Hollywood Ghost Stories (1986)

Article 3881 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-21-2012
Posting Date: 3-30-2012
Directed by James Forsher
Featuring John Carradine, William Peter Blatty, Arthur Conan Doyle
Country: USA
What it is: Paranormal documentary

John Carradine takes us on a journey of real-life hauntings that have something to do with the movie industry.

In terms of its exploration of the paranormal, this movie isn’t really much different from most of the others out there; I doubt it will change anybody’s mind about anything. However, for fans of fantastic cinema, this may be one of the more interesting ones out there, if for no other reason that the events discussed all have some connection with movies, TV and/or Hollywood, and the movie uses a lot of movie footage to pad things out. Still, even if you enjoy the footage, you’ll realize that padding is just what it is; much of it seems to be there to distract you from realizing that the movie is pretty threadbare. You’ll see clips from THE EXORCIST, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and THE ENTITY, plus any number of short clips from other films. There’s very little here I haven’t encountered before.

The Herncrake Witch (1912)

aka The Hencrake Witch
Article 3866 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-6-2012
Posting Date: 3-15-2012
Directed by Mark Melford
Featuring Jackeydawra Melford, Mark Melford
Country: UK
What it is: Fantasy comedy

When the daughter of a local witch is ostracized by the other students at a girl school, the witch plots a revenge against them. She also helps her daughter’s lover to overcome his father’s resistance to their romance.

This title had ended up on my “ones that got away” list with a LOST classification, but a print (with only a few seconds missing at the beginning and the end) has apparently turned up, been restored, and posted on the web, thus giving me a chance to see it. It looked relatively realistic for a movie about a witch in its time, so I was wondering if it would be a movie about the witch hunts, but the minute the daughter shows up in a black pointed hat, I knew that it wasn’t to be taken too seriously. In the movie, the witch really only has one trick up its sleeve, but it’s a good one, especially when she casts it on a misogynistic father. It’s a fun and amusing little short that I’m glad survived. Incidentally, I was quite surprised to discover that the character of Jackeydawra (the witch’s daughter) was actually played by an actress name Jackeydawra.

Her Majesty’s Top Gun (1977)

aka No. 1 of the Secret Service
Article 3829 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-28-2012
Posting Date: 2-7-2012
Directed by Lindsay Shonteff
Featuring Nicky Henson, Richard Todd, Aime MacDonald
Country: UK
What it is: Low-budget Bond parody

Secret Agent Charles Bind is sent out on a mission to investigate the murders of noted financiers.

This movie was apparently meant to be a parody of the James Bond movies; unfortunately, on that level, the movie is a failure. Not only are the intended laughs ineffective, there’s far too much wasted time between them. The closest I came to being amused was during a sequence where an assassin in training honed his skills by shaving off the whiskers of his brother with his gun. Other than that, it tries for laughs with a lame running gag involving his female assistant and a soda syphon, horrible post-killing one-liners, and action sequences both more exaggerated and more undernourished than those in the real James Bond movies. However, if the comedy falls flat, there is at least one compensation. I actually found the villain in this one rather intriguing; his plan is offbeat, and he’s so cocky he practically drags the secret agent along with him on the assassinations just to show him how useless it is for the agent to stop him. Still, the movie overuses him; his character would have been more fun if he hadn’t been in every other scene, and both the script and the budget are too undernourished to make it all work. There’s some fun faces in the cast (such as Milton Reid and Jon Pertwee), though they aren’t really given enough to do. Also, in terms of its fantastic content, this one is very light on the gadgetry; other than the fact that the secret agent has a huge machine gun installed in his car, I don’t think there’s any at all. Therefore, I don’t really think this qualifies as a genre effort.

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.

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)

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)

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.