Karzan, le maitre de la jungle (1972)

KARZAN, LE MAITRE DE LA JUNGLE (1972)
aka Karzan, il favoloso uomo della jungla, Karzan, the Fabulous Jungle Man
Article 3730 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-16-2011
Posting Date: 10-31-2011
Directed by Demofilo Fidani
Featuring Johnny Kissmuller Jr, Simonetta Vitelli, Ettore Manni
Country: Italy
What it is: Tarzan clone

An expedition is launched into the jungle to locate a white man living like a savage.

With a title that so obviously gives away its source of inspiration and a leading man whose name is clearly a gimmick nom de plume, you’d think this movie would at least have a certain amount of tongue in its cheek or that there would be something about it that would make it different in tone from its model. But such is not the case; it’s a straightforward variation on the original Tarzan story, and a particularly dull one at that. The first half is pure Double-Stuffed Safari-O, and except for a tiny excerpt in a bit of film at the beginning, Karzan doesn’t appear until more than half the movie has passed. Karzan has a little bit in the way of super-strength, but hardly enough to compensate for the fact that the fantastic content consists of little more than the Tarzan legend. It’s one of those movies where hardly anything interesting happens. Still, three things stand out in the movie. One is that I wouldn’t choose a jungle guide whose first name is “Crazy”, no matter how well-recommended he comes. Another is that someone involved in this movie was addicted to shots of things coming right into the camera right before a jump cut, a trick that gets old very fast. And finally, the whole “Me Tarzan, you Jane” sequence here involves not Karzan and a woman from the expedition, but between Karzan’s female companion Shiran and the woman from the expedition (“You Shiran, I Monica.”). The ending is head-scratchingly unbelievable.

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Blood Beach (1980)

BLOOD BEACH (1980)
Article 3729 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-15-2011
Posting Date: 10-30-2011
Directed by Jeffrey Bloom
Featuring David Huffman, Marianna Hill, Burt Young
Country: USA
What it is: Terror from beneath the ground

Something is pulling down people through the sand on the beach and devouring them. Can the police figure out what it is and how to catch it?

The central idea isn’t a bad one, but I’m not sure the makers of this movie ever really figured out what to do with the idea. So what we get is the occasional attack scene alternating with scenes involving two former lovers reuniting or scenes of a police investigation that is getting nowhere or scenes involving colorful characters involved in one degree or another with the story. I quickly tired of both the crass policeman from Chicago (Burt Young) who does little but make tasteless comments and the homeless lady with the shopping cart, but I do kind of like the doctor investigating the case, even if his conclusions about the menace involved are really nothing but speculation. My favorite performance is from John Saxon, whose low-key no-nonsense manner I liked; it’s a pity that the story didn’t really give him a whole lot to do. Overall, the movie feels tired and jaded, even when things start moving during the last twenty minutes. All in all, it’s not memorable and not recommended.

Black Noon (1971)

BLACK NOON (1971)
TV-Movie
Article 3728 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-14-2011
Posting Date: 10-29-2011
Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski
Featuring Roy Thinnes, Yvette Mimieux, Ray Milland
Country: USA
What it is: Mysterious events in a western town

In the nineteenth century, a preacher and his wife become lost in the desert, and are rescued by members of a nearby town. The town has had a run of bad luck; their previous preacher died when the church burnt down, the coal mine which was their source of sustenance emptied out, and they’re being terrorized by a villain in black. While giving a sermon, the preacher apparently miraculously heals a cripple, and then finds that his presence has brought a string of good fortune to the town. But why is his wife mysteriously ailing? Who is the strange man he sees in his mirror? And what does the strange dumb girl have to do with it all..?

Sometimes you shouldn’t read blurbs about a movie before you watch it; the listing for this movie in the John Stanley book I use gives away a revelation that doesn’t occur until the end of the movie. It’s a bit of a shame; the final revelations put the movie into very familiar territory, but the setup is very clever and leaves you wondering how it’s all going to play out. It’s a little rough around the edges; it’s not particularly well-directed, and Roy Thinnes’ big sermon at a crucial point isn’t effective. But I do like a movie that can keep me guessing, and this movie does that well enough. And it’s also nice to catch another TV-Movie that wasn’t a pilot for a prospective series.

Poltergeist (1982)

POLTERGEIST (1982)
Article 3727 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-13-2011
Posting Date: 10-28-2011
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Featuring Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight
Country: USA
What it is: Horror, Spielberg style

A suburban family discovers that their home is the source of paranormal activity, but they really begin to panic when their youngest daughter is spirited away into another dimension.

I remember that when this movie came out, it was considered something of a companion piece to E.T. – THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL, as both movies came from the mind of Steven Spielberg and dealt with various aspects of childhood, with this movie concentrating on childhood fears. I remember there was a bit of controversy about how much of the movie was Spielberg’s work and how much was Tobe Hooper’s; after all, the movie feels a lot more like a Spielberg movie than anything from Hooper. There’s a lot I really like about the movie. The way it taps into childhood horror is quite memorable, with the creepy tree outside of the window being my favorite touch. The typical Spielbergian touches in the dialogue can be quite fun, and Zelda Rubenstein steals the movie as a diminutive psychic who intends to clean out the house. There are some great ideas as to the nature of the horror as well, though I don’t think the movie overall quite uses them as well as it could. Still, I have to admit that I find the movie more interesting than scary; there’s something about all of the special effects pyrotechnics that actually makes the movie seem less scary to me, especially during the big finale. In some ways, I feel about this movie’s horror content as I feel about Spielberg’s 1941’s comedy content; both movies end up trying too hard to be big to effectively keep focused on their primary intent. Nevertheless, that’s not a fatal flaw in this case, as the movie does remain consistently interesting.

Beyond Belief (1976)

BEYOND BELIEF (1976)
Article 3726 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-12-2011
Posting Date: 10-27-2011
Directed by Alan Baker
Featuring Richard Mathews
Country: USA
What it is: Documentary about psychic phenomena and UFOs

Footage is shown involving psychic experiments, poltergeists, key bending and UFOs.

Like any documentary of this kind, what you’ll get out of it is bound to be tied up with what you bring in with you in the first place. Believers will probably go along with it, skeptics won’t, though I suspect the former will enjoy the movie more than the latter. My own approach would be to decide if it was entertaining and/or well-made. As for the latter, the answer is no; the only new footage shot for the movie was that of the narrator; the rest was lifted from other documentaries and thrown into the mix, with the UFO section in particular feeling as if it was lifted from somewhere else at the last minute and tacked on to make the movie last longer. It’s not well-organized, nor does it build up to any real point. Entertainment-wise, I found it mostly dull, with little in the way of anything new or novel. I did find a couple of moments a bit interesting. One is during the second half of the poltergeist sequence, in which one man discovers he can calm down the poltergeist activity if he empties his mind and lets the forces take control of his hand to write messages. The other was in an interview with an astronaut during the UFO sequence, in which he is asked if UFOs exist. For once, someone addresses that UFO stands for “Unidentified Flying Object”, and so anytime you see something flying you can’t identify, you have technically seen a UFO; most of the time, when UFOs are envisioned, it’s almost always attached to the concept of spaceships from other planets. Nevertheless, despite these moments, I found this movie singularly dull.

Massacre at Central High (1976)

MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH (1976)
Article 3725 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-11-2011
Posting Date: 10-26-2011
Directed by Rene Daalder
Featuring Derrel Maury, Andrew Stevens, Robert Carradine
Country: USA
What it is: Tale of bloody revenge… but only on the surface

A new student at Central High discovers that his best friend has fallen in with a trio of bullies who terrorize the other students. Despite the fact that he could stay under the protection of the bullies, he can’t stand their tactics, and when violence erupts between them, the new student ends up crippled when the bullies drop a jacked-up car on him. When the student finally returns to school, the bullies begin to die one by one…

On the surface, the story seems to promise little more than the usual “bloody revenge” plot type of thrills. But an uncommon amount of thought went into the characters, the motivations, and the political subtext, and this gives the movie a surprising degree of depth. The political subtext clearly emerges where most movies of this ilk end; once the bullies are dead, we see what happens to the students they formerly oppressed, and it’s not a pretty sight, and the sad reality that having been oppressed does not necessarily ennoble oneself becomes a key theme. The new student is also a fascinating character; though he hates the injustices he sees, he is also aware that he himself has an anger that can spiral out of control; one of my favorite character moments in the movie is when he reveals the trick he has of managing his anger, because once he is crippled in the accident, we know that he can no longer rely on that trick. In some ways, the movie is a fantasy; despite the high school environment, we don’t see a single adult authority figure around; the only authority figures that do appear are some faceless policemen at the very end of the movie, and the only other adults that appear are alumni at a dance near the end of the movie, which means they can be considered as extensions of the students rather than as authority figures. Nevertheless, despite the strengths, there were some problems with the movie; apparently the original script had some pretty bad dialogue, and rather than using it, much of it was improvised on the spot, and the only character who was instructed to keep to the lines as originally written was the boy in the library, and if you can imagine all the other characters talking like he does, you might have an idea of how badly this movie could have ended up. The choice of music for the soundtrack is also pretty weak, and apparently the director never saw the finished film because he himself couldn’t stand the music that was used. Nevertheless, movies with this much thoughtfulness behind them are uncommon, and whatever its flaws, the movie is definitely worth viewing.

Graduation Day (1981)

GRADUATION DAY (1981)
Article 3724 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-11-2011
Posting Date: 10-25-2011
Directed by Herb Freed
Featuring Christopher George, Patch MacKenzie, E. Danny Murphy
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher film

A high school student dies upon the completion of a race at a track meet. Shortly after that, the other members of her track team begin to be killed off one by one. Who is the killer? Is it the deceased student’s strange sister? The bad-tempered coach? The harried principal? The father of the deceased girl? The stupid pot-smoking cop? One of the students?

Right before I watched this movie, I read a couple of blurbs about it from some of my sources, plus I recalled a short review that I’d read about it some time ago that purported to give away the end of the movie. After having actually watched the movie, I found myself a little amused by the fact that each of the blurbs had been inaccurate. The ending given away by the one source turned out to be wrong, though I’m willing to entertain the idea that it may have been purposefully inaccurate in order to throw off the reader. One emphasized the use of field and track equipment as murder weapons, but I’m not aware of any track and field events that use boards of spikes, switchblades or swords. And one review magically concocts an elaborate backstory (involving a “Dear John” letter, some pitchfork murders, and a the revival of a traditional Graduation dance as the event that sets off the murders) that simply doesn’t exist in any way, shape or form in the movie I saw. Maybe they weren’t from faulty memories; after all, many of these slasher movies come off as clones of each other, and I bet it’s hard to keep them straight at times. As for the movie itself, it’s pretty bad. The murder scenes are singularly devoid of suspense, some of the murders are pretty silly, there are too many unnecessary characters, and its handling of some of the slasher film cliches is pretty clumsy (especially the cliche about the discovery of the dead bodies at various times and locations being used for shock effect). There’s a few interesting tricks in editing that would have been effective had the rest of the movie worked, but I’m particularly disappointed on how the movie fails to use the killer’s gimmick (he carries a stopwatch to time out the murders) in any way to increase the tension. At least it doesn’t hint at a sequel, and none was forthcoming.