The New House (1972)

THE NEW HOUSE (1972)
Pilot episode of “Ghost Story”
Article 3789 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-18-2011
Posting Date: 12-29-2011
Directed by John Llewelyn Moxey
Featuring David Birney, Barbara Perkins, Sam Jaffe
Country: USA
What it is: A ghost story, of course

A man and his pregnant wife move into a new house. The wife hears strange sounds and believes the place to be haunted. She discovers the house was built on the site of a gibbet, and that the last execution there was from a young woman who was also buried on the site. Could this woman be haunting the house?

So why am I covering an episode of a TV show that isn’t even feature length? According to the John Stanley book, there was a TV-Movie called DOUBLE PLAY, which featured pilot episodes for two series – this one, and the one from the show “Movin’ On”. Why these two shows were combined in a single movie is beyond me; the other show was about two truckers and apparently had no fantastic content. Given that IMDB does not have a listing for DOUBLE PLAY, I chose to represent it in my hunt list by the episode from “Ghost Story”. When the pilot episode showed up within easy reach of me (I found it on YouTube), I did a similar search for the “Movin’ On” episode and came up blank. I made an executive decision; instead of holding up my review to find an episode of a TV show that had no fantastic content and that I wasn’t particularly keen on hunting down in the first place, I decided to watch the one with the fantastic content and be done with it. Yes, I suppose I’m cheating a little, but it’s not the first time.

The show itself was produced by William Castle (and I believe I caught him in a cameo early on) and was an anthology series, with a different story each week. If the ratings on IMDB are a gauge, this one was of average quality for the series. I wasn’t particularly impressed with it myself; the setup of the story seemed pretty rote to me, the attempts to add suspense seemed hackneyed (you know, where they try to make the final scenes scarier by having it take place during a thunderstorm) and the final twist was a little more silly to me than scary. Still, it might be interesting to see a few other episodes of the series just to see if they do something more with the framing sequences featuring Sebastian Cabot. As it is, I can’t place this episode on the same level as William Castle’s better movies.

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Night of the Ghoul (1975)

NIGHT OF THE GHOUL (1975)
aka The Ghoul
Article 3771 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-29-2011
Posting Date: 12-11-2011
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Peter Cushing, John Hurt, Alexandra Bastedo
Country: UK
What it is: House with a dark secret

A flapper gets involved in a road race that leaves her stranded at a mansion located in a marsh. What she doesn’t know is that the mansion holds a dreadful secret…and it may cost her her life.

There’s a scene in this film where the woman looks at a photograph of a woman who is supposed to be the dead wife of Peter Cushing’s character. According to the trivia section on IMDB, that photograph was of Peter Cushing’s real wife, who had died shortly before filming began. If nothing else, this explains why there’s something terribly moving about Cushing’s performance in this movie; the grief is very real indeed. I only wish it had been in a better movie. Plotwise, this is pretty standard fare; it’s of the “madman in the attic” variety, and there’s not much here that hasn’t been done before. It does, however, have a strong level of unpleasantness, at least partially due to John Hurt’s performance as a truly repulsive character. The biggest disappointment comes at the end of the movie; if you’re going to try to ratchet up the suspense value of not showing a character’s face throughout most of the movie, than you’d better be able to provide a good jolt when you do show it, and the revelation is truly anticlimactic.

Night of the Death Cult (1975)

NIGHT OF THE DEATH CULT (1975)
aka La noche de las gaviatos, The Night of the Seagulls

Article 3648 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-26-2011
Posting Date: 8-10-2011
Directed by Amando de Ossorio
Featuring Victor Petit, Maria Kosty, Sandra Mozarowsky
Country: Spain
What it is: Blind Dead movie

A doctor and his wife move their practice to a small coastal village whose residents treat them with open hostility. It is soon discovered they have a secret; they have been leaving young women of the village to be sacrificed by a cult of the undead.

When I saw THE RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD, I took issue with the way Amando de Ossorio had changed the rules that dictated the actions of his undead minions from the first movie in the series. Now, having just seen the fourth (I have yet to see the third), I’ve come to the conclusion that he actually did something very interesting with this series; rather than having each movie follow the other in a logical succession, he seemed more interested in varying those rules and putting the blind dead in different environments. It ends up feeling more like “variations on a theme”, which keeps the movies in the series from becoming increasingly stagnant repeats of each other; each one feels different. I quite like this take on it; though it’s made of very familiar elements (the hostile village with a secret is hardly an original concept), it’s interesting to see the changes made to the blind dead to make it work in this context. Furthermore, the movie is quite well dubbed, and as always, there is something genuinely eerie in seeing those zombies trotting around in slow motion on their horses. My favorite scene has one of the zombies set on fire, but who then attempts to make one more attack before being consumed. I have to admit I’m looking forward to seeing the third in the series.

The Night of a Thousand Cats (1972)

THE NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS (1972)
aka La noche de los mil gatos

Article 3647 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-25-2011
Posting Date: 8-9-2011
Directed by Rene Cardona Jr.
Featuring Anjanette Comer, Zulma Faiad, Hugo Stiglitz
Country: Mexico
What it is: Psychos and Mad Animals

A psycho seduces women, and then kills them and feeds them to his 1000 cats.

Maybe the full 93 minute version fleshes things out a bit; it’s likely to be more coherent than the 63 minute version that made it to the USA and which I’ve just seen (unless, of course, it was just a bunch of sex scenes that were removed, which is distinctly possible). In this form, the movie consists of little more than the premise. There may be a backstory of some sort hidden in there, but the way it’s edited, it’s really hard to tell. Probably the most curious thing about this movie is that our psycho does his cruising for cat food in a helicopter, and he does a lot of cruising. You can probably guess the ending; I saw it coming when I saw the premise, and one thing this movie doesn’t do is give you surprises. Animal lovers will definitely want to steer clear of this one; there’s a couple of scenes where the psycho treats cats in a way that indicates that the humane society was nowhere near the production site, and they don’t look faked.

Ne jouez pas avec les Martiens (1967)

NE JOUEZ PAS AVEC LES MARTIENS (1967)
aka Don’t Play With the Martians

Article 3591 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-28-2011
Posting Date: 6-14-2011
Directed by Henri Lanoe
Featuring Jean Rochefort, Macha Meril, Jean Ozenne
Country: France
What it is: Science fiction comedy

A pair of reporters find their job in peril because of their inability to report on the important stories in favor of fluff pieces. They are given a last chance to redeem themselves by covering the birth of quintuplets in a remote location. When a joke message about Martians is sent to the editor right before a power blackout, the message is taken seriously. The situation is complicated when real space aliens appear…

Actually, I had some happy surprises while watching this movie. The first was to discover that I had managed to find a copy that was dubbed into English, so I didn’t have to struggle to follow the story. There’s a point in the movie after the joke message is sent out where I found myself wondering if the Martians were going to be no more real than the ones in THE NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA, because, at that point, I got the feeling that the rest of the movie was going to be built around that misunderstanding. Fortunately, in terms of its fantastic content, space aliens do show up, and though they’re technically not Martians, they’ll do. Overall, it’s a pretty silly comedy, but there are a couple of good laughs; the biggest for me was discovering why the space aliens show up. Overall, it’s a minor curio more than anything else.

The Night that Panicked America (1975)

THE NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA (1975)
TV-Movie

Article 3573 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-7-2011
Posting Date: 5-27-2011
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Featuring Vic Morrow, Cliff De Young, Michael Constantine
Country: USA
What it is: Historical reenactment

A Halloween radio broadcast of an adaptation of “The War of the Worlds” has an unexpected side effect; many people listening to the broadcast mistake the events for real, and panic ensues…

Though the movie itself can’t strictly be called Science Fiction, it is nonetheless an example of how a powerful medium of communication can bring a fantastically-themed story to a life so vivid that it is capable of overcoming listener’s disbelief in the very concept. I love the structure of the movie; it juxtaposes the lives of several groups of people with a recreation of the radio play, and then lets the events unfold in real time. Some of the stories have a comic edge (the father and son story which ends with an embarrassing incident at a water tower, the party of blue-bloods in which only the help are aware that the transmission is a radio play); others flirt with tragedy (the father who almost takes a drastic step to save his children from attack by Martians). It explores somewhat the reasons for the panic, such as the extraordinarily realistic approach to the presentation of the story (in which a musical show is constantly interrupted by news broadcasts as the events unfold), the accidental tuning in of people at specific moments, and the general tension caused by the events in Europe that were leading into World War II. There’s lots of familiar names in the ensemble cast, including Eileen Brennan, Marilyn Baxter, Will Geer, John Ritter, Tom Bosley, and Casey Kasem (as one of the Mercury Theatre Players). I found it immensely entertaining, and have to admire the precision editing whereby everything is kept in sync. All in all, this is one that is definitely worth catching.

Die Nonne von Verona (1973)

DIE NONNE VON VERONA (1973)
aka Le monache di Sant’Arcangelo, The Nuns of St. Archangelo
Article 3528 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-18-2011
Posting Date: 4-12-2011
Directed by Domenico Paolella
Featuring Anne Heywood, Luc Merenda, Omella Muti
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Nunsploitation

On the death of the mother superior, a nun of the convent uses political manipulation to gain her position. However, the convent has attracted the attention of the Inquisition…

I’m a bit mystified by the appeal of the whole “nunsploitation” genre, but because it doesn’t of necessity end up in the genres I’m covering, I’ll probably only be watching a fraction of them. In this case, the only reason for its inclusion in this series is the presence of a handful of torture sequences, nudging it in the direction of horror. By the standards of the genre, this one is pretty mild; there’s sex, nudity and torture, but less than I expected. Most of the movie is actually concerned with the plot, which is based on a true story, and the story itself is fairly decent until it decides to get all preachy with its message (that the judges of the corruption at the convent are equally corrupt themselves). Still, the movie occasionally gets a little too desperate in employing its exploitation elements; when one nun is dying of poison and rips open her clothes so we can see her breasts, I get the sense it’s a cheap attempt to work in one last bit of nudity before the movie closes. Granted, that’s probably what fans of this genre want.