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.

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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.

El misterio del rostro palido (1935)

EL MISTERIO DEL ROSTRO PALIDO (1935)
aka The Mystery of the Pallid Face
Article 3833 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-1-2012
Posting Date: 2-11-2012
Directed by Juan Bustillo Oro
Featuring Carlos Villarias, Beatriz Ramos, Natalia Ortiz
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mad experiments gone awry

An unbalanced scientist, obsessed with finding a cure for leprosy, takes his son on an expedition to study native medicines for a cure. Eight years later the scientist returns… and brings with him a strange man in a white mask.

Juan Bustillo Oro is apparently considered the father of Mexican horror for some of the films he made during the thirties. This one has a solid rating of 7.1 on IMDB, which seems to indicate that it’s pretty good, and I’m willing to bet it is if you can find a copy subtitled in English or can understand Spanish. Sadly, neither is the case with me, and though there are a few interesting visual moments, this is one of those movies that relies heavily on talk, especially during the first half. Still, Carlos Villarias (who played the title role in the Mexican version of Browning’s DRACULA) is memorable as a mad scientist; here he looks a bit like George Zucco. I was fortunate to to be able to find a plot description after I watched the movie to help me understand it a little, but I think it’s really going to take some good subtitles to make me appreciate this one. Maybe someday someone will release a set of Oro movies complete with subtitles; he does appear to have been a very interesting horror director.

Night of the Cobra Woman (1972)

NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN (1972)
Article 3832 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-31-2012
Posting Date: 2-10-2012
Directed by Andrew Meyer
Featuring Joy Bang, Marlene Clark, Roger Garrett
Country: USA / Philippines
What it is: Bizarre snake woman thriller

During World War II, a nurse is bitten by a rare snake that gives her eternal life as long as she gets a combination of sex and snake venom to keep her going. However, new problems arise when her snake is killed and her supply of venom stolen…

Though I would hardly call this a “good’ movie (it’s badly directed and some of the acting is awful), the movie has such a bizarre premise and a strange story line that it almost becomes fascinating despite itself. The story eventually degenerates into confusion, but there are some grotesquely interesting moments, such as the scene where the cobra woman sheds her skin like a snake. At times it almost comes across as a comedy, but that may be due to the awkward direction. In fact, the whole movie comes across as awkward in one way or another, but somehow that just adds a bit more to the fascination. And let’s face it; any movie that features an actress named Joy Bang and an actor named Slash Marks (the latter’s only movie) is one to be reckoned with. Probably the most familiar face to me here was Vic Diaz, who popped up in THE BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT. Strange, strange, strange.

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980)
Article 3831 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-30-2012
Posting Date: 2-9-2012
Directed by Jimmy T. Murakami and Roger Corman
Featuring Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, John Saxon
Country: USA
What it is: STAR WARS rip-off

When a peaceful planet is threatened by evil invaders, one of the residents escapes in a spaceship to gather mercenaries to do battle with the invaders.

Yes, it’s another ripoff of STAR WARS, but it’s probably the one I enjoy most of that type. I think the main reason is that it has a decent script from John Sayles, and just the right kind of star power to pull this sort of thing off. Given that George Lucas borrowed from Akira Kurosawa’s THE HIDDEN FORTRESS for his movie, I think it’s pretty fitting that Sayles borrows from another Kurosawa film – namely, THE SEVEN SAMURAI – for this one. It works because the mercenaries end up being a fairly interesting bunch, and the script is strong enough that neither the attempts at humor nor the attempts at pathos fall flat. If anything, it manages to be somewhat more adult than its model, especially with some of the bizarre and daring costumes they give to Sybil Danning. It’s silly at times, and the battle sequences are more confusing than entertaining, but the character bits will stay with me. My favorite line comes when a child asks the ruthless Mercenary Gelt (Robert Vaughn) if he was bad even when he was little, and he replies “I was never that little.”

Operation Kid Brother (1967)

OPERATION KID BROTHER (1967)
aka OK Connery
Article 3830 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-29-2012
Posting Date: 2-8-2012
Directed by Alberto De Martino
Featuring Neil Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi
Country: Italy
What it is: Spyghetti

When a crime syndicate plots to steal a magnetic wave generator with the intention of destroying all steel-based power in the world, a secret service organization recruits a plastic surgeon with hypnotic powers to help defeat them.

Now here’s a gimmick movie if ever there was one; an Italian spy movie aping the James Bond movies with Sean Connery’s brother Neil Connery as the secret agent, and featuring several actors and actresses who appeared in the official Bond movies; Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi and Anthony Dawson. If it was intended as the start of a series, it didn’t pan out, which is just as well; the market must have been pretty flooded with Italian spy flicks at the time. Unlike yesterday’s movie, this one is loaded with enough gimmickry to make it qualify as science fiction. The story is messy, convoluted, and more than a little silly; the sequence where the military is trapped by a bevy of can-can dancers may be the goofiest scene in the picture. This was Neil Connery’s first movie, but apparently his English voice is dubbed, and most of his work afterwards is pretty minor. My copy of the movie is horribly panned-and-scanned, which is especially noticeable during the hypnotism sequences; I know they’re supposed to be close-ups of the eyes, but what we end up with is close-ups of the bridge of the nose, which is not particularly engaging. It’s extreme low rating on IMDB (2.5) is due to its having been featured on MST3K, but it’s really no worse than most of the other Italian spy flicks of the era.