The Shining (1980)

Article 5055 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-20-2016
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Featuring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Country: USA / UK
What it is: Horror, Kubrick style

A man agrees to be caretaker of an isolated hotel in the Rockies during the off season, and he moves there with his family. However, the man has issues that the isolation of the place worsens… and the hotel seems to have a few issues of its own…

When this movie first came out, I remember the critical reception to be less than glowing. Many people felt that Kubrick didn’t understand horror, and Stephen King fans objected to the many changes made to the original novel. In fact, I came away with the general feel that it was considered a misfire from Kubrick. Over the years, though, I noticed that the movie’s reputation shifted considerably, both as a horror movie and as a Kubrick movie. On IMDB, the movie is the third highest-rated horror movie of all time (only losing out to PSYCHO and ALIEN), and it’s Kubrick’s third highest as well (behind PATHS OF GLORY and DR. STRANGELOVE). My own guess for the reason for this shift is that the movie is so indelible; various scenes are realized so exquisitely that they remain with you long after you’ve seen the movie, and with each re-viewing they plant themselves even deeper. I like all the performances, though Nicholson’s is the one that really dominates here. Yes, it doesn’t do justice to King’s novel (which I have read), but it does take on a life of its own; I’m always amazed how this two-and-a-half hour movie can leave me hypnotized. I have several favorite scenes, such as the one where Nicholson looks over a model of the hedge maze, and we see what we think is initially his point of view until we see the characters moving inside of it. For me, though, the high point of the movie is when Duvall finally gets a chance to read the manuscript Nicholson has been writing.

The Shaggy D.A. (1976)

THE SHAGGY D.A. (1976)
Article 5054 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-19-2016
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Dean Jones, Tim Conway, Suzanne Pleshette
Country: USA
What it is: Shopping Cart Movie

A man (who fell under the spell of a magic ring that turned him into a dog as a teenager) decides to run for district attorney to clean up the town and bring out the corruption of the current D.A. However, the magic ring is stolen from a museum, and when the inscription is read, the spell returns and the man becomes a dog again.

It took Disney seventeen years to return to their first shopping cart movie and make a sequel; this is the result. It’s wilder, messier, not as inspired, and the story is very contrived. The most impressive thing about this one is the wealth of familiar faces; Dean Jones, Tim Conway, Suzanne Pleshette, Keenan Wynn, Dick Van Patten, Jo Anne Worley, Vic Tayback, Richard Bakalyan, John Fiedler and Hans Conried all pop up. Most of the humor comes from the antics of the dog or from Conway; most of the shtick the latter is saddled with is pretty weak, but he makes the most of his good moments. For me, the cutest idea here is that all of the dogs in the dog pound are given the voices of various famous actors; there are imitations of James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Mae West and Peter Lorre, and it would have been a bit more fun if the vocal imitations had been better. The shopping cart movies were running out of steam by this point, and overall the movie is pretty tepid.

Scream of the Wolf (1974)

Article 5051 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-16-2016
Directed by Dan Curtis
Featuring Peter Graves, Clint Walker, Jo Ann Pflug
Country: USA
What it is: TV-Movie horror mystery

A wild beast is killing people in a small town. Could it be a werewolf?

Dan Curtis and screenwriter Richard Matheson had both worked together in THE NIGHT STALKER, in which no one but the hero believes that a real vampire is on the loose. In some ways, this movie is the opposite; most people in this one believe the killer is a werewolf, but the hero isn’t so sure. To its credit, the movie works up to an interesting climax; it has a solid, memorable ending. It’s the long stretch leading up to the climax that is less than enchanting; quite frankly, most of the movie comes across as tired and predictable, and there’s a shortage of interesting characters. The one exception is a major one; Clint Walker’s hunter character easily steals the movie and if the movie works at all, it’s to his credit. Graves’ performance isn’t bad, but for the most part it’s business as usual with him, though the ending does give him a nice character moment as well. This is one of Dan Curtis’s lesser TV-movies, but the patient viewer won’t walk away empty-handed.

Die Sage des Todes (1981)

aka Bloody Moon
Article 5002 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-28-2015
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Olivia Pascal, Christoph Moosbrugger, Nadja Gergenoff
Country: West Germany / Spain
What it is: Slasher, Franco style

Someone is murdering students at a women’s boarding school.

Being neither a particular fan of Jesus Franco nor of the slasher genre, I can’t exactly say I was looking forward to this one with baited breath. I can say, however, that the ending of the movie is so over-the-top that I found myself looking at the movie in a different light then I had while watching it; that is, I began to wonder if it was actually intended as a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the genre. Granted, it’s hard to tell; the slasher genre descended into self-parody fairly quickly, and I can’t exactly say I have my finger on Franco’s pulse enough to know when he’s pulling my leg (in fact, I’ve seen many of his movies where I have no idea of what he’s trying to do). But if it is a send-up, that may explain why some of the dialogue is laughably bad, or why some of the behavior by various individuals is truly stupid (example: if someone is casting a scary shadow on your wall, don’t back away from the shadow – back away from what’s casting it). It might even explain why one of the “scary” musical sounds is reminiscent of a hopping effect I heard in Rolf Harris’s novelty single, “Tie Me Kangaroo Down”. At any rate, I find it more rewarding to look at it as a parody than a straight horror film, and I do find it interesting that Franco took on a horror sub-genre that strikes me as primarily American; I really can’t think of many slasher films that aren’t either from the U.S.A. or Canada.

Space Raiders (1983)

Article 4959 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-16-2015
Directed by Howard R. Cohen
Featuring Vince Edwards, David Mendenhall, Patsy Pease
Country: USA
What it is: Space opera

A young boy hides away on a spaceship that is stolen by space pirates, but he wins the heart of the leader, who tries to return him home.

There were two things I noticed at the top of this movie. One was that the background announcements during the opening scene were pretty amusing. Another was that the insect the young boy was hunting was stop-motion animated. These two details gave me hope that the movie would have a sly sense of humor and have other charms as well. Unfortunately, that sly sense of humor pops up only sporadically during the rest of the movie, and one of its potentially best moments (involving a house of cards) is ruined by a editing gaffe, and any other charms the movie might have had are too well hidden to be appreciated. It also doesn’t help that the child actor (who is supposed to be cute as can be and wins over everyone’s heart) is dull and unappealing; all he really has to go for him is his big puppy-dog eyes. The rest of the movie is tired STAR WARS-style space opera, and most of its space battle footage is lifted from the superior BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. It’s one of those movies that made me care so little about the characters and their situations that it was like sitting through nothing at all. Not recommended.

Superstition (1982)

aka The Witch
Article 4950 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-7-2015
Directed by James W. Roberson
Featuring James Houghton, Albert Salmi, Lynn Carlin
Country: Canada
What it is: Mishmash of horror genres

A minister and his family move into a house that has been the site of several horrible deaths. Does the evil emanate from the house itself, from the nearby pond, or from a strange little girl who unexpectedly appears?

Given that the alternate title gives away one of the plot points, I don’t think I’m giving away a whole lot when I say the cause of the horror is a curse from a witch that was executed three hundred years earlier. Still, any three-hundred-year-old witch who is savvy enough to use a microwave oven as an instrument of murder is a force to be reckoned with. Yes, there’s a fair amount of cliches in this one, but sometimes they’re assembled in odd and unexpected ways, and this leaves the movie with an odd vibe that adds a bit to the atmosphere of the movie. This somewhat compensates for the fact that the movie doesn’t seem particularly well-directed at times, the budget is quite low, and the dialogue is occasionally laughable. Some of the gory deaths are rather unusual and clearly betray a supernatural force at work. The movie has its fair share of faults, but it’s one that I actually rather enjoyed watching; even the fake scares didn’t really bother me. Maybe it just caught me on a good night, but I think this one more or less works.

Shock (1977)

SHOCK (1977)
aka Schock, Beyond the Door II
Article 4928 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-14-2014
Directed by Mario Bava
Featuring Daria Nivolodi, John Steiner, David Colin Jr.
Country: Italy
What it is: Horror

A woman returns to live with her son and her second husband to the house where she lived with her first husband. The child begins to act very strangely. Is he possessed? Is the house haunted? What secrets are buried in this household?

This movie entered my hunt list under the title BEYOND THE DOOR II, and if you’re wondering why Italy’s most famous horror director would choose for his last feature film to make a sequel to Italy’s worst rip-off of THE EXORCIST, then you should bear in mind that that title was only slapped on this one for marketing purposes; outside of the fact that the same child actor appears in both movies and a few of the plot elements are similar, this has no connection to BEYOND THE DOOR. On its own terms, the movie isn’t entirely successful, and you’ll see one of the big plot revelations coming a mile away, but it’s rather interesting to see the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach the movie takes. It’s a possession movie, a haunted house thriller, a “skeleton in the closet” thriller, a “revenge from the grave” film, a work of psychological horror, and it even throws in a little of the “disembodied hand” subgenre. There’s a little too much screaming for my taste, but other than that, the use of sound and music is excellent, and it’s visually interesting. It’s not one of Bava’s best, but it isn’t bad, and it was a decent one on which he could end his film career.

La sombra del murcielago (1968)

aka The Shadow of the Bat
Article 4920 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-6-2015
Directed by Federico Curiel
Featuring Jaime Fernandez, Marta Romero, Blue Demon
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican wrestling movie

A horribly scarred man who wears a mask becomes enamored with a singer at a nightclub, and kidnaps her. He also kidnaps wrestlers so he can have death matches with them to get the cheers of an imaginary audience. Can Blue Demon defeat him?

There’s something rather comforting to me to know that Mexican wrestling movies exist; just knowing that the world is big enough to have this kind of cinematic weirdness helps me to sleep better at night. This movie is the result of what would happen if you reimagine THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA translated into a Mexican wrestling movie. In some ways, it hardly matters that the copy I found was not dubbed or subtitled in English; the basic action and story are pretty clear once you know the PHANTOM connection. There’s five wrestling scenes; one in the ring, one in a training session, and three death-matches with the villain. There are four musical numbers, my favorite of which has Mexican teenagers boogieing to a Spanish version of “Wooly Bully”. The heroine screams her head off every time she sees a rat; for that matter, she screams her head off when she sees practically anything. And it all takes place in that world where the police wouldn’t solve any crimes were it not for the help of masked Mexican wrestlers. If you’re a fan of this genre, this is an entertaining one.

The Serpent’s Egg (1977)

aka Das Schlangenei
Article 4917 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-3-2015
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Featuring Liv Ullmann, David Carradine, Gert Frobe
Country: USA / West Germany
What it is: Period drama

An alcoholic Jew who was once a member of a circus acrobat team finds himself trying to survive in Berlin during the economic collapse of the nineteen-twenties.

It’s been a while since I’ve covered any works by Ingmar Bergman for this series. This one was filmed in English with an international cast, and though it is well-produced and directed, it remains a bit of a disappointment. This is not to say that the movie is bad; far from it; it’s a solid and quite dark drama about an important subject, but from Bergman, we expect something more in the philosophical department that doesn’t seem to be present here. Part of the problem may be David Carradine’s performance as the main character; it’s very difficult to understand or care about his character because he remains something of a cipher. As for the fantastic content, I’m not sure the movie really qualifies as well; the latter doesn’t really show up until the end of the movie, where we discover the truth about the clinic at which Carradine’s character is working, and though it’s certainly horrific (think of the experiments of Dr Mengele), it doesn’t quite turn into horror. My favorite scene is the one which I feel is the most Bergmanesque; it involves a cameo by James Whitmore as a priest who proves singularly unhelpful to Liv Ullmann’s character. It’s an interesting movie, but again, it’s not Bergman at his most compelling.

Steppenwolf (1974)

Article 4914 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-31-2015
Directed by Fred Haines
Featuring Max von Sydow, Dominique Sanda, Pierre Clementi
Country: USA / Switzerland / UK / France / Italy
What it is: Literary adaptation

A middle-aged man, torn between the spirit and the flesh, plans to commit suicide upon reaching fifty, but meets a woman who steers his life in a new direction.

One of the primary differences between reading a novel and watching a movie is that movies are meant to be watched as a piece from beginning to end at a specific pace, whereas novels may be picked up and set down at will, or read at different paces depending on the time it takes to grasp the themes at play in them. I’ve not read the Herman Hesse novel on which this is based; for that matter, I’ve not read any of his work at all. However, one impression I get from the movie is that the book delves into philosophical and psychoanalytic matters that require a certain degree of time to ponder and appreciate; unfortunately, a movie version doesn’t really give you that amount of time unless you try to swallow the whole thing at once. The movie does a game job of trying to express some of the concepts at play here; there’s an animated section that seeks to explain the concept of the “steppenwolf” (the wild beast within us that is the other side of our natures). Certainly, once you’ve grasped this concept, parts of the movie seem much clearer, even simplistic and obvious. However, as the movie digs deeper, it becomes more of a chore to grasp the relevance of what you’re seeing, and it’s very easy to get lost and confused in the final third of the movie, where the protagonist visits a surreal, non-realistic place called the “magic theater” to open doors to the various parts of his soul. It’s at moments like these where I find it more useful to see the film as a path to the novel rather than as being a stand-alone entity. The film is also hampered by the fact that several major characters have some very thick accents which make it rather difficult to discern what’s being said. The fantastic content revolves around the definite non-realistic manifestations of the story (people disappearing, signs appearing out of nowhere, the symbolic “magic theater”). In the end, I suspect that any chance of really grasping what’s going on here is to go to the book.