House of the Damned (1974)

HOUSE OF THE DAMNED (1974)
aka La Loba y la Paloma
Article 2467 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-3-2008
Posting Date: 5-14-2008
Directed by Gonzalo Suarez
Featuring Carmen Sevilla, Donald Pleasence, Michael Dunn
Country: Spain/Liechtenstein

An ex-convict arrives at the house of the man he murdered. He finds relatives of the murdered man living there. He informs them that the daughter of the man he killed has knowledge of the whereabouts of a gold statuette that could make them all rich. They have the daughter released from the asylum where she has been committed, and they try to persuade her to reveal the location of the statuette. However, she hasn’t talked since the night her father was killed.

This movie has a rating of 2.3 on IMDB, so when I say I really liked this movie, bear in mind that it may be a serious lapse of taste on my part. And I will confess that the movie may be pretentious and arty; much of the dialogue is truly strange, and there is an enormous potential that the movie can alienate the viewer. I was enthralled, however; it’s one of those movies that I found rather unpredictable, and the fact that each of the four characters searching to find the location of the statuette have vastly different methods and surprising secondary intentions held my interest throughout the movie. Still, those expecting a horror movie will definitely be frustrated; despite the plot element of insanity, a scary storm sequence, and the presence of a dwarf (Michael Dunn, of course, who gives perhaps the strangest performance here), it’s more like a bizarre melodrama than a horror movie. In fact, it reminds me somewhat of the old Tod Browning/Lon Chaney silents, at least on a certain level. The whole cast does an excellent job, and the dubbing is very good (though Pleasence and Dunn keep their own voices). I’m almost tempted to recommend this one, but bear in mind that low IMDB rating and the possibility that it may just happened to fall in the range of my own quirks.

 

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Histoires extraordinaires a faire peur ou a faire rire (1949)

HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES A FAIRE PEUR OU A FAIRE RIRE (1949)
aka Unusual Tales
Article 2460 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-27-2007
Posting Date: 5-7-2008
Directed by Jean Faurez
Featuring Fernand Ledoux, Suzy Carrier, Jules Berry
Country: France

Gendarmes trade horror stories with each other.

This is another movie that I’ve only seen in an undubbed unsubtitled version, this time in French. Since this anthology features tales by Thomas De Quincey and Edgar Allan Poe, I had at least some chance of following it; I wasn’t familiar with the De Quincey story, but the Poe stories are fairly common ones – “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “A Cask of Amontillado”. I was glad to see that the old man of the former story wasn’t portrayed as a fiendish villain as he usually is, but as a pleasant old man. Unfortunately, this version of the story is fairly timid, and, in fact, the whole movie gave me the sense that it was aiming more for humor than horror. That’s all right for “Amontillado”, but it leaves “The Tell-Tale Heart” a shadow of its former self. I wasn’t able to follow the De Quincey story (“Ecce Homo”) very well, but it does have one shocker moment when a crate is opened. The framing segment with the gendarmes doesn’t seem to go anywhere, and it ends with them singing along to an organ grinder. It will probably take a dubbed or subtitled version of this one for me to really appreciate it.

 

House of Mystery (1961)

HOUSE OF MYSTERY (1961)
Article 2457 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-24-2007
Posting Date: 5-4-2008
Directed by Vernon Sewell
Featuring Peter Dyneley, Jane Hylton, Nanette Newman
Country: UK

A young couple is startled to find that a big, comfortable house has such a small selling price on it. The woman who shows them the house tells them that the house is haunted, and tells the tale of the previous residents.

I’m really tempted to overpraise this modest, unassuming little horror movie, if for no other reason than that the ending blew me away. It’s not really that the ending is brilliant or original; it’s simply that the movie does such a fine job of setting up that ending that I marveled at how effectively I was manipulated by the movie. Yet I don’t want to talk the movie up too much because I don’t want people to go in with high expectations, because that just might kill the movie. Furthermore, the reason the ending was so effective for me was that it was timed perfectly with the way my thoughts were thinking at that point, and that may be something of an accident; it may not work near as well for someone else. As for the rest of the movie, it’s mostly the usual ghost story, with the most interesting aspect being how the ghost manifestations are tied to electricity. In fact, electricity plays a huge part in the story; all of the deaths in the story are the cause of electricity as well. Also, the structure of the story is rather odd (it has flashbacks within flashbacks), but, if the ending works for you, you’ll know why.

 

The Horror of Party Beach (1964)

THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (1964)
Article 2380 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-1-2007
Posting Date: 2-17-2008
Directed by Del Tenney
Featuring John Scott, Alice Lyon, Allan Laurel

Underwater radioactive waste reactivates human skeletons, turning them into bloodthirsty sea beasts who come on land and murder people. Scientist try to figure out how to destroy them. The Del-Aires swing out six big beat songs. Eulabelle swears it’s the voodoo.

With its poor cliche-ridden script, dumb characters and uneven acting, it’s tempting to dismiss the movie completely. But let’s give credit where credit is due. For a group that is largely known for their appearance in a movie, the Del-Aires aren’t bad at all as far as these things go. Some of the attack scenes also have a certain savage effectiveness. Granted, one of the reasons these scenes are effective is that they’re so dark that you can’t really see what’s going on clearly, and that means you can’t see the monsters very well, and, with their googly eyes, hot dog-filled mouths, and bad posture (they walk like they’ve all just undergone a painful wedgie), the less clearly you can see them, the better. The movie is at its worst when it’s trying to be funny; much of the early humor seems to be lifted from a bad joke book, and Eulabelle is an unfunny throwback to the black comic stereotypes from two decades previous. The humor is further enhanced by dumb blondes and drunks. The movie has its advocates, but I’m afraid that I think this is Del Tenney’s weakest movie.

 

The Hunchback of the Morgue (1973)

THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (1973)
aka El Jorobado de la Morgue
Article 2352 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-3-2007
Posting Date: 1-20-2008
Directed by Javier Aguirre
Featuring Paul Naschy, Rosanna Yanni, Victor Barrera

A hunchback who supplies cadavers for doctors finds himself grief-stricken at the death of a woman who was his only friend when he was young. He puts her body in hiding and approaches a doctor whom he thinks will bring her back to life. The doctor agrees, but he has plans of his own…

I’m really beginning to see the appeal of some of these Paul Naschy movies. He obviously has a real affection for the characters he plays, and he builds the scripts around making the character both the monster and the hero. As a result, the plots go through some fascinating mutations to bring about this theme. The plots are often unpredictable; once you reach a point where you think you have an idea of how the rest of the movie is going to go, he throws in new characters and new plot developments to push the movie in a different direction, and the only thing you know for sure is, at the end of the movie, the monster Naschy has been playing will turn out to be the hero, though one who, of course, must die. It does make the movies interesting, though it can often dissolve into mere silliness. I quite like this one myself; it manages to stop short of the silliness, and it gets Naschy away from the overfamiliar combination of vampires and werewolves. Which is not to say it doesn’t have problems; the dubbing is quite bad, and there are some real logic flaws. One of the latter is that so many characters make comments about the hunchback’s ugly face that it’s surprising that Naschy uses very little face makeup, and though he’s not the most handsome man in the world, he isn’t ugly. I suspect that he doesn’t use ugly makeup because that would put the kibbosh on his love scene with Rosanna Yanni; it’s a case of Naschy trying to have it both ways. Another problem is that it’s really hard to believe at any point in the proceedings that the hunchback “wouldn’t hurt a fly”, as one character claims, but there seem to be quite a few characters here who consider him harmless. Nevertheless, these are minor quibbles, and this is one of Naschy’s most entertaining movies.

 

Hawk the Slayer (1980)

HAWK THE SLAYER (1980)
Article 2333 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-15-2007
Posting Date: 1-1-2008
Directed by Terry Marcel
Featuring Jack Palance, John Terry, Bernard Bresslaw

When an evil man kidnaps an abbess and holds her for ransom, his good brother reunites with a dwarf, a giant and an elf in an attempt to defeat him.

Most of the fantasy I’ve covered to date has been of the light variety; true epic fantasy was fairly rare in cinema until the eighties, when special effects technology began opening up the possibilities of what could be done. There was some epic fantasy in earlier years, but most of it based on mythology or fairy tales. I like epic fantasy enough that I feel the desire to cut this movie some slack; it was really one of the first of its kind. And every once in a while, it actually has a nice moment here and there that indicates that someone had a feel for what they were doing. Unfortunately, these end up just being moments; the movie suffers from a plethora of problems, not least of which is an inadequate budget. Weak direction, uneven pacing, and highly variable acting also serve to undermine the movie, which comes across as cheesy and/or corny way too often. It’s also very hard to buy the quite youthful John Terry and the sixty-one year old Jack Palance (and he looks every year of it) as brothers. Terry fails to project an engagingly heroic persona, but the biggest disappointment is Palance’s performance; though Palance is fully capable of giving great performances and has the ability to exude menace with the best of them, he chooses to really chew the scenery in this one, and it becomes impossible to take him seriously. Maybe it’s no surprise that the movie depends too much on tepid comic relief. I don’t know how well this movie did at the box office; I only know that it never played in any theater near me, and that it sets itself up for a sequel that never happened, so I’m betting it was a flop.

 

Halloween (1978)

HALLOWEEN (1978)
Article 2332 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-14-2007
Posting Date: 12-31-2007
Directed by John Carpenter
Featuring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes

A man, institutionalized for fifteen years after having killed his sister with a knife when he was a child, escapes from his asylum. He returns to his home town to commit more murders with the doctor from the asylum in hot pursuit of him.

I must confess at this point that I’ve long suffered from two problems as a fan of fantastic cinema; I’m a bit of a crank and a bit of a snob. I now believe these to be character flaws (and one of the reasons I undertook this whole Movie of the Day series was an attempt to overcome that), but I didn’t always believe that; when I was younger, I would often avoid movies for no other reason than that they were quite popular, and would often argue that they couldn’t hold a candle to the older movies. It should be no surprise under these circumstances that I avoided this movie like the plague when it was in its initial run. I wish I had seen it; I might certainly have understood why it spawned the whole slasher craze. After all, crazes like these are usually started by some truly great movie that created the template, and this one fits the bill.

So here I am, almost three decades after the movie was released, seeing it for the first time. I can understand why it brought both John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis into the limelight; Carpenter is definitely at the peak of his powers here, and Curtis made for the definitive slasher heroine. I’m also fascinated with the way it chooses to defy logic and reason; we’re given no real explanation for why Michael Myers is what he is or does what he does, other than the fact that he is an evil boogeyman. It defies our initial assumptions (such as that Myers is essentially human), and plays with our expectations. Many of the attacks come at unexpected moments, often after the movie has supplied countless opportunities for Myers to make his move; the babysitter that gets caught in the window comes to mind. But, on top of this, I also like the fact that Carpenter includes a fair share of nods to the past, including the presence of Donald Pleasence who had already had a long association with horror at this point, and the use of footage from THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) and FORBIDDEN PLANET . It’s almost as if Carpenter was acknowledging that he was part of a long tradition even as he was creating a new template. I also quite like Pleasence’s performance, especially in the light that he was given a character as single-minded as Watson Pritchard in HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL , but still manages to deliver his variations of the “Michael Myers is pure evil” theme with believable panache.

My favorite moment: one babysitter notices something funny about the windshield of the car.