Doctor Franken (1980)

DOCTOR FRANKEN (1980)
TV-Movie
Article 3538 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-28-2011
Posting Date: 4-22-2011
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky and Jeff Lieberman
Featuring Robert Vaughn, Robert Perault, David Selby
Country: USA
What it is: TV-Movie take on the Frankenstein story

A brilliant surgeon experiments with transplants on an unknown man brought to the hospital, much to the chagrin of a fellow doctor who has a secret of his own to hide.

The name that really caught my attention in the opening credits wasn’t that of any of the stars, but co-director/writer Jeff Lieberman, who I’ve liked ever since I saw SQUIRM. His presence gave me hope for something more interesting than just another TV-Movie rehash of the Frankenstein legend, which is what the title alone led me to expect. And I think it does, though the lowly 5.2 rating for this one on IMDB does leave me feeling that I’m somewhat out of step with the tastes of others on this one. I found it an unusual and interesting take on the story; the doctor is not trying to create life, but is trying to trying to develop new transplant techniques, with his guinea pig being a man who is technically dead because of his lack of brain activity; he is as surprised as anybody when the man returns to life. The movie does put forth the questionable premise that memories may exist in other parts of the human body than the mind; within the context of this story, the “creature” that is created has memories that originated from the man whose eyes he has received. The story itself is rather contrived, but the characters are well drawn, and both Robert Vaughn and Robert Perrault give very good performances. It’s not until the end of the movie that the movie gives off the air of a failed TV pilot; I suspect that the series would have involved the creation experiencing memories from any of his other transplanted parts, as well as trying to figure out his own identity. It’s an interesting idea, but in the context of a weekly series, it would have come across as increasingly silly. All in all, it’s a mixed bag, but one I must admit to liking.

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Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)

DR. BLACK, MR. HYDE (1976)
Article 3527 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-17-2011
Posting Date: 4-11-2011
Directed by William Crain
Featuring Bernie Casey, Rosalind Cash, Marie O’Henry
Country: USA
What it is: Blaxploitation horror

A black doctor works on a serum designed to rebuild damaged livers, but is unable to solve the problem of its side effects without human guinea pigs. He tries the serum on himself, and turns into a superhuman crazed white man with a penchant for killing hookers.

Well, the movie is sincere, features some authentic locations, has some good acting moments from Bernie Casey, and has one good jump scene. The script, however, is horribly uneven and inconsistent, particularly in its portrayal of the Mr. Hyde character and the nature of his powers. For one thing, the movie is simply not consistent in just how much in control of himself Hyde is; sometimes he seems coherent and focused, other times he seems like an inarticulate animal. Furthermore, the side effects are way over the top; having him turn white and become a crazed killer is one thing, but endowing him with superpowers really strains credibility. And they aren’t even consistent with that; sometimes he’s invulnerable to bullets, other times not. When the script actually gives Bernie Casey something to play with (such as when he tells the story that explains his desire to cure liver ailments AND his distrust of hookers), he does a fine job, but the script all too often leaves him foundering. Somewhere in here, there’s a better movie waiting to get out, but the script was in need of a few more revisions.

Doomwatch (1972)

DOOMWATCH (1972)
Article 3513 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-3-2011
Posting Date: 3-28-2011
Directed by Peter Sasdy
Featuring Ian Bannen, Judy Geeson, John Paul
Country: UK
What it is: Ecological disaster thriller

A scientist from an environmental research agency known as “Doomwatch” visits a small island to research the effects of an oil spill. The villagers on the island are hostile and suspicious, and it soon becomes apparent that they have something to hide… and that something far worse than an oil spill has happened in the area.

My first reaction on hearing about the group known as Doomwatch here was that it would make a fine concept for a TV series; I then learned that it in fact this movie was based on a TV series of the same name. I went into this one expecting a horror movie, and the first half of the movie certainly gives the sense that that is what it’s going to turn out to be. The movie then suddenly shifts gears and becomes a mystery; the action leaves the island and becomes concerned with finding the causes of the illness suffered by the people, and the movie becomes something of a science fiction drama. For once, the behavior of the villagers is much more than just a way to build suspense; the final scenes of the movie are concerned with the scientist trying to break past the hostility in an effort to urge the villagers to seek the help he is offering. I like this movie enough to wish it was better than it was, the weak direction and uneven acting blunt some of its impact. Still, I think it worked well enough to get by; the ending in particular is very sad. Whatever its flaws, I don’t think I’ll easily forget this movie.

Doc Savage The Man of Bronze (1975)

DOC SAVAGE THE MAN OF BRONZE (1975)
Article 3501 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-19-2011
Posting Date: 3-16-2011
Directed by Michael Anderson
Featuring Ron Ely, Paul Gleason, William Lucking
Country: USA
What it is: Pulp hero parody

When an attempt is made on his life and the last communication from his father is destroyed, Doc Savage takes his band of heroes (known as the Fabulous Five) on a mission to the country where his father passed away, where he hopes to unravel the secrets that resulted in his father’s death.

Back when I covered BUCKAROO BANZAI, some of the replies made passing comments to the pulp origins of that type of story, with a special mention of Doc Savage as a prototype for Buckaroo Banzai. I’ve not read any of the Doc Savage books, but having now seen the movie, I can appreciate the influence, and it’s made me quite curious to find some of the Doc Savage novels and get to know the world he lived in. Since I’ve also heard that this movie doesn’t really do him justice, that seems even more like a good idea. There are things I like here much better than in BUCKAROO BANZAI; in particular, I think the Fabulous Five are a much more well-defined group than the Hong Kong Cavaliers. Unfortunately, for this, his last film, George Pal chose a camp approach to the material, and the camp humor is obvious, intrusive, and simply not very good. As a result, the sense of adventure and excitement is muted and compromised; because the movie doesn’t take itself seriously, neither do we. Furthermore, the movie is slow and leisurely when it should be fast-moving, and a poorly conceived musical score only makes things worse. At times, the movie is just pointlessly weird; why does the one villain sleep in a giant rocking crib? There’s enough fantastic content for genre fans, with the eerie phantom snakes being only the most striking example. Still, the movie is a missed opportunity.

Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (1973)

DIGBY, THE BIGGEST DOG IN THE WORLD (1973)
Article 3479 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-17-2011
Posting Date: 2-22-2011
Directed by Joseph McGrath
Featuring Jim Dale, Spike Milligan, Angela Douglas
Country: UK
What it is: Giant dog comedy

A sheepdog accidentally ingests a substance that turns it into a giant. Complications ensue.

Had this movie been truly wretched, the title might have been its own self-review, but it’s nowhere near that bad. It’s a British cross between boy-and-his-dog movies, giant monster on the loose movies, and Disney shopping cart films. The emphasis is on the latter, probably, with most of the movie engaged in the comic complications, which include a German scientist mistakenly concluding that an animal psychologist thinks he’s a dog, a pair of acrobat crooks kidnapping the dog to sell him to a circus, and an over-eager Colonel who wishes to destroy the dog. It plays up a bit of the tear-jerkiness of boy-and-his-dog movies, especially in the opening sequence and near the end, when we’re afraid the dog may die. It does appear that the movie is at least a little familiar with the giant monster movies it’s parodying, and even has a sequence that emulates a mummy attack. Some of the gags are bizarre head-scratchers, but it occasionally works; my favorite bit features a dotty aunt who gets a call from her nephew while the television is on. Oddly, some of the humor is a little risque for what is in essence a children’s movie. It’s uneven, but not awful.

Demonoid (1981)

DEMONOID (1981)
aka Demonoid: Messenger of Death
Article 3478 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-16-2011
Posting Date: 2-21-2001
Directed by Alfredo Zacarias
Featuring Samantha Eggar, Stuart Whitman, Roy Jenson
Country: Mexico / USA
What it is: Crawling hand movie of sorts

A couple discovers a severed hand at the bottom of a silver mine, but it turns out the hand is evil and possesses those who touch it.

If you can imagine a cross between THE HIDDEN, THE CRAWLING HAND, and THE EXORCIST, you might just get an idea of what this demented but extremely silly horror movie is like. The possessed people gain an odd assortment of powers in their hand, but always fall prey to their desire to have it chopped off, mostly because they want to set it loose on the woman who was part of the couple who discovered it in the first place. Still, this is one of those movies whose goofiness exudes a certain silly charm, and after a while, I got myself caught up in it and was rather entertained. It’s certainly more fun than Oliver Stone’s crawling hand movie from the same year. And any movie that manages to use the “Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah” musical motif on the score and to name-drop Rondo Hatton (I may be wrong, but I could swear I heard a page for that name in the casino) is doing something… well, not right, but fun anyway.

The Darker Side of Terror (1979)

THE DARKER SIDE OF TERROR (1979)
TV-Movie
Article 3476 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-14-2011
Posting Date: 2-20-2011
Directed by Gus Trikonis
Featuring Robert Forster, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Milland
Country: USA
What it is: Cloning movie

Frustrated by his stagnating career and having his work stolen by an associate, a professor decides to hook up with a former teacher who is engaged in illegal cloning experiments … and whose test cloning subject is the professor himself.

It has an interesting title; maybe it was trying to distinguish itself from THE LIGHTER SIDE OF TERROR. On the other hand, maybe it had a reason for that; much of the dialogue is so melodramatic, forced and/or artificial that the movie occasionally comes across as an inadvertent comedy. As a commentary on the dangers of cloning, I can’t take the movie seriously, but as kind of a cross between the Frankenstein story and the doppelganger concept, it does have a moment or two. Good copies of this one are apparently hard to find; mine was an nth generation dupe that is so dark that I sometimes wonder if I’m missing important details. This is especially true towards the end of the movie, which, if I understand it correctly, ends ambiguously; after all, there’s a reason that in the confrontation between the professor and his clone, they’re both wearing the same outfits. It’s not one of the better TV-movies out there, but it’s not worthless.