Blind Date (1984)

Article 5037 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-2-2016
Directed by Nico Mastorakis
Featuring Joseph Bottoms, Kirstie Alley, James Daughton
Country: USA / Greece
What it is: Giallo of sorts

A man has an accident and goes blind, though there appears to be nothing physically wrong with him. A scientist fits him with a device that will allow him to use computer technology that will allow him to see within certain limits. When he stumbles across a serial killer, he finds his life in danger and must try to bring him to justice.

After I watched this movie, I went back and read the reviews of the other Nico Mastorakis movies I’ve seen, and if I see a pattern, it’s that they usually have an interesting central concept or gimmick, but for some reason it never quite gestates into a compelling movie. Also, there’s usually a lot of great Greek scenery to enjoy. In this one, however, he’s less interested in Greek landscapes and is more interested in pulchritude; the movie is full of women in skimpy outfits; some appear topless as well. I know many people consider this a plus, but it’s also such an easy directorial choice that it doesn’t impress me. The gimmick about a man using an artificial device that works like sonar to allow him to see is a clever concept, but I must admit to being disappointed with the way the movie handles the concept visually, and I’m not sure the gimmick is really necessary to a story that boils down to a man facing off with a serial killer. Still, I do feel that one of my major problems with the movie is that I never feel a shred of suspense; though intellectually I know how I’m supposed to feel in certain scenes, I never actually feel it, and at least part of the reason here is that I don’t really like or care for the main character. It also doesn’t help that the script seems quite contrived at time, and the climax just plain doesn’t work for me. In short, the movie never really sucks me into its story; it remains distant and remote. I found this one quite disappointing.

The Black Panther of Ratana (1963)

aka Der schwarze Panther von Ratana
Article 5027 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-23-2015
Directed by Jurgen Roland
Featuring Roberto Bianchi Montero, Horst Frank, Heinz Drache
Country: West Germany / Italy / Thailand
What it is: Krimi, sort of

Four men take part in the heist of a sapphire from a temple, but two of them are double-crossed. Years later, one of the latter men locates one of the men who betrayed him, but enemies of this man tend to fall victim to panther attacks…

I used the phrase “sort of” above to indicate that in some ways this movie resembles the German krimis of the era; it has a somewhat involved crime plot with surprise twists, some comic relief, and a bit of horror feel to the proceedings. However, in many ways it feels very different; it has no association with Edgar Wallace, is in color (most krimis of this period were in black and white), and was shot on location in Thailand rather than taking place in London, the usual location for the form. The movie’s refusal to show us the panther responsible for the attacks and the extreme convenience for certain individuals in its choice of victims will certainly clue you in that there’s no real panther on the loose, and the horror content is rather slight, so this is fairly marginal in terms of its genre content. The plot is also somewhat easier to follow than is usual the case for krimis, and you’re not going to be too surprised by some of the final revelations. For what it is, it’s a passable enough entertainment, but it’s probably more noteworthy for crossing the krimi and adventure genres than for anything else.

Big Meat Eater (1982)

Article 5019 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-15-2015
Directed by Chris Windsor
Featuring Clarence ‘Big’ Miller, George Dawson, Andrew Gillies
Country: Canada
What it is: In a class by itself

Aliens hatch a plot to get hold of a supply of radioactive balonium located under a block of a small town that features a butcher shop in which a homicidal obese Turk has been newly hired by the mild-mannered butcher and a house inhabited by Russian immigrants including a savant who is trying to become the first man in space. It’s a musical.

You know, there are some movies where the question of whether it’s any good or not seem irrelevant because you’re still marveling over the fact that the movie even exists. There’s something about the tone of this movie that suggests parody, but of what? Alien invasions, serial killers, small-town life, corrupt politicians, ethnic stereotypes, the cult of progress, amateur talent shows, blues and new-wave music….all of this gets fed into the mix at one point or another, and if it hangs together at all, it’s probably only by dint of the fact that it’s all in the same movie. The overall rating for this on IMDB are 5.1, but the individual ratings are all over the map, ranging from those who think it’s a brilliant piece of regional film-making and those who think it is pure dreck. I will say this much, though; it’s not obvious and it’s not predictable. It’s also most likely not sane, either. And in its own freakish scattershot way, I must confess to having been somewhat hypnotized by this one; I couldn’t tear my eyes away. It’s a question mark, but sometimes I like question marks.

The Bermuda Triangle (1979)

Article 5018 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-14-2015
Directed by Richard Friedenberg
Featuring Brad Crandall, Donald Albee, Lin Berlitz
Country: USA
What it is: Documentary

Stories about strange disappearances and sightings in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle are reenacted.

What sets this one apart amid the rash of documentaries/pseudodocumentaries about various phenomena from the 1970s is that this one primarily uses the technique of reenactments of the stories being told. I will give this much credit to this technique; in comparison to just having the stories told to us, it is much more entertaining. Notice I said “entertaining”, not “convincing”. If anything, it makes the stories less convincing; when a UFO sighting in which the story talks about “strange lights in the skies” gets translated visually as a clearly delineated flying saucer shooting rays out from its underside, the viewer’s reaction is much more likely to reject the whole story outright. Plus, when you’re bombarded with theories such as “portals from other dimensions”, “flying saucers with death rays”, “time warps” and (my favorite) “antigravity rays from lost Atlantis”, it’s very easy for your skeptic meter to fly off the chart. Once again, I’m no expert on the Bermuda Triangle or the accounts of events that took place there; I just watch movies. All I can say is that this movie was one of the more entertaining of its type that I’ve seen, while perhaps making me even less inclined to believe the stories than I might otherwise be.

Because of the Cats (1973)

aka Brutalization
Article 5001 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-27-2015
Directed by Fons Rademakers
Featuring Bryan Marshall, Alexandra Stewart, Edward Judd
Country: Netherlands / Belgium
What it is: Crime drama

A police detective from Amsterdam investigates a gang that has been taking part in a series of burglaries, acts of vandalism and rapes.

The John Stanley guide from which I culled this title speaks of a series of murders cause by a devil cult. The blurbs on the DVD package for the movie make it sound like an exercise in brutal rape/revenge drama along the lines of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. Both descriptions are stunningly inaccurate. Though a cult of sorts is indeed involved, to call it a “devil cult” is to imply details that simply aren’t there; it’s more of Nietzschean “power of will” cult. And though the story does involve a gang rape, and there is an ample amount of exploitation elements to the story, to call it a rape/revenge drama is to imply a story arc that is simply not there. What we have here is a crime drama, in which a police inspector tries to crack the mystery of why a gang of young men (and another gang of young women) are doing what they’re doing. Yes, there’s a political subtext, and it must be pretty obvious if even I can see it. Anybody drawn to this movie by the two previously cited descriptions will be disappointed; on its own terms, it’s a passable but slightly dull drama for the most part, though the best parts come near the end of the movie. It has its uses, but it falls very short of the sensationalism the descriptions promise. And as such, I don’t think it really qualifies as a genre movie.

Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984)

Article 4996 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-22-2015
Directed by Ray Cameron
Featuring Kenny Everett, Vincent Price, Pamela Stephenson
Country: UK
What it is: Horror parody

Eight scientists of the paranormal visit a house where 18 people were killed in one night years ago.

All I really knew about this movie going in was that it was one of the latter movie appearances of Vincent Price in a horror movie. Those drawn to it by that fact may well be disappointed; despite high billing, he has what amounts to a featured role, and he doesn’t quite attack the scenes with his usual aplomb. In fact, his voice doesn’t even quite sound like his own; if I had closed my eyes during his scenes, I’m not sure I would have known it was him. The movie itself was a vehicle for a surreal British TV comedian named Kenny Everett. Apparently, his TV work was hit and miss, and this movie is the same; occasional moments work, but most of it misses the mark. Several horror and genre movies are directly parodied; I see references to CARRIE, THE ENTITY, E.T., ALIEN, TEN LITTLE INDIANS, and possibly even one to THE TINGLER. My favorite moment in the movie is a musical one, in which an attempt to reconcile the count of the people killed in the previous encounter turns into a parody version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. I will give the movie credit for doing one thing right; unlike some horror movie parodies, this one does at least have some success in getting the mood right.

Brain 17 (1982)

BRAIN 17 (1982)
Article 4970 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-27-2015
Directed by Michael Part
Featuring Masahiro Kamiya, Tadao Nakamaru, Akihiko Hirata
Country: USA / Japan
What it is: TV-Movie edited from Japanese kiddie action series

A supercomputer called Brain goes rogue and creates robots to take over the world. However, one of the robots takes the side of good, and with the help of a child, takes on Brain.

Within ten seconds of this movie starting, I pegged the movie as one of those TV-Movies culled from episodes of a hyperactive Japanese kiddie action series about giant dueling robots. The special effects are bottom of the barrel for this sort of thing, you could do better dubbing in your own home, the dialogue is beyond goofy (“I’ve got a plan, and it’s a humdinger of a doozy!”), and the robots (a giant steamroller robot, a fire-breathing robot dragon, a hurricane robot that looks like a giant pinwheel, and a big jack-hammer robot) are ridiculous. It’s basically a variation on “Ultraman”. Yes, it’s awful, but it hits me in my soft spot; I can’t help but grin, shake my head, and just get lost in the nonsense. I love this sort of thing, but if you don’t, you’re liable to end up with a headache. It’s easily the funniest thing I’ve seen in a couple of weeks. Incidentally, the TV series from which it was culled is DAITETSUJIN WAN-SEBUN.

A Bay of Blood (1971)

aka Reazione a catena, Carnage, Twitch of the Death Nerve
Article 4941 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-28-2015
Directed by Mario Bava
Featuring Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Camaso
Country: Italy
What it is: The birth of the slasher film

When a count and a countess are murdered, a bloody struggle develops between potential heirs to the estate.

IMDB lists over forty alternate titles for this, the most notorious of Mario Bava’s films. I’d first heard about it as TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (my favorite of the titles), it entered my list under the rather generic but descriptive title CARNAGE, and the print I saw was titled A BAY OF BLOOD. It’s often heralded as the first true slasher film, but I also like to think of it as the missing link between the slasher film and the “old dark house” film where heirs to an estate are knocked off one by one. Granted, there’s no real “old dark house” here, but the basic plot structure makes it feel like one, while the appearance of a group of teenagers to add to the body count certainly puts it in slasher territory. I also like to think of it as Mario Bava’s PSYCHO in that to some extent, the movie is conceived as a bit of a joke; certainly, the ending of this one can be seen as a punch line. It has more of a plot than your average slasher movie, though it does get a little confusing at times and you might be tempted to keep a score card. According to the trivia section of IMDB, this was Bava’s own favorite of his movies, and though it wouldn’t be my personal choice, it is probably his most influential.

The Brood (1979)

THE BROOD (1979)
Article 4939 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-26-2015
Directed by David Cronenberg
Featuring Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle
Country: Canada
What it is: Cronenberg horror movie

A man’s wife is being held in therapeutic isolation by a doctor who practices a technique known as psychoplasmics, in which patients manifest their anger as growths on their bodies. When the husband begins to fear for the safety of his child, relatives of the couple begin dying at the hands of murderous deformed dwarfs.

I saw this one many years ago on one of those commercial cable channels, which is rather ridiculous in retrospect; Cronenberg’s imagery is both so grotesque and so essential to the essence of the story that to watch a censored version of one of his movies is pointless. I haven’t seen all of Cronenberg’s genre works yet, but with the exception of THE DEAD ZONE, this is the best of the ones I’ve seen so far. The story is certainly more focused than the ones I found in RABID or SCANNERS. It’s intense, well-acted, and on top of the Cronenberg’s usual theme of the ways our bodies can turn on us, it deals with divorce, rage and the cycles of abuse that pass from generation to generation. It’s disturbing, powerful and sad as well, and is definitely not for children. This is one I recommend, but I usually do so with Cronenberg.

Born in Flames (1983)

Article 4937 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-24-2015
Directed by Lizzie Borden
Featuring Honey, Adele Bertei, Jean Satterfield
Country: USA
What it is: Independent feminist tract

In the future, ten years after a peaceful socialist revolution in the United States, a group of women form an underground organization to battle the injustices of the political system. They try to work peacefully, but when one of their number is arrested and dies in prison, they decide to change their peaceful strategy.

This is one of those independently made art films which, to these eyes, functions primarily as a call to arms for radical feminists. On the surface, it appears to be a science fiction movie, but there’s nothing that appears remotely futuristic in the movie, and I don’t see any ways in which this society works that is inherently different from how it worked at the time. Granted, the movie’s fractured, jagged presentation (though the movie is not presented as a documentary, it’s filmed in the style of one) makes it often difficult to tell what’s going on, and since most of the movie focuses on the members of the underground, we don’t get much in the way of detail of this future world. I suspect the science fiction aspect of the movie only exists so the movie can make the point that a “peaceful” revolution will solve nothing. Some of the music in the movie is not bad, but unfortunately, the title song (which plays at least four times during the movie) is rather screechy and unpleasant. Most of the movie seems to consist of revolutionary rhetoric, and this gets old if you’re not a revolutionary. I suspect the movie would best be appreciated by radical feminists; the rest of us might be hard pressed to find something to like about it.