Children of the Full Moon / Visitors from the Grave (1980)

CHILDREN OF THE FULL MOON/VISITOR FROM THE GRAVE (1980)
Article 2554 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2008
Posting Date: 8-9-2008
Directed by Tom Clegg and Peter Sasdy
Featuring Christopher Cazenove, Celia Gregory, Diana Dors
Country: UK

Two tales of terror; in the first, a young couple find themselves stranded at an isolated manor that is menaced by a werewolf; in the second, a woman kills an attempted rapist and is then haunted by his vengeful spirit.

Sometimes I don’t know if I’m stretching the rules or not; the John Stanley book lists the first title, which is an episode of the TV series “Hammer House of Horror”, and mentions that it was released on a tape hosted by Elvira that also includes another episode, “Visitor from the Grave”. Whether the two episodes were edited together to appear to be a single feature, I don’t know, and I was unable to locate the tape release in question. So, to emulate the experience, I watched the two episodes back to back from the recent “Hammer House of Horrors” series release, and experienced them that way. If I’m stretching the rules here…well, that’s my prerogative.

From these two episodes, I get the sense that the TV show was pretty ordinary; neither episode did much for me. Still, when I do a ratings comparison on IMDB, I notice that these two episodes hover near the bottom of the list, so I should probably reserve judgment. The first episode manages to dredge up a couple of twists to the werewolf myths, but it doesn’t really save it from being rather predictable; nor do I understand why the husband was left alive and allowed to return home half-way through the story; wouldn’t it have been a lot safer for the werewolves to finish him off on the spot? Still, it’s better than the other episode; the minute I noticed that the “wife” (I’m not sure the couple were married, hence the quotes) was a rich basket-case given to hysterics and the “husband” was a bit of an insensitive jerk, I knew (and didn’t care for) exactly where it was going, and sure enough, I was right, and the addition of a second twist at the end only made it dumber.

Once again, I don’t appear to have caught the show at its best. Maybe other episodes will give me a better impression of this series.

 

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Count Dracula (1970)

COUNT DRACULA (1970)
aka Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht, Les Nuits de Dracula
Article 2530 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-8-2008
Posting Date: 7-16-2008
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski
Country: Spain/West Germany/Italy/Liechtenstein

Dracula moves from Transylvania to London, and terrorizes Londoners.

This is often trotted forth as the truest cinematic version of the Bram Stoker novel, and there’s no reason to doubt the assertion. Most of the changes make sense in terms of keeping the movie to a manageable length; the combination of two of Lucy’s suitors into one is the most noticeable. I do miss my favorite part of the story (the voyage to England aboard the ship), but I can understand why it’s gone. Franco keeps his excesses in check here and manages to deliver a moody, coherent movie. Still, I find it detached and uninvolving; Franco’s style does make me feel like I’m watching the story from a distance, and this does little to build anything in the way of suspense. The characters only come across as interesting when I find the actors themselves familiar and interesting; consequently, the three most familiar names in the three most familiar roles (Christopher Lee as Dracula, Herbert Lom as Van Helsing and Klaus Kinski as Renfield) emerge as the most memorable characters. Even at that, I’m still a little disappointed; Kinski does little more than act silently crazy in a cell, which he does well, but which is only mildly interesting, and there’s never a really good face-off between Van Helsing and Dracula; in fact, omitting Van Helsing from the final scenes of the movie is just a plain question mark to me. All in all, this is an acceptable movie (both as a Franco movie and as an adaptation of the novel), but not a particularly great one on either level.

 

The Clown and the Alchemist (1900)

THE CLOWN AND THE ALCHEMIST (1900)
Article 2529 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-7-2008
Posting Date: 4-15-2008
Directed Unknown
Cast Unknown
Country: USA

A clown’s antics annoy an alchemist, who tries to use his magic powers to get rid of him.

Ahh, there’s nothing like the epic struggle between good and evil, is there? The only question here is – which side is good and which side is evil? Well, let’s set out a balance sheet.

Clown

Good qualities
Projects the life-affirming qualities of humor.

Evil qualities
He’s a clown.

 

Alchemist

Evil Qualities
He delves in unholy mystical powers.

Good Qualities
He’s trying to rid the world of a clown.

You can figure up the balance any way you want to. All I know is that when the clown emerges victorious, my heart sinks and the sense of imminent doom manifests itself. I do prefer happy endings.

 

The Christmas that Almost Wasn’t (1966)

THE CHRISTMAS THAT ALMOST WASN’T (1966)
Article 2517 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-24-2008
Posting Date: 7-3-2008
Directed by Rossano Brazzi
Featuring Rossano Brazzi, Paul Tripp, Mischa Auer
Country: Italy/USA

Santa Claus is in peril of being unable to deliver presents for Christmas when a bitter man who hates children buys the land on which Santa’s shop is located, and demands that Santa pay the rent by Christmas Eve or have all of his toys seized. Santa enlists the aid of a lawyer, and they try to find a way to pay the rent.

I was unable to watch this whole movie in a single sitting due to my schedule, and I had to stop about two-thirds of the way through the movie. Had I written my review at that point, I would have said that even if I forgave the movie some of its more glaring flaws (such as the fact that the songs aren’t particularly strong), there was one flaw I couldn’t overlook, and that was that the movie was entirely too glum; despite a few moments of good humor and Christmas spirit, the perpetual sight of a depressed and frustrated Santa Claus just started to get to me. I didn’t expect much when I got back to watching it, but it was at this point that the movie started hitting all the right Christmas buttons; there was something truly gratifying at the way the problem is solved, and the events and revelations that lead up to the redemption of the villain are quite moving in their way. Overall, it’s kind of a variation on HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS with dollops of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET in the mix. The songs are still weak, and it remains too glum for most of its running time, but the villain is fun, and his butler (played by John Karlsen) almost steals the movie with his face alone. It’s also fun to see Mischa Auer in one of his last film roles as the bookkeeper of the elves. Director/star Rossano Brazzi gained fame as the star of SOUTH PACIFIC, but would eventually descend to appearing in movies like FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS. The movie is uneven, and I can equally understand why someone might dislike the movie while another would consider it a classic.

 

Charlotte’s Web (1973)

CHARLOTTE’S WEB (1973)
Article 2516 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-23-2008
Posting Date: 7-2-2008
Directed by Charles A. Nichols and Iwao Takamoto
Featuring the voices of Debbie Reynolds, Paul Lynde, Henry Gibson
Country: USA

A piglet who is the runt of the litter is saved by a young girl from being killed, who then raises the piglet by hand. The pig is sold to another farmer. The pig befriends a spider, who hatches a plot to keep the pig from being slaughtered.

I’ve not read the classic children’s book by E.B. White on which this movie is based, but if I were to judge the book based on this animated movie version of it, I would have no desire to read it. Fortunately, my wife has read the book, and she assures me that this movie does not do it justice, choosing to emphasize only the sentimental and schmaltzy aspects of the story. I’m highly resistant to the whimsy of this movie, but the movie could have overcome my resistance had the animation or the songs been inspired. Alas, the animation is only adequate, and the songs are utterly forgettable. About the only inspired touch to the movie is casting Paul Lynde as the voice of Templeton the rat, and even that character wears thin very quickly. I doubt I’ll be revisiting this one any time soon; I’d sooner read the book first, so I’d have more of an idea of what this movie is missing.

 

The Chairman (1969)

THE CHAIRMAN (1969)
Article 2515 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-22-2008
Posting Date: 7-1-2008
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Featuring Gregory Peck, Anne Heywood, Arthur Hill
Country: UK/USA

When Red China discovers an enzyme that can allow food to be grown in any area regardless of climate, the Americans, British and Russians combine forces to get the information. To that end, they hire a Nobel-winning scientist to infiltrate China and discover the enzyme. They plant a transmitter in his head so that he can keep in touch, but, unbeknownst to the scientist, the transmitter also contains a bomb that can be used if the scientist is caught.

The enzyme is the Gizmo Maguffin in this spy thriller, though the technology used to keep the scientist in touch with the military also pushes the movie into science fiction as well. It’s an interesting if uneven movie; the plot itself has its fair share of cliches, but the scenes inside China do give the viewer a strong sense that he has been transported to another culture, and this adds a lot to the atmosphere of the movie. The movie is well-directed and well-acted, with the oriental roles played by orientals, including Keye Luke and Burt Kwouk. The climax of the movie doesn’t quite achieve the pitch of edge-of-your-seat suspense that it aspires to, but I really like the scene where the scientist meets the Chairman and they discuss political viewpoints while playing ping-pong. I vaguely remember when this one was released to theaters, but I don’t recall it being a big success.

 

Child’s Play (1954)

CHILD’S PLAY (1954)
Article 2496 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-3-2008
Posting Date: 6-12-2008
Directed by Margaret Thomson
Featuring Christopher Beeny, Ernest Scott, Patrick Wells
Country: UK

A group of English children manage to split the atom with the help of a child’s atomic research kit and a rock from Krakatoa. They use the knowledge to create a new type of popcorn called Bangcorn.

I suspect that this movie was an attempt to start a series of movies about a group of precocious children called “The Holy Terrors”. If so, it apparently was not a success in this regard; this is the only movie they made together. Initially, I thought that this movie was going to be insufferable, but the fast-moving comedy, the innumerable funny lines, and the satiric undercurrent all won me over. There’s a few interesting names in the credits; story writer Don Sharp would go on to direct several Hammer films, and Mona Washbourne had a long distinguished acting career; she appeared in other genre films, including ALIAS JOHN PRESTON, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA and the 1964 version of NIGHT MUST FALL. The science fiction content is of course the miniature atomic reactor/bangcorn machine built by the kids; however, even within the context of the story itself, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt as it is told to us by the child with the reputation for lying and exaggerating.