The Chain Reaction (1980)

Article 3898 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-6-2012
Posting Date: 4-16-2012
Directed by Ian Barry
Featuring Steve Bisley, Arna-Maria Winchester, Ross Thompson
Country: Australia
What it is: Action version of THE CHINA SYNDROME

A race car driver and his nurse wife encounter a fugitive who has information about a fatal leak at a nuclear waste facility and wishes to warn the public. But the fugitive is dying and only has a few days to live… and the company that owns the facility will stop at nothing to keep the leak a secret.

I found this movie on a DVD called “Action Classics” by one of those low-budget DVD companies. It has four movies crammed onto one disc, none of which I’ve ever heard of. It lists Richard Roundtree as one of the stars of the disc (though a quick perusal of the movies and plot summaries on the back of the package fail to list his name anywhere), and the whole set has an air of being a cheap toss-off for the uncritical action fan. I’ve not seen all the movies on the set, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie is the best of the lot, despite a lack of any big name stars (with the exception of a very short cameo by Mel Gibson in a beard).

Like THE CHINA SYNDROME, I think this movie works much better as a thriller than a social commentary; the bad guys in this movie are so steeped in cinematic evil that they defy your ability to believe in them as real people, while the nature of the disaster is such that no amount of initial cover-up would keep the truth from coming out in very short time anyway. The Australian accents are a bit thick, and the action is a bit confusing at times, but the basic story is easy to follow, and the action/thriller elements are effective. The car chase scenes are especially impressive, and I was a bit surprised to find that it was Ian Barry’s first directorial effort, though he did have some previous experience with editing. Still, I suspect the chase sequences had a lot of help from associate producer and uncredited second unit director George Miller of MAD MAX fame; if anyone knows how to handle a car chase, it’s him. At any rate, despite its flaws, the movie is entertaining enough to work quite well on the action movie level.


The Witches Mountain (1972)

aka El Monte de las brujas
Article 3897 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-5-2012
Posting Date: 4-15-2012
Directed by Raul Artigot
Featuring Patty Shepard, Cihangir Giffari, Monica Randall
Country: Spain
What it is: Witch story

A photographer and a new female friend of his go on a trip to take photographs on a mountain. But the mountain is inhabited by witches…

… as well as an opera company that seems to provide the witches with some of the most bombastic music I’ve heard from a witches’ coven (and please note my use of an apostrophe, just to demonstrate I do know where and when they’re supposed to be used, something the people who designed the English titles of this one apparently don’t). Granted, I don’t SEE the opera company, but I’m assuming that string section comes from somewhere, and I don’t see any of the actual witches mouthing along with the lyrics. They apparently also do Gregorian chants as well. There’s one striking sequence in this movie where the photographer takes several pictures of an abandoned village which, upon development, show people in them who weren’t there when the pictures were taken. This was by far the most interesting moment in a movie that I found to be mostly confusing and dull, though I will admit to being impressed by the performance of Cihangir Giffari’s moustache, which steals every scene it’s in. I don’t know if the original Spanish language version of this is better, but the English version is a waste of time.

Radio-Mania (1922)

Article 3896 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-1-2010
Posting Date: 4-14-2012
Directed by Roy William Neill
Featuring Grant Mitchell, Margaret Irving, Gertrude Hillman
Country: USA
What it is: Contact with Mars story

An obsessed inventor creates a giant radio with which he hopes to make contact with Mars.

This movie was originally shot in an early 3D process and had a running length of 95 minutes. My copy runs only 50 minutes, but, from a story perspective, I really don’t see a whole lot missing. It’s a charming, rather fanciful science fiction comedy. Some of it is obvious; for example, we get a fairly predictable series of jokes about how much more advanced the Martians are than we are. Still, it’s rather fun; the scenes on Mars are entertaining, it has some rather creatively photographed scenes (I love the use of lightning during a storm sequence, as well as some cool use of smoke during one of the experiments), and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a relatively young Grant Mitchell before (he was 49 when this was made). On the down side, it has one of those twist endings which would have annoyed me no end if I hadn’t seen it coming, but at least the movie uses the twist ending for a touch of poignancy; the inventor’s reaction to it is rather sad. Still, it does betray a certain anti-science attitude, or, to be more blunt, the message of the movie is that science works best when it thinks small.

Visiting Hours (1982)

Article 3895 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-4-2012
Posting Date: 4-13-2012
Directed by Jean-Claude Lord
Featuring Michael Ironside, Lee Grant, Linda Purl
Country: Canada
What it is: Psycho-killer movie

A psychopathic misogynist becomes obsessed with killing a crusading female journalist, but when his first attack fails to kill her, he takes to trying to stalk her in the hospital where she’s staying.

In some ways, this is a very interesting psycho-killer movie, largely due to elements in the script and the direction. It tries very hard to make the psycho an interesting character; he’s given a backstory and a world to live in inhabited by various characters, and the script keeps the character from lapsing into the type of hystrionic monologues that often lend themselves to over-acting. It also uses some very interesting cinematic techniques; I like the way that a scene will sometimes be left unresolved only to have another scene later reveal the outcome of the unresolved one. You can see the strings being pulled at times, but they’re usually being pulled in creative ways. Unfortunately, the movie has problems. One is that it’s just way too long; at an hour and forty-five minutes, I found myself really getting tired of the movie’s attempt to keep me on the edge of my seat, and it stopped being fun and started being wearying. Furthermore, the psycho, interesting as he is, isn’t quite interesting enough to sustain the amount of time the movie spends on him; when you get around to it, his motivations are pretty simple. Furthermore, the movie often gets distracted by side issues. Combine that with a plot that often relies on some pretty wild coincidences, and an attempt to make a statement about violence that seems a little forced, and you have a movie that wears out its welcome a ways before it’s over. There are good performances from Michael Ironside and Lee Grant, but William Shatner is wasted as one of those characters who really doesn’t have anything to do.

The Vengeance of the Zombies (1973)

aka La rebelion de las muertas
Article 3894 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-3-2012
Posting Date: 4-12-2012
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Featuring Paul Naschy, Romy, Mirta Miller
Country: Spain
What it is: Zombies, voodoo style

A woman, distraught at the death of her family, takes residence at the home of an Indian mystic for healing. However, the home has an evil history… and the mystic has a few skeletons in his closet as well.

We’re talking zombies of the voodoo variety here, rather than of the flesh-eating type. It’s also another encounter with director Leon Klimovsky, who gave us THE VAMPIRES NIGHT ORGY, which I covered a couple of days ago. This time he has Paul Naschy along, who not only plays three roles in the movie but wrote it as well, though none of his three roles ends up being the hero (although one makes a game effort of it). However, the script is pretty confusing, and I’m not sure it ever really sorts itself out; it might take a few viewings to decide whether it hangs together or not. Once again, the music is flat out strange, sounding peppy and upbeat at the oddest of times; it certainly destroys any mood of horror when it comes on. As is often the case in Paul Naschy films, Naschy is the best thing about it, if for no other reason that he has a certain degree of charisma going for him.

Mausoleum (1983)

Article 3893 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2012
Posting Date: 4-11-2012
Directed by Michael Dugan
Featuring Bobbie Bressee, Marjoe Gortner, Norman Burton
Country: USA
What it is: Demonic possession movie

Traumatized by the death of her mother, a young girl ends up releasing a demon from a mausoleum. Years later she is possessed by the demon, and begins a rampage of terror.

You know, there are moments where I rather admire this movie; the concept has some original touches to it, and certain individual moments work rather effectively; I particular like the touch at the climax that the woman seems to physically revert to her ten-year-old self at times. But the movie has some touches that are really silly (the family name is Nemod, the black maid is a throwback in the worst sense, and Marjoe Gortner’s death is just too ludicrous to take seriously), and the often lifeless direction and weak acting pull it down at every step. At least the twist ending wasn’t the one I expected, but, on the other hand, it’s one that doesn’t make any real sense, either. In short, this one is a misfire, though it does have some points of interest.

The Vampires Night Orgy (1974)

aka La orgia nocturna de los vampiros
Article 3892 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-1-2012
Posting Date: 4-10-2012
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Featuring Jack Taylor, Dyanik Zurakowska, Jose Guardiola
Country: Spain
What it is: Vampire movie

A group of travelers find themselves stranded in an isolated European town when their bus driver dies of a heart attack. However, the inhabitants of the town are really vampires!

Oh, there’s plenty of vampires in this one, and there’s lots of night scenes. But if you’re drawn to this movie by the fourth word of the title, you’re going to be sorely disappointed; unless the minute and a half that is missing from my print is chock full of eroticism, you’re going to have to content yourself with a brief topless scene and a love scene where you’ll end up seeing a skinny guy in his underwear. The rest of the movie is mostly typical vampire antics with a few odd side trips, including one into cannibalism. It’s actually pretty dull for the most part, and the musical score (which sounds as if it was lifted from a travelogue somewhere) is mostly inappropriate. I’ve also heard some complaints about the twist ending, and had the rest of the movie worked for me, I might have an opinion on it myself; as it is, all I’ll say is that it’s one I’ve seen before in one capacity or another. The director is also responsible for a number of Paul Naschy’s movies, and I can honestly say that Naschy’s presence might have brightened this one a little. As it is, this one isn’t really worth the viewing time.

*NOTE* – I have been informed that there is another version of this movie that is more properly orgiastic. I guess it depends which copy you have…

Monstroid – It Came from the Lake (1980)

aka Monster, The Toxic Monster
Article 3891 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-31-2012
Posting Date: 4-9-2012
Directed by Kenneth Hartford and Herbert L. Strock
Featuring James Mitchum, John Carradine, Philip Carey
Country: USA
What it is: Bottom-of-the-fish-barrel monster movie

Pollution from a cement plant in Colombia creates a giant monster that lives in the lake.

Twice within the first five minutes of this movie, you are told that this is based on a true story. I’m guessing the true part involves there being a cement plant in Colombia; nothing else in the movie seems attached to anything resembling reality as I know it. Just to illustrate, here’s a memorable little sample of dialogue. Person A: “There’s something in the trees!” Person B: “Maybe it’s a goat!” Now I don’t pretend to be an expert on the indigenous animal life of Colombia, but I’ve never heard of the Colombian Tree Goat. But then, I’ve never heard of sharks that chew up people and then spit them out on land, so the speculation that the attacks on the bodies found on land could be shark victims also rings false. And then there’s the title. The suffix “-oid” means that it resembles a certain object, but really isn’t, so the title means that it looks, walks and smells like a monster, but isn’t one. But if it isn’t a monster, what is it? I could go on speculating, but I think I’ll just settle on the fact that the script was written with very little thought. Ultimately, this is a cheaply done, unfocused and uninvolving monster movie with little to recommend it, unless you really have to hear some silly snatches of dialogue.

Time Bandits (1981)

Article 3890 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-30-2012
Posting Date: 4-8-2012
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Featuring John Cleese, Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall
Country: UK
What it is: Comic epic fantasy

A young boy finds himself trapped on a journey through time with six little men who have stolen a map of Creation which shows where all the time holes are, and they plan to use it to make a fortune as robbers. However, the Evil One knows that they have the map, and plans to steal it so that he can escape the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness and prepare a conquest of Creation.

I can’t really review this movie. I love it too much. I saw it at the time when my love of all things associated with Monty Python was at its height, and when I had become utterly bored with everything else that was playing at the movies, and when my thirst for something unusual and different was very strong. Even the artwork made this one look like something special, and I ended up returning to the theater to catch it several times during its run. It isn’t the string of well-known actors that appear in it; almost all of them are playing cameos, with only David Warner (perfectly cast as an amusing source of all evil) in a sizable role. The main characters are the little boy played by Craig Warnock, and the set of six dwarf actors who portray the bandits, with David Rappaport, Kenny Baker and Jack Purvis as the most memorable, though they all do a fine job. Warner gives another of my favorite performances, and, among the cameos, Ralph Richardson (as the human manifestation of the Supreme Being), John Cleese (as an unctuously condescending Robin Hood) and Ian Holm (as Napoleon) are my favorites. It was the first of a rough trilogy for Terry Gilliam; with BRAZIL and THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHHAUSEN, he’d made a set of movies about youth, adulthood, and old age respectively. Oh, it has its flaws, but it still held my attention from beginning to end, and it was wonderful to watch it again after not having seen it for years. And I suppose that if I could apply the phrase “my movie” to any one movie I’ve seen, this would be the one.

What, No Men? (1935)

WHAT, NO MEN? (1935)
Musical short
Article 3889 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-29-2012
Posting Date: 4-7-2012
Directed by Ralph Staub
Featuring El Brendel, Wini Shaw, Phil Regan
Country: USA
What it is: Musical comedy short

A team of scientists send a bill collector and a policeman into the stratosphere in a rocket ship. When they come down, they find themselves in the hands of an all-woman Indian tribe, and then a western town which is also devoid of men.

Believe it or not, this silly short subject was nominated for an Academy Award. There’s really no plot to speak of; it’s a series of musical numbers (some of them pretty bizarre) interspersed with comedian El Brendel (an acquired taste) making jokes. The biggest surprise is that it’s pretty racy, especially with the scanty costumes of the Indian women; this one must have gotten in just before the Hays Office went into effect. The rocket into the stratosphere is the only real fantastic content here, but since they land right back on Earth, it has no real effect on the – well, I was going to say “story”, but let’s just say “the ensuing action”. It’s little more than a curiosity nowadays.