Slaughter (1976)

aka Dogs
Article 2954 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-9-2009
Posting Date: 9-15-2009
Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff
Featuring David McCallum, Sandra McCabe, George Wyner
Country: USA

In a small California college town that is the home of a secret government experiment, dogs start banding together to kill people.

Sometimes you can just tell, can’t you? Though this is not a TV-Movie (it’s far too bloody for that), there was something about this the one (the style of photography, the pacing, the choice of music, etc.) that just screamed TV-Movie, and a quick check on Burt Brinckerhoff’s oeuvre shows only a tiny handful of feature films and a huge amount of TV work. There’s one or two chills here, but the rest is a cheesy concoction made of one part NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, one part FROGS, and a bit of JAWS (and I’m willing to bet that somewhere along the line somebody was thinking of calling it PAWS). No explanation is ever given for the dogs acting this way, though I’m sure the film-makers assumed you would tie it to the secret government project about which we know nothing. Two things in particular stood out on the negative side of things here; Sandra McCabe has one of the worst screams in cinema history (it sounds like she’s auditioning badly for an opera), and the ending (which implies that another group of pets will also start going on the rampage) made me snicker rather than shudder. This one makes THE PACK look pretty good.


Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Article 2939 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-25-2009
Posting Date: 8-31-2009
Directed by Irvin Kershner
Featuring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Country: USA

Luke Skywalker seeks to become a Jedi warrior with the help of an elusive Jedi master called Yoda, while his friends try to elude capture from Darth Vader and the empire.

Now that all three of the prequels to the original Star Wars saga have come out, one debate I often encounter concerns the best order in which to watch the whole series; there are those who advocate watching the prequels first and then watching the original series. I’m not of that group; for me, the revelations flow smoother and more satisfyingly in the original series, and it gives you the option to ignore the prequels in their entirety if you wish. Certainly, the introduction of Yoda as a character in this movie would have seemed overly coy if you already knew who he was and how he looked. This one is often considered the best of the series, and you won’t get a dissenting opinion from me in this regard; the skill with which it deepens, fleshes out and darkens the themes of the original to compensate for the fact that the concept itself is now not quite as fresh as it was in the first movie shows that the original three movies were indeed conceived as a series, albeit one that could have been truncated with the first movie should it have proved not to have been a hit. The acting from the principals shows a marked improvement, which also helps compensate somewhat for the fact that we have no new name stars to add to the mix, and the ones from the original (Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing) have either disappeared from the plot or been reduced to cameos. Of course, certain series fanatics probably like the movie because it introduces Boba Fett the bounty hunter, but I could care less about that; a cool helmet doesn’t make for a compelling character. On a side note, the original movie (STAR WARS) was one of the first movies I covered for this series, and I feel a bit of irony from the fact that it has taken me a longer gap of time before I covered the sequel than it actual took between the releases of the two movies.

Santo vs el estrangulador (1965)

aka Santo vs the Strangler
Article 2926 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-12-2009
Posting Date: 8-18-2009
Directed by Rene Cardona
Featuring Santo, Alberto Vazquez, Maria Duval
Country: Mexico

Someone is strangling actresses at a theater. It is up to Santo to discover the killer’s identity.

In the first twenty minutes of this film, we have one murder, two wrestling scenes, and five songs. When the padding gets this dense, I can only marvel. It settles into the plot after that, but maybe I should be grateful for the padding; after all, it’s easier to enjoy the music and the wrestling in an undubbed, unsubtitled movie than it often is to enjoy the plot, which becomes difficult to follow. Besides, one of the numbers is obviously a Spanish language version of “Fever”, and their version of “Sixteen Tons” is actually sung in English. There’s a hunchback on hand, and Santo’s lab has lots of gadgetry, which adds to the fantastic content in this PHANTOM OF THE OPERA-style thriller. And it’s good to see that Santo has taken to tucking his cape into the car when he goes cruising around in the Santomobile rather than letting it run the risk of being caught in the tires.

The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963)

Episodes of Disney’s “The Wonderful World of Color”
Article 2907 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-23-2009
Posting Date: 7-29-2009
Directed by James Neilson
Featuring Patrick McGoohan, George Cole, Tony Britton
Country: UK

A vicar of the village of Dymchurch has an alter ego; he is also a notorious masked smuggler known as the Scarecrow. He matches his wits against the king’s.

I may be stretching the rules here, but my source does indeed list this series of three episodes from Disney’s “The Wonderful World of Color” as a movie, so here I am covering it. Oh, it was released overseas as a movie, too (under the title DR. SYN ALIAS THE SCARECROW), but that’s not the title my source lists. At any rate, if I am breaking my rules, it was far from an unpleasant experience; this adaptation of the Dr. Syn stories is fun, effective and truly entertaining, without an ounce of the cuteness that I was afraid might infect the production, considering it was a product of Disney. Taken as a whole, it is episodic, given that the three episodes each work as a single story. In the first, the Scarecrow and his men have to outwit a press gang intent on forcing the young men of the village to serve in the royal navy. In the second, the Scarecrow must deal with a traitor who has been pressured into revealing the names of companions in crime. In the third (my favorite), he must rescue some prisoners in Dover castle before they are forced to reveal that it was the vicar that was helping them to hide from the law. All three stories are solid, and Patrick McGoohan’s performance as Syn / the Scarecrow is outstanding; he sharply differentiates the characters so there is little chance of his being recognized as his alter ego. I also love the designs of the masks used by the Scarecrow as well as his cohorts, Hellspite and Curlew; they are scary and effective. It’s only on the borderline as far as fantastic content goes; rumors abound that the Scarecrow is a demon or a ghost, and those masks are certainly scary enough. Quite frankly, this is far and away the most effective version of these stories, and I can see how it would have a great impact on those who saw it when they were kids. Furthermore, the theme song is truly memorable. Recommended.

Santo the Silver Mask vs the Martian Invasion (1967)

aka Santo el enmascarado de plata vs la invasion de los marcianos
Article 2879 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-26-2009
Posting Date: 7-1-2009
Directed by Alfredo B. Crevenna
Featuring Santo, Wolf Ruvinskis, El Nazi
Country: Mexico

Santo must do battle with Martians who are intent on saving the Earth from itself… by taking over the planet and forcing them to live in peace.

Maybe I’ve gone off the deep end here, but I would have to nominate this as the best of the Mexican wrestler movies. Granted, this judgment is clouded somewhat by the fact that this is one of the few movies of the bunch that I’ve had English subtitles to help me understand what’s going on. It’s a movie with a message, and though it’s somewhat ham-fisted about it, it does add a touch of seriousness to the silliness that abounds. It also seems like more care was given to the story than is usually the case for these movies. Here’s a quick list of some of the more remarkable touches I found.

1) I’m amused by the opening sequence, in which the Martians take over the TV signals to announce their impending invasion of the Earth. This fails to frighten the Earthlings because they mistake the transmission as a comedy skit. Oddly enough, I found this concept rather convincing.

2) Quite a few people die by disintegration in this one, including huge crowds at sporting events. The Martians even disintegrate defenseless children.

3) There are several moments where Santo finds himself surveying a deserted location after a Martian attack. These scenes are unexpectedly poignant, especially since there is no music underlying these scenes, only silence.

4) There’s a rather surreal sequence where Santo holds a wrestling match in a deserted arena, insisting to his opponents that they must continue the match even though there is no audience.

5) On top of disintegrating humans and trying to kidnap Santo (so they can take him to Mars and study him), the Martians also kidnap a strange group of people. They kidnap a small family, a pair of government officials, a science fiction writer, a nuclear scientist, and a priest. Why? No explanation is tendered.

Oh, there’s plenty of silliness as well, including a musical number by the Martian women, the Martian costumes and names borrowed from mythology, and the all-too-convenient lever that blows everything to atoms. But the movie is surprisingly focused; the only wrestling scenes are relevant to the plot, for example. No, it’s not a great movie, but it’s one of the most ambitious Santo movies as well as the most enjoyable. If you were only to see one of them, this is the one I’d recommend.

The Strangler (1964)

Article 2872 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-19-2009
Posting Date: 6-24-2009
Directed by Burt Topper
Featuring Victor Buono, David McLean, Diane Sayer
Country: USA

Police are searching for a serial strangler who specializes in nurses. The killer is a seemingly mild-mannered man with an overbearing and manipulative mother.

This movie has one big plus; Victor Buono was a great actor who was wonderful at playing sinister characters who outwardly don’t seem so at first, and that’s just what is called for here. He is fascinating to watch, and when he’s on the screen, he holds your attention. This helps to make up for the fact that the script falls a little bit short. I’m particularly disappointed that the movie doesn’t really give us an understanding of what drives the killer to commit the murders of nurses in the first place; instead, it concentrates on the murders that only have a direct bearing on his relationship with his mother, which are departures from his usual pattern. This means we never really get the insight into what makes him tick, as we only see the murders that are logically motivated. I suppose the lack of insight was to be expected; after all, the minute the psychologist confuses schizophrenia with split personality, I knew the movie wasn’t going to be psychologically incisive. Still, for a low budget movie, it’s efficient and mostly well-acted, though I wasn’t impressed with the acting from Davey Davison, despite the fact that she’s given a prominent credit during the opening. In short, it’s good, but not great.

Spy in the Sky! (1958)

SPY IN THE SKY! (1958)
Article 2869 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-16-2009
Posting Date: 6-21-2009
Directed by W. Lee Wilder
Featuring Steve Brodie, Andrea Domburg, George Coulouris
Country: UK / USA

Spies are searching for a Soviet rocket scientist to learn his secrets.

False alarm, everyone. This is just another Gizmo Maguffin, and the Gizmo is just cashing in on the fears surrounding Sputnik; the closest we get to anything remotely in the realm of science fiction is seeing a light move across the sky during the opening title. From then on, it’s static Spy vs. Spy stuff, barely competent at best, aggressively snooze-inducing at worst. You’ll recognize the static style of Billy Wilder’s brother W. Lee Wilder here; he’s the same man who gave us PHANTOM FROM SPACE, KILLERS FROM SPACE and THE SNOW CREATURE.