Deadly Blessing (1981)

Article 3451 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-17-2010
Posting Date: 1-25-2011
Directed by Wes Craven
Featuring Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner
Country: USA
What it is: Odd Hittite horror film

A woman’s ex-Hittite husband is killed by a tractor. Two friends of the woman come and stay with her, but the local Hittites object to their presence… and there are killers about.

I saw this movie on TV many years ago, and I swear that the final scene was cut. I’m not sure why that would have been the case, as there doesn’t appear to be anything in the scene to make it objectionable, but it did leave me a little confused at the end. Not that I’m really less confused after having seen the ending, mind you. I’ve heard some claim that this is one of Wes Craven’s best movies, while I’ve heard others dismiss is as a misfire. I can actually understand both reactions; the Hittite milieu gives it a truly different flavor, and the movie, though made of some common elements, is fairly original. However, I’m not sure it holds together, especially after watching the whole thing; the revelations at the end still leave me wondering who exactly was responsible for what murder where, with the final revelation feeling almost tacked on. Ernest Borgnine gives a very focused performance as the Hittite elder, and the scary-looking Michael Berryman is also memorable as a Hittite man-child. There’s some good scenes here, some of which are hard to forget. If it’s a misfire, at least it’s not an uninteresting one.


The Death Ray Mirror of Dr. Mabuse (1964)

aka The Secret of Dr. Mabuse, Die Todesstrahlen des Dr. Mabuse
Article 3426 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-21-2010
Posting Date: 12-31-2010
Directed by Hugo Fregonese and Victor De Santis
Featuring Peter van Eyck, O.E.Hasse, Yvonne Furneaux
Country: West Germany / France / Italy
What it is: Mabuse in decline

An espionage agent of the Secret Service is sent to prevent a death ray from falling into the hands of arch-criminal Dr. Mabuse.

This was the final movie of the series of Dr. Mabuse movies from the early sixties, and it is generally considered the worst. I think if you’d wanted a clue that the series was going downhill, you need look no further than the title; the death ray is perhaps the most hackneyed of superweapons, and the fact that this series resorts to its use marks a real lack of imagination. Of course, the decline of the series was inevitable; once the popularity of the James Bond movies had established itself, I would imagine that any series that lent itself to that approach would succumb to being retooled as faux Bond, and sure enough, that’s what we have here. The story is weak and confusing, and lacks any of the charm and imagination of the earlier Mabuse films. For that matter, Mabuse is hardly in it. No wonder the series ended here.

Il Dottor Crippen e vivo (1958)

aka Dr. Crippen Lives, Dr. Crippen lebt
Article 3410 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-3-2010
Posting Date: 12-15-2010
Directed by Erich Engels
Featuring Elisabeth Muller, Peter van Eyck, Fritz Tillmann
Country: West Germany
What it is: Crime thriller

Police are on the trail of the mass murderer, Dr. Crippen.

This one fell off my hunt list and ended up on my “ones that got away” list some time ago, so I’m glad it turned up. However, the only copy I could find was dubbed into Italian and has no English subtitles. Furthermore, this is a fairly talky movie, and this makes it very difficult to follow for me due to the language barrier. I don’t know how interesting the talk is, but from the way it looks now, it seems to be a dull little movie with very little action and only slight fantastic content with the mass-murdering Crippen, and he really doesn’t appear until the end of the movie. Still, I’m glad to be able to check this one off the list.

Death Watch (1980)

aka La mort en direct
Article 3370 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-23-2010
Posting Date: 11-5-2010
Directed by Bernard Tavernier
Featuring Romy Schneider, Harvey Keitel, Harry Dean Stanton
Country: France / West Germany / UK
What it is: Science fiction drama

A television cameraman has a camera installed in his brain and eyes. He has been hired by the makers of a reality TV show to follow and record the final months of life of a woman who is dying of terminal disease.

Given the way “Reality TV” has taken over the television airwaves (although I should point out that I consider much of what passes for the form to be merely elaborate game shows of one sort or another), this movie remains quite relevant, and one can see the possibility of a show like this actually coming into being, though I suspect it would be more likely to attract exhibitionists as its subjects rather than those who, like the woman in the story, find their death to be a very private experience. The movie is a bit too long and things occasionally get vague and muddled, but the cast and performances are excellent, particularly from Romy Schneider as the dying woman and Harvey Keitel as the man with the camera in his eyes. Certain scenes stand out very strongly; my favorite involves a very long tracking shot in which the camera follows a limo driver (played by Robbie Coltrane) walking through a village marketplace looking for the dying woman who is making her escape, and then following the woman as she goes through the marketplace and makes her way to the dock. The movie also features good performances from Harry Dean Stanton and Max von Sydow (who doesn’t appear until the end of the movie). The movie explores the themes of greed, guilt and redemption, and the ending is powerful and moving as much for what it doesn’t show as for what it does. In the end, the movie is flawed but memorable, and well worth watching.

Day of the Nightmare (1965)

Article 3363 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-16-2010
Posting Date: 10-29-2010
Directed by John A. Bushelman
Featuring John Ireland, Beverly Bain, Cliff Fields
Country: USA
What it is: Psycho-killer, sleazy style

A tortured artist is under suspicion for the murder of a model. Meanwhile, his wife is being terrorized by a strange woman in sunglasses.

The second I saw the woman in the sunglasses, I pretty much knew the general arc of the story, and nothing the movie did from that moment on surprised me. In place of coming up with an interesting variant to a familiar story, the movie fills itself with sleaze (lots of topless women), plays up the artist’s sexual hangups (among other things, he’s into sadism and voyeurism; he pays women to make out in front of him while he breaks down in tears from shame and guilt) caused by having witnessed his mother making love to a man other than her husband. Some plot descriptions of this one talk about a woman coming back from the dead, though I didn’t see notice anything to support that story line, but then, the movie is just muddled enough that maybe it just failed to clearly establish that the woman in the sunglasses was supposed to be dead. Unless you’re into sleaze or find the sexual hang-ups fascinating (I find them silly and overdone here), there will be little to hold your interest.

Dracula and Son (1976)

aka Dracula pere et fils
Article 3358 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-11-2010
Posting Date: 10-24-2010
Directed by Edouard Molinaro
Featuring Christopher Lee, Bernard Menez, Marie-Helene Breillat
Country: France
What it is: Vampire comedy

When revolution drives them away from their castle in Transylvania, Dracula and his son escape to Paris and London respectively.

First of all, I think it’s important to specify that I saw the 79 minute English dubbed version of this movie. This is an important detail, because reportedly this version made mincemeat of the original French version of the film, and even if you didn’t know that from the outset, you’d be able to tell; there’s a lot of annoying narration, there’s an enormous amount of dubbed talking going on when none of the characters appear to be moving their mouths, many of the jokes seem geared to Americans (such as the fact that the son is dubbed with a Don Adams impersonation), and the repeated sequence that purports to be a scene of a movie being shot is obviously the same footage again and again, probably taken out of context from another part of the movie. Especially disappointing is the fact that Christopher Lee was dubbed by someone else; Lee claims he dubbed his own voice, but it looks like they didn’t use his dub, probably because of the heavy doctoring of the script that no doubt occurred. This version is a very silly movie, with weird self-referential jokes (the father becomes famous because he looks like Christopher Lee) and endless celebrity impersonations. Reportedly, the original version had some political themes, but little of that seems left. It’s sporadically amusing but mostly dumb. I may have to find a subtitled copy of the original movie to judge it fairly, so for now, it’s best to realize that my comments here refer only to the English language version.

Dr. Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo (1972)

aka Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf
Article 3345 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-27-2010
Posting Date: 10-11-2010
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Featuring Paul Naschy, Shirley Corrigan, Jack Taylor
Country: Spain
What it is: Monster mash

When an English couple visits Transylvania, the husband is killed by thugs, but the wife is saved by Waldemar Daninsky. She takes him to England to cure him of his lycanthropy… to a certain Dr. Jekyll.

It’s a good thing Paul Naschy’s sincere love of the classic monsters counts for a lot; otherwise, there wouldn’t be a lot to recommend in this somewhat stolid and muddled compendium of horror cliches mixed with bizarre plot elements and an eye towards exploitation. Some of the plot elements are real head-scratchers; if someone out there can logically explain why turning Waldemar into Mr. Hyde will cure him of his lycanthropy, I’d love to hear it. As usual, Naschy gets to play both hero and monster, with the real villains of the movie being some boorish villagers and Dr. Jekyll’s insanely jealous (and just plain insane) girlfriend. Still, some good ideas pop up; I like the concept that one of the rampages occurs because Waldemar is caught in a malfunctioning elevator for a long period of time. Still, I’m willing to bet the original language version is better than the dubbed one I’ve seen. Leon Klimovsky’s direction is pretty pedestrian, but I will have to admit having been totally blindsided by an unexpectedly arty transformation sequence near the end of the movie. This is not one of the better Waldemar Daninsky movies, but it’s not the worst either.