Nightmare Classics: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde / The Turn of the Screw (1989)

NIGHTMARE CLASSICS: THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE/THE TURN OF THE SCREW (1989)
Article 2609 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-27-2008
Posting Date: 10-4-2008
Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg and Graeme Clifford
Featuring Anthony Andrews, Nicholas Guest, George Murdock, Amy Irving, David Hemmings, Micole Mercurio
Country: East Germany

Two stories are presented. In the first, a man uses drugs to bring out his evil nature. In the second, a governess encounters possessed children and ghosts.

No, it’s not a movie; by the time I realized I was dealing with two episodes of a TV show that had been grouped together on a videotape, I’d already added it to my hunt list, and (being too lazy to remove it), I decided to cover the two episodes anyway. I don’t know a whole lot about the Showtime TV series in question, but I assume it was an attempt by Shelley Duvall to follow up her “Faerie Tale Theatre” and “Tall Tales and Legends” series with one adapting famous horror stories. Given that the series has an overall rating of 3.1 on IMDB, I can only assume that it was a failure, and it appears only four episodes were made. In the case of the two I’ve seen here, I’m certainly not impressed; both stories have been somewhat sexed-up (no doubt due to their presence on a pay cable station), and THE TURN OF THE SCREW is stripped of its subtlety and ambiguity to leave us a conventional and over-melodramatic rendering of the story; we’re miles away from THE INNOCENTS here. The Jekyll and Hyde story fares somewhat better, largely thanks to the fact that Anthony Andrews comes up with a very interesting take on the character of Jekyll; I found it very interesting to find the character nervous, inhibited, shy and rather meek, as these character traits make us understand his desire to be Mr. Hyde all the more. His performance of Mr. Hyde is also quite different, but not near as satisfying; it doesn’t dovetail well with the Jekyll character, and he’s less creepy/scary than repellent/repulsive. All in all, neither story worked as a straight retelling of its source, nor is either one particularly scary; in fact, I’d call them both misfires.

 

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Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977)

EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (1977)
aka Trap Them and Kill Them, Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali
Article 2608 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-26-2008
Posting Date: 10-3-2008
Directed by Joe D’Amato
Featuring Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Nieves Navarro
Country: Italy

When Emanuelle uncovers a case of cannibalism in an insane asylum, she follows the trail to a tribe of cannibals who live along the Amazon that were believed to have been extinct.

Hey, you’ve got you’re soft-core porn in my gross-out cannibal movie! Hey, you’ve got your gross-out cannibal movie in my soft-core porn! Two items of questionable taste that are even more questionable put together. I’m going to point out to begin with that I’m not interested in reviewing porn and am only covering movies of this sort for the sake of completeness, and that my taste in horror doesn’t run into the “gross-out-show-all-the-guts” category, as I much prefer subtler forms of scaring. Therefore, unless this movie adds something else to the mix that lifts it up out of its chosen subgenres, I have little use for it. Well, it doesn’t; the plot is cursory, the acting is weak, and it’s pretty much exactly the movie I thought it would be. This is for those who like their exploitation movies mixed.

 

Thunderbird 6 (1968)

THUNDERBIRD 6 (1968)
Article 2607 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-25-2008
Posting Date: 10-2-2008
Directed by David Lane
Featuring the voices of Keith Alexander, Sylvia Anderson, John Carson
Country: UK

The members of International Rescue are on the maiden voyage of a new airship with anti-gravity gyros. However, unbeknownst to them, the crew of the airship has been replaced with spies intent on setting a trap to capture the members of International Rescue and their vehicles. Meanwhile, Brains has been commissioned with developing a new vehicle for the International Research organization, but his ideas keep being rejected.

My enjoyment of the previous Thunderbird movie (THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO) was somewhat muted by the static presentation and the occasional dull stretches where the movie spent too much time watching the various vehicles move at a snail’s pace. I think this follow-up movie is much better, with a more streamlined and more exciting plot. There’s a good sense of humor here as well; I love the fact that, despite all of the fancy vehicles on display, the one that saves the day is the lowly biplane. Some of the set design is stunning; I love the look of the airship’s game room, and the gravity control room with its rotating gyros proves to be an excellent site for a shootout scene, with characters constantly falling in and out of view between the gyros. Of course, the climactic peril is more than a little absurd, what with the crippled airship balanced precariously on top of a tower; this is the kind of peril I’d expect from a Road Runner cartoon. Still, given that all of the characters are puppets, I’ll just add that to the “suspension of disbelief” pile that’s necessary from the get-go anyway. I saw the final joke coming from a mile away, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a satisfying one. All in all, this is pretty damn good for a puppet movie.

 

The Stepfather (1987)

THE STEPFATHER (1987)
Article 2606 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-24-2008
Posting Date: 10-1-2008
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Featuring Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack
Country: USA

A single mother with a rebellious daughter marries a charming real estate salesman, unaware that the man has been married before and ends up slaughtering his families when they don’t live up to his dreams of “the perfect family”.

When this movie came to my town it played the art house circuit rather than in the multiplexes, which somewhat disassociated it from the other horror thrillers of the period. This is understandable; the movie emphasizes character, intelligence and believability rather than just gruesome thrills; what makes it so effective is that you can understand the feelings of the murderous title character, and he never descends to merely an evil bogeyman. Much of the credit goes to actor Terry O’Quinn, who makes his character very believable. Still, the movie does stumble on occasion, mostly when it gives in to certain horror movie cliches that it usually tries to avoid; occasionally, after he’s killed someone, the killer will throw out the type of one-liners that always seem phony and artificial to me, and though he isn’t one of those indestructible super-monsters like Jason, he comes closer than he should during the climax of the movie. What is most memorable is the element of surprise; the killer is uncommonly intelligent and his eruptions into violence come at the unexpected moments when you think the movie is just building up the suspense. The movie will no doubt alienate some viewers who perceive a political subtext that criticizes the whole family values movement, but I consider this a gross oversimplification, as it is the killer’s obsession with unreachable ideals and his inability to accept that there are some things he cannot control that set off his madness. The movie spawned two sequels, which is a pity; this is one of those movies that is only cheapened by the enfranchisement of it.

 

The Miracle of Marcelino (1955)

THE MIRACLE OF MARCELINO (1955)
aka Marcelino pan y vino
Article 2605 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-23-2008
Posting Date: 9-30-200
Directed by Ladislao Vajda
Featuring Rafael Rivelles, Antonio Vico, Juan Calvo
Country: Spain/Italy

A baby is left at the gates of a monastery. The monks attempt to find a home for it, but end up deciding to raise the boy themselves. However, in the process, they end up offending a high-ranking official in the local town, who resolves to have the monks evicted. Several years later, the boy inadvertently causes chaos at the town fair, and the official (now the mayor) uses the event to force the eviction. With only a month left in their home, the monks need a miracle. And it is then the boy discovers a crucifix in an upstairs room in the monastery…

As far as I can tell, this movie was not based on a true story, but on a novel by Jose Maria Sanchez Silva. This is a bit of a relief to me, as I can feel free to call it a fantasy without offending anyone, and I can avoid tiresome discussions about whether the events really happened. All in all, I found the movie quite moving, though at times it’s a little odd (it’s hard to understand why the monks would choose to frighten the boy away from a crucifix) and definitely unsettling at points (there’s a definite streak of darkness when you consider just what the boy is asking for when he makes his final request). The movie alternates comedy and drama for the first half of the movie; the miracle doesn’t start happening until the final third of the movie. It’s nice to see a movie like this that doesn’t bother dwelling on the “proof” of the miracle, which is the usual direction of stories of this kind; instead, it just lets the miracle happen, and it really manages to capture the sense of what it might be like to witness a miracle, an event that you experience vicariously through the character of Brother Cookie (the boy himself takes it all for granted). If anything, the movie demonstrates that a story doesn’t have to be true to be inspirationally moving. The main downside to the movie is that the dubbing is not quite as good as it could have been.

 

A Slightly Pregnant Man (1973)

A SLIGHTLY PREGNANT MAN (1973)
aka L’Evenement le plus important depuis que l’homme a marche sur la lune
Article 2604 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-22-2008
Posting Date: 9-29-2008
Directed by Jacques Demy
Featuring Catherine Deneuve, Marcello Mastrioianni, Micheline Presle
Country: France/Italy

A male instructor at a driving school discovers that he is pregnant.

I have to admit that I find the idea of a pregnant man only mildly amusing at best, though I suspect that women may like the concept more. As a result, I’m not really surprised that I found this movie mildly amusing at best, dull, predictable and obvious at worst. It’s really hard to gauge the performances; the dubbing is fairly weak throughout, though Marcello Mastrioianni seems to be doing the best he can. There are hints of a much better movie here; one conversation in a beauty parlor brought up the subject of how the world would change if men were able to get pregnant, and a movie that pursued that subject might actually have been interesting. The movie even threatens to move into that direction at one point, but it remains no more than a unfulfilled promise. The most amusing sequence to my eyes involved the pregnant man’s association with a clothing manufacturer who starts putting out a line of men’s maternity (or is it paternity) wear. The ending, however, is a major cop-out, and, more than anything else here, makes this one largely a waste of time. In short, the movie doesn’t deliver.

 

The Phantom Empire (1935)

THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (1935)
Serial
Article 2603 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-21-2008
Posting Date: 9-28-2008
Directed by Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason
Featuring Gene Autry, Frankie Darro, Betsy King Ross
Country: USA

Gene Autry has encountered complications with his daily broadcasts from Radio Ranch; a secret underground kingdom on the same site as his ranch considers him a threat and wants him out of the way.

I can’t believe it took me this long to get to this, one of the most notorious genre-bending serials of all time. Singing cowboy star Gene Autry (playing himself) may be one of the most beleaguered heroes in serial history; not only does he have to contend with the residents of a futuristic underground city (which gets its own listing in the credits, “The Futuristic City of Murania”) who consider him a threat to their security, but he also must contend with attacks from a rebel faction of the city (who wants to vivisect him to find out how he can breathe aboveground), a group of unscrupulous scientists who want the area for themselves to dig for radium, and a sheriff who believes Gene is guilty for the murder of his partner. On top of this, he somehow has to make it back to Radio Ranch once a day in time for his radio broadcast or risk losing the ranch. Helping him out are the teenage offspring of his deceased partner (who have organized a club called the Thunder Riders made up of kids who ride to the rescue while wearing hooked buckets on their heads), and his two comic-relief sidekicks Pete (the straight man) and Oscar (who has an endless supply of harmonicas and a horse that only moves when it hears a certain song). Now this is the way I like serials; wild and somewhat silly. The action starts out a little slow, but it really picks up when Autry finally makes it into Murania, what with its masked riders (the model for the kids’ Thunder Riders club), bizarre weapons, trap doors, execution chambers, rock-melting ray guns, and, most memorably, robots that look like they wear cowboy hats. It’s fun to see the serial trying to deal with the scientific aspects of the story; one of my favorite opening blurbs describes Murania as a place with lots of radio activity (sic), and I can’t help but notice that Murania is almost an anagram of uranium. Still, the movie probably has the first nuclear meltdown in cinema history (and I do mean meltdown). Plus, you get to see Autry sing “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine”. Quite frankly, this one is irresistible.