Raise the Titanic (1980)

Article 3425 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-20-2010
Posting Date: 12-30-2010
Directed by Jerry Jameson
Featuring Jason Robards, Richard Jordan, David Selby
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Adventure thriller

A new defensive device requires a very rare radioactive element that was only known to exist in a mine that has been stripped dry. The element is traced to a box that was in the hold of the Titanic on its maiden voyage. An expedition is sent out to raise the sunken ship.

If this movie works at all, I place the credit on the premise itself; the idea of finding and raising the Titanic is novel enough to hold the interest. The special effects aren’t bad; I especially like the moment when the ship actually does come to the ocean surface. Sadly, almost everything else falls flat; the international espionage is uninvolving, the characters are dull, the human conflict is trite, and the overall direction fails to add any suspense or excitement to the story. The best performance comes from an all-too-short appearance by Alec Guinness as a survivor of the original sinking.


The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975)

Article 3309 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-20-2010
Posting Date: 9-5-2010
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Featuring Michael Sarrazin, Jennifer O’Neill, Margot Kidder
Country: USA
What it is: Reincarnation thriller

A man, suffering from recurring dreams and unexplainable pains, comes to the conclusion that he is having memories of a previous life. He decides to investigate the details of his previous life… and why he was killed.

I remember the ads for this movie when I was in my teens, but I don’t remember it lasting very long in the theaters and it never showed up locally. I don’t know what I would have thought of it had I seen it then; watching it now, all I can say is that the story seems to be a little better than the presentation. In some ways, it seems like the story itself is the obvious approach to a reincarnation drama – a person digs up the story of his previous life but gets embroiled in the events surrounding it and ends up reliving it. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this movie is the way that sex plays into the story; sex surrounds the murder and plays a role in the attempt to discover the truth, with hints of incest entering the picture. Unfortunately, the movie is overlong and a bit dull; after awhile, we get tired of the repetition of events that is supposed to convince us of the reincarnation angle when it is something that we take for granted in watching the movie. As a result, the movie is only so-so, and is a bit forgettable. It appears to be in the process of being remade, though IMDB lists two Bollywood movies based on the same story.

Robot Wrecks (1941)

Article 3276 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-8-2010
Posting Date: 8-3-2010
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Featuring Billy ‘Froggy’ Laughlin, George ‘Spanky’ McFarland, Billie ‘Buckwheat’ Thomas
Country: USA
What it is: Our Gang short

The kids in Our Gang, inspired by a robot at a department store, decide to build one themselves to do their chores from them. This opens them up to being bilked out of the club dues by another kid who sells them ‘invisible rays’ to make the robot work.

The trouble with cute kids series is that kids grow older and become less cute. It’s been five years since I’ve seen Spanky and Buckwheat in SPOOKY HOOKY, and here they are again, only not quite as cute. The humor seems more dependent on special effects tricks (such as fast motion) than in the previous ones I’ve seen, and though it’s short enough not to wear out its welcome, it’s the weakest of the Little Rascals/Our Gang comedies I’ve seen. The robots are fun, though.

The Road Warrior (1981)

aka Mad Max 2
Article 3245 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-8-2010
Posting Date: 7-3-2010
Directed by George Miller
Featuring Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston
Country: Australia
What it is: After-the-Apocalypse action flick

It’s after the apocalypse. A loner on the search for gasoline comes upon a compound that refines it, but the compound is under siege by a gang of punks led by a masked figure known as Humungus. The loner finds himself drawn into the struggle for the gasoline…

I’m not a fan of action movies; if the story, characters or humor don’t interest me, I don’t care how many car crashes and explosions they throw into the mix. So when I say this is one of my favorites of the genre, it says something about how well it’s put together. The characters are interesting, compelling and fun; outside of tortured loner Max, we have Bruce Spence’s gangly Gyro Captain, the willful Feral Kid, the more-animal-than-man mohawk-styled Wez, the leader of the pack known as Humungus (I really wonder if he would have spared the lives of the people in the compound if they had walked away from the fuel), not to mention the well-defined characters in the compound itself. Furthermore, the action sequences are to-the-point and tied to the story; for example, there are only two explosions in the movie, and they are both important to the story and not just there for show. Great little touches abound; I like the scene with Max, the Feral Kid and the music box, the first meeting with the Gyro Captain, and the clever (and very logical) twist at the end of the movie when it looks as if the mission has failed. This movie proved to be extremely popular and inspired many imitations; in fact, it became the template for after-the-apocalypse movies for years to come, though I’ve never seen one that did it better. Highly recommended.

The Return of the Evil Dead (1973)

aka El ataque de los muertos sin ojos, Return of the Blind Dead
Article 3244 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-7-2010
Posting Date: 7-2-2010
Directed by Amando de Ossorio
Featuring Tony Kendall, Fernando Sancho, Esperanza Roy
Country: Spain
What it is: Blind Dead Templars sequel

A small village is holding the annual celebration of the anniversary of when the villagers rose up and killed the evil Templars that had terrorized them for ages. What they don’t know is that it is now time for the Templars to rise from the dead and seek their revenge.

I first saw this movie as part of a double-sided DVD that featured TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (the first movie of the series) on side one, and this one on side two. The original movie was letterboxed and subtitled on the DVD; this one was full-screen and dubbed, which made it seem a little chintzier from square one. It’s not a direct sequel to the original; it takes the basic concept, makes a few changes, and builds a different story around it. This one basically borrows the premise of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD; the last half of the movie has most of the major cast members barricaded in a church that is under siege by the Templars. I’m less impressed with this movie than the original; it just seems to lack that sense of dread the first movie engendered, and we actually see too much of the dead this time around. Still, there are some effective and moody moments, and there is at least one real shocking moment, albeit one that involves the actions of the trapped humans rather than the carnage of the Templars; it’s truly shocking to find out what the final action the mayor takes in order to get to the car and make his escape. Whatever its flaws, it’s still fairly clear that the whole Blind Dead series was Amanda de Ossorio’s most inspired creation.

Ravagers (1979)

Article 3243 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-6-2010
Posting Date: 7-1-2010
Directed by Richard Compton
Featuring Richard Harris, Art Carney, Anthony James
Country: USA
What it is: Post-apocalyptic ennui

It’s after the apocalypse. When his wife dies at the hands of roving hooligans known as ravagers, a loner leaves the city to look for a place called Genesis. However, the ravagers decide to follow him…

Between this and ORCA, it looks like I’m having a Richard Harris week here. In terms of the presence of that star, these movies make an interesting contrast; whereas Harris’s performance was part of the glue that held ORCA together and helped the movie sustain my interest, here his performance is one of the big problems with the movie. He seems to react to everything with a sort of glum puzzlement that is neither compelling nor interesting, and his decision to deliver most of his lines in a hushed whisper becomes really tiresome. It’s almost as if he’s bored by the whole thing, but I wonder if he caught that from the director; Richard Compton shows little interest in the events that he is putting on film here, and I’m particularly puzzled by his inability or refusal to build up suspense in certain scenes that should be full of it. At any rate, the end result is a movie that sits there like a lump of lead; the only time it shows any energy is during the action sequences, and they’re only passable. The movie wastes some of its other star power as well; Ernest Borgnine isn’t given enough screen time to really bring his character to life, and Woody Strode is trapped in a dull role. The biggest saving grace in the movie is Art Carney; his addled sergeant (who mistakes Richard Harris’s character for a long-dead major) is fun and quirky, and he brightens every scene he’s in. Other than that, there’s little of interest here.

Run Stranger Run (1973)

aka Happy Mother’s Day, Love George
Article 3238 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-1-2010
Posting Date: 6-26-2010
Directed by Darren McGavin
Featuring Patricia Neal, Cloris Leachman, Bobby Darin
Country: USA
What it is: Drama with mystery and horror elements

A teenage boy arrives at a small New England fishing village with the intent of tracking down his true parents. The village has also been the sight of the recent disappearance of several residents. These two events are not entirely unrelated…

This is one of the very few directorial credits of Darren McGavin, famous among fans of fantastic cinema and TV for having played Carl Kolchak in THE NIGHT STALKER, its sequel, and the subsequent TV series. He does a good job here; he assembles an excellent cast, including Cloris Leachman, Ron Howard (as the teenage boy), Patricia Neal, Bobby Darin (in his last role), Kolchak co-star Simon Oakland (in what would turn out to be his last theatrical film role, though he would continue to work in television for some time yet) and newcomer Tessa Dahl. Its reputation is understandably uneven; though it is a horror film of sorts, it doesn’t play by the same set of rules as horror films usually do, and this can easily alienate certain viewers. Anyone expecting bloody mayhem from the start will be very disappointed. It’s structured more like a mystery; we meet the various characters, and piece together the facts to get a complete picture of the situation. There are only a handful of hints of the horror content for the first three-quarters of the movie. Ultimately, I found the story and the ultimate revelations satisfying enough to compensate for the slowness, but your mileage may vary. Still, you probably won’t have to work too hard to figure out the identity of the killer, and if you’re alert enough, you should be able to sort out the boy’s parentage before it is revealed.