The Name of the Game is Kill (1968)

Article 3019 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-13-2009
Posting Date: 11-19-2009
Directed by Gunnar Hellstrom
Featuring Jack Lord, Tisha Sterling, Colin Wilcox Paxton
Country: USA

A Hungarian immigrant is picked up by a woman who lives with her two sisters and their mother in a filling station. After an attempt to run him over sends the immigrant to the hospital, he returns to the filling station. There he attempts to win the youngest daughter and seeks to discover the hidden mystery of the family; what happened to the long-missing father?

One of the reasons this odd little psychothriller works is that the mystery element is very strong; all three of the daughters and the mother seem off, and all of them come across as if they might be responsible for the death of the missing father. Furthermore, we are given three contradictory stories about the death of the father. Even at that, the movie has at least one truly memorable twist near the end that I didn’t see coming, though it is a twist that has popped up before in other movies. There are good performances all around; I liked Jack Lord’s performance, as I primarily remember him as McGarrett in “Hawaii Five-O”, and it was great to see him in a totally different type of role here, but it’s the performance of T.C. Jones that really makes the movie work at certain crucial moments. Furthermore, I can’t help but have a bit of affection for any movie that prominently features music by The Electric Prunes.


Night of the Big Heat (1967)

aka Island of the Burning Doomed
Article 2994 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-19-2009
Posting Date: 10-25-2009
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Christopher Lee, Patrick Allen, Peter Cushing
Country: UK

An island near England is having unseasonably warm weather. A scientist on the island discovers that the weather is not a meteorological fluke, but a symptom of something far more ominous…

I’d heard about this movie for years, and I always thought it would prove to be a variation on THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE. Instead, I find it’s a lot more similar to ISLAND OF TERROR, another movie from the same production company. It starts out as an intriguing mystery of sort, but, unfortunately, it’s one of those mysteries that loses its allure once it’s been solved. Several things disappoint me here; the revelation about the cause of the heat, the special effects surrounding this revelation, and the fact that the story ends up getting badly mired in an irritating romantic triangle subplot. It’s also one of those movies where the day-for-night photography is particularly distracting. Peter Cushing does his usual fine job, but his role is too small, and Christopher Lee tries his best with a role that isn’t particularly well-written. All in all, this was a disappointment.

La nave de los monstruos (1960)

Article 2860 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-7-2009
Posting Date: 6-12-2009
Directed by Rogelio A. Gonzalez
Featuring Eulalio Gonzalez, Ana Bertha Lepe, Lorena Velazquez
Country: Mexico

A singing cowboy must contend with two space babes (one of which is a vampire), a robot, and their cargo of monsters.

Words fail me. When faced with a genre-bender of this level (singing cowboy movie crossed with alien invasion movie crossed with vampire movie), I can only watch slack-jawed and marvel at the audacity of the minds of Mexican movie-makers. The robot is pretty silly-looking, but he’s no match for the assortment of monsters aboard the ship; they’re even stranger than the assortment from INFRA-MAN, and one of them is short enough so that the singing cowboy’s son can take him on in the final fight scene. The fact that the movie is in undubbed and unsubtitled Spanish only adds to the freaky atmosphere; after a while, it hardly matters that you’re not sure what’s going on. Incidentally, this is the second movie I’ve seen in less than a month where one of the central characters falls in love with a jukebox.

Night of Dark Shadows (1971)

Article 2812 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-18-2009
Posting Date: 4-25-2009
Directed by Dan Curtis
Featuring David Selby, Grayson Hall,Kate Jackson
Country: USA

Quentin Collins returns to Collinwood with his new wife. Unfortunately, the ghost of the witch Angelique plans to claim Quentin for her own…

I was of the age that tried to rush home every day after school to catch the latest episode of “Dark Shadows” on TV; I rarely made it, but sometimes I did. I was also of the age to see the ads for this movie on afternoon TV and found myself wondering where Barnabas Collins was. Of course, he’s not in this one, and I went into this viewing (for the first time) of the movie with the intent of giving it every chance, despite the fact that it lacked the character I really wanted to see. I still emerged from it unsatisfied. To me, it seems written as if it was still a daytime soap rather than a feature length movie, so much of the dialogue is overly melodramatic. It also tries too hard to be atmospheric and scary, from the overabundance of tilted camera shots, the overuse of echo in the first nightmare sequence, a score that thinks it’s the scariest movie ever made and seeks to remind you of it, the protracted twist ending in which you know exactly what the twist is but the movie goes on and on pretending that it’s some big surprise, and the overuse of that camera trick in which the focus gets fuzzy around the edges. The story, though utterly conventional, is also a bit of a mess, but this may be due to Dan Curtis having been forced to cut thirty minutes from it at the last minute. Still, in my heart, I wanted Barnabas, and though I can fully understand Curtis wanting to have a franchise that just wasn’t a series of vampire movies, the movie just wasn’t satisfying without Barnabas.

I’ll just have to wait until I finally get a chance to see HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.

The Nesting (1981)

Article 2801 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-7-2009
Posting Date: 4-14-2009
Directed by Armand Weston
Featuring Robin Groves, Christopher Loomis, Michael David Lally
Country: USA

A woman writer who suffers from agoraphobia moves into a country house which she discovers for the first time, despite having described it in detail in a novel she’s written. It soon becomes obvious the house is haunted and the ghosts want revenge, but upon who? And why?

Despite the fact that the movie crosses two very familiar horror storylines (the haunted house and the revenge from the grave plots), it still manages to be offbeat enough to hold my interest, and manages to have some interesting details. This is good, because the movie definitely suffers in several regards; some of the acting is quite weak, the dialogue is often clunky and some of it is quite awful, there are plot elements that are never explained (why do the ghosts go after the doctor?), and it has a big ending where none is needed. There are some nice touches, though; I love the scene where the writer is talking on the phone in the foreground while we see a central character appear in the background, listen to the conversation, and depart before she knows he’s been there. John Carradine does a good job in a role that gives him a bit more to play with than most of his other roles at the time. This was also Gloria Grahame’s last movie, and she might have been more effective if her big scene wasn’t one of the clunkiest in the movie. Despite certain nice touches, this movie has a very poor reputation (its rating on IMDB is 2.7), so let the viewer beware.

Nothing But the Night (1973)

Article 2790 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-27-2008
Posting Date: 4-3-2009
Directed by Peter Sasdy
Featuring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Diana Dors
Country: UK

Trustees for a fund that benefits an orphanage are being killed off one by one. When a botched attempt to kill three of them results in the hospitalization of some of the children from the orphanage, it is discovered that one of the girls is suffering from vivid nightmares about an event she couldn’t have lived through. Meanwhile, the mother of the girl (who was in prison for murder when her daughter was taken away) vows to get her back.

This movie was the sole release from Christopher Lee’s Charlemagne production company. The movie has a very low reputation, and for about the first half of the movie, I felt that its reputation wasn’t justified. However, that feeling dissipated as the movie progressed. Basically, most of the movie is a smokescreen covering up the central plot mechanism (which, incidentally, is given away in practically every reference book I’ve read on the movie), but it’s one of those plot mechanisms that needs better care than it is given to make it believable, and the rushed ending and ill preparation it is given here makes for a finale that just falls apart. Had the movie spent less time bothering with the subplot with the girl’s mother, it would have easily had the time to work on the real story. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing do the best they can under the circumstances, though it seems to me that the movie bends over backwards at times to keep Cushing central to the plot. It’s a shame; this could have been an interesting movie. Incidentally, the fantastic content is the final revelation which I won’t give away here, but it moves the movie into science fiction and horror directions. As a clue, I can only say that when a doctor describes the nightmares of the little girl as seeming to be those of a different person entirely, he’s onto more than he suspects.

Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981)

aka Nightmare
Article 2785 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-22-2008
Posting Date: 3-29-2009
Directed by Romano Scavolini
Featuring Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, C.J. Cooke
Country: USA

A homicidal maniac is released from a mental hospital when it is believed that new techniques have cured him of his problems. However, he goes on a killing spree, and sets his sights on a family in Florida.

The DVD case I have for this movie proudly describes it as “the most disturbing movie ever made”. That’s a pretty tall order to fill. It does attempt to give the murdering psycho more in the way of character than you usually get in a slasher film. It’s also incredibly gory, far more than is usual for the slasher films of the era. But, when all is said and done, a slasher film it is; during his attack on the household at the end, he dons a mask and becomes almost as indestructible as the usual slasher villain, though, to its credit, I was able to use the word “almost”. But you know the only reason they saved the elaborate flashback of the murder at the end of the movie was so they could have the big gory scene at that point. And the Oedipal themes aren’t really that fascinating or disturbing. Nor will you be surprised by the revelations at the end of the movie, such as his real relationship with the family in question. In short, it’s hardly the most disturbing movie ever made; it’s just a slightly better-than-average slasher film. Incidentally, Tom Savini is credited with the special effects, but only served as a consultant, and he threatened to sue when the promotional materials tried to credit him with the former.