The House on Skull Mountain (1974)

THE HOUSE ON SKULL MOUNTAIN (1974)
Article 3783 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-11-2011
Posting Date: 12-23-2011
Directed by Ron Honthaner
Featuring Victor French, Janee Michelle, Jean Durand
Country: USA
What it is: Blaxploitation ‘old dark house’ movie with voodoo

Right before her death, a family matriarch sends for four great-grandchildren who don’t realize they are part of the family. They arrive in time for the woman’s funeral and await the reading of the will. Then they begin to die…

We’ve had blaxploitation vampires, Frankenstein monsters, and Mr. Hydes; why not an “old dark house” movie as well? Then throw some voodoo into the mix. Sadly, the script seems as if it was doing the bare minimum to bring the premise to life, and there are times when this movie seems to be an exercise in stretching out the undernourished script to feature length; there’s an endless driving sequence, one of those “romantic montages”, and a long voodoo ceremony to fill up running time. The first half is the weakest, because we also have to deal with an annoying and insensitive jive-talker who is fortunately the first to go; afterwards, the movie improves a little, though it doesn’t rise above the ordinary. There is, however, at least one striking visual that makes for the best moment in the movie; there’s a scene with a woman looking into a mirror that becomes juxtaposed with a skull that shows some momentary cinematic cleverness, and it almost makes the movie worth catching.

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Haunts (1977)

HAUNTS (1977)
Article 3782 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-10-2011
Posting Date: 12-22-2011
Directed by Herb Freed
Featuring May Britt, Cameron Mitchell, Aldo Ray
Country: USA
What it is: Starts out as a psycho on the loose movie, then…

A young woman who works on a farm becomes embroiled in a series of psychotic scissor murders.

If sheer unpredictability is an unmixed blessing, than this movie gets by; even knowing that there were plot twists coming down the pike, I was unable to see just which way the twists were going to go, and the final revelations were indeed unforeseen by me. Yet, in the end, I’m not sure I’m quite satisfied by the movie; there are moments when the movie feels more than a little silly, and there are moments where I feel the plot is careening out of control. But these are just moments, and meanwhile I can appreciate the acting from the three leads and the fact that the movie does seem intriguing at times. I think the dissatisfaction I have comes from the fact that there’s either something missing, or that something has been mishandled, but what it is escapes me. Still, I will say this much; a quick glance at some of the IMDB reviews gives me a movie to compare it to (which I won’t repeat here because, frankly, it gives away one of the major twists), and I don’t feel anywhere near the sharp vibe I do from that movie as I do with this one. At this point, I can only classify this one as a misfire with a question mark.

Hoffmanns Erzahlungen (1916)

HOFFMANNS ERZAHLUNGEN (1916)
aka Tales of Hoffmann
Article 3779 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-7-2011
Posting Date: 12-19-2011
Directed by Richard Oswald
Featuring Kurt Wolowsky, Max Ruhbeck, Paula Ronay
Country: Germany
What it is: Opera anthology

A young man dreams three stories based on experiences in his life.

I’ve seen the Powell/Pressburger version of this movie, which recounts the same three stories as this one does, though the ones here are far less elaborate. All the stories are about lost loves, with the first one in which our hero falls in love with an automaton being the one with the most clear fantastic content. The second story had clear fantastic content in the later version (which involved a magician and a man’s soul being kept in a mirror reflection), but those elements seem to be missing in this one, though that may simply be because, with no English title cards in this version, I may have missed those elements. The third story is about a woman who dances herself to death; in the later version, it is singing that causes the woman to die. I don’t know which way the original opera went on this one, but dancing is certainly a more visually compelling choice for a silent movie. All in all, I thought this early version was quite well done; despite the fact that the title cards are in German, I didn’t have a whole lot of trouble following it because, on top of having at least some familiarity with the language, the movie does work a lot in visual turns. I particularly liked seeing the ways the events in the young man’s life dovetailed with stories in his dreams.

A Howling in the Woods (1971)

A HOWLING IN THE WOODS (1971)
TV-Movie
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)

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)

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)

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.