Earthquake (1974)

Article 1955 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-22-2006
Posting Date: 12-19-2006
Directed by Mark Robson
Featuring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy

A huge earthquake devastates Los Angeles, affecting the lives of all in the vicinity.

I’m not sure to what extent this movie falls into the genres I’m covering. It might be considered borderline science fiction due to the fact that disasters of this magnitude could have enough of a devastating impact on the world, or it might be the plot element about the guy who has developed a way to predict earthquakes. At any rate, it’s your typical seventies disaster movie – great special effects coupled with dumb personal stories, and the usual array of character types – heroes, people for the heroes to rescue, people to die in sundry ways, people you want to die in sundry ways – you know the routine. Of course, there are lots of well-known names in the cast; outside of those listed above, we have Lorne Greene, Genevieve Bujold, Richard Roundtree, Marjoe Gortner, Barry Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan, and Victoria Principal, and former East Side Kid Gabriel Dell. There’s also the guy who plays the drunk with really bad clothes sense; he’s just who you think he is, and that alias he uses in the final credits will fool nobody. It even had a big gimmick to go with it – SENSURROUND, in which heavy bass speakers caused the the place to vibrate in selected theaters. A sequel was planned, but never made.


The Evil (1976)

THE EVIL (1976)
Article 1819 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-8-2006
Posting Date: 8-5-2006
Directed by Gus Trikonis
Featuring Richard Crenna, Joanna Pettet, Andrew Prine

A psychologist buys a mansion unaware that it is possessed by a malevolent force.

There are a few decent scares in this “house-possessed-by-malevolent-force” tale, and the acting is certainly acceptable. The cliche-ridden script is pretty weak, however. It’s one of those scripts where most of the dialogue consists of variations of the line “What is going on?”, and where character development only exists in little snippets that have so little bearing on the ultimate story that they feel like they’re there only to pad out the running time. And when the horrors start, they’re trotted out so mechanically that it almost becomes laughably predictable. As a result, the movie never really comes to life; it feels more like an exercise in formula than a fully realized movie; even the title is about as generic as they come. Watchable, but utterly uninspired, despite the presence of Victor Buono in the finale.

The Erotic Three (1969)

aka Scratch Harry
Article 1800 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-17-2006
Posting Date: 7-17-2006
Directed by Alex Matter
Featuring Christine Kelly, Harry Walker Staff, Victoria Wilde

A rich woman catches her philandering husband in the act, and concocts a plan for vengeance. However, she is caught unprepared when he responds with a plan of his own…

The title would have you believe that this is a skin-drenched piece of erotica for late night viewing, and most of the plot descriptions I’ve seen would leave you to believe the same. Well, despite the presence of some sex scenes, that’s not what this is, and those viewing the movie with that expectation will feel cheated. The opening commentary in the movie describes itself as an “amphetamine fantasy”; well, having never taken amphetamines, I can’t attest to this one way or another, but it explains all the really arty sequences. No, what this movie really is is your basic thriller about a dysfunctional married couple whose relationship turns deadly when the husband can’t pay off a debt to the mob and is forced to go to desperate means to get money. The fantastic content is embodied by the strange bespectacled character who hangs around the house unseen by the other characters but visible to us; you’ll probably figure out who he is, and once you do, you’ll have an idea on how the movie will end. The characters are unpleasant and the movie has a plethora of dull stretches, but it’s still a little better than I thought it was going to be, largely due to some touches of humor and the occasional decent plot twist. Still, it’s not really worth the time.

Eraserhead (1977)

Article 1788 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-5-2006
Posting Date: 7-5-2006
Directed by David Lynch
Featuring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph

A printer who is on vacation discovers his girlfriend has given birth to what may be a baby. When she leaves, he must care for the baby himself.

I hope no one out there goes by the above plot description to give them an idea of what this movie is like. My favorite plot description for this one was in Danny Peary’s “Cult Movies”; if I had my copy of the book handy, I’d give you his complete synopsis, which consisted of just a few words describing the movie as a series of disturbing dreams, which gives you a far better idea than I could give. I’ve heard about this movie for years, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually seen it. The best description I can give is that it’s like Cronenberg filtered through Cocteau with bits of Polanski’s REPULSION thrown in for good measure. It was shot over a five-year period, and it eventually lead to David Lynch becoming the director for THE ELEPHANT MAN. What exactly is it all about? I don’t know; there is a definite emphasis on unhealthy sexuality, and it is full of sperm imagery, but what it all means is something I would rather not speculate upon, largely because I suspect that I would be limiting this movie too much to talk of it in such terms. There are a few touches of comedy as well, but I really doubt that it’s a comedy. It’s loaded with disturbing, repellent imagery, and you’ll be grateful the movie is in black and white in some scenes. And it is clearly a genre piece; among other things, it is a fantasy movie, there’s a strong touch of horror to the proceedings, and the baby could quite accurately described as being a monster. The movie is certainly unique and personal, and may be brilliant, and I may well watch it again, but only when the mood is just right.

Embryo (1976)

EMBRYO (1976)
Article #1678 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-18-2005
Posting Date: 3-17-2006
Directed by Ralph Nelson
Featuring Rock Hudson, Barbara Carrera, Diane Ladd

After he successfully saves and raises a fetus from a dying dog through the use of a growth formula that causes it to develop at an abnormally fast pace, a scientist decides to try the same experiment with a human being.

There’s an interesting scene at the twenty minute mark of this movie. The scientist drives to a hospital with the dog he’s raised with the growth serum in the car. The dog is unusually bright, and when the doctor leaves the dog in the car and tells him to stay, he does – until the doctor is out of sight, at which point the dog unlocks the car door and goes outside. Almost immediately, a small furry dog runs up to him, barking incessantly. The doctor’s dog puts up with it for a little while, but then grabs the small dog, shakes it in his teeth and kills it, and then hides the dead dog among some plants, returns to the car and goes back inside. Up to this point, the dog has performed no violent act.

I bring up this scene because I don’t know how I feel about it. It’s the most interesting scene in the movie (and I take my hat off to the dog, who gives the best performance in the movie), but it also gives the game away; we know that the dog is evil, and we know he’s evil because he’s the result of a scientist “tampering in God’s domain”. Given the fact that the scientist is going to experiment with human subjects next, we pretty much know where the rest of the movie is going to go, and we spend the next fifty minutes of the movie waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It’s a bit of a shame; the movie bounces back and forth between being a drama and a cliche-ridden horror movie. It’s a bit like CHARLY crossed with FRANKENSTEIN (and given that director Ralph Nelson was also responsible for the earlier of those two movies, I hardly think the similarities are coincidental). Interesting scenes alternate with cliched scenes, and the movie seems to be trying to go two directions at once. It’s hard to take the movie seriously when the doctor’s creation consults a computer to find the antidote to her drug problem, only to discover that the cure involves using the pituitary glands of unborn children, a scene which so baldly sets up a horror ending that they might has well have gone all the way and said that it required the spinal fluid of freshly killed people. Actually, this shuttling back and forth does help hold up the interest level of the movie, but in the end, it really doesn’t work. In particular, I found the ending of the movie difficult to swallow, largely due to the fact that the character of the doctor isn’t really sufficiently developed to make his actions in the final moments of the movie believable. Still, there are the good moments. The best human performance comes from Roddy McDowall in a cameo as a chess champion who finds himself outclassed by the doctor’s human creation; his characterization adds some real spice to the movie.

Endless Night (1971)

Article #1504 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-27-2005
Posting Date: 9-24-2005
Directed by Sidney Gilliat
Featuring Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett, Britt Ekland

A poor man with an eye for beautiful things and great art meets a rich young woman who falls in love with him. They marry against the wishes of her relatives, and she buys a plot of land so he can have a famous architect build a dream house on the site. And then…

Though mysteries are closely aligned with horror movies, I’ve had little call to review movies based on the works of Agatha Christie, largely because her stories are really light on anything resembling horror content. This is only the second so far; the first, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, got by on its similarities to certain ‘old dark house’ thrillers, and this one has the theme of madness cropping up, as well as a couple of jarring images that border on the horrific.

You’ll notice that the plot description is fairly vague and unexciting. This was done on purpose; to have revealed more would have resulted in a barrage of spoilers. It also somewhat reflects the feel of the movie; if you hadn’t seen the name of Agatha Christie in the opening credits, you might well have wondered what kind of movie you stumbled into here. In short, the central murder doesn’t happen until the movie is nearly three-quarters of the way through; everything before that is set-up. How you react to this movie may well depend on how patient you are; those expecting a fast-paced thriller will definitely be disappointed. However, the final twists are doozies, and there’s plenty of satisfaction to be found for those willing to sit back after the movie is over and dwell on the events to see how they all fit together. At any rate, it’s no surprise to me that the movie splits reactions somewhat; some people consider it great, others consider it a bore. I lean towards the former view, myself, but I do advise patience for anyone willing to take a chance on this one.

The Earth Dies Screaming (1965)

Article #1503 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-26-2005
Posting Date: 9-23-2005
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Willard Parker, Virginia Field, Dennis Price

An American test pilot arrives in England to find almost everyone dead. He joins forces with a handful of survivors to survive an attack of robot creatures who also resurrect the corpses of the dead to do their bidding.

During the short sixty-two minute running time of this movie, I found myself being constantly reminded of other movies, such as VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (the people dropping in their tracks), THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (survivors just happened to be in the right circumstances to survive), TARGET EARTH (residents in an empty city battling slow-moving robots), and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (the newly risen dead with blank eyeballs). In feel, it mostly reminds me of THE SLIME PEOPLE, though I do think it’s a little better than that movie. Terence Fisher does what he can; he generally keeps the pace up, and this goes a long way to keeping the movie from buckling under its rushed, underdeveloped script. The latter is written by Harry Spalding under the name Henry Cross, and I find his scripts terribly uneven; he gave us THE DAY MARS INVADED EARTH, HOUSE OF THE DAMNED, WITCHCRAFT (1964) and contributed to THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS; though these movies have their supporters, I myself feel that for the most part, they fall short of being effective. Also, don’t hold your breath waiting for an explanation of what’s going on; there’s none forthcoming. All in all, it’s better than it could have been, but still it’s all rather dreary.