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.

The Dark Crystal (1982)

THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982)
Article 3752 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-10-2011
Posting Date: 11-22-2011
Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz
Featuring the talents of Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Frank Oz
Country: USA / UK
What it is: Epic fantasy, Muppet style

A gelfling is sent on quest to recover the shard of a damaged crystal and to restore it when the three suns are in conjunction. However, the evil Skekses want to prevent this…

I’ve been a long fan of Jim Henson’s muppets, though over the years, I’ve come to realize that it’s with certain reservations; I much prefer the strain of anarchist absurdism that runs through them to the touches of whimsy and cuteness. This was a real departure for them, and I have a real affection for it. The story itself is standard epic fantasy fare, but the visual splendor of the art direction and the design of the many strange creatures that inhabit this world give it a real sense of magic and fantasy. The creations are most effective when they stray as far as possible from the human form; the ones that are most human (the Gelflings and Podlings) are the least effective. However, the Garthins and the Landstriders are truly amazing, the bizarre one-eyed witch Aughra makes a serviceable Yoda substitute. My favorite shots are probably the scenes of the Mystics in their painfully slow pilgrimage across the land to the crystal.

The Blue Bird (1976)

THE BLUE BIRD (1976)
Article 3751 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-9-2011
Posting Date: 11-21-2011
Directed by George Cukor
Featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda, Ava Gardner
Country: USA / Soviet Union
What it is: Allegorical fairy tale

Two children are sent out by Light to search for the Blue Bird of Happiness so that can give it to an ill child.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the 1940 version of this story with Shirley Temple, but I remember not caring much for that version. I’m afraid I don’t care a whole lot for this version either. Despite having had a fairly expensive (and reportedly trouble-filled) production, it looks a lot like a photographed stage play at times, and the story itself is too steeped in allegory and messages to ever be fun or energetic. Oddly enough, I found the most striking moments to be the depressing ones, and that’s hardly a good recommendation for a children’s movie. For a fantasy, it’s singularly lacking in magic, and the movie was both a commercial and critical flop. Still, the performances are mostly decent; my favorite performance came from Ava Gardner as Luxury, while the most disappointing came from Jane Fonda, who would have been a lot more fun if she had hammed up her role as Night rather than underplaying it.

Lokis (1970)

LOKIS (1970)
aka The Bear
Article 3750 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-8-2011
Posting Date: 11-20-2011
Directed by Janusz Majewski
Featuring Jozef Duriasz, Edmund Fetting, Gustaw Lutkiewicz
Country: Poland
What it is: Shapeshifter saga

A pastor studying Lithuanian customs stays with a nobleman in order to use the rare books in his library. He learns that the nobleman’s mother is insane, and that legend has it she became that way after she was assaulted by a bear, and that her son was the result of that union, making him a werebear. Is it just a legend….?

If I were to give a thumbnail description of this movie, I’d describe it as something of a cross between a movie of Val Lewton’s and one of Corman’s Poe movies in which a young stranger visits a manor whose lord is Vincent Price. I could certainly see Price in the role of the nobleman here, and like those movies, the story is told from the point of view of the visiting stranger. And like the Lewton movie, there is a certain ambiguity about just what the truth is. I found the movie intriguing and atmospheric, but it is overlong and slow-moving. Still, there are memorable moments here; I particularly like an encounter with a witch-like character in a swamp, which eventually leads to an intriguing moment later in the movie when the nobleman, to celebrate his marriage, releases some of the animals he has in captivity. I really enjoyed this one, and will probably be watching it again at some time.

Autopsy (1975)

AUTOPSY (1975)
aka Macchie solari
Article 3749 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-7-2011
Posting Date: 11-19-2011
Directed by Armando Crispino
Featuring Mimsy Farmer, Barry Primus, Ray Lovelock
Country: Italy
What it is: Giallo

A wave of suicides, possibly caused by sunspots, runs through the country, keeping the doctors in an autopsy center very busy. A woman begins to suspect that one suicide was actually a murder, but she finds that the murderer may be much closer to her than she expects…

There are some words that, if you put them in movie titles, raise certain expectations, and the word “autopsy” is one of them; it seems to promise a certain level of gross-out. And, for a while, the movie actually manages it; with an opening that features a series of non-stop suicides and a grotesque hallucination sequence in a morgue where the bloody dead rise up, the movie does achieve that level. Eventually, though, it settles into a confusing giallo plot that ultimately tries just a bit too hard to be effective. There’s just too many sick, twisted and unhealthy characters here; even the heroine of the story seems to be one baby step away from madness, and that makes it really hard to warm up to anyone. As a result, I found myself not really caring a whole lot about the movie, despite the facts that there are some pretty odd plot twists along the way. It is stylistically interesting, and I do like it better than the other Armando Crispino movie I’ve seen for this series, THE DEAD ARE ALIVE. I just wish he’d come up with ways to get us to care about his characters.