Phantom Killer (1942)

PHANTOM KILLER (1942)
Article 2878 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-25-2009
Posting Date: 6-30-2009
Directed by William Beaudine
Featuring Dick Purcell, Joan Woodbury, John Hamilton
Country: USA

An assistant D.A. is sure that several murders have been committed by a prominent citizen who is pretending to be a deaf-mute. However, the citizen has an alibi in which he was at public events at the time of the murders. Furthermore, it has been proven by doctors that the citizen is a deaf-mute, though witnesses to the murders claim that he can talk. What is the solution to this mystery?

If you’re familiar with THE SPHINX, and are aware that this movie is a remake of that one, you’ll know the solution. If you’re not, don’t worry; one of the characters gives away the solution to the mystery in one of the opening scenes, if you’re alert enough to catch it. There’s no phantom to speak of, so the only fantastic content is the implied doppelganger of the storyline. Overall, it’s a thoroughly ordinary poverty row mystery. At least one of the user comments on IMDB suggests you watch it for Mantan Moreland, but be aware that he has about one minute of screen time. This one is routine at best.

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Profanadores de tumbas (1966)

PROFANADORES DE TUMBAS (1966)
aka Santo Vs. the Grave Robbers, Dealers in Death
Article 2877 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-24-2009
Posting Date: 6-29-2009
Directed by Jose Diaz Morales
Featuring Santo, Gina Romand, Mario Orea
Country: Mexico

A mad doctor employs a hunchback (who he beats repeatedly) and two grave robbers (who really enjoy burning dead bodies). His experiments with heart transplants are unsuccessful because he needs a super-human heart, such as one from a masked wrestler named Santo. However, they have to kill him first…

Okay, the mad scientist needs to kill a masked wrestler for his heart. I can handle this; this is familiar territory. Then things start getting weird. The killer lamp with a bleeding heart on the shade is strange enough (hint for Santo: lamps don’t work if they’re unplugged), but we also get a bleeding painting, a killer violin, and… a killer wig. This is one mad doctor we’re talking about. Santo has wrestled a lot of nemeses in his days, but if you want to see him doing battle with a lamp, this is the movie for you. Oh, and Santo (and I’ve mentioned this before, I know), please, please, please don’t let your cape dangle out near the tires of your Santomobile when you’re out driving; this just makes me nervous. The cast includes actors named Frankenstein and Quasimodo; incidentally, the latter actor is NOT playing the hunchback. At this sitting, this takes the cake as the weirdest Santo movie of the lot; I only wish it was dubbed or subtitled in English.

The Premonition (1976)

THE PREMONITION (1976)
Article 2836 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-12-2009
Posting Date: 5-19-2009
Directed by Robert Allen Schnitzer
Featuring Sharon Farrell, Edward Bell, Danielle Brisebois
Country: USA

The natural mother of a girl given up for adoption plots to kidnap the daughter from her new parents. Helping her is a carnival clown with a psychotic streak. Unbeknownst to her, however, the child’s adoptive mother has psychic powers…

At the time of this writing, this movie is sitting with a 2.1 rating on IMDB, which leads me to believe that the movie is held in very low esteem. The movie does have some real problems, and, if I wanted to, I could just bring those up and quickly dispense with the film. However, I can’t quite do that; there’s something unique and engaging about the basic story here. And some of the condemnations that could be thrown at this film I can’t quite swallow. First of all, horror fans will be mightily disappointed by this one, because it really isn’t a horror film; despite the fact that it has several people who could be described as not sane (one of which who is homicidal), it’s much more of a drama about psychic powers, and is best watched without any of the expectations you would have for a horror film. Also, the plot relies on what seems to be at first glance some outrageous coincidences; however, if you are willing to buy one of the central premises of the film (that a woman’s spirit has returned from the dead and is influencing the lives of the people in the movie), then it is possible to see the coincidences as manifestations of the dead woman’s power.

However, other problems aren’t disposed of that easily. The movie’s physical-world-vs-metaphysical-world theme is clumsy and distracting. Certain scenes misfire badly. There’s something a little shrill about the movie as a whole (especially the mother’s psychic visions), despite the fact that it makes effective use of subtlety here and there. The biggest problem, though, is that the character of the adoptive mother is unconvincing; we’re supposed to feel for her and be caught up in her suffering and pain, but she often comes across as mentally unbalanced, and seems no saner than either the real mother or the psychotic clown. As a result, I found it very hard to warm up to her, and that feeling is necessary for the movie to have its emotional impact.

In short, the movie is badly flawed, though I still think it’s much better than a 2.1 rating would suggest. Still, it’s easy to see how some people might hate the movie, so use your own judgment. If you do give it a try, I suggest one thing; set aside your usual horror expectations.

Picnic on the Grass (1959)

PICNIC ON THE GRASS (1959)
aka Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe
Article 2815 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2009
Posting Date: 4-28-2009
Directed by Jean Renoir
Featuring Paul Meurisse, Charles Blavette, Catherine Rouvel
Country: France

A candidate for the presidency of Europe advocates artificial insemination as a replacement for sex. While on a picnic to promote his views, he is separated from his party and ends up meeting a country girl who makes him question his dedication to science.

To say that this is a sex comedy runs the risk of making it sound racier and tackier than it is, but that’s exactly what it is; it’s a comedy that explores sex and, on a wider scale, the whole issue of science versus nature. Given this theme, it is perhaps appropriate that the movie manages to be both science fiction and fantasy at the same time; the prospect a man being so popular that he manages to unite the European nations in such a way that he is capable of forming a scientific dictatorship certainly moves it into the realm of science fiction, whereas the presence of a pipe-playing farmer (with his pet goat) who can bring on a windstorm with his playing is a fantasy element. It’s an odd but quite amusing comedy, with a wealth of interesting characters (particularly in the scientist’s entourage), and it explores the science versus nature theme very well indeed. The look of the film was inspired by the paintings of the impressionists, particularly Manet’s “Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe”, thus inspiring the title; unfortunately, my print of the movie was somewhat faded, so it was a little difficult for me to enjoy it completely on that level. All in all, this is an enjoyable and interesting French comedy.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)
Article 2803 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-9-2009
Posting Date: 4-16-2009
Directed by Brian De Palma
Featuring William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper
Country: USA

When his rock cantata is stolen by a legendary music impresario, a musician seeks revenge, but gets horribly mutilated in a record pressing machine. He dons a mask and haunts the rock palace constructed by the impresario, but gets drawn into a pact with the devil when he seeks to have a female singer perform his music.

Given my general dismissive attitude towards musicals, my ambivalence about the oeuvre of Brian De Palma, my dislike for THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, and the fact that I have little use for singer/composer Paul Williams, one might well be expected to conclude that I would dislike this one intensely. Well, surprise of surprises, I really liked this one for the most part. I’m not particularly taken with the music (to its credit, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW wins out in this regard), but I think De Palma keeps his most irritating habits in check with this one; the style underscores the comedy quite well, it uses split screen effectively, and the Hitchcock references don’t seem forced. In fact, the reference to PSYCHO is one of my favorite laughs in the movie. Furthermore, I like speculating on who might be the models for the various characters in the story; I suspect Swan is Phil Spector, the group The Juicy Fruits is Sha Na Na, and Winslow Leach is (at first, anyway) a take on Elton John. There’s also a general parody of the shock rock/glam rock world of Alice Cooper and David Bowie thrown in. Unlike THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, it has a story; it’s a mutated cross between the Faust story and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. And however I feel about Paul Williams’s music, he gives a hell of a performance as the narcissistic Swan. Still, I did say “for the most part” above, and I have to admit that the movie starts to unravel in the final reel; it loses its comic edge and becomes just weird. Nevertheless, I think ultimately its strengths win out, and this goes under the list of De Palma films I really like.

Patrick (1978)

PATRICK (1978)
Article 2802 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-9-2009
Posting Date: 4-15-2009
Directed by Richard Franklin
Featuring Susan Penhaligon, Robert Helpmann, Rod Mullinar
Country: Australia

A woman, separated from her husband, gets a job nursing a young man who went into a coma after murdering his mother and her lover. She begins to suspect that he’s not entirely dead to the world… and may have developed psychic powers.

Though it has a somewhat offbeat approach and doesn’t feel like a ripoff of any other movie (calling it a cross between COMA and THE FURY just doesn’t do it justice), I found this Australian thriller curiously uninvolving. Part of the problem may be that, with a central character who spends the entire movie lying in bed and staring off in the distance, it’s a little difficult making him compelling. Most of the action falls onto the shoulders of the character of the nurse, and she spends most of the movie doing the one thing that is most likely to weary me; she spends it trying to convince people that the events she’s witnessing are real and ends up only making herself look crazy. Overall, the movie feels somewhat confused and oddly edited, but, given that the movie was cut from an original running time of 140 minutes, that’s understandable. Still, it’s hard for me to believe that this movie could have sustained that length; I started to get antsy and bored early on waiting for things to start rolling. The movie must have been popular enough, though; it inspired a sequel, albeit one that was made in a different country. On a side note, this is the second movie in a row to feature a troubled woman having bad experiences involving a typewriter.

Prophecy (1979)

PROPHECY (1979)
Article 2749 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-15-2008
Posting Date: 2-21-2009
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Featuring Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire, Armand Assante
Country: USA

Pollution has resulted in a giant mutant killer bear terrorizing the forests of Maine.

Had I been old enough to see and appreciate the sixties works of John Frankenheimer at the time they were made, I would have considered him one of the finest directors at work and anticipated an illustrious career. And how I would have been disappointed at how forgettable much of his later work would turn out to be. For me, the biggest disappointment of this movie was in seeing how ordinary it was in comparison with THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE; here, it seems like he is doing little more than pulling in a paycheck. It’s far from his worst movie (remember THE EXTRAORDINARY SEAMAN?), but he does little to redeem the weak script, the obvious story (which overreaches by trying to cram too much social conscience into a story that doesn’t support it) and the cliched dialogue. The movie is almost entirely lacking in surprises, and when it should be kicking into high gear, it gets listless and tired. This is the second time I’ve seen the movie, and the only scene I remembered from the first time was when one character sticks his head out a tunnel to see if the monster is still there.