El extrano caso del hombre y el bestia (1951)

EL EXTRANO CASO DEL HOMBRE Y EL BESTIA (1951)
aka The Man and the Beast
Article 2459 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-26-2007
Posting Date: 5-6-2008
Directed by Mario Soffici
Featuring Martha Atoche, Ana Maria Campoy, Jose Cibrian
Country: Argentina

A bestial man is the focus of curiosity, and he has some relation to a respected physician known as Jekyll.

This Argentine movie is in unsubtitled Spanish, but given that it’s based on a famous story with many other film versions, it really wasn’t too difficult to piece together what was going on. Still, the first half of the movie mostly consists of talk, and it would have been nice to know better what was going on. The story was updated to the present, and there is a memorable sequence where the doctor transforms in a subway tunnel while the train passes by. It’s also one of those versions of the story that hones a little closer to the original novel than others. Outside of that, the main thing I noticed is that the Mr. Hyde character bears more than a passing resemblance to Erich Von Stroheim, and the odd fact that Jekyll actually loses most of his hair during his transformation.

 

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The Extraordinary Seaman (1969)

THE EXTRAORDINARY SEAMAN (1969)
Article 2454 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-21-2007
Posting Date: 5-1-2008
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Featuring David Niven, Faye Dunaway, Alan Alda

During World War II, four sailors left adrift in a lifeboat find themselves taken aboard a beached boat captained by a strange British officer. They help him to relaunch the boat ostensibly to take them to Australia, but they find that the officer is a ghost with plans of his own.

John Frankenheimer is the man responsible for such fine movies as THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY and SECONDS. He also gave us this, one of the lousiest, most lifeless fantasy/comedies ever made. This movie is so devoid of laughs and energy that I find myself really curious about the history of the movie; it feels as if the movie was directed on autopilot, and of the actors, only Alan Alda seems to be putting forth any effort. But then, only him and David Niven have characters of any interest; Faye Dunaway gets to be a tough girl with a gun in the opening scenes and then becomes a nonentity, Jack Carter is given little more to do than to like motorbikes, and Mickey Rooney’s character consists of a single running joke; he thinks everyone is Japanese. Attempts to liven the humor with a lot of stock footage and (purportedly) funny commentary does little more than give the movie a sense of half-assed desperation. The best thing about the movie is the running time, as it clocks in at eighty minutes; someone knew that this waste of time didn’t merit being any longer.

 

End of the World (1977)

END OF THE WORLD (1977)
Article 2370 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-21-2007
Posting Date: 2-7-2008
Directed by John Hayes
Featuring Christopher Lee, Sue Lyon, Kirk Scott
A scientist investigates messages from outer space that coincide with recent natural disasters. He tracks the messages to a seemingly peaceful convent, which he investigates. The convent is not what it seems…

Given that disaster movies were at their most popular in the seventies, I can easily envision people being drawn into this one by the title expecting the ultimate in that genre. If they did, they most likely walked away disgusted. If you go in expecting more of what it really is (a rather cheesy low-budget late-seventies science fiction movie), it has its moments. The opening scene pretty much steals the movie; it catches your attention and draws you in enough that you find yourself being patient with the unfocused, muddled and slow-moving script for a little while, but only for a little while. Most of the title action consists of stock footage. The movie seems to promise a certain degree of star power, what with Christopher Lee, Dean Jagger and Lew Ayres in the cast, but only Lee has a significant role; the others only appear in cameos, with the scene featuring Ayres being especially gratuitous, as it introduces a character who has played no role in the proceeding up to that time, and will proceed to play no role in the succeeding scenes. The movie contains one of my least favorite recurring plot elements of science fiction movies; namely, the aliens who have mastered interstellar travel needing the help of Earth scientists to get something done. You’ll probably shake your head in disbelief when the head alien tells the scientist that, were he to come with him to his Utopian alien society, they would use his scientific knowledge for good rather than for destructive purposes as he does on Earth; this is especially hard-to-swallow given that the purpose of the alien’s visit to Earth is nothing if not destructive. On the plus side, at least the score is appropriate to the action of the movie.

 

Empire of the Ants (1977)

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977)
Article 2307 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-20-2007
Posting Date: 12-6-2007
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Featuring Joan Collins, Robert Lansing, John David Carson

Several people take a tour of swamp land in the Everglades in the hopes of investing their money, but they only uncover horror when they encounter giant ants.

1977 was a significant year in the history of movies; it was the year STAR WARS changed the whole meaning of movie blockbusters, and the movie industry was changed by it, though not necessarily for the better in the opinions of many people. Somehow, though, I find it comforting that the same year that one came out, this one, an old-fashioned “giant monsters on the loose” flick from none other than Bert I. Gordon, also came out. It’s been quite a while since I covered one of his movies, and seeing his name again (and again and again) in the opening credits made me look forward to the movie a little. Unfortunately, it’s pretty awful, and not near as much fun as his earlier movies. The opening narration was fun in a goofy way, but once we reach the swampland, we get hung up in extended scenes of character development that you know full well will have no impact on the plot. The monster attacks are also annoying; once the people get close enough to the ants that they have to switch to the giant models, the camerawork gets so jerky (probably to cover up how bad the models are) that they’re nearly unwatchable. Furthermore, the movie is screechy; between the screaming women and the screaming ants you’re liable to get a headache. I do kind of like the bizarre twists toward the end of the movie, which seems to come out of nowhere until it finally hooks up to some information brought forward (and emphasized) in the prologue. Still, the best thing about this movie to my mind may be something that only exists in my imagination. To me, the final freeze frame of the movie looks for all the world like a huge question mark, the type that you put after the phrase “THE END” (which, incidentally, does not appear) to indicate that the horror is going to continue. If the last bit was intentional, it was pretty clever. Still, I’m not sure it’s worth going through the whole movie just to see it.

 

Eye of the Cat (1969)

EYE OF THE CAT (1969)
Article 2303 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-16-2007
Posting Date: 12-2-2007
Directed by David Lowell Rich
Featuring Michael Sarrazin, Gayle Hunnicutt, Eleanor Parker

A woman dying of emphysema has decided to will all her money to her cats unless her favorite nephew decides to move in with her. This prompts the woman’s hairdresser into contacting the nephew and setting up a plot to murder the aunt for her money. Unfortunately, the nephew suffers from a dread fear of cats…

The basic premise of this horror story is rather silly, but it’s far from unworkable, and in the right hands it could be effective enough. Unfortunately, the movie is only occasionally in the right hands. Its worst problem is that it’s largely setting itself up for the big ending, and once you have all the pieces in place for that, you still have a lot of time to fill, and the movie really doesn’t effectively fill it; the first hour of the movie is very slow, wanders off into tangents, and only occasionally holds the interest. The movie really kicks into high gear with an exciting scene in which a wheelchair shorts out, and from here the movie never lets up, though I do feel that the movie ends up giving away one of its main plot twists too early in the proceeding. The movie does a fine job of turning house cats into creatures of terror, and I also like the somewhat odd ending, though I could see how others might be disappointed by it. If the first hour of the movie was good, I’d recommend it; as it is, wise use of the fast forward button improves things immensely.

 

Escape from New York (1981)

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)
Article 2276 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-15-2007
Posting Date: 11-5-2007
Directed by John Carpenter
Featuring Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine

When the president is forced to use an escape pod when his plane has been hijacked by terrorists, he ends up landing in Manhattan, which has been converted into a massive prison due to the increase of crime. A bank robber is recruited by the police to go in, find the president, and bring him out.

Personally, I find the whole premise of the movie (that New York has been converted into a maximum security prison by 1988, seven years after the movie was made) to be utterly far-fetched, but the truth of the matter is that it hardly matters; the movie seems to be aspiring to a light-hearted goofiness that renders any sort of strict realism to be beside the point, and under such circumstances, I find the premise rather engaging. This is the second of John Carpenter’s movies that I’ve covered, and I like the way he tells his story; he keeps things smooth and efficient, but he avoids rushing and doesn’t attempt to overwhelm you with dazzle. He also gathered together a great cast, with Kurt Russell (as the memorably named Snake Plissken), Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine (who practically steals the movie as a chatty cabbie who somehow always manages to be there when you really need him), Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton and Adrienne Barbeau (whose costume almost steals the movie as well). I can’t bring myself to call it a great movie, but I do think it’s very good, and my biggest complaint is that I wish Kurt Russell would speak just a little bit louder; otherwise, his performance is fine. My favorite touches include one of the best running jokes in history (involving speculation on Snake Plissken’s current status vis-a-vis his existence in this world), and the great ending moment in which Donald Pleasence shares his cassette tape with the world.

 

Enter the Devil (1972)

ENTER THE DEVIL (1972)
Article 2069 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-13-2006
Posting Date: 4-12-2007
Directed by Frank Q. Dobbs
Featuring Joshua Bryant, Irene Kelly, David S. Cass Sr.

A marshal is sent to investigate the disappearance of a rockhound, and comes across a religious cult that is engaging in human sacrifice.

This is one quirky, oddball, laid-back horror outing. The characters are brimming with local color, the scenery of the Mojave desert is wonderful, and the cast of unknown actors puts the viewer in the position of never knowing what the fates of the various characters will be; at least one character dies long before I expected it. The movie’s main flaw is that it is too laid-back; there are long stretches here where the languid pace drags the interest level down, and it’s a little too far between the good moments. The quirky touches are definitely interesting; despite the deceptive title, the religious cult is not of a Satanic nature, but is rather a misguided Christian sect somewhat similar to the Penitentes. I was also somewhat surprised by the ending, mainly because the main rescuer turns out to be an unexpected character, but also because the heroes are a little too bloodthirsty as well. Still, if you think about it, it makes a sort of sense, but the movie does leave you with the feeling that good and evil aren’t as sharply delineated as you might expect. I consider this one worth a watch for the patient.