Death at Love House (1976)

Article 3337 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-17-2010
Posting Date: 10-3-2010
Directed by E.W. Swackhamer
Featuring Robert Wagner, Kate Jackson, Sylvia Sidney
Country: USA
What it is: TV-movie ghost story

A writer and his pregnant wife move into the mansion of a deceased Hollywood actress who had an affair with the writer’s father. Mysterious things begin happening. Could the actress be haunting the mansion?

There’s a couple of decent ideas in the basic story here, but a weak script, indifferent direction, and an overfamiliar approach to the story all conspire to make this one mediocre at best. I don’t know how often I’ve seen the basic scenario here; husband and wife move into new home, husband begins acting distant, detached and hostile, wife feels neglected, frightened and in danger of her life… really, you need something pretty striking to add to this mix to make this scenario compelling, and the movie never comes up with anything to do the trick. A few cameos from Joan Blondell, John Carradine and Dorothy Lamour add to the interest level a little, but the movie fails to follow up on some of its more interesting details, such as the stuffed cat that may keep reappearing as a living cat. In short, this is largely a tepid, uninspired TV-movie offering.


The Day of the Dolphin (1973)

Article 3336 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-16-2010
Posting Date: 10-2-2010
Directed by Mike Nichols
Featuring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Paul Sorvino
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction thriller/drama

A scientist has learned to teach a dolphin how to talk, and is trying to keep the discovery a secret to keep his test subject from becoming the sensation of a media circus. Unfortunately, he encounters resistance from a nosy writer who blackmails his way onto the island where the experiments are conducted, and also from the company who is financing the experiments. Little does he know that he has even more to worry about…

You know, I try to keep my plot descriptions from giving away too much of the story, but sometimes I feel that it’s a lost cause, especially when every other plot description I’ve encountered of the movie and the actual tagline used in the advertising give away a plot point that doesn’t appear until eighty percent of the movie is over. Granted, I understand the logic of giving away that plot point; the advertising people have to try to sell the movie in the way they think will bring in the most viewers, and emphasizing the thriller aspects of this movie no doubt seemed like the best way to go about it. Still, I can imagine that early viewers, drawn by he advertising, might find the movie wastes an awful lot of time before it gets down to the meat of the story, and word of mouth would probably suffice to keep the movie from being a hit; it was a box office failure. But then, the thriller aspect of the story isn’t really the heart of the matter here; what really seems to matter to the makers of the film is the emotional bond that results between the scientist and the dolphin, and the thriller aspects of the story largely exist to drive the central characters into making some very difficult decisions concerning their relationships. Watch it for the thrills and you’ll be disappointed. Watch it for the emotional resonance and you’ll find it a lot more powerful. Good performances from George C. Scott, Paul Sorvino and Fritz Weaver help the movie quite a bit.

Death to Sister Mary (1974)

aka Murder is a One-Act Play
Article 3312 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-23-2010
Posting Date: 9-8-2010
Directed by Robert D. Cardona
Featuring Robert Powell, Jennie Linden, George Maharis
Country: UK
What it is: “Thriller” episode with psycho killer

The actress playing Sister Mary in the TV show “Saints and Sinners” discovers that a man has organized a fan club for her character. However, this fan has trouble separating her TV persona from her real-life identity… and he’ll resort to drastic means to keep her character safe and his illusions intact.

I believe this is the fourth time I’ve covered what amounts to an episode of the British TV series “Thriller”. I don’t recall having cared for the others I’ve seen, but I quite like this one, mainly because I find the nature of the psycho’s illness here pretty interesting, and I like the performance by Robert Powell in the role, as he plays him not as a sadistic fiend, but as an almost fragile man whose illusion may be the only thing holding him together. Certain touches are particularly telling; when he almost fatally injures a cast member and then discovers that the TV show has Sister Mary distraught over the character’s disappearance, his remorse is very telling. I’m not sure I buy what the psycho’s final solution to his problem turns out to be, but the show sells it well enough that it satisfied me. In short, this makes for one of the more offbeat psycho killer movies I’ve seen to date, even if it is technically an episode of a TV show.

Dick Barton: Special Agent (1948)

Article 3279 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-12-2010
Posting Date: 8-6-2010
Directed by Alfred J. Goulding
Featuring Don Stannard, George Ford, Gillian Maude
Country: UK
What it is: Uneven spy melodrama

Dick Barton investigates a smuggling operation that actually seems to have a more sinister intent up its sleeve.

This movie was based on a popular British radio series. All I can say is that this series must have been really popular if this movie managed to spout two sequels. It’s half ineffectual comedy and half campy heroics. The script is a mess, and the combination of static direction and frantic but substandard editing makes for a confusing and unpleasant viewing experience; it feels somewhat like you’re listening to a song where one of the musicians is consistently off a half-beat throughout. The low budget really shows in the use of sound; several of the scenes feel like a redubbed silent movie with the words not matching the mouths, and when the foley artists decide to add fight sounds to the fight scenes (which they don’t always see fit to do), they don’t make any attempt to match the sounds up to the action. And as for the visual aspect of the fight scenes, I haven’t seen this many missed hits since the last time I saw a “Starman” movie. The fantastic content involves vials of super-germs, which never actually get used, so the movie remains pretty marginal overall. Reportedly, the movie is a lot more fun if you’re a kid. Also, I hear tell that the sequels are vast improvements over this one. Since I’ll eventually be watching them, I’ll find out for myself.

Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)

Article 3236 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-29-2010
Posting Date: 6-24-2010
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick, Gerald Sim
Country: UK
What it is: Jekyll/Hyde variation

Dr. Jekyll is searching for the elixir of life and finds it in female hormones. However, the hormones have a side effect of changing the sex of the user. And his methods of acquiring materials for his experiments requires some drastic means…

This was another of Hammer’s attempts at the Jekyll and Hyde story, and is perhaps the most gimmicky film they put out. The gimmick itself is captured in the title, and the promise in the ads that “the sexual transformation of a man into a woman will actually take place before your very eyes” was destined to be disappointing when you consider the movie’s PG rating in the states. For good measure, writer Brian Clemens throws in the Burke and Hare story and the Jack the Ripper story into the mix; of course, they make hash of the original novel (Jekyll is hardly less evil than Hyde here), but we should probably be grateful that the movie doesn’t fall apart at the seams; it’s actually a fairly entertaining Hammer film. Still, this is one of the dimmer Dr. Jekylls I’ve ever encountered; he apparently can’t remember that there are simply times when one must wash ones bloody hands and lock ones door. Ralph Bates gives one of his better performances here; in fact the whole cast is fairly strong. Not the best Dr. Jekyll movie out there by a long shot, but far from an embarrassment.

Dracula (1979)

DRACULA (1979)
Article 3210 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2010
Posting Date: 5-29-2010
Directed by John Badham
Featuring Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence
Country: USA/UK
What it is: Another take on the Stoker classic

Dracula arrives in England and takes possession of Carfax Abbey. He begins preying on the women staying at Dr. Jack Seward’s home, which is also an insane asylum.

Sometimes I marvel at the way adaptations will take the various elements of a novel and rearrange them. Like most of the other versions I’ve seen, this adaptation dispenses with the Arthur and Quincy characters. However, in this one, Dr. Seward has been changed from one of Lucy’s suitors to Lucy’s father. Mina has become the daughter of Van Helsing. The roles of Mina and Lucy have been somewhat reversed, making Jonathan Harker (who never goes to Transylvania) the beloved of Lucy. This is one of the few adaptations to retain a character called Mr. Swales, (the role I played on stage in a local version of the story); however, his character has been completely changed to that of one of the asylum attendants.

None of these changes would really make a big deal of difference if the movie worked. And, to be truthful, the movie works middlingly well, thanks in part to an interesting performance by Frank Langella in the title role; he manages to come up with his own interpretation that doesn’t owe a lot to either Lugosi or Lee. Certain key phrases and moments do pop up in this version, though at odd and unexpected times, and some of the changes are clever. However, on the disappointing side, the character of Renfield is severely reduced here, and Van Helsing himself isn’t near as formidable a foe to Dracula as he was in other versions of the story. However, most disappointing at all is that the movie really isn’t scary; despite all the atmosphere, the movie feels a bit distant and dry. The movie also marks a turning point in the perception of vampires; the recent perceptions of vampires as hot, sexy, romantic figures may well have its start here. Granted, that’s been a subtext in the story for many years, but this movie moves it from subtext to text. Personally, I think something is lost when that happens, and I do feel it’s interesting that, unlike the original Universal and Hammer outings, this one inspired no sequels.

Death Ship (1980)

Article 3209 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-1-2010
Posting Date: 5-28-2010
Directed by Alvin Rakoff
Featuring George Kennedy, Richard Crenna, Nick Mancuso
Country: UK/Canada
What it is: Haunted ship movie

A cruise ship is purposefully rammed and sunk by another ship in the night. The survivors, initially in a lifeboat, climb aboard a deserted black ship anchored in the middle of nowhere. But the ship has a will of its own, and it wants blood…

Given that this movie was made right in the middle of the slasher craze, it had the potential to be real novelty item for the time, and as the movie starts to unfold, I was really hoping for something good. And, sporadically, it delivers; I especially love when the ship appears out of nowhere behind the lifeboat. It’s also graced with a decent, solid cast who gives it their all. Unfortunately, the script is inconsistent, and it gets more muddled, confusing, and illogical as the movie proceeds. It’s one of those movies that starts trying anything for a scare, whether it makes sense within the context of the story or not, and eventually it founders due to its lack of direction. It’s a real shame; this could have been so much better. Still, I do have one question; during the course of the movie, an old movie musical gets shown in a projection room where little people come out of the sheet music on a piano and dance; I’d love to know which movie this is from.