The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Article 3466 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-4-2011
Posting Date: 2-9-2011
Directed by Wes Craven
Featuring Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer
Country: USA
What it is: Family feud

A middle-class family gets stuck in the middle of nowhere looking for a silver mine, and find themselves the target of a family of cannibalistic mutants.

It was a good half a decade before Wes Craven returned to horror movies after his notorious THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and this is the result. It lacks that gritty sense of reality that made his earlier movie so memorable, but the production values are higher, it’s better paced, and it avoids the comic relief that badly marred the other movie. Yet, I find myself somewhat disappointed by this one. The first half of the movie works the best; with one exception, our glimpses of the mutant family are so fleeting and quick that a genuine sense of dread is built up. However, once we start seeing the mutants regularly, the dread starts to dissipate; they’re overly chatty and even a little bit cartoony. Furthermore, the concept that this middle class family will prove just as violent and brutal as the mutants (the element that is supposed to make the movie disturbing) isn’t new, even for Craven; that was one of the whole points of the last part of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT as well. Still, Michael Berryman is scary just standing there. There would be a sequel, as well as a remake.


Honeymoon (1985)

aka Lune de miel
Article 3419 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-12-2010

Posting Date: 12-24-2010
Directed by Patrick Jamain
Featuring Nathalie Baye, John Shea, Richard Berry
Country: Canada / France
What it is: Psycho killer movie

A Frenchwoman in New York is threatened with deportation when her husband is arrested on drug charges. She arranges a marriage of convenience with another man to get her American citizenship under the assumption that she will never meet the man. Then he suddenly shows up at her apartment, and she can’t get rid of him. And furthermore, he’s not quite sane…

This is a French / Canadian production shot in New York (and Montreal) that I found difficult to find, and had to settle for a print that was dubbed into Italian. Nevertheless, I found enough in the way of plot descriptions to help me sort it out. In some ways, it reminds me of PLAY MISTY FOR ME in the way it portrays how an unhealthy person can worm their way into your life, though it’s not quite as good. Though it works itself up to a decent ending, it’s one of those movies that takes quite a while to get moving; the middle of the movie is a fairly long stretch, though it might have played better for me if I could have understood the dialogue. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty minor entry in the psycho killer movie genre.

Human Feelings (1978)

Article 3385 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-8-2010
Posting Date: 11-20-2010
Directed by Ernest Pintoff
Featuring Nancy Walker, Billy Crystal, Squire Fridell
Country: USA
What it is: Angel fantasy/comedy

When God decides to destroy Las Vegas, an unhappy angel from the music department, in hopes for a promotion, asks her if she’ll spare the city if he can find six good people there. She agrees, and the angel goes to earth as a human with only seven days to perform his mission.

A couple of sources I have describe this TV-Movie as a failed pilot inspired by the theatrical success of OH, GOD!, though I would say it’s nowhere as witty as that one. Personally, I think it shows more similarity to an earlier TV-Movie called POOR DEVIL only with an angel instead of a devil (though, once again, I find it not as witty as that one). Though I do find some of the casting interesting (God is played by Nancy Walker), I find the movie suffers badly from that TV-Movie blandness that seems designed to make sure that it all goes down smoothly without a hint of indigestion. Despite the presence of Walker and Billy Crystal, I found the movie very short on laughs; the closest I found it to being funny is when Pat Morita shows up as a waiter who sees what is coming. I do wonder what the series would be like; given the end of the movie, it could either concentrate on the further adventures of God or the further adventures of the angel, though, given what I see here, I doubt either of those ideas would have resulted in a good series. Special effects are minimal; God vanishes at one point, and I think that’s about it.

Heavy Traffic (1973)

Article 3384 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-7-2010
Posting Date: 11-19-2010
Directed by Ralph Bakshi
Featuring Joseph Kaufmann, Beverly Hope Atkinson and the voice of Frank DeKova
Country: USA
What it is: Animated underground comix

A cartoonist deals with the trials and tribulations of his life by incorporating the people and incidents in his life into comics.

The two Ralph Bakshi films that I’ve already covered (WIZARDS and THE LORD OF THE RINGS) are ones where the fantastic content is fairly up front. This one is apparently based on underground comix (and I’ll confess right up front that I’m not really familiar with the form), and may be inspired by events in Bakshi’s own life; I have no proof of that last statement, but it certainly has that air about it, and I gather it may be Bakshi’s own favorite movie of his. It’s definitely not for overly sensitive viewers, as it abounds in cartoon nudity, racial stereotypes, religious themes, foul language, extreme violence… you name it, and there’s probably a moment in this movie that features it. Though the basic story is realistic, there’s fantasy all around the edges, especially in some dream sequences and a science fiction cartoon that the main character shows to a dying man. I found it interesting enough; for what it’s worth, I think Bakshi’s animation style lends itself better to this type of project than the other ones I’ve seen of his. I was fascinated by one piece of trivia I read for this one on IMDB; apparently, Bakshi got into a fight with one of his producers, who either fired or planned to fire him and wanted to hire Chuck Jones to complete the project, who declined. Somehow, the idea of Chuck Jones completing a Ralph Bakshi project is truly mind-blowing.

The Hawks and the Sparrows (1966)

aka Uccellacci e uccellini
Article 3365 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-18-2010
Posting Date: 10-31-2010
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Featuring Toto, Ninetto Davoli, Femi Benussi
Country: Italy
What it is: Italian political art film comedy

Two men walking down the road of life encounter a talking raven who tells them a fable about a saint intent on converting the hawks and the sparrows to Christianity.

Up until now, all the Toto movies I’ve seen have been in unsubtitled Italian, and though I liked what I’d seen, I can’t really say that I was able to follow them. This is the first time I’ve encountered him with subtitles, but I highly doubt this is a typical movie of his. This is also the first movie I’ve encountered by Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, though I suspect it won’t be the last. The plot description above only covers about the first half of the movie, but I can’t really put into plot terms what happens beyond that; the various comments about it say that it deals with the church, Marxism, ideology, and any other number of subjects. One of the user comments on IMDB made me feel that to properly understand it, I need a strong grounding on the political situation in Italy at the time it was made, and that is most likely true. Still, Toto is a sharp enough comic actor that I was able to find some enjoyment in the various situations, and I think I did at least notice the theme of how ideologies flounder under the attack of human nature. The talking raven is the most prominent fantastic content in the movie, though the fable about the hawks and the sparrows contains other touches. It was an interesting viewing experience and may bear rewatching, but I think there will always be limitations in my being fully able to appreciate it.

Highlander (1986)

Article 3359 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-11-2010
Posting Date: 10-25-2010
Directed by Russell Mulcahy
Featuring Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown
Country: USA / UK
What it is: Action fantasy

An immortal (who can only die by decapitation) from the Scottish highlands must face off with an ancient foe for the Prize, a gift that will be bestowed on the last surviving immortal.

The opening music features a song by Queen at its most bombastically overbearing (and, as a fan, I need to point out that I don’t think the group’s music is always that way) and the opening scene is a wrestling match. These two items pretty much set up the type of movie that follows; a subtlety-deficient over-the-top action fantasy with lots of sword-wielding violence, warrior philosophy, and mystical/religious overtones. I’m not surprised that the plot and the concept seem a little threadbare, or that the main villain becomes more and more cartoonish as the movie proceeds; after all, the movie’s primary reason for existence is the action sequences, and the reason to make the characters immortals is so they can really make mincemeat of each other and come back for more. It’s no surprise that the emotional component of the story (the relationship between male immortals and female mortals) is lost in the mix. In the final analysis, I’d say the movie is a success; it does what it sets out to do; whether you like it depends on if you like what it sets out to do. Hint: If you like the opening Queen song and the wrestling scene, this movie will suit you just fine.

Herbie Rides Again (1974)

Article 3356 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-9-2010
Posting Date: 10-22-2010
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Helen Hayes, Ken Berry, Stefanie Powers
Country: USA
What it is: Shopping cart movie sequel

Herbie the Love Bug is now in the possession of a kindly old woman who lives in a firehouse. However, the evil Alonzo Hawk wants to tear down the lady’s home so he can build an office building on the spot. Can Herbie save the day?

No, the sequel isn’t up to the level of the original; the story is much less interesting and is less solidly constructed, and many of the gags are obvious. Still, given that the Disney shopping cart movies were really starting to show their strain by this time, it does have its moments. First of all, I like the presence of both Helen Hayes and John McIntire here; as the feisty old woman and her cattleman beau, they add a real low-key charm to the proceedings that offsets the more blatant slapstick. It’s also nice to see Keenan Wynn reprise his role from the flubber movies. And some of the scenes get extremely wild; the scene where Herbie chases Alonzo Hawk around his office full of soap suds is rather freaky, and Alonzo Hawk’s nightmare (which involves fanged monster Herbies and borrows from KING KONG) is the highlight of the movie. Herbie would appear in two more sequels.