A Taste of Evil (1971)

Article 3888 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-28-2012
Posting Date: 4-6-2012
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Featuring Barbara Stanwyck, Barbara Perkins, Roddy McDowell
Country: USA
What it is: Mystery thriller

A young woman, recovering from a traumatic rape from when she was 13, returns to her home after years of recovery. However, she begins seeing strange sights and starts to believe that her attacker is still in the area…

Despite the plethora of famous names in the opening credits (Barbara Stanwyck, William Windom, Arthur O’Connell, Roddy McDowall), the name that most struck me was that of screenwriter Jimmy Sangster. And, about five minutes into the movie, I started getting an overwhelming sense of deja vu; there was something just way too familiar about the events I was seeing. Why did the movie SCREAM OF FEAR come to mind while I was watching this? Then I remembered that that movie had also been written by Jimmy Sangster… and that its original British title was TASTE OF FEAR. Coincidence? Not by a long shot. Oh, the details are different, but this movie is following the playbook of that one very closely. Which is probably why I found very few surprises here; it’s recycled material. Well, at least the acting and the direction are solid, since it redeems the movie enough that I can say that, if I wasn’t surprised, I wasn’t bored, either. Sometimes, professionalism is enough.

The Ballad of Tam Lin (1970)

aka Tam Lin
Article 3887 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-27-2012
Posting Date: 4-5-2012
Directed by Roddy McDowall
Featuring Ava Gardner, Ian McShane, Richard Wattis
Country: UK
What it is: Offbeat witchcraft movie

A rich older woman surrounds herself with young partiers, some of which she takes as lovers. When her latest conquest falls in love with a vicar’s daughter, she swears revenge. And all of the previous lovers who’ve left her wound up dead…

The last twenty minutes of this movie is fairly decent, and it generates a certain amount of suspense. However, to get to that last twenty minutes, you have to sit through almost an hour and a half of tepid romance/soap opera, and unless you find that sort of thing interesting in itself or are so taken with Ava Gardner’s beauty and/or acting (neither of which hold any particular spell over me) that her presence is all that’s necessary, then you might well find it to be a rather tough slog. It’s the sole directorial credit of actor Roddy McDowall, and despite my affection for him and his acting work, in this capacity he seems uninspired and ordinary. The story itself has a basis in an old Scottish ballad, which does give it an interesting history, and if I were familiar with the song, I might find the movie a little more interesting, but I think a good pruning of about a half an hour from the movie would have helped immensely; as it is, the decent ending doesn’t quite compensate for the long stretch at the beginning.

Jack and the Beanstalk (1974)

Article 3886 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-26-2012
Posting Date: 4-4-2012
Directed by Gisaburo Sugii
Featuring the voices of Jack Grimes, Corinne Orr, Billie Lou Watt
Country: USA / Japan
What it is: Animated fairy tale

Jack, humiliated at having traded the family cow for some magic beans, is startled to find that the beans are really magic and have grown into a giant beanstalk. He climbs up it, and finds himself in the kingdom of the clouds, where he has to save a princess from a witch and a giant.

With a rating of 7.4 on IMDB, one thing is for sure; this movie has its fans. But I’ve come to expect that with any children’s movie; since they’re usually the first ones we see in our lives, they have a strong chance of becoming old favorites. Personally, I can’t stand the music in this one, though I will admit that it’s somewhat offbeat, and the movie does use it in interesting ways. The movie takes a few liberties with the original story; it throws in a princess and a witch to complicate things, and the witch is the real villain, since the giant is something of a half-wit who can’t even bring himself to say anything resembling “Fee Fi Fo Fum” (and for some reason, it just doesn’t seem like “Jack and the Beanstalk” without the phrase). In some ways, the giant could even be considered a hero in the story, given the role he ultimately plays; one almost wishes that he didn’t suffer his expected demise and went back and lived in a cave somewhere. There’s a few surreal touches here and there to add to the fun, but I’d certainly like this one a lot better if the music didn’t grate on me.

The Strangers Gundown (1969)

aka Django il bastardo
Article 3885 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-25-2012
Posting Date: 4-3-2012
Directed by Sergio Garrone
Featuring Anthony Steffen, Paolo Gozlino, Luciano Rossi
Country: Italy
What it is: Spooky spaghetti western

A man is gunning down three former confederate officers who betrayed their regiment. He is recognized as one of the soldiers of the regiment who was believed to be dead. Has he returned from the grave…?

One of these days, I’m going to go through all of my Mill Creek fifty movie sets to see just how many of them contain movies that I’ve covered in my series. I expect quite a few from those with fantastic themes, but there are a few that seem less likely to yield any. However, thanks to this entry, I was able to dip into my Spaghetti Western set. The fantastic content of this one centers around the possibility of the avenger (named Django) being a vengeful spirit from the grave. Is he? The movie does more or less answer the question before it’s all over, though I think the fact that this is the only Django movie I’ve covered so far should give you a bit of hint as to that. The movie certainly plays up the supernatural angle, especially with his ability to seemingly appear out of nowhere. Still, this seems to be pretty standard spaghetti western fare; it’s moody enough, but it gets fairly confusing in the middle of the movie, and of course, there’s plenty of gunplay. You wouldn’t think so, what with only three officers as targets, but there’s more henchmen than you can shake a stick at, and they’re always good for upping the body count. By the way, I didn’t forget the apostrophe; the people who came up with the opening credits did.

Static (1985)

STATIC (1985)
Article 3884 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-24-2012
Posting Date: 4-2-2012
Directed by Mark Romanek
Featuring Keith Gordon, Amanda Plummer, Bob Gunton
Country: USA
What it is: Indie comedy drama

A young eccentric in a small town is working on an amazing invention; a television set that can see into heaven. But does it really work… and will anyone believe him?

I rarely go to movie theaters anymore, I’m ashamed to admit. Unless a movie really hits the right notes with me, or if it gives me expectations of seeing something truly unique or original, I’ll probably wait until it pops up on video. One of my weaknesses is for the truly oddball comic indie film, but my movie review series rarely points me in that direction because most of them just aren’t genre. I’m not sure this one is, either; a lot depends on how you interpret certain events in the movie, but between the science fiction concept of a new invention, the fantasy element of mysticism, and even a certain touch of horror in the fact that we may be dealing with a character whose sanity is in question. It is, however, that rare movie that would have drawn me into a theater, and I would have loved it.

Granted, the movie is quirky, and some people just don’t like quirky. However, I’m not one of them, and for me, this odd comedy, filled with offbeat characters and strange situations, actually made me laugh out loud more than I have in years, as well as providing a truly interesting set of characters for me to take in. Even the doom-talking survivalist Vietnam vet comes across as amusing rather than creepy. In the end, I was so taken in by the various characters and fascinated by the tragic and sad undercurrent to the movie that I simply fell in love with the movie. And I’ll probably never forget the ending. This one is recommended, but only if you share my interest in quirky independent movies.

Red Dawn (1984)

RED DAWN (1984)
Article 3883 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-23-2012
Posting Date: 4-1-2012
Directed by John Milius
Featuring Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson
Country: USA
What it is: INVASION USA updated

When Russians invade a small Colorado town as part of a coup to conquer the United States, a small band of teenage freedom fighters do battle with them.

This is the type of movie that I probably wouldn’t like in the first place; its very premise seems to promise a large degree of paranoia, flag-waving, breast-beating and emotional manipulation of a certain type that I would find rather unpleasant and tiresome, though I will readily admit that there are many others who would have no problem with it. To its credit, the movie eschews some of the more blatant manifestations of this approach; in fact, the movie seems less about “Russians invading America” per se, and more about “foreigners invading one’s homeland”, which gives it more of a sense of universality. Furthermore, the movie doesn’t preach to you, choosing instead to mostly let the actions speak for themselves. Still, the only way this one would really have worked for me would have been if it had strenuously convinced me of the reality of the invasion and the struggles of those involved. Instead, the movie seems intent on emotional manipulation, but there are too many times where the melodrama, implausibility, and lack of subtlety have the opposite effect on me; instead of drawing me in, its unreality keeps me out. Once again, those who buy into the premise from square one may have no problem with it, and those who just like action movies may be quite satisfied. Me, I’m just ready to move on to the next movie.

The Mysterious Island of Captain Nemo (1973)

aka La isla misteriosa
Article 3882 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-22-2012
Posting Date: 3-31-2012
Directed by Juan Antonio Bardem and Henri Colpi
Featuring Omar Sharif, Ambroise Bia, Jess Hahn
Country: Spain / France /Italy / Cameroon
What it is: Verne adaptation

A group of POWs escape from the confederate army in a hot air balloon, but a storm blows them to a deserted island where they must fend for themselves. But they have an unexpected if secretive ally. Could it be Captain Nemo of the Nautilus…?

I’m cheating a little on this one. My first reaction as I started watching this that was that the movie was dwelling much longer on the civil war sequence at the beginning than was strictly necessary, and I was a good forty minutes into it before they even reached the island. It was at this point that I became curious, and checked the stats on it from IMDB. The movie clocks in at 96 minutes, but there is a two-hour Spanish version. And then I discovered that it had all been edited from a 6-episode TV series, with each episode 52 minutes long. After a while, it finally dawned on me that I had netted a version that seemed to have almost all of the TV episodes in their entirety; the beginning and ending credits are missing, but the whole thing ran about 4 1/2 hours for me. Well, seeing that I was already about ninety minutes into it at that point (and that I had no other source for it that I knew of), I decided to sit through the whole thing and review it.

This turned out to be a bit of a chore; the pacing is very deliberate, and there were a few times I just had to take a break from it. It took me two days to get through it. Now I don’t know what the 96 minute version must have been like, but I suspect that it would have been rough and rather fragmented. This version more or less follows the novel, and I think I actually liked the bits where deals with the Robinson Crusoe-like survival tactics of the castaways; despite it’s slowness, I liked the sequence where a scientist builds a makeshift lens from a couple of clock faces, a process which is shown in thorough detail. The story gives away the presence of Captain Nemo early on, most likely due to the fact that the big name here is Omar Sharif, and they probably wanted to feature him in every episode in some capacity, though he doesn’t really take a major part in the action until the final part of the story. Still, the story is sorely lacking in energy, and this is never more apparent in the disappointing climax, which is mostly talk when it should be emphasizing action. Sharif looks good in the role, but his performance lacks pizzazz (or as much of it that I could tell, given that my copy was dubbed into German with English subtitles). All in all, it was sporadically interesting, but it would probably be best enjoyed an episode at a time over a few weeks.

Hollywood Ghost Stories (1986)

Article 3881 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-21-2012
Posting Date: 3-30-2012
Directed by James Forsher
Featuring John Carradine, William Peter Blatty, Arthur Conan Doyle
Country: USA
What it is: Paranormal documentary

John Carradine takes us on a journey of real-life hauntings that have something to do with the movie industry.

In terms of its exploration of the paranormal, this movie isn’t really much different from most of the others out there; I doubt it will change anybody’s mind about anything. However, for fans of fantastic cinema, this may be one of the more interesting ones out there, if for no other reason that the events discussed all have some connection with movies, TV and/or Hollywood, and the movie uses a lot of movie footage to pad things out. Still, even if you enjoy the footage, you’ll realize that padding is just what it is; much of it seems to be there to distract you from realizing that the movie is pretty threadbare. You’ll see clips from THE EXORCIST, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and THE ENTITY, plus any number of short clips from other films. There’s very little here I haven’t encountered before.

Gulliver’s Travels (1977)

Article 3880 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-20-2012
Posting Date: 3-29-2012
Directed by Peter R. Hunt
Featuring Richard Harris, Catherine Schell, Norman Shelley
Country: UK / Belgium
What it is: Another take on the Swift satire

Gulliver becomes a ship’s surgeon, but after a storm, he is stranded in the land of Lilliput, where everyone is tiny and he’s a giant.

To its credit, this take on Jonathan Swift’s famous book doesn’t completely eliminate the satire, but given the fact that it’s still seen as primarily a children’s story, it does soft-pedal it quite a bit. As expected, it sticks to the first book of the novel, though it does end on a note that at least addresses the second voyage to Brobdingnag (perhaps a sequel was hoped for). It’s a combination of live action and animation; the latter is serviceable but uninspired. I could do without the songs myself, and though Richard Harris does all right with the title character, it’s hardly a challenge the way it’s written. Oddly enough, there’s a glimpse of totally gratuitous animated nudity as well; why, I don’t know. It’s not awful, but it’s probably the weakest take on the tale that I’ve seen for the series.

Vargtimmen (1968)

aka Hour of the Wolf
Article 3879 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-19-2012
Posting Date: 3-28-2012
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Featuring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Gertrud Fridh
Country: Sweden
What it is: A descent into madness

An artist, tortured by memories and unable to sleep at nights, shares his darkest memories with his wife. He is invited to a party by the owner of the island… but what do the owner and his friends intend for him?… and are they even real?

Many Bergman films have touches of horror to them; I’ve had the chance to cover several of them already. However, this is the one that is usually thought of as his horror film, and, given some of the events and imagery during the final half of the movie, I’d say that’s fairly accurate, though it’s certainly not one that can be easily parsed out. It most reminds me of REPULSION and THE TENANT, and both Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann are excellent as the artist and his wife who has loved him so long that she has begun to see the ghosts that haunt him. Some of the imagery and events are truly haunting; there’s a shocking encounter with a young boy on a cliff side, and a nightmarish sequence where a woman finally removes her hat. It’s not Bergman at his very best; for one thing, it does take a little too long before things get moving. But even with that in mind, it’s fascinating. The script is apparently a scaled-down, reworked version of an earlier one called THE CANNIBALS, which Bergman abandoned because he thought it would have been too expensive and involved to make; however, I would love to have seen that one.