featured less of either the old woman’s daughter-in-law and the buried woman’s husband’s lover (two pushy and unlikable characters who add little to the story) and spent some time developing the character of the buried woman; after all, it’s her life that is really on the line here, and she’s treated as little more than a plot device. It’s not near as suspenseful as it could have been.

Revenge in the House of Usher (1982)

REVENGE IN THE HOUSE OF USHER (1982)
Article 3602 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-10-2011
Posting Date: 6-25-2011
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Howard Vernon, Antonio Mayans, Lina Romay
Country: Spain / France
What it is: Franco film

A former student visits the home of the ailing Dr. Usher, who has been trying to revive his daughter with blood transplants from unwilling female donors.

During the opening credits of this movie, I had to put the image on hold so I could write down exactly what I saw, so I could reproduce it for this review. Here is the credit as it appears in the movie

Based on the novel “The Fall of house of Usher” by Edgard Allan Poe

The utter sloppiness of this credit certainly shows that someone didn’t give a flying fudgesicle stick about this movie. But then, the movie doesn’t inspire it. Now I’ve had a fairly good time of it lately in my encounters with Jess Franco films; most of the ones I’ve seen recently have been his better efforts. This one is not; it’s Franco at his least inspired. It takes very little out of the Poe story; the only real elements in common are the name of Usher, the fact that someone comes to visit him, and that the house collapses when the main character dies; apart from that, it’s just Franco going to the Dr. Orloff well one more time, and this movie even recycles about fifteen minutes of footage from the first Orloff movie. It has those stylistic touches I associate with Franco at his worst, lots of shots of scenery, lots of shots of people standing around looking at things, etc. One thing I noticed in particular is that whenever a character is lying down, he likes to get close-ups of the character’s face from an angle that emphasizes his nostrils; this made me wonder if Franco had gotten confused about the old saying that “the eyes are the window to the soul” and had mentally substituted “nose” for “eyes”. Or maybe he just likes nostrils. At any rate, I found the experience of watching a bad Franco film no different than usual; I just let the movie wash over me until it’s over and then realize that I didn’t feel a single emotion during the whole thing, not even a twinge of fear. This one is not recommended.

Paranoia (1969)

PARANOIA (1969)
aka Orgasmo

Article 3601 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-9-2011
Posting Date: 6-24-2011
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Featuring Carroll Baker, Lou Castel, Colette Descombes
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Giallo

A rich widow moves to Europe and gets into an affair with a down-on-his-luck man. However, the man has a sister… and the two of them are not quite sane…

For the record, I will give the movie some points for keeping under wraps just what kind of story it is, so a number of the twists in the second half of the movie do actually come as surprises. Unfortunately, for the most part it’s one of those movies that’s about an unhappy, fragile woman being tormented, which is a concept I’ve never enjoyed all that much. Furthermore, it’s one of those movies where all of the characters are unpleasant and unlikable (including the tormented woman), and so I find myself spending a lot of time just wishing the movie would finish up and be done with it. It’s not near as sexy as the alternate title would lead you to believe, but it wasn’t really until the seventies that movies like this would get really permissive. And I could really do without the deus ex machina ending. In short, it’s passable and has its moments, but I didn’t find it particularly enjoyable.

A Man Called Dagger (1968)

A MAN CALLED DAGGER (1968)
Article 3600 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-8-2011
Posting Date: 6-23-2011
Directed by Richard Rush
Featuring Paul Mantee, Terry Moore, Jan Murray
Country: USA
What it is: Poverty-stricken James Bond

A secret agent investigates a Nazi scientist who has perfected a new form of brainwashing.

Heaven knows I’ve seen a lot of them by this point, but this may be the most threadbare ripoff of the James Bond concept that I have yet to encounter. Paul Mantee plays one of the least interesting secret agents in the business, Jan Murray’s wheel-chair bound Nazi scientist is too goofy to take seriously, and the action sequences are some of the lamest ever committed to celluloid. What’s going on around the edges is certainly more interesting than the main story; there’s a subplot involving cannibalism, and Richard Kiel (who would go on to appear in real James Bond movies) is on hand as the scientist’s assistant. Amazingly enough, director Richard Rush would go on to get an Oscar nomination for his direction of THE STUNT MAN; he must have learned a lot in the following decade.

The Alien Dead (1980)

THE ALIEN DEAD (1980)
Article 3599 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-7-2011
Posting Date: 6-22-2011
Directed by Fred Olen Ray
Featuring Buster Crabbe, Ray Roberts, Linda Lewis
Country: USA
What it is: Extreme low budget zombie flick

Flesh-eating zombies are loose in a swamp. A reporter and his girlfriend investigate.

So now we enter the cinematic world of Fred Olen Ray. Based on this movie, I’d have to say he’s a better director than either Jerry Warren or Larry Buchanan, which may be damning with faint praise. I will give him credit though; about halfway through the movie, there was one scare scene that actually made me jump, and that’s a lot more than some other directors have ever done for me. Also, if you take into account that this movie was reportedly made for about five thousand dollars (most of which went to Buster Crabbe), then I’d have to say he got quite a bit of bang for his buck. The movie is a cross between ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. No, it’s not good, but it keeps from getting overly dull, making it work well enough for bottom-of-the-bill drive-in fare. I’ve had to sit through far worse movies.

The Haunted House (1921)

THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1921)
Article 3598 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-6-2011
Posting Date: 6-21-2011
Directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton
Featuring Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts
Country: USA
What it is: Silent comedy short

When a bank clerk is mistaken for a bank robber, he hides out in a mansion that is supposed to be haunted…. but is actually the hideout for counterfeiters.

There’s actually quite a few movies called THE HAUNTED HOUSE, and at least seven or eight of them are on my hunt list; this is the only one so far that I’ve been able to find. As you can tell from the above plot description, the hauntings are faked, but there is at least one gag (in which an artificial man is built by two skeletons) that goes beyond the usual faked scares, and there’s a dream sequence where Buster visits heaven and hell to add to the fantastic content. The idea of a comedian having adventures in a haunted house is hardly a novel concept, but given that Buster was such an inventive physical comic during the silent era along with the fact that his stone-facedness prevents the short from descending into nothing more than a series of “Buster is scared” scenes, it’s one of the more clever of the genre. The first half of the movie gets most of its mileage with a running gag involving the fact that Buster accidentally dips his hand into a jar of glue; the second half concentrates on the haunted house, which, on top of being occupied by counterfeiters imitating ghosts and skeletons, is also the hiding place of the cast of a cut-rate production of “Faust” that are on the run from an irate audience. There’s a running gag about a trick stairwell, some of the best skeleton outfits I’ve ever seen, and a bizarre gag involving an old man and a turntable in the floor. It’s not one of Buster’s best, but it’s still very good and a lot of fun.