Death Takes a Holiday (1971)

DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY (1971)
Article 1805 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-22-2006
Posting Date: 7-22-2006
Directed by Robert Butler
Featuring Yvette Mimieux, Monte Markham, Myrna Loy

Death (under the name David Smith) falls in love with the daughter of a Senator.

At the time of this writing, this TV-movie version of the Fredric March classic is sitting with the exact same rating as the original version on IMDB; there’s no doubt that it has its strong admirers. I suppose it deserves them, as this remake is not a disgrace; it has an honest interest in the issues of life, death, and they way we human beings deal with them. It’s worst problem is that in its attempt to be timely (references to Vietnam, talk about the ecology), it ends up dating itself even more than the one from four decades earlier. Nevertheless, I will always prefer the earlier version, simply because I will by my very nature prefer the moody tension of that movie to the sweet blandness of this one, a quality that is probably due simply to its being a TV-Movie, a form that rarely works well with me. Nor do I care much for the fact that this movie seems filtered through a LOVE STORY sensibility, and for those who prefer it that way. they’re welcome to this one. Me, I’m just glad that I don’t have problems with movies that are in black and white

Death Race 2000 (1975)

DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)
Article #1766 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-14-2006
Posting Date: 6-13-2006
Directed by Paul Bartel
Featuring David Carradine, Simone Griffith, Sylvester Stallone

In the future, the president hosts a cross-country road race where contestants get points for running down pedestrians.

I once read a review of a Ramones album that claimed that they would point out the very disturbing inspirations for the energy of their music while tapping into that energy at the same time. In some ways, this movie works on the same level. It was based on a rather vicious short story, and it occurred to Roger Corman that you could have something very effective if you placed a layer of political satire over the story. The resulting movie works on several levels; it takes a look at the public thirst for violence while gratifying it at the same time. Yes, the movie is more than a little disturbing, but it’s always quite hilarious; I’ve never forgotten the scene where the old folks home puts out an assortment of geriatrics (which offer high scores due to their age) to serve as targets for the driver named Frankenstein, but Frankenstein (who has his own agenda) has a surprise for them. Because it’s working on so many levels, it makes sense that we have the gratuitous nudity during the massage sequence; after all, exploitation was simply one of the levels of the movie. It inspired a video game that was even more controversial, owing to the fact that video games were primarily aimed at children at that point. Ultimately, the movie is quite fascinating, with its awareness of the nature of its own themes and its sense of humor being its biggest saving graces.

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)
Article #1754 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-2-2006
Posting Date: 6-1-2006
Directed by Alan Gibson
Featuring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham

Dracula is resurrected by a disciple in 1972, and decides to take vengeance on his old enemy Van Helsing by destroying the daughter of one of his descendants.

There’s something about the way this movie is marketed that might lead you to believe that Hammer had started playing the series for laughs. Certainly, the tag line on the cover of the DVD about Dracula having an eye for London’s hot pants seems more comic than horrific, and the first still I recall seeing from the movie had Christopher Lee as Dracula looking like he had a headache while being surrounded by scantily clad women. Fortunately, the movie itself decides to play it straight; as a matter of fact, the movie could have easily been put in the period setting. All in all, it’s not a bad entry in the series; though I don’t care for the jazzy/funky music that pops up in the soundtrack, I will admit that’s more of a personal quibble than an artistic one. Actually, if there’s any element of this one that does border on camp for me, it’s the over-elaborate series of circumstances that have to occur to kill the vampires; when one vampire stumbles into a bathroom to get away from the sunlight shining through the window, he inadvertently pulls the curtain that opens up the overhead skylight, which makes him scream and fall into a bathtub, inadvertently hitting the tap mechanism, so now he has to deal with running water as well. This is the type of thing I’d expect from a Jerry Lewis vampire. I’m also really tired of the use of the “Alucard” name; it was clever in SON OF DRACULA, but it’s popped up way too often since then.

A Dangerous Woman (1929)

A DANGEROUS WOMAN (1929)
(a.k.a. THE WOMAN WHO NEEDED KILLING)
Article #1745 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-24-2005
Posting Date: 5-23-2006
Directed by Gerald Grove and Rowland V. Lee
Featuring Olga Baclanova, Clive Brook, Neil Hamilton

The commissioner of an African outpost lives with a woman who drives the white men to their deaths with her seductive ways. The commissioner learns that his brother will be his next assistant, and the woman begins working her wiles on him….

“The Motion Picture Guide” lists this movie as horror, claiming that the woman in question uses voodoo to make herself irresistible to men. There’s some talk of voodoo, of course, but nothing overt about the use of voodoo, so I find this assessment questionable, and the movie itself is nothing more than a marginal jungle movie. The commissioner is our hero, and he advises the natives to use wife-beating to keep their women in line (after all, it’s the native thing to do), and after he does, the natives leave doing a sort of “spanking” dance. This kind of racism and sexism pervades the movie, and though it is no doubt a product of its time, It’s still more than a little offensive. But then, I’ve never quite bought into the concept that it is the perfidy of women that drives men to do horrible things because they are helpless against the wiles of the feminine sex; if men can’t control themselves on occasion, I suggest they look at their own hormones rather than blame the other sex. The acting is pretty stagy, but that’s an early talkie for you. This is mainly for those interested in the career of Olga Baclanova, who would go on to play another evil woman in FREAKS.

Destroy All Planets (1968)

DESTROY ALL PLANETS (1968)
(a.k.a. GAMERA TAI UCHU KAIJI BAIRUSA /
GAMERA VS. OUTER SPACE MONSTER VIRUS)
Article #1684 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-24-2005
Posting Date: 3-23-2006
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Featuring Kojiro Hongo, Toru Takatsuka, Carl Craig

Space aliens intent on conquering the earth decide to force Gamera to do their bidding. They do so by kidnapping two children as hostages, as they know Gamera is a friend to all children, a fact they learned from watching twenty minutes of stock footage. The hostage children are given the run of the ship, however, and they discover that it is populated by robot-like zombie men and a strange caged creature….

The most common American title for this movie, DESTROY ALL PLANETS, has always seemed to me to be an obvious attempt to link the movie with Toho’s monster fest, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. Yes, there are a couple of similarities; it does feature space aliens trying to force a good monster to do its bidding, and it does feature many monsters from previous Gamera movies. However, I think a more apt comparison could be made between this and GODZILLA’S REVENGE. After all, both movies can be considered as plunges into juvenalia; even though the Gamera movies had a more juvenile edge anyway, this is the first one where the only major characters (other than the monsters) are children. The big difference is that the Godzilla movie remained an anomaly, whereas the Gamera movies maintained the juvenile theme. Also, both movies make extensive use of stock footage from previous movies in the series, and even here, the Godzilla movie comes off better; whereas that one incorporated the footage in such a way that if you didn’t know it was stock footage you might not have guessed, this one is obviously lifting footage, especially when the aliens tap into Gamera’s mind to learn his weaknesses and we are treated to twenty minutes of footage from GAMERA, GAMERA VS. BARAGON and GAMERA VS. GAOS. This footage takes up almost a third of the movie, and incidentally, when I mentioned that all the monsters from the previous Gamera movies appeared in this movie, it was only in stock footage. In truth, this is one of the lamest of the Gamera movies, though it does have some touches that I’ve come to identify with the series. Gamera’s foe is certainly bizarre looking, the scene where he becomes giant is truly surreal, and the violence is gorier and a bit edgier than you find in a Godzilla movie; in fact, Gamera sustains what must be the worst injury of his career in this movie. Still, almost all of this doesn’t really come about until the last ten minutes of the movie, so you may want to keep your fast forward handy.

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965)
Article #1677 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-17-2005
Posting Date: 3-16-2006
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Donald Sutherland

Five men on a train have their fortunes told by a mysterious stranger with a Tarot deck.

This was the first of several horror anthologies from Amicus, and though I don’t think it’s quite up to the level of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, it’s not bad. I have a method of deciding how good some of the stories are that is rather simple; if I’ve seen the anthology before, I generally consider the best stories to be the ones I remember from my first viewing. In this case, there’s really only one story I remember, and that’s the fourth story in which Christopher Lee does battle with a crawling hand. For me, this is still the best story; the pace is crisp (which is something that can’t be said for all the stories), and the acting by Lee and Michael Gough is excellent. Beyond that, my favorites are the framing story and the third story, in which a jazz musician steals a melody used in a voodoo ceremony. The first and last stories (about werewolves and vampires respectively) have some nice final twists, but are marred by sluggish pacing, and the last story features a silly bat with glow-in-the-dark eyes that is anything but scary. Still, the weakest of the batch is the second story about a killer vine that would have been best handled as a comedy; for me, this story went down the tubes when the vine purposefully cuts the telephone line. The movie also features a young Donald Sutherland and Bernard Lee (‘M’ from the James Bond movies).

The Diabolical Dr. Z (1966)

THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (1966)
(a.k.a. MISS MUERTE)
Article #1676 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-16-2005
Posting Date: 3-15-2006
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Antonio Jimenez Escribano, Mabel Karr, Howard Vernon

When a scientist researching methods of human mind control dies as a result of public humiliation at a scientific conference, his daughter fakes her own death and sets out on a plan to seek vengeance against those responsible for her father’s death.

Like THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, this is one of the better Franco movies out there. In fact, this one is even better than that one; the somewhat conventional plot is given a lot of unexpected and interesting touches, and Franco’s visual style is very strong here. It’s remarkably free of the excesses and throwaway scenes that inundate so many of his other movies. Another plus is that the dubbing is far better than usual; it’s not always in sync with the mouths, but the quality of the acting of those supplying the dubbed voices is fairly high, and that makes up for it. I also like the fact that the murders aren’t just duplicates of each other, but unfold in vastly different ways; it shows that a good deal of care was taken with this one. I do have problems believing that Miss Muerte’s stage act would actually fly in a nightclub, but I could be wrong; after all, the fact that she’s wearing a skin-tight translucent outfit may well be enough to satisfy most men. I’d have to choose this as the best Franco movie I’ve seen to date.