How Awful About Allan (1970)

HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALLAN (1970)
Article 2842 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-17-2009
Posting Date: 5-25-2009
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Featuring Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris, Joan Hackett
Country: USA

A young man is struck blind as a result of the guilt he feels concerning a fire that caused the death of his father and the scarring of his sister’s face. When he is released from a mental hospital with his vision only partially restored, he goes to live with his sister. However, when a mysterious student boarder moves into the premises with them, he begins to feel that this new resident means to kill him.

Storywise, this movie is no great shakes; I was able to get the gist of what was really going on very early in the proceedings. Nevertheless, the movie works all right anyway for two reasons. One is the presence of Anthony Perkins as the partially-blind man; he is quite effective at projecting that paranoia and sense of persecution (which adds to the horror atmosphere that makes this one at least marginally genre) that is vital for this story to work. The other is that the movie makes good use of the character’s half-blindness by giving us a number of point-of-view shots from his perspective; we never get a good look at the boarder’s face, and during the scenes where he’s terrorized, we never see who is doing the terrorizing. These factors help the movie to work on an emotional basis, which is quite helpful when the story falters. The rest of the cast is quite solid as well. It’s not a great TV-Movie, but I thought it was effective enough.

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The Haunted Curiosity Shop (1901)

THE HAUNTED CURIOSITY SHOP (1901)
Article 2826 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-1-2009
Posting Date: 5-9-2009
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: UK

The proprietor of a curiosity shop is startled by a visitation from a skull that changes into several different creatures.

Robert W. Paul was a producer during the very early years of cinema; he is apparently a big enough name in Britain that they released a DVD of all of his extant work. His most famous movie is probably THE ? MOTORIST, a clever special-effects film that manages to not come across as a Melies imitation, and the most famous image from that film (a car driving around on the rings of Saturn) supplies the cover picture for the DVD. He produced several other shorts with fantastic themes, some of which have been on my hunt list for some time, and which I will now be laying to rest during the next few days.

This one is very reminiscent of Melies; there’s no plot, just a series of camera tricks, some of which are quite amusing. The most striking image has a woman appearing in halves; first her top half appears, and then the bottom half walks on and takes its place under her top half. The skull also turns into a full skeleton at one point, as well as several dwarfs.

The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)

THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970)
Article 2782 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-19-2008
Posting Date: 3-26-2009
Directed by Jimmy Sangster
Featuring Ralph Bates, Kate O’Mara, Veronica Carlson
Country: UK

Baron Frankenstein leaves the university in order to pursue his own research, in which he plans to assemble a man from body parts and bring him to life.

This completes my coverage of the Hammer Frankenstein movies, and I definitely did not save the best for last. This is the only one in the series that did not feature Peter Cushing, but that’s perfectly understandable, as it concentrates on his early years. Actually, I didn’t quite know what to make of this one until I read in one of my sources that the movie was a comic rendering of the tale. Knowing that now, I can see it; Frankenstein’s habit of making light of everything in his path, his use of a chart with numbered body parts to keep track of what he has and what he needs, the extreme stupidity of all of those he ends up killing, etc. – they all hint that this movie isn’t something that should be taken too seriously. Unfortunately, only one actor in the cast seems to know it’s a comedy, and he (Dennis Price) steals the show as the grave robber who is overly ambitious in supplying Frankenstein with his bodies. Ralph Bates seems to grasp the idea, but he never really fully commits to a comic performance, and everyone else in the cast seems to be performing as if it’s anything but a comedy. That’s a major problem; comedy requires a certain clearness of purpose, an awareness that one is doing a comedy, and good timing to work, and, for the most part, those qualities are not present here. Even the score thinks it’s a straightforward horror movie. It’s a pity, because as a straightforward horror movie, it’s a washout; the story doesn’t really go anywhere new, the monster is a nonentity (David Prowse would do much better in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL), and the ending is just plain bad. This is far and away the weakest of the Hammer Frankenstein movies.

House of Mortal Sin (1976)

HOUSE OF MORTAL SIN (1976)
aka The Confessional
Article 2775 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-12-2008
Posting Date: 3-19-2009
Directed by Pete Walker
Featuring Anthony Sharp, Susan Penhaligon, Stephanie Beacham
Country: UK

A distraught young woman finds herself confessing her sins to a priest who becomes obsessed with her, and who undertakes drastic measures (including murder) to save her soul.

Having just read “English Gothic”, a history of the British horror film, I got a chance to gain a perspective of what Pete Walker’s horror movies were trying to accomplish and the climate in which they were made. As a result, I found myself going into this movie with a more sympathetic outlook than I might otherwise have had. I ended up being quite impressed with this one; it’s one of those horror movies that tries to be about something more than just scaring people. On one level, it’s about how a madman can avoid suspicion by dint of his being in a profession that is supposedly above suspicion (the priesthood, in this case) and by proving to be a consummate liar; whenever the priest starts to lie, it’s easy to see why practically everyone believes him. It’s also one of the saddest horror movies I’ve ever seen; practically every character has had a traumatically unhappy life or will have one by the end of the movie. The acting is strong throughout, and the script does an excellent job of fleshing out the characters; you end up having strong feelings about every character, and seemingly one dimensional characters (such as the one-eyed housekeeper) turn out to have histories that make you understand (if not approve) their actions. For me, the only time the film really fumbles is when it stoops to horror cliches; in particular, having the thunderstorm raging outside smacks of a certain overbearing convenience. Anthony Sharp plays the psychotic priest, and he does a fine job, but I’ll always wonder what it would have been like had Peter Cushing (who was originally approached for the role but had other film commitments) had played it.

H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come (1979)

H.G. WELLS’ THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME (1979)
Article 2770 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-7-2008
Posting Date: 3-14-2009
Directed by George McCowan
Featuring Jack Palance, Carol Lynley, Barry Morse
Country: Canada

Delta Three is the only planet that can supply the Earth with a drug that can combat radiation poisoning. When Delta Three is taken over by a tyrant who plans to cut off supplies of the drug unless he is acknowledged as supreme ruler, a group of heroes leaves the moon to defeat him.

It’s my own personal belief that if you stick the name of a well-known author in the title of a movie you’re making, you should make sure the movie has something to do with the author in question. Still, Mr. Wells need not worry about one thing; I’m positive that he had no hand whatsoever in this idiotic STAR WARS clone. Granted, I didn’t expect much of this one from the beginning; there’s nothing like seeing the name of Harry Alan Towers that makes me pull out my cheese detector, and believe me, there’s a lot of cheese here to get through. Jack Palance does nothing interesting with his role here, but then, the script doesn’t give him anything to work with; he was obviously cast on the strength of his menacing presence alone. At least he was appropriately cast; Carol Lynley (an actress who seems to me to be much more appropriate in roles where she is required to freeze up and become totally useless in times of crisis) is horribly miscast as the leader of a group of rebels (the type of role in which your character should never freeze up and become useless in times of crisis). Throw in some lame robots that look like shorter versions of the ones in TARGET EARTH, a comic relief robot that remains utterly lame, horrible dialogue, and a cliched plot, and you have a thoroughly unsatisfying piece of product.

The Hanging Woman (1973)

THE HANGING WOMAN (1973)
aka La Orgia de los muertos, Beyond the Living Dead
Article 2723 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-20-2008
Posting Date: 1-26-2009
Directed by Jose Luis Merino
Featuring Stelvio Rosi, Maria Pia Conte, Dyanik Zurakowska
Country: Spain/Italy

The heir to an estate arrives at the town of his recently deceased uncle to find strange events occurring; a woman is found hanging in the graveyard, a gravedigger is engaged in inhuman acts, a countess is engaged in black magic, and a scientist dabbles in ways to animate the dead.

Most of the reviews of this one prominently mention the presence of Spanish horror star Paul Naschy, but don’t put to much stock in that; he’s here all right, but he’s consigned to a secondary role that leaves him mostly on the outskirts of the main story. Still, he serves as an interesting distraction, as his necrophiliac character is certainly the sickest aspect of this rather strange story. Actually, I quite liked this one; it’s one of those movies that really leaves you wondering which direction it’s going to go before it’s all over, but somehow it never loses sight of its story through all the twists and turns. It’s part “old dark house” film, part “mad scientist” flick, part “zombie” flick, and part just plain depravity. You won’t even know who the good guys are until you’re well into it; Stelvio Rosi’s character has moments where he comes across as rather vile, and he turns out to be the hero. This one has a whole slew of alternate titles, but I prefer THE HANGING WOMAN, if for no other reason than it gives away the least; you know just what the title means when it comes up. All in all, this is an odd but rather fun Spanish horror movie.

 

El hombre sin rostro (1950)

EL HOMBRE SIN ROSTRO (1950)
aka Man Without a Face
Article 2648 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-6-2008
Posting Date: 11-12-2008
Directed by Juan Bustillo Oro
Featuring Arturo de Cordova, Carmen Molina, Miguel Angel Ferriz
Country: Mexico

A detective is obsessed with catching a serial killer who goes after women. He has nightmarish dreams about the killer.

This movie opens in a strange dream-like world. The detective sits on a bench and watches a funeral procession going by with several coffins. His mother appears to him and begins talking. His attention is directed to a shadowy figure walking under some lampposts. The detective empties his gun into the figure, who, rather than falling, merely stops in his tracks. The detective attempts to look at the figure’s face, and finds that his face is blank…

This is the incredibly striking beginning of this movie, and it made me wish intensely that I was watching a version of it that had subtitles; my copy is in Spanish, and much of the detail of the movie is buried in the dialogue. I was only able to figure out that the main character was a detective by reading another plot description; I wish I’d known it at the outset, because it would have helped quite a bit in understanding what was going on; as it was, I made an assumption I don’t think I would have made had I known this fact. That’s one of the perils in watching movies in languages that you don’t understand. Nevertheless, I suspect that this is a great film; certainly, the eerie dream sequences are wonderful. The box in which I received the movie said it showed a certain resemblance to PSYCHO, though I also found it reminding me of the Canadian thriller THE MASK. At any rate, this is another one of those Mexican horror movies that convinced me that they made some truly excellent ones over the years, and I only hope a subtitled edition of this one shows up in the near future.