Earth Bound (1981)

aka Earthbound
Article 3689 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-5-2011
Posting Date: 9-20-2011
Directed by James L. Conway
Featuring Burl Ives, Christopher Connelly, Meredith MacRae
Country: USA
What it is: TV series pilot that somehow made it to the big screen

A family of aliens and their pet green monkey end up stranded on Earth where they befriend a hotel manager and his orphaned grandson. Can they find the crucial element to fix their spacecraft, avoid capture by government officials, and solve all of their friends’ personal problems in the two and a half days they have left?

I actually caught this pathetic little science fiction comedy when it played in the theaters, albeit not from my own choosing; it was what is known as a “family” night at the movies. It’s like one of the Disney shopping cart movies except it never once approaches the energy level or the lunacy of those films, despite the fact that they have given the alien family an array of convenient super-powers. Its acting is competent and uninspired, the writing is cliche-ridden, and it never works up an iota of momentum or suspense. It’s the type of movie that is mildly comic at its best, blandly dull at its worst. The ads highlighted the green monkey, but the animal is practically a non-entity; other than the fact that he seems to eat light bulbs (talked about but never seen), he adds little to the proceedings. And, after reading the user reviews on IMDB, it’s primarily championed by people who like it because it doesn’t have violence or foul language and is a true family movie. All I can say about that is if this was the type of movie they had to champion, it says something about the decrepit state of family movies at the time. And had it become a TV series, I’d have given it six weeks at best before cancellation.


E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982)

Article 3654 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-1-2011
Posting Date: 8-16-2011
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Featuring Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote
Country: USA
What it is: Children’s science fiction movie

A young boy takes in a stranded extraterrestrial in the hopes of saving him from authorities that are searching for him. He develops a bond with the alien, and tries to help him find a way to return home.

It took this second watching for me to realize it, but I have a soft spot in my heart for this one. It’s one of the few movies from the era that I took the trouble to catch in the theater, and I did so before E.T.’s image was plastered over everything, so my first sight of him was in the movie itself, which I consider a real plus. For years I’ve been expressing some disappointment with the movie due to my problems with certain plot elements (especially with the levitation powers of E.T.), but at least one of my major issues turned out to be due to me misremembering certain details, and I’m glad I gave it a rewatching.

Of those that I’ve seen, this is perhaps Spielberg’s most manipulative film, and as such, I’m always a bit tempted to dismiss it on principal alone. Yet, I can’t deny that while the movie is actually playing in front of me, I find myself totally caught up in the actions and the situations; I laugh when it wants me to laugh, I cry when it wants me to cry. If nothing else, it makes me respect Spielberg’s skill at handling this sort of thing, and the only time I felt the movie pushed too hard while I was watching it was at the appearance of a rainbow near the very end. Once it’s all over, there is the temptation to pick it apart, if for no other reason than to avoid admitting that the movie did a number on me while it was on. But that’s what I did after the first time I saw it, and it still worked just as well on my second viewing. So I think I’ll just let it be and enjoy it for what it is.

Engineer Garin’s Hyperboloid (1965)

aka Giperboloid inzhenera Garina, The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin

Article 3568 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-29-2011
Posting Date: 5-22-2011
Directed by Aleksandr Gintsburg
Featuring Evgeni Evstigneev, Vsevolod Safonov, Mikhaie Astangov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Science fiction thriller

An engineer has developed a ray that can penetrate the earth’s crust and find an unlimited source of gold… and can also be used to destroy his enemies.

You know, there’s nothing quite as disappointing as going into a movie with a word like “hyperboloid” in the title in the hope that the word will describe some clever new science fiction concept, and then to discover it stands for a concept as trite and overused as a death ray. In fact, for part of its running time, it looked like the death ray was going to be just another in a long line of Gizmo Maguffins, in which the whole plot revolves around people getting their hands on it rather than its actual use. To its credit, the movie actually does more with the concept than that; and it’s a lot of fun when the death ray is actually put to use. The movie is light on propaganda, has some nice stylistic touches, and sets its actions in the twenties, when the death ray concept was much more prevalent. On the down side, the movie is more than a little confusing; I was a good ways in before I could sort out the characters, and it may take an additional viewing to sort out the whole plot. Still, this was one movie that I liked better as it went along.

L’Esorciccio (1975)

aka The Exorcist: Italian Style

Article 3565 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-26-2011
Posting Date: 5-19-2011
Directed by Ciccio Ingrassia
Featuring Ciccio Ingrassia, Lino Banfi, Didi Perego
Country: Italy
What it is: EXORCIST parody

When his son is possessed by an evil spirit as the result of a talisman, the mayor of a small Italian village calls on a local con man posing as an exorcist to exorcise him.

The copy I found of this one was in unsubtitled Italian, so I can’t exactly say I understood all the subtleties of the story; some of the details of the plot description I got from other sources. However, it’s really not that horribly difficult to follow, and it uses visuals to tell things quite a bit. It does confirm one of my suspicions, and that is that I’ve long believed that the team of Franco and Ciccio would have been improved by one simple adjustment – remove Franco. This movie, without Franco but with Ciccio (one of the only two he directed as well) is much easier to put up with. During the course of the story, several people get possessed; the most direct parodies of THE EXORCIST occur when the teenage daughter gets possessed. It seems to get weirder and sillier as it goes along, and it gets a lot of its laughs with the running gag of levitating furniture. Not bad for a movie I couldn’t really understand, and, for my money, it’s also one of the better Italian takes on THE EXORCIST.

Empire of Passion (1978)

aka Ai no borei
Article 3502 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-20-2011
Posting Date: 3-17-2011
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Featuring Tatsuya Fuji, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Takahiro Tamura
Country: Japan
What it is: Erotic ghost thriller

The wife of a rickshaw driver has an affair with a man 26 years younger than her. Her lover talks her into helping him kill her husband and dump his body in an old well. But afterwards, the fear of discovery keeps the lovers apart, and people are starting to dream about the fate of the rickshaw driver… and his ghost begins appearing.

Nagisa Shima is an important Japanese new wave director who is best known in the US for having directed the controversially explicit IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES. This movie was screened at Cannes and won Shima the Best Director prize. This was his only foray into the Japanese ghost story genre, and some of the scenes are quite spooky; I’m particularly partial to the scene where the ghost appears to his former wife with his rickshaw, offering her a ride which she initially rejects, but then changes her mind. Overall, the movie is good, but I’m afraid I came away slightly disappointed, because I was expecting something that would be a little bit more than merely good. As it is, the movie gets a too mired in the theme of the guilt that the lovers feel (there’s a chance that the ghost may be part of their overactive imaginations). It’s interesting when they do such things as try to remove the body from the well; it’s dull when they endlessly argue with each other, fall into despair, have sex, and offer to take the blame for the murder so that the other will be let free. In short, the movie spins its wheels a bit too much, and the potentially shocking ending loses its punch because it was simply too long in coming. I don’t find the movie quite as interesting as some of the other Japanese ghost stories I’ve seen.

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.

Evil Stalks this House (1981)

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.