The Exorcist III: Cries and Shadows (1975)

THE EXORCIST III: CRIES AND SHADOWS (1975)
aka The Possessor, Un urlo nelle tenebre
Article 3033 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-27-2009
Posting Date: 12-3-2009
Directed by Franco Lo Cascio and Angelo Pannaccio
Featuring Richard Conte, Francoise Prevost, Patrizia Gori
Country: Italy

A teenage boy is possessed by the spirit of an evil woman. They may have to call in an exorcist…

In some ways, I’m a little in awe of the Italian film industry; if you can count on any country’s cinematic output to take a trend and beat it into the ground, Italy will be there. I am amazed at just how many sword-and-sandal epics, James Bond ripoffs, spaghetti westerns, and giallos (to start with) that they churned out, and if there’s a popular American movie to imitate, (such as JAWS, STAR WARS, or, in this case, THE EXORCIST) they’ll be on the front lines. I don’t know how many knockoffs of the latter they put out, but I’m already getting weary of them (and I haven’t even seen the most famous one, BEYOND THE DOOR, yet). The formula is simple; take the basic premise of its model and make the possessee older so he/she can participate in sex scenes, and then fill out the movie with plenty of those. This one seems a hair better at first, but that feeling only lasted a couple of minutes; once we see our pasty-faced possessee engaging in the most mild of displays of shocking behavior and language, you know this one is a loser. In fact, the language and violence are so mild here that, on their merits alone, the movie would fare no worse than a mild PG rating; this is offset by the sex and orgy scenes, which push it almost to an X. It’s badly dubbed and edited with a cuisinart. About the only novelty here is that the possessee is male. And don’t let that deceptive title make you mistake it for an entry in the real series.

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Poor Devil (1973)

POOR DEVIL (1973)
TV-Movie
Article 3032 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-26-2009
Posting Date: 12-2-2009
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Featuring Sammy Davis Jr, Christopher Lee, Jack Klugman
Country: USA

An incompetent devil is given a last chance by Lucifer to get someone to sell his soul.

This was one of the TV-Movies I actually got a chance to see as a kid; I probably was attracted to a cast of very familiar names. Nevertheless, I was quite disappointed with the movie; it was nowhere near as funny as I hoped it would be. I like it a little better watching it now, but only a little; the script is weak and full of bad dialogue, but it has a few good moments. For me, the most enjoyment comes from seeing Christopher Lee having a lot of fun as Lucifer. Sammy Davis Jr. is a little over the top, but Klugman was just fine, and Adam West makes for a good unctuous villain. However, it seems as if the devil’s powers are severely limited to say the least; if it’s this difficult to do the requested task, it would be a surprise that anyone would go to hell. This was apparently intended as a pilot for a series, but I wonder if it would have sold even if the script was better; this type of comedy might have flown in the late sixties, but by this time sitcoms were working in a much more realistic mode, and this one would have come across as badly dated. Still, it would have been interesting to see Christopher Lee as a regular in a sitcom…

The Pied Piper (1972)

THE PIED PIPER (1972)
Article 3031 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-25-2009
Posting Date: 12-1-2009
Directed by Jacques Demy
Featuring Donovan, Donald Pleasence, Diana Dors
Country: UK / USA

In the year 1349, a traveling troupe of players picks up a musician and takes him to the city of Hamelin, where the villagers are engaged in building a cathedral and preparing for a wedding. When the town is overrun by rats, the piper offers to rid the town of the beasts for 1000 gilders. When he is not paid, he exacts revenge.

Now here is an audacious way to handle a fairy tale; rather than emphasizing the cuteness and whimsy, this one puts it in a historical context (the rats carry the black plague that was spreading through the country at that time), dovetails it with a tragic story of a well-meaning alchemist whose belief that the plague is a natural occurrence puts him at odds with the clergy and who is eventually charged with heresy, and places it all in an authentic milieu (the town is dirty and thoroughly medieval). It may be a fairy tale, but the mood is serious, dark and tragic, and it’s very well acted by an excellent cast which includes Donald Pleasence, Roy Kinnear, Diana Dors, and John Hurt. Donovan is a good choice for the role of the piper, and he ends up meshing well with the ensemble acting of the cast. His music is a tad bit anachronistic, but this ends up being a very minor problem. I love the complexity of the story and the relationships as well. It’s a little slow on occasions, especially in the middle of the movie, but it ends up having a real power to it, especially as the climax of the movie juxtaposes the familiar ending of the pied piper story with the tragic fate of the alchemist. All in all, I was quite impressed with this one.

Brain Smasher…A Love Story (1993)

BRAIN SMASHER… A LOVE STORY (1993)
Article 3030 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-24-2009
Posting Date: 11-30-2009
Directed by Albert Pyun
Featuring Andrew Dice Clay, Teri Hatcher, Yuji Okumoto
Country: USA

A bouncer known as Brain Smasher helps a supermodel who is being chased by masked Chinese martial artists who are trying to get their hands on a magic flower that will give them Ultimate Power.

Andrew Dice Clay was a comedian from the late eighties/early nineties. I never saw his act, though I highly doubt it would have appealed to me, so I can’t compare how well this action comedy captures his style. I will say this much though; most of the humor in this movie revolves around three things; first, the hero is called Brain Smasher because he beats people up; second, everybody finds the story of flower-seeking masked Chinese martial artists loose in Portland, Oregon hard to believe, and thirdly, the Chinese martial artists take exception to being called ninjas. This covers about ninety percent of the humor in the movie, and if you’re doubled over in laughter, you’ll probably like this one just fine. If, like me, you’re still waiting to feel the urge to giggle, you’d be better off enjoying it as an action movie, in which case it’s just dumb silliness and tired cliches. The fantastic content is the magic flower, and though it’s tempting to call it a Gizmo Maguffin, it’s not really a gizmo, so let’s call it a Floral Maguffin. I wouldn’t wait to find out what Ultimate Power it wields; the movie never delivers on that concept, so the fantastic content is truly questionable. Let’s face it; there’s just not much here worth paying attention to.

Lady Possessed (1952)

LADY POSSESSED (1952)
Article 3029 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-23-2009
Posting Date: 11-29-2009
Directed by William Spier
Featuring James Mason, June Havoc, Stephen Dunne
Country: USA

A pianist takes his ailing wife out of a London hospital at the same time that another female patient there has suffered a miscarriage. Afterwards, the second woman feels empty and withdrawn, and, thinking that getting her away from London will help, her husband takes her to live at a country estate, which turns out to be the former residence of the pianist who left after his wife died. The woman begins to get visions of the wife and her final days; is she becoming possessed by the dead wife of the pianist?

James Mason not only starred in this one, but he produced it and wrote the screenplay. It’s interesting in some ways, but uneven and not really satisfying in the final analysis. Part of the problem is that it seems rather muddled; it’s really hard to say whether what is happening is supernatural or psychological, and the movie doesn’t really make that ambiguity compelling. It does give Mason some good dramatic moments, especially at the climax when he plays the piano with the words of his dead wife’s last letter running through his head. Ultimately, though, it’s hard to feel anything about most of the other characters, and this drags the movie down. Still, this one has been sitting on my list for quite a while, and I thought it might be destined to go on my “ones that got away” list; I’m glad to have had a chance to see it.

The People Who Own the Dark (1976)

THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976)
aka Ultimo deseo
Article 3028 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-22-2009
Posting Date: 11-28-2009
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Featuring Nadiuska, Alberto de Mendoza, Tony Kendall
Country: Spain

A group of devotees of the Marquis de Sade are underground when atomic explosions rip through the country. They emerge to discover that they are the only ones with sight left, and they fight for their lives among increasingly hostile blind villagers.

Save for a couple of hints of the story to come, the first twenty minutes of this movie makes it look like it’s warming up to an exploitation-style horror movie. Then, once the bombs go off, it shifts to a survivors-of-the-apocalypse plot. A visit to the nearby village and an encounter with the blind villagers makes it look like a variation on THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. Then, after some unfortunate murders, the angry blind villagers go on a rampage and the movie becomes a very strange version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The shear oddness of the concept is enough to hold your interest, and the cast (which also includes Paul Naschy, Maria Perschy and Teresa Gimpera) also helps things along. However, once your mind kicks in, you’ll see a lot of absurdity and silliness to the events. Why do the atomic blasts only blind the villagers with no other side effects? Why does the one survivor think he’s a dog? Why does another survivor knife a gun-toting blind man when he and the other five sighted people can easily take the gun from him? Why, when their very day-to-day survival is at stake, do the villagers decide to storm the home of the survivors for the sole purpose of terrorizing them and killing them? The more you think about, the more ridiculous the whole movie seems. Still, if you want to see the only movie that combines the talent of screenwriter Vicente Aranda and horror actor Paul Naschy, this is it.

Passport to Hell (1965)

PASSPORT TO HELL (1965)
aka Agente 3S3: Passaporto per l’inferno
Article 3027 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-21-2009
Posting Date: 11-27-2009
Directed by Sergio Sollima
Featuring George Ardisson, Barbara Simon, Georges Riviere
Country: Italy / France / Spain

A CIA agent is sent on a mission to investigate a criminal organization that is responsible for another agent’s death. He is searching for a former secret agent now known as Mr. A, and his only clue to his location is Mr. A’s daughter.

This is another example of the spyghetti genre, those Italian spy movies that followed in the wake of the success of the James Bond movies. This one is solid if unspectacular; the story is straightforward and the action sequences are okay. The music is pretty strange on occasion; I’d love to know the name of that freaky novelty record that plays on the jukebox during the bar brawl. The fantastic content is limited to a small handful of gadgets; all in all, this is one of the less parodistic examples of the genre. It would spawn one sequel before the character was retired. It’s not great, but enjoyable enough.