Endangered Species (1982)

ENDANGERED SPECIES (1982)
Article 3472 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-10-2011
Posting Date: 2-15-2011
Directed by Alan Rudolph
Featuring Robert Urich, JoBeth Williams, Paul Dooley
Country: USA
What it is: Cattle mutilation thriller

A renegade ex-cop joins forces with the female sheriff in a small Colorado town to investigate the cause of mysterious cattle mutilations occurring in the area.

Director Alan Rudolph has delved into fantastically-themed cinema before; he gave us NIGHTMARE CIRCUS, aka BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD. For what it’s worth, this movie is much better than that one. The movie actually builds a nice sense of mystery about the cause of the mutilations, which is a bit surprising, because it actually gives away the game early on in the proceedings. At one point or another, several of the more common theories for the mutilations are trotted out, some of which are obviously smokescreens and others distinct possibilities. Director Alan Rudolph has worked with Robert Altman on occasion, and there are moments where the complexity of the characters here shows a bit of that influence, but sometimes the extra character development seems extraneous and distracting. Overall, I quite like the movie, but found the ending confusing and a bit muddled, and there’s still a few unanswered questions. In short, this one is interesting, if not quite successful.

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Evil Stalks this House (1981)

EVIL STALKS THIS HOUSE (1981)
TV-Movie
Article 3372 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-25-2010
Posting Date: 11-7-2010
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Featuring Jack Palance, Cindy Hinds, Helen Hughes
Country: USA / Canada
What it is: Strange little horror movie

A father and his two children become stranded on a lonely road when their car breaks down. They take refuge in the home of two old women and their dimwitted son. The man plots a scheme to loot the home, but it turns out the two old women aren’t quite as helpless as they seem…

Near as I can figure, this movie is edited from episodes of the pilot of a TV series called “Tales of the Haunted”, which would have featured Christopher Lee as a host/narrator. The time is listed as 96 minutes, but the only version I’ve been able to find runs slightly under an hour, and Lee is noticeably absent; the abrupt editing of some of the scenes shows that a lot of trimming went into this. The story starts out in typical “old dark house” fashion, but rapidly goes off in its own direction. The main villain is the father, and Jack Palance plays him as an almost cartoonish parody of the actor at his most malevolent; every line is delivered in whispery menace, whether it’s appropriate or not. Not that this really damages the movie much; the whole movie is a bit of goofy lark, and works pretty well in that mode. We get a mysterious witch cult, a deadly spider, and a pit of quicksand in an unlikely place to enliven the proceedings. The ending is a bit of a jawdropper, but within the context of the rest of the movie, it fits in well enough.

Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey into Perversion (1970)

EUGENIE… THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1970)
aka Eugenie
Article 3362 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-15-2010
Posting Date: 10-28-2010
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Maria Rohm, Marie Liljedahl, Jack Taylor
Country: Spain / West Germany
What it is: Jess Franco movie

A businessman is seduced into letting his daughter spend a weekend with a libertine brother and sister on an island. Their designs on her are certainly not innocent…

Look at the title. Now look at the director. Know that the movie is based on a book by the Marquis de Sade. Quite frankly, this told me a lot about the movie already, and it’s pretty much what I expected. The biggest question I had going in was whether this was going to turn out to be Franco in top form or Franco on automatic. It’s the former; it’s definitely one of Franco’s better movies, and he shows a real commitment to it; from what I hear, it’s the movie of his Franco says he hates the least. Granted, it’s an acquired taste, and since I don’t share his fascination with de Sade, my use for it is very limited. But that doesn’t mean the movie lacks a point and a purpose. The horror content becomes clearer near the end, as it involves human sacrifice; the movie is also somewhat ambiguous as to whether it’s really happening or all a dream. At any rate, like it or not, it does appear to be one of Franco’s touchstones.

The Eyes Behind the Stars (1978)

THE EYES BEHIND THE STARS (1978)
aka Occhi dalle stelle
Article 3348 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-29-2010
Posting Date: 10-14-2010
Directed by Mario Gariazzo
Featuring Robert Hoffmann, Nathalie Delon, Martin Balsam
Country: Italy
What it is: UFO conspiracy movie

A photographer and a model encounter UFOs and are kidnapped. Reporters and police investigate. A secret group tries to cover up the story.

I like the title; it has a nice poetic feel to it. It’s a pity that the movie itself is a dull and tired affair. It’s one of those movies that I like to place in a special subset of science fiction movies that are primarily of interest to those who firmly believe that we have been visited by UFOs constantly over the last fifty years but, due to a government conspiracy, all knowledge has been suppressed. This movie is pretty much a sop to that outlook, and the minute the brutal cover-up group known as the Silencers shows up, I saw this turning into a typical conspiracy thriller with the usual ending, and that’s just what it is. I’d say the movie is a downer, except saying that would imply that the movie engaged you enough to get you emotionally involved in the first place, and such is not the case. There are much better UFO and conspiracy movies out there.

The Evictors (1979)

THE EVICTORS (1979)
Article 3347 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-28-2010
Posting Date: 10-13-2010
Directed by Charles B. Pierce
Featuring Vic Morrow, Michael Parks, Jessica Harper
Country: USA
What it is: Horror thriller

During World War II, a young couple moves to a farmhouse in Louisiana so that the man will have a job that will make him too valuable domestically to be drafted. However, the house has a history of violent death somehow tied to an eviction fourteen years earlier that turned violent.

I don’t mind the deliberate pacing of this horror thriller, though a horror movie that goes on for almost twenty-five minutes before it even hints that it may be a horror movie is bound to turn off some people. I also really like the strong period and regional flavor of the movie. And, as a thriller, it works well enough for most of the movie. The movie loses steam near the end, though, as it starts relying on plot twists that tie the action to the somewhat muddled and confusing opening eviction sequence. Then it tries for one final twist which is especially hard to swallow, partially because there’s no logical reason for it and partially because it’s hard to believe that someone would go for nineteen years without replacing a broken pair of reading glasses. It’s supposedly based on a true story, but count me among the dubious.

The Elephant Man (1980)

THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)
Article 3346 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-27-2010
Posting Date: 10-12-2010
Directed by David Lynch
Featuring Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft
Country: USA
What it is: Biography of a deformed man

A noted doctor rescues a hideously deformed man from a freak show. But can this man ever hope to have a normal life in his new environment?

This is one of those movies that always brings tears to my eyes when I watch it. Granted, that’s one of the intentions of the movie, and occasionally it tries a little too hard to jerk the tears; there’s a number of lines and moments that would benefit from a bit of rewriting and careful pruning. Yet these moments don’t damage the movie as a whole because there’s something so compelling in the way that the movie tries to get us to understand and empathize with John Merrick and what his life must be like having been born with such extreme deformities. It makes sense that he might himself weep when the doctor’s wife treats him with courtesy; the idea that a pretty woman might treat him this way after all the others have run away screaming may be unthinkable to him. No, the movie doesn’t turn away from the darkness or difficulties; we have moments where the doctor ponders his own morality in his use of John Merrick, and even when the actress visits Merrick, there is a real awkwardness to the meeting that makes one wonder whether the she herself is questioning her own motives. And the lower class exploiters (Bytes and the night porter) are never very far away. Mel Brooks of all people was an executive producer, albeit uncredited, and this would be the second full-length movie made by cult director David Lynch; it would prove to be one of the real anomalies in his oeuvre.

As a final note, I always found it interesting that the stage production Merrick attends near the end of the movie seemed more like a compendium of special effects than a real-life stage production. It was only watching it this time that I realized that we were seeing it through Merrick’s eyes, and it made me wonder what it would have been like had I never seen a movie in my life but was then allowed to see one and only one; I wonder how my memory would have recorded that experience.

8 1/2 (1963)

8 1/2 (1963)
Article 3297 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-8-2010
Posting Date: 8-24-2010
Directed by Federico Fellini
Featuring Marcello Mastrioianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Art film, Fellini style

A filmmaker suffering from artistic block has to contend with the making of his next movie as well as dealing with the complications of his love life.

This is the first time for this series that I’ve had to contend with a full-length movie by Fellini, though I’ve encountered him twice before in individual segments of the anthology films BOCCACCIO ’70 and SPIRITS OF THE DEAD; in both of the other cases, he was the best thing about them. This is a dizzying exploration of creativity, honesty, love, and whatever else Fellini had in mind for it. The plot summary above only gives the bare bones of what is going on in the movie, though it does serve as a starting pointing for trying to grasp it all. I’m not going to claim that I understand it all enough to give a worthwhile critique, though I do admit that I was enthralled enough by some of the scenes that I consider it a movie worthy of fairly deep exploration. The opening and closing sequences are particularly engrossing, and there are moments where it seems the movie they’re trying to make is the very movie we’re watching, and I can’t help but note that many of the characters in the movie have the same name as the actors playing them. As in many of the art films I’ve covered, the fantastic content may simply be that movies like this stretch the bounds so far that they become de facto fantasies. There are certain more substantial elements, though; the opening dream sequence has a flying man, and the movie that the director is making appears to be at least partially a science fiction movie involving nuclear war and spaceships. As for the title, Fellini had directed 7 1/2 pictures up to this point (the half was for a picture he co-directed), so the number for this one was 8 1/2. Horror fans may take note of the presence of Barbara Steele in the movie, which isn’t surprising; given Fellini’s love of interesting faces, it’s easy to see why he would cast her.