The Return of Count Yorga (1971)

THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971)
Article 2751 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2008
Posting Date: 2-23-2009
Directed by Bob Kelljan
Featuring Robert Quarry, Mariette Hartley, Roger Perry
Country: USA

Count Yorga the vampire falls in love with a woman who works in an orphanage. He kidnaps her and embarks on a reign of terror.

I always used to wonder why there was even a Count Yorga to begin with; it seems to me that if you had a vampire who was a Count, you had a familiar and easy-to-market character named Dracula in the public domain that was ripe and ready for use. This movie did answer that question for me at least a little. The character of Dracula carries with it a certain amount of baggage that you can dispense with if you’re playing a different character; for one thing, you don’t have to work on the accent. This allows Robert Quarry to come up with his own character, and he does a fine job with it; he adds his own wit to the mix, feels at ease in the role, and doesn’t come across as a pale imitation of Dracula. I like the beginning of the movie best; it makes subtle but effective use of sound in the opening scenes, and the costume party in which Count Yorga appears (in which the winner of the best costume is another person dressed up as a vampire) is highly amusing. There’s also a nice low-key feel to the movie, which is underlined by the absence of background music in most of the scenes. Unfortunately, the script is undernourished, for each scene that works there’s one that falls flat, and the low-key vibes give way to aimlessness and listlessness on occasion. After a while, the attempts at humor become embarrassing, especially towards the end of the movie in which far too much time is spent with a couple of comic-relief cops. In other words, it’s a mixed bag, but memorable moments abound, including one in which we get to see Count Yorga watching a vampire movie in Spanish. This movie also features George Macready’s final screen performance; his son, Micheal Macready, was the producer.

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Rattlers (1976)

RATTLERS (1976)
Article 2750 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-16-2008
Posting Date: 2-22-2009
Directed by John McCauley
Featuring Sam Chew Jr., Elisabeth Chauvet, Dan Priest
Country: USA

When a series of unusual rattlesnake attacks occur in the Mojave desert, a herpatologist begins to suspect that the cause may be something that is kept secret at a nearby military base.

Sometimes with a low-budget movie like this, you just have to appreciate what it does right. In this case, I found myself enjoying the little character touches that helped flesh out some of the secondary characters; a number of movies have tried this kind of thing and fallen flat on their faces, but this one somehow makes the characters more realistic and accessible. This helped me to enjoy the movie a bit more than I might otherwise have. The rest is pretty uneven; the acting is merely adequate, the plot is pretty standard but gets weaker as it goes along, and some parts of it are horribly cliched. The scare scenes are only so-so as well. Still, even with this, you get to like the characters enough that it helps you get through it. It does have one moment that really stretches belief, though; I find it impossible to believe that a snake would be able to stop a jeep moving at full speed by biting through the tire.

Radar Secret Service (1950)

RADAR SECRET SERVICE (1950)
Article 2722 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-19-2008
Posting Date: 1-25-2009
Directed by Sam Newfield
Featuring John Howard, Adele Jergens, Tom Neal
Country: USA

Uranium is stolen by hoodlums. Fortunately, G-Men have radar on their side to catch them.

This movie finally inspired me to put a label on a phenomenon I’ve noticed in a number of movies through the years. I call it the Free-Floating-Inviso-Cam (with optional instant editing), FFIC for short. This invisible item floats around at will, taking film-quality footage that can be used by someone’s viewfinder. It’s used in serials quite a bit; think of how many times you’ve seen a villain turn on a display that allows him to spy on what the hero is doing, apparently getting footage from some place where no camera could possibly be. And, if it switches back and forth between close-ups and long shots, or jumps to other locations, well, that’s where the optional instant editing comes into play.

At any rate, that’s one of the powers of radar in this rather silly low-budget crime movie; with radar, they can locate the villains (using FFIC), and they can even get the license numbers without having a vehicle nowhere near. It can also locate guns buried in the sand. The only drawback is that the good guys have to drive around in cars with silver balls on top of them.

If you were to check the rating on IMDB (1.7), you might think this one is a stinker of the first order. Well, it’s not quite that; the reason the rating is so low is that the movie’s only claim to fame in recent years was as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a circumstance which almost guarantees that fans of the show will flock to IMDB and give the movie the lowest rating imaginable. Though the movie is far from good, it’s not quite that bad; it is, however, so obscure that it has precious few defenders. I find there’s a little enjoyment in seeing some familiar b-movie faces and names, such as Adele Jergens, John Howard (one-time Bulldog Drummond), Tom Neal (of DETOUR fame), Sid Melton (who might has well have the words “comic relief” tattooed across his forehead), Ralph Byrd (one-time Dick Tracy who even manages to make a reference to that character in this movie), Tristram Coffin and Kenne Duncan. The fantastic content is the obviously inflated powers they give to radar.

 

Return to Fantasy Island (1978)

RETURN TO FANTASY ISLAND (1978)
TV-Movie
Article 2715 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-10-2008
Posting Date: 1-18-2009
Directed by George McCowan
Featuring Ricardo Montalban, Adrienne Barbeau, Horst Buchholz
Country: USA

Several more people come to Mr. Roarke’s island to have their fantasies come true. An executive gets to spend the weekend with his female boss, a young couple hopes to relive their honeymoon so that the woman can recover her memory, and another couple hopes to meet the daughter they gave up for adoption…if they can figure out which of the three girls she is.

I was surprised that I liked FANTASY ISLAND (the first TV-Movie, not the series) as much as I did; what I thought would be insipid turned out to have a real air of mystery and a surprising dark streak. This, the follow-up TV-Movie, is a lot closer to what I envisioned the TV series would be like, and that’s not good. The writing is noticeably worse, the sense of mystery is gone, and the dark streak now feels mannered and forced. Furthermore, Montalban now plays a much more passive role in the proceedings. The story of the couple trying to figure out which of the three girls is really their daughter is an example of tepid drama and never becomes engaging. The story of the man and his female boss is incredibly predictable and utterly insipid. The story of the couple reliving their honeymoon plays like a bad horror movie, with Karen Valentine playing one of the least effective horror heroines I’ve ever encountered. From what I gather, the series itself was even more of a piece of fluff than this TV-Movie, so I’m now pretty sure it was a wise choice to skip the series. On the plus side, it does have Cameron Mitchell (whose acting I enjoy) and Adrienne Barbeau (whose…well, it’s not really her acting I enjoy).

 

The Return of October (1948)

THE RETURN OF OCTOBER (1948)
Article 2709 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-3-2008
Posting Date: 1-12-2009
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Featuring Glenn Ford, Terry Moore, Albert Sharpe
Country: USA

A spunky heiress begins to believe a race horse is the reincarnation of her deceased Uncle Willie. Complications arise when a psychology professor plans to write a paper about the obsession of the heiress.

The fantastic content here is ambiguous; we never really know whether the race horse (October by name) is indeed the heiress’s late Uncle Willie (who, in his human form, is played by the great character actor James Gleason). This is appropriate, as the story itself hinges upon this fact. Still, that doesn’t mean the story is strong; it’s seems as if it’s modeled off of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET in many ways, but the plot is so contrived and loaded with cliches that it makes things far more predictable than it should be. For the most part, the acting redeems the movie, with Glenn Ford in particular giving his character a sense of reality that helps ground things a bit. Unfortunately, our heroine is one of those combinations of aggressive cuteness combined with tomboyish spunkiness that verges more on the annoying than the irresistible, and she’s the character we spend most of our time with. The heiress subplot is extremely hackneyed and predictable, but there are clever moments here and there; my favorite has the psychologist debunking his own paper in court. The ending scene replicates what the US Postal Service did for Kris Kringle in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, but the situation presented is so contrived as to be unbelievable. It’s not really a bad movie, but it doesn’t quite work when all is said and done.

 

Richard III (1956)

RICHARD III (1956)
Article 2646 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-4-2008
Posting Date: 11-10-2008
Directed by Laurence Olivier
Featuring Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke
Country: UK

A deformed courtier with aspirations to the throne decides to murder those in his way.

I think this is only the second straight adaptation of a Shakespeare play that I’ve done for this series, the other being the 1935 version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. I’m actually rather surprised by this; since fantastic elements crop up in some of his more famous plays (“Hamlet” has a ghost, “MacBeth” has witches, etc.), I find it odd that my sources omit those while including this one, whose fantastic content consists largely of the fact that the title character is deformed, which seems to me to be not as strong an element. Still, the same basic story here inspired both the 1939 and the 1961 versions of THE TOWER OF LONDON, both of which are often classified as horror and feature horror stars (Boris Karloff and Vincent Price) as well.

This one is considered a classic as well as having perhaps Laurence Olivier’s finest role, and there is no doubt he is mesmerizing here. He directed the movie himself when he failed to convince Carol Reed to do so, and the movie often walks a thin line between the cinematic and the theatrical; the camera roves about in a clever and cinematic fashion, and the final scenes of the movie spend less time talking about the action than showing it, but the movie retains the theatrical origins in the declamatory delivery of many of the actors, Olivier in particular. Unless you’re an expert on Shakespeare or know the story very well, the movie will be a bit bewildering at times because of the confusing wash of characters and the difficulty of the language, but you’ll get the basic gist of what’s going on. The cast also features John Gielgud and Claire Bloom, and, for fantastic movie fans, keep your eyes open for Michael Gough, Michael Ripper and Patrick Troughton, all three playing murderers.

 

Reflections of Murder (1974)

REFLECTIONS OF MURDER (1974)
TV-Movie
Article 2644 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-2-2008
Posting Date: 11-8-2008
Directed by John Badham
Featuring Tuesday Weld, Joan Hackett, Sam Waterston
Country: USA

A teacher at a private school is married to a cruel husband who has been trying to force her to sell the school for the money. The wife and the husband’s mistress hatch a plot to murder the husband so they’ll both be free from his tyranny. However, things don’t go quite as planned…

Had anybody asked me what I thought of the idea of a TV-Movie remake of DIABOLIQUE, I would not have expressed encouragement or felt excitement. I still think this TV-Movie is unnecessary, but I will admit that it does a very good job with the property; good performances from all of the cast and strong direction from John Badham all contribute to making this one work. Still, if you’ve seen the original, there’s not much in the way of surprises here, though it does have a very final twist that I don’t remember from the original movie (though this may be faulty memory on my part). It’s easy to see why John Badham would eventually graduate from TV to feature films; this movie deftly avoids the usual TV-Movie touches that tend to make me dislike them.