Deathsport (1978)

DEATHSPORT (1978)
Article 2786 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-23-2008
Posting Date: 3-30-2009
Directed by Allan Arkush, Nicholas Niciphor, Roger Corman
Featuring David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, Richard Lynch
Country: USA

It’s after the apocalypse, and the evil empire kidnaps several mystical warriors known as Ranger Guides in order to have them do battle with their new death machines.

For the record, I find movies that borrow heavily from various movies a little more entertaining than those that borrow heavily from just one movie. What we have here is basically a STAR WARS clone minus the space travel fleshed out with ROLLERBALL and DEATH RACE 2000 trappings. The death machines are just motorcycles with zappers and their own special overdrive sound effect. Being that it’s from Roger Corman and New World, you can expect it to be heavy on exploitation. There’s nudity (Claudia Jennings and an uncredited Linnea Quigley), lots of stunts, and a overplenteous assortment of slow-motion explosions. In the final assessment, what it really becomes is a competition as to which of three things will end up annoying you the most; is it the overabundance of explosions, the dumb mystical dialogue of the ranger guides, or that annoying sound effect of the death machines? It’s no real competition; that sound effect will really get to you before the movie is over. It ends with a battle between good and evil. What did you expect, surprises?

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The Devil’s Men (1976)

THE DEVIL’S MEN (1976)
aka Land of the Minotaur
Article 2773 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-10-2008
Posting Date: 3-17-2009
Directed by Kostas Karagiannis
Featuring Donald Pleasence, Peter Cushing, Luan Peters
Country: UK/USA/Greece

Pagans are sacrificing people to a statue of the minotaur. A priest sets out to stop them.

It’s got Peter Cushing. It’s got Donald Pleasence. It’s got some lovely Greek scenery. It’s got a score by rock/ambient music star Brian Eno (though I suspect he’s in no way responsible for the horrible song at the end of the movie). But, thanks to lifeless direction and a ludicrous script infected with cliches, it doesn’t help. But then, what do you expect of a movie whose title emerges from the nose of a minotaur? Pleasence uses a crucifix to defeat the evil Minoan pagans after having made a comment that these methods must have been used to prevent them from taking over the world in ancient days, but given that Minoan civilization predates the crucifixion (and presumably the sacredness of the crucifix)… but let’s not go on, as I suspect that logic wasn’t on anybody’s mind when they made this one. Both the stars are wasted in tired roles that give them nothing good to work with. The movie is also padded with gratuitous nudity.

Dark Forces (1980)

DARK FORCES (1980)
aka Harlequin
Article 2771 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-8-2008
Posting Date: 3-15-2009
Directed by Simon Wincer
Featuring Robert Powell, David Hemmings, Carmen Duncan
Country: Australia

When a mysterious faith healer cures a senator’s son of leukemia, the family ends up taking him in. However, the political forces conspiring to move the senator into a key position find themselves at odds with the mysterious man.

The tagline in the ads for this movie in the US was “Can anyone survive?”, which seems to indicate that it was marketed as a horror movie. I would imagine anyone going into this rather bizarre fantasy/parable expecting a horror movie would emerge frustrated and disappointed; in fact, I could describe it as an inverted horror movie, one in which the usual roles of good and evil have been reversed. Oh, it’s a fascinating movie in its way; the movie gets a lot of mileage over the mysteries surrounding the faith healer’s powers and intentions. Stylistically, it’s a bit uneven; the opening scenes are done extremely well, but some of the scenes in the middle of the movie have the feel of a made-for-TV soap opera, and the faith healer’s mystic comments get rather tiresome. However, there’s nothing else out there quite like it, and despite the fact it’s basically about the struggle between good and evil, it never comes across as simplistic. On a side note, the movie was based on two historical events; one is about the mysterious disappearance of an Australian Prime Minister while swimming, and the other (much more familiar to horror fans) is the story of Rasputin.

Duel (1971)

DUEL (1971)
TV-Movie
Article 2768 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-5-2008
Posting Date: 3-12-2009
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Featuring Dennis Weaver, Eddie Firestone,Gene Dynarski
Country: USA

A businessman on a road trip suddenly finds himself targeted by a truck and its unseen driver.

One could argue whether this movie really belongs in the horror genre, but the truck does make for an effective “monster”, and the whole scenario is certainly nightmarish. It’s definitely an early triumph for Steven Spielberg, and is as nail-biting as JAWS as the action escalates throughout the movie. The original version ran 74 minutes, so I’m assuming I saw the expanded version released to theaters abroad; there’s some mild cussing that most certainly wouldn’t have aired on television here. I don’t know which scenes were added for the longer version, but I do know there are a few moments that don’t really work; the entire school bus section could have been excised and I wouldn’t have missed it one bit. Still, it does grip the attention, and you’ll find yourself, like actor Dennis Weaver’s character here, trying desperately to find some way to outwit the pursuing truck, or to find some weak spot that will give you the advantage. One thing is for sure; this is one TV-Movie that feels nothing like a TV-Movie, and Spielberg would move on from TV-Movies to theatrical releases after this one.

Dr. Frankenstein on Campus (1970)

DR. FRANKENSTEIN ON CAMPUS (1970)
aka Flick
Article 2767 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-4-2008
Posting Date: 3-11-2009
Directed by Gilbert W. Taylor
Featuring Robin Ward, Kathless Sawyer, Austin Willis
Country: Canada

A student named Viktor Frankenstein must contend with the fact that he bears the same name as the scientist in Mary Shelley’s novel. When he is unjustly expelled due to a compromising newspaper story, he uses his knowledge of brain control to exact revenge.

This movie is one bizarre compendium of mad science, the drawbacks of having a notorious name, drugs and the counterculture. It’s a strange movie; it seems almost plotless for the first half, some of the dialogue is quite florid, and it gets fairly arty on occasion; one scene uses both double exposure and subliminal images. It also has a neat twist ending. Unfortunately, the movie is utterly unconvincing; the opening scene features the worst sword fight I’ve ever seen, there are characters who make monumentally stupid decisions (such as the three men whose drinks are openly tampered with by Frankenstein but have no suspicion they’re being drugged), and some scenes are just difficult to believe, like the one where the students protest the arrival of a new computer. It’s also hurt by the fact that Robin Ward’s performance as Frankenstein is more distracting than effective. It’s a bit of a shame; there’s some interesting ideas here, and a better script and stronger direction could have made this one more effective. As it is, it’s more of a curious misfire than anything else.

Daughters of Satan (1972)

DAUGHTERS OF SATAN (1972)
Article 2757 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-24-2008
Posting Date: 3-1-2009
Directed by Hollingsworth Morse
Featuring Tom Selleck, Barra Grant, Tani Guthrie
Country: USA / Philippines

A man buys a painting of three witches and a dog being burned because the witch in the middle resembles his wife. However, when two other women and a dog appear that resemble the ones in the painting, he begins to suspect something sinister is going on…

Sometimes just a few telling details set the tone for how you feel about the movie. In the opening scene, we see a woman being tortured by a witch wearing purple tights, something no self-respecting worshiper of Satan would be caught dead in. Shortly after that, I noticed that the antique dealer had the most ridiculous widow’s peak I’ve ever seen. Soon after that, a dog shows up with the number 666 on his collar. For some reason, these three events all struck me as supremely silly, and I was prepared to find the whole movie like that. Fortunately, it’s a little better than that; there’s some interesting events surrounding the painting, the score is quite good, and there are a number of curious scenes that give the movie an unusual edge (such as one where three women all regain their original personalities after a car accident occurs elsewhere). It’s still got plenty of flaws; the story proves to be quite cliched once you get down to it, the direction is utterly lifeless (I largely associate Hollingsworth Morse for having directed the Rocky Jones series, but if I ended up liking the series much more than I thought I would, it wasn’t for its direction), and I was disappointed by the blandness of Tom Selleck’s performance, an actor who I generally like. Overall, I thought the movie was a little better than its reputation (it has a 3.6 rating on IMDB), though it is fairly weak.

Dracula (1973)

DRACULA (1973)
TV-Movie
Article 2716 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-11-2008
Posting Date: 1-19-2009
Directed by Dan Curtis
Featuring Jack Palance, Simon Ward, Nigel Davenport
Country: UK

Dracula comes to England with the intent of finding a woman who resembles his lost love and making her a vampire and companion.

I’ve seen enough of Dan Curtis’s TV-Movies to know they are hit-or-miss affairs, but when he’s on, he’s incredibly effective. He’s on with this one, and it’s great to see Jack Palance working with him again after their effective take on the Jekyll and Hyde story. Palance is fascinating in the role; he underplays his line deliveries, but with such conviction that he’s absolutely chilling. Furthermore, the supporting cast is very strong indeed; Nigel Davenort in particular is well cast as Van Helsing. Having appeared in an especially faithful play production of the story, I’ve developed a fascination with the ways various filmmakers have amended and modifed Bram Stoker’s story over the years, not from the point of view of condemning them for not being faithful to the novel (which, to my mind, has some problems), but with real interest in the various approaches that have been taken to adapting the story. This version jettisons Quincy Morris (perhaps the single major character most likely not to appear in the various versions of the story), Dr. Seward and Renfield. The latter two omissions are a little surprising (if for no other reason that Renfield is such an interesting character), but I can also see how the whole Renfield storyline can be a distraction from the main story. It retains the characters of Jonathan Harker and Lucy’s mother, though both suffer different fates. Dracula is given a greater motivation for his choice of Lucy as his victim, a move that gives his character a bit more depth as well as giving Palance more screen time. The ending also spends a lot more time in the interior of Dracula’s castle, and though the denoument is a bit disappointing, it is better than the ending of the novel. What I like best is the wonderful atmosphere Curtis adds to the production, and the way certain visual moments manage to convey such a great deal of impact; I love the scene where we see the captain lashed to the wheel of the beached ship while Dracula looks on from the shore. Oh, it has its flaws (such as some unconvincing day-for-night scenes), but overall, I found this version very well done.