Prey (1978)

PREY (1978)
aka Alien Prey
Article 3422 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2010
Posting Date: 12-27-2010
Directed by Norman J. Warren
Featuring Barry Stokes, Sally Faulkner, Glory Annen
Country: UK
What it is: Science fiction and exploitation

Two lesbians allow a wandering stranger to spend a few days at their isolated country home unaware that he is actually a murderous alien humanoid.

If the IMDB ratings are to be given any credence, this is Norman J. Warren’s best movie. Maybe it is; it’s better than the pointless OUTER TOUCH and the mostly dull SATAN’S SLAVE, the only other two movies of his I’ve seen. On the plus side, it has a pretty bizarre premise, it does more with the lesbian angle than just throw in some softcore sex (though it’s not above that by any means), and at least it doesn’t feel like a rehash of something else. It does feel contrived, however; the lesbian soap opera of the two women (one of whom is domineering and possibly insane) and the alien’s mission to study humanity to discover if they’re suitable (you’ll find out for what at the end, but you won’t be surprised) never really combine into a whole, and the movie feels forced. Furthermore, there are some really tiresome scenes (the endless slow-motion sequence where the women try to rescue the alien from drowning in a muddy lake comes to mind), and the characters, not very pleasant to begin with, just get worse as the movie continues. I suspect the movie was originally conceived as straight exploitation with the science fiction angle tossed in at the last minute. Just because it’s Warren’s best movie doesn’t mean it’s good.

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Possession (1973)

POSSESSION (1973)
Episode of British TV show “Thriller”
Article 3414 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-7-2010
Posting Date: 12-19-2010
Directed by John Cooper
Featuring John Carson, Joanna Dunham, Hilary Hardiman
Country: UK
What it is: Supernatural possesseion thriller…or is it?

A couple moves into a house that was the site of a murder twenty years earlier. The husband begins exhibiting behavior like that of the killer from that time. Could he be possessed…?

I do have to admire the efficiency with which this movie establishes its premise; before five minutes are up, you have a good grasp of the basic situation, a handle on the main characters, and a strong sense of where the story is going. On the down side, it’s also quite apparent that the story is made of some very familiar concepts indeed; I can’t begin to tell you how often I’ve run into the premise of a couple moving into a house that was the site of a murder, the husband overjoyed, the woman nervous and apprehensive. The title gives you a further hint of the direction of the story, and the addition of a spiritual medium further adds to the familiarity of it all. Nevertheless, the movie does have an interesting twist or two up its sleeve, and I have to admit that I more or less like this one. Also, despite the fact that this is one of those movies where you suspect the supernatural elements will be explained away, the ending does leave some of them squarely in place. Not a bad entry in this series.

Point of Terror (1971)

POINT OF TERROR (1971)
Article 3412 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-5-2010
Posting Date: 12-17-2010
Directed by Alex Nicol
Featuring Peter Carpenter, Dyanne Thorne, Lory Hansen
Country: USA
What it is: Overheated Soap Opera

A sexy male lounge singer hooks up with the wife of a record company owner in the hope of using the connection to land a record contract. However, he soon finds himself entangled in murder and intrigue.

I found this movie on a set called “Horrible Horror”, which, given this movie, is a slightly inaccurate title. Not that the movie isn’t horrible; quite frankly, it’s atrocious. It is, however, not really a horror movie. Apparently, the advertising emphasized a masked madman killing a woman with a butcher knife. Make no mistake; the scene appears in the movie, but unless it’s a metaphor for something that escapes me at the moment, it has precisely nothing to do with anything else in the movie, and may just be a figment of someone’s imagination. That scene provides a smidgen of horror content, and the end of the movie has a twist that also adds a little more, but with the first scene being arbitrarily gratuitous and the other being the height of cliched stupidity, I’m ready to disqualify the movie on bad script choices alone. Still, this is one of those movies where the dialogue is so silly, the action sequences so ridiculous, the music so awful, and the plot so overheated that the movie nets a fair share of laughs during its running time. You’ll get the most mileage out of it if you watch it as an inadvertent comedy.

Phase IV (1974)

PHASE IV (1974)
Article 3411 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-4-2010
Posting Date: 12-16-2010
Directed by Saul Bass
Featuring Michael Murphy, Nigel Davenport, Lynne Frederick
Country: USA
What it is: Mystical science fiction war thriller

Two scientists go to Arizona to study ants whose behavior has begun exhibiting very unusual signs. However, they soon find themselves fighting for their survival against a deadly and intelligent foe…

How do you stage an epic war thriller when your cast only consists of six people? Well, if one of the sides consists of a non-human species, you’re on the right track. And if this movie works as a war thriller at all, credit must go to Ken Middleham, the man who shot the ant sequences here (as well as the insect sequences in BUG and THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE); these sequences are chillingly effective, at least partially because you feel you can see the ants thinking, working out strategies, and waging a complex campaign against their human adversaries. After a while, the ants feel like the heroes; when you see a succession of ants on a suicide mission to drag a lump of poison to their queen so she can use it to develop ants who will be resistant to it, or the scene where an ant tries to take out an air conditioner guarded by a preying mantis, the effect is indeed like an epic war thriller. Still, as stunning as these scenes are, the movie does have a problem; it tries to delve into a mysticism (especially towards the end of the movie) that doesn’t quite work. One senses that the movie is missing something, and if director Saul Bass is to be believed, there was some studio tampering going on. Nevertheless, I’m willing to forgive its failings because its strengths are are so great; the movie is chilling, fascinating, and highly recommended.

Le petit-poucet (1909)

LE PETITE-POUCET (1909)
aka Tom Thumb
Article 3397 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-21-2010
Posting Date: 12-2-2010
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Fairy tale

A small boy and his brothers are lost in the woods, and end up at the home of an ogre who has evil plans for them.

This one isn’t a visual marvel like yesterday’s, but it’s much easier to follow, even if the title cards are in French. The title seems curious, as the little boy who is the hero of the piece is hardly as small as anyone’s thumb here, not even that of the giant ogre’s. The special effects are kept to a minimum; it seems to mostly rely on forced perspective to make the ogre look very big. This isn’t quite as fascinating as some the other movies I’ve seen by Chomon.

Never Pick-Up a Stranger (1979)

NEVER PICK-UP A STRANGER (1979)
aka Bloodrage
Article 3380 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-3-2010
Posting Date: 11-15-2010
Directed by Joseph Zito
Featuring Ian Scott, Jerry McGee, Judith-Marie Bergan
Country: USA
What it is: Psycho-killer movie

After accidentally killing a hooker, a young man runs away to New York hoping to evade capture. However, he soon starts killing hookers intentionally, and a cop from his home town has come to New York to investigate…

There’s part of me that wants to hate this mean-spirited, sleazy and depressing psycho-killer movie. Yet, I do have to give the movie a bit of credit; it does have some interesting ideas, and its disjointed narrative structure and sense of incompleteness occasionally forces you to figure out certain details on your own, and there is a bit of satisfaction to be had by doing so. Still, I do think the movie doesn’t quite succeed; it’s loaded with filler scenes, and I don’t think it ends up being as disturbing as it aspires to be. Incidentally, the title above is exactly how it reads on the screen; I don’t know if it occurred to anyone that if you add a dash between “pick” and “up”, it turns from a verb to a noun. The sleazy atmosphere makes the movie mostly appealing to exploitation fans.

Le Passe-muraille (1951)

LE PASSE-MURAILLE (1951)
Article 3308 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-19-2010
Posting Date: 9-4-2010
Directed by Jean Boyer
Featuring Bourvil, Joan Greenwood, Gerard Oury
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Fantasy comedy

A man stumbles upon the ability to walk through walls.

My copy of this movie is in French with no subtitles, but given that I’ve already seen the English version of this movie (MR. PEEK-A-BOO), you’d think that wouldn’t be an impediment. Unfortunately, I discovered that the English version didn’t really stay with me, so I couldn’t really use my memory to help me with this. Much of the humor is visual, usually involving the protagonist’s use of his ability to play pranks on others, but much is also verbal. I may have to rewatch the English version to see what I think. Based on the ratings on IMDB, this French version is supposed to be the superior; it has a rating of 6.0 to the English version’s 4.1. At any rate, the French version looks fast-moving and fun.