Scream of the Wolf (1974)

Article 5051 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-16-2016
Directed by Dan Curtis
Featuring Peter Graves, Clint Walker, Jo Ann Pflug
Country: USA
What it is: TV-Movie horror mystery

A wild beast is killing people in a small town. Could it be a werewolf?

Dan Curtis and screenwriter Richard Matheson had both worked together in THE NIGHT STALKER, in which no one but the hero believes that a real vampire is on the loose. In some ways, this movie is the opposite; most people in this one believe the killer is a werewolf, but the hero isn’t so sure. To its credit, the movie works up to an interesting climax; it has a solid, memorable ending. It’s the long stretch leading up to the climax that is less than enchanting; quite frankly, most of the movie comes across as tired and predictable, and there’s a shortage of interesting characters. The one exception is a major one; Clint Walker’s hunter character easily steals the movie and if the movie works at all, it’s to his credit. Graves’ performance isn’t bad, but for the most part it’s business as usual with him, though the ending does give him a nice character moment as well. This is one of Dan Curtis’s lesser TV-movies, but the patient viewer won’t walk away empty-handed.

L’isola degli uomini pesce (1979)

aka Island of the Fishmen, Screamers
Article 5050 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-14-2016
Directed by Sergio Martino
Featuring Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli, Richard Johnson
Country: Italy
What it is: Horror/adventure movie

Survivors of a shipwreck end up on an island run by a mysterious man and plagued by strange fish monsters.

First, a bit of background. When this Italian movie was brought over to the United States, it was decided that it didn’t have enough gore content, so about twelve minutes of gory new footage featuring Cameron Mitchell and Mel Ferrer was edited into the movie, and other elements were shuffled around as well. This version was retitled SCREAMERS. For the record, I seem to have seen the original Italian version, though I was fortunate enough to see one that was dubbed into English.

Probably the main reason this version is pretty light on gore is that it really isn’t a horror movie; the story plays out more like an adventure story. It’s an odd hodgepodge of genres and ideas; it’s partially inspired by THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU and THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, and it throws in elements of voodoo as well as the lost continent of Atlantis before it’s all through. It’s not well regarded, but I actually found the hodgepodge rather interesting, and I have to admit that it’s one of the more entertaining of Sergio Martino’s movies to me. It also features Joseph Cotten as a professor involved in some bizarre experiments. It’s a bit of mess, but overall I thought it was pretty decent.

Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971)

Article 5049 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-13-2016
Directed by Mark Robson
Featuring Rod Steiger, Susannah York, George Grizzard
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy/drama

After having been missing in the jungle for eight years, a macho hunter/soldier of fortune returns home to his wife and son, who have to adjust to the changes in their lives.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote the screenplay for this, adapted from his own stage play. I’ve encountered Vonnegut before in this series, having seen SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE (a better movie) and SLAPSTICK (OF ANOTHER KIND) (a much worse movie). Most of Vonnegut’s work falls within the bounds of science fiction, but this is one of the exceptions. Most of it plays a like a straight comedy-drama, but a few scenes take place in heaven, a place where everyone plays shuffleboard and which apparently doesn’t exclude certain individuals for reasons of morality (Adolf Hitler and Jack the Ripper are there, for example). I’d read the play many years ago and didn’t feel it was one of Vonnegut’s best efforts, though I think it plays better once you match up actors to the characters. This one has an excellent cast, with fine performances from Steiger, York and William Hickey. It’s a meditation on life, death, heroism, cultural changes, and anything else that crosses Vonnegut’s mind. It’s an interesting movie, though I’m not sure it’s a great one; it’s one I may have to think about and revisit before I really know how I feel about it.

The Creeper (1977)

aka Rituals
Article 5048 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-13-2016
Directed by Peter Carter
Featuring Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane, Robin Gammell
Country; Canada / USA
What it is: Thriller

Five doctors decide to rough it in the wilderness, but find themselves being stalked by a killer who may be taking revenge for a past injustice.

The John Stanley guide from which I culled this title for my hunt list describes it as something of a cross between DELIVERANCE and a slasher film, and I think that gives a good description of the movie. It’s an uneven but compelling adventure thriller, and the murder/death scenes are memorable; the killer is less apt to attack directly than he is to set traps and use scare tactics, and some of these are quite nightmarish. The movie appears to have been made very cheaply (about a sixth of the budget went towards Hal Holbrook’s salary), but it uses its money and locations well. It’s a little difficult for me to evaluate just how good it is; my print is on one of those public domain sets, and it’s in pretty ragged shape, so I can’t quite say whether the difficulty of making out what’s happening in certain scenes is the result of my print or not. Still, what I do see is pretty effective, and the movie, though deliberately paced, is quite harrowing. The final shot is quite memorable.

Twirligig (1952)

Article 5047 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-12-2016
Directed by Norman McLaren
No cast
Country: Canada
What it is: Abstract animation

A little red squiggle mutates and gyrates in front of several planes of abstract figures.

Yes, it’s more abstract animation that gets considered for this project by dint of its being non-realistic. This one was also created in 3D, but I lack the necessary equipment to watch it in such. However, even in 2D, the planes of action seems fairly cleanly delineated, so I can rather sense how it might look. This one doesn’t appear to have been drawn to fit a piece of music; rather, it appears the music was composed to complement the visuals here. There’s a light-hearted and playful spirit to this one, with the squiggle even taking on enough anthropomorphic design to tip its hat to you. At only about three and a half minutes, it doesn’t strain your patience, either. This one was rather enjoyable.

Le Golem (1967)

LE GOLEM (1967)
aka The Golem
Article 5046 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-11-2016
Directed by Jean Kerchbron
Featuring Andre Reybaz, Georges Douking, Francois Vibert
Country: France
What it is: French TV-Movie

No plot outline.

My copy of this one is in French without subtitles. As such, it is impenetrable to me, and I was unable to find an adequate plot description. Nor does it seem to match any other version of “The Golem” that I’ve seen, so there’s no help there. The story seems to involve an exchange of hats, and a man who appears to have been framed for murder. The golem as such appears in two scenes; in one he may have been imagined, and in the other, he is someone in disguise. I can say this much. The movie is visually interesting, makes good use of sound and music, and is very well acted and looks intriguing. There are some striking moments, such as the scene where a man produces an egg from his mouth and another speaks with the voice of a woman, but how these tie into the story is a mystery to me. Chalk this one up as one of those movies that I’ll really have to see a subtitled version to appreciate it. It does strike me, though, as one worth catching.

Return from Witch Mountain (1978)

Article 5045 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-10-2016
Directed by John Hough
Featuring Bette Davis, Christopher Lee, Kim Richards
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction light

The two children from Witch Mountain return to Earth. When the boy saves the life of a man falling from a building, a mad scientist finds out about his abilities and kidnaps him. Can his sister save him before the scientist uses him in a nefarious plot to take over the world?

Apparently, ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN was popular enough to warrant a sequel. I felt lukewarm about the original; this one feels like reheated leftovers. My problem is that the premise (the two children have the powers of telekinesis and telepathy and they are sought after by evil people who want to make use of their powers) is too easy and predictable; you know whatever the problem is, the children will handle it with their powers, and they do, again and again and again and again…you get the picture. Furthermore, the use of those powers is put on display so frequently and mechanically that the magic quickly dissipates. The movie compensates a bit by the use of star power, but it doesn’t help a lot. Bette Davis apparently only did the movie so she could make something her grand-children could watch; her character is one-dimensional, and though it might have been fun if she’d taken the opportunity to ham it up a bit, but instead it feels like she’s mostly just earning her paycheck here while being aware the role is beneath her. Christopher Lee comes off a lot better; he’s done this type of role before, and he handles it with his usual skill. Like the previously movie, it feels like a slightly more serious “shopping cart” movie, only this one is sillier than the original. It’s not awful, but it is quite routine.

Repo Man (1984)

REPO MAN (1984)
Article 5044 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-9-2016
Directed by Alex Cox
Featuring Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, Tracey Walter
Country: USA
What it is: Bizarre punk comedy

In desperate need for money, a young punk takes a job as an apprentice repossession man. He becomes entangled in the hunt for 1964 Chevy Malibu with “something” hidden in the trunk.

I saw this movie many years ago, and all it did then was leave me scratching my head. Watching it this time, I found it charmingly weird and flat-out hilarious at times. It’s something of a punkish “slice of life” comedy (director/writer Alex Cox worked as a repo man at one time) and science fiction conspiracy thriller, and it’s awash with strange running gags (such as the fact that all the products on display in the movie are generic) and odd characters. Estevez is solid as the punk, but Harry Dean Stanton and Tracey Walter are great as the repo man who recruits him and a conspiracy theorist who also works at the agency. Sy Richardson also appears as another repo man, and if you keep your eyes open, Angelique Pettyjohn pops up in a cameo. There’s a couple of other odd musical connections to the movie outside of the punk genre; Jimmy Buffett pops up as a Federal agent, and the movie was executive produced by former Monkee Michael Nesmith.

Re-Animator (1985)

Article 5043 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-8-2016
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Featuring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton
Country: USA
What it is: Wild Lovecraft adaptation

A new student to Miskatonic U. discovers a green fluid that can bring the dead back to life… but with messy results.

Whatever else you can say about this over-the-top gore comedy, it seems to have staked out its own notorious place in film history. However, as much as I would like to see more H.P. Lovecraft adapted to the screen, this does seem a far cry from the type of horror I would expect from him, and I suspect he would have been rather appalled by this one, especially with the sex. The gore here is a force to be reckoned with; however, I must admit that I really didn’t laugh much, though there are a number of rather witty cinematic moments. However, I have to admit overall that I was a bit disappointed by this one; I’m not sure what I was hoping to find here, but I never quite found it. My favorite joke – Herbert West figures out a way to keep a decapitated head upright in a tray.

Rana: The Secret of Shadow Lake (1981)

aka Croaked: Frog Monster from Hell
Article 5042 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-7-2016
Directed by Bill Rebane
Featuring Paul Callaway, Richard Lange, Glenn Scherer
Country: USA
What it is: Monster on the loose

A man returns to an island he visited in his youth and recounts the story of his encounter with a strange beast who lived in the lake.

I will give the primary title of the movie a bit of credit; it’s actually a bit moody and evocative. However, that secondary title is so silly that I find myself crediting the folks at exploitation-happy Troma for coming up with that one. However, once I saw the directorial credit of Bill Rebane, I got the sense that the movie wasn’t going to live up (or down) to either of these two titles. Sure enough, most of the movie is a talky snoozefest with little to hold the attention. They keep us from getting a clear look at the monster for most of the movie, but I’m not sure why they bothered; when you see it in its full glory, it certainly wasn’t worth the wait. The special effects were by the ironically-named company Spectacular Effects. The only thing that saves this one from being Rebane’s worst movie is that MONSTER A-GO GO is still out there.