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.

El fantasma de la opereta (1960)

aka The Phantom of the Operetta
Article 4480 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-20-2014
Directed by Fernando Cortes
Featuring German Valdes, Ana Luisa Puluffo, Luis Aldas
Country: Mexico
What it is: Horror comedy

A buffoon and his girlfriend plan to reopen a closed opera house, only to discover that the place is haunted by a masked phantom.

I’ve already covered the 1955 version of this story, though I would be hard-pressed to compare the two, since I’ve only been able to catch either one in a Spanish language print without English subtitles. It’s pretty much what you’d expect for a comic version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and though it looks fairly well-made, it doesn’t seem anything particularly special. Granted, it might be a lot funnier if I could follow the dialogue, but the visual humor doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of surprises. As is often the case when I watch Mexican comedies under these circumstances, the musical numbers turn out to be the highlights, largely because they can be enjoyed regardless of the language problem. But then, musical numbers in Mexican horror comedies tend to be pretty strange.

The Funhouse (1981)

Article 4436 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-31-2014
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Featuring Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Jeanne Austin
Country: USA
What it is: Horror movie

Four teens decide to spend the night in the funhouse at a local carnival, but when they witness a murder, they find themselves the targets of the funhouse owner and his horribly deformed son.

Sometimes certain names in the credits raise our expectations. Given that the director of this was Tobe Hooper of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE fame, I was expecting (and hoping, I suppose) for something a bit more harrowing. My first disappointment came early on; though I usually like it when a horror movie references other horror classics, I am officially tired of tributes/homages/parodies of the shower scene in PSYCHO – it’s just too easy, and that’s how the movie opens. Most of the first half of the movie tries to mine the sleazy carny atmosphere, and though this is a little effective, it becomes rather clear after a bit that the movie is spinning its wheels. The scenes in the funhouse itself are hit and miss, with once again too much time spent on mining creepy atmosphere (this time from the puppets and mannequins in use in the funhouse), while some of the scenes of outright horror are swamped by pyrotechnics. Ultimately, I though the movie was an okay time killer, but I doubt that it will stick with me. And if it had been made by another director, I probably would have expected that from the outset.

Freaky Friday (1976)

Article 4435 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-30-2014
Directed by Gary Nelson
Featuring Barbara Harris, Jodie Foster, John Astin
Country: USA
What it is: Shopping cart movie

A teenage girl and her mother, each envying the other’s lifestyle, simultaneously wish to be in the other’s place for a day. The wish is granted, but they find that neither one’s life is a bed of roses…

I have to admit that I was somewhat blindsided by this movie. I’d heard about it for years, of course, but there was something about its reputation that made me expect a …. well, not a SERIOUS movie, per se, but something significantly less slapsticky. I think it was the presence of Jodie Foster, who always struck me as one of the most serious and mature child actors of all time, and I could never quite conceive of her appearing in an honest-to-goodness Disney shopping cart movie. Yet that is exactly what this is, and it is perhaps best judged on that level. As such, it is perhaps one of Disney’s best movies of that sort from the era, but you do have to keep in mind that most of their shopping-cart movies of the era were very weak, and it can’t really hold a candle to some of their better ones from earlier eras. I do think Jodie Foster is an excellent choice for playing an older woman in the body of a young girl; she always came across as fairly mature. I do have problems with the incredibly contrived script, though; once the body shift occurs, both the mother and the daughter seem to be more stupid than they would be in their own bodies, making mistakes that have less to do with being in the wrong body and more to do with slapstick convenience. I will admit that Barbara Harris does play a decent job of playing a teenage girl in a grown woman’s body; my problem is that the teenage girl she’s playing doesn’t seem to be the same teenage girl that Jodie Foster is playing. But then, that’s taking the movie more seriously than it’s really trying to be. On a side note, I’ve never seen John Astin without his moustache before.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Article 4434 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-29-2014
Directed by John Glen
Featuring Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet, Topol
Country: UK
What it is: James Bond movie

James Bond is sent out on a mission to prevent a communication device in a sunken spy ship from falling into enemy hands.

This is the latest movie chronologically from the James Bond series that I’ve seen to date, and I have to admit that one of the biggest impressions it made on me was that it made me realize how much I missed the jazzy scores of the sixties movies from the franchise. There was a time when I didn’t care for those early scores, but after listening to the rather bland and run-of-the-mill scores to the action sequences here, I really noticed how much those jazzy early scores added flavor to the series. Another impression I had of this one is that it concentrates less on interesting and fun side characters and more on the action, and for me, that’s a minus; about the only character I enjoyed was the one played by Topol. If I were a particular fan of the franchise, I’d probably find this one to be acceptable enough, but since I’m not, I was rather bored by this one. There are a few moments I liked; my favorites were the first meeting between Bond and Milos Columbo, the sequence where Bond tries to scale the mountain, and the detente reference near the end of the movie. Beyond that, I didn’t have much use for this one. The gadgetry is the fantastic content in this one, and there’s not a whole lot of it here.

The Food of the Gods (1976)

Article 4433 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-28-2014
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Featuring Marjoe Gortner, Pamela Franklin, Ralph Meeker
Country: USA
What it is: Nature run amok, Bert I. Gordon style.

A strange substance is discovered on an island that causes animals to grow to enormous size. Soon the island is overrun by giant critters.

I remember seeing this one at the drive-in when I was a teenager, and the only scene I really remembered was Marjoe Gortner being attacked by a giant chicken. I think the reason this scene stuck with me was because I vividly remember NOT being impressed with it; it seemed pretty obvious that it was just some stagehand pushing a model of a chicken head at the actor, and the illusion that he was really being attacked by a giant chicken never became a reality for me. I do also remember there being lots of giant rats, and also being disappointed that the array of giant critters was pretty limited; outside of the chickens and rats, we have some worms and wasps… and that’s it. I understand why I didn’t remember the latter two; the worms are on for a very limited time, and the wasp effects are so bad (easily the worst in the movie) that I mercifully must have blocked them out. Watching it now, I must admit that some of Bert I. Gordon’s effects are fairly decent, albeit quite sloppy at times. I’m certainly not impressed with this script, which is loaded with cliches, one-dimensional characters, and people acting really stupid. There’s a whole lot of scenes of rats being bloodily blown away, and I really found myself wondering about the treatment of the animals during the making of this movie. I was amused by two touches, though; the first is that the farmhouse in which the characters take refuge actually has a print of “American Gothic” on the wall, and the second is that the credits claim that the movie is based on a “portion” of the H.G. Wells novel of the same name; now there’s truth in advertising for you. No, the movie is hardly what I’d call good, but for all of its flaws, I can’t help but look at the movie and feel a bit of affection for Mr. Gordon and his history of movies with giant creatures and people.

Five Minutes to Live (1961)

aka Door-to-Door Maniac
Article 4432 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-27-2014
Directed by Bill Karn
Featuring Johnny Cash, Donald Woods, Cay Forester
Country: USA
What it is: Crime thriller

A seasoned bank robber partners with a down-on-his-luck hood to pull off a ransom scheme by holding a bank manager’s wife hostage; she will be killed unless he approves a bad check for $70,000 dollars. However, the plan does not run smoothly…

Several years ago Johnny Cash released a three-disc set retrospective of his work in which each of the discs dealt with a theme that he consistently returned to in his musical work. The third disc was entitled “Murder”, and those familiar with his musical output certainly can attest to the fact that he has a knack for singing about criminals and killers. So it makes sense that his first movie role would feature him as a sadistic hood with little respect for human life, and when he’s in the scenes where he’s holding the banker’s wife hostage, we really sense that he’s dangerous and unbalanced. However, there is a real question as to whether he’s unbalanced enough for this movie to qualify as horror, and I don’t think it does (even if one of the alternate titles is DOOR-TO-DOOR MANIAC); he never kills anyone for no reason at all. As for the movie as a whole, I like the central concept, but the script isn’t particularly good, and the direction is often lifeless; when it works, it’s usually the result of the skill of the actors. The movie feature Vic Tayback, (who is very effective as the robber who pairs with Johnny Cash), Ron Howard, and another well-known country artist, Merle Travis.