Blood Song (1982)

Article 3836 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-4-2012
Posting Date: 2-14-2012
Directed by Alan J. Levi
Featuring Donna Wilkes, Richard Jaeckel, Antoinette Bower
Country: USA
What it is: Psycho-killer movie

A teenage girl, recovering from a leg injury, begins having visions of a psycho having escaped from a mental institution and engaging in a series of murders. Unfortunately, everyone believes she’s just stressed out… but she’s destined to discover that these aren’t just dreams…

Given the year of this movie, I was expecting something more along the lines of a conventional slasher, and, yes, I do think there is a difference between psycho killer movies and slasher movies. For one thing, characters are usually better developed in psycho killer movies, and this one goes quite a ways in developing the heroine, so much so that you really become attached to her. There’s also an interesting love/hate relationship between her and her father (well played by Richard Jaeckel), and though it does seem extraneous at first, it sets up one of the most interesting scenes in the movie when he encounters the escaped psycho. Unfortunately, the script fumbles the character development of the psycho; he’s given a quirk (he likes to play the flute) and is given lots of psycho things to do, but he never feels like a real character and remains a hodgepodge of psychoses. Frankie Avalon does as well as he can with the character, but I’m afraid it required more acting chops than he had at his disposal. There are other touches I like in the movie; in particular, I like the way the movie sneaks in the explanation for the girl’s dreams without ever spelling it out. Unfortunately, the ending is one of those that tips the movie in the negative direction for me, because…
… I also believe there’s a difference between being artistically nihilistic and being just cruel and mean-spirited, and I’m afraid this one falls on the wrong side of the line.

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

Article 3831 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-30-2012
Posting Date: 2-9-2012
Directed by Jimmy T. Murakami and Roger Corman
Featuring Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, John Saxon
Country: USA
What it is: STAR WARS rip-off

When a peaceful planet is threatened by evil invaders, one of the residents escapes in a spaceship to gather mercenaries to do battle with the invaders.

Yes, it’s another ripoff of STAR WARS, but it’s probably the one I enjoy most of that type. I think the main reason is that it has a decent script from John Sayles, and just the right kind of star power to pull this sort of thing off. Given that George Lucas borrowed from Akira Kurosawa’s THE HIDDEN FORTRESS for his movie, I think it’s pretty fitting that Sayles borrows from another Kurosawa film – namely, THE SEVEN SAMURAI – for this one. It works because the mercenaries end up being a fairly interesting bunch, and the script is strong enough that neither the attempts at humor nor the attempts at pathos fall flat. If anything, it manages to be somewhat more adult than its model, especially with some of the bizarre and daring costumes they give to Sybil Danning. It’s silly at times, and the battle sequences are more confusing than entertaining, but the character bits will stay with me. My favorite line comes when a child asks the ruthless Mercenary Gelt (Robert Vaughn) if he was bad even when he was little, and he replies “I was never that little.”

Blood Relations (1977)

aka Bloedverwanten
Article 3824 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-23-2012
Posting Date: 2-2-2012
Directed by Wim Lindner
Featuring Sophie Deschamps, Maxim Hamel, Ralph Arliss
Country: France / Netherlands
What it is: Horror comedy

A nurse arrives at a small town to discover that the blood supply at the hospital is being raided by a small group of vampires.

The above plot description is an approximation based on what I was able to figure out visually. As you know by now, I don’t always see these movies under ideal circumstances; for example, I often end up watching movies that are not dubbed in or subtitled in English. The odd thing about this one is that I do appear to have an English print of the movie; the credits are in English. The trouble is that my copy lacks a certain something; namely, a soundtrack. The experience was somewhat like watching a movie in a foreign language, except I can’t even rely on sound, music, or even the fluctuations of the human voice to help me out. Still, I was able to figure out that the movie was at least partially a comedy, and it looks like a rather offbeat and interesting one at that. The vampires aren’t the conventional sort; they drink their blood out of bottles, sometimes with straws, and the only neck-biting is in a scene from a movie they end up watching. Naturally, I can’t give any worthwhile critique of this one; however, it is one in which I’d revisit if I could get it with the soundtrack. Until then, all I can say is that it looks quite interesting.

A Boy and His Dog (1975)

Article 3821 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-20-2012
Posting Date: 1-30-2012
Directed by L.Q. Jones
Featuring Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Jason Robards
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction satire

It’s after the apocalypse. A young man roams the wasteland with his telepathic dog; he finds food for the dog, and the dog finds girls for him. However, there’s an underground society that has been watching the boy who they want for their own purposes… and they send out a girl as bait to lead him into a trap.

I remember recently looking through my cable movie schedule, and this movie was slated to show at one of the family-oriented channels, a circumstance I attribute to the fact that title of the movie makes it sound like something other than it is. Out of curiosity, I set it up to record, and sure enough, when the time came for it to run, another movie had been substituted in its place. It looks like someone took the trouble to double-check the movie before showing it.

The title is one of the most prominent jokes in the Harlan Ellison story on which this movie is based; the story itself is the antithesis of wholesome, what with its incessant foul language and its subject matter in which the main character is something of a serial rapist (as is practically every other male roaming the wasteland). If anything, the movie cleans up the story a bit by toning down the language, though it remains true enough to its source story that it still nets an ‘R’ rating. This is the third time I’ve seen this one; I was familiar with the story long before I ever saw the movie version. Perhaps the most striking changes from the story occur when the drifter enters the underground civilization; some of the changes are really bizarre, such as having all the residents wear clown-like makeup on their faces, and some of the changes make the movie more conventional than the story; in the movie, I get the impression that anyone in the drifter’s place would want to escape the underground world, whereas in the story, I get the impression that the decision was shaped much more by his own character, which I found more interesting. Still, it is a striking movie in many regards, and it’s the last of the handful of movie L.Q. Jones co-produced with Alvy Moore, who here also plays a doctor in the underground world. My favorite performance is probably Tim McIntire, who provides the voice for the wise-cracking dog. Reportedly, the movie is slated for remake this year.

The Bespoke Overcoat (1956)

Article 3778 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-6-2011
Posting Date: 12-18-2011
Directed by Jack Clayton
Featuring David Kossoff, Alfie Bass, Alan Tivern
Country: UK
What it is: Ghost story

An elderly clerk, unable to afford a sheepskin coat from the factory where he works, commissions a tailor to make him a new coat. Unfortunately, the clerk is sacked and dies before the coat is completed. The tailor is then visited by the ghost of the clerk, who wants one last favor from him – to help him steal a sheepskin coat from his former employer.

This short, by the director who would later helm THE INNOCENTS and SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, was based on a story by Nikolai Gogol. Given the subject matter, I was expecting a twist ending of sorts, but that’s not the way this one works; it’s more of a character piece, and both David Kossoff and Alfie Bass give excellent and memorable performances as the tailor and the clerk. Actually, it reminded me a bit of THE BICYCLE THIEF, in the way that it shows us some characters for whom an ordinary item (that you or I might take for granted) becomes the center of their existence. The short is moving and beautifully photographed. My favorite moment has the ghost deciding to not try walking through a wall because he would feel rather silly.

The Blue Bird (1976)

Article 3751 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-9-2011
Posting Date: 11-21-2011
Directed by George Cukor
Featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda, Ava Gardner
Country: USA / Soviet Union
What it is: Allegorical fairy tale

Two children are sent out by Light to search for the Blue Bird of Happiness so that can give it to an ill child.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the 1940 version of this story with Shirley Temple, but I remember not caring much for that version. I’m afraid I don’t care a whole lot for this version either. Despite having had a fairly expensive (and reportedly trouble-filled) production, it looks a lot like a photographed stage play at times, and the story itself is too steeped in allegory and messages to ever be fun or energetic. Oddly enough, I found the most striking moments to be the depressing ones, and that’s hardly a good recommendation for a children’s movie. For a fantasy, it’s singularly lacking in magic, and the movie was both a commercial and critical flop. Still, the performances are mostly decent; my favorite performance came from Ava Gardner as Luxury, while the most disappointing came from Jane Fonda, who would have been a lot more fun if she had hammed up her role as Night rather than underplaying it.

Burnt Offerings (1976)

Article 3739 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-28-2011
Posting Date: 11-9-2011
Directed by Dan Curtis
Featuring Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Burgess Meredith
Country: USA / Italy
What it is: Evil house movie

A family is offered a good deal on a house for the summer, provided they care for the owners’ mother who lives on the top floor. The family soon discovers that the house has a baleful influence on those who live in it… and that influence begins working on them.

I found this to be a very interesting but flawed movie. First of all, I love the central concept; the house has the ability to regenerate itself from the suffering and death of its residents, and this gives the house more of a reason for its being evil than many other residences in similar movies. There’s also some creepy scenes with a chauffeur in a dream sequence, and some of the acting is really good; in particular, I like the intensity Oliver Reed brings to his role as the father. Unfortunately, I did feel the movie was flawed, with part of the reason being the script and the other being some of the other performances, which were problematic. First of all, I think Bette Davis is miscast; she plays what amounts to a rather ordinary elderly character, but Bette Davis is such a bigger-than-life actress that she comes across too strongly in the role, and I think a lesser-known and more ordinary actress would have worked better. There’s been some sniping at Lee Harcourt Montgomery’s performance here, and though it’s true that he becomes a fairly annoying character by the end of the movie, at least part of the problem is a script that gives him awkward moments. The biggest problem I have is with Karen Black’s performance, and for an odd reason. The movie works itself up to a final twist which I found was anything but surprising, and part of the reason I wasn’t surprised is that Black’s performance is so sharply realized that I knew exactly what was happening to her character, and this gives away the final twist; had her performance been less clear and more ambiguous, it would have worked better. All in all, this one was a mixed bag, but I think the good parts of it outweigh the bad parts, and so I like the movie all right.