Nightmare Classics: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde / The Turn of the Screw (1989)

NIGHTMARE CLASSICS: THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE/THE TURN OF THE SCREW (1989)
Article 2609 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-27-2008
Posting Date: 10-4-2008
Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg and Graeme Clifford
Featuring Anthony Andrews, Nicholas Guest, George Murdock, Amy Irving, David Hemmings, Micole Mercurio
Country: East Germany

Two stories are presented. In the first, a man uses drugs to bring out his evil nature. In the second, a governess encounters possessed children and ghosts.

No, it’s not a movie; by the time I realized I was dealing with two episodes of a TV show that had been grouped together on a videotape, I’d already added it to my hunt list, and (being too lazy to remove it), I decided to cover the two episodes anyway. I don’t know a whole lot about the Showtime TV series in question, but I assume it was an attempt by Shelley Duvall to follow up her “Faerie Tale Theatre” and “Tall Tales and Legends” series with one adapting famous horror stories. Given that the series has an overall rating of 3.1 on IMDB, I can only assume that it was a failure, and it appears only four episodes were made. In the case of the two I’ve seen here, I’m certainly not impressed; both stories have been somewhat sexed-up (no doubt due to their presence on a pay cable station), and THE TURN OF THE SCREW is stripped of its subtlety and ambiguity to leave us a conventional and over-melodramatic rendering of the story; we’re miles away from THE INNOCENTS here. The Jekyll and Hyde story fares somewhat better, largely thanks to the fact that Anthony Andrews comes up with a very interesting take on the character of Jekyll; I found it very interesting to find the character nervous, inhibited, shy and rather meek, as these character traits make us understand his desire to be Mr. Hyde all the more. His performance of Mr. Hyde is also quite different, but not near as satisfying; it doesn’t dovetail well with the Jekyll character, and he’s less creepy/scary than repellent/repulsive. All in all, neither story worked as a straight retelling of its source, nor is either one particularly scary; in fact, I’d call them both misfires.

 

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984: Prisoner of the Future (1982)

984: PRISONER OF THE FUTURE (1982)
TV-Movie
Article 2591 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-9-2008
Posting Date: 9-16-2008
Directed by Tibor Takacs
Featuring Stephen Markle, Michele Chicoine, David Clement
Country: Canada

An executive finds himself a prisoner when a new political regime comes into power, and he is being tortured to confess to crimes he didn’t commit.

One of my books describes this movie as being Kafkaesque, but I think it lacks the maddening ambiguity of Kafka’s work; I’d say it’s a lot more Orwellian dystopic. From a distance, I rather admire the movie; it’s always a bit interesting to see a science fiction movie from the period that wasn’t flaunting a STAR WARS influence. Nevertheless, I have to admit that, despite all the brooding nihilism and darkness here, I watched the movie with only mild interest. I attribute this to the fact that the movie simply isn’t very convincing. It’s not the weak special effects; though the roller-skating enforcer robots are pretty silly, they aren’t show-stoppers, if you know what I mean. No, it’s more the confused script, the dull characters (Don Francks’ attempts to make his Warden character more eccentric is more distracting than effective), and a general lack of conviction. In short, I never really believe what’s happening, or that it really matters; even the final twist is more of a shrug than a shock. It’s a nice try, but not really a success.

 

La notte dei dannati (1971)

LA NOTTE DEI DANNATI (1971)
aka Night of the Damned
Article 2590 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-8-2008
Posting Date: 9-15-2008
Directed by Filippo Walter Ratti
Featuring Pierre Brice, Mario Carra, Daniela D’Agostino
Country: Italy

A journalist who specializes in unsolved mysteries visits an ailing friend who is actually under the spell of a 200 year old witch.

At heart, I believe it’s patently unfair to make critical judgments about a movie that you’ve only seen in a language you don’t understand. Nevertheless, since I’m writing up every movie on my list, I’ve got to put something down, and I always try to point out when I’m watching something under these circumstances. Therefore, since I’m seeing this one in unsubtitled Italian, you can take it with a grain of salt when I say that I suspect the movie is a bore. I could be wrong; if the dialogue is sparkling and fascinating, this might be a really enjoyable movie. Seen in this state where I can barely comprehend what’s going on (I borrowed heavily from comments on IMDB to get a plot description together), I can’t appreciate it on that level, and, despite the fact that there’s a few moody scenes, a fair amount of nudity, a witch that likes leaving scratch marks on women’s breasts, and other odd touches, my primary impression is that this movie is somewhat static and talks your ears off. Also, Patrizia Viotti (who plays the female journalist) has one of the lousiest screams I’ve ever heard in a movie, and we get treated to it far too often. Still, until I get to see it in a form where I can really understand it, this is only speculation – except for the bit about the scream.

 

New York Ripper (1982)

NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)
aka Los Squartatore di New York
Article 2589 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-7-2008
Posting Date: 9-14-2008
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Featuring Jack Hedley, Almanta Suska, Howard Ross
Country: Italy

A vicious serial killer is loose in New York. A policeman teams up with a psychoanalyst to catch him. Their main clue is that the killer talks like a duck when he’s killing.

There are landmark moments in my progress through this whole series of movies I’m covering, and this is one of them. This is not to say that it’s the first Lucio Fulci movie I’ve seen, but it’s the first one I’ve seen in which he’s in his full-throttle gore mode. There is something of a split in critical views of Fulci’s work; some find his movies fascinating and stylistically rich, others find them sickeningly repellant. There’s no doubt about it – the gory violence in this movie is intense and nasty; in fact, it shows up most of the slasher flicks of the era for the cartoons which they (in one sense) are. The violence is so nasty that it allows the movie to get away with its bizarrest touch; having the killer talk like a duck would be laughable if the killings weren’t so stomach-churning. I’m less impressed with the cliched plot (with the killer taunting a cop, a comic relief doctor performing the autopsies, the cop hooking up with a younger man to help solve the murders, etc.), and I guessed who the killer was long before anyone in the movie does. I also don’t find the movie particularly interesting in a stylistic sense, and the attempts at pathos near the end of the movie feel forced and ineffectual. This pretty much leaves the gore and the nastiness as the primary appeal, and these will certainly not be to everyone’s taste. Me, I recognize the power of what he’s doing, but I’m not sure the nastiness ever really becomes more than just that. Still, I’ll have other opportunities to deal with it, I’m sure.

 

Nur Tote Zeugen Schweigen (1962)

NUR TOTE ZEUGEN SCHWEIGEN (1962)
aka Hypnosis, Dummy of Death, Ipnosi
Article 2587 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-5-2008
Posting Date: 9-12-2008
Directed by Eugenio Martin
Featuring Gotz George, Heinz Drache, Jean Sorel
Country: Italy/Spain/West Germany

A thief is framed for the murder of a famed hypnotist/ventriloquist. The thief attempts to elude arrest while hatching a plan to trap the real murderer. The police investigate. Oddest of all, the ventriloquist’s dummy has mysteriously vanished…

In some ways, this odd little thriller is rather intriguing. Going into it, a quick survey of the alternate titles led me to believe we were going to have another ventriloquist-and-his-dummy/alter-ego movie, but such is not the case. The plot takes a number of interesting turns and twists, and certain scenes are rather striking; I like the one where the thief saves the life of the policeman chasing him and then immediately knocks him out. The subplot of the dummy, combined with the fact that IMDB classifies this movie as science fiction had me prepared for some fascinating revelations at the end. Unfortunately, as it turns out, IMDB’s classification of the movie is unexplainable; though there may be some science fiction elements very early in the plot (the hypnotist’s act features doctors and x-rays), they are minor and unimportant to the story, and the final revelations turn out to be very disappointing. In short, this is one of those movies in which the ride is much more interesting than the final destination.

 

Night of the Witches (1970)

NIGHT OF THE WITCHES (1970)
Article 2580 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-28-2008
Posting Date: 9-5-2008
Directed by Keith Larsen
Featuring Keith Larsen, Ronald Taft, Anakorita
Country: Canada/USA

An itinerant preacher/rapist matches wits with a coven of witches.

If sheer strangeness was an unmixed blessing, this little horror-comedy would be an undiscovered classic. From its cockamamie plot to its freaky use of music and array of strange characters, this movie does leave you sitting back and wondering just what you’re seeing. But strangeness is not an unmixed blessing, and eventually you begin to realize that the movie is neither funny nor scary, which is a bit of a shame; the movie is, in its way, rather similar to ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, with the witches in the role of the dotty aunts (they believe that their sacrificial lambs are being saved from an even more horrible death later on, and thus, acts of charity), the young man who comes to visit is Mortimer the good son (who tries to get them to see what they’re doing is wrong and who also seeks to save them from the law), and the preacher is Jonathan, the evil son (who plans to blackmail the witches for his own evil purposes). Had this one worked, it would have been a lot of fun. As it is, I can only recommend this one to those who want to see something really strange.

 

Night of the Lepus (1972)

NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972)
Article 2420 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-11-2007
Posting Date: 2-28-2008
Directed by William F. Claxton
Featuring Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun

An experiment to control the population of rabbits goes awry when one of the test rabbits gets loose, and ends up producing a herd of giant rabbits intent on destruction and death.

Well, I’ll give the movie some credit; it does try. It has some decent miniature model work, the acting is quite good, and it tries to spice up the proceedings with copious amounts of gore. But it’s a lost cause; the moment you see the bobbing and bouncing bevy of bucktoothed behemoth bunnies, you’ll be more inclined to shriek with delight as you run to the pet store rather than scream with fear and run for the theater exit. Quite frankly, it should have been played for laughs, and, if my memory is correct, I recall hearing that the original novel on which it was based (Russell Braddon’s “The Year of the Angry Rabbit”) was comic; if this is true, then this is the second movie in a row I’ve seen which took a comic effort and tried to make a straight movie out of it. I vividly remember the ads for this movie that played on TV after I got home from school in the early seventies; it looked rather scary then, but it never once made explicit that the monsters were rabbits. Somebody came to their senses. The movie also features DeForest Kelley in a fashionable seventies haircut.