Mother’s Day (1980)

MOTHER’S DAY (1980)
Article 3843 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-11-2012
Posting Date: 2-21-2012
Directed by Charles Kaufman
Featuring Nancy Hendrickson, Deborah Luce, Tiana Pierce
Country: USA
What it is: Psycho killer with touches of satire

Three female college roommates get together for a reunion/mystery weekend and camp out in the wilderness, where they are abducted by a family of psychos, whose matriarch has taught her sons to murder, rape and torture for her enjoyment.

Most horror movies of this era with holidays for titles were slasher films, but this one kind of falls somewhere between THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT with touches of satire sprinkled into the mix. I remember it was somewhat reviled in its time, and I can see why; the attempts at humor juxtaposed with the brutality and suffering on display is an uneasy mixture to swallow, and since it’s another example of the victims turning the tables on their captors and employing equally violent means in the process, it’s in a very manipulative subgenre which is both seductive and repellent. My own take on the movie is that it doesn’t really work, largely because the attempt at satire doesn’t seem to have a real point to it; for example, it fails to really establish why the pop-culture obsessions of the psychos has any real bearing on their madness. It does manage to successfully pull the manipulative strings at times, but that’s not too difficult with this type of story. The final twist is unnecessary and rather stupid.

Child’s Play (1984)

CHILD’S PLAY (1984)
Feature Length episode of “Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense”
Article 3842 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-9-2012
Posting Date: 2-19-2012
Directed by Val Guest
Featuring Mary Crosby, Nicholas Clay, Debbie Chasan
Country: UK
What it is: Lateral thinking movie

A family wakes up to discover that their house is surrounded by an impenetrable wall.

I’ve taken to calling them “lateral thinking stories”. Basically, they’re stories that set up a totally inexplicable situation that is almost impossible to figure out, and the answer, hidden until the very end of the movie, hinges upon being made privy to the truth by looking at it from a perspective that is hidden to the main characters of the story. As a good example, think of “Six Characters in Search of an Exit” from THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and you’ll know the type of story I mean. The trouble is that once you’ve got it pegged that this is the type of story you’re watching, you’ll know when the explanation will come and you’ll know that you’ll just have to sit it out until then, so the burden really falls on the writers/actors/directors to do enough to hold your interest until then. That’s not too difficult when you’re watching an episode of a half-hour TV-series, but when your episode is feature length… well, to keep things short, let’s just say that I got pretty annoyed with the characters (especially with the obnoxious kid and the always-on-the-edge-of-hysteria wife) to make the wait much fun. And truth to tell, given the title of the story, I can’t say I was all that surprised by the final revelation. For the record, this episode has characters discovering logos on all sorts of things, and there’s slime dripping down the chimney; these might give you a hint if you’ve seen it before and can’t remember its name. It has a rating of 7.0 on IMDB, which leads me to believe that it has its fans, but for me, it was just a little too familiar.

Cinderella 2000 (1977)

CINDERELLA 2000 (1977)
Article 3841 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-10-2012
Posting Date: 2-20-2012
Directed by Al Adamson
Featuring Catharine Burgess, Jay B. Larson, Vaughn Armstrong
Country: USA
What it is: Sexploitation Sci-Fi Musical

In the future, sex is allowed only by those chosen by computer to mate. A young woman with an evil stepmother and two evil stepsisters hopes to meet the man of her dreams and have the laws changed.

I found a version of this movie free on YouTube, though its 78 minute running time indicates that it has been cut by about 11 minutes, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what has gone by the wayside, especially since the movie originally had an X rating, while this version was rated R. Therefore, I’m really in no position to describe how well Al Adamson does as a director of softcore sex scenes, but given that the movie has a 2.4 rating on IMDB, I’m guessing he didn’t turn out to be a master of the form. For the rest, we have bad acting, stupid songs, threadbare production, and lame comedy. It wasn’t even the best softcore musical version of the story from that year, which you’d think might have been a small enough universe to have at least accomplished that.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)
Article 3840 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-8-2012
Posting Date: 2-18-2012
Directed by George A. Romero
Featuring David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger
Country: Italy / USA
What it is: Zombie apocalypse movie

Four people, trying to escape the onslaught of man-eating zombies, take refuge in a shopping mall.

On the surface, George Romero’s sequel to his classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD comes across as another take at the original story with the antes upped; it’s the same basic premise with fewer (but better trained) trapped humans and a more expansive setting (a shopping mall rather than an isolated house), with more gore and in color as well. What makes it a classic in its own right is that it takes a different tone; there’s are wicked streaks of humor and satire at play here, while the pristine shopping mall settings and the often ludicrous elevator music underscore its jaundiced look at consumerism. It’s not as intense or scary as the first movie, but it manages to take a fresh and fascinating look at the situation at hand and the world that is being created in its wake. It even had an ending that surprised me, though a different ending was at one time planned.

After I finished watching this movie (for the first time, I might add), I found myself checking the quotes on IMDB to see if it featured the line of the movie that will most stick with me. It wasn’t there, but for me, it was the most telling line of the film. I can’t remember the exact words, but it involves a character pondering as to “what has become of us”. It’s the type of line you’d expect from someone thinking about how brutal they’ve become in their battle for survival, but here, it’s about how they’ve take to petty squabbling when they feel relatively safe and secure. Somehow, the idea that the battle for survival makes them more human than they are when they are in idle comfort is a telling critique of human nature. All in all, I found this movie fascinating and satisfying.

The Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974)

THE PROPHECIES OF NOSTRADAMUS (1974)
aka Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen, The Last Days of Planet Earth
Article 3839 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-7-2012
Posting Date: 2-17-2012
Directed by Toshio Masuda
Featuring Tetsuro Tanba, Toshio Kurosawa, Kaoru Yumi
Country: Japan
What it is: Disaster movie

A professor believes that a recent rash of ecological disasters fits in with the prophecies of Nostradamus… and that the end of the world is at hand.

Just from the titles, I was expecting a documentary of some sort, albeit one from Japan rather than from Sunn Classics. Instead, it’s an attempt at the ultimate disaster movie. For the record, I’ve seen the full 114 minute version in Japanese with subtitles instead of the dubbed pan-and-scan version; I’ve not heard good things about the latter, and the movie’s low rating of 4.8 on IMDB is probably at least partially due to this other version. However, even uncut and letterboxed, this is no classic; it’s perhaps the preachiest movie I’ve ever seen and has its share of silly moments. Still, it has some good moments amid the sound, the fury, and the chatter. Two of the scenes take the disasters on a despairingly human level (a fisherman tries to commit suicide by walking into the sea after the fish have all been poisoned, and a prospective grandfather becomes enraged when his first grandchild is born with genetic deformities), and it’s hard not to be effected by these scenes. There’s also at least one startling special effects sequence in which the sky becomes a large mirror reflecting the surface of the earth. There’s also a memorable sequence in a cave in New Guinea that will probably stick in the memory. Other scenes are just bizarre, such as the scene where a bunch of motorcyclists drive over a cliff, and the attempts to attach these sequences to quotes from Nostradamus will often leave you scratching your head. All in all, it’s just way too heavy-handed to be truly effective, and you may want to prepare yourself for a real fake-out at the end of the movie.

Beiss mich, Liebling (1970)

BEISS MICH, LIEBLING (1970)
aka Bite Me, Darling; Love, Vampire Style
Article 3838 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-6-2012
Posting Date: 2-16-2012
Directed by Helmut Fornbacher
Featuring Eva Renzi, Patrick Jordan, Amadeus August
Country: West Germany
What it is: Horror comedy

A psychiatrist, jealous of the sexual escapades of the town’s new mailman, plots to kill him only to have his plans backfire.

Yes, it’s a vampire comedy (one of the alternate titles makes that clear enough), so why don’t I mention anything about vampires in my short plot description above? It’s because I generally limit any plot description I have to the first half of the movie, and this movie is a good three-quarters through before we get any vampire antics at all. The three-quarters mostly plays out like a bawdy comedy. My copy of the movie is in unsubtitled German, but the movie is one of those that uses a lot of visuals to tell its story, and if you know the premise, it’s pretty easy to follow. It really doesn’t seem to have much of a plot for the first half; it’s not until the psychiatrist begins his plans to kill the mailman that it seems to follow a story thread. Still, there are some plot points that are lost in the mix; I’m not quite sure why the psychiatrist becomes a vampire, though a scene where he discovers he has grown vampire fangs does seem to indicate that he is prone to it for one reason or another. The humor comes through even without subtitles, and though it’s hardly a great movie, it has its moments; my favorite has the vampire, denied access to his coffin, finding a substitute container for the night. Incidentally, I watched the 85 minute version, which is how it was originally shown in theaters; the longer 102 minute version had extra hardcore sex footage edited into it at a later time. My thanks to doctor kiss for this tidbit of info.

A Place to Die (1972)

A PLACE TO DIE (1972)
Feature-length episode of British TV Series “Thriller”
Article 3837 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-5-2012
Posting Date: 2-15-2012
Directed by Peter Jefferies
Featuring Bryan Marshall, Alexandra Hay, John Turner
Country: UK
What it is: Small town with a secret…

A doctor takes over a practice in a small community. His lovely wife, recovering from a foot injury, is greeted with joy by the community because she fits the description of a woman in an old superstition. Unfortunately, that means the wife is in deadly peril…

For the second day in a row, I’m watching a movie in which the heroine is saddled with a limp. In yesterday’s movie, it was there to up the suspense factor by making it difficult for her to escape from her pursuer; here, it’s the Maguffin that drives the direction of the plot. Now, I’ve seen a number of episodes from the British TV series “Thriller” for this series, and a good number of them have been very marginal in terms of their genre content. That’s not so with this one; it falls clearly into horror territory, and fits in well with any assortment of movies involving people moving to strange and hostile towns that harbor deep, dark secrets, though it’s nice in this one that the villagers react with a strange joy and generosity that is perhaps even more unsettling than simple hostility. There are some problems with story logic in this one; for example, if you were trying to get answers to questions about the town’s secrets, would you really question the town’s weirdest character who also happens to be a mute? Despite the clumsiness, this is nevertheless one of the better episodes of the series, and it does feel genuinely creepy on occasion.

Blood Song (1982)

BLOOD SONG (1982)
Article 3836 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-4-2012
Posting Date: 2-14-2012
Directed by Alan J. Levi
Featuring Donna Wilkes, Richard Jaeckel, Antoinette Bower
Country: USA
What it is: Psycho-killer movie

A teenage girl, recovering from a leg injury, begins having visions of a psycho having escaped from a mental institution and engaging in a series of murders. Unfortunately, everyone believes she’s just stressed out… but she’s destined to discover that these aren’t just dreams…

Given the year of this movie, I was expecting something more along the lines of a conventional slasher, and, yes, I do think there is a difference between psycho killer movies and slasher movies. For one thing, characters are usually better developed in psycho killer movies, and this one goes quite a ways in developing the heroine, so much so that you really become attached to her. There’s also an interesting love/hate relationship between her and her father (well played by Richard Jaeckel), and though it does seem extraneous at first, it sets up one of the most interesting scenes in the movie when he encounters the escaped psycho. Unfortunately, the script fumbles the character development of the psycho; he’s given a quirk (he likes to play the flute) and is given lots of psycho things to do, but he never feels like a real character and remains a hodgepodge of psychoses. Frankie Avalon does as well as he can with the character, but I’m afraid it required more acting chops than he had at his disposal. There are other touches I like in the movie; in particular, I like the way the movie sneaks in the explanation for the girl’s dreams without ever spelling it out. Unfortunately, the ending is one of those that tips the movie in the negative direction for me, because…
SPOILER
… I also believe there’s a difference between being artistically nihilistic and being just cruel and mean-spirited, and I’m afraid this one falls on the wrong side of the line.

Paper Man (1971)

PAPER MAN (1971)
TV-Movie
Article 3835 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-3-2012
Posting Date: 2-13-2012
Directed by Walter Grauman
Featuring Dean Stockwell, Stefanie Powers, James Stacy
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller

Four students take advantage of a computer error that causes a credit card to be issued to a non-existent person named Henry Norman. When complications arise, they enlist the help of a computer expert to plant information about the non-existent man into a computer. But the non-existent man begins to take on a life of his own… and the deaths begin.

I remember the TV ads for this one; it looked a bit mysterious, but there was something about it that had the air that I would be disappointed by its fantastic content. Having watched it now, I know back then I would have been too young to appreciate it. However, that’s not to say that I’m totally thrilled by it now; it does have an intriguing premise, and the first two-thirds of the movie are fairly eerie, but I’m afraid I find the direction rather static and lifeless, and the script is uneven. The fantastic content has to do with the possibility of the computer actually creating a real entity from someone who only exists on paper, and though the movie eventually moves in things in a decidedly non-fantastic direction, it doesn’t quite let go of the fantastic content altogether; there’s one final twist before it’s all over. It’s interesting, if not quite successful.

One Spy Too Many (1966)

ONE SPY TOO MANY (1966)
Feature version of two episodes of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
Article 3834 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-2-2012
Posting Date: 2-12-2012
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Featuring Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Rip Torn
Country: USA
What it is: Spy thrills, TV style

A latter-day Alexander the Great has a plan to take over the world while breaking the ten commandments. Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin are sent on a mission to defeat him.

Here’s another theatrical version of two episodes of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” grafted together, in this case, the two part story “The Alexander the Greater Affair”. The title, like ONE OF OUR SPIES IS MISSING, has absolutely nothing to do with the story. It starts out with a Gizmo Maguffin in the form of a special gas devised by the military designed to make enemies docile, but once the gas is stolen, it ceases to play any active part in the plot other than to be occasionally mentioned; this is pretty poor use of a Maguffin, if you ask me. Overall, this seems to be one of the weaker of these movies; it’s a lot heavier on the comedy, which often feels stale and forced, and the pacing is a bit too turgid for the action sequences to keep things interesting. Even a potentially interesting scene in an Egyptian architectural dig falls flat. There’s a few fantastic touches here and there, including a sequence where a mad scientist tries to turn Ilya Kuryakin into a mummy, but I really suspect that this worked a lot better as two episodes of a TV series than it does here.