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.

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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.

The Dark (1979)

THE DARK (1979)
Article 3457 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-23-2010
Posting Date: 1-31-2011
Directed by John “Bud” Cardos and Tobe Hooper
Featuring William Devane, Cathy Lee Crosby, Richard Jaeckel
Country: USA
What it is: Extraterrestrial/zombie movie

Someone or something has been killing people nightly, and the police can’t capture it. A writer and a reporter team up to catch it.

The killer turns out to be an extraterrestrial, and that’s not a spoiler since it’s given away in the opening crawl. It also mentions it in the closing crawl. As for the rest of the movie, there’s a passing comment about it being an extraterrestrial, but that’s never really established anywhere else in the movie. Apparently, that’s because the monster was originally supposed to be a zombie, but the movie was so poorly received in that form that it was reedited to make it seem like an extraterrestrial instead. It apparently didn’t help; the movie has a fairly poor reputation, and I was expecting a truly horrible stinker. In truth, I found it tolerable; it’s not good, but the only thing that really annoyed me was that “scary” whispered voice that sounded like it was speaking Esperanto when it wasn’t saying “Darkness” over and over again. The monster costume was lame, but the movie mostly keeps it in the dark. Some of the dialogue is also quite silly. But I did like the odd touches to the plot enough that the movie never really got on my wrong side. By the way, Angelo Rossitto pops up once again as a newsboy, and on checking his info on IMDB, I just learned that he was born in Omaha, where I currently live.

Deadly Blessing (1981)

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)

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.