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.

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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.

Excalibur (1981)

EXCALIBUR (1981)
Article 3212 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-4-2010
Posting Date: 5-31-2010
Directed by John Boorman
Featuring Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay
Country: USA/UK
What it is: Retelling of the King Arthur legend.

The story of the birth, rise, and reign of King Arthur is recounted.

When I first saw this movie many years ago, I considered it an exercise in scenery-chewing. Watching it now, I’ve learned to appreciate that in this movie at least, the scenery was built to be chewed. Or, to put it another way, I remember one review of this movie saying that it made other movies look “puny” by comparison, and that is true. It’s big, busy, loud and aggressive, sometimes too much so; there are moments where it’s more exhausting than exhilirating. Nevertheless, the story is focused and extremely well told. I’m so glad they decided to tell the story of the legend instead of trying to capture what must have happened in real life; I want my Merlin to be a wizard, not merely a trusted adviser and/or a comic buffoon, and that’s what this movie gives us. Special kudos to Nicol Williamson as Merlin here; though he’s one of the biggest scenery-chewers, his Merlin is the most fascinating character in the story, and you’ll be quite sad when circumstances cause him to depart the story for a lengthy period of time. This may be the finest straight movie about King Arthur made, and please notice that I left myself a little out for when the Monty Python version rolls around.

The Entity (1981)

THE ENTITY (1981)
Article 3211 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-3-2010
Posting Date: 5-30-2010
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Featuring Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David Labiosa
Country: USA
What it is: Supernatural thriller

A woman is being assaulted and raped repeatedly by an invisible demon. She seeks help from both psychiatry and parapsychology.

According to the end crawl, this movie is a fictionalized account of a true story. This means that the movie in and of itself can’t be considered a true story, and one would have to know the true story (whatever it is) to compare with the movie to know what supposedly happened and what has been made up. For what it’s worth, the movie does at least one thing to give it a sense of verisimilitude; true events don’t wrap themselves into tidy, neat little packages, and neither does this movie. Unfortunately, as a result, the movie isn’t quite satisfying since there are a number of things that are never really resolved. Still, the movie does feature a strong performance from Barbara Hershey, and it shows some good insight and intelligence at times. And, given the subject matter, it’s probably about as tasteful as it could be without wimping out altogether. It would have helped had it been a bit shorter than its two hour five minute running time.

The End of the World (1916)

THE END OF THE WORLD (1916)
aka Verdens undergang
Article 3092 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-4-2009
Posting Date: 1-31-2010
Directed by August Blom
Featuring Alf Blutecher, Olaf Fonss, Johanne Fritz-Petersen
Country: Denmark
What it is: Early Danish Disaster movie

Various characters living in or associated with a small Danish mining town deal with impending doom when an astronomer discovers the existence of a new comet that will enter the atmosphere of the Earth.

This movie opens with the introduction of several characters and then concentrates on the various domestic travails of their lives. It’s only after this that the comet is discovered, and it’s here that the movie takes its most interesting turn – it concentrates on an investor who sees the plunge in the stock market following the announcement of the comet as an opportunity to make a fortune. Since this investor is a relative of the astronomer who discovered the comet, he gets inside info on the impending disaster and uses it to make his fortune, even to the point of working with an unscrupulous newspaper editor to plant fraudulent information designed to create the right economic climate. Had the movie continued this exploration of greed and finance, it would have proven to be a fascinating, relevant and unique movie. Unfortunately, the movie then begins concentrating on the more conventional melodramatic plot elements that were being set up at the beginning of the movie, so we have a jealous lover, class battles, an angry father who curses his daughter who eloped without his permission, a pair of separated lovers who try to reunite, etc. It’s at this point that the movie becomes very similar to the disaster movies of the seventies, which may make it one of the earliest examples of the form. Still, it is a disappointing direction after the section about economics. I do like how the movie does show us (often without comment) the comet in the sky during some of the outdoors sequences in the middle of the movie, even if it looks something like the comet in THE BRAINIAC; notice how when the camera pans in some of these scenes, the comet pans with it. The scenes of destruction at the end are satisfying enough, though. Not bad, but it could have been better.

The Exorcist III: Cries and Shadows (1975)

THE EXORCIST III: CRIES AND SHADOWS (1975)
aka The Possessor, Un urlo nelle tenebre
Article 3033 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-27-2009
Posting Date: 12-3-2009
Directed by Franco Lo Cascio and Angelo Pannaccio
Featuring Richard Conte, Francoise Prevost, Patrizia Gori
Country: Italy

A teenage boy is possessed by the spirit of an evil woman. They may have to call in an exorcist…

In some ways, I’m a little in awe of the Italian film industry; if you can count on any country’s cinematic output to take a trend and beat it into the ground, Italy will be there. I am amazed at just how many sword-and-sandal epics, James Bond ripoffs, spaghetti westerns, and giallos (to start with) that they churned out, and if there’s a popular American movie to imitate, (such as JAWS, STAR WARS, or, in this case, THE EXORCIST) they’ll be on the front lines. I don’t know how many knockoffs of the latter they put out, but I’m already getting weary of them (and I haven’t even seen the most famous one, BEYOND THE DOOR, yet). The formula is simple; take the basic premise of its model and make the possessee older so he/she can participate in sex scenes, and then fill out the movie with plenty of those. This one seems a hair better at first, but that feeling only lasted a couple of minutes; once we see our pasty-faced possessee engaging in the most mild of displays of shocking behavior and language, you know this one is a loser. In fact, the language and violence are so mild here that, on their merits alone, the movie would fare no worse than a mild PG rating; this is offset by the sex and orgy scenes, which push it almost to an X. It’s badly dubbed and edited with a cuisinart. About the only novelty here is that the possessee is male. And don’t let that deceptive title make you mistake it for an entry in the real series.