Claws (1982)

CLAWS (1982)
Article 5059 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-24-2016
Directed by Alan Nathanson and Essy Niknejad
Featuring Jason Roberts, Brian O’Shaughnessy, Sandra Prinsloo
Country: South Africa
What it is: Not what it said it was

When a farmer breaks his leg after falling off a horse, he and his mother are taken to the hospital in Capetown. Their little boy is left to watch over the farm in his absence. He has a hard time of it, and when an unseen beast begins killing the livestock…

This was apparently marketed as a horror film about a farm boy under attack by “mutant felines”. Well, let’s put that to bed, if we may. I don’t know how long you’ll be into the movie before it occurs to you that this is no horror film; it’s a “boy coming of age” drama that just happens to have a subplot involving a feline predator. It’s no mutant; it’s a lynx, and there’s only one of them. I will admit that some wild animals can elicit a certain amount of horror reaction, but if a single lynx is on the list at all, it’s very low on it. So what we’re left with is the “coming of age” drama, and that’s a pretty tepid affair here. Part of the problem is that the central character of the boy here is rather unappealing; he’s tiresomely self-pitying, specializes in one expression that says “I’m having a hard time of it!”, and spends an inordinate amount of time walking or riding around the area calling out the names of people or animals (usually his dog). In fact, I’d call that a general rule – if more than five percent of your film involves someone walking around yelling a name, the film is probably a stinker. And let’s not get started on the boy’s bizarre semi-erotic dreams…

The Creeper (1977)

aka Rituals
Article 5048 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-13-2016
Directed by Peter Carter
Featuring Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane, Robin Gammell
Country; Canada / USA
What it is: Thriller

Five doctors decide to rough it in the wilderness, but find themselves being stalked by a killer who may be taking revenge for a past injustice.

The John Stanley guide from which I culled this title for my hunt list describes it as something of a cross between DELIVERANCE and a slasher film, and I think that gives a good description of the movie. It’s an uneven but compelling adventure thriller, and the murder/death scenes are memorable; the killer is less apt to attack directly than he is to set traps and use scare tactics, and some of these are quite nightmarish. The movie appears to have been made very cheaply (about a sixth of the budget went towards Hal Holbrook’s salary), but it uses its money and locations well. It’s a little difficult for me to evaluate just how good it is; my print is on one of those public domain sets, and it’s in pretty ragged shape, so I can’t quite say whether the difficulty of making out what’s happening in certain scenes is the result of my print or not. Still, what I do see is pretty effective, and the movie, though deliberately paced, is quite harrowing. The final shot is quite memorable.

Cyclotrode ‘X’ (1966)

Article 5035 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-31-2015
Directed by Fred C. Brannon and William Witney
Featuring Charles Quigley, Linda Stirling, Clayton Moore
Country: USA
What it is: Feature version of serial THE CRIMSON GHOST

An evil villain known as the Crimson Ghost tries to get his hands on a super-weapon known as the cyclotrode.

Here’s another one I’ve finally rescued from my “ones that got away” list; though I’d seen many of the feature versions of serials over the years, this one remained very elusive. I also found them rather frustrating to write about; I found myself repeatedly going on and on about how what was designed to be seen and enjoyed in twenty-minute chunks became dull when edited together into a full-length movie. I haven’t really changed my mind on this belief (and this one does little to belie it), but I find it useful to remind myself that they weren’t designed to be “good movies”; they were designed to take a form of product (the action serial) that wasn’t really salable as such and to convert them into a form that could be sold to TV. In short, they were retooling product. I think the feature versions of serials pretty much disappeared when home video came on the market; the original serials could be sold as such and the feature versions became quaint redundancies. This one popped up on YouTube, and I must admit to being a bit surprised, but I’m glad to have had a chance to see it. Now let’s hope the same thing can happen to a few of those other feature versions that I was never able to find. They may be unnecessary, but for a completist like me, I’ll be happy to see them around.

Choke Canyon (1986)

Article 5020 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-16-2015
Directed by Charles Bail
Featuring Stephen Collins, Janet Julian, Bo Svenson
Country: USA
What it is: Action movie

A physicist testing a theory about converting sound waves into energy crosses swords with a corporation intent on using his location as a dumping site for toxic waste. Much action occurs.

I will give this movie credit for one thing; there’s some impressive stuntwork here. In the first half of the movie there’s a stunt involving a horse, the scientist, and two all terrain vehicles that is pretty impressive, and the second half of the movie has an extended action sequence involving a helicopter, a biplane, a round sphere of toxic waste, a bus, one of those trucks that hauls new cars around, a landing on the main street of a town, and a couple of construction vehicles. This increasingly outrageous last series of stunts is so off-the-wall that the movie seems to make the transition from straight action movie to parody, especially when it asks the question “Is it possible to do science while engaged in a knock-down fist fight?” Nevertheless, it does need to be pointed out that the science in the story never really becomes anything more than a Gizmo Maguffin, which somewhat marginalizes the movie in terms of its fantastic content. And when you get down to it, the overall story is pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. All in all, if the movie is worth catching, it’s for the stunts and the presence of Lance Henriksen, though his part is a bit disappointing.

A Coffin for the Bride (1974)

aka Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill
Article 5008 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-4-2015
Directed by John Sichel
Featuring Michael Jayston, Helen Mirren, Michael Gwynn
Country: UK
What it is: Episode of UK TV Series “Thriller”

A modern-day Bluebeard (a man who marries and kills rich women for their money) is on the loose, and a lawyer, who suspects the truth but can’t prove it, vows to catch him.

The whole “Bluebeard” plot is only marginal horror; though they are serial killers of a sort, they have a clear motivation for their actions, which to me tends to deemphasize the horror elements. This particular version of the story certainly plays more like a crime/mystery thriller than a horror movie.

That being said, I can nevertheless attest to the fact that this is easily one of the best episodes I’ve seen from that somewhat uneven TV series from which it comes. The script is solid and never quite shakes out the way you think it’s going to; my only problem is that sporadically it gives the serial killer those “meaningful to the audience but ambiguous to everyone else” lines that strike me as self-conscious and phony. Still, what really anchors this one is an excellent performance by Helen Mirren, though it may take you until the end of the movie to fully appreciate it. Michael Gwynn is also memorable as the lawyer; I only wish he were in the story more often than he is. Michael Jayston is solid as well; in fact, the whole cast excels. Anybody who wishes to catch this series at its best would do well to start with this one.

Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)

aka Cannibals Are in the Streets, Apocalypse domani
Article 4972 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-30-2015
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring John Saxon, Elizabeth Turner, Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Country: Italy / Spain
What it is: Movie about eating disorders

Three Vietnam vets return home infected with form of rabies which turns them and those they bite into cannibals.

Given the main title of this movie, it took me a little bit of time to come to terms with what this movie really was. The opening scene featuring helicopters flying over a jungle had me suspecting it was your typical Italian “encounter with a tribe of cannibals” movie, but this sequence turns out to involve the Vietnam war and quickly turns to a modern-day American city. Then I suspected it was going to be your typical “zombie apocalypse” movie; despite the fact that the infected people were not technically “zombies”, in practice there’s not inherently a lot of difference between them. However, the paucity of people infected never quite makes this pan out. It wasn’t until I was a ways into the movie that I realized what it was; it was a “disturbed Vietnam vet” movie with the cannibal/rabies angle grafted onto it. Though I will grant that this approach was unexpected and unusual, the end result isn’t particularly good; the action sequences adequate at best and confusing at worst, the movie’s gore content is relatively low for this sort of thing, and the movie is full of horrible dialogue with a plethora of awkward cursing. I think the latter problem may be due to the English dubbing; the actors who speak English normally (like John Saxon) fare well enough, but those that are dubbed have some awful lines. Saxon and Radice fare best acting-wise, but the story never really takes off, and overall it’s quite disappointing.

Curse of the Headless Horseman (1972)

Article 4965 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-22-2015
Directed by Leonard Kirtman
Featuring Ultra Violet, Marland Proctor, Claudia Reame
Country: USA
What it is: Seventy-five minutes of exposed film

A young man inherits a ranch, but can only keep it if he makes it successful as a tourist attraction. But can he keep it going with a headless horseman on the loose?

You know, when making a movie, you should really make sure that at least one of the powers that be should keep away from the drugs and remain sober. Yeah, that’s a cheap shot, but if I’ve ever encountered a movie where no one on hand seems to be striving for simple competence, this is it. Incompetent camerawork, horrendous editing, kitchen-sink score, amateurish acting, crappy sound… if you can think of something that can go wrong, you’ll see it here. The aspect of the movie that is the least bad (I can’t bring myself to say best) is the script, and that’s only because it occasionally gets an inkling that it’s trying to tell a story. If this movie was part of a multiple-title all night bill of horror movies, you can bet it would be last on the list. Depressing in every regard.

Cujo (1983)

CUJO (1983)
Article 4964 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-21-2015
Directed by Lewis Teague
Featuring Dee Wallace, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Danny Pintauro
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller

A mother and her son become trapped in a malfunctioning car on a remote farm when they are attacked by a rabid St. Bernard.

This adaptation of a Stephen King novel eschews supernatural thrills for a more realistic but quite harrowing premise; two people under siege in a place they can’t escape by a powerful rabid dog. Teague’s direction is solid and once the victims are trapped, the suspense is quite high. The main problem here is somewhat inherent to the story; you can only maintain the tension of this situation for a certain amount of time, and so it needs to be saved for the second half of the movie. The first half of the movie therefore has to fill out things with character development and side issues, and though Teague shows a sure hand with this section as well, some elements (such as the kid’s fear of monsters) work much better than others (such as the romantic triangle). The acting is very good, and you grow to care about the characters; even the “monster” garners our sympathy. It’s especially nice to have a child actor who we like and doesn’t get on our nerves. This isn’t the best of the Stephen King adaptations, but it’s solid and quite satisfying.

Condorman (1981)

Article 4963 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-20-2015
Directed by Charles Jarrott
Featuring Michael Crawford, Oliver Reed, Barbara Carrera
Country: UK
What it is: Superspy parody, “Shopping Cart Movie” division

A comic book writer is mistaken for a secret agent and is assigned to help a beautiful female Russian spy to defect.

It starts out as a lame superhero parody but quickly mutates into a lame superspy parody; you’ll notice that the switch in genre does not change the leading adjective in each description. As a parody, the movie is dreadfully unfunny, and as a superspy action flick, it’s dull and uninspired; the script is particularly weak. You’d think that, this being from Disney, at least the special effects would be impressive, but it doesn’t look like they bothered to expend much effort or pay any attention to this one at all. There’s a few good stunts, a couple of fun gadgets, and one oasis in the acting department with the presence of Oliver Reed as the villain; beyond that, this one is pretty depressing. It sets itself up for a sequel at the end, but understandably, it didn’t come about.

Coma (1978)

COMA (1978)
Article 4961 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-18-2015
Directed by Michael Crichton
Featuring Michael Douglas, Rip Torn, Genevieve Bujold
Country: USA
What it is: Medical conspiracy thriller

When her best friend goes into a coma after a routine medical procedure, a female doctor discovers that an unusually large number of young people have suffered the same fate. However, she finds her life in danger when she investigates further.

This movie does not feature Crichton’s favorite theme about technology gone awry; though it does involve technology, the evil here is distinctly human. But then, it’s not based on one of his own works, but rather on a novel by Robin Cook. It does feature the associated theme of an evil conspiracy, though, and it does bear a certain resemblance to PARTS: THE CLONUS HORROR. Though he does know how to build up the suspense, I have trouble with Crichton’s pacing; it takes way too long to get the story moving, and there are certain other scenes that drag on a bit too long. Nevertheless, the acting is good, and it works itself up to a good climax. The fantastic content is mostly found in the way the coma patients are treated at the Jefferson Institute. All in all, this is a decent thriller.