Red Dawn (1984)

RED DAWN (1984)
Article 3883 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-23-2012
Posting Date: 4-1-2012
Directed by John Milius
Featuring Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson
Country: USA
What it is: INVASION USA updated

When Russians invade a small Colorado town as part of a coup to conquer the United States, a small band of teenage freedom fighters do battle with them.

This is the type of movie that I probably wouldn’t like in the first place; its very premise seems to promise a large degree of paranoia, flag-waving, breast-beating and emotional manipulation of a certain type that I would find rather unpleasant and tiresome, though I will readily admit that there are many others who would have no problem with it. To its credit, the movie eschews some of the more blatant manifestations of this approach; in fact, the movie seems less about “Russians invading America” per se, and more about “foreigners invading one’s homeland”, which gives it more of a sense of universality. Furthermore, the movie doesn’t preach to you, choosing instead to mostly let the actions speak for themselves. Still, the only way this one would really have worked for me would have been if it had strenuously convinced me of the reality of the invasion and the struggles of those involved. Instead, the movie seems intent on emotional manipulation, but there are too many times where the melodrama, implausibility, and lack of subtlety have the opposite effect on me; instead of drawing me in, its unreality keeps me out. Once again, those who buy into the premise from square one may have no problem with it, and those who just like action movies may be quite satisfied. Me, I’m just ready to move on to the next movie.

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Revenge of the Dead (1983)

REVENGE OF THE DEAD (1983)
aka Zeder
Article 3804 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-3-2012
Posting Date: 1-13-2012
Directed by Pupi Avati
Featuring Gabriele Lavia, Anne Canovas, Paola Tanziani
Country: Italy
What it is: Zombie mystery

A writer recreates a couple of letters from the ribbon on a typewriter he has recently acquired, and he discovers a secret about a mysterious K-Zone, an area of land from which dead bodies can be reanimated. But there’s a cover-up underway, and those who try to help him end up dead. Can he uncover the secret before he, too, must die?

Some of the comments I read about this from my sources indicate it’s dull and uninteresting, and I can see how some might feel that way, especially since much of the promotional material surrounding it seems to imply that we’re dealing with an Italian zombie flick here. Yes, it is Italian, and yes, there are zombies, but we’re dealing with a much different type of zombie than the flesh-eating variety that became the norm for that type of monster, and those expecting the usual zombie antics will be very unhappy with this one. I myself was rather taken with the mystery/conspiracy approach here, even if the mystery and conspiracy are hardly surprises; after all, the movie pretty much lets you know what’s going on behind the scenes. My enjoyment stems more from watching the main character piece the puzzle together and follow the trail. Granted, there are some real flaws here; some of the pieces of the puzzle just fall into his lap, and I’ve never quite figured out why it is in movies like this why the conspirators spend more time killing off the side characters rather than the hero himself, but I suppose they wouldn’t have much of a movie if they did that. At any rate, I rather liked this one, even if I emerge from it not quite satisfied.

The Rats (1982)

THE RATS (1982)
aka Deadly Eyes
Article 3755 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-13-2011
Posting Date: 11-25-2011
Directed by Robert Clouse
Featuring Sam Groom, Sara Botsford, Scatman Crothers
Country: Canada
What it is: Giant rat movie

Grain infected by steroids ends up producing a race of giant mutant rats that threaten to overrun a city.

This is one of those that has such a standard-issue plot (nothing happens in the movie that is surprising) that I find it hard to find much of interest to say about it. The most common piece of trivia I know about it is that the giant rats were played by dachshunds, which explains why they run that way and gives it a bit of similarity to THE KILLER SHREWS. Scatman Crothers is fun, but his role amounts to little more than a cameo. It’s decently acted, but uninspired, and some of the characters act with alarming stupidity; I’m particularly appalled by the fact that the first character who discovers the nature of the threat (a museum professor) is the one who most needlessly puts himself at danger. Of course, it borrows from JAWS by having the mayor of the city object to the battle being raged against the rats because it’s “bad for business” and might lose him a reelection. Director Robert Clouse is better known for having directed some Bruce Lee action flicks, and there’s some footage of GAME OF DEATH in the movie to remind us. This one is run-of-the-mill at best.

Ruby (1977)

RUBY (1977)
Article 3723 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-9-2011
Posting Date: 10-24-2011
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Featuring Piper Laurie, Stuart Whitman, Roger Davis
Country: USA
What it is: Revenge from beyond the grave

A gangster is betrayed and killed by members of his own gang. Years later, the spirit of the dead gangster haunts a drive-in theater owned and operated by his former moll and which employs members from his own gang. They start dying one by one in horrible ways…

After her memorable performance as the mother in CARRIE, Piper Laurie made this rather muddled horror movie which tries to be a combination of the standard “revenge from beyond the grave” plot with touches from THE EXORCIST. The uneasy mixture of possession and bizarre murders never gels, partially because some crucial characters remain ciphers; the title character in particular seems to be a different person in every scene, and it’s really difficult to become involved in her story when she never comes across as a distinct person. Some of the murders are more goofy than scary, with the most memorable one involving a soda pop machine. I remember catching the movie many years ago, but all that stuck in my memory was the soda pop machine scene and the ineffectual ending. Watching it again, I didn’t find it any better, and found myself getting more enjoyment from the footage from ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN, the feature playing at the drive-in.

The Return of Chandu (1934)

THE RETURN OF CHANDU (1934)
Feature version of the serial THE RETURN OF CHANDU
Article 3665 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-12-2011
Posting Date: 8-27-2011
Directed by Ray Taylor
Featuring Bela Lugosi, Maria Alba, Lucien Prival
Country: USA
What it is: Mystic powers melodrama

Frank Chandler (aka Chandu) must use all of his magic powers to save an Egyptian princess from being sacrificed by the cult of Ubasti.

You can’t really judge this “feature version of a serial” along the same lines as many of the others; unlike a lot of them, the serial was actually shot so that the first four episodes could be easily edited together as a self-contained feature, which gave the distributors options on how they could market the story. As a result, the movie doesn’t have that jagged feel I’ve come to expect from the form; it flows smoothly and coherently. It is, however, a bit static and creaky. Nevertheless, I really noticed how much Lugosi’s performance in the title role makes it all work; he gives his character so much conviction that you just enjoy seeing him at work. Having seen both the serial and the two features culled from it, I’d have to say that the features are preferable in this case; the serial itself gets rather repetitive during the middle sections.

Resurrection (1980)

RESURRECTION (1980)
Article 3656 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-3-2011
Posting Date: 8-18-2011
Directed by Daniel Petrie
Featuring Ellen Burstyn, Sam Shepard, Richard Farnsworth
Country: USA
What it is: Fantasy drama

After a car accident, a woman has an after death experience but is brought back to life. Afterwards, she discovers she has the power to heal.

Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Oscar for her role as the healer in this movie, and she well deserved it; her character is so sincere and engaging that she draws us into the drama of the story. In fact, we like her so much that we find ourselves dreading the darkness that hovers on the outskirts of the story; because she doesn’t credit any particular divine entities for her powers (she doesn’t know where the power came from), there are those who come to their own conclusions as to the source of her powers, and some of these people aren’t satisfied with her silence on the matter. The movie is deeply emotional but never cloying; the sincerity of everyone’s performance is apparent, and it fleshes out and adds dimension to the movie. The ending is lovely, and quite logical in its way. Recommended.

Revenge in the House of Usher (1982)

REVENGE IN THE HOUSE OF USHER (1982)
Article 3602 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-10-2011
Posting Date: 6-25-2011
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Howard Vernon, Antonio Mayans, Lina Romay
Country: Spain / France
What it is: Franco film

A former student visits the home of the ailing Dr. Usher, who has been trying to revive his daughter with blood transplants from unwilling female donors.

During the opening credits of this movie, I had to put the image on hold so I could write down exactly what I saw, so I could reproduce it for this review. Here is the credit as it appears in the movie

Based on the novel “The Fall of house of Usher” by Edgard Allan Poe

The utter sloppiness of this credit certainly shows that someone didn’t give a flying fudgesicle stick about this movie. But then, the movie doesn’t inspire it. Now I’ve had a fairly good time of it lately in my encounters with Jess Franco films; most of the ones I’ve seen recently have been his better efforts. This one is not; it’s Franco at his least inspired. It takes very little out of the Poe story; the only real elements in common are the name of Usher, the fact that someone comes to visit him, and that the house collapses when the main character dies; apart from that, it’s just Franco going to the Dr. Orloff well one more time, and this movie even recycles about fifteen minutes of footage from the first Orloff movie. It has those stylistic touches I associate with Franco at his worst, lots of shots of scenery, lots of shots of people standing around looking at things, etc. One thing I noticed in particular is that whenever a character is lying down, he likes to get close-ups of the character’s face from an angle that emphasizes his nostrils; this made me wonder if Franco had gotten confused about the old saying that “the eyes are the window to the soul” and had mentally substituted “nose” for “eyes”. Or maybe he just likes nostrils. At any rate, I found the experience of watching a bad Franco film no different than usual; I just let the movie wash over me until it’s over and then realize that I didn’t feel a single emotion during the whole thing, not even a twinge of fear. This one is not recommended.