A Safe Place (1971)

Article 4051 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-6-2012
Directed by Henry Jaglom
Featuring Tuesday Weld, Orson Welles, Jack Nicholson
Country: USA
What it is: Art film

A woman deals with her two lovers, as well as memories of her encounter with a magician and her having been able to fly.

When movies as singularly personal as this come along, it’s often difficult to discuss the fantastic content, as there doesn’t seem to be an objective reality to use as a reference point. Did the woman really fly? Does she end up flying at the end of the movie? Does the magician really make anything disappear? And, on the movie’s terms, does it even matter whether these questions have answers? It can also be difficult to give them meaningful reviews, especially if the movie remains elusive to the reviewer. Did the filmmaker fail to make himself understood, or is there simply too great a distance between the individual minds? So I’m just going to settle with saying that, even though I can’t point to anything specific about the movie that doesn’t work, I found myself a little bored by the whole affair, even though I do recognize why others might be entranced by it. In some ways, Jaglom’s work reminds me of the work of Fellini, but Fellini can fascinate me consistently, whereas Jaglom can’t. Still, I do have to admire a man who can gather this amount of talent for his first movie; on top of the three performers listed above, the movie also features Firesign Theater’s Phil Proctor.

Skullduggery (1970)

Article 4044 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-29-2012
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Featuring Burt Reynolds, Susan Clark, Roger C. Carmel
Country: USA
What it is: Meditation on humanity

A pair of fortune seekers finagle their way into an anthropological expedition in the hope of using it as a cover in their search for rare minerals. However, the situation becomes complicated when a race of missing links is discovered… and the possibility of their being exploited to serve the purpose of mining the minerals.

This movie has a fairly low rating on IMDB, and in some ways, it deserves it; the direction isn’t particularly strong, the script, as interesting as it in some ways, is muddled in others, and there’s something of a dull, hangdog feel to the proceedings. If it didn’t touch on what I consider a very interesting issue, I wouldn’t find much to recommend here. But the issue of the humanity of the missing links (which impacts on whether they would be considered employees or pack animals by their exploiters, as well as how they should be treated in other crucial ways) is fascinating, and the best part of the movie is in the final third, when one of the fortune seekers claims to have killed one of the missing links in order to force a court of law to decide on the humanity of the species. I’m not surprised that the movie ends as it does, though it is a little too abrupt about getting to the end credits; even though it was dramatically effective to leave certain issues unresolved, there are other issues that did need some sort of resolution. All in all, it’s a mediocre movie with a good idea.

Le sorcier arabe (1906)

aka An Arabian Magician
Article 4028 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-10-2012
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Standard trick film

An Arabian magician makes women appear and disappear.

What we have here is your typical Melies-style trick film in which a magician performs the usual cinematic tricks. There’s not much to this one, though the hand-drawn coloring adds a touch of pizzazz, and a few of the tricks are done quite smoothly. Otherwise, this is pretty standard issue.

Something Evil (1972)

Article 4016 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-28-2012
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Featuring Sandy Dennis, Darren McGavin, Ralph Bellamy
Country: USA
What it is: House with a malignant force

A couple buys and moves into a country farmhouse, only to discover there’s a demonic presence there.

A house with a malignant evil in it is hardly an original idea, and the weakest thing about this movie is the script, which dabbles in cliches and occasional fits of silliness; I find it hard to take seriously either the crying jar of goo or the demon eyes in the window. Still, the movie redeems itself with a solid cast (which also includes Johnny Whitaker, Jeff Corey and Bruno Ve Sota), creative direction from Steven Spielberg, and some effective camerawork; I particular like how the climax of the movie is handled. What I enjoyed most about the movie was seeing Spielberg honing his craft; I like the way he handles the party and crowd scenes and little touches like the conversation between the wife and her friend’s son in which we see their expressions through the chain lock on a door. It isn’t one of Spielberg’s great movies, by any means, but it probably would have been somewhat weaker in someone else’s hands. And there is something genuinely upsetting about seeing the likable family start to come apart when the evil sets in.

Sortileges (1945)

aka The Bellman
Article 4010 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-22-2012
Directed by Christian-Jaque
Featuring Lucien Coedel, Fernand Ledoux, Renee Faure
Country: France
What it is: Crime thriller with horror elements

A bellman – that is, a man whose job it is to help lost travelers in the Alps find their way from the ringing of a bell – kills a traveler for his money and splits the proceeds with a companion. However, complications follow…

This is the fourth day in a row that I’ve been able to watch a movie that had fallen into my “ones that got away” list (and I offer my sincere thanks to those board members on CHFB who were able to point me in the direction of them). Like yesterday’s movie, this one is in French without English subtitles, so some of the plot elements are lost on me. It’s a shame; this is one I really wish I could understand more, because what I see is quite intriguing. It’s a visual treat; the snowy locations, the scenes of the murder victim’s horse running wild, and a wonderful dancing sequence are the definite highlights here. I’m not sure exactly to what extent this is a horror movie; the original plot descriptions made me think that the bellman was responsible for several murders (making him something of a serial killer), but only one occurs onscreen during the length of the movie, so if there were others, the details are hidden in the dialogue. However, the wild horse scenes give the sense of a vengeful spirit from hell, and there’s a sequence that may have touches of black magic when an ailing woman is revived with the blood of a bird. The movie seems to be forgotten nowadays, but I really hope a subtitled copy comes to light; whether it’s really a horror movie or not, it does appear to be a gripping and memorable movie.

Sueno de la luna (1905)

aka Reve a la lune, Lover of the Moon
Article 4007 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-19-2012
Directed by Gaston Velle and Ferdinand Zecca
Featuring Ferdinand Zecca
Country: France
What it is: Silent trick short

A drunkard given to hallucinations dreams that he travels to the moon.

This silent short is mostly focused on the hallucinations of a drunkard in somewhat the same fashion as THE DREAM OF A RAREBIT FIEND. The moon only comes into play once he has fallen asleep, and he tries to reach the moon first by climbing the building to get to the roof, and then riding to the moon on one of the structures at the top of the building. The most startling sequence here borrows somewhat from A TRIP TO THE MOON, only instead of the moon’s eye being hit by the rocket, we see the drunkard climbing into the moon’s mouth. I wish the print was a little better so I could figure out how they did it, but it is one of the more impressive special effects in the early days of the silents. At any rate, I’m glad to salvage this one off of the “ones that got away” list.

The Strange and Deadly Occurrence (1974)

Article 3978 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-13-2012
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Featuring Robert Stack, Vera Miles, L.Q. Jones
Country: USA
What it is: Spooky house story

A family undergoes a number of strange events after they move into an isolated house. Is the place haunted, or is someone trying to scare them off?

I remember reading an analysis of the movie FREAKS once that made the observation that there was something rather absurd about the concept of Prince Randian, the living torso taking part in a chase with a knife clutched in his teeth, but that the absurdity did not detract from the creepiness of the sight. The same could be said about what appears to be the horrific highlight in this one in which a dressmaker’s dummy attacks the teenage daughter; it is an unsettling visual, even though the worst the dummy could probably really do is fall on top of her. It’s certainly scarier than any of the other attempted scares in this movie, especially those that attempt to make gophers(!) scary creatures of evil. Unfortunately, even the dummy scene didn’t really compensate for the fact that I found the movie painfully predictable; once the creepy doctor shows up, I knew the true nature of the hauntings, and once I knew where the doctor practiced, I knew the underlying reason. The trouble is, I don’t think the movie wanted you to figure it out that early. In the end, I think the movie would have worked better if those in charge had decided to play it like a thriller rather than a horror story. The movie does have its fans, of course, but for me, if fell flat.