Formula C-12 Beirut (1966)

aka Agent 505 – Todesfalle Beirut
Article 4592 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-28-2014
Directed by Manfred R. Kohler
Featuring Frederick Stafford, Genevieve Cluny, Chris Howland
Country: West Germany / Italy / France
What it is: Spyghetti

An Interpol agent is sent to Beirut to track down a four-fingered villain called The Shiek who has an evil plan to kill all off all of the city’s inhabitants.

There’s plenty of gadgetry to add to the science fiction content of this heaping helping of Eurospy, and the plot also seems outlandish enough to also add to the fantastic content. On the plus side, the movie has some good scenes and a sense of humor. On the minus side, the story is fairly predictable, the editing is rather confusing at times, and Ennio Morricone’s score (which mostly consists of an abrasive three-note theme that gets trotted out at tense moments) is more annoying than thrilling. Overall, it’s a pretty run-of-the-mill example of the genre, making it a passable but unmemorable time-killer. I do find it interesting, however, that a pivotal character in the movie shares the same name as the director.

Filmgore (1983)

Article 4581 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-16-2014
Directed by Ken Dixon
Featuring Cassandra Peterson
Country: USA
What it is: Footage from other movies

Elvira serves as host to a compilation of clips from gory movies from the sixties to the early eighties.

Before I start on this movie, I’d like to say that I have in my collection a made-for-video tape called HORRIBLE HORROR. It is hosted by Zacherley and consists of footage from (mostly) bad movies made from the thirties to the sixties. As a serious movie, it is inconsequential. Nonetheless, I rather enjoy watching it because I like the antics of Zacherley and since I’m personally fond of the types of movies he covers, I enjoyed watching the clips.

I bring this up because, at heart, this made-for-video feature is pretty much the same sort of thing; it’s clips of movies with a horror host. The main difference lies in the emphasis of the clips; in HORRIBLE HORROR it’s concentrating on cheesy black-and-white films, while this one concentrates on clips of movies with extreme gore, violence and blood-letting. Therein lies the reason I don’t care for this one; I may be a fan of those old black and white movies, but I’m not a fan specifically of extreme gore. Oh, I can deal with it; anybody who covers horror movies from the last fifty years has to contend with it. The trouble is, I never go into a movie HOPING it will be really gory, and this compilation is primarily for people who ARE hoping for that. I like Elvira all right, but she’s not at her best here, and despite the fact that she is constantly interrupting the movies with puns and bad jokes, she seems somewhat disconnected from the process. Forrest J. Ackerman is credited as one of the writers, and he no doubt penned Elvira’s opening speech, but I’m not sure about the rest of it. Granted, the whole thing consists of nothing but clips and jokes; there’s no narration to give the thing context, so you have to take it on the face value of its title. And in that case, I do find some of the choices rather curious; there’s really not much gore in either THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES or FIEND. This is for gorehounds only.

Fantasies (1982)

Article 4580 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-15-2014
Directed by William Wiard
Featuring Suzanne Pleshette, Barry Newman, Robert Vaughn
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller

Actors in a soap opera are being knocked off by a serial killer. Who is the killer, and why are they doing this?

Easily the best moment in this TV-Movie is the ending, and I don’t mean by that the resolution of the story line. I mean there’s a final little “perception change” (I can’t quite call it a twist) in the last few seconds of the movie. This moment manages to effectively underline the basic theme of the movie, which is how a TV show or a movie can become so real to some people that they lose grasp that the show is an illusion; there’s an earlier scene that also illustrates this where one of the actresses in the show is accosted by a stranger in a grocery store who treats her like she’s the character she’s playing. I wish the rest of the movie was that intriguing, but, in truth, I find that for the most part it’s one of those movies where competence and professionalism take the place of inspiration; there’s something utterly mundane in the way the movie trots out the usual red herrings and plot contrivances, though it doesn’t necessarily do them badly. Quite frankly, this is a movie that could have used a few more real surprises to make it really good. The serial killer plot is what makes it marginal horror.

Fear No Evil (1981)

Article 4568 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-28-2014
Directed by Frank LaLoggia
Featuring Stefan Arngrim, Elizabeth Hoffman, Kathleen Rowe
Country: USA
What it is: Tale of the Anti-Christ

A teenage boy comes to the understanding that he is the human incarnation of Lucifer. In the meantime, three archangels in their human incarnations seek to stop him.

With a 3.8 rating on IMDB, one thing is clear; a lot of people don’t like this movie. However, it appears that the movie does have some staunch supporters. Having seen it, I can understand both reactions. Despite a premise that recalls THE OMEN, it feels like some bizarre transmutation between CARRIE, VAMPYR, teen angst dramas, and vampire and zombie movies. I will admit that it has its own sense of style, and that in its way, it is a very daring and ambitious movie. However, the style is as off-putting as it is unique, the story often feels randomly programmed, and several of the performances (especially from the teenage leads) are twitchy and eccentric; they project angst without leaving us with a real sense as to where the angst arises from. The zombie scenes seem unnecessary, but given the fact that they were forced upon the director (as per the trivia section on IMDB), that’s no surprise. Does it work? I’m not sure. There’s some interesting scenes, some awful scenes, and a fair amount of head-scratching events. However, I do sense that there’s something there. It may take another viewing to find out what it is.

The Folly of Sin (1915)

aka Doktor X
Article 4567 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-27-2014
Directed by Robert Dinesen
Featuring Gunnar Tolnaes, Carlo Wieth, Johanne Fritz-Petersen
Country: Denmark
What it is: Drama

A brilliant scientist who is on the verge of finding a cure for cancer is nonetheless unhappy about the emptiness of his social life. He seeks out a competing scientist for help, and that scientist puts him on the trail of winning a beautiful woman for his own. But there is a price to pay…

My various guides claim that the fantastic content here is the discovery of a cure for cancer, and indeed, that element does appear in the story. Those watching it for that content will nonetheless be disappointed; it serves as little more than a Maguffin. However, there’s an interesting and subtler fantastic element here that doesn’t become explicit until the last scene of the movie. The clues are there for those on the alert. For one thing, the lead female in this movie is named Margarethe, which is the first thing that tipped me off. Then I couldn’t help but note that the competing scientist has the sinister and demonic name of Malvolio. With these two clues and the general direction of the story, it’s plain that this is modeled off of a very familiar story indeed, one that is full of fantastic content. The end of the movie could be taken metaphorically, I suppose (especially in its revelation as to who Malvolio really is), but there’s one big question that makes that seem unlikely, and that is this – How was Dr. Malvolio able to make sure that Dr. Kamper would make his fortune in the risky business of betting on a roulette wheel? In short, it doesn’t matter that the cancer cure is a minor plot element; this story has a definite fantastically themed template in place, and once you’re aware of it, it’s even more interesting to consider what the cure for cancer represents metaphorically. I have to admit to really enjoying this one, especially in the clever way it disguises its familiar story.

A Fire in the Sky (1978)

Article 4564 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-19-2014
Directed by Jerry Jameson
Featuring Richard Crenna, Elizabeth Ashley, David Dukes
Country: USA
What it is: Disaster movie, TV style

A comet is on a collision course with Earth, and a scientist determines it will destroy the town of Phoenix. Will the public be made aware of the danger, and if they are, will they survive?

There’s a moment halfway through the movie where Richard Crenna’s character goes on television to describe the devastation the comet will bring, and I do have to admit that it sounds pretty apocalyptic. I also found myself seriously doubting whether this TV-Movie was going to have the financial wherewithal to pull off an accompanying special effects extravaganza (the effects involving the comet are less than stellar), and sure enough, the destruction sequence is rather puny. It’s a bit of a shame; it would have been the only thing that could have really pulled the rest of the movie out of its disaster movie cliche doldrums, and given that the print I saw of the movie runs two and a half hours, that’s a pretty long stretch of doldrums. The cast does what it can with the material, but they don’t get much help from the flat and uninspired direction. The final part of the movie is the usual checklist of who lives and who dies, and the survival of one group of people is particularly hard to swallow; if you’ve seen it, you probably know the ones I mean. I wouldn’t exactly say the movie is awful, but it is utterly routine.

The Face of Another (1966)

aka Tanin no kao
Article 4504 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-14-2014
Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
Featuring Tatsuya Nakadai, Mikijiro Hira, Kyoko Kishida
Country: Japan
What it is: SF Drama

A man feels his identity is slipping away after an industrial accident leaves him horribly scarred. His psychiatrist offers him the opportunity to have a lifelike mask (modeled off of another person) created for him by a new process, with the ulterior motive of trying to discover if the mask grants the patient with a new identity.

IMDB classifies this movie as a science fiction drama. One of the user reviews makes a point of claiming that some of the surreal scenes that pepper the movie don’t really make it qualify for that genre. While I do agree that the scenes in question don’t make the movie science fiction (though they nudge the movie into fantasy territory), I do believe the movie could qualify as science fiction anyway. Since a realistic mask of this sort didn’t exist at the time the movie was made (or now, as far as I know), the movie becomes a speculative exploration of the impact of a new scientific discovery/creation on those who encounter it, and that’s one of the definitions that cause something to qualify. It uses the device to explore identity and the role physical appearance plays in the shaping of it; there’s a lot of speculation as well on the impact that would occur if these masks became commonplace. It took me a while to realize it, but it would make a nice companion feature with SECONDS from the same year, another movie dealing with appearance and identity. The movie is quite fascinating, and well worth a watch. There’s also a secondary story interspersed throughout the movie about a girl badly scarred on one side of her face, though the fantastic content is much less pronounced in this side story.