The Horrors of Burke and Hare (1972)

aka Burke and Hare
Article 1793 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-10-2006
Posting Date: 7-10-2006
Directed by Vernon Sewell
Featuring Derren Nesbitt, Harry Andrews, Glynn Edwards

Two lower class men decide to augment their incomes by selling a dead body to a medical doctor. Deciding that this is a profitable enterprise, they continue to do so, only taking the extra step of using murder to create the supply.

This movie opens with a rock group called the Scaffold singing a somewhat comic song about Burke and Hare; I would love to know who’s in this group, because one of the background vocalists sounds an awful lot like Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Band. The song should clue you into the way this movie is going to approach the Burke and Hare story – as a bawdy comedy! And when I say bawdy, I mean bawdy; much of the story dwells on the goings-on in a nearby brothel, where we see many naked women cavorting with their customers. This alone pushes the movie into exploitation territory; but somehow, I like it well enough, largely due to some interesting dialogue and energetic direction from Vernon Sewell, whose credits include THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR and CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR; this would be his last directorial effort. The performances are also fun; in particular, Harry Andrews gives a memorable performance as Dr. Knox, who wears an eyepatch and regales his friends with off-color jokes. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, as I wasn’t expecting much.

NOTE: I have tracked down that at least one member of the Scaffold worked with Vivian Stanshall on occasion.

The House That Vanished (1973)

(a.k.a. SCREAM…AND DIE!)
Article #1756 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-4-2006
Posting Date: 6-3-2006
Directed by Jose Ramon Larraz
Featuring Andrea Allan, Karl Lanchbury, Maggie Walker

When a model follows her burglar boyfriend into an old house in the country, she inadvertently becomes a witness to a murder by a psycho killer. Though she escapes from the killer (whose face she doesn’t see), her boyfriend vanishes, and when she discovers a photo of herself missing from the portfolio she left in the car abandoned near the property, she knows that the killer knows who she is.

Who is the killer? Is it the creepy new boyfriend with the incestuous relationship with his aunt whose theme song is “Fur Elise”? Is it the weird man who has moved into the same building as her who raises pigeons? Is it – er – is it – hmm, we seem to have run out of suspects. Hint: the one who is not the psycho killer is an undercover cop.

Chances are, you’ll have no trouble figuring out who the killer is. For that matter, you’ll have no trouble figuring out what’s going to happen for the length of this utterly predictable movie. There’s gratuitous nudity and sex to spice up the proceedings, but I certainly didn’t see any houses vanishing (and the model’s inability to find the house isn’t the same thing). And for those interested in logical errors, try figuring out (given an approximate timeline of events), just what kind of condition a human killed at the beginning of this movie would be at the end of it.

The Haunting of Julia (1977)

(a.k.a. FULL CIRCLE)
Article #1755 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-3-2006
Posting Date: 6-2-2006
Directed by Richard Loncraine
Featuring Mia Farrow, Keir Dullea, Tom Conti

A woman who feels guilty about the death of her daughter leaves her husband and moves into an old house. However, the house seems to be haunted by a the spirit of a malevolent little girl.

This movie is based on a novel by Peter Straub, and if anything, the movie makes me interested in the novel. This is not to say that I found the movie itself satisfactory; it’s more to say that it hints at a more complete and intriguing story than the movie itself delivers. Though I can appreciate the attempt of the movie to take a leisurely, thoughtful pace in telling its eerie story, all too often in this case there are scenes which just drag out the running time without really adding much to character development or plot. For example, we know the mother is grieving about the death of her daughter; we don’t need to have her break into tears three times to establish this. There are also scenes that just seem to pad out the running time; the scene of Julia building a house of cards and the one where she traces designs in the carpet don’t really help me to connect with her psyche as much as make me check my watch to see how long it will be before we get back to the story. The second half of the movie is better, largely because the plot finally starts moving at this point. In short, this movie is just too slow-moving to be really effective.

Holocaust 2000 (1977)

HOLOCAUST 2000 (1977)
(a.k.a. THE CHOSEN)
Article #1751 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-30-2005
Posting Date: 5-29-2006
Directed by Alberto De Martino
Featuring Kirk Douglas, Simon Ward, Agostina Belli

An executive begins work on building a new type of nuclear power plant in the Middle East despite huge resistance to his plan. However, opponents of his project start dying in bizarre ways. He then discovers that there are clues in the situation that point to Biblical legends about the Antichrist…

This is one of those movies that is so clearly modeled off of a more successful and famous movie (namely, THE OMEN), that it’s hard not to miss the obvious duplication. This one tries to be a little bit mysterious about the identity of the Antichrist, but you should be able to see easily through the artifice and pick out the real Antichrist, especially after the first death. And like THE OMEN, we have another big-name star (Kirk Douglas) as the father of the “problem child”. Given its obvious pedigree and its almost total lack of surprises in the story, I still found this one a decent watch; in particular, I liked the moment where he discovers how the seven-headed demon of legend manifests itself in real life. Still, I would have liked the moment a lot better had the movie not dwelt on the discovery for far longer than was necessary; furthermore, the movie felt necessary to trot it out again and again later on in the movie. That is perhaps the movie’s worst problem – it’s tendency to keep repeating key moments and discoveries several times. It’s almost as if they didn’t think the viewer would get it. Some of the scenes are rather strange, but some of the moments are rather clever, such as the moment where the new head of the company decides to change the number of board members from 12 to 21. Still, if you’ve seen THE OMEN, there won’t really be much here to surprise you.

Hansel and Gretel (1954)

Article #1705 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-14-2005
Posting Date: 4-13-2006
Directed by Michael Myerberg and John Paul
Featuring the voices of Anna Russell, Mildred Dunnock, Frank Rogier

Two children are sent out into the woods to gather strawberries. They get lost, and find themselves threatened by a witch who means to eat them.

It’s opera time, again. However, this one is based on a familiar children’s story, and it contains spoken passages as well, so following the story is a snap. It is also animated with electronic puppets, so it should be of interest to animation and puppetry fans as well.

Nonetheless, I am a little disappointed with this one. Though it’s obviously a labor of love, it lacks somewhat that sense of magic that really brings this sort of thing to life. Part of the problem is the design of Hansel and Gretel; their mouths, though articulated, are locked in a perpetual smile, which somewhat destroys the illusion of danger. The movement of the puppets also doesn’t quite sync up with the music to the extent that would make this one a real delight; in this respect, it falls far short of FANTASIA, a movie which is mentioned in comparison on the back of the DVD package for this one. It has some nice moments, and I do applaud the effort, but I did find myself getting bored frequently, especially since there really isn’t much of a story, and the movie doesn’t quite have the necessary charm to fill in during the dead spots. Still, the witch has some fascinating facial movements, and a short “making of” extra on the DVD shows how this was done. Interesting, but not quite satisfying overall.

Horror Hotel (1960)

Article #1701 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-10-2005
Posting Date: 4-9-2006
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Featuring Patricia Jessel, Dennis Lotis, Christopher Lee

A young woman goes to a small town to do some research on witchcraft for a paper, but discovers that witchcraft hasn’t exactly died…

You want atmosphere? You got atmosphere! There’s more rolling ground fog in any one of several scenes here than you will find in five or six viewings of THE WOLF MAN. All the evil people let you know how evil they are from square one, and all the scared ones are REALLY scared. Actually, in my opinion, there’s too much atmosphere; I’d gladly trade some of it for something in the way of some good story twists or a couple of surprise revelations; as it is, the only thing that surprised me was that after the opening “burn-the-witch” sequence was that the plot didn’t go in the direction of having the burned witch take revenge on the offspring of those that killed her. Still, I may be protesting too much here; though I find the story predictable, individual scenes are quite good, the acting is fine, and it does work itself up to a delicious ending that really lingers in the memory. Oddly enough, I thought the plot structure seemed a little similar to that of PSYCHO in that the first half of the movie leads up to an investigation by a relative in the second half of the movie. Director John Llewellyn Moxey would go on to direct any number of TV movies during the seventies, and writer/executive producer Milton Subotsky would later join forces with Max Rosenberg (who does some uncredited production work on this one as well) to produce several anthology horror movies for Amicus.

Horror Express (1973)

Article #1700 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-9-2005
Posting Date: 4-8-2006
Directed by Eugenio Martin
Featuring Chrisopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Alberto de Mendoza

A fossil of an ape-man discovered in Manchuria is being shipped across Siberia in a crate on a train. Concern rises when strange deaths begin occurring in the vicinity of the crate.

I really like the use of the train in this movie. The very image of this monstrous metal machine barreling forward through the wilderness along with the thundering sound of the locomotive and the blast of the horn is enough to put you on edge. It’s a very appropriate image to go with the movie, as the story itself is very well-paced, moves forward with an inexorable speed, and is never dull. It’s also peopled with interesting characters (especially the monk played by Alberto de Mendoza whose obsession with the creature is distinctly unhealthy), and features fine performances from Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. There are a few problems; the movie can’t really decide if the threat is supernatural or extraterrestrial (if the latter, why all the stuff about the cross?), it’s not consistent in how possession affects people physically, and the performance by Telly Savalas (who only appears during the last twenty minutes of the movie) is more strange than effective. Still, it looks wonderful, and the sets and exteriors (purchased cheaply after they were built for NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRIA) give the movie a real sense of atmosphere. It’s definitely worth catching.