Invasion of the Mindbenders (1987)

Invasion of the Mindbenders (1987)
aka Mind Benders, Alien High
Date: 8-22-2021
Directed by Genie Joseph
Featuring Diane Ager, Alexandre Aumont, Victoria Barkoff
Country: Canada
What it is: Teen comedy with fantastic elements

In order to keep the students in line, a high school principal agrees to subject his students to a mind control experiment to curb their wild behavior. When he begins fiddling with the mind control settings, there follows a rash of violent acts from the controlled teens.

Despite the plot description above, it’s definitely more of a teen comedy than a teen thriller. The first half of the movie plays like a chintzy, loud and obnoxious imitation of ANIMAL HOUSE. Once the teens are under mind control, things settle down a bit and it becomes less obnoxious, but I can’t really say things improve much. To its credit, there are moments where the comic bits work, and that keeps the movie from becoming interminable, but for the most part, this is a pretty thin affair. The big name actor here is Roy Thinnes, and though he too has his moments, mostly his performance suffers from an overly generous amount of yelling. The plot eventually incorporates a space alien as part of its story. All in all, this is definitely not Canada’s finest cinematic hour.

Alien From L.A. (1988)

Alien from L.A. (1988)
Article 5999 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-21-2021
Directed by Albert Pyun
Featuring Kathy Ireland, William R. Moses, Richard Haines
Country: USA / South Africa
What it is: Lost civilization on Helium

A troubled young woman goes abroad to the reported deathplace of her father, only to fall into a hole that leads to Atlantis. She discovers her father is alive and wants to rescue him, but her presence is noticed…

I don’t know if that’s Kathy Ireland’s real voice or whether it was just adopted for this movie, but it really doesn’t matter; the primary effect of using this squeaky high-pitched voice is to strip every emotional resonance from her dialogue and makes her sound like a perpetual whiner, and since she was primarily a supermodel, she doesn’t have the acting smarts to overcome that. Furthermore, the vision of Atlantis here is woefully undeveloped; it seems to consist mostly of strange costumes, weird makeup and the everpresent smoke/fog that was probably there to obscure the cheapness of the sets. Combined with the fact that all of the scenes have the same messy, busy feel and there’s not an interesting story to be found, you end up with one of those movies you will never revisit because it wasn’t worth visiting in the first place. Dismal.

Superfantagenio (1986)

Superfantagenio (1986)
aka Aladdin
Article 5998 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-15-2021
Directed by Bruno Corbucci
Featuring Bud Spencer, Luca Venantini, Janet Agren
Country: Italy
What it is: Pseudo-shopping-cart movie

A teenage boy finds Aladdin’s lamp and summons a genie who solves everyone’s personal problems when he isn’t drinking beer, annoying the cops and beating up people.

It’s an update of the Aladdin story in which the boy is named Al Haddin and the genie is played by Bud Spencer.  It plays out like a cheap imitation of a Disney shopping-cart movie and is an Italian movie shot in Miami.  Bud Spencer appears to putting forth the minimum amount of effort to put forward what can almost be called a performance, and the plot meanders in a way that makes you suspect the writers had only the vaguest idea of where they wanted the plot to go, if anywhere.  Yet, for all that, I’ll count my blessings, which is my way of saying better Bud Spencer than Franco Franchi.  Disney’s version of ALADDIN  a few years later would wipe memories of this one off the map.

After Midnight (1989)

After Midnight (1989)
Article 5997 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-14-2021
Directed by Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat
Featuring Jillian McWhirter, Pamela Adlon, Ramy Zada
Country: USA
What it is: Horror anthology with a message

An unorthodox professor teaching a course on the “Psychology of Fear” intends to make his points by actually scaring his students.  When he is forced to use more conventional methods in his class, he holds informal sessions in his home, where he has the students tell terrifying stories.  One involves an old dark house, another involves a psycho and his killer dogs, and the third is about a terrorized telephone operator.

I’ve seen enough shoddy horror anthologies in my life that I’ve come to expect the worst from ones I’ve not heard about, but this one was much better than I expected.  One of the things that makes it interesting is that it sets forth a theory that what can really happen is much scarier than what seems far-fetched and impossible, and the scary stories here are particularly lacking in supernatural touches; instead, we get a backfired practical joke and two psychos.  The first story is the weakest, largely because it takes way too much time setting up an overly familiar situation in the first place; the other two are fairly suspenseful.  However, I notice that the framing story isn’t above resorting to the supernatural when it feels like it; in fact, anyone who has seen the 1945 classic DEAD OF NIGHT will recognize what’s happening in the final moments of the movie. Personally, I do take some issue with reality vs. supernatural slant of the movie; for me, the horror movies with the supernatural are more fun than the ones without it. 

The Abyss (1989)

The Abyss (1989)
Article 5996 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-11-2021
Directed by James Cameron
Featuring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn
Country: USA
What it is: Underwater thriller

Military forces take over an underwater oil rig to find out the cause of a submarine accident in the vicinity. However, when an intelligent non-terrestrial alien species shows up, it’s up the workers in the oil rig to keep the military from destroying the aliens.

I’m not a big fan of the big budget popcorn movie, but if I had to pick some of my favorites, a few James Cameron movies would make the cut. He knew how to develop his characters to the point where you liked and cared about them, and he was extremely good at creating coherent action sequences. This was one of his more ambitious efforts; it feels something like an underwater cross between CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and ALIEN, and E.T. – it borrows a bit from each of those movies, and even has a sequence that recalls 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I don’t quite like it as much as a couple of his earlier films, but it is a worthy effort. It’s a little bit slow out of the gate (the plot doesn’t really get cracking until the aliens show up), and it occasionally falls into a few cliches of the era, but I find these flaws forgiveable.

Abby (1974)

Abby (1974)
Article 5995 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-7-2021
Directed by William Girdler
Featuring Carol Speed, William Marshall, Terry Carter
Country: USA
What it is: Blaxploitation EXORCIST rip-off

A demon accidentally released by a Bishop takes possession of his son’s wife, a woman named Abby.

Apparently, this movie was pulled from circulation shortly after release as a result of Warner Brother’s suit against AIP for ripping off THE EXORCIST. That should give you an idea of how close the plot of this one is in comparison with the original. Still, there are differences. The cast is almost entirely black, for one thing. Second is that, like almost every other rip-off I’ve seen of the movie, the possession is of a fully grown woman rather than a child, no doubt giving the film-makers a better chance of dealing with the fact that the possessor is supposedly a “demon of sexuality”. The third is that, unlike THE EXORCIST, this one is simply not scary; in fact, I find if you consider it a comedy, it works better, especially as the demon’s lines are pretty silly stuff. At any rate, this one is abysmal enough that no one is likely to confuse the two movies. My biggest question has to do with the title of the movie; after all, the seventies was the decade of BLACULA, BLACKENSTEIN, and DR. BLACK, MR. HYDE, so why didn’t they call it THE BLAXORCIST?

Sinbad the Sailor (1935)

Sinbad the Sailor (1935)
Article 5994 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-24-2021
Directed by Ub Iwerks, Shamus Culhane, Al Eugster
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Ub Iwerks Comicolor cartoon

Sinbad tussles with pirates on the high seas.

Most Sinbad adaptations have fantastic content of some sort and this one is no exception, but it’s not until the roc shows up as part of the storyline does it truly qualify as fantastic cinema beyond the bounds of comic exaggeration. It’s a solid but not particularly inspired effort from Ub Iwerks, but I’ve always preferred his Flip the Frog cartoons to his Comicolor series. And as far as Sinbad cartoons go, this one doesn’t hold a candle to the Popeye adaptation of the story. And though I usually like to highlight a favorite moment when I review cartoons, there’s nothing in this one that really stands out.

Shuffle Off to Buffalo (1933)

Shuffle Off to Buffalo (1933)
Article 5993 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-18-2021
Directed by Friz Freleng and Rudolf Ising
Featuring the voices of Johnny Murray and the Rhymettes
Country: USA
What it is: Early Warner Brothers cartoon

We visit the assembly line at the baby delivery factory and get to hear the title song warbled.

I’m not sure that the presence of storks delivering babies in a cartoon is enough for me to definitely move the cartoon into the realm of the fantastic, but the existence of a factory with an assembly line that preps the babies for delivery is enough, especially as it appears that the main person in charge is Father Time himself (though he isn’t explicitly named as such). It’s a typical early thirties Warner Brothers cartoon; it opens with a series of gags surrounding the situation and then finds every chance it can to perform the title song. In the process we get a handful of celebrity caricatures; Eddie Cantor is the most prominent, but Joe E. Brown and Ed Wynn both pop up. The best gag involves the labels for the twins delivered to Nanook of the North.

A Short Vision (1956)

A Short Vision (1956)
Article 5992 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-12-2021
Directed by Joan Foldes and Peter Foldes
Featuring the voice of James McKechnie
Country: UK
What it is: Succinct apocalypse

A vision is seen in the night skies over with. Those who see it share the same fate as those who don’t.

Here’s a worthy effort of British experimental animation. As anybody who has seen a theatrical cartoon can attest, the fact that you only run about six minutes doesn’t mean that not a lot can happen. In that short a time, the world can end, as it does here. And I think the point being made here is that it ends not just for a few certain souls, but for all. The prey, the predator, the awake, the asleep… none are spared. No, this isn’t a cheery cartoon, nor is it funny. Still, it is a bit too short to work up to a real emotional kick. Nevertheless, it’s a worthy effort.

Short and Suite (1959)

Short and Suite (1959)
Article 5991 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-12-2021
Directed by Norman McLaren
No cast
Country: Canada
What it is: Abstract animation to jazz music

Here’s another foray into abstract animation from Canada’s master of the form, Norman McLaren. The abstractness dominates here, though it does pop into the representational for fleeting moments, usually just long enough for the viewer to recognize it as such before it runs back into abstraction. If there’s any plot here, it’s due to individual interpretation; I like to see it as a dance between abstract figures. This one is solid, but I don’t think it’s my favorite from McLaren’s oeuvre.