Don’t Open the Door! (1975)

DON’T OPEN THE DOOR! (1975)
Article 3762 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-20-2011
Posting Date: 12-2-2011
Directed by S.F. Brownrigg
Featuring Susan Bracken, Larry O’Dwyer, Gene Ross
Country: USA
What it is: Psycho killer

A woman gets an anonymous phone call telling her that her grandmother is on her deathbed. She returns to her grandmother’s home town (where her own mother was killed years ago) to take charge and make sure her grandmother gets the care she needs. Unfortunately, she finds herself the target of a psycho killer who makes obscene phone calls to her.

I will give S.F. Brownrigg some credit; he does know instill a truly creepy air in the proceedings, sometimes merely by casting people who really look right for their parts. And though you’ll figure out who the killer is fairly quickly (the movie really isn’t trying very hard to hide it), you’ll find all of the people hanging around the grandmother’s house have a pretty sleazy and unsettling feel to them. Still, if he’s good at that creepy low-budget feel, he’s less impressive in the story department, and not only does this movie leave too many unanswered questions in its wake, but after I while I find myself losing my patience with characters who consistently make the stupidest choices imaginable in their positions. Brownrigg is most famous for having helmed DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT; this one ends up not being near as bloody or near as interesting, though it does have its moments. It even has a choice bit of dialogue where the attorney quotes a line from Lewis Carroll. Nevertheless, despite the movie’s flaws, Brownrigg is a much stronger director than fellow Texan Larry Buchanan, with whom he worked before he moved into directing. Incidentally, the title is meaningless.

Dogs of Hell (1982)

DOGS OF HELL (1982)
aka Rottweilers: Dogs of Hell
Article 3761 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2011
Posting Date: 12-1-2011
Directed by Worth Keeter
Featuring Earl Owensby, Bill Gribble, Robert Bloodworth
Country: USA
What it is: Regional horror movie

The military has been experimenting with rottweilers to see if they can be developed to take the place of army troops. When a transport carrying some of the dogs crashes, they get loose and terrorize the residents and visitors in a mountain resort town.

Much as I admire the attempt to work at character development in a movie, to do it effectively requires a certain level of competence in both the acting and the writing departments, and I’m afraid that the talent in this movie isn’t quite up to the task from either angle. As a result, the first twenty minutes of this movie is a real snoozefest, but once the accident occurs and the dogs get loose it becomes… well, not good, but, if you take into account we’re dealing with low-budget regional horror, it becomes passable. Which is not to say the movie doesn’t have major problems after that point; it has quite a few moments when people act with real stupidity, there are a number of silly lines of dialogue, and the movie keeps trying to instill some more clumsy character development. Nevertheless, it’s sporadically entertaining enough to get by. It was filmed in 3D, though as far as I can tell, the movie uses the gimmick sparingly. My favorite line: “That catfish in there was bigger than Dolly Parton’s latest hit!” – I must admit that I wasn’t expecting those two last words.

Diamonds are Forever (1971)

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)
Article 3760 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-18-2011
Posting Date: 11-30-2011
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Featuring Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray
Country: UK
What it is: James Bond movie

James Bond is sent out to follow a diamond smuggling trail in which all of the connections end up dead.

I like the casting of Charles Gray as Blofeld; he’s always been one of my favorite villainous actors. I also like the pairs of assassins; the one that looks like a pairing of Oliver Reed and David Crosby, and the others named for characters in a Disney movie. But overall, I found this one rather disappointing. The science fiction content is the usual assortment of gimmicks, but the source that claims that part of the action takes place on the moon is incorrect; there’s a sequence on a moon set, and part of the plot involves an outer space satellite, but we never actually reach the moon. The movie seems a little dull and short of action; this was apparently due to the fact that Sean Connery was paid so much to return in the role after George Lazenby chose not to continue in it that the budget for the rest of the movie suffered accordingly. The humor seems weaker as well; I was really disappointed that the movie relies on stupid cops for laughs at one point. Connery would return to the role some ten years later (though not as part of the series), but after this movie Roger Moore would take over.

The Devil and Miss Sarah (1971)

THE DEVIL AND MISS SARAH (1971)
TV-Movie
Article 3759 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2011
Posting Date: 11-29-2011
Directed by Michael Caffey
Featuring Gene Barry, Janice Rule, James Drury
Country: USA
What it is: Horror western

A farmer unexpectedly finds himself taking on the responsibility of bringing a wanted criminal to justice when the sheriff that had him in custody dies. But the criminal is believed to be the devil himself, and he casts a baleful influence on the farmer’s beautiful wife, who appears to have a sixth sense about the future. Can he take the criminal to justice before she succumbs to him…?

Though it’s a little slow-moving on occasion, this interesting and offbeat horror western is pretty entertaining, much of it due to a great performance from Gene Barry as the outlaw with a real gift of gab as well as hypnotic powers. Whether he really is the devil himself or not is an ambiguity that the movie plays with till the very end, though it does ultimately settle on one or the other. Janice Rule is also quite effective as the wife; she says so little that we really don’t know what she’s going to do before it’s all over. The movie was filmed in Utah, and the shots of the desert really give us a sense on how a western location can be used for horror purposes; the scenery is both beautiful and unsettling. The movie seems to have an uneven reputation, but I quite liked it.

The Demon Murder Case (1983)

THE DEMON MURDER CASE (1983)
TV-Movie
Article 3758 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-16-2011
Posting Date: 11-28-2011
Directed by William Hale
Featuring Charles Fields, Liane Langland, Joyce Van Patten
Country: USA
What it is: Demonic possession movie

The defense attorney at a murder trial plans to argue that his client is innocent because he was demonically possessed at the time of the murder. The backstory of the case is then told.

According to my source for this movie, it’s based on a true case, but the screenwriter takes the tack that demonic possession is indeed the real culprit. Now, I don’t think this approach would necessarily make for a bad movie, but in order for it to work, it needs a much better script and better direction than we get here. Despite a plethora of well known names in the cast (Kevin Bacon, Cloris Leachman, Eddie Albert and Andy Griffith), the movie isn’t particularly well acted, and the script is pretty silly at times. Part of the reason is that it’s a TV-Movie from its era; when the biggest threat the possessing devil can hurl is “You’re all gonna die!” (which is uttered innumerable times), and the worst blasphemy it can conjure up is for the possessed boy to blow a raspberry at Jesus Christ, you’re not really going to be able to project a sense of consummate evil, and the movie really lacks a sense of dread. Furthermore, there are so many awkward moments and false notes that after a while it’s hard to believe anything about the movie. The first half of the movie is reheated cliches from THE EXORCIST, and the second half is mostly an “jealous boyfriend” story; neither half is convincing. All in all, this one is clumsy and tiresome.

The Dead Zone (1983)

THE DEAD ZONE (1983)
Article 3757 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-15-2011
Posting Date: 11-27-2011
Directed by David Cronenberg
Featuring Chrisopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt
Country: USA
What it is: Psychic power drama

A schoolteacher goes into a coma after a freak car accident. He comes out of his coma five years later with his life utterly changed… and with newly developed psychic powers. But what will be the price he has to pay to use these powers?

This movie marks a landmark in my Movie of the Day series, as it is the first movie I’ve covered that is based on something from the pen of perhaps the most famous horror writer in the world, Stephen King. Oddly enough, the novel was a departure for King, as this movie would also be for director David Cronenberg; it’s perhaps the most restrained work from either artist. It’s an excellent movie that explores the moral and personal issues of having a psychic power, as well as a conscience and a sense of responsibility, and it asks one of the more difficult moral questions to be found; if you could save the world at the expense of your life and reputation, would you do it? There are fine performances from an excellent cast, especially from Christopher Walken as the psychic and Martin Sheen as a ruthless politician, but Brooke Adams, Herbert Lom, and Anthony Zerbe are all memorable as well. I’d seen this one before, and I’m glad to say that I still find it just as gripping as I did then. Highly recommended.

It Happened Here (1965)

IT HAPPENED HERE (1965)
Article 3756 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-14-2011
Posting Date: 11-26-2011
Directed by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo
Featuring Pauline Murray, Sebastian Shaw, Bart Allison
Country: UK
What it is: Alternate history tale

In England after the successful Nazi invasion of 1943, a nurse discovers that, in order to continue in her profession, she must embrace National Socialism and its philosophy. But will she be able to have her profession and her conscience as well…?

That this movie got made at all is amazing; the two directors began work on it in 1956 when they were both teenagers, and it took them eight years to complete. Alternate histories are a rare thing in cinematic science fiction, and this one is gritty, harrowing, very sad and quite shocking. It’s also rather confusing at times, and a bit long-winded at others, and sometimes it’s just hard to hear what’s being said. Nevertheless, the movie is invaluable. One of its most important qualities is the way it allows us to understand how the Nazi philosophy is allowed to take root and to spread, and the movie manages to show this happening in a very plausible way; I liked in particular the way it plays up to the fears of the English people by emphasizing the threat of Communism, thus making it seem that they are really on the same side fighting the same enemy. I think this is a rare and valuable lesson to learn; when you consider how often Nazis are trotted out as standard villains, it’s important sometimes to address the seductive temptations of their philosophies. Whatever its flaws, this is a truly useful and memorable film.

The Rats (1982)

THE RATS (1982)
aka Deadly Eyes
Article 3755 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-13-2011
Posting Date: 11-25-2011
Directed by Robert Clouse
Featuring Sam Groom, Sara Botsford, Scatman Crothers
Country: Canada
What it is: Giant rat movie

Grain infected by steroids ends up producing a race of giant mutant rats that threaten to overrun a city.

This is one of those that has such a standard-issue plot (nothing happens in the movie that is surprising) that I find it hard to find much of interest to say about it. The most common piece of trivia I know about it is that the giant rats were played by dachshunds, which explains why they run that way and gives it a bit of similarity to THE KILLER SHREWS. Scatman Crothers is fun, but his role amounts to little more than a cameo. It’s decently acted, but uninspired, and some of the characters act with alarming stupidity; I’m particularly appalled by the fact that the first character who discovers the nature of the threat (a museum professor) is the one who most needlessly puts himself at danger. Of course, it borrows from JAWS by having the mayor of the city object to the battle being raged against the rats because it’s “bad for business” and might lose him a reelection. Director Robert Clouse is better known for having directed some Bruce Lee action flicks, and there’s some footage of GAME OF DEATH in the movie to remind us. This one is run-of-the-mill at best.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1981)
TV-Movie
Article 3754 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-12-2011
Posting Date: 11-24-2011
Directed by Frank De Felitta
Featuring Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Claude Earl Jones
Country: USA
What it is: Revenge from beyond the grave

In a small town, four rednecks form a vigilante party and gun down a half-wit (disguised as a scarecrow) in the belief that he murdered a little girl; in reality, the girl was not dead and the half-wit had saved her from a dog attack. The law lets the four vigilantes off due to lack of evidence. Then, one day, a scarecrow appears mysteriously in the field of one of the vigilantes; the next day, the vigilante has died in a horrible accident. Or was it an accident…?

The plot may be standard issue, but that’s not a real problem; what matters is that the movie presses the right buttons, pulls the right strings, and conjures up the right atmosphere to make everything work. There are some touches in particular that I like. For one thing, I like the fact that the head of the vigilante squad (Charles Durning) becomes even more repugnant as the movie progresses, especially when you discover what his own interest in the little girl is. I also like that the vigilantes do their best to try to figure out a non-supernatural explanation for their situation, but only dig themselves deeper when trying to act on that explanation. It’s a bit gory for a TV-Movie, but actually works better through suggestion; when one character is being chased through a pumpkin patch by some farm machinery, I found that seeing what the blades on the machine were doing to the pumpkins to be incredibly effective. This may actually be one of the scariest TV-movies I’ve ever seen.

The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (1955)

THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ (1955)
aka Ensayo de un crimen
Article 3753 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-11-11
Posting Date: 11-23-2011
Directed by Luis Bunuel
Featuring Miroslava, Ernesto Alonso, Rita Macedo
Country: Mexico
What it is: Serial killer movie… with a twist

As a child, Archibaldo was given a music box, and was told that it had once been in the possession of a king who could you use it to will people’s deaths. When he tries it on his governess, she dies immediately from a bullet shot from a revolutionary. Years later, he recovers the music box… but does it still give him that power…?

Serial killers with sexual hang-ups are a dime a dozen nowadays, but they certainly weren’t back in the fifties, but then, this movie is fairly ambiguous about whether the title character (who has come to associate eroticism with death) is actually a serial killer or only so in his imagination and due to coincidence. It’s certainly an interesting and complex movie, and it’s played more as a light drama than a horror movie; in this respect, it reminded me a bit of Chaplin’s MONSIEUR VERDOUX. It was directed by the surrealist Luis Bunuel, and is supposed to rank with his best work, but to be honest, I think I prefer the other movies of his I’ve covered for this series, namely, THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL and THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, both of which are much more surreal and strange; this one seems relatively normal.