Black Christmas (1974)

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
aka Silent Night, Evil Night
Article 3296 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-7-2010
Posting Date: 8-23-2010
Directed by Bob Clark
Featuring Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder
Country: Canada
What it is: Prototypical slasher film

Members of a sorority are being killed off one by one by a mysterious obscene phone caller.

Director Bob Clark had a very interesting career which largely began with a trio of horror films during the early seventies. This is one of his best, a prototype of the slasher film that would become popular in the wake of HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH, though this taut and suspenseful movie may be better than either of them or their spawn. The characters are three-dimensional and well acted here; one feels and cares about them because they don’t act like the usual slasher fodder. Granted, certain plot twists have now become cliches, and there is at least one moment in the movie where one character acts with a certain amount of stupidity, but at least you can understand that her motivation may be concern about her sorority sisters. The final twist isn’t extremely original, but it’s handled with such panache that you’ll like it anyway. And I always admire a horror movie that knows how to use silence rather than shrillness for its scares.

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The Bloody Judge (1970)

THE BLOODY JUDGE (1970)
aka Il trono di fuoco, Night of the Blood Monster
Article 3295 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-6-2010
Posting Date: 8-22-2010
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Christopher Lee, Maria Schell, Leo Genn
Country: Liechtenstein / Italy / Spain / West Germany
What it is: Witch-hunting drama

The brutal Lord Chancellor of England, Judge Jeffries, deals with witches and rebels during his reign.

At one point, someone tells the title character that it might be worth his while to witness the executions he hands out, which I think is a rather fitting comment given the rumor that Christopher Lee had completed all of his scenes and was not around to see the gruesome torture scenes that were added to the movie. In fact, the scene where he makes love to a young woman may not feature him at all; all we see is of his character in that scene is a hand, which could well belong to anyone. Still, Lee considered his role in this one to be one of his finest performances, and he’s right; his character is extremely well drawn, and Lee does an exemplary job with it. Given that the director was Jesus Franco and the producer was Harry Alan Towers, I expected the worst going into this, but it’s one of those cases where Franco was given a decent budget to work with, and he makes wise use of it. Though I wouldn’t call it a great movie (it gets rather dull on occasion), it’s definitely one of Franco’s better efforts, and it even rises above being just another knockoff of WITCHFINDER GENERAL; the movie finds its own voice and doesn’t merely echo the earlier movie. Yes, there’s some added sleaze, but that’s pretty much what you would expect from Franco at this time, wouldn’t you?

The Birth of the Robot (1936)

THE BIRTH OF THE ROBOT (1936)
Animated short
Article 3271 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-3-2010
Posting Date: 7-28-2010
Directed by Len Lye
No voice cast
Country: UK
What it is: Surreal puppet-style animation

Venus uses her music to turn a man who died in the desert to a robot to run the world.

No plot description really seems to be adequate to describe this surreal industrial short made by Shell Oil. The basic upshot of the short is that in ancient days, the world was turned by hand, but in these modern times, we need a robot to turn the world, and that robot will need lubrication. In between we get same strange scenes of a man driving an anthropomorphic car over the pyramids. The man and the car get caught in a storm, have hallucinations, and die. Then a rain of oil turns the skeleton of the man into a robot. You’ll be scratching your head for most of it, but, if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy it all the same. I found this one on YouTube; hopefully, it will still be there when I finally publish this one.

Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972)

BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR (1972)
Article 3270 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-2-3010
Posting Date: 7-28-2010
Directed by Al Adamson
Featuring John Carradine, Kent Taylor, Tommy Kirk
Country: USA
What it is: A mess

A zombie is killing off people. Police investigate. It all has to do with a mad scientist and a psychotic jewel robber.

Anybody watching this movie for the first time will probably end up scratching his head over the confused mess, so, for here’s my handy-dandy guide to making sense of the movie –

Dave’s Handy-Dandy BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR guide.

This movie essentially went through three different stages, which we will call Movie 1, Movie 2 and Movie 3. In order to have any chance of following this, you need to know which movie you’re watching at any particular moment. The following clues should help you keep track of this.

MOVIE 1: This was originally shot as PSYCHO-A-GO-GO, which I’ve already covered for my project. This movie is more of a heist movie than anything else; it involves a jewel robbery in which the stolen booty is accidentally left in a truck being used by a suburban family. The criminals, one of which is a sadistic psychotic, terrorize the family in the hope of recovering the jewels. The only fantastic element here is the slight horror element of the sadist. If the section you are watching involves the search for the stolen jewels by a vicious sadist, you’re watching movie 1. There are no name stars in this movie.

MOVIE 2: This movie attempts to give a backstory to Movie 1. In it, we discover that the reason the one jewel robber is so sadistic is that he was the subject of a brain experiment designed to fix the damage he underwent on his stint in Vietnam; however, the experiment went awry, leaving him a sadistic psycho. John Carradine is the scientist who performed the experiment on the psycho. If John Carradine is in the scene, you’re watching movie 2. The only shared character between the two movies so far is the sadistic psycho played by Roy Morton.

MOVIE 3: In a sense, this movie is a sequel to Movies 1 and 2. In it, another mad scientist (played by Kent Taylor) who is the father of the sadistic psycho, has created a method of turning people into killer zombies. Infuriated over the death of his son, he swears revenge on the daughter of the scientist who initially experimented on the psycho; the daughter is played by Regina Carrol. Meanwhile, cops investigate, including one played by Tommy Kirk. This movie shares no characters with the other two movies. If the footage involves a zombie missing an eye, Tommy Kirk, Regina Carrol or Kent Taylor, you’re watching movie 3.

That’s everything you need to figure out what the hell is going on in this one. Not that it makes this awful piece of tripe any better, but at least it gives you something to occupy your mind while watching it. The only enjoyment I ever got from watching the movie was trying to figure the plot out, and I had to watch it several times to get that much out of it. Now, with the above guide, you can figure it out in one sitting. Or skip it altogether.

Bikini Beach (1964)

BIKINI BEACH (1964)
Article 3269 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-1-2010
Posting Date: 7-27-2010
Directed by William Asher
Featuring Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Martha Hyer
Country: USA
What it is: Beach party movie

The Beach Party gang has to contend with a millionaire who is campaigning against their depravity. Furthermore, Frankie has to worry that Dee Dee will be stolen from him by that British recording star, the Potato Bug.

What can I say – it’s a Beach Party movie, and that means loud, energetic, dumb, and rather irresistible. I think it’s the only one of the series that I’ve seen for my project that features both Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in lead roles, so it’s probably the most representative of the ones I’ve covered. There’s surfing, drag racing, dancing, music, a chase scene, a brawl, a monkey (Janos Prohaska really does an impressive job in a fairly convincing monkey outfit here) who drives and surfs, and an array of guest stars (Keenan Wynn, Don Rickles, Stevie Wonder and Boris Karloff). The big question is, though – how does it qualify for this project? It’s pretty marginal for the most part; one could say that the talented monkey and a talking hawk-like bird push it into the realm of fantasy, but the most prominent element is the inexplicable appearance of a werewolf in a pool room (he just sits there). Still, to fans of fantastic cinema, the movie is probably most famous for the Boris Karloff cameo, which I’d heard about for years, and though his “monsters” comment is his most famous line here, I think I like his passing reference to Vincent Price even more.

The Black Cat (1966)

THE BLACK CAT (1966)
Article 3234 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-27-2010
Posting Date: 6-22-2010
Directed by Harold Hoffman
Featuring Robert Frost, Robyn Baker, Sadie French
Country: USA
What it is: Low-budget Poe adaptation

If this movie seems to be famous for anything, I’m guessing it would be the effectively gory axe murder sequence; I remember seeing stills of that one. And since the axe murder does take place in the original Poe story, we can’t really call it gratuitous. In fact, I do have to credit the makers of this movie for attempting a certain type of fidelity to the original story; it’s updated to the present, and fleshes out the characters and situations, but it manages to be true to the story as written. Still, it doesn’t quite flesh things out enough to hold the interest level high throughout the running time of the movie, and some of the additions are obvious (let’s have lots of scenes of him drinking, let’s have lots of scenes of him talking like a loony, let’s have a car chase, etc.). Fortunately, some of the touches are nice; I like that our main character has other pets around as well as the cat, I like the bizarre sequence where he his serenaded by a rock band of one-eyed men, and I like his startled attack on a black purse. Let’s face it; for a movie made on an extreme low budget, this one works pretty well. I just wish they had taken extra care with spelling Edgar Allan Poe’s name correctly. Incidentally, I suspect the Robert Frost of this movie is not the well known poet, despite his opening lines of poetry.

Bluebeard (1972)

BLUEBEARD (1972)
Article 3206 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-29-2010
Posting Date: 5-25-2010
Directed by Edward Dmytryk and Luciano Sacripanti
Featuring Richard Burton, Raquel Welch, Joey Heatherton
Country: France/Italy/West Germany
What it is: Updated take on the Bluebeard story

A World War I veteran, presently a Nazi, has murdered several of his wives. His current wife discovers where he has hidden their bodies, and, in order to save her own life, tries to get to the bottom of his problem.

In the opening scene of this movie, we discover that the title character actually does have a blue beard. It could be argued that this revelation is actually a surprise, I suppose, as you don’t really expect that degree of obviousness; nevertheless, there was something about the literalness of it that annoyed me. As for the rest of the movie, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Our title character has a pet falcon, plays the organ, and keeps his dead mother in the attic, with all of these conventional horror trappings, I tried to figure out if it was straight horror or camp, but the movie never really veers one way or the other. It’s only when he starts to tell the tales of his previous wives that the movie takes a definite direction, as the movie clearly becomes a black comedy; unfortunately, it doesn’t stay on that level. And once you find out the reason he’s killing all his wives… well, let’s just say the revelation isn’t worth the two-plus hour length of this movie. Richard Burton actually underplays for much of the movie, which may have been a mistake; I think this is one movie that could have used a bit more hamminess. In the end, the movie is an unsatisfying mixture of horror, black comedy, sex comedy and drama, and I emerged from more confused and frustrated than anything.