The Initiation of Sarah (1978)

THE INITIATION OF SARAH (1978)
TV-Movie
Article 3493 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-4-2011
Posting Date: 3-8-2011
Directed by Robert Day
Featuring Kay Lenz, Shelley Winters, Tony Bill
Country: USA
What it is: CARRIE clone

Two sisters, one adopted, go to college. They find themselves pledged to different sororities, and the beautiful sister ends up in the snobbish sorority which forces her to swear not to consort with members of the sorority the other sister has pledged to. However, the adopted sister has psychic powers that manifest when she is angry, and the house mother of her sorority has uses for them…

I remember my mother explaining to me why she never went out to the movies; it was because that sooner or later a TV-Movie would be made on the same subject, and she could watch that for free at home instead. Though I doubt she ever had a hankering to see CARRIE, but if she had, here’s the TV-Movie she would have settled for. Now it’s been years since I’ve seen the De Palma movie (and I’ve never read the Stephen King novel), but I don’t recall anything in that movie about a sisterly conflict of the sort that drives some of the storyline here, and when this movie concentrates on this aspect, it’s at its best. It’s also not too bad when it concentrates on the relationship that develops between Sarah and a timid violinist. I’m less impressed by the black magic angle that is thrown into the mix. Still, the movie is at its weakest when it when it blatantly steals from its model, especially in a “we’re-a-TV-movie-and-we-have-to-soft-pedal-the-horror” way (think mud instead of pig’s blood). At least it doesn’t try to throw in a silly twist ending.

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Island of the Lost (1967)

ISLAND OF THE LOST (1967)
Article 3481 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2011
Posting Date: 2-24-2011
Directed by Ricou Browning and John Florea
Featuring Richard Greene, Luke Halpin, Sheila Welles
Country: USA
What it is: Island Lost World story

A scientist takes a voyage to discover some theoretical lost islands. He finds one of them… and it’s inhabited by prehistoric creatures and puts him at the mercy of angry island natives.

When I was young, I associated Ivan Tors with a series of TV shows featuring animals that were popular throughout the sixties and seventies, such as “Flipper”, “Daktari” and “Gentle Ben”. It was only later that I became familiar with his science fiction movies and his interest in the sea. This movie has the novelty of combining all three; much of the action takes place in the sea (hence, the presence of Ricou Browning as one of the directors), there are plenty of animals on hand, and it has a premise somewhat similar to that of THE LOST WORLD. Granted, when I mention prehistoric creatures, I’m not talking dinosaurs; we have sabre-toothed wolves, nine-gilled sharks, strange looking alligators, and vicious prehistoric ostriches. The latter are a particularly odd choice for a threat; though ostriches can be quite dangerous, their ungainly looks tend to make them seem comic. There’s also a pet seal named Drip for animal cuteness. The movie is only so-so; the production values are low, the script is often silly, and there’s very little in the way of surprises. The script is one of the few writing forays of actor Richard Carlson, and based on this, I don’t think he had a keen ear for dialogue. The occasional good scene and some unusual camera shots are the most striking things here.

Io uccido, tu uccide (1965)

IO UCCIDO, TU UCCIDE (1965)
aka I Kill, You Kill
Article 3415 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-8-2010
Posting Date: 12-20-2010
Directed by Gianni Puccine
Featuring Franco Franchi, Ciccio Ingrassia, Rosalba Neri
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Italian comedy anthology

Italians find ways to kill each other.

This is a two-hour ten-minute movie starring Franco and Ciccio. Ordinarily, this comment would be a warning for you to run screaming for the hills, but it’s not as bad as it sounds; it’s an anthology movie of six different stories, only two of which feature the two comedians, and one of those is the shortest segment in the movie. Furthermore, they are used wisely, especially in the final story in which a man is warned by his doctor that he will die if he has one more cigarette; Franco’s mugging can be painful, but for him to play a man desperate for a smoke while having to suffer through the fact that his family is made up of chain smokers puts the mugging in the proper context. Granted, I’m guessing a little here; my copy of the movie is in unsubtitled Italian. Still, of the six stories here, only one is rendered incomprehensible; about all I can make out of the third story is that it’s a pastiche on Alfred Hitchcock movies. The smoking story is the final segment; the first one is the other Franco and Ciccio story, and it appears to be about cheating husbands and wives with the story eventually turning into a duel. The second story is fairly amusing; it’s about a man who comes up with a clever way to try to kill off an ailing relative. The fantastic content is largely limited to the fourth and fifth stories. The fifth is about a group of children who keep being passed from guardian to guardian because they have a way of eliminating those of them who don’t like their dog; there’s a certain spookiness to this one. The fifth story is about an ill-mannered suitor and a woman who undergoes a personality transformation during the full moon; it’s pretty unsettling to discover that she has her own personal cemetery. It’s scattershot, but the movie has its moments, even if you don’t understand Italian.

Los invisibles (1963)

LOS INVISIBLES (1963)
aka The Invisible Man
Article 3408 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-1-2010
Posting Date: 12-13-2010
Directed by Jaime Salvador
Featuring Marco Antonio Campos, Gaspar Henaine, Martha Elena Cervantes
Country: Mexico
What it is: Invisibility comedy

Two toymakers invent a liquid that renders things invisible, but run afoul of a jewel thief who wants to use the formula for his own purposes.

It’s in Spanish without English subtitles, but although many of the verbal jokes passed me by, this one was fairly easy to follow. Furthermore, the subject of invisibility lends itself to visual humor, which is always helpful when the language barrier gets in the way. Unless the verbal humor is particularly strong (which I doubt), this looks like a fairly ordinary slapstick comedy, fairly obvious in the way it uses its central concept. Still, it does get pretty weird on occasion, especially towards the end when the two comic leads sing a song while a bunch of dolls and puppets come to life and sing along.

Isabel (1968)

ISABEL (1968)
Article 3404 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-28-2010
Posting Date: 12-9-2010
Directed by Paul Almond
Featuring Genevieve Bujold, Marc Strange, Gerard Parkes
Country: Canada
What it is: Drama with some fantastic touches

A young woman returns home for the funeral of her mother. She then reluctantly finds herself roped into staying and caring for her ailing uncle. She eventually starts to learn more about her family, her history, and herself.

If the plot description doesn’t sound genre to you, that’s because it isn’t; the fantastic content is that the woman occasionally sees strange visions, and there is occasionally a sense of dread to the proceedings. However, those scenes don’t make up a significant part of the movie. It’s an interesting enough drama in some ways, but it’s overlong and a bit of a trial to sit through. Genevieve Bujold gives an interesting and curious performance; the trouble is that the movie becomes overreliant on it at the expense of the story. Most of its big scenes are towards the end, but it’s just too long a ride to get to those scenes. All in all, this is just too much of a mixed bag to recommend.

In Search of Ancient Astronauts (1973)

IN SEARCH OF ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS (1973)
TV-Movie
Article 3387 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-10-2010
Posting Date: 11-22-2010
Directed by Harold Reinl
Featuring the voice of Rod Serling
Country: USA / West Germany
What it is: Speculative documentary

The movie examines evidence of the possibility of visitation by extraterrestrials in ancient history.

Why does this movie leave me with such a vivid sense of deja vu? Is it possible it may have tapped into ancestral memories of the visits of ancient astronauts? Or is it more likely that I just saw CHARIOTS OF THE GODS about a month ago, from which this movie pillages most of its footage. The differences are 1) it only includes about half of the original movie, 2) the narration was replaced by new narration by Rod Serling, and 3) a handful of interviews was added to the mix. As a result, the movie is shorter and isn’t quite as insistent as the original movie; the additional interviews really add little to the mix, except perhaps the final one by Carl Sagan, who ends the movie telling us that there is not a “smidgen of compelling evidence” for the visitation of space aliens in ancient times. Still, I can’t help but comment on the fact in that last month, there has been a surprising number of articles by military men talking about UFO encounters, and the UN has named a Malaysian astrophysicist to be the first ambassador to space aliens, and these reports are being taken seriously by the press. Somehow, it made the documentary seem just a bit more relevant.

I, Desire (1982)

I, DESIRE (1982)
aka Desire, the Vampire
TV-Movie
Article 3386 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-9-2010
Posting Date: 11-21-2010
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Featuring David Naughton, Dorian Harewood, Marilyn Jones
Country: USA
What it is: TV-Movie vampire tale

A morgue attendant is drawn into a crime investigation about bodies that have been drained of their blood. He becomes convinced that a vampire posing as a hooker is on the loose.

This was not John Llewellyn Moxey’s first cinematic venture into vampirism; he directed THE NIGHT STALKER. This movie does bear some resemblance to that earlier work, though it is not a remake; once again, we have a lone man who finds himself at odds with the authorities when he becomes convinced that a vampire is on the loose. What sets it apart is that it really delves into the emotional issues raised by believing in creatures that are dismissed by the rest of the world as imaginary; the morgue attendant’s belief isolates him, makes him the butt of jokes, alienates him from his girlfriend and the police officer investigating the case, and makes him a bit of a pariah. The curse of having to deal with these beliefs is best vocalized by the character of Paul when he says that he has “lost his innocence” with his knowledge; Paul is played by Brad Dourif, whose excellence performance steals the movie. The movie also shows some sympathy for the detective on the case; though he to suspects the truth, he can’t afford to embrace the knowledge because he knows that he has to answer to higher authorities. I also like the touches it adds to vampire mythology; if one wishes to stand up to a vampire, they must be righteous, and this fits in well with the sexual subtexts to the vampire myth, though it could be argued that the movie takes it out of subtext into text; after all, check out the name of the vampiress. I’m not quite as impressed with the vampire attack scenes; the fact that our vampiress makes jaguar sounds when she attacks is rather silly. I also notice she has several mirrors in her penthouse apartment. The ending is not quite satisfying, but this is a worthy vampire movie.