Panic in the City (1968)

PANIC IN THE CITY (1968)
Article 3041 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-4-2009
Posting Date: 12-11-2009
Directed by Eddie Davis
Featuring Howard Duff, Linda Cristal, Stephen McNally
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller with marginal SF elements

When a mysterious man is found in the street with a high radiation count, an agent from the National Bureau of Investigation is called in to investigate. He eventually discovers a foreign plot to build and detonate an atomic bomb in the city of Los Angeles.

The basic plot is fairly ordinary, but it’s well-written and concentrates on the cat-and-mouse game between the NBI and the agents. The direction is rather unimaginative, but it keeps itself focused on the plot, which helps through some of the duller scenes. The acting is good, and it handles its story realistically and without sensationalism. The end result is a mildly engrossing thriller, one that rises above its low budget and occasionally shows moments of inspiration. My favorite line is from Linda Cristal (about paying the telephone bill), and my favorite moment is the final one, where we can see, without a word spoken, how she is going to handle her grief. The cast also features Nehemiah Persoff, Oscar Beregi Jr., Anne Jeffreys, John Hoyt, George Barrows, and Dennis Hopper. Not bad at all.

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Prophecies of Nostradamus (1979)

PROPHECIES OF NOSTRADAMUS (1979)
Article 3040 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-3-2009
Posting Date: 12-10-2009
Director unknown
Featuring Kirk Alexander, Richard Butler, John Waters
Country: Australia
What it is: Speculative documentary involving prophecies and future predictions

The life of Nostradamus is told, and the prophecies in his quatrains are examined.

In terms of the speculative nature of this sort of documentary, I do feel compelled to point out two facts right off the bat. Apparently the quatrains were purposefully written in an elusive manner and in several different languages so he could avoid the stigma of witchcraft. Secondly, during a sequence which explores a prophecy that took place during his lifetime, Nostradamus was quoted as saying that his prophecies could be avoided. These are what I think of as “outs”; if a prophecy doesn’t come true, we either a) didn’t understand them, or b) avoided them. In short, we’re asked not to judge him on the basis of the prophecies that don’t take place.

As far as the prophecies that did take place, I’ll have to reserve judgment; I’ve never read the prophecies themselves, and I’m no expert on the historical events they are purported to have predicted. If the movie itself can be trusted in this regard, than I will say that some of them do seem quite accurate. However, the last third of the movie consists of predictions of the future. Now the interesting thing about watching a documentary of this nature thirty years after the fact is that we can look at these predictions, and ask “Did they come true?” Considering that the prophecies state that World War III should have started somewhere between 1981 and 1998, I’d have to say that the predictions are way off. But there are those “outs” mentioned above; were the prophecies misunderstood? Did we avoid them? Or are they a load of hooey?

At any rate, I do think this is one of the better documentaries of this nature, though it’s another case where you’ll probably know ahead of time whether you’d want to bother with this one or not.

The Psychotronic Man (1980)

THE PSYCHOTRONIC MAN (1980)
Article 3034 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-28-2009
Posting Date: 12-4-2009
Directed by Jack M. Sell
Featuring Peter Spelson, Chris Carbis, Curt Colbert
Country: USA

A barber with a drinking problem discovers that he has psychotronic powers that he can use to make men die.

This movie opens with a barber preparing to leave work for the day. For a couple of seconds, we see a car explode. Then the barber goes out for a drive while listening to a country music station. After about three songs, he stops by the side of the road, takes a drink, and falls asleep. When he wakes up, he finds his car surrounded by blowing mist. He steps outside and almost falls to his death as the car is suspended in midair. He manages to climb back into his car, falls asleep, and then finds himself and the car back on the ground. During this whole sequence we hear a weird set of sound effects in the background.

This beginning was striking enough to catch my attention, with my attention only flagging during the overlong driving-to-country-music sequence. For a while, I thought this would turn out to be an intriguing little film. Then I began to notice that the weird sound effects keep popping up through the rest of the film, often where they make no sense. I also notice that the dull stretches became more frequent and longer. Finally, I realized that the problem was that the script never really fleshed out the central concept of its details; rather, it just pads the movie with driving scenes, a triangle subplot that goes nowhere, and a long, tedious chase scene. It’s a bit of a shame, really; as I said, the beginning drew me in, and it had a great title. It just needed more work.

Poor Devil (1973)

POOR DEVIL (1973)
TV-Movie
Article 3032 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-26-2009
Posting Date: 12-2-2009
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Featuring Sammy Davis Jr, Christopher Lee, Jack Klugman
Country: USA

An incompetent devil is given a last chance by Lucifer to get someone to sell his soul.

This was one of the TV-Movies I actually got a chance to see as a kid; I probably was attracted to a cast of very familiar names. Nevertheless, I was quite disappointed with the movie; it was nowhere near as funny as I hoped it would be. I like it a little better watching it now, but only a little; the script is weak and full of bad dialogue, but it has a few good moments. For me, the most enjoyment comes from seeing Christopher Lee having a lot of fun as Lucifer. Sammy Davis Jr. is a little over the top, but Klugman was just fine, and Adam West makes for a good unctuous villain. However, it seems as if the devil’s powers are severely limited to say the least; if it’s this difficult to do the requested task, it would be a surprise that anyone would go to hell. This was apparently intended as a pilot for a series, but I wonder if it would have sold even if the script was better; this type of comedy might have flown in the late sixties, but by this time sitcoms were working in a much more realistic mode, and this one would have come across as badly dated. Still, it would have been interesting to see Christopher Lee as a regular in a sitcom…

The Pied Piper (1972)

THE PIED PIPER (1972)
Article 3031 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-25-2009
Posting Date: 12-1-2009
Directed by Jacques Demy
Featuring Donovan, Donald Pleasence, Diana Dors
Country: UK / USA

In the year 1349, a traveling troupe of players picks up a musician and takes him to the city of Hamelin, where the villagers are engaged in building a cathedral and preparing for a wedding. When the town is overrun by rats, the piper offers to rid the town of the beasts for 1000 gilders. When he is not paid, he exacts revenge.

Now here is an audacious way to handle a fairy tale; rather than emphasizing the cuteness and whimsy, this one puts it in a historical context (the rats carry the black plague that was spreading through the country at that time), dovetails it with a tragic story of a well-meaning alchemist whose belief that the plague is a natural occurrence puts him at odds with the clergy and who is eventually charged with heresy, and places it all in an authentic milieu (the town is dirty and thoroughly medieval). It may be a fairy tale, but the mood is serious, dark and tragic, and it’s very well acted by an excellent cast which includes Donald Pleasence, Roy Kinnear, Diana Dors, and John Hurt. Donovan is a good choice for the role of the piper, and he ends up meshing well with the ensemble acting of the cast. His music is a tad bit anachronistic, but this ends up being a very minor problem. I love the complexity of the story and the relationships as well. It’s a little slow on occasions, especially in the middle of the movie, but it ends up having a real power to it, especially as the climax of the movie juxtaposes the familiar ending of the pied piper story with the tragic fate of the alchemist. All in all, I was quite impressed with this one.

The People Who Own the Dark (1976)

THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976)
aka Ultimo deseo
Article 3028 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-22-2009
Posting Date: 11-28-2009
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Featuring Nadiuska, Alberto de Mendoza, Tony Kendall
Country: Spain

A group of devotees of the Marquis de Sade are underground when atomic explosions rip through the country. They emerge to discover that they are the only ones with sight left, and they fight for their lives among increasingly hostile blind villagers.

Save for a couple of hints of the story to come, the first twenty minutes of this movie makes it look like it’s warming up to an exploitation-style horror movie. Then, once the bombs go off, it shifts to a survivors-of-the-apocalypse plot. A visit to the nearby village and an encounter with the blind villagers makes it look like a variation on THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. Then, after some unfortunate murders, the angry blind villagers go on a rampage and the movie becomes a very strange version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The shear oddness of the concept is enough to hold your interest, and the cast (which also includes Paul Naschy, Maria Perschy and Teresa Gimpera) also helps things along. However, once your mind kicks in, you’ll see a lot of absurdity and silliness to the events. Why do the atomic blasts only blind the villagers with no other side effects? Why does the one survivor think he’s a dog? Why does another survivor knife a gun-toting blind man when he and the other five sighted people can easily take the gun from him? Why, when their very day-to-day survival is at stake, do the villagers decide to storm the home of the survivors for the sole purpose of terrorizing them and killing them? The more you think about, the more ridiculous the whole movie seems. Still, if you want to see the only movie that combines the talent of screenwriter Vicente Aranda and horror actor Paul Naschy, this is it.

Passport to Hell (1965)

PASSPORT TO HELL (1965)
aka Agente 3S3: Passaporto per l’inferno
Article 3027 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-21-2009
Posting Date: 11-27-2009
Directed by Sergio Sollima
Featuring George Ardisson, Barbara Simon, Georges Riviere
Country: Italy / France / Spain

A CIA agent is sent on a mission to investigate a criminal organization that is responsible for another agent’s death. He is searching for a former secret agent now known as Mr. A, and his only clue to his location is Mr. A’s daughter.

This is another example of the spyghetti genre, those Italian spy movies that followed in the wake of the success of the James Bond movies. This one is solid if unspectacular; the story is straightforward and the action sequences are okay. The music is pretty strange on occasion; I’d love to know the name of that freaky novelty record that plays on the jukebox during the bar brawl. The fantastic content is limited to a small handful of gadgets; all in all, this is one of the less parodistic examples of the genre. It would spawn one sequel before the character was retired. It’s not great, but enjoyable enough.