The Formula (1980)

THE FORMULA (1980)
Article 3561 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-22-2011
Posting Date: 5-15-2011
Directed by John G. Avildsen
Featuring George C. Scott, Marlon Brando, Marthe Keller
Country: USA / West Germany
What it is: Gizmo Maguffic-style crime thriller

A police detective investigates the murder of a friend, and the investigation leads him to Germany and a secret formula for synthetic fuel. But is he acting as a free agent, or is he a pawn in a game…?

As stated above, the synthetic fuel is a Gizmo Maguffin – that is, a science fiction concept that is rarely used for itself but rather as something to drive the plot of a movie that is really about something else. The cast is impressive and the director was an Oscar winner, but the movie was a flop and doesn’t have much of a reputation. I think the reason may be the very nature of the story; it’s difficult to make movies about business corruption, cartels and finances gripping to the general public, and the movie doesn’t pull it off. There’s also the simple problem that the movie is often rambling and unfocused; all too often the characters will break into “meaningful” conversations that have little to do with the matters at hand. The performances are quite good, though Brando’s combination of eccentricity and slurred speech is a little on the annoying side; you’ll be glad he has only a handful of scenes. The movie got nominated for an Oscar for its cinematography, and for several Razzies. The movie isn’t very good, but it isn’t that bad; it does, however, take quite a bit of patience to appreciate it.

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The Feast of Satan (1971)

THE FEAST OF SATAN (1971)
aka Las amantes del diablo, Feast of the Devil
Article 3553 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-14-2011
Posting Date: 5-7-2011
Directed by Jose Maria Elorrieta
Featuring Espartaco Santoni, Krista Nell, Teresa Gimpera
Country: Spain / Italy
What it is: Mild devil worship movie

A woman is discovered in a state of near shock and with her hair turned white overnight. The woman is taken to a hospital, but disappears shortly afterwards. The woman’s sister decides to investigate her fate, and links her with a doctor who seems to have supernatural powers.

I have to admit that I found the first half of this movie rather confusing because several of the female characters had the same hair color and little in the way of differentiating physical traits to help me tell them apart; it’s a bit similar to the problems I have with a lot of B movies where all the males where identical suits and hats, and I always swore that if I ever directed a film, I would take special care to make sure that each member of my cast looked different enough from each other so that I wouldn’t cause viewers the same problem. Nevertheless, there were things about this movie that I quite liked; despite the fact that it was dealing with very similar and familiar situations (I don’t know how many movies I’ve seen where someone strikes out on their own to find out what happened to a relative only to run the risk of suffering the same fate), there was some quite interesting character touches that made me hope the movie would really go somewhere different. Unfortunately, the movie never really picks up a good head of steam, and the climax is surprisingly dull. In the end, it’s a movie that promises a lot more horror than it ever delivers.

Firebird 2015 A.D. (1981)

FIREBIRD 2015 A.D. (1981)
Article 3540 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-30-2011
Posting Date: 4-24-2011
Directed by David M. Robertson
Featuring Darren McGavin, Doug McClure, George Touliatos
Country: Canada
What it is: Lighthearted political science fiction

The president passes a law that forbids the use of gasoline and motor vehicles by private citizens, and organizes a group called DVC to enforce the law. A group of renegade car-lovers and mechanics do battle with DVC to fight the unjust law.

Based on the short description I found of this one, I was expecting something along the lines of THE ROAD WARRIOR, a movie that has had more than its fair share of imitators. To this movie’s credit, it goes off in its own direction, and I’d say it owes more to the various car-crazy movies of the seventies along the lines of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT than it does to the Mad Max movies. Truth to tell, the movie does find its own voice, though admittedly it is a pretty slight movie (most of the movie involves people tooling around in their vehicles) and probably deserves it’s lowly 3.9 rating on IMDB. But I kind of like the movie; Darren McGavin is always fun to watch, the political cant is kept light-hearted and fun, and the movie does have on really interesting character in the mad brother of a DVC operative; he dresses like an American Indian and hunts down and destroys car drivers (known as burners). There’s a bit of suspense, but it’s one of those movies that is so harmlessly good-natured that you’ll feel pretty confident it will have a happy ending. It’s far from great, but it’s got some charm and is pretty harmless.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1982)

THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1982)
TV-Movie
Article 3539 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-29-2011
Posting Date: 4-23-2011
Directed by James L. Conway
Featuring Martin Landau, Charlene Tilton, Ray Walston
Country: USA
What it is: Classics Illustrated Poe adaptation

An architect brings his wife to the house of childhood friend Roderick Usher, where he is asked to repair a crack in the foundation of the house. However, the house is under an evil curse, and soon they’re all in danger…

A few minutes into this movie the wagon carrying the architect and his wife has a mishap, and they are forced to go to a local inn to ask for a ride to the house of Usher, and the minute they walked into the inn, I knew they were walking into one of the hoariest old horror cliches of them all. This was my first clue that this adaptation wasn’t going to do Edgar Allan Poe’s story any justice. However, I’m glad I watched it, as it’s encouraging me to rethink my views on the Roger Corman Poe adaptations of the sixties; I was a little harsh on them when I covered them. One thing I realized while watching this movie was that Poe wasn’t just a horror story writer; he was also a poet, and that feel carries through to his prose work. Whatever flaws I found in Corman’s Poe movies, I began to realize that they did indeed capture some of the poetry of Poe, and for that they are to be commended. This movie, with its thuddingly literal dialogue and its trotting out of horror movie cliches (the house’s evil secret, the fact that Madeleine’s illness also causes her to try to assault people with medieval weapons, etc) is so bereft of poetry that it’s painful. The cast tries their best, but the script is against them at every turn, and this may be the worst adaptation of this Poe story I’ve seen.

Flying Elephants (1928)

FLYING ELEPHANTS (1928)
Short
Article 3494 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-5-2011
Posting Date: 3-9-2011
Directed by Frank Butler and Hal Roach
Featuring Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson
Country: USA
What it is: Silent caveman comedy

When the king orders all residents of the tribe to be married or face banishment, two cavemen find themselves vying for the attention of the same cavewoman.

It’s great to go back to the silent era for a bit and revisit old comedy teams like Laurel and Hardy. This one has its moments, but is a little disappointing since the boys don’t really work as a team. There’s a few scenes near the beginning with Hardy, the middle section is with Laurel, but they don’t meet for a final battle until the end of the movie, so you don’t get the usual relationship between the two. On top of the caveman milieu, the short actually provides some flying elephants (in a short animated bit inspired by an offhand piece of dialogue), and it has what may be a dinosaur; all I know is that Laurel is threatened by a big creature at one point, but I couldn’t get a good look at it (it seemed roughly the size of an ox). The highlights include Laurel’s fishing technique, and the club battle between the pair.

Frightmare (1983)

FRIGHTMARE (1983)
aka The Horror Star
Article 3480 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-18-2011
Posting Date: 2-23-2011
Directed by Norman Thaddeus Vane
Featuring Ferdy Mayne, Luca Bercovici, Nita Talbot
Country: USA
What it is: Undead horror actor movie

A hammy horror star with a penchant for killing his directors dies and is buried. Fans of the star kidnap his corpse and bring it to a mansion for a party. The corpse revives, and soon the fans are dying in horrible ways.

The movie starts out interesting as kind of a cross between MADHOUSE and CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS. And there’s no doubt that the movie has a certain affection for old-time horror. But ultimately the call of the slasher film proves a bit too strong, and once the star revives, it’s largely an exercise in the various fans being stalked and knocked off by the corpse of the horror star. The movie also tries way too hard to ride on atmosphere; it’s so heavy on the swirling fog and the scary/creepy sound effects/music that it becomes downright laughable. But I think the saddest problem with this one is that the movie is sadly lacking in wit, and when your horror star is supposed to be something of a cross between Vincent Price and John Carradine, that’s a definite shortcoming. Some of the murders are quite ridiculous as well. Chalk this one up as a well-intentioned piece of bungling. As a side note, the existence of this film forced the identically titled 1974 movie to be released as FRIGHTMARE 2 on video to avoid being confused with it.

Fantomas (1964)

FANTOMAS (1964)
Article 3469 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-7-2011
Posting Date: 2-12-2011
Directed by Andre Hunebelle
Featuring Jean Marais, Louis de Funes, Mylene Demongeot
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Supervillain pastiche

A supervillain known as Fantomas tries to foil a couple of foes: the police inspector who is trying to catch him and the reporter who doesn’t believe in his existence.

With one exception (the second episode of the Louis Feuillade serial), my every attempt to see a movie about Fantomas has been marred by the fact that I was unable to get hold of a print in English (either dubbed or subtitled), so you can imagine my happiness when I started seeing the English subtitles on this one. Still, my joy was quickly muted by my realization that the light humorous touches were turning out to be very heavy indeed, and it finally dawned on me that instead of a clever crime thriller, I was being treated instead to an action comedy. Fantomas is nowhere near as brilliant this time around as he was in previous versions, but then, he doesn’t need to be; the character of Inspector Juve has been reduced to that of a bungling blowhard, which is useful for the sake of the comedy but disappointing for someone hoping for more clever thrills. Somehow, I suppose it’s fitting that the movie’s last quarter is largely an extended chase sequence using various vehicles (cars, motorcycles, trains, helicopters, even a submarine). It has occasional good laughs in it, but I’d be lying if I said I was happy with the shift of tone from earlier Fantomas movies. Jean Marais plays both the reporter and Fantomas, who is never seen as he looks and is always in disguise; of course, he disguises as the reporter at one point. The movie spawned two sequels, though given the ending here, that’s no surprise; it was obviously intended to be a franchise. The fantastic content is a little bit higher, however, than in other versions of the story; Fantomas is also a scientific genius, as he uses artificial skin to help him create his convincing masks, and his default disguise makes him look something like a space alien.