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.

The Remarkable Andrew (1942)

THE REMARKABLE ANDREW (1942)
Article #1762 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-10-2006
Posting Date: 6-9-2006
Directed by Stuart Heisler
Featuring Brian Donlevy, William Holden, Ellen Drew

When an accountant attempts to call attention to an imbalance in the public books, he finds himself the target of a trumped up charge of extortion by corrupt politicos. However, he has a friend trying to help him out of his predicament – the ghost of Andrew Jackson.

The John Stanley guide from which I drew this title describes it as a propaganda piece, and perhaps it is. However, despite the 1942 date on the movie, it is not wartime propaganda in the least; in fact, the only reference to the war mentions it in terms of something that the United States is currently not involved in. No, the target here is small-town political corruption, and the screenplay was wriiten by Dalton Trumbo (based on his novel), who would later be blacklisted in Hollywood.

I think the movie works best as a comedy. Given Andrew Jackson’s volatile personality, he’s probably not the best choice for a historical figure to help you solve your personal problems, especially when his recommendations usually involve hangings or duels. It is, however, highly amusing in this regard, even if it does end up relying in the most cliched of ghost comedy traditions by having much of the humor revolve around the fact that the hero is the only one who can see the ghost. The scene in which Andrew Jackson summons up the greatest law team in history is a definite highlight, as we get the ghosts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Chief Justice John Marshall and Benjamin Franklin, as well as an unknown private from the revolutionary war and a highly anomalous Jesse James. As a drama, it’s less effective; even give a law team such as this one, I find it really hard to believe that the courtroom ploy used by our hero would actually have the results it has in this movie. Still, William Holden does a find job as the beleagered bookkeeper, and Brian Donlevy has a field day as Andrew Jackson. This is a unique, rather odd comedy, to be sure.

The Return of Peter Grimm (1935)

THE RETURN OF PETER GRIMM (1935)
Article #1694 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-3-2005
Posting Date: 4-2-2006
Directed by George Nichols Jr. and Victor Schertzinger
Featuring Lionel Barrymore, Helen Mack, Edward Ellis

After his death, the patriarch of a family, unhappy with the state of affairs he left at the time of his death, comes back to try to make things right. However, nobody can see or hear him.

Lionel Barrymore was an actor who was able to project character so effortlessly that sometimes I wish he’d held back a little bit; there are moments here where he’s a little hard to take. Still, I’m glad he’s playing the role of the ghostly patriarch here; his ability to hit just the right emotional notes makes this movie work far better than it might have otherwise, due to an old-fashioned script (it had been filmed before in 1926) and some rather stiff and lifeless direction. A good supporting cast helps as well, with Helen Mack and James Bush as the young lovers, Allen Vincent as the villain, and George P. Breakston as the orphan whose history plays an important role in the action. Donald Meek, Ethel Griffies and Edward Ellis are also on hand to add some more character acting to the proceedings. The concept of a dead man trying to communicate with the living has popped up several times over the years; it was used in THE COCKEYED MIRACLE and serves as one of the central themes of GHOST as well. Playwright David Belasco (upon whose work this movie was based) also wrote the play that was the source of Lon Chaney’s LAUGH, CLOWN, LAUGH.