Bug (1975)

BUG (1975)
Article 3331 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-11-2010
Posting Date: 9-27-2010
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Featuring Bradford Dillman, Joanna Miles and Richard Gililand
Country: USA
What it is: Killer bug movie

A small community is hit by an earthquake which opens a fissure from which emerge insects capable of lighting fires. A scientist from a local college investigates their nature.

This was William Castle’s last movie, though he did not direct; he produced and helped with the script. The movie doesn’t have a very high reputation, and I suspect that’s because the movie starts off in one direction and ends up going in another. The first half of the movie sets up the usual killer bug scenario, and at certain points it looks like it’s going to explore just how this community is effected by the arrival of the bugs in an interesting way. However, once it has been established that the insects in question carry the seeds of their own destruction (they are sluggish and unable to breed due to having come from an environment from much greater pressure), the movie veers off in a different direction when the scientist, driven to madness by the death of his wife at the hands (or is it legs) of the insects, becomes inexplicably obsessed with finding a solution to the insects’s breeding problem. The problem here is that you spend the last half of the movie watching the scientist behaving with truly reckless stupidity. Throw in some bizarre PHASE IV style plot elements (Ken Middleham served as insect director on both movies, as well as THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE), and a somewhat head-scratching ending with possible mystical overtones, and you end up with a movie that strains credibility. Still, I like that the movie pays a little more attention to details about the insects, which I suspect is from the original source novel; I also hear that the source novel doesn’t end at the same point as the movie does. Apparently, William Castle’s intended gimmick was to have it seem as if the bugs had invaded the theater, but I’m glad that he passed on the idea; I’m sure it would have backfired.


Baron Blood (1972)

aka Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga
Article 3329 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-9-2010
Posting Date: 9-25-2010
Directed by Mario Bava
Featuring Joseph Cotten, Elke Sommer, Massimo Girotti
Country: West Germany / Italy
What it is: Evil comes back from the grave

An American arrives in Austria to learn about his heritage, especially concerning an evil ancestor who tortured the local villagers. He ends up reviving the evil Baron, but finds him easier to conjure up than to get rid of…

It’s seems as if it’s been quite a while since I’ve covered a Mario Bava movie. I remember seeing this one as a kid, and it really didn’t do much for me back then. Having seen it again, I’m afraid I still feel the same way. Bava is a creative director, all right, and there are moments where the wonderful cinematography and the exquisite use of light bring the movie to life, especially in a scene where the Baron chases a woman (Elke Sommer) through the streets of the town. Unfortunately, I’m just not impressed with the script, which is by turns cliched, banal and muddled. The performances also do not impress me, though I’m sure in some cases that may be due to the dubbing. I’m particularly disappointed with Joseph Cotten’s performance as the mysterious man who buys the castle; it seems self-consciously eccentric, and not in a fun way. In the end, the movie just doesn’t make much impact on me. It’s not awful, mind you, but I think it’s far from Bava’s best.

Brides of Blood (1968)

aka Brides of the Beast
Article 3322 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-2-2010
Posting Date: 9-18-2010
Directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero
Featuring Kent Taylor, Beverly Powers, John Ashley
Country: Philippines / USA
What it is: Filipino-style horror

A scientist, his wife and a Peace Corps volunteer arrive at an island to do research and to help the natives. However, they soon discover that something is amiss; the plant and animal life undergoes strange mutations, and the natives have taken to sacrificing their maidens to a hideous monster who ravishes them and tears them to pieces.

With this I finish covering what could be loosely called the “Blood Island” trilogy of horror movies from the Philippines. Some people have grouped TERROR IS A MAN and BRAIN OF BLOOD into this group, though the inclusion of the former movie is a bit of a stretch, and the latter movie simply doesn’t belong in any way, shape or form to the series. Matter of fact, it isn’t even strictly a trilogy to begin with; the only two movies that have a plot relation are MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND and BEAST OF BLOOD. This movie at least shares certain crucial similarities in that it also features direction by Eddie Romero and acting by John Ashley.

I fully expected merely a lurid piece of exploitation horror like the other two movies of the trilogy, and for a while that’s what it seemed like, with its liberal doses of sex and gore. Then a certain key moment in the movie made me start pondering at a possible deeper meaning to the movie. That moment occurs when a young native couple is interrupted in their frolicking by the sight of a native child being attacked by a killer tree. The tribe rescues the child, and then proceed to undertake the ceremony leading to another set of sacrifices. The fact that the attack of the tree and the advent of the sacrifices were related, combined with the fact that the creatures and plants that mutate eventually return to their previous state, and that these mutations occur in sync with each other, led me not only to figuring out the nature of the monster but also that the whole movie can be seen as a metaphor for aberrant sexuality. When the monster manifests itself, nature itself takes on an unhealthy phallic atmosphere, and the mutations only retreat after the monster has raped and dismembered the sacrifice victims. As a result, the sex in the movie isn’t merely exploitative; it is inherent in the story. Because of this, I find it interesting that the natives can only have their mating dance ritual at the end of the movie after the monster has been finally destroyed; it is a metaphorical return to healthy sexuality, and, as such, is actual essential to the picture rather than a mere attempt to add some running time or protract the ending. The special effects are pretty problematic (the butterfly is pretty fake looking, and they should have avoided any close-ups of the monster), and some of the acting is weak (Beverly Powers is memorable for something other than her performance), but the presence of the very strong subtext gives the movie far more depth than I expected. This is easily the most interesting of the “Blood Island” trilogy.

Blue Sunshine (1976)

Article 3321 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-1-2010
Posting Date: 9-17-2010
Directed by Jeff Lieberman
Featuring Zalman King, Deborah Winters, Mark Goddard
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction thriller

A man who accidentally kills a friend who went on a murderous rampage finds himself on the run from the police who believe he is guilty of all the murders. The fugitive stumbles across a thread that connects the murders to a rampage committed by a policeman. What is it that is causing people to lose their hair and go insane? What does this have to do with the phrase “blue sunshine”? And how is a local congressional candidate involved?

I suspect that a real close examination of the plot will reveal a number of holes. Furthermore, the story is overreliant on coincidence, and the lead character practically goes out of his way to make mistakes that will make him look like the guilty party. But director Jeff Lieberman (who also gave us the killer worm movie SQUIRM) has a way of sucking you into the story, getting you interested in the characters, and can occasionally set up some very clever suspense moments; I was on the edge of my seat during the operation sequence in particular. I very much admire the way the movie disperses the credits between three separate scenarios, one involving a doctor, the second involving a babysitter, and the third involving a policeman; these three scenarios seem unrelated except for the fact that all the characters in question seem to be very stressed out. The movie is fictional, though the ending crawl has fooled a few people into thinking that this is based on a true story. Lieberman pulls very good performances from a cast of mostly unknowns; the only one I recognized immediately was Alice Ghostley, though Ray Young did seem a little familiar; it turns out he played Mango in BLOOD OF DRACULA’S CASTLE.

Blackenstein (1972)

Article 3320 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-31-2010
Posting Date: 9-16-2010
Directed by William A. Levey
Featuring John Hart, Ivory Stone, Joe De Sue
Country: USA
What it is: Really bad horror blaxploitation

A woman scientist’s boyfriend loses all his limbs in the Vietnam war. She encourages him to see her old instructor (and present employer), Dr. Stein, who is experimenting with DNA. However, a jealous assistant hoodwinks the treatment, turning the boyfriend into a homicidal monster.

There’s one decent performance in the movie, and there are some nice arty shots, but that about covers it for all the positive things I’ve found in this one. I’d heard this movie was bad, but even I was surprised at how bad it was in certain ways. I knew the monster’s makeup was ludicrous (I’d seen stills), so I wasn’t surprised by that. What surprised me was its other problems. For one, the movie is threadbare in so many departments; the script is barely there, the characters are almost all woefully underdeveloped, the pacing is turgid, the dialogue is awful, and the only good thing about the special effects (the use of Strickfadden’s lab machinery) is compromised by the fact that it looks utterly out of place in this context. The one good performance is from Bob Brophy, but he’s playing a character so hateful that you’re glad he only has two scenes. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this movie is how singularly unfunky it is; outside of the stand-up comedian (who was most likely making up his own dialogue), every black character in this movie could have been changed to a white character and not a single line of dialogue would have needed to change. The tagline for this movie was “To Stop This Mutha Takes One Bad Brutha” and it’s funkier than the whole movie. This one is just pathetic.

Beyond the Door (1974)

Article 3319 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-30-2010
Posting Date: 9-15-2010
Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis and Robert Barrett
Featuring Juliet Mills, Gabriele Lavia, Richard Johnson
Country: Italy / USA
What it is: EXORCIST ripoff

A pregnant woman is possessed by the devil.

To its credit, this movie does not attempt a completely blatant ripoff of its source inspiration. The basic story line is really quite different; for example, there really isn’t even an exorcist character in the movie. Nor does it appear to slather on layers of sex like some of the other imitations I’ve seen have, but then, one must remember that I’ve watched only the 99 minute US version of the movie and not the one that is ten minutes longer. Instead, our story line takes a bit of plot line from ROSEMARY’S BABY, but throws in a rather different backstory, with the possessed woman once having had a relationship with a Satanist who is now in desperate straits in trying to grab a few extra years of life before being dragged to damnation. Quite frankly, this is a potentially interesting story line. Unfortunately, the movie is just not scary at all, the story line goes out of control into some pretty silly side issues, such as the little boy’s invisible friend and the demonic dolls. And, of course, once the possession is in full swing, the effects do little more than borrow from THE EXORCIST, only with the result being much cheesier and far less effective. It’s a shame that this is perhaps the best known of the ripoffs of THE EXORCIST; it’s probably the worst of the ones I’ve seen. It has two supposed sequels, but they appear to be sequels in name only, and have nothing really in common with this movie.

The Bed Sitting Room (1969)

Article 3318 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-29-2010
Posting Date: 9-14-2010
Directed by Richard Lester
Featuring Rita Tushingham, Ralph Richardson, Peter Cook
Country: UK
What it is: Absurdist post-apocalypse satire

It’s after the apocalypse. Various survivors wander amidst the rubble. Some characters mutate. The police warn everyone to keep moving.

If Richard Lester wanted to make a stranger movie than HOW I WON THE WAR, he succeeded here. It’s so pervasively absurdist that it’s nearly impossible to pin down a precise meaning. It is, however, sporadically amusing enough to hold the attention. Various mutations occur; an old woman turns into a cupboard, a British lord turns into a bed sitting room, a police sergeant turns into a dog and an old man turns into a parrot. Familiar faces abound; Rita Tushingham is the 17-months pregnant daughter wandering around with her family, Ralph Richardson seeks help for his mutation, Spike Milligan cracks jokes and delivers pies to the face, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore drive around warning everyone to keep moving, and Marty Feldman (his first movie) plays a nurse. Running gags abound; everyone has trouble saying the word “bomb”, and the national anthem has been changed to “God Save Mrs. Ethel Shroake”, apparently the next in line to the throne. I can’t say it really all comes together in any coherent way, so how much you get out of it depends on your tolerance for strange British comedy. It even has a happy ending… I think.