The Spy Ring (1938)

THE SPY RING (1938)
Article 3634 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-12-2011
Posting Date: 7-27-2011
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Featuring William Hall, Jane Wyman, Esther Ralston
Country: USA
What it is: Spy movie

A captain is assigned to protect the secrets surrounding a new machine gun (that will revolutionize anti-aircraft warfare) after its inventor is killed.

I don’t really care what they call this enhancement to the machine gun; I know a Gizmo Maguffin when I see one. Still, like the better movies with your basic Gizmo Maguffin plot, this one uses the Maguffin in the final reel, but that doesn’t really change the fact that the Maguffin is rather dull and that the whole plot essentially revolves around spies trying to get a hold of it. It’s efficiently directed and has some good moments, but I find the script a little confusing, and I don’t find the idea that the plot hinges on the results of a polo game to be particularly interesting. Actually, the most fun I had with the movie was in checking the credits afterward; I was curious about who played the part of an intimidating craggy-faced character known as “The Champ” only to discover it was none other than Glenn Strange.

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Secret of the Chateau (1934)

SECRET OF THE CHATEAU (1934)
Article 3633 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-11-2011
Posting Date: 7-26-2011
Directed by Richard Thorpe
Featuring Claire Dodd, Alice White, Osgood Perkins
Country: USA
What it is: Mystery

A murderer who kills for rare book editions is on the loose, and a Gutenberg Bible is his or her next target. Will the police inspector be able to spot the murderer?

At about the fifty minute mark of the movie, a policeman makes a passing comment that the mysterious tolling of the bells may be the work of a ghost. Nobody really takes the comment seriously, and this is also pretty late in the game for what has played out up to that point as a straightforward mystery. Therefore, I can safely say consign this movie to the realm of marginalia for its horror content, though the fact that the bells toll mysteriously in the first place and the presence of a hunchback also give it a slight push in that direction. It is, however, a fairly entertaining mystery. Much of what’s fun about it is found in Ferdinand Gottschalk’s performance as the Inspector; he reminds me of Alastair Sim on occasion. The movie also has one of the better comic relief characters I’ve encountered from the period. It’s by no means a classic, but it’s rather enjoyable if you’re in the mood for it.

Superbug Goes Wild (1971)

SUPERBUG GOES WILD (1971)
aka Superbug – The Wild One, Ein Kafer geht aufs Ganze

Article 3626 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-4-2011
Posting Date: 7-19-2011
Directed by Rudolf Zehetgruber
Featuring Rudolf Zehetgruber, Gerd Duwner, Kathrin Oginski
Country: West Germany / Switzerland
What it is: Herbie the Love Bug ripoff

An adventurer comes by a yellow Volkswagen with a mind of its own, and decides to drive it as a service car to a hovercraft in a rally through Africa in order to make money to save a down-on-its-luck medical clinic.

Sometimes trying to match up a movie listed in a reference book with its matching listing on IMDB, and then finding a copy of the movie itself can be a maddening process. The John Stanley guide lists the title as SUPERBUG-THE WILD ONE, which matches on IMDB to EIN KAFER AUF EXTRATOUR, the third in the series. However, the plot description says that most of the action takes place in Switzerland, whereas the plot description in the Stanley guide says most of the story takes place in Africa. After searching around a bit, I established that the African Superbug movie was actually EIN KAFER GEHT AUFS GANZE, the first in the series, though the Stanley guide says it’s one of the later ones. I found a copy of the movie called SUPERBUG GOES WILD, which, fortunately, turned out to be the correct movie. So now that I’ve finally been able to match things up, on with the review.

For the record, Superbug is a German rip-off of Herbie, the Love Bug; Superbug is actually named Dudu, and someone claims this is the word for “bug” in whichever African country this takes place in. Throughout the movie, the main character keeps referring to his car as the “love bug”, to further heighten the sense of rip-off. As for the movie itself, it is horrible; there’s not a funny scene in the movie, there’s no sense of a real race being run at any time, and the female doctor keeps showing up in every location, which really leaves us wondering just what route this race is taking. Dudu’s powers seem to consist of occasionally having eyes, saying “Jumbo Jumbo” on occasion, and transforming itself into a toy car so it can do 180 degree turns. Its vaunted abilities rarely come into play during the action. I’ve been curious about the Superbug movies for some time, but if this movie is any indication, they’re a truly dismal lot. Fortunately, there’s only three more I’ll have to see.

Summer of Secrets (1976)

SUMMER OF SECRETS (1976)
Article 3625 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-3-2011
Posting Date: 7-18-2011
Directed by Jim Sharman
Featuring Arthur Dignam, Rufus Collins, Nell Campbell
Country: Australia
What it is: A strange experiment

A young couple arrive at a deserted beach house, but their solitude is shattered when they are spied on by the assistant of an eccentric scientist who lives nearby. The woman is kidnapped by the assistant, and the young man must confront the scientist to find out why…

The first two-thirds of the movie is almost impenetrable; we know something is going on and we’re given plenty of little plot hints to deal with (the scientist is obsessed with his dead wife, the assistant is almost painfully paranoid, the scientist is having the assistant shoot movies about his memories), but since we’re never given the threads that pull these things together, you end up antsily waiting for it all to make sense with the possible fear that it never will. It’s not until we get a major revelation two-thirds of the way through the movie that it starts coming together, and I can say that the situation is rather interesting indeed. However, one question remains – is it interesting enough to compensate for the willful eccentricity of the first two-thirds of the movie? Sadly, I have to say “not quite”, and this is especially apparent when you hit the end of the movie, and you realize the story never quite hits the level of emotional resonance that it needed to really make it work; the earlier part of the movie is so off-putting that it distances you too much from the characters. Furthermore, certain parts of the movie never do quite mesh; in retrospect, much of the behavior of the assistant never makes any sense. I wouldn’t doubt that the movie has a bit of a cult following; after all, it was directed by the same guy who gave us THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, and there is enough here that I can see how someone might be really taken with the movie. Nevertheless, I think this is one movie that could have been a lot better if it hadn’t been trying so hard to be difficult.

Sexy Cat (1973)

SEXY CAT (1973)
Article 3624 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-2-2011
Posting Date: 7-17-2011
Directed by Julio Perez Tabernero
Featuring German Cobos, Lone Fleming, Monika Kolpek
Country: Spain
What it is: Serial killer movie

“Sexy Cat” is a popular comic strip about a woman who takes sadistic pleasure in murdering her enemies. An artist claiming to be the true creator of the strip hires a detective to find the necessary proof. The artist then becomes the first in a series of killings of people involved with the strip or with a TV show adaptation, and the detective must help the police to find the killer, who is using the same methods of murder as the character in the comic strip.

I really wasn’t expecting much from this one going into it, but it turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining horror mystery. The murders are rather gruesome and bloody (and the on-screen killing of a snake with a machete won’t endear it to animal lovers), and the mystery aspect is rather fun. It also has a sense of humor, especially in the scenes where the detective has to deal with a somewhat befuddled police inspector. Giallo fans may be disappointed, as the movie has little in the way of stylistic touches, but once I picked out the person who I suspected was guilty of the crimes, I found the movie really held my interest if for no other reason than to see if I was right. All in all, this was not bad for a cheap little Spanish production.

The Screaming Woman (1972)

THE SCREAMING WOMAN (1972)
TV-Movie

Article 3603 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-11-2011
Posting Date: 6-26-2011
Directed by Jack Smight
Featuring Olivia de Havilland, Ed Nelson, Laraine Stephens
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller

A rich but possibly mentally unstable old woman discovers that a woman has been buried alive in the ruins of an old smokehouse on her property. Her attempts to get help to save the woman are met with disbelief in her mental capacities, and time is running out for the buried woman…

It’s been years since I read the Ray Bradbury short story on which this movie was based, but the entry in John Stanley’s “Creature Feature Movie Guide Strikes Again” reminded me that in the original story, the person who discovered the burial was not an old woman but a child. It would have been more interesting had the movie retained this approach; after all, I think the fear of not being believed because you were just a kid is more universal than not being believed because you’re a mentally unstable rich woman, but I suspect the latter route lent itself to more standard TV-Movie dramatic approaches, which was no doubt a factor. Still, that doesn’t mean that the movie doesn’t more or less work; it does, in fact, work well enough. Still, it could have been better. There’s a few false moments here and there; in particular, the old woman’s reaction to her discovery of the burial (she runs through the woods screaming nonstop) is way too overwrought and melodramatic to be convincing. I would also have liked the movie better if it had featured less of either the old woman’s daughter-in-law and the buried woman’s husband’s lover (two pushy and unlikable characters who add little to the story) and spent some time developing the character of the buried woman; after all, it’s her life that is really on the line here, and she’s treated as little more than a plot device. It’s not near as suspenseful as it could have been.

Someone Behind the Door (1971)

SOMEONE BEHIND THE DOOR (1971)
aka Quelqu’un derriere la porte

Article 3582 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-16-2011
Posting Date: 6-5-2011
Directed by Nicolas Gessner
Featuring Charles Bronson, Anthony Perkins, Jill Ireland
Country: France
What it is: Thriller

A neurosurgeon takes in an amnesiac patient with schizophrenic tendencies. However, the doctor has ulterior motives; he plans to implant artificial memories into the patient with the intent of getting him to murder the lover of the doctor’s philandering wife.

The opening scenes in the hospital really do a nice job of building up a good sense of tension, and it uses nothing more than clever editing and sound, and this is even before the story gets started. It’s a good thing, too; it buoys you through the deliberate setup of the plot that occupies the next hour or so of the movie. For the most part, the movie works fairly well, and when it finally swings into action, things don’t go quite as planned and you’ll really not be sure as to how this will all pan out. Unfortunately, the movie does strike a few false notes on occasion, and though some like the ending, I find it somewhat unsatisfying and even a little annoying, especially when it gets all arty during the closing credits. All three principals give interesting performances, but I give the edge to Charles Bronson, who is playing somewhat against type. Though not strictly a horror movie, we do have one insane killer in the mix, and I found it quite odd that he turns out to be the most sympathetic character in the movie. All in all, I found this one an interesting oddity.