Friday the 13th (1980)

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
Article 1956 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-23-2006
Posting Date: 12-20-2006
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham
Featuring Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby

After having been closed for twenty-two years after the accidental drowning of a young boy and the murder of two counselors, Camp Crystal Lake is reopened. Then, on Friday the 13th during a full moon, the murders start up again.

I’ll confess upfront that I have something of a grudge against this movie and the series it spawned. I think the grudge was due to the fact that I dearly loved the old classic monsters, and there was a point when I discovered that if you brought up the subject of monsters to members of the younger generation, they would think Jason or Freddy rather than Dracula or Frankenstein. I felt that time had movied on irrevocably, and I didn’t like it, and I blamed the movies that had spawned the change.

I knew eventually I would have to contend with this series sooner or later in my project, and sure enough, here it is. Despite my grudge, I wanted to give the movie a fair shot; after all, a series like this doesn’t become so popular for no reason at all. Having finally watched it, I’m afraid I’m still in the dark as to why this series was so popular. It’s competently made, and generates a certain degree of suspense, but as far as shock moments go, only one caught me off guard (the final fake-out); the rest were so telescoped by the music and camerawork that I was fully prepared for them. Nor did I find the murders anywhere near as creative as I was led to believe; quite frankly, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM was a lot more interesting in this regard.

Still, I did find one interesting point. I’ve always held that the slasher genre was a logical (though somewhat long-in-coming) progression from Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. If such is the case, it is interesting to note that a certain family relationship in this movie is the direct opposite of the one in PSYCHO. Some of the accusations also levelled at this movie aren’t quite fair; I’ve often heard it said that the counselors act with supreme stupidity in that, despite knowing they’re in danger, they go off alone. In truth, nobody knows that people are being picked off one by one until only two counselors are left. Still, I don’t quite understand the popularity of this series, and I hold that, as far as slasher movies go, this is a pretty ordinary movie.

 

The Forbidden Moon (1956)

THE FORBIDDEN MOON (1956)
Article 1889 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-17-2006
Posting Date: 10-14-2006
Directed by Hollingsworth Morse
Featuring Richard Crane, Vic Perrin, Dian Fauntelle

When a vague but urgent SOS arrives from a space station, Rocky Jones is sent to investigate. He discovers that the station is loaded with a deadly radiation brought on board by an evil ruler who, having developed an immunity to the radiation, now plans to use his power to conquer the universe.

Yes, it’s another Rocky Jones adventure, and, as always, I find myself more entertained than I though I would be. Maybe there’s something about the earnestness of Richard Crane’s performance that goes a long ways towards selling these stories to me; he manages to avoid campiness so deftly that it almost makes you forget how absurd the plot is this time around. I’m no scientist, but I have a strong suspicion that anyone with a good working knowledge of radiation would have conniption fits from this one, and even I find the last part of the story (in which Rocky and Professor Newton concoct a method of letting people know they’re stranded on a radioactive moon) to be utter balderdash. The usual gang is here; Rocky, Vena, Professor Newton, Bobby and Winky, but the real scene-stealer in this one is Queen Yarra’s huge earrings; you could suffer a concussion if she turned suddenly while you were standing next to her.

Somehow, I have a feeling that I haven’t seen the last of Rocky Jones…

Fantomas (1932)

FANTOMAS (1932)
Article 1888 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-16-2006
Posting Date: 10-13-2006
Directed by Pal Fejos
Featuring Thomy Bourdelle, Tania Fedor, Jean Worms

Inspector Juve tries to catch the master criminal Fantomas.

You know, it’s always a bit jarring to sit down to a foreign movie that you expect will be either dubbed or subtitled only to find out it’s neither. Granted, I shouldn’t have been surprised; my other encounter with Fantomas was through a silent French serial which also hadn’t been translated into English. Still, French title cards are somewhat easier to manage than hearing it spoken in French; the French language uses many of the same words as the English language, so it’s possible to get the gist by reading, but they pronounce the words so differently that, if you don’t know French, it’s almost impenetrable on a verbal level. As usual in such cases, I am rather vague about the plot. Still, this one is a little easier to follow than some other foreign language movies I’ve tried.

The fantastic elements mostly come into play during the first third of the movie; this part is your basic “Old Dark House” story, with murders, secret passages, masked killers, etc. The second segment concerns a robbery/murder that takes place in a hotel suite, and the third segment takes place at a race track. It ends with a final confrontation between Juve and Fantomas, and anyone familiar with the characters will know not to be to sure who will end up victorious. Though it’s slower and talkier (obviously) than the silent version, there are some good visual moments; my favorite is in the second segment where you discover where Fantomas has concealed himself in the apartment after committing his crime. Still, at heart, I didn’t find this version near as much fun as the silent serial. Fantomas would be revived during the sixties for a series of movies.

From Russia With Love (1963)

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)
Article 1856 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-14-2006
Posting Date: 9-11-2006
Directed by Terence Young
Featuring Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz

James Bond goes to Istanbul, and, fully aware that he is falling into a trap of some sort, hooks up with a beautiful Russian agent in the hopes of getting his hands on a decoding device known as Lektor.

I’m not a big fan of the James Bond series, but if you ever felt the need to talk me into being one, this would be your starting point. For me, this is the best of the ones I’ve seen to date; it has an air of seriousness about the proceedings, it’s gritty and suspenseful, it has some truly great villains, and it avoids some of the pandering of other movies in the series as it spends more time telling the story than filling up the running time with his love conquests and cute action sequences. Oddly enough, though, the gritty seriousness of this one also takes it more out of the realm of science fiction to which most of the other entries of the series belong to at least marginally, as the reliance on gadgets is deemphasized here; the booby-trapped suitcase doesn’t quite qualify to me as a science fiction device, though the decoding device may. At any rate, this one has some memorable set pieces, especially a harrowing confrontation between Bond (Sean Connery) and the assassin who has been tailing him throughout the movie (Robert Shaw). Lotte Lenye also makes for one of the most memorable of Bond’s adversaries. I will always regret that the rest of the series didn’t keep going in the same direction as this one.

Francis Goes to West Point (1952)

FRANCIS GOES TO WEST POINT (1952)
Article 1855 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-13-2006
Posting Date: 9-10-2006
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Featuring Donald O’Connor, Lori Nelson, Alice Kelley

After saving a military plant from sabotage (with the help of Francis the talking mule), Peter Stirling is sent to West Point where it is believed he will be of help to the military. Francis also goes to West Point as a mascot and begins tutoring Stirling while giving tips to the coach of the football team. Hilarity ensues.

I think my main problem with the “Francis, the Talking Mule” series is that it got pretty lazy with its concept. Of the four I’ve seen so far, this is the third with a military setting, and I suspect that the reason the series kept going back to that milieu was so that it would be easier to recycle the same gags from the first movie in the series. The series was also pretty mild; given the wild premise of a talking mule, the movies remained almost aggressively tame, never really trying for big laughs but only for small chuckles. The movies didn’t stink, but they remained harmless and rather forgettable. Of more interest than the plot here is the list of supporting players, which included Gregg Palmer, Les Tremayne, David Janssen, James Best, Lori Nelson and Leonard Nimoy (he’s one of the football players). The best part of the movie is the beginning when the sabotage effort is foiled; the movie actually develops a little suspense and atmosphere at this point.

Face of Fire (1959)

FACE OF FIRE (1959)
Article #1771 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2006
Posting Date: 6-18-2006
Directed by Albert Band
Featuring Cameron Mitchell, James Whitmore, Bettye Ackerman

When a handyman attempts to save a child from a burning building, he ends up horribly disfigured and mentally handicapped. As a result of his injuries, he and anyone who harbors him become pariahs in the town in which he lives.

If it weren’t for its poor ending, I BURY THE LIVING would rank with my favorite horror movies from its era. Much of what I do like about the movie is Albert Band’s taught direction, and I’m really glad to catch another one of his movies. This one is not a horror movie, but its subject matter and central themes (deformity and fear) are cut from the same materials as many horror films; in fact, it was based on a story by Stephen Crane called “The Monster”. No, this is at heart a drama, and a painful and devastating one at that. It takes a long, hard look at how people would react to a man suffering such extreme deformities, and often their reactions are just as ugly as his visage. It is quite harrowing to see their reactions, especially when they think he is dead and begin hypocritically praising him for his bravery. What makes it most painful is its air of truth; it is quite easy to see people acting this way when you know that they (and we) are capable of it when we let fear take control of us. James Whitmore and Cameron Mitchell are both excellent as the deformed handyman and the doctor (whose son it was that was rescued from the fire) who cares for him, even when he himself becomes a pariah and has to watch his son cope with the situation. I found myself very grateful for the ending of the movie, since it generates a spark of hope from what has begun to look like a hopeless situation. This is a powerful film, and I highly recommend it.

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967)
Article #1710 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2005
Posting Date: 4-18-2006
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters

Dr. Frankenstein takes the dead body of a deformed woman, cures the deformities and brings it back to life, instilling it with the soul of her former lover who had been wrongly executed for murder. She seeks vengeance on those who were really responsible for the murder.

I’m afraid that this entry in Hammer’s Frankenstein series doesn’t to a lot for me. Part of the problem is that the script seems obvious and weak. I find it hard to really enjoy a movie which tries this hard to push certain emotional buttons; the three drunk nobleman are such total rotters that they never emerge as real characters at all, and the attempts to gain sympathy for the deformed woman are so blatant and repetitive that they get truly annoying; if a movie is going to play on your emotions, it should do so subtly and convincingly. Still, the main problem is that the movie spends so much time concentrating on these one-dimensional characters rather than on Dr. Frankenstein himself, who, as played by Peter Cushing, is far and away the most interesting character in the movie. The more I see of Cushing, the more I marvel at his work; his ability to flesh out characters by using subtle quirks and interesting details is breathtaking, and he gives his characters an air of mystery that leaves you wondering what they’re thinking about at every moment. I like the movie when Cushing is on the screen, less so when he isn’t.

Still, I have to admit that I’ve developed a fondness for one other aspect of the Hammer Frankenstein series, and that is the lab equipment they use. There is something convincingly period about it all, and I like the fact that it all looks a little dingy and used rather than clean and spotless. In some ways, this style of lab equipment is as much a signature of these movies as the Strickfadden equipment was for the Universal series.