The Beast Must Die (1974)

Article 3605 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-13-2011
Posting Date: 6-28-2011
Directed by Paul Annett
Featuring Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing, Marlene Clark
Country: UK
What it is: Werewolf mystery

A millionaire invites several people over to his estate for the weekend, one of which he believes to be a werewolf, though he’s not sure which one. His aim: to hunt and catch the werewolf.

For the second day in a row, I’m watching an Amicus movie featuring Peter Cushing, and, like the framing story in ASYLUM, this one also revolves around the mystery of trying to pick out a specific person from among a group of people. It’s kind of a cross between THE WOLF MAN, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, and an old dark house mystery, with a William Castle-like gimmick thrown in for good measure. In general, Amicus’s anthologies were superior to their non-anthologies, and this one is fairly weak in spots; the pacing is a bit turgid at times, and for those of you hoping to pick out clues as to who the werewolf is, all I can say is that the movie doesn’t really give you any good clues and when the “werewolf break” comes, you’ll just have to make a wild guess. There are some decent twists at the end, and the cast (which also includes Charles Gray and Anton Diffring) give it their best shot, but for the most part, this is fairly ordinary.


The Balcony (1963)

Article 3567 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-28-2011
Posting Date: 5-21-2011
Directed by Joseph Strick
Featuring Shelley Winters, Peter Falk, Lee Grant
Country: USA
What it is: Strange drama/comedy

During a violent revolution, a brothel that caters to men wishing to role-play their erotic fantasies remains open. When the chief of police shows up as the only surviving authority figure of the revolution, he hatches a plot to restore order by using the costumes and acting skills of the residents and customers of the brothel…

This movie was listed as a fantasy by “The Motion Picture Guide”, hence its inclusion in this series. I’ve noticed that on occasion the book will classify as a fantasy a movie that deals with fantasy and illusion, even if the movie doesn’t strictly fall into the genre, and such is the case here. The movie was based on a play by Jean Genet, and I’m really not surprised that there are political subtexts here; what does surprise me is that the movie was made in the USA, which is perhaps one of the last countries where I’d expect this story to make it to film, though reportedly much of the language from the original play was cleaned up. I’m tempted to call this a “reality vs illusion” movie, but truth to tell, I think the movie is actually saying that there is no reality at all; the people essentially are acting out the roles of their costumes, even to the point that they sometimes believe they actually are in the roles they pretend to be in. Despite the serious subject matter, I found quite a bit of humor in the proceedings, especially during a pompous and ridiculous speech made by Peter Falk’s Chief of Police. The movie also features Leonard Nimoy as a rebel leader who fantasizes about being the Chief of Police, and Jeff Corey, a gasman who wants to be a bishop. I ended up enjoying this movie much more than I thought I would, but I’d suggest anyone trying it to remain patient during the first thirty minutes or so; the plot doesn’t really start moving until Peter Falk shows up. Still, genre-wise, it really doesn’t qualify.

Body Melt (1993)

BODY MELT (1993)
Article 3514 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-4-2011
Posting Date: 3-29-2011
Directed by Philip Brophy
Featuring Gerard Kennedy, Andrew Daddo, Ian Smith
Country: Australia
What it is: Gore comedy

A health spa has developed a drug with gruesome side effects that eventually results in the body self-destructing… and it’s using the residents of a suburban neighborhood as its guinea pigs.

My DVD of this movie says in its promotional blurb that it features special effects from the people who gave you DEAD ALIVE and MATRIX: RELOADED; this should give you an idea of what the movie is going to emphasize. The plot is a muddled mess, but I suspect that didn’t matter to anyone; the main goal of the movie is to have as much gross-out body-parts exploding footage as it can fit into its 80 minute running time. It’s also supposed to be a comic satire about suburbia, but I didn’t laugh once, and if it actually has something to say about the subject of suburban life, it gets lost in the gore. It’s probably a cult favorite of some kind, but I can’t help but notice that it was the last directorial effort from Philip Brophy. For gorehounds only.

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.