Night of the Death Cult (1975)

aka La noche de las gaviatos, The Night of the Seagulls

Article 3648 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-26-2011
Posting Date: 8-10-2011
Directed by Amando de Ossorio
Featuring Victor Petit, Maria Kosty, Sandra Mozarowsky
Country: Spain
What it is: Blind Dead movie

A doctor and his wife move their practice to a small coastal village whose residents treat them with open hostility. It is soon discovered they have a secret; they have been leaving young women of the village to be sacrificed by a cult of the undead.

When I saw THE RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD, I took issue with the way Amando de Ossorio had changed the rules that dictated the actions of his undead minions from the first movie in the series. Now, having just seen the fourth (I have yet to see the third), I’ve come to the conclusion that he actually did something very interesting with this series; rather than having each movie follow the other in a logical succession, he seemed more interested in varying those rules and putting the blind dead in different environments. It ends up feeling more like “variations on a theme”, which keeps the movies in the series from becoming increasingly stagnant repeats of each other; each one feels different. I quite like this take on it; though it’s made of very familiar elements (the hostile village with a secret is hardly an original concept), it’s interesting to see the changes made to the blind dead to make it work in this context. Furthermore, the movie is quite well dubbed, and as always, there is something genuinely eerie in seeing those zombies trotting around in slow motion on their horses. My favorite scene has one of the zombies set on fire, but who then attempts to make one more attack before being consumed. I have to admit I’m looking forward to seeing the third in the series.

The Night of a Thousand Cats (1972)

aka La noche de los mil gatos

Article 3647 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-25-2011
Posting Date: 8-9-2011
Directed by Rene Cardona Jr.
Featuring Anjanette Comer, Zulma Faiad, Hugo Stiglitz
Country: Mexico
What it is: Psychos and Mad Animals

A psycho seduces women, and then kills them and feeds them to his 1000 cats.

Maybe the full 93 minute version fleshes things out a bit; it’s likely to be more coherent than the 63 minute version that made it to the USA and which I’ve just seen (unless, of course, it was just a bunch of sex scenes that were removed, which is distinctly possible). In this form, the movie consists of little more than the premise. There may be a backstory of some sort hidden in there, but the way it’s edited, it’s really hard to tell. Probably the most curious thing about this movie is that our psycho does his cruising for cat food in a helicopter, and he does a lot of cruising. You can probably guess the ending; I saw it coming when I saw the premise, and one thing this movie doesn’t do is give you surprises. Animal lovers will definitely want to steer clear of this one; there’s a couple of scenes where the psycho treats cats in a way that indicates that the humane society was nowhere near the production site, and they don’t look faked.

King Kong (1976)

KING KONG (1976)
Article 3646 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-24-2011
Posting Date: 8-8-2011
Directed by John Guillermin
Featuring Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange
Country: USA
What it is: Giant ape classic remake

While exploring a mysterious island in hopes of finding it rich in oil, an oil company discovers the existence of a giant ape. When the oil proves to be unusable, they hit on the idea of capturing the ape and using it as a promotional gimmick.

Trying to remake a movie that is as epochal and well-loved as the original KING KONG is an extremely difficult task; for one thing, devotees of the original will most probably be hostile to it from the get-go. As a result, this movie is much maligned by fans of the original, and the early emphasis in the movie’s promotion on the creation of a full-size mechanical model of the title character backfired when the model turned out to work horribly (its scenes are the worst in the movie). I quite love the original movie, but not as much as many others, and I resolved to give this remake a chance.

On the plus side, I quite like Jeff Bridge’s performance, but then, I’ve liked every performance of his I’ve seen. I mostly like Charles Grodin’s performance; he occasionally succumbs to an annoying strain of campiness that infects the script. If I get past the fact that they’re not using stop-motion, I quite like some of the special effects; the Kong mask is well articulated, and Rick Baker does a good job of bringing the character across (and he never succumbs to the campiness, but then, Kong doesn’t have any lines). The giant mechanical hand actually works well enough to pass muster.

Nonetheless, there are some formidable down sides to this movie. That aforementioned strain of campiness is a constant annoyance, often resulting in clunky “laugh” lines that sound way too self-conscious. I also don’t care for the way what was subtext in the original movie is made obvious here; the idea that this is a “love story” of sorts is really belabored here (especially near the end of the movie), and the movie makes way too big a deal of how the Twin Towers resemble two peaks on Kong’s island. Yet, for me, the worst problem is the reduction of the Fay Wray character from the original to an airheaded dumb blonde stereotype here. I don’t blame Jessica Lange (she played the character as written); I blame the writers. It’s hard to take the movie seriously when the heroine is yelling lines like “You male chauvinist pig ape!” or asking Kong what sign he was born under. Somehow, I find it really irritating that they have these endless scenes of her character trying to have conversations with Kong while having no battles with dinosaurs.

Then there’s the ending of the movie. I won’t go into detail, but it’s been said that people cried at the end of the original movie, and to my eyes, it seemed to accomplish this without trying for tears. This one really strains to make you cry at the end, and fails. Ultimately, I have to side with those who are disappointed by this one.

The Humanoid (1979)

aka L’umanoide

Article 3645 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-23-2011
Posting Date: 8-7-2011
Directed by Aldo Lado
Featuring Richard Kiel, Corinne Clery, Leonard Mann
Country: Italy
What it is: STAR WARS clone

In a bid to take over the galaxy, an evil man has a space pilot transformed into a giant indestructible humanoid who will wreak terror at his command.

Well, the movie gets some points for not stealing the plot of STAR WARS, and Ennie Morricone does manage to keep the score from sounding too much like reheated John Williams, although that doesn’t keep it from sounding tinny and cheap. Nevertheless, the design characteristics of this film borrow from its inspiration at every possible chance; in fact, it even imitates the “huge ship passing overhead” from the opening scene of that movie twice, which is really overdoing it. We also get a mechanical dog that is this movie’s R2D2, a scene where guns in the rear of a Millennium Falcon-like ship are used to destroy attackers, lots of scenes on a desert planet, and lots of faux Darth Vaders. Granted, you know a movie doesn’t have a lot going for it when it’s top-billed star is Richard Kiel, though I will say that by this time he proved a much better actor than he’d been during the sixties. This is only for people who love Italian STAR WARS clones, and, yes, I do believe they exist.

Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

aka El espanto surge la tumba

Article 3644 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-22-2011
Posting Date: 8-6-2011
Directed by Carlos Aured
Featuring Paul Naschy, Emma Cohen, Victor Alcazar
Country: Spain
What it is: Witches and vampires and walking dead

A practitioner of the black arts puts a curse on his executioners. Years later when his descendants set out to find his remains, he begins acting out his vengeance.

Paul Naschy was such a fan of the classic monsters that I often wish I liked his movies better than I do. Granted, I’m usually catching poorly-dubbed cut prints of varying condition when I watch them, and they’re simply not going to work as well because of the sense of cheapness they project. Like many of his movies that I’ve seen, this one just doesn’t pick up much in the way of horror momentum; there’s lots of scary scenes, but there’s no decent story flow and there’s a tiresome sameness to a lot of the scenes in the movie. His movies would be really hard to follow if they weren’t built on such familiar elements; the witch/warlock cursing his executioners storyline is fairly common, the idea of matching up the head of the sorcerer to his body has popped up before (specifically, in THE THING THAT COULDN’T DIE), and the living dead sequence is just another nod to a certain George Romero movie. There are a couple of special effects sequences that work fairly well, but, as in many Naschy movies, certain individual moments work although the movie as a whole doesn’t. Still, I’m willing to bet a good complete print with subtitles would improve things.

Twisted Brain (1974)

aka Horror High

Article 3643 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-21-2011
Posting Date: 8-5-2011
Directed by Larry N. Stouffer
Featuring Pat Cordi, Austin Stoker, Rosie Holotik
Country: USA
What it is: Jekyll and Hyde story

A harried but powerless chemistry student discovers a potion that can change his physical appearance… and give him the ability to take vengeance on his tormentors.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that so blatantly sets up its premise that it manages to strip practically every potential surprise away from the movie within the first ten minutes. We see the student in a literature class watching a movie adaptation of the Dr. Jekyll story, and then we see the geeky weakling being tormented by teachers, janitors and other students. During this time we learn that he’s working on the above-mentioned potion. Heck, you even know how two of the tormentors are going to be killed by dint of how heavily the murder weapons are called to our attention. Then, once he confronts each of his tormentors in his new body, we get a flashback to how they tormented him just in case we forgot they were doing so. It’s best appreciated if you’ve got the attention span of a gnat; for the rest of us, it’s like doing a connect the dot puzzle when it’s blatantly obvious what the picture is going to look like before we start. Nonetheless, I’ll give the movie a little credit for coming up with one surprise; there’s a character moment where we discover that the process of killing off his tormentors is actually making him less shy and more confident, a character touch that is actually sadly disturbing in its insight. This goes to show that in even something this routine, you can occasionally find something worthwhile, and somehow that makes the process of watching all these movies seem a little more rewarding.

The Hearse (1980)

Article 3642 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-20-2011
Posting Date: 8-4-2011
Directed by George Bowers
Featuring Trish Van Devere, Joseph Cotten, David Gautreaux
Country: USA
What it is: Spooky house story

After a stressful year, a recently divorced woman moves into a country house in the hopes of getting away from it all… only to discover that the house is haunted and that she’s being terrorized at night by a big black hearse.

Woman has a spooky experience. Woman convinces herself it was her imagination or that she was dreaming. Woman has another spooky experience. Woman convinces herself it was her imagination or that she was dreaming. Woman has another spooky experience. Woman convinces herself it was her imagination or that she was dreaming. Woman has another…. repeat until you feel like you actually need to have something happen in the story. That’s the movie in a nutshell. You have a mysterious man in a black hearse, a ghost, some devil worship, a couple of unnecessary side characters so you can have someone die near the end of the movie, a bunch of hostile townspeople, and a little exorcism thrown into the mix… well, I suppose if you’re in the right mood, this might be a little creepy, but I found it slow, obvious, rather dull, not particularly scary, and loaded with filler. A little old-fashioned star power with Joseph Cotten doesn’t help much.

Hangar 18 (1980)

HANGAR 18 (1980)
Article 3641 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-19-2011
Posting Date: 8-3-2011
Directed by James L. Conway
Featuring Gary Collins, Robert Vaughn, James Hampton
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction conspiracy thriller

A UFO lands in Arizona after colliding with a satellite just put into orbit by NASA, an accident that results in the death of an astronaut. The government tries to keep the discovery of the UFO under wraps while investigating the craft, but the other two astronauts (blamed unfairly for the death of the third) can only clear their names by finding the evidence that the UFO exists.

The scenes in the movie can roughly be split into two sections; there are those that deal with the investigation of the alien spacecraft, and there are those that deal with the government conspiracy. I find the investigation of the spacecraft to be a potentially interesting concept, and the best moments of the movie revolve around these sections. However, the other half of the movie deals with one of the most dunderheaded cinematic government conspiracies I’ve ever encountered; every action the conspirators take just seems to make the chances of keeping this thing under wraps more unlikely, and had they simply taken the other two astronauts into their confidence (after all, there’s nothing illegal about investigating a UFO) rather than trying to cover up everything and placing the blame for the death on their heads (thus simply encouraging them to investigate on their own), the whole action-conspiracy-thriller section of the movie could have been dispensed with. As it is, it’s what Roger Ebert called an “idiot plot”; a conflict that could have been easily resolved if the characters hadn’t been idiots. And, unfortunately, the conspiracy eventually spirals out of control and takes the UFO investigation sequence with it, leaving a series of unresolved plot points and a dumb ending in its wake. But then, what do you expect from a movie produced by that purveyor of documentaries like THE OUTER SPACE CONNECTION and IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK – Sunn Classics.

Le ciel sur la tete (1965)

aka Sky Above Heaven

Article 3640 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-18-2011
Posting Date: 8-2-2011
Directed by Yves Ciampi
Featuring Andre Smagghe, Marcel Bozzuffi, Henri Piegay
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Science fiction thriller

A radioactive satellite pursues an aircraft carrier.

Some time ago I remember watching an American movie that seemed more like a foreign movie than anything else; I wish I could remember what movie it was. This movie seems to be its mirror opposite; though it’s a French/Italian coproduction, it seems more like an American movie, especially when it lovingly dwells on the spectacle of military technology. I just wish I could tell whether the movie is good or not; my copy is in unsubtitled French, and despite its emphasis on military spectacle, most of the plot seems to be encompassed in dialogue, so I can’t say whether its stylistic touches (it makes some truly interesting experiments with color, and the sound is loud, even shrill at times) make it work. I’ve found at least one reviewer considers the movie more of a commercial for the French aircraft carrier “Clemenceau”, and based on what I see here, I’d have to say that it’s the real star of the show, given how much screen time it’s given. The first half is pretty talky, but it does seem to pick up quite a bit towards the end; I just wish I knew precisely what was going on. At any rate, here’s another movie that has been saved from my “ones that got away” list.

Host to a Ghost (1947)


Article 3639 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-17-2011
Posting Date: 8-1-2011
Directed by Hal Yates
Featuring Edgar Kennedy, Florence Lake, Dot Farley
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy short

When an in-law sells the house out from under him, a harried husband opts to rent a spooky old house rather than buy one that is offered to him. But the spooky old house may be haunted….

I almost watched this short a couple of weeks ago, but it turns out I didn’t have it; there’s an identically named short starring Andy Clyde. I rather wish I was covering that one; it was no great shakes, but I think it was more creative than this fairly obvious take on the subject. Most of the humor comes from Edgar’s family being scared by spooky events while Edgar crankily insists it’s not haunted. We know early on that Edgar is right and that someone is just trying to scare them out of the house, but I’ll give the short some credit for not having the plot involve Nazis or counterfeiters. The gags are shopworn, and Edgar’s family are more annoying than funny. Though I like Edgar Kennedy, I don’t think this short does him justice.