Mystery in Dracula’s Castle (1973)

Article 5067 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-1-2016
Directed by Robert Totten
Featuring Clu Gulager, Mariette Hartley, Johnny Whitaker
Country: USA
What it is: Family thriller

Two boys making their own Dracula movie decide to use a lighthouse for their castle, unaware that the men living there are actually jewel thieves.

No, it’s not some forgotten vampire movie; it’s your basic comedy thriller that made its debut on “The Wonderful World of Disney”. As such, it’s light-hearted, disposable kiddie fare; it’s not bad, but it’s predictable and pretty minor. It’s most interesting aspect to fans of fantastic cinema is that it uses a “monster kid” tradition as its backdrop, as one of the maguffins in the plot is the children’s desire to film their own Dracula movie, and much of this movie features the shooting of that movie. The movie opens with the children watching a Dracula movie at the local theater, but I suspect that this footage is not from an already existing movie but was filmed exclusively for this one. A few observations – the filming title of the children’s movie is GRIP OF DRACULA, but the final title is DRACULA AND THE SHERIFF’S DAUGHTER. Also, I can’t help but notice that the monster on the posters in the boys’ bedroom look similar to the Universal monsters, but also look different enough that they probably didn’t need to get permission from Universal.

Mysteries of the Gods (1976)

aka Botschaft der Gotter
Article 5066 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-31-2016
Directed by Harald Reinl and Charles Romine
Featuring William Shatner, Robert Charroux, Jeane Dixon
Country: West Germany
What it is: Ancient astronauts documentary

William Shatner takes us on a tour of more of the evidence of extraterrestrial visitations in the past.

The first half covers more ancient paintings and works of architecture used to back up the theory that we were visited by ancient astronauts in the past. The second half is about UFO sightings and the possibility of the aliens returning and how we will greet them when we do. So what we have here is basically a retread of CHARIOTS OF THE GODS and IN SEARCH OF ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS; there’s a new narrator (William Shatner) and some new things to look at (like a crystal skull), but the mood and the style are largely the same. I sat for a bit after watching it trying to think of what I would say about it, and I finally found myself asking something I never asked before – Why couldn’t they have made a good documentary on the subject? I’m not really talking about the subject matter; I’m talking about finding a way to bring these subjects to vivid life in a documentary. There are many examples out there that do so; they can make a subject fascinating even if you’re not all that interested in it. This movie, and so many like it on similar subjects from the era are so stolid, static, talky and vague that they practically embalm the subject rather than bring it to life. A documentary like this, done well, could be interesting whether you were a believer, a skeptic, or on the fence, and it would have generated far more lively discussion that this one, which is, sadly, a dull bore.

Murder in Space (1985)

Article 5065 By Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-30-2016
Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern
Featuring Wilford Brimley, Michael Ironside, Martin Balsam
Country: Canada / USA
What it is: TV-Movie Science Fiction/Mystery

A spaceship with an international crew of nine members is returning to Earth after a trip to Mars. However, the death of a female cosmonaut aboard the ship raises concerns about a possible alien virus, but then evidence begins to mount that she was murdered…

Yes, it’s a bit corny, but then, I’d rather expect that from an attempt to cross-pollinate the science fiction and old-fashioned murder mystery genres (with just a dollop of international intrigue). This TV-Movie was originally shown on Showtime without the ending as a part of a competition for people to pick out the murderer, a task which initially seems easy (after all, there are only eight suspects) but becomes more difficult as several other people are killed as well, and not all by the same hand. Wilford Brimley is quite entertaining as the director of the project who has to sort out the mystery as well as deal with the international repercussions of the murders. The movie doesn’t have much of a reputation, but I enjoyed it enough to forgive it its flaws; the production is a little chintzy, it descends into melodrama and soap opera at times, and, as mentioned before, it does get corny. Nevertheless, I found it fun.

Ma femme est une panthere (1961)

aka My Wife is a Panther
Article 5058 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-23-2016
Directed by Raymond Bailly
Featuring Jean Richard, Jean Poirot, Michel Serrault
Country: France
What it is: Comedy

Thinking that he’s preventing a murder, a man meets a colonel who keeps a panther in his house; the colonel tells him that the panther is the reincarnation of his wife. When the man returns home, the panther stows away in his car, and follows him into his apartment. When a sexy neighbor shows up, the man believes she is the panther transformed into her human form. Hilarity ensues.

For the record, this French comedy remained unavailable to me for some time and the movie fell into my “ones that got away” list. However, it recently became commercially available, albeit in French without English subtitles. In this case, it’s no big problem; if you know the basic premise of the movie, it’s extremely easy to follow, as most of the humor is visual. In fact, it’s so easy to follow that I may have enjoyed it more than I would have otherwise because I was happy not to have to struggle through the language barrier; I rather enjoyed it, though from its 3.0 rating on IMDB, it’s reputation is very low. Admittedly, it’s a silly trifle, but I thought some of the gags worked well enough for me. The language content does make it a little difficult to gauge its fantastic content, though; though the transformation from panther to woman is clearly a misunderstanding, there’s a slightly hallucinatory scene where the man believes he’s driving his car through Africa that I found difficult to explain. At any rate, I’m glad to have found another movie that I thought had eluded me completely.

Miracle on 34th Street (1973)

Article 5056 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-21-2016
Directed by Fielder Cook
Featuring Sebastian Cabot, Jane Alexander, David Hartman
Country: USA
What it is: TV-Movie remake of a classic

The new Santa for Macy’s turns out to believe he’s the real thing, and complications ensue.

The direction is not particularly inspired, the touches designed to make it seem more contemporary are unnecessary, and I can live without the songs, but fortunately, there’s only a very few of those. Beyond that, I mostly don’t have a problem with this remake of the perennial Christmas classic. For one thing, it’s well cast and there’s a lot of familiar faces in appropriate roles; on top of those listed above, the movie also features Jim Backus, Roddy McDowall, Tom Bosley and James Gregory. It also sticks fairly closely to the original story, and the story is sturdy enough so that I do find myself smiling and laughing at the right places. The most striking difference to my eyes is one I can understand; Kringle’s attack on the psychiatrist uses a different and gentler weapon than the one used in the original movie. Yet, when all is said and done, the movie suffers because it is a remake that doesn’t really have anything strong of its own to add to the mix, and the movie feels rather unnecessary. This is probably why this version has largely been forgotten while the original is still revived regularly.

Moonraker (1979)

Article 5024 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-20-2015
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Featuring Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale
Country: UK / France / USA
What it is: James Bond movie

James Bond undertakes an investigation having to do with the hijacking of a space shuttle being flown to England,

As I’ve said before in this series, I don’t really “get” James Bond; I’m not a devotee of the series and I don’t really feel very strongly about it. However, the breadth of coverage being what it is, I’ll be watching all of them because its reliance on gimmicky gadgetry usually has it pushing up against the science fiction genre. This is perhaps the entry from the series that most falls within the genre, with the plot eventually involving a hidden space station orbiting around the earth and a storyline involving the possible eradication of all human life on earth. It’s not a favorite of Bond fans, and I’m going to make some guesses why. Though the Bond films are essentially parodies of spy films, the tone of the parody should be sly and sexy; if it becomes blatantly comic, it destroys the tone, and the gondola chase scene as well as the moment when Jaws gets a girlfriend break that rule. Drax is merely an adequate main villain, and the only memorable henchman is Jaws, who unfortunately is a retread from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and isn’t particularly well used here. There’s also only one really truly memorable action sequence here, and that’s the one before the credits role. I know some people don’t care much for Roger Moore as Bond, but I more or less accept him in the role, but then, as stated earlier, I’m not a big fan of the character. I suppose I could claim that the final battle at the space station strains credibility, but the Bond series does that on a regular basis; however, I do find it strange that they feel compelled to use laser blasters as weapons of choice in space but not on Earth. At any rate, this isn’t the series at its most compelling.

The Mind Snatchers (1972)

aka The Happiness Cage
Article 5023 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-19-2015
Directed by Bernard Girard
Featuring Christopher Walken, Joss Ackland, Ralph Meeker
Denmark / USA
What it is: Science fiction drama

A private in the army who has major disciplinary problems is arrested by the MPs, but instead of being taken to a stockade, he is taken to the clinic of a physician who is experimenting on human patients.

This is another one of those movies where most of the plot descriptions I found like to engage in spoilers; they tell you the nature of the doctor’s experiment, and in the movie itself, this isn’t revealed until the final third. Though this knowledge may not necessarily ruin your enjoyment of the movie, it does remove a mystery aspect of the story, and it could make you impatient with the middle third of the movie in which it explores the personalities and relationships between several of the major characters. The movie (which was based on a stage play) is a bit on the stodgy side, but it compensates for that by having interesting characters played by strong actors; in particular, Christopher Walken (as the soldier) and Ronny Cox (as his roommate in the clinic) are memorable. I won’t give away the nature of the experiment myself, but it does place the movie into the genre of science fiction, and thematically it touches upon one of themes of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. I will reveal this much, though; the experiment involves one of those concepts that seems benign on the surface but proves nightmarish in application. And, given what you see on the screen, the final line of the movie is truly chilling. I liked this one.

The Mighty Peking Man (1977)

aka Xing xing wang
Article 5022 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-18-2015
Directed by Meng Hua Ho
Featuring Evelyne Kraft, Danny Lee, Feng Ku
Country: Hong Kong
What it is: King Kong, Hong Kong style

An expedition seeks to capture a giant gorilla known as the Mighty Peking Man, but it is discovered that the gorilla obeys a woman who grew up in the jungle after her parents crashed.

This Hong Kong attempt at KING KONG crossed with a female Tarzan subplot is a favorite of Quentin Tarantino’s, and many people find it the most drop-dead hilarious of the various bad giant ape movies made over the years. Still, when it comes to campy hilarity, there’s a lot of differing tastes between people, and though there’s no doubt the movie is bad, I’m more apt to get my laughs from THE MIGHTY GORGA and a few others. And as far as bad giant ape movies go, this is actually a lot better than some others; the aforementioned GORGA comes to mind, as does the truly atrocious Korean movie APE. At least this one is fairly energetic, but then, being a Shaw Brothers production (the company who gave us the irresistible INFRA-MAN), I’d expect they’d know how to keep things moving. Still, I do find myself a bit bored whenever the movie goes into ’70s romantic mode (with a theme song popping up as well), no matter how skimpy a costume the Tarzaness wears (and believe me, folks, this one is pretty skimpy), but at least in most such scenes we don’t usually see a woman tossing a leopard around. The usual culprits are here; cheesy music, bad dubbing, ambitious but unconvincing special effects. It’s a bad movie favorite of many; it’s just not one of my favorites.

The Manipulator (1971)

Article 5021 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-16-2015
Directed by Yabo Yablonsky
Featuring Mickey Rooney, Luana Anders, Keenan Wynn
Country: USA
What it is: Art film

An insane man keeps a woman hostage in an old warehouse full of theatrical props. There he imagines he is directing her in a movie production of “Cyrano de Bergerac”.

IMDB describes this movie as a “horror/thriller”. And maybe it is. Certainly, the plot description and the basic situation lends itself to that approach, and there are moments when the movie is downright nightmarish. Unfortunately, the director seems more interested in indulging himself in all sorts of arty distancing techniques; there’s weird camera angles, dream sequences, slow motion and fast motion, all of which seem to add a bizarre drug-tinged haze over the proceedings, and the script is a rambling mess that probably only makes sense in the mind of a madman. I certainly don’t blame Mickey Rooney for any of this; he dives into his role of the insane would-be director with gusto and real commitment, and in terms of showing us just what he was capable of, it’s an impressive performance. But in the context of this movie, the performance starts to feel like little more than another artistic distancing technique, and the fact that the only other two speaking actors in the movie (Anders and Wynn, the latter in a cameo) don’t seem particularly sane either, it doesn’t really have an effective context in which it can shine. The end result is a movie that wears out its welcome very rapidly; it’s unpleasant, annoying and distracting. As impressive as Rooney’s performance is, it really needed to be in a much better movie.

The Midnight Hour (1985)

aka In the Midnight Hour
Article 5005 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-1-2015
Directed by Jack Bender
Featuring Lee Montgomery, Shari Belafonte, LeVar Burton
Country: USA
What it is: Halloween comedy TV-Movie

On Halloween night in the small town of Pitchford Cove, a group of teenagers play a prank by reading a ritual designed to raise the dead in a local cemetery. Unbeknownst to them, they’re successful, and though some of the dead are just looking for fun, others are more deadly‚Ķ

I’d have to describe this one as a comic cross between CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS and AMERICAN GRAFFITI, with a common urban legend thrown in for good measure. On top of the usual assortment of zombies, we have some vampires and werewolves thrown into the mix, as well as a midget Frankenstein monster. I quite liked this one; the humor is often effective, the romance subplot is actually a bit on the charming side, and it gets positively surreal when it turns to horror, especially during a nightmarish little montage sequence in which the dead and newly dead wreck the town. To top it off, it features the voice of Wolfman Jack (and the man himself in a cameo, if my eyes don’t deceive me) and a great oldies soundtrack. It also features both Dick Van Patten and Kevin McCarthy becoming undead during the run of the film. No, it’s no classic, but it’s a lot of fun, and would make a good choice for Halloween viewing.