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.

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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.

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)

NOSFERATU: PHANTOM DER NACHT (1979)
aka Nosferatu the Vampyre
Article 3526 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-16-2011
Posting Date: 4-10-2011
Directed by Werner Herzog
Featuring Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz
Country: West Germany / France
What it is: Adaptation of DRACULA

Jonathan Harker undertakes a journey to the castle of Count Dracula in Transylvania in order to close a deal on some real estate. He soon discovers that Dracula is a creature of evil with designs on his wife, and he must try to escape the castle and return home to save her.

The original NOSFERATU was an unauthorized adaptation of “Dracula”, and I do find it a bit odd that Werner Herzog chose to title his version of the Dracula story the same. Having seen it though, there is a reason; he obviously wanted to tap into certain aspects of that version of the story, and I think he actually does a fine job at it. It’s certainly one of the quietest versions of the story, with much of the music subdued and unobtrusive, but this adds quite a bit to the subliminal sense of dread, despair, and sadness that permeates this version. As always with versions of DRACULA, I find it fascinating to see how characters are reworked and modified; as in the Murnau version, the real hero in the story is Lucy, who must make the supreme sacrifice. In this one, Van Helsing is the skeptic; it’s not until too late that he takes any action. Dracula himself is tragic, sad and tortured, and Klaus Kinski’s performance in the role is excellent. Some of the visuals are fascinating; I love the way the movie emphasizes the plague subplot, especially when Lucy makes her way through the near-deserted town to discover the remaining people celebrating as best they can in the knowledge that they have the plague and will soon all be dead; most jarring is a dinner scene with all the diners surrounded by hordes of rats. Though it’s not quite as important as the Murnau version, this is definitely a worthy remake of the story.

The Natural (1984)

THE NATURAL (1984)
Article 3525 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-15-2011
Posting Date: 4-9-2011
Directed by Barry Levinson
Featuring Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger
Country: USA
What it is: Baseball fantasy

A promising young baseball player’s career is nipped in the bud when he is shot by a woman under mysterious circumstances. He returns to the game as a middle-aged man, and proves to be a phenomenal player, but there are those who want him and his team to fail…

One thought I had as I was watching this movie is that it could have easily slid into campy overkill; the potentially melodramatic plot machinations and overtly symbolic characters could have bushwhacked this movie if it had taken itself seriously in a realistic mode. The reason it succeeds is that it knows it’s a fable and an allegory, and though the movie never becomes an overt fantasy, the undercurrent of it not being realistic is incredibly strong. It’s further helped by a whole slew of excellent performances from everyone, from Robert Redford’s heroic slugger to Wilfred Brimley’s put-upon coach to Glenn Close’s angelic girlfriend to Robert Prosky’s corrupt judge. Two performances in particular are worthy of mention; Joe Don Baker is truly memorable playing The Whammer (obviously modelled off of Babe Ruth), and Darren McGavin (who goes unbilled) almost steals the show as a high-stakes gambler. I ended up really liking the movie, and I don’t care one whit for baseball. Of course, whether I would actually classify it as a fantasy is another issue, and even given my comments above, it still seems quite a stretch to me. For the record, the movie is included in John Stanley’s “Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again”, thus it’s inclusion in this series.

A Name for Evil (1973)

A NAME FOR EVIL (1973)
Article 3524 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-14-2011
Posting Date: 4-8-2011
Directed by Bernard Girard
Starring Robert Culp, Samantha Eggar, Sheila Sullivan
Country: USA
What it is: Figure it out yourself

An architect with marital problems leaves his dead-end job and goes to live at the home of his great-great-grandfather, known as the Major. However, the Major’s spirit may still exist on the premises, and he doesn’t like intruders…

The DVD package in which this came says the movie is “not for children or adults who scare easily”. I’ll definitely agree with the “not for children”, given the fact that it is full of nudity and sex and has a plot element involving masturbation as well as an orgy sequence. As for it not being for “adults who scare easily”, I’d say it’s actually not for “adults who confuse easily”, because, even though the DVD box tries to make the movie sound like it’s scary as hell, I have to agree with John Stanley’s evaluation of the movie in his “Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again” book where he makes it sound as pretentious as hell. Basically, it’s one of those “fantasy vs. reality” movies where we’re not sure how much of what we’re seeing is really happening and how much is all in the architect’s fevered imagination. I can find things to admire about the movie if I take it from a distance and squint really hard, but when I’m in close proximity to it, I find the self-conscious dialogue, the lack of subtlety, and the pompous score (which acts as if every scene is fraught with portent) conspire together to annoy the hell out of me. This movie sat on the shelf for several years before it was released, for obvious reasons. This, like yesterday’s movie, is one of those where you suspect that the story behind the making of the movie is a lot more interesting than the movie itself. By the way, if you ever wanted to see a full-frontal nude shot of Robert Culp, here’s your chance.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR (1984)
Article 3521 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-12-2011
Posting Date: 4-5-2011
Directed by Michael Radford
Featuring John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton
Country: UK
What it is: Dystopia

In an oppressive society, a man attempts to have an affair with a female party member, despite the rules against it.

Watching an adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian classic is like watching a sword and sandal flick; you know just what you’re going to get. You know the movie is going to be depressing, joyless, brutal, and whatever other word you can think of to capture the bleakness of this dystopia. So maybe that’s why I went into this with a glum acceptance of the ordeal, and why, after a while, you don’t really feel much of anything at all. This is just as well; it gives you a chance to concentrate on the philosophies and the ideas in the movie, which are probably the real meat of the matter. You can also admire the performances of the three principals. Hurt and Hamilton are excellent, but the real victory goes to Burton, whose matter-of-fact steeliness captures him at his very best. On a side note, I occasionally run into political hyperbole of the type in which the present world is just like that of NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. Though certain of the concepts of this book have incorporated themselves into our world (and, to be honest, these concepts probably originated in the world as well rather than in the novel; the book just laid them out), I believe we’re nowhere near that reality. After all, you certainly wouldn’t be allowed to watch this movie in that world.

The Night of the Strangler (1972)

THE NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER (1972)
Article 3520 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-10-2011
Posting Date: 4-4-2011
Directed by Jay N. Houck Jr.
Featuring Micky Dolenz, James Ralston, Michael Anthony
Country: USA
What it is: Offbeat crime drama

A woman announces to her two brothers, one of whom is racist, that she intends to marry a black man. Shortly after that, the woman’s prospective suitor is murdered. The woman is also killed shortly afterwards, and the killer makes it look like a suicide. A year later, more murders start taking place, all of them tied to the two remaining brothers. Who is the killer and what is his motivation?

The John Stanley guide describes the plot of this one as involving women dreaming they’re being attacked by a strangler, only to wake up and find themselves actually being attacked by a strangler. He’s either been misinformed or has it confused with another movie. In truth, this really isn’t a horror movie, though the deceptive title certainly doesn’t alleviate that confusion. It’s more of a crime drama/mystery, and actually not a bad one; I was genuinely curious as to who the murderer was and what his motivation would be. I was also curious as to whether the police would figure things out, which is something you won’t know until the last moment. Some plot points are made fairly clear and are handled quite cleverly; for instance, I like the way the movie establishes that the man and the woman at the beginning of the movie are killed by different people. The movie did keep me guessing till the end, especially as far as the motives for the murders. For those who want a couple of slight hints to help them figure it out, here they are. First, take note of the fact that in all of the investigations of the murders, the first murder is never addressed after it occurs. And secondly, you’ll notice that they avoid showing the face of the primary murderer, but there’s another character whose face is not shown.

Incidentally, I thought the presence of Micky Dolenz, former Monkee, in the cast would prove to be gimmick casting, but, truth to tell, he does quite a decent job as the younger brother. The fantastic content is provided by some of the bizarre murder methods.