A Howling in the Woods (1971)

Article 3691 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-7-2011
Posting Date: 9-22-2001
Directed by Daniel Petrie
Featuring Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman, John Rubinstein
Country: USA
What it is: Small-town-with-a-secret thriller

A woman planning on getting a divorce returns to her home town to find the residents hostile and surly. She stays at the hotel owned by her parents, but she begins to wonder about several mysteries – why isn’t her father home? Why does no one talk about the little girl who drowned a few weeks ago? And why is a dog howling in the woods?

I’ve seen the basic premise that drives the first half of the movie (a town with a secret where everyone treats the newcomer/intruder with hostility and surliness) so many times now that I’ve gotten annoyed by it. This is probably because I get tired of the predictability of how this plays out – have the woman discover a clue and then have someone lie to her about it, and repeat this pattern until finally, late in the movie, someone tells her the truth. Fortunately, for this movie, the secret is good enough to make the second half much better; the movie stops being annoying and becomes suspenseful. It makes me really wish they had taken a different approach to telling the story, one that wasn’t quite so hackneyed. However, there are a few points that need to be made. One is that this is really pretty marginal as far as horror content goes. A dog howling in the woods is not necessarily scary, and though the movie flirts with the theme of madness, it remains a flirtation; in the final analysis, this is a mystery/thriller. Second, it is interesting to see Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman unite again after their “I Dream of Jeannie” days, though in truth, Hagman (who plays the Eden’s husband) really doesn’t have much to do in the story.


Hand of Power (1968)

aka Im Banne des Unheimlichen

Article 3687 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-3-2011
Posting Date: 9-18-2011
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
Featuring Joachim Fuchsberger, Siw Mattson, Wolfgang Kieling
Country: West Germany
What it is: Krimi

A killer dressed in a skeleton outfit is murdering heirs to the estate of an English lord. Rumors claim that the killer may be the dead Lord himself… returned as a zombie!

I rapidly found myself losing track of the plot of this Edgar Wallace mystery, due to a plethora of characters that make a checklist practically necessary to follow the thing. Still, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. This is one of the krimis that emphasizes humor, not so much through the intrusion of a specific comic relief character but through the general tone of the script, and there’s actually a lot of fun and amusing lines in the movie. It also helps that the killer’s skeleton costume is genuinely creepy, especially when he opens his mouth, and his method of murder (he injects venom into his victims with a scorpion-tail ring) is also effective. The movie has a very striking beginning in which pallbearers drop a coffin after a hideous laugh issues from it. I definitely found this one a lot of fun.

El hacha diabolica (1965)

aka Santo vs the Diabolical Hatchet

Article 3684 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-31-2011
Posting Date: 9-15-2011
Directed by Jose Diaz Morales
Featuring Santo, Lorena Velazquez, Fernando Oses
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican wrestler movie

Santo must face a supernatural creature – an axe-wielding phantom who can appear out of thin air.

The copy I found of this movie was in unsubtitled Spanish, and I really wish it wasn’t; not only does the movie dabble in explaining Santo’s origins, but it’s one of the more genuinely eerie movies of his. It opens with an odd scene where it appears a bunch of monks are burying Santo, but it becomes apparent after a bit that we’re in the past, and it apparently establishes that Santo is not just one hero but one in a long line of them. The scenes involving the axe-wielding nemesis are memorable; sometimes his shadow merely appears on the wall for atmosphere, and his appearances are always startling and sudden. There’s a sequence where Santo travels into the past, and I believe I’ve seen a similar sequence in one of his other movies. At any rate, this is one of the higher ones on my list of movies that I really hope to find a subtitled copy of at some time.

The Humanoid (1979)

aka L’umanoide

Article 3645 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-23-2011
Posting Date: 8-7-2011
Directed by Aldo Lado
Featuring Richard Kiel, Corinne Clery, Leonard Mann
Country: Italy
What it is: STAR WARS clone

In a bid to take over the galaxy, an evil man has a space pilot transformed into a giant indestructible humanoid who will wreak terror at his command.

Well, the movie gets some points for not stealing the plot of STAR WARS, and Ennie Morricone does manage to keep the score from sounding too much like reheated John Williams, although that doesn’t keep it from sounding tinny and cheap. Nevertheless, the design characteristics of this film borrow from its inspiration at every possible chance; in fact, it even imitates the “huge ship passing overhead” from the opening scene of that movie twice, which is really overdoing it. We also get a mechanical dog that is this movie’s R2D2, a scene where guns in the rear of a Millennium Falcon-like ship are used to destroy attackers, lots of scenes on a desert planet, and lots of faux Darth Vaders. Granted, you know a movie doesn’t have a lot going for it when it’s top-billed star is Richard Kiel, though I will say that by this time he proved a much better actor than he’d been during the sixties. This is only for people who love Italian STAR WARS clones, and, yes, I do believe they exist.

Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

aka El espanto surge la tumba

Article 3644 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-22-2011
Posting Date: 8-6-2011
Directed by Carlos Aured
Featuring Paul Naschy, Emma Cohen, Victor Alcazar
Country: Spain
What it is: Witches and vampires and walking dead

A practitioner of the black arts puts a curse on his executioners. Years later when his descendants set out to find his remains, he begins acting out his vengeance.

Paul Naschy was such a fan of the classic monsters that I often wish I liked his movies better than I do. Granted, I’m usually catching poorly-dubbed cut prints of varying condition when I watch them, and they’re simply not going to work as well because of the sense of cheapness they project. Like many of his movies that I’ve seen, this one just doesn’t pick up much in the way of horror momentum; there’s lots of scary scenes, but there’s no decent story flow and there’s a tiresome sameness to a lot of the scenes in the movie. His movies would be really hard to follow if they weren’t built on such familiar elements; the witch/warlock cursing his executioners storyline is fairly common, the idea of matching up the head of the sorcerer to his body has popped up before (specifically, in THE THING THAT COULDN’T DIE), and the living dead sequence is just another nod to a certain George Romero movie. There are a couple of special effects sequences that work fairly well, but, as in many Naschy movies, certain individual moments work although the movie as a whole doesn’t. Still, I’m willing to bet a good complete print with subtitles would improve things.

The Hearse (1980)

Article 3642 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-20-2011
Posting Date: 8-4-2011
Directed by George Bowers
Featuring Trish Van Devere, Joseph Cotten, David Gautreaux
Country: USA
What it is: Spooky house story

After a stressful year, a recently divorced woman moves into a country house in the hopes of getting away from it all… only to discover that the house is haunted and that she’s being terrorized at night by a big black hearse.

Woman has a spooky experience. Woman convinces herself it was her imagination or that she was dreaming. Woman has another spooky experience. Woman convinces herself it was her imagination or that she was dreaming. Woman has another spooky experience. Woman convinces herself it was her imagination or that she was dreaming. Woman has another…. repeat until you feel like you actually need to have something happen in the story. That’s the movie in a nutshell. You have a mysterious man in a black hearse, a ghost, some devil worship, a couple of unnecessary side characters so you can have someone die near the end of the movie, a bunch of hostile townspeople, and a little exorcism thrown into the mix… well, I suppose if you’re in the right mood, this might be a little creepy, but I found it slow, obvious, rather dull, not particularly scary, and loaded with filler. A little old-fashioned star power with Joseph Cotten doesn’t help much.

Hangar 18 (1980)

HANGAR 18 (1980)
Article 3641 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-19-2011
Posting Date: 8-3-2011
Directed by James L. Conway
Featuring Gary Collins, Robert Vaughn, James Hampton
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction conspiracy thriller

A UFO lands in Arizona after colliding with a satellite just put into orbit by NASA, an accident that results in the death of an astronaut. The government tries to keep the discovery of the UFO under wraps while investigating the craft, but the other two astronauts (blamed unfairly for the death of the third) can only clear their names by finding the evidence that the UFO exists.

The scenes in the movie can roughly be split into two sections; there are those that deal with the investigation of the alien spacecraft, and there are those that deal with the government conspiracy. I find the investigation of the spacecraft to be a potentially interesting concept, and the best moments of the movie revolve around these sections. However, the other half of the movie deals with one of the most dunderheaded cinematic government conspiracies I’ve ever encountered; every action the conspirators take just seems to make the chances of keeping this thing under wraps more unlikely, and had they simply taken the other two astronauts into their confidence (after all, there’s nothing illegal about investigating a UFO) rather than trying to cover up everything and placing the blame for the death on their heads (thus simply encouraging them to investigate on their own), the whole action-conspiracy-thriller section of the movie could have been dispensed with. As it is, it’s what Roger Ebert called an “idiot plot”; a conflict that could have been easily resolved if the characters hadn’t been idiots. And, unfortunately, the conspiracy eventually spirals out of control and takes the UFO investigation sequence with it, leaving a series of unresolved plot points and a dumb ending in its wake. But then, what do you expect from a movie produced by that purveyor of documentaries like THE OUTER SPACE CONNECTION and IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK – Sunn Classics.