The Phantom Light (1935)

Article 4128 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-10-2013
Directed by Michael Powell
Featuring Binnie Hale, Gordon Harker, Donald Calthrop
Country: UK
What it is: Mystery thriller

A lighthouse keeper comes to Wales to take over the management of a lighthouse that is supposedly haunted; its last two keepers have vanished mysteriously, and one of the men in the lighthouse has gone mad. Is the lighthouse really haunted, or is there another explanation…?

Even great directors sometimes have to serve apprenticeships, and Michael Powell (who directed such movies as THE RED SHOES, STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN and TALES OF HOFFMANN) spent most of the thirties serving one. This movie is largely a variation of THE GHOST TRAIN, and I’m quite surprised that so many genre guides reject this one; even though the threat turns out to not be supernatural at all, I’ve covered plenty of movies listed in those other guides which have even less fantastic content than this one. At the very least, there’s a lot of talk about the lighthouse being haunted. It’s pretty standard fare, but there’s some nice visual moments here and there, and the editing during some of the climactic scenes is sharply done. The Welsh setting also adds a little color to the proceedings. This one is pretty minor, but not bad.

The Possessed (1977)


Article 4126 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-8-2013
Directed by Jerry Thorpe
Featuring James Farentino, Claudette Nevins, Eugene Roche
Country: USA
What it is: Evil incarnate thriller

A girls’ school is beset with incidents of spontaneous combustion and other strange events. A defrocked priest who underwent a near-death experience comes in to investigate.

There’s some nice ambiance on hand at times in this movie, as well as some effective music, a few striking performances (including one from a pre-STAR WARS Harrison Ford and a weird one by Joan Hackett), and a somewhat offbeat feel. But it’s sometimes trying to be too mysterious for its own good, and the movie often comes across as being annoyingly vague. A torpid pace and too many talky scenes mar the movie as well. It’s a bit of a shame; the movie has a unique vibe, and I wished it worked better than it did. As it is, it comes across as a missed opportunity.

Prime Risk (1985)

Article 4121 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-31-2012
Directed by Michael L. Farkas
Featuring Lee Montgomery, Toni Hudson, Sam Bottoms
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller

A female hacker and her aspiring pilot boyfriend concoct a scheme to rip off money from ATMs. However, they stumble across a plot by spies to destroy the economy of the United States.

To point out that this movie is basically a rip off of WARGAMES is a no-brainer; the blurbs on the VHS packet hint so persistently at the identity of its model that it could justly be accused of wearing its Xeroxed heart on its sleeve. The main differences are in the details, especially in choosing economic disaster over nuclear destruction as its Armageddon. That being said, the movie is passable; not great, not awful, it serves as an acceptable time-killer when nothing better is on, and can easily be forgotten in time for the next movie that comes along. The biggest names in the cast are Keenan Wynn and Clu Gulager; the former seems a bit bored by the whole thing, while the other is fussy and cranky. All in all, this is another movie that I can now take off the hunt list.

Phantoms, Inc. (1945)

Article 4105 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-13-2012
Directed by Harold Young
Featuring Arthur Shields, Ann Shoemaker, Frank Reicher
Country: USA
What it is: Short in the “Crime Does Not Pay” series

A couple is bilked by a fake medium who claims to be in contact with their son, missing in the war.

This short was part of MGM’s “Crime Does Not Pay” series, which illustrated the various types of criminal rackets and the way we can get caught up in them. Most of the shorts in the series probably do not fall within the genre limitations of this project, but this one, as it deals with spiritualism (albeit faked), does. It’s the only one I’ve seen from the series, so I can’t really compare it with the others. However, I will say this much; it’s effective in making us understand how we can be suckered into the machinations of these con men, how they obtain the necessary information to make the con work, and in getting us to feel the tragedy of the innocent victims who get caught up in the schemes. It is less effective in convincing us that the phony spiritualists will be caught, at least partially because it points out that some of these rackets do operate within the bounds of the law; in order for the criminals to be caught in this one, we have a melodramatic series of events that forces the con man to commit murder, and it is for this act, and not the racket in question, that he is arrested. As for the fantastic elements, those drawn to the short for a full-blown seance will be somewhat disappointed, as the spiritualist does little more than tell the victims what they want to here; no fake voices, ghostly figures, crystal balls, or other paraphernalia come into play.

Porky’s Movie Mystery (1939)

Article 4048 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-3-2012
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Billy Bletcher,
Country: USA
What it is: Cartoon

When the Phantom of Hollywood (as played by the Invisible man) is on the loose, the detective Mr. Motto (as played by Porky Pig) is called in to catch him.

Here is Warner Brother’s take on the B movie mystery Mr. Moto series, with Porky Pig doing his trademark stutter to a Chinese accent. This one is fun for fans of classic horror, as it not only features the Invisible Man (who’s on his rampage because they only used him in one movie) but the Frankenstein monster as well (being grilled by a diminutive detective). It’s not one of the best cartoons of the era, but it has a lot of fun with various cliches (including stock footage and a spate of newspaper headlines). And, if I’m not mistaken, the final caricature is of Hugh Herbert.

Palle alene i verden (1949)

aka Palle Alone in the World
Article 4047 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-2-2012
Directed by Astrid Henning-Jensen
Featuring Lars Henning-Jensen and Lily Broberg
Country: Denmark
What it is: Children’s fantasy

A small boy wakes up to discover that he’s all alone in the world, and he goes out to have adventures.

I found this one on YouTube. It’s in Danish, but nonetheless, it’s pretty easy to follow, since this involves mostly voice-overs in which we here the child’s thoughts. It’s pretty charming, with the child learning how different the world would be in these circumstances; for example, he originally goes to a bank to fill a bag with coins to buy things, but soon figures out with no one around, he doesn’t need the money. He goes to a movie theater, but with no one to run the movie, he doesn’t have much fun. He also drives a streetcar, a fire engine, and finally a plane that takes him to the moon. The ending is a cliche, but appropriate given the fanciful nature of the story, and in this context, it’s just part of the charm.

The Possessed! (1976)

aka Help Me… I’m Possessed
Article 4042 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-27-2012
Directed by Charles Nizet
Featuring Bill Greer, Deedy Peters, Lynne Marta
Country: USA
What it is: A big question mark

A mad psychiatrist deals out cruel punishment to the patients in his sanitarium while a hideous monster runs loose and horribly mutilates people. Could these events be connected?

Well, whaddayaknow… it’s a good old-fashioned piece of bad seventies schlock horror. I haven’t tried too hard to think about this one; I suspect it would only make my head hurt to try. Let’s just say that with all of the gore and sadism on display, the movie nonetheless projects a certain amount of innocence that renders it pretty harmless. What can you say about a movie whose monster looks like a bunch of cherry licorice whips… at least, what you can see of it? Or about a movie whose title conjures up visions of THE EXORCIST while having nothing whatsoever to do with that movie? Don’t sit through the movie hoping to get a really good view of the monster – you’ll just be disappointed. When you get right down to it, the movie does have a little dumb campy charm to it, but when you’re not scratching your head, you’ll be shaking it. It’s just one of those movies.