The Stepfather (1987)

THE STEPFATHER (1987)
Article 2606 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-24-2008
Posting Date: 10-1-2008
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Featuring Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack
Country: USA

A single mother with a rebellious daughter marries a charming real estate salesman, unaware that the man has been married before and ends up slaughtering his families when they don’t live up to his dreams of “the perfect family”.

When this movie came to my town it played the art house circuit rather than in the multiplexes, which somewhat disassociated it from the other horror thrillers of the period. This is understandable; the movie emphasizes character, intelligence and believability rather than just gruesome thrills; what makes it so effective is that you can understand the feelings of the murderous title character, and he never descends to merely an evil bogeyman. Much of the credit goes to actor Terry O’Quinn, who makes his character very believable. Still, the movie does stumble on occasion, mostly when it gives in to certain horror movie cliches that it usually tries to avoid; occasionally, after he’s killed someone, the killer will throw out the type of one-liners that always seem phony and artificial to me, and though he isn’t one of those indestructible super-monsters like Jason, he comes closer than he should during the climax of the movie. What is most memorable is the element of surprise; the killer is uncommonly intelligent and his eruptions into violence come at the unexpected moments when you think the movie is just building up the suspense. The movie will no doubt alienate some viewers who perceive a political subtext that criticizes the whole family values movement, but I consider this a gross oversimplification, as it is the killer’s obsession with unreachable ideals and his inability to accept that there are some things he cannot control that set off his madness. The movie spawned two sequels, which is a pity; this is one of those movies that is only cheapened by the enfranchisement of it.

 

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A Slightly Pregnant Man (1973)

A SLIGHTLY PREGNANT MAN (1973)
aka L’Evenement le plus important depuis que l’homme a marche sur la lune
Article 2604 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-22-2008
Posting Date: 9-29-2008
Directed by Jacques Demy
Featuring Catherine Deneuve, Marcello Mastrioianni, Micheline Presle
Country: France/Italy

A male instructor at a driving school discovers that he is pregnant.

I have to admit that I find the idea of a pregnant man only mildly amusing at best, though I suspect that women may like the concept more. As a result, I’m not really surprised that I found this movie mildly amusing at best, dull, predictable and obvious at worst. It’s really hard to gauge the performances; the dubbing is fairly weak throughout, though Marcello Mastrioianni seems to be doing the best he can. There are hints of a much better movie here; one conversation in a beauty parlor brought up the subject of how the world would change if men were able to get pregnant, and a movie that pursued that subject might actually have been interesting. The movie even threatens to move into that direction at one point, but it remains no more than a unfulfilled promise. The most amusing sequence to my eyes involved the pregnant man’s association with a clothing manufacturer who starts putting out a line of men’s maternity (or is it paternity) wear. The ending, however, is a major cop-out, and, more than anything else here, makes this one largely a waste of time. In short, the movie doesn’t deliver.

 

The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World (1965)

THE SECOND BEST SECRET AGENT IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD (1965)
aka Licensed to Kill
Article 2602 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-20-2008
Posting Date: 9-27-2008
Directed by Lindsay Shonteff
Featuring Tom Adams, Karel Stepanek, Peter Bull
Country: UK

A secret agent is assigned to guard a scientist who is on the verge of creating an invention that will be called a Regrav, a device that will bend the laws of gravity. However, enemy agents are also after the scientist…

I’m not entirely sure what this is; it’s either a parody of the James Bond movies, or a rather self-conscious low-budget imitation of them. The title certainly seems to indicate the former, and some of the plot developments (particularly the head-swimming series of double-crosses and plot revelations that take up the last fifteen minutes of the movie) also do as well. However, if it is a parody, it mostly works on such a subtle level that it becomes rather indistinguishable from what it’s parodying, and it’s good to remember that the James Bond movies themselves are parodies to begin with. As a result, the movie often plays like an imitation, though one with a significantly lower budget and, at times, a sense of tiredness. If you go in expecting it to flip back and forth between the two extremes, you’ll have a good idea of what this one like. It’s still worth catching for that ending, though; you might even want to give the movie a second watching just to sort out the whole twisted affair. And as for the Gizmo Maguffin science fiction content of the Regrav device…, well, let’s just say that the degree to which this element contributes to the science fiction content of the movie is one of the punch lines at the end of the movie. To say more would give far too much away.

 

Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM (1973)
Article 2593 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-11-2008
Posting Date: 9-18-2008
Directed by Bob Kelljan
Featuring William Marshall, Don Mitchell, Pam Grier
Country: USA

When Blacula is resurrected in a voodoo ceremony, he seeks a voodoo priestess who can rid him of his curse.

I’ve heard tell that BLACULA is the best of the horror blaxploitation titles of the seventies, and that this sequel doesn’t quite measure up to that one. So I’ll refrain from making any judgment on the original based on having watched this one except to say that it must certainly share this movie’s great strength, which is William Marshall’s excellent performance. His Blacula has such a commanding, authoritative presence that he single-handedly raises this film several notches in my eyes. This is good, because the movie has a few problems. Perhaps the worst one is that the movie’s believability at any one moment is in inverse proportion to the amount of jive talk being used on the screen at the time; this movie has some of the least convincing jive talk I’ve ever heard. Marshall only uses jive talk in one speech, and though it’s the best line in the movie, you can clearly hear the quote marks around them. The performers who are given the least jive talk fare best; both Don Mitchell and Pam Grier come off all right. Still, the story takes an interesting approach, and occasional moments work quite well.

 

7 Cadaveri per Scotland Yard (1971)

7 CADAVERI PER SCOTLAND YARD (1971)
aka Jack the Mangler, Jack el destripador de Londres
Article 2574 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-22-2008
Posting Date: 8-30-2008
Directed by Jose Luis Madrid
Featuring Paul Naschy, Patricia Loran, Renzo Marignano
Country: Italy / Spain

A Jack-the-Ripper style murderer is loose in London, and Scotland Yard is on the case. Their prime suspect is an ex-acrobat whose wife was one of the first victims. Or could it be that he’s being framed…?

I wasn’t quite sure what this Paul Naschy film was going to be like, but had I taken my cue from the title under which I watched this (7 CADAVERI PER SCOTLAND YARD, which translate as SEVEN CORPSES FOR SCOTLAND YARD), I would have suspected from the outset that this would turn out to be a giallo. And indeed it is; thought there is the gore you’d suspect from a serial killer movie, the emphasis is on the investigation with a satisfying number of twists and turns. Quite frankly, I really enjoyed the story of this one; I thought I had figured out who the murderer was, but I was just playing into the movie’s hands; like a good Hitchcock movie (which in some ways, this one resembles), it manipulated me well and I liked it. Still, giallo fans may well be disappointed by the lack of style here; it’s flatly directed and has a fairly forgettable music score, so I’m not surprised it has an uneven reputation. Still, I found it pretty good for a Paul Naschy film, and, despite other weaknesses, the movie gets by on story alone.

 

Sleeping Beauty (1964)

SLEEPING BEAUTY (1964)
aka Spyashchaya krasavitsa
Article 2559 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-7-2008
Posting Date: 8-14-2008
Directed by Apollinari Dudko and Konstantin Sergeyev
Featuring Alla Sizova, Yuri Solovyov, Natalya Dudinskaya
Country: Soviet Union

When she is not invited to the party celebrating the birth of a daughter to the king and queen, an evil witch puts a curse on the young girl. When the girl grows into a young woman, she is pricked by a needle and falls into a deep sleep. Only a handsome prince can revive her with a kiss.

Sure, it gets boring; it’s a ballet. After all, we’re talking about a movie here in which, for all intents and purposes, the plot is over while there’s still fourteen minutes of movie to go (which brings back memories of HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE, and I marvel that I found the opportunity to reference that piece of silliness in this review). But when I’m not being crankily lowbrow, I can really marvel at the discipline that goes into this form of dance, and I have a vast admiration for the elegant control these dancers have over their bodies. The movie itself manages to walk an effective line between cinema and photographed ballet; most of it is as stagebound as you might expect, but the use of special effects (with witches vanishing and the like) gives it that extra bit of flavor that makes it more fun to watch. It also helps that Tchaikovsky (oddly missing the first T in the opening credits) was one of my favorite classical composers. Still, I will say this; I was spending the whole day expecting I would be watching DERANGED: CONFESSIONS OF A NECROPHILE when I got home, and when that movie got trumped by the arrival in the mail of this one, it was very difficult to switch the mental gears. Still, there’s always one thing I can say about ballet in general; at least it’s not opera.

 

The Secret of Treasure Island (1938)

THE SECRET OF TREASURE ISLAND (1938)
Serial
Article 2534 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-13-2008
Posting Date: 7-20-2008
Directed by Elmer Clifton
Featuring Don Terry, Gwen Gaze, Walter Miller
Country: USA

A woman learns that she is the heiress to half of a pirate treasure map showing where a fortune is hidden on Treasure Island. Unfortunately, a criminal known as The Shark (who has a fortress on Treasure Island) has the other half of the map, and will stop at nothing to get the missing half.

I like this one, but heck, I like THE LOST CITY. Its 4.7 rating on IMDB does seem to indicate that I’m not in step with other serial fans as far as this one goes, but I find the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach here (which includes a group of underground workers known as Mole Men, a strange professor, a trained crow, a crusty old seaman with a hook for a hand, a room of doors, a suspicious doctor and his nurse, and, finally, the Ghost of the Black Pirate) to be a lot more fun than some of the later serials that seem cut out of the same mold. It’s entertaining as long as it stays on Treasure Island; once the action shifts to the mainland, it gets fairly dull, and I suspect that the serial was expanded to fifteen episodes at the last minute. The cliffhangers are pretty good, but they would have been better had the resolutions not been singularly lame. The story is from L. Ron Hubbard, and there is some science fiction gadgetry to augment the fantastic content beyond that of the ghost (and, if you’re like me, you just know that the latter will be debunked before its all through).