The Devil and Miss Sarah (1971)

Article 3759 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2011
Posting Date: 11-29-2011
Directed by Michael Caffey
Featuring Gene Barry, Janice Rule, James Drury
Country: USA
What it is: Horror western

A farmer unexpectedly finds himself taking on the responsibility of bringing a wanted criminal to justice when the sheriff that had him in custody dies. But the criminal is believed to be the devil himself, and he casts a baleful influence on the farmer’s beautiful wife, who appears to have a sixth sense about the future. Can he take the criminal to justice before she succumbs to him…?

Though it’s a little slow-moving on occasion, this interesting and offbeat horror western is pretty entertaining, much of it due to a great performance from Gene Barry as the outlaw with a real gift of gab as well as hypnotic powers. Whether he really is the devil himself or not is an ambiguity that the movie plays with till the very end, though it does ultimately settle on one or the other. Janice Rule is also quite effective as the wife; she says so little that we really don’t know what she’s going to do before it’s all over. The movie was filmed in Utah, and the shots of the desert really give us a sense on how a western location can be used for horror purposes; the scenery is both beautiful and unsettling. The movie seems to have an uneven reputation, but I quite liked it.


The Demon Murder Case (1983)

Article 3758 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-16-2011
Posting Date: 11-28-2011
Directed by William Hale
Featuring Charles Fields, Liane Langland, Joyce Van Patten
Country: USA
What it is: Demonic possession movie

The defense attorney at a murder trial plans to argue that his client is innocent because he was demonically possessed at the time of the murder. The backstory of the case is then told.

According to my source for this movie, it’s based on a true case, but the screenwriter takes the tack that demonic possession is indeed the real culprit. Now, I don’t think this approach would necessarily make for a bad movie, but in order for it to work, it needs a much better script and better direction than we get here. Despite a plethora of well known names in the cast (Kevin Bacon, Cloris Leachman, Eddie Albert and Andy Griffith), the movie isn’t particularly well acted, and the script is pretty silly at times. Part of the reason is that it’s a TV-Movie from its era; when the biggest threat the possessing devil can hurl is “You’re all gonna die!” (which is uttered innumerable times), and the worst blasphemy it can conjure up is for the possessed boy to blow a raspberry at Jesus Christ, you’re not really going to be able to project a sense of consummate evil, and the movie really lacks a sense of dread. Furthermore, there are so many awkward moments and false notes that after a while it’s hard to believe anything about the movie. The first half of the movie is reheated cliches from THE EXORCIST, and the second half is mostly an “jealous boyfriend” story; neither half is convincing. All in all, this one is clumsy and tiresome.

The Dead Zone (1983)

Article 3757 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-15-2011
Posting Date: 11-27-2011
Directed by David Cronenberg
Featuring Chrisopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt
Country: USA
What it is: Psychic power drama

A schoolteacher goes into a coma after a freak car accident. He comes out of his coma five years later with his life utterly changed… and with newly developed psychic powers. But what will be the price he has to pay to use these powers?

This movie marks a landmark in my Movie of the Day series, as it is the first movie I’ve covered that is based on something from the pen of perhaps the most famous horror writer in the world, Stephen King. Oddly enough, the novel was a departure for King, as this movie would also be for director David Cronenberg; it’s perhaps the most restrained work from either artist. It’s an excellent movie that explores the moral and personal issues of having a psychic power, as well as a conscience and a sense of responsibility, and it asks one of the more difficult moral questions to be found; if you could save the world at the expense of your life and reputation, would you do it? There are fine performances from an excellent cast, especially from Christopher Walken as the psychic and Martin Sheen as a ruthless politician, but Brooke Adams, Herbert Lom, and Anthony Zerbe are all memorable as well. I’d seen this one before, and I’m glad to say that I still find it just as gripping as I did then. Highly recommended.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Article 3754 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-12-2011
Posting Date: 11-24-2011
Directed by Frank De Felitta
Featuring Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Claude Earl Jones
Country: USA
What it is: Revenge from beyond the grave

In a small town, four rednecks form a vigilante party and gun down a half-wit (disguised as a scarecrow) in the belief that he murdered a little girl; in reality, the girl was not dead and the half-wit had saved her from a dog attack. The law lets the four vigilantes off due to lack of evidence. Then, one day, a scarecrow appears mysteriously in the field of one of the vigilantes; the next day, the vigilante has died in a horrible accident. Or was it an accident…?

The plot may be standard issue, but that’s not a real problem; what matters is that the movie presses the right buttons, pulls the right strings, and conjures up the right atmosphere to make everything work. There are some touches in particular that I like. For one thing, I like the fact that the head of the vigilante squad (Charles Durning) becomes even more repugnant as the movie progresses, especially when you discover what his own interest in the little girl is. I also like that the vigilantes do their best to try to figure out a non-supernatural explanation for their situation, but only dig themselves deeper when trying to act on that explanation. It’s a bit gory for a TV-Movie, but actually works better through suggestion; when one character is being chased through a pumpkin patch by some farm machinery, I found that seeing what the blades on the machine were doing to the pumpkins to be incredibly effective. This may actually be one of the scariest TV-movies I’ve ever seen.

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Article 3752 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-10-2011
Posting Date: 11-22-2011
Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz
Featuring the talents of Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Frank Oz
Country: USA / UK
What it is: Epic fantasy, Muppet style

A gelfling is sent on quest to recover the shard of a damaged crystal and to restore it when the three suns are in conjunction. However, the evil Skekses want to prevent this…

I’ve been a long fan of Jim Henson’s muppets, though over the years, I’ve come to realize that it’s with certain reservations; I much prefer the strain of anarchist absurdism that runs through them to the touches of whimsy and cuteness. This was a real departure for them, and I have a real affection for it. The story itself is standard epic fantasy fare, but the visual splendor of the art direction and the design of the many strange creatures that inhabit this world give it a real sense of magic and fantasy. The creations are most effective when they stray as far as possible from the human form; the ones that are most human (the Gelflings and Podlings) are the least effective. However, the Garthins and the Landstriders are truly amazing, the bizarre one-eyed witch Aughra makes a serviceable Yoda substitute. My favorite shots are probably the scenes of the Mystics in their painfully slow pilgrimage across the land to the crystal.

Dracula Sucks (1980)

Article 3694 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-10-2011
Posting Date: 9-25-2011
Directed by Phillip Marshak
Featuring Jamie Gillis, Annette Haven, John Leslie
Country: USA
What it is: Porno Dracula

Dracula moves into Carfax Abbey and terrorizes the residents of Dr. Seward’s sanitarium.

After suffering through THE CASE OF THE SMILING STIFFS and PLEASE DON’T EAT MY MOTHER, I was expecting the worst from another porn horror movie, but I will give the movie some credit. It manages to at least dredge up some horror atmosphere, and it takes itself seriously enough (up to a point) that it actually ends up not being totally a joke when it actually credits Bram Stoker and his novel at the beginning. Still, just because it takes itself a bit more seriously doesn’t make it a good movie; it feels thrown together at random, especially in the way it picks key lines from the novel and throws them in just so they can be in there some place. There’s also something particularly crude and unappealing about this one; having Dracula assault Lucy when she’s on the toilet is incredibly tacky, for example. And when it does try for humor, it’s painful; most of the humor seems to come from bits of stupid dialogue added in post-processing that either have nothing to do with the action, or has people engage in pointless cussing and insulting. The worst bit of humor here is when the movie decides to include a throwback; the sole black character is one of those scared manservants that popped up constantly in the thirties, though he also serves as the resident voyeur. Richard Bulik actually does a neat imitation of Dwight Frye, and Reggie Nalder (who is listed under a pseudonym and plays the role of Van Helsing) does what he can, but it’s really a waste of time unless you’re into the porn angle.

Duel of the Titans (1961)

aka Romolo e Remo

Article 3683 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-30-2011
Posting Date: 9-14-2011
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Featuring Steve Reeves, Gordon Scott, Virna Lisi
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Historical epic

Two brothers, destined to found the city of Rome, are separated from their mother and grow up as thieves. They discover their destiny, but will it be possible for them to share the rule of their new city…?

It’s easy to forget sometimes, but quite a few of the Italian Sword and Sandal movies are not fantasies but historical epics. That’s largely the case with this one; this telling of the story of Romulus and Remus keeps the fantastic content in the background. There’s some light prophecy and talk about the brothers being the sons of a god, but these touches are so slight that they hardly count. It’s one of the better and more ambitious movies of its ilk, but that’s usually the case when Steve Reeves is on hand; furthermore, the dubbing is much more careful than usual. Still, it’s a bit on the dull side, especially during the first part before the movie finds a clear direction to go. It’s mildly entertaining, and occasionally very good, but the lack of fantastic content will probably make it one I probably won’t revisit.