Radio Patrol (1937)

RADIO PATROL (1937)
Serial
Article 1957 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-24-2006
Posting Date: 12-21-2006
Directed by Ford Beebe and Clifford Smith
Featuring Grant Withers, Kay Hughes, Mickey Rentschler

A cop finds himself investigating the murder of noted scientist and the theft of his secret, the formula for a new flexible bulletproof steel.

If my theory that serials put their best foot forward in the opening episode holds any water, what does it say about this one that within ten hours of having seen the first episode of this one, I had totally forgotten the storyline? The prognosis is not good, I’m afraid, and this one turned out to be a rather listless and dull affair. Which is not to say that there aren’t points of interest here. The story is fairly elaborate; instead of your basic good guy versus villain plot, we have our good guy, two sets of bad guys (one headed by a company executive, the other an international crime syndicate headed by a man with hypnotic powers), and two wild cards, a brother (who was the johnny-on-the-spot when the inventor was killed) and sister (who works under an alias as the secretary to the executive) who could go either way. Naturally, it falls into the hands of two cops to solve the problem. No, make that one cop; his partner may be good in a fight, but he’s so busy solving crossword puzzles that he’s totally useless as a lookout. Is it any wonder that the cop recruits the help of associates any policeman would find essential; namely, a ten-year-old boy who lives in a junkyard and his dog (who steals the movie and isn’t in it near enough). He even lets the kid drive in a pinch, which wouldn’t seem so bad an idea if there hadn’t already been a full-grown woman also available to take the wheel. I will admit that the cliffhanger in episode eleven is pretty good, but, for the most part, I found it hard to believe that this one would actually keep the wide-eyed attention of that little boy reading a “Radio Patrol” comic book who appears after the opening credits; my wife theorized that he must actually be perusing a Bettie Page centerfold.

 

The Return of the Whistler (1948)

THE RETURN OF THE WHISTLER (1948)
Article 1870 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-28-2006
Posting Date: 9-25-2006
Directed by D. Ross Lederman
Featuring Michael Duane, Lenore Aubert, Richard Lane

When his prospective bride disappears from a hotel in a small town, a man hooks up with a private detective in an attempt to locate her.

This was the last of the eight films based on the radio character, The Whistler. It’s not bad, mostly because the story (by Cornell Woolrich) is fairly decent, it’s efficiently directed, and fairly well acted. It is, however, devoid of the fantastic content that makes me cover these movies; other than the Whistler himself (who, since he exists more as a narrative device than a character, is extremely marginal to begin with), there is nothing here that puts it in the realm of the fantastic, and there really is no horror mood to speak of. I do somewhat miss the presence of Richard Dix, who appeared in all of the other seven movies in the series, but he had retired from acting by this time, and since he wasn’t playing a continuing character, his presence really wasn’t necessary. The Whistler is used a little clumsily in this one; I don’t mind him appearing at the beginning, and adding his voice to the proceedings at certain points, but having him reappear on the wall each time is just a little corny. Fans of THE BLOB may want to keep their eyes open for Olin Howlin, who appears here as a caretaker of an estate and adds a bit of comic relief to the proceedings.

Rabid (1977)

RABID (1977)
Article 1790 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-7-2006
Posting Date: 7-7-2006
Directed by David Cronenberg
Featuring Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver

After suffering near-fatal injuries in a motorcycle accident, a woman is treated with experimental surgical methods to save her life. She recovers, but the surgery makes her unable to consume anything but human blood, and when she feeds on a victim, it leaves them infected with a virulent form of rabies.

Given Cronenberg’s obsessions with various subjects (medicine, sexually transmitted diseases, bodily changes), it’s no surprise that he would turn to horror after his initial art films. This was his second commercial feature, and it’s pretty good, if not great. The first time I saw this was on the USA network years ago, and it was so cut to ribbons that there wasn’t much left of it; it’s nice to finally see the complete movie. Marilyn Chambers was a good choice for the vampiric woman, as her career as a porn actress made the sexual nature of her predatory character more pointed (though I do wonder what it would have been like had Sissy Spacek, who had been the first choice for the role, had played it). It has its flaws; to these eyes, the foaming-at-the-mouth rabies victims look a little silly, and I never feel that Rose really becomes fully developed as a character, but the suspense is strong, and the downbeat ending is really quite powerful. I also liked the way that the rabid victims end up getting more media attention than Rose herself gets, being only the carrier of the disease and more subtle in her methods of attack.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
Article #1779 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-27-2006
Posting Date: 6-26-2006
Directed by Roman Polanski
Featuring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon

A woman and her actor husband move into a new apartment in a building with a long, bizarre history. She meets some of her strange neighbors, and begins to suspect that they may be witches who have designs on her unborn child.

One of the shrewdest things William Castle ever did was that when he acquired the rights to Ira Levin’s novel, he decided to pass the directorial chores to Roman Polanski rather than try to direct himself; he must have had an inkling that this project required something special. It’s probably Polanski’s greatest foray into horror, and it manages to hold up very well on rewatching. The greatest strength of the movie is that the witches are such an interesting, strange bunch, with Ruth Gordon stealing the show as the busybody neighbor whose intrusiveness has much more sinister motives than mere irritating nosiness. All the performances are good, though, with strong showings from Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Sidney Blackmer and Ralph Bellamy. There are a lot of familiar faces and voices popping up along the way as well, with Victoria Vetri as a woman taken in by the Castavets, Elisha Cook Jr., Charles Grodin, Roy Barcroft and Tony Curtis as the voice of the blinded actor. Still, the best cameo comes from William Castle himself as the mysterious man near the phone booth; it’s hard not to laugh when he turns around and we see him and his cigar. The one thing I really noticed this time around was that, though Rosemary does know that the witches have designs her, she is wrong about what exactly they are up to.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964)
Article #1778 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-26-2006
Posting Date: 6-25-2006
Directed by Byron Haskin
Featuring Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, Adam West

The co-pilot of a spacecraft finds himself stranded alone on Mars with a minimum of food, water and air. He must find a way to survive.

Initially, the title of this movie didn’t promise much to me; it sounded vaguely juvenile, like PINOCCHIO IN OUTER SPACE. In truth, the title is quite apt; the movie is actually an attempt to tell a survival drama of the same sort as the original Daniel Defoe novel; in fact, Defoe is actually given story credit. It is on the level of a survival drama that I enjoy this movie most; I like the movie’s leisurely pace as he addresses each issue of survival (heat, shelter, food, air, water, companionship) and somehow manages to solve each problem (sometimes by sheer luck). The movie pays a lot of attention to detail, and this makes the story quite intriguing for the most part. The movie is too long, though, and when the story shifts to Draper and Friday’s trek to the polar regions, my interest level starts to drop. I like a lot of the nice touches, like the sand mechanism Draper builds to wake him up periodically so he can breathe some oxygen, and the fact that, in an attempt to locate water, he resorts to watching a near-useless instructional training video. The spaceships that bring Friday to Mars were built from revised plans from THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, and Vic Lundin played the very first Klingon ever seen on the “Star Trek” series.

The Reptile (1965)

THE REPTILE (1965)
Article #1777 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-25-2006
Posting Date: 6-24-2006
Directed by John Gilling
Featuring Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Ray Barrett

After the death of his brother, an army man and his new bride move into the home formerly inhabited by his sibling, only to discover a that a series of strange deaths are occurring in the vicinity.

Long before I ever got a chance to actually see this movie, I remember running across stills of the snake woman from it and thinking how hokey the makeup looked. Therefore, when I finally got a chance to see the movie, I didn’t expect a very convincing monster. I found myself very surprised at how good the makeup looked in the actual movie, and I’ve always felt a rather warm feeling about the movie since.

As a result, I still like this movie. The atmosphere is quite strong, and it does generate a fair amount of suspense; in fact, it even had one of those rare moments that made me jump when I watched it. The plot isn’t the strongest; I’m never quite sure why the snake woman attacks people at the time she does, nor am I sure what the Malaysian is trying to accomplish at this point in the proceedings, and having the snake woman speak in English towards the end was a miscalculation. Nonetheless, I like many of the touches of the movie, and it was nice to see Michael Ripper in a more extensive role than he was usually given. I wouldn’t say it was one of the best Hammer horrors, but, for some reason, it remains one of my favorites.

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! (1972)

THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! (1972)
Article #1776 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-24-2006
Posting Date: 6-23-2006
Directed by Andy Milligan
Featuring Hope Stansbury, Jackie Skarvellis, Noel Collins

A man marries into a family of werewolves.

Is Andy Milligan the worst director of all time? I guess that depends on your point of view. This is the second movie of his I’ve seen, and some of the observations I made still stand; as a writer, he can’t really structure his stories well, but he actually wrote some fairly good dialogue on occasion, and some of the acting is far better than I would have anticipated; in particular, I like Douglas Phair’s performance as the strange patriarch of the family. He also avoids one of the biggest problems of bad directors; he makes sure his actors pay attention to the pace and pick up their cues. On this level alone, he is far better than Jerry Warren. However, the bad sound and his inability to vary the pace of the dialogue results in a greater level of annoyance as the movie proceeds, and his attempts at humor are abysmal. The action sequences are so hideously photographed that they are almost impossible to follow. And, in this film, I do take a strong issue with his treatment of animals, especially the scene where a rat is tormented with a knife before being killed onscreen. There’s really no excuse for this type of unpleasantness. Still, I can’t bring myself to call him the worst director of all time, and I still find this movie easier to endure than, say, THE HEADLESS EYES.