The Stranglers of Bombay (1960)

THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1960)
Article 2136 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-20-2007
Posting Date: 6-18-2007
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Guy Rolfe, Jan Holden, Andrew Cruickshank

An officer of the East India Company investigates a series of disappearances in India. He comes to realize that they’re being caused by a murderous cult of Kali that specializes in strangulation.

At least one source of mine claims that this is based on a true story, though I haven’t found anything more at this time to back this up. If it is based on a true story, I’ve no doubt that some doctoring to the story occurred in this movie; much of it feels as if was plotted like a movie rather than a having been a recreation of real events. Still, it is a quite engaging movie and it did make me wonder about the true details of the cult. It’s well acted by all, and it’s quite brutal for its time. I like the touches of detail, especially during the scenes where the high priest indoctrinates the new members; the scenes where he relates the story of Kali’s battle with a monster (which explains why the cult uses strangulation) and the scene where he teaches a new member the methods of begging his way into caravan stick in the memory. There are rumors that two of the major roles were originally intended for Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (the Guy Rolfe and George Pastell roles respectively), but I think the movie works well enough without the extra star power. “Doctor Who” fans will enjoy seeing the Master himself, Roger Delgado, in a small role.

 

Spectre (1977)

SPECTRE (1977)
Article 2135 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2007
Posting Date: 6-17-2007
Directed by Clive Donner
Featuring Robert Culp, Gig Young, John Hurt

Two criminologists turned occult investigators go to England to discover whether an ancient demon has been released from bondage.

Gene Roddenberry made several attempts to launch new series during the seventies via made-for-TV pilots, but he never had much success until he went back to the “Star Trek” franchise. This is one of his more interesting attempts; instead of another science fiction variation, it goes the horror route in giving us two investigators into the occult. It’s not entirely successful; the story seems confused and a bit muddled, and it’s a little too low key for its own good, but it also has a unique feel to it that makes me wish it had made it to a series; I would like to have seen the directions it would have gone. In particular, I liked Robert Culp’s focused but subtle intensity; there’s a real conviction to his performance. It’s also nice to see John Hurt, who would gain a certain genre fame by dying a horrible death in ALIEN (which he would reprise in Mel Brooks’ SPACEBALLS) and then went on to play the title role in THE ELEPHANT MAN. I suspect that this movie was released abroad with added footage; there’s some scenes in my copy that certainly didn’t air on network TV, so it’s a little difficult for me to say how racy it was when it first aired here. It’s definitely an interesting effort, and I suspect that it would hold up on rewatching.

 

The Shuttered Room (1967)

THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)
Article 2134 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-18-2007
Posting Date: 6-16-2007
Directed by David Greene
Featuring Gig Young, Carol Lynley, Oliver Reed

A woman returns with her husband to the island where she was born, hoping the old mill they inherited will prove to be a summer home. However, the woman has scary memories of her youth there, and not only do they have a strange and violent presence in the house, they also have to contend with a gang of ruffians.

I have strong memories of having seen this one in my youth, and for years it stood for me as a perfect example of how the horrors in your mind can prove to be far stronger than the horrors that manifest themselves on the screen. The movie still works at least partially; the opening scene is quite memorable, the use of sound and point-of-view camera angles is strong, and the door to the shuttered room (red with a spiky peephole) exudes its own sense of menace. The movie is pretty good at first, and at leaves the viewer with a sense that something truly demonic inhabits that room. However, the movie runs into problems; it becomes less interested in the scary presence in the house and more interested in the gang of ruffians that threatens them. On the other hand, maybe this isn’t a bad thing; the head ruffian is played by Oliver Reed, and he gives the best performance in the movie. He steals every scene he’s in and you can’t take your eyes off of him. It also adds to the general feeling of decay and inbred degeneracy that inhabits the movie, and Reed’s character, despite being a cousin to Carol Lynley’s character, clearly has designs on her that are far from platonic. The biggest problem with the movie can be found in the final revelations; given the big build-up they make about the demonic presence, and taking into account that the movie was based on a story co-written by H.P.Lovecraft, the king of unspeakable horror, one is bound to be disappointed by a horror that is utterly speakable. I was disappointed by the ending now as I was when I saw it as a kid.

 

Satan’s Triangle (1975)

SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975)
Article 2133 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-17-2007
Posting Date: 6-15-2007
Directed by Sutton Roley
Featuring Kim Novak, Doug McClure, Alejandro Rey

Two Coast Guard pilots investigate a ship found floating in an area commonly called the Devil’s Triangle. All aboard are dead except for a young woman, and she relates the story of what happened.

It was quite common during the seventies to make movies based on real-life mysteries like the Bermuda Triangle. This TV-movie is one of several based on the legends of that place. It’s a potentially fun idea; it can be fairly entertaining to speculate on the cause of the disappearance of so many boats and planes from the area. This one takes the horror route, and you should be able to figure out what the explanation is, especially if you took the trouble to note the title of the movie. It’s rather short on surprises when all is said and done; when one of the pilots puts forth a series of logical explanations for all of the freak accidents that occur aboard the boat, you won’t be fooled for a second, especially since his explanations come across as less plausible than the real explanation. Still, the movie appears to have a bit of a following, usually among those who saw it when they were kids when this type of thing is more effective. All in all, I found this one pretty average.

 

The Satan Bug (1965)

THE SATAN BUG (1965)
Article 2131 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-15-2007
Posting Date: 6-13-2007
Directed by John Sturges
Featuring George Maharis, Richard Basehart, Anne Francis

Two deadly viruses are stolen from a top secret government lab. The person behind the theft is believed to be an eccentric millionaire. A security agent (who was originally fired from the project because of insubordination) is called in to help find and retrieve the viruses before the world is destroyed.

This slick and exciting thriller does have its problems; the story is a little sluggish on occasion and certain elements of the mystery will fool no one (though I’m not so sure they were meant to). Still, it has a good story and a fun cast with lots of familiar names and faces, include Dana Andrews as a general, Simon Oakland as a government agent, Frank Sutton (who I remember as Sergeant Carter form “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”) and Ed Asner as two henchmen, and Russ Bender and James Doohan in small roles. The fantastic element consists of the two viruses, at least one of which is used during the proceedings. All in all, it’s a fairly solid thriller, though the ending is a little weaker than it should be.

 

The Snow Queen (1957)

THE SNOW QUEEN (1957)
aka SNEZHNAYA KOROLEVA
Article 2121 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-5-2007
Posting Date: 6-3-2007
Directed by Lee Atamanov and Phil Patton
Featuring Art Linkletter, and the voices of Sandra Dee and Tommy Kirk

When a young boy insults the Snow Queen, she lays a curse on him and spirits him away to her castle. The young girl who loves the boy sets out on a perilous journey to find and rescue him.

At the time of this writing, the movie HAPPILY N’EVER AFTER has just been released to theaters, and it seems to be part of a recent trend to take classic fairy tales, turn them on their ear, and use the opportunity to make hip in-jokes. The classic straightforward fairy tale seems to be a thing of the past, and this is a loss; there’s something special about a movie that can tell one straightforwardly and simply, and let the tale work its own magic. This Russian animated movie version of a Hans Christian Andersen tale does that very well, and though I’ve heard that it’s better in its original language, the dubbed American version is very effective. The tacked-on prologue with Art Linkletter is unnecessary, but it even manages to have its own charm and once it’s over, it leaves the movie to tell itself. The songs are kept to a minimum (you might not even notice that they’re there), and it has a wonderful sense of fairy tale adventure. Many of the scenes are quite touching; my favorite involves a young thief who captures the young girl with the intent on keeping her a prisoner (along with his other pets) who finds himself unexpectedly moved by the story of her plight. A good fairy tale can indeed be magical, and when filmmakers decide to abandon hipness and embrace their power again, we will all be that much richer.

 

The Secret Garden (1949)

THE SECRET GARDEN (1949)
Article 2119 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-3-2007
Posting Date: 6-1-2007
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox
Featuring Margaret O’Brien, Herbert Marshall, Dean Stockwell

An orphan whose parents have died in India from cholera is taken in by an uncle, who is in grief at the passing of his wife. The girl hears screams in the castle at all hours and discovers a locked-up garden on the grounds.

I’ve not read the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel on which this is based, but I have seen one other movie version of the story, though I don’t remember it well enough to make any meaningful comparison. It’s not really genre, though it might be considered a fantasy depending on how you interpret the final scene. Nonetheless, the scenes in the mansion during the first half of the movie have a definite horrific quality to them, what with the shadowy corridors and the mysterious screams, as well as the rumor that the Uncle is a hunchback (as far as I can tell, he isn’t). It’s basically a story about grief and healing, and one of the most interesting things about the story is how most of the major characters come off as unlikable when we first meet them. Yet, we grow to care about them, because they are all unhappy and grieving, and it takes outsiders in one capacity or another (Dickon the village boy, Dr. Fortescue and finally Mary the orphan herself) to bring light and healing in one form or another to the house. Horror fans will recognize Elsa Lanchester as a maid, and George Zucco has a great role as Dr. Fortescue, whose refusal to kowtow to the Master’s wishes marks a turning point in the story for a certain character.