Psychic Killer (1975)

PSYCHIC KILLER (1975)
Article 1821 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-10-2006
Posting Date: 8-7-2006
Directed by Ray Danton
Featuring Paul Burke, Jim Hutton, Julie Adams

A man who has been unjustly sent to a mental institution for murder discovers the secret of astral projection. When he is released, he uses the power to cause the deaths of those who wronged him.

This movie has an promising premise (murder by astral projection), an interesting cast (which features Jim Hutton, Julie Adams, Neville Brand, Rod Cameron and Whit Bissell), and poses an intriguing question; even if the police know who is guilty of the bizarre and seemingly accidental deaths that have occurred, how can they prove it? The first part of the movie at the mental institution is the best part; unfortunately, once the inmate is released and the deaths begin, the movie takes a nosedive. Its main problem is the way it handles the murders. Though I understand the reasoning behind making each of the victims an unpleasant character so that the viewer is glad to see them offed, this movie makes them so over-the-top in their unpleasantness that the movie turns inadvertently comic during the scary scenes, and since the rest of the movie is taking itself rather seriously, it undermines the movie’s impact. Some of the dialogue is quite bad as well, and the police figure out the culprit far too easily. Ultimately, it’s a failure, but not an uninteresting one.

Psychomania (1971)

PSYCHOMANIA (1971)
Article #1774 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-22-2006
Posting Date: 6-21-2006
Directed by Don Sharp
Featuring Nicky Henson, Beryl Reid, George Sanders

A young member of a motorcycle gang discovers the secret of eternal life and invincibility, and kills himself with the intent of rising from the dead. He does so, and convinces his fellow motorcyclists to do likeways. They then go on a rampage.

The opening credits of this movie roll while we see slow motion images of the motorcyclists riding through a grassy area populated with large stones. This sequence is incredibly eerie. The rest of the movie doesn’t live up to it, but that doesn’t make the movie a waste of time. The sheer strangeness of the story makes it somewhat watchable, as do the presence of Beryl Reid and George Sanders (in one of his last movie roles before he committed suicide). For a movie that features a motorcycle gang going on a violent homicidal rampage, it’s surprisingly subdued and bloodless. In fact, much of it is played as comedy, especially the sequences where the motorcycle gang members commit suicide. Somehow, it all has to do with deals with the devil, frogs, and a strange mirror locked in a room in a mansion. There are some clever scenes; in particular, I like the scene where the police set a trap for the cyclists, in which the set-up and final results are told by a roving camera that pans across the room in such a way that you get to see none of the middle action. It doesn’t quite all hold up, but it made for interesting viewing. Doctor Who fans should keep their eyes peeled for John (Sergeant Benton) Levene as a constable.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

PLANET OF THE APES (1968)
Article #1773 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2006
Posting Date: 6-20-2006
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Featuring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter

When several astronauts crash-land on a planet, they find themselves in a world where apes are the dominant species.

Though I like the whole “Planet of the Apes” movie cycle, when it comes right down to it, this is the only one that really matters. It is, at heart, a satire on the faith vs. science controversy that surrounds evolution, but it drives its points home by reversing the species and putting an intelligent man in the position of the lower animal on the scale, and, as a result, also becomes about the inhuman treatment of animals. The acting is fine from all concerned, the Jerry Goldsmith score (which occasionally even mimics the sound of simians) is excellent, and the ape makeup is outstanding; they would cheapen the process in the later films of the series, and it showed. Still, there are a few problems. I’ve never quite reconciled the fact that the apes are experimenting with brain surgery and have high-powered guns while living in what seems to be a relatively primitive environment (horse, stone buildings) that would seem to contradict their ability to manufacture such items (the test footage with Edward G. Robinson indicates that the original conceptions were somewhat different), and the sense of humor is forced, in particular the “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” gag feels contrived (though it was nice to finally see the whole thing in widescreen). Still, the movie has earned its classic status and still holds up very well today. And, even if you already know the ending (and who doesn’t?), it’s still a great one.

Pharaoh’s Curse (1957)

PHARAOH’S CURSE (1957)
Article #1772 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-20-2006
Posting Date: 6-19-2006
Directed by Lee Sholem
Featuring Mark Dana, Diane Brewster, Ziva Rodann

An archaelogical expedition attempts to find the tomb of a pharaoh, but the members begin dying at the hands of a blood-sucking mummy.

I saw this on my local Creature Feature when I was a kid, and for years, all I could remember besides the title was the scene where the mummy’s arm is pulled off. Several years ago I watched it again. Afterwards, all I could remember was (once again) the scene where the mummy’s arm was pulled off. I have a funny feeling that in a few weeks, all I’ll remember from this third viewing will have something to with a mummy’s arm.

You know, in some ways, I admire this movie; it does try to do a few new things with the mummy concept. The makeup is also fairly good, and a couple of the attack scenes are well done. However, the direction is plodding, the story lacks any forward momentum, the plot is muddled, and the ending is severely anti-clmactic. As a result, I can’t really recommend this one, unless you really have a hankering to see a scene in which a mummy’s arm is pulled off.

***NOTE*** I have received clarification from several sources that the mummy in this movie isn’t really a mummy, but a modern man who has become a mummy-like creature. Feel free to substitute the phrase “mummy-like creature who really isn’t a mummy” where ever appropriate in the above write-up.

The Phantom Planet (1961)

THE PHANTOM PLANET (1961)
Article #1770 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-18-2006
Posting Date: 6-17-2006
Directed by William Marshall
Featuring Dean Fredericks, Coleen Gray, Anthony Dexter

Two astronauts embark on a mission to discover the secret behind a phantom planet that appears out of nowhere and destroys rockets. One crash-lands on the planet, and discovers a civilization of tiny people.

This is one strange movie. There are moments where it is engagingly surreal; the scene where the astronaut first encounters the little people is bizarre but quite fascinating. I also think the movie does a very nice job with the special effects for what must have been a very low budget. The plot is a bit of a mess, though, and is at times painfully contrived, especially with the two love triangles. The pacing is truly horrible as well, with long dull stretches of uninteresting talk, some of which sounds oddly Ed Woodian at times. The cast has some interesting names in it, though, with former silent star Francis X. Bushman appearing as the patriarch of the planet and Richard Kiel as a strange-looking dog-faced alien. Director William Marshall was formerly a singer for the Fred Waring Orchestra, and his son Mike Marshall appears in the movie.

Peter Pan (1953)

PETER PAN (1953)
Article #1761 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-9-2006
Posting Date: 6-8-2006
Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Featuring the voices of Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried

Peter Pan whisks away three children from their London home to the world of Neverland.

If I were to choose what differentiates Disney’s “great” animated features from the ones they did that are merely “good”, I would say that it was the sense of drama that pervades the great ones; they weren’t just exercises in humor and whimsicality, but had a way of touching the emotions that transcended the fact that you were only watching animated characters. By this criteria, PETER PAN belongs to the pantheon of merely good; it not only fails to add a sense of drama to the proceedings, but it doesn’t even aspire to do so, a fact that is underscored by the decision to treat Captain Hook as primarily a comic villain. Still, when Disney was good, they were very good, and there are some real pleasures among the characters here. In particular, the character of Tinkerbell steals the show; with nary a line of dialogue, she manages to project a variety of intriguing emotions, from her jealousy at the presence of Wendy to concern about the state of her figure. Furthermore, if you are going to have a comic villain, you couldn’t do any better than to go with Hans Conried, who would go on to provide the voice for the most famous comic villain of all, Snidely Whiplash. The sequences with the canine nursemaid Nana are also quite fun. And there is something truly magical about the flying pirate ship in the final scenes of the movie.

Passport to Destiny (1944)

PASSPORT TO DESTINY (1944)
(a.k.a. PASSPORT TO ADVENTURE)
Article #1743 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-22-2005
Posting Date: 5-21-2006
Directed by Ray McCarey
Featuring Elsa Lanchester, Gordon Oliver, Lenore Aubert

When a charwoman finds the charm that her late husband had claimed made him impervious to death, she decides to use her protective power to help her in an attempt to go to Berlin and give Hitler what for.

I have to admit that I was so charmed and amused by the premise of this movie that I looked forward to seeing it. And sure enough, the movie is indeed charming and amusing; at least, it is for the length of time that it plays its story for silly comedy. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the movie starts to take itself seriously at the half-way mark, and, given the time, I don’t blame them; after all, the Third Reich really wasn’t a laughing matter. But it does become a thoroughly ordinary war-time propaganda piece at that point. Still, I always enjoy watching Elsa Lanchester at work, and the acting is fine throughout.