Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)

Article #537 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 9-3-2002
Posting date: 1-27-2003

Two children with strange psychic powers find themselves on the run from a greedy tycoon who wants to use them to make a fortune.

The fact that the movie is from Disney should clue you in to the fact that there will be quite a bit of cuteness at play here, and there is, particularly during a scene involving dancing puppets. Despite this, the movie largely takes itself seriously enough, with some interesting scenes and several welcome faces, particularly Donald Pleasence and Ray Milland. It works all right, but I found myself wishing they had gone all the way and made a thriller; it’s not quite as exciting as it might have been. For that matter, the humor could have been funnier and the magic a little more magical, but as far as I can tell it’s still one of the better Disney live-action movies from the period.

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.

Comin’ Round the Mountain (1951)

Article #899 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-31-2003
Posting Date: 1-28-2004
Directed by Charles Lamont
Featuring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Dorothy Shay

An escape artist discovers he is the grandson of a hillbilly named Squeezebox McCoy, and may be the heir to a fortune.

There are a few laughs to be had in this Abbott and Costello outing, in particular during a discussion between Bud and Lou about a forty-year-old man in love with a ten-year-old girl. However, most of the movie is fairly lame hillbilly slapstick combined with Dorothy Shay’s novelty musical numbers. The part of the story that moves this one into the realms of the fantastic is when the boys encounter a witch (Margaret Hamilton—how’s that for typecasting?) to get a love potion; this is also one of the better scenes, as the witch makes a voodoo doll of Lou and Lou returns the favor. It’s also fun to see the boys team up with Glenn Strange again; here playing Devil Dan Winfield, who ends up drinking the potion at one point (and you don’t want to know with whom he falls in love). It’s not the boys’ best by a long shot, but it has its moments.

Trauma (1962)

TRAUMA (1962)
Article #1657 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-27-2005
Posting Date: 2-24-2006
Directed by Robert M. Young
Featuring John Conte, Lynn Bari, Lorri Richards

Upon witnessing the murder of her aunt, a young woman is struck with amnesia. Years later, she returns to the old home with her new husband in the hopes of sorting out what happened on that night.

For a good deal of its running time, this movie’s good qualities do battle with its bad qualities for dominance of this film, and for the first half of the movie, it looks as if the latter will win. However, its better qualities take over during the second half of the movie, and the turgid pacing and confused exposition give over to a decent amount of mystery and suspense. The acting is uneven, with the best performance given by Lynn Bari as the socialite aunt; this somewhat atones for the fact that the only sequence in the movie to feature the aunt is the extended prologue at the beginning of the movie (we don’t get the opening titles until fifteen minutes in, and you feel every minute of it), and that the aunt’s main function in the story is to be murdered. Fortunately, there is the occasional suspenseful moment to tide you through to the second half, where the mystery elements start to come to the fore, and you find yourself really wondering about the intentions of the husband, the nature of the extension added to stable, and the secrets surrounding the handicapped son Everett who didn’t die when everyone said he did. The last twenty minutes are the best in the movie. This was the sole directorial effort of Robert M. Young, who would go on to a successful career as a TV writer as well as penning other genre efforts such as THE CRAWLING HAND and ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN.