The Changeling (1980)

THE CHANGELING (1980)
Article 2275 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-14-2007
Posting Date: 11-4-2007
Directed by Peter Medak
Featuring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas

A composer moves into an old mansion that turns out to be haunted by the spirit of a murdered child. He decides to find out the truth about the murder.

I really found myself enjoying this horror/mystery thriller. Though it’s made out of some very familiar material (it’s basically a variation on THE UNINVITED ), it manages the neat trick of being both a good horror movie and interesting mystery without sacrificing either of the genres to the other. I also like the performances, especially George C. Scott’s, who makes the acting choice to not overplay. This gives his character an intelligence that many lead characters in other horror movies lack; for one thing, he refuses to tell all he knows to the police because he knows that the methods he used to get the information will not be taken seriously. The story’s a little slow out of the gate, but it does use the time effectively to build up the suspense; I especially like the moment with the dead key on the piano. The movie was supposedly based on a true haunting of a house in Denver.

 

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The Crime Doctor’s Courage (1945)

THE CRIME DOCTOR’S COURAGE (1945)
Article 2244 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-8-2007
Posting Date: 10-4-2007
Directed by George Sherman
Featuring Warner Baxter, Hillary Brooke, Jerome Cowan

Dr. Ordway is called in by an acquaintance who thinks she may have married a madman. When he is found murdered in his study with a locked door and no other exit, the doctor takes it upon himself to solve the mystery.

As a general rule, one way to differentiate between horror and mystery is that in the former, the fantastic elements are real, and that in the latter, the fantastic elements are faked. There are exceptions, but you run the risk of annoying your audience if you break these rules. This is the second of the Crime Doctor series I’ve seen, and it is quite enjoyable, as was the first one. The fantastic content is quite marked; two of the suspects are dancers who do an act where one of them disappears, they are never seen during the day, and they have coffins to sleep in. Now, given that this movie is technically a mystery rather than a horror movie, I would probably be disappointed if they did indeed turn out to be vampires, as I would be hoping for a more logical solution. The most far-fetched thing about this movie is the relative ease with which several people embrace the whole vampire story. It’s a fun movie, with Warner Baxter enjoying himself in the title role and Emory Parnell effective as a police captain. I was able to figure out who the murderer was long before the ending, but that didn’t ruin it for me.

 

Colossus and the Headhunters (1960)

COLOSSUS AND THE HEADHUNTERS (1960)
aka Maciste contro i cacciatori di teste
Article 2242 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-6-2007
Posting Date: 10-2-2007
Directed by Guido Malatesta
Featuring Kirk Morris, Laura Brown, Alfredo Zammi

Maciste rescues a group of islanders who lost their home in a volcanic eruption. He brings them to a distant land, where they find themselves embroiled in a battle between distant relatives and headhunters.

The fantastic content here is, once again, Maciste’s enormous strength. It’s not as enormous as some other sword-and-sandal heroes, though; he gets two opportunities to bend the bars back and skips them both. He is good at moving heavy boulders, knocking down platforms and strangling two men at one time, though. There are no monsters and no evil queens to contend with. Despite a sizable cast during the battle scenes, this comes off as one of the cheaper movies of its kind, especially during the opening sequence. And, if you didn’t guess it from the above plot description, there’s no one named Colossus in the movie. Still, I will give the movie points for one thing; when it comes time to bore us with the ritual dancing, at least they make no bones about the fact that it’s done to kill time.

 

The Curse of the Vampires (1966)

THE CURSE OF THE VAMPIRES (1966)
aka CREATURES OF EVIL, IBULONG MO SA HANGIN
Article 2142 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-26-2007
Posting Date: 6-24-2007
Directed by Gerardo de Leon
Featuring Eddie Garcia, Amalia Fuentes, Romeo Vasquez

The patriarch of a country estate is on his deathbed, and places a codicil in his will stating that upon his death the estate will be burned to the ground. His son, who was hoping to inherit the estate, objects to this, but then discovers that there is a curse of evil on his family, and that his mother has become a vampire and is kept chained in the basement.

Sometimes a movie catches you off guard. Given that this is an mid sixties Filipino horror film I fully expected it would be little more than dumb but campy fun. However, as I watched it, I started to notice a few things; for one thing, the characters act with a real emotional resonance to the events that happen; when the son discovers that his mother is now a vampire chained in the basement, his reaction is full of the right mixture of revulsion and grief, and we get a real sense of the tragedy of the situation. These kinds of touches abound, and this compensates somewhat for the fact that the movie wanders somewhat in the plot department and that some of the makeup is quite bad. I’m sure the dubbing hurts it a little, but it does seem as if they got decent actors to do the dubbing as well, and this also helps. I found myself caught up in this one in ways that were totally unexpected. No, it’s not a great movie, but I ended up caring about the characters and what happens to them, and this made the movie much more interesting than I though it would be. And I do have to take my hat off to any movie that manages to kill off practically every major character and still come up with a happy ending. Good show!

 

Castle of the Living Dead (1964)

CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1964)
aka IL CASTELLO DEI MORTI VIVI
Article 2140 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-24-2006
Posting Date: 6-22-2007
Directed by Luciano Ricci, Lorenzo Sabatini and Michael Reeves
Featuring Christopher Lee, Gaia Germani, Philippe Leroy

In the chaos after the Napoleanic wars, several roving entertainers are invited to the castle of Count Drago, an eccentric who practices taxidermy. The count is planning on extending his hobby to other life forms, and pretty soon the entertainers begin to die one by one.

Here we have another odd Eurohorror starring Christopher Lee as a Count. This one doesn’t quite work, largely due to bad pacing and poor dubbing (though Christopher Lee and a young Donald Sutherland are for the most part allowed to keep their own voices). Still, there are plenty of odd touches to this one. Mirko Valentin makes for a fairly scary henchman, and Antonio De Martino is quite memorable as the surprisingly heroic dwarf. The discovery of the preserved bird in the tree is fairly striking, and the presence of Donald Sutherland in at least two roles (he may be in a third role, but I can’t remember noticing him in a role as an old man). Sutherland does give a good performance, though his presence is a little jarring; his acting style seems out of place among all the dubbing in the Sgt. Paul role, but in his old witch role, he is dubbed as well. Still, it does give us a fun little moment in which he helps himself off of the floor. Christopher Lee does fine, but his makeup (with big black patches under his eyes) is ineffective. The script was cowritten by Michael Reeves, and he did some uncredited direction as well, but he would get better with his later movies.

 

Captain Mephisto and the Transformation Machine (1966)

CAPTAIN MEPHISTO AND THE TRANSFORMATION MACHINE (1966)
Feature Version of the Serial MANHUNT OF MYSTERY ISLAND
Article 2041 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-16-2006
Posting Date: 3-15-2007
Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet, Yakima Canutt, Wallace Grissell
Featuring Roy Barcroft, Richard Bailey, Linda Stirling

An investigator does battle with a pirate intent on getting his hands on a secret invention.

MANHUNT OF MYSTERY ISLAND is one of the better serials out there, but this feature version of it does no more worthwhile a job of turning it into a workable feature than most of the other attempts at this that I’ve seen, Beyond that, I have little more to say about this one.

I think that if there’s one thing I’m looking forward to in this series, it’s the moment when I finally have done with watching these feature versions of serials. Never more than when I’m watching these do I get the feeling that I’m doing little more than checking a number off of a list. These are also the movies that give me the greatest sense of “cinema as product” (as opposed to “cinema as art” or “cinema as entertainment”), probably because they aren’t even really movies. Even watching Jerry Warren movies at their dullest gives me more of a sense of doing something worthwhile than these do.

Yet, at the same time, there’s a touch of sadness to the whole thing. There’s a part of me that wants every movie to be available, no matter what my opinion is of its worth. These feature versions of serials served a purpose at one time, but that time is long gone, and with the availability and marketability of full serials, I see very little future for these feature versions. Though I’ve watched plenty of them, there are still quite a few that have eluded me entirely, and I think as time goes by, they will only become harder to find. And this saddens me.

MISSILE MONSTERS is the feature version of a serial that has been on my list the longest without my having successfully found a copy. If I ever do find it, I’ll probably think it stinks. But I’ll be glad I found it. And that’s the irony of this whole project.

 

Crucible of Horror (1970)

CRUCIBLE OF HORROR (1970)
aka THE CORPSE
Article 2014 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-19-2006
Posting Date: 2-16-2007
Directed by Viktors Ritelis
Featuring Michael Gough, Yvonne Mitchell, Sharon Gurney

A cruel and abusive man is targeted for murder by his wife and daughter, but things don’t quite go in the direction they expect.

I’ve often wondered how many movies you could describe by merely mentioning the movie which served as a template for it; in this case, I was fairly certain by the halfway point that I was watching a variation of DIABOLIQUE. It may still be one, but I’m not quite sure, largely because the end of the movie didn’t answer my questions. There is the distinct possibility that I may have missed some subtle plot points that explain the whole thing, and that this is one of those movies that you just need to think through before you can come to any conclusions. Unfortunately, this is not a movie I really care to think about; despite the fact that the acting is quite good from all concerned, the movie itself is so dreary and depressing that all I wanted to do after it was over was to shake it off, not think about it. I do have two possible explanations for the ending, but I don’t like either of them. One (which involves figuring out what a fourth character who is not present during most of the main action of the movie may be up to) was what I was anticipating for most of the movie, and the lack of a surprise would have been depressing, and the other (about the mental state of one of the central characters) makes me suspect that most of what happened didn’t happen. Neither of these explanations leave me satisfied, and the various bizarre arty touches (jaggedly edited flashbacks and a preponderance of bizarre close-ups) don’t really do much for me either. All in all, I found this one frustrating and unrewarding.