The Big Bus (1976)

THE BIG BUS (1976)
Article 3454 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-20-2010
Posting Date: 1-28-2011
Directed by James Frawley
Featuring Joseph Bologna, Stockard Channing, John Beck
Country: USA
What it is: Disaster movie spoof

A new nuclear-powered bus name Cyclops makes its maiden trip, but an unscrupulous oil lobby has plans to destroy it.

Had this movie been made five years later, I’d have accused it of trying to emulate the style and success of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedy classic, AIRPLANE!; it does come very close to capturing the style of that movie. However, since this predates that movie by several years, the influence (if any) must have gone in the opposite direction. However, the reasons this one never really became a comedy classic are rather clear; it doesn’t quite kick the comedic style into the stratosphere like the later movie did, and the movie runs out of gas while there’s still a goodly amount of running time to go. Still, there’s some good moments here; I particularly like the bar brawl and a gag involving a milk carton. I’m also partial to the gags involving the world’s most annoying pianist. It’s worst problem may be that it doesn’t know when to let some of its running gags expire; too many of them get repeated too often.


The Boy Who Turned Yellow (1972)

Article 3453 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-19-2010
Posting Date: 1-27-2011
Directed by Michael Powell
Featuring Mark Dightam, Robert Eddison, Helen Weir
Country: UK
What it is: Children’s fantasy

A young boy loses his pet mouse named Alice on a field trip to the Tower of London. He seeks a way to get it back.

If the above plot description seems singularly lacking in fantastic elements, be aware that the plot involves our main character ending up in an area in London where everything and everybody has turned yellow, meeting an extraterrestrial who skis across electricity, and facing execution unless someone can get a television to him in time. Yet the strangest thing about this one is that it marks the final collaboration between director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger, who were responsible for THE RED SHOES, A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH and THE TALES OF HOFFMANN, just to mention the movies I’ve covered of theirs for the series. Powell also gave us PEEPING TOM, which practically destroyed his career. This movie was made for the Children’s Film Foundation, and is definitely not representative of Powell’s work, but it is intriguing and downright weird. Once again, a children’s movie takes me places I’d never been before.

Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968)

Article 3442 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-8-2010
Posting Date: 1-16-2011
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Peter Ustinov, Dean Jones, Suzanne Pleshette
Country: USA
What it is: Shopping cart movie

The ghost of Blackbeard must remain in limbo until he can do a good deed. He finally decides to help a bunch of old women living in an old house that is in danger of being taken over by gangsters. In order to help them, he must help a hopeless track team to win their meet.

The above plot description sounded so silly that, having THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK still strong in my memory, I was expecting this to be one of the worst of the shopping cart movies. The fact that it isn’t is a tribute once again to the care taken in the casting; many of the shopping cart films are full of fun veterans and likable newcomers, and this one is no exception. Still, it’s Peter Ustinov who really makes this one fly. Sure, his Blackbeard probably has very little in common with the historical figure (and the truth be told, I certainly didn’t expect it would in this movie), but he manages to instill a little soul into his character to keep it from being simply a caricature. He’s also had experience with curmudgeon-to-be-redeemed roles; the last movie I saw him in (THE MAN WHO WAGGED HIS TAIL) was of the same ilk. It’s still pretty silly plotwise, but there are worse out there.

The Bermuda Depths (1978)

Article 3441 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-7-2010
Posting Date: 1-15-2011
Directed by Tsugunobu Kotani
Featuring Leigh McCloskey, Carl Weathers, Connie Sellecca
Country: USA / Japan
What it is: Lyrical “Moby Dick” pastiche

A young man returns home to learn the reason for his father’s death, and takes up with a scientist intent on catching a strange creature believed to live in the Bermuda Triangle. He also meets a woman who may or may not be a ghost.

I suspect this movie was originally made as one of the sea monster movies that came in the wake of JAWS, but it doesn’t use that as its model. Rather, it seems a curious cross between “Moby Dick”, NIGHT TIDE, and a Bermuda Triangle movie, which is such an interesting mishmash that I really found myself hoping I would like it. The movie mainly aspires to a sort of lyricism, and occasionally (such as in the opening sequence) it meets that goal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t know when to set aside the lyricism when necessary, so the movie starts to get tiresome. Also, for a movie which shows some real imagination in scenes with very little conversation, it makes the mistake of talking your head off in other scenes, often doing little more than rehashing facts that we’ve already encountered. In short, the movie ends up moving at a turtle’s pace, which makes the fact that the giant sea creature is a turtle an unfortunate coincidence. This is another one of those odd Rankin/Bass USA/Japanese co-productions.

The Black Torment (1964)

Article 3401 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-25-2010
Posting Date: 12-6-2010
Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis
Featuring Heather Sears, John Turner, Ann Lynn
Country: UK
What it is: Sinister secrets horror story

A lord returns to his estate with his new bride after a departure of three months. However, he finds himself under suspicion of having committed crimes in the area despite his absence, due to the testimony of several witnesses.

I have to admit to a certain admiration for this movie’s set-up; usually, the story of a noble bringing his new bride to the ancestral home turns into a GASLIGHT variation of sort where the bride encounters mysteries and family secrets while being terrorized. In this one, however, the groom is just as puzzled by the mysteries as the bride, and this definitely piqued my interest. Granted, I was able to sort out parts of the mystery long before the final revelations (thanks to a scene involving a broken family tradition), but it was still fun seeing how the various details unfolded, and even though this type of movie generally turns out to have a non-supernatural explanation, this one really leaves you wondering at times. I found myself quite satisfied while I was watching it, despite a scenery-chewing performance by John Turner. Unfortunately, the second it’s over, the plot holes start showing through. Still, it is original enough that it’s worth a watch.

The Boogens (1981)

Article 3382 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-5-2010
Posting Date: 11-17-2010
Directed by James L. Conway
Featuring Rebecca Balding, Fred McCarren, Anne-Marie Martin
Country: USA
What it is: Old-fashioned monster movie

A mine in Silver City, closed mysteriously for seventy years, is reopened. However, it was closed for a reason… and that reason is now loose to wreak havoc.

Though it doesn’t have a particularly high reputation, I think it’s a bit of a breath of fresh air to find an old-fashioned monster movie in the middle of the slasher era. Granted, an old-fashioned monster movie wouldn’t quite have as much talk about sex as this one does, but even this aspect of the movie is fairly mild, considering the amount of sex the slasher films had. I like the Colorado settings and the snow-covered locations, and I even admire the way the movie handles some of its fake-out scares; in most horror movies, the fake-out scares anticipate the real ones, whereas in this one, the fake-outs only occur in places where a real scare has already happened, and somehow this makes them more effective. The monsters are a bit on the silly side when you get a better look at them, but that doesn’t happen until the very end of the movie; up until then, we only see bits and pieces of them, and even at the end, we never really get a good look at the whole thing. No, if I were to pick out the movie’s worst problem, it’s the title; I can see how it’s a condensation of the word “boogeyman”, but it scans so that the first thing you think of is of something you find in your nose, and that tends to short-circuit your desire to see the movie.

The Beast of Babylon Against the Son of Hercules (1963)

aka L’eroe di Babilonia
Article 3342 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-23-2010
Posting Date: 10-8-2010
Directed by Siro Marcellini
Featuring Gordon Scott, Genevieve Grad, Andrea Scotti
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Sword and Sandal mayhem

A noble of Babylon returns to find the king has become a cruel tyrant who indulges in human sacrifice. He decides to help some rebels who plan a revolution with the aid of an invading Persian army.

The beast of the title is metaphorical, so there’s no monsters in this one; in fact, this is another case where the only fantastic content is the great strength of the hero (called Nippur). There are some nice touches to this one; the character of the tyrannical king is particularly well played, and the head of the invading army is a more interesting character than is usual for this sort of thing. Furthermore, there is at least one impressive scene of spectacle; it’s a battle scene which features several layers of soldiers, some on horses and some on foot, running in opposite directions. However, you don’t have to have seen too many of these movies to know that the plot here is strictly by-the-numbers, and after a while the movie gets a bit tedious in its predictability. It’s far from the worst of these movies; in fact, it may be one of the better ones, but I’m really at the point with these types of movies that if they don’t offer something new or up the fantastic content a bit, I find little satisfaction in watching them.