The Hound of the Baskervilles (1972)

Article 4443 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-7-2014
Directed by Barry Crane
Featuring Stewart Granger, Bernard Fox, William Shatner
Country: USA
What it is: Sherlock Holmes story

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are called in to investigate the mysterious death of the former owner of Baskerville hall, and threats being made against the new Sir Baskerville moving in.

This is an average but fairly entertaining version of the Doyle novel, and though it does take some liberties with the story, it is more or less faithful to the source. According to IMDB, it was an unsold TV pilot, and I am rather curious as to what the series would have been like if it had sold; given that the pilot used one of Doyle’s original works, I wonder if the series would have followed suit or tried to come up with stories on their own. From the user comments on IMDB, a lot of people really dislike this version, and I will admit that Stewart Granger doesn’t quite seem the right choice for Holmes. Bernard Fox fares somewhat better as Watson, though he does channel a little bit of Nigel Bruce in his portrayal. Some of the sets are very unconvincing, especially the ones that take place on the moor. Nevertheless, I found myself adequately entertained by this one, though it’s certainly far from the best version of the story.

The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1984)

Article 4442 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-6-2014
Directed by Wes Craven
Featuring Tamara Stafford, Kevin Spirtas, John Bloom
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Horror sequel

A group of young people go out in the desert to take part in a bike race. They get stranded and find themselves threatened by mutant maniacs.

I’m not a big fan of the original movie, but at least it generated a certain degree of dread and suspense, and it did a number of things very right. I can’t say the same about this one. For one thing, it manages to make me not care about the fates of all of the characters so quickly that it almost made my head swim. It also throws in stupid fake scares and some truly awful comic relief (the original had none of the latter). It pretty much follows the slasher playbook, and it fails to generate an iota of suspense; even Michael Berryman doesn’t do much for me here. Director and writer Wes Craven seems to be only going through the motions here, and the result is just dismal.

Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977)

Article 4440 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-4-2014
Directed by Vincent McEveety
Featuring Dean Jones, Don Knotts, Julie Sommars
Country: USA
What it is: Herbie the Love Bug movie

Herbie is pulled out of retirement to try to make a comeback by winning the race at Monte Carlo. However, Herbie has fallen in love with another car also in the race. Furthermore, jewel thieves have hidden a precious gem in Herbie’s gas tank, and will stop at nothing to get it back.

I really liked the first movie in the series, THE LOVE BUG. The immediate sequel, HERBIE RIDES AGAIN, was a step down, but it had its moments. This entry in the series is a real step down; the story is uninspired, the script is weak, and there was a certain lunatic creativity at work in the first two movies that is completely missing here. The main plot gimmick here has Herbie falling in love with another car, but this concept gets tiresome very quickly. I like Don Knotts, but in order for him to shine, he needs a character with more dimension than he’s really given here; in fact, I don’t think he was particularly well used in his Disney movies. Still, I do admire the stunt work, and I do admire how sometimes there will be some good attention to detail. One particular moment of the movie gives a good illustration of this. There’s a scene where Herbie drives backwards a long way on a narrow dirt road, and I found myself wondering whether it might have been footage of the car moving forward in reverse, which I’m sure would have been easier to do. However, I noticed that the way the dust rose from the car in motion clearly showed that no such trick was used, and I do like that someone cared enough to do it the hard way. Nevertheless, this is overall a fairly disappointing movie, and if the IMDB ratings are to be trusted, the series would sink even lower with the next entry.

Heaven Can Wait (1978)

Article 4439 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-3-2013
Directed by Warren Beatty and Buck Henry
Featuring Warren Beatty, James Mason, Julie Christie
Country: USA
What it is: Remake about the afterlife

When the soul of a quarterback is removed from its body by an inexperienced angel, the manager of the afterlife way station has to find him a new body in which he can live out his proper span of time.

I will start out by saying that this is a solid, well written, strongly acted, and quite funny remake of HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, which itself was solid, well written, strongly acted and quite funny. I remember it was very well received at the time and was nominated for a slew of Oscars. So I was quite surprised to see it sitting on IMDB with a lowly 6.9 rating, which, though not bad, is still very low for a movie that was once so highly regarded. My main guess as to why this happened is that, though it is well done, it doesn’t really transcend its status as a remake of an already established classic, and I don’t really feel it adds a whole lot new to the mix of the original film. As such, the original film ends up feeling more authentic; just for example, even though I think Jack Warden does a fine job in the role of Max Corkle, when I think of the character, it’s James Gleason that will come to mind first. In fact, with the exceptions of Charles Grodin and Dyan Cannon (whose characters are given more comic business to do here than in the original), in all other cases, I’ll think of the actors in the original version first. So, ultimately, despite the fact that this movie is very good, it also feels a bit unnecessary, and I think that’s something that becomes more noticeable with the passage of time. This, of course, may be one of the pitfalls of doing a remake in the first place.

Der Hund von Blackwood Castle (1968)

aka The Hound of Blackwood Castle, Horror of Blackwood Castle
Article 4376 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-24-2013
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
Featuring Heinz Drache, Karin Baal, Horst Tappert
Country: West Germany
What it is: Krimi

Visitors to Blackwood Castle are killed by a mysterious hound. Could this have anything to do with the death of the owner… and the fact that a hidden fortune may be found there?

It strikes me that it’s pretty tricky to make a good krimi. The plot has to be convoluted enough that it’s fun to follow, but not so convoluted that you get totally lost. There has to be enough characters to make for an involving mystery, but not so many that it becomes too easy to lose track of them. Furthermore, it helps if the comic relief is actually funny, and there’s always the chance that substandard dubbing may damage the presentation. Fortunately, this is one of the krimis that actually does all these things right; there’s enough intrigue in the story to keep you interested, just the right number of characters, the humor is actually funny, and the dubbing is well enough to get by. It’s also one of the most light-hearted krimis I’ve seen, which was apparent from the comically bizarre theme song that plays during the opening credits. There’s also plenty of horror content, what with the “Hound of the Baskervilles” thrust of the plot, some “old dark house” antics and visitations from the dead. Of course, being a krimi, there are logical explanations for all of it, but since krimis are mysteries rather than horror movies per se, that’s to be expected. This one is a lot of fun.

Hammersmith is Out (1972)

Article 4371 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-19-2013
Directed by Peter Ustinov
Featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Peter Ustinov
Country: USA
What it is: Darkly comic allegory

An aide in an insane asylum is promised power and riches by an inmate. He springs the inmate, and the riches start rolling in… but the inmate’s methods of acquiring them are highly questionable…

Richard Burton must have loved the Faust story, only five years after having done DR. FAUSTUS, here he is again in another variation on it. The big difference is the switching of roles; he played the Faust character in the earlier movie, and here he is playing Mephistopheles. Granted, the movie is no straight telling of the story; it is, in fact, downright strange, and it is one of those movies that I would imagine would alienate quite a few people. I found it rather engrossing, myself, partially because the movie is full of interesting lines of dialogue and partially because it’s one of those movies where Burton turns on the quiet intensity, and that’s when I like him best. Peter Ustinov does a weird turn as the Doctor of the asylum; allegorically, he is God in this one. Elizabeth Taylor’s performance is not bad, but I will admit to being put off a bit by it; it’s not the type of role I would imagine her playing. Beau Bridges is effective as the crass bumpkin who becomes Hammersmith’s pawn.

The fantastic content is a little more difficult to pin down, and it may not qualify. Despite the fact that the Faust story has plenty of fantastic content, that’s not explicit in this symbolic take on it. There’s the theme of madness here, and Hammersmith may be looked on as a serial killer, though the fact that he only kills to accomplish his chosen ends rather than as a psychological compulsion makes that less likely. Actually, the most telling clue that the fantastic content may be real is a single line from Burton’s character in which he describes human beings in a way that implies that he himself is not one of them. At any rate, this might be an interesting choice to watch if you’re into quirky, dark allegory.

Horror Hospital (1973)

Article 4333 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-11-2013
Directed by Antony Balch
Featuring Michael Gough, Robin Askwith, Vanessa Shaw
Country: UK
What it is: How do I begin…?

A pop song writer and a woman looking for her aunt find themselves trapped on the estate of a mad doctor who intends to experiment with their brains.

I have a friend who really admires British actors; he likes to say that no matter what kind of crap they’re given in the scripts, they always end up treating it like Shakespeare. Well, I don’t think he’s seen this movie; here the actors treat it like the silly piece of idiocy that it is. Now usually a comment like that is how I’d begin a pan of a movie, but I don’t really have the heart with this one. I think it’s because the opening scene of the movie (where the doctor deals with two runaway patients from his estate) was, in its own demented way, nearly perfect; I immediately knew that the movie was going to be bloody, sleazy, campy and (most importantly) not to be taken seriously on any level. And that’s just how the rest of the movie is. I’ve never seen a movie before where every character consistently makes the most monumentally stupid decisions at every opportunity, and after a while you just sort of roll with it. Michael Gough (who can sometimes annoy me when he overacts) manages to hit just the right note with this one, but the movie is stolen by Skip Martin as the dwarf manservant of the estate; his comic tone is spot on. No, this is not what I would call a “good” movie, but if you’re in the mood for a certain type of bloody goofiness, this one will fill the bill.