Sybil (1976)

SYBIL (1976)
TV-Movie
Article 2327 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-9-2007
Posting Date: 12-26-2007
Directed by Daniel Petrie
Featuring Joanne Woodward, Sally Field, Brad Davis

A psychiatrist discovers a woman who has multiple personalities, and undertakes the task of helping her to face her demons and to heal.

It’s somehow fitting that we follow up STALK THE WILD CHILD with another TV-Movie about a doctor trying to help someone to fit into the world. I have to admit that I’m always a little apprehensive at the thought of sitting down to a movie which runs over three hours long, but the movie manages to be gripping enough that my attention never flagged. Much of this is due to the outstanding performances by Sally Field and Joanne Woodward, with Field in particular permanently putting to rest memories of “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun” by tackling a role that would be an immense challenge to anyone and pulling it off brilliantly. Technically, the movie lies outside of the fantastic genres, being based on a real-life case of multiple personalities, but madness has always been a part and parcel of horror as does hypnotism, which also plays a part in the proceedings. Furthermore, all the vampires and werewolves we encounter in horror movies are merely rehearsals for the human monsters that we can encounter in the real world, and Sybil’s mother is certainly the stuff of nightmares. There are moments of horror in both the real-life events and the nightmare sequences, the latter of which includes the decapitated head of a cat. Probably the only real false note in the proceedings is the character of the boyfriend who lives in the apartment across the street from Sybil; as it turns out, this character existed only in the movie and not in the real-life story of the title character. The movie also features the recently deceased Charles Lane in a memorable cameo as a doctor. This is truly one of the finest TV-Movies ever made, and one of the rare ones that attempts to give an accurate portrayal of the mental health profession.

 

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Stalk the Wild Child (1976)

STALK THE WILD CHILD (1976)
TV-Movie
Article 2326 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-8-2007
Posting Date: 12-25-2007
Directed by William Hale
Featuring David Janssen, Trish Van Devere, Ben Bottoms

When hunters discover a child who was raised by wild dogs, they bring him to a hospital, where a doctor vows to teach him to speak and bring him back to civilization.

This is one of those movies where I’m just not sure what the nature of the fantastic content is; though it could be argued that having been raised by wild dogs would leave a child’s mental state in something resembling madness, and madness is a common theme of horror movies, this is certainly not a horror movie. It could also be argued that the basic premise is common in several fantasies; consider THE JUNGLE BOOK and the Tarzan stories for starters. Yet this is certainly not a fantasy, either; it’s playing a very different game. Nevertheless, John Stanley included it in his “Creature Features Strike Back Movie Guide”, so here I am reviewing it. Setting aside its fantastic content (or lack thereof), I have to admit I quite enjoyed this movie, largely because the central situation is quite interesting, the acting is good, and it manages to come across for the most part as convincing. The first half of the movie covers the attempt of the child’s surrogate parents to get him to speak; the second half of the movie concentrates more on his adjustment to civilization and his growing disillusionment with those around him. At the end of the movie, he has a choice to make between civilization and the wild, and the movie sets itself up well enough that it could go either way. It fumbles a few of the scenes; in particular, a pivotal scene where the young man watches films of his early youth with a crowd of hecklers hits a false note. Nevertheless, the movie works much more than it doesn’t, and there are some truly wonderful moments; I like, in particular, the scene where he learns the significance of the tinkling bell and the one where he steals the volleyball on the beach. This is definitely one of the more entertaining TV-Movies I’ve seen.

 

Shock Treatment (1973)

SHOCK TREATMENT (1973)
aka Traitement de choc
Article 2325 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-7-2007
Posting Date: 12-24-2007
Directed by Alain Jessua
Featuring Alain Delon, Annie Girardot, Robert Hirsch

A woman undergoes an innovative age rejuvenation treatment at a secluded clinic. However, she begins to wonder about the treatment that is used when she notices that the foreign workers have a high turnover rate and tend to fall from exhaustion from time to time. She stays to investigate…

There really isn’t a whole lot in the way of surprises in this French thriller; I could quickly list a couple of movies that if I were to mention them by name, you’d have a good idea of what is going on in this movie. It’s also a bit short on thrills; the movie takes a rather laid-back, deliberately paced approach to the story; the movie is nearly half over before you even begin hitting the plot points that hint that something is awry. As a result, though the movie isn’t really bad, I’d have to say it’s a bit on the dull side. Some people may have their attention hooked by the nude sequence on the beach, but that scene doesn’t advance the plot. For the record, the movie dips into both horror and science fiction in its final revelations, and my print was very well dubbed, so that helps matters. Nevertheless, this is a fairly minor genre film.

 

Schlock (1973)

SCHLOCK (1973)
Article 2291 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-3-2007
Posting Date: 11-20-2007
Directed by John Landis
Featuring John Landis, Saul Kahan, Joseph Piantadosi

A missing link is on a homicidal rampage in a small community. The monster falls for a beautiful woman who mistook him for a dog when she was blind.

I quite like this, the first movie by director John Landis. It’s a parody of any number of monster-on-the-loose films, and there are several likable qualities to it. First of all, Landis himself gives a good performance in the title role; he manages to give some priceless reactions despite being buried in a Rick Baker missing link costume, and he shows some good comic timing. I also like the casual, laid-back feel of the movie; instead of putting forth its slapstick with a Three Stooges-like mayhem style, he adopts the quieter, more deliberate slapstick stylings of Laurel and Hardy; a scene in which Schlock takes revenge on a reckless driver by taking his car to pieces feels as if it belongs in one of those Stan-and-Ollie tit-for-tat confrontations. There are also some fun ideas (I love the TV newsman who hosts a “guess the body count” contest), and its heart is certainly in the right place. On the down side, the movie is unfocused; it has the bare minimum of a plot, and many of the scenes feel like random events placed in a random order. Also, Landis lets some of the sequences drag on too long, which is especially problematic when the gag doesn’t work in the first place; the scene where the blind girl keeps making Schlock play fetch is unfunny and unending. Still, Landis obviously loves the genre, and Forry Ackerman and Donald F. Glut pop up as movie patrons (watching THE BLOB , DINOSAURUS , and DAUGHTER OF HORROR , which is a movie within a movie within a movie). It’s a pity we didn’t get to see any of SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY. Always listen to the background music and pay attention to any posters you see. Though this is hardly a great movie, it’s easy to see how Landis would go on to a successful career as a director of comedies.

 

Streamline Express (1935)

STREAMLINE EXPRESS (1935)
Article 2287 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-29-2007
Posting Date: 11-15-2007
Directed by Leonard Fields
Featuring Evelyn Venable, Victor Jory, Sidney Blackmer

A theatre director manages to sneak aboard a new superspeed train destined for California in order to convince his leading actress not to run away and get married.

The first ten minutes of this movie is so full of hokey dialogue and bad writing that it’s a little amazing that it eventually won me back, but it did. For one thing, the writing does get better. For another thing, Victor Jory is having so much fun in a comic role that I started to have fun, too. it also helps that there is some snappy comic banter that netted a few laughs for me, particularly during the conversation where he convinces a steward to allow him to take over his position on the train. The plot is pretty silly, but it makes do. The fantastic content is the superspeed train; it’s somewhat similar to the super airplane in NON-STOP NEW YORK (a much better movie, by the way), but you only see the train from the outside during some static shots near the beginning of the film, so you never actually see it on the move, which is a real disappointment. This is supposedly a low-budget remake of the previous year’s TWENTIETH CENTURY, though that movie has no fantastic elements; I haven’t seen that movie, but knowing that it was directed by Howard Hawks makes me understand why a remake would try to capture his gift for fast-moving dialogue. My favorite moment; the passengers are being searched for a missing gem, the person who has it hides it in his drink, and while he’s being searched, the nonstop drinker comes along, sees the unattended glass, and… well, it just gets more complicated from there.

 

Seven Keys to Baldpate (1917)

SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE (1917)
Article 2285 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-27-2007
Posting Date: 11-14-2007
Directed by Hugh Ford
Featuring George M. Cohan, Anna Q. Nilsson, Hedda Hopper

A writer of melodramatic novels takes a bet that he can write a novel in 24 hours, and is allowed to use Baldpate Inn as his place to do this as it is closed and he is unlikely to be interrupted. However, (as is obvious from the title), he doesn’t have the only key to Baldpate inn…

This is the third version of this popular melodrama that I’ve seen to date, as well as the earliest. I don’t know how close it is to the Earl Derr Biggers novel, but I’m willing to bet it’s fairly close to George M. Cohan’s play version, seeing how Cohan himself appears in the lead role. This was his first of only a handful of screen appearances, and he does a fine job. It’s still fairly short on fantastic content; outside of the possibility of it falling into the “old dark house” genre, the only other element is that the character of the misogynistic hermit (perhaps the most entertaining “guest” at Baldpate inn) occasionally pretends to be a ghost. The plot is far-fetched and sometimes confusing, and the fact that some sections of the plot are replaced by title cards doesn’t help, but I like the backstory, and there’s definitely an air of parody to the proceedings. At this point of time, I’d have to say it’s my favorite version of the story. My favorite moment; the reaction of the police chief when he’s handed two hundred thousand dollars.

 

The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales (1960)

THE SKELETON OF MRS. MORALES (1960)
aka El Esqueleto de la senora Morales
Article 2273 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-12-2007
Posting Date: 11-2-2007
Directed by Rogelio A. Gonzalez
Featuring Arturo de Cordova, Amparo Rivelles, Elda Peralta

A taxidermist is mercilessly manipulated by his cruel wife, who puts on a show of oppressed martyrdom while doing everything in her power to make her husband’s life miserable. When he finally has his fill, he makes plans for a macabre revenge.

The horror elements aren’t the main thrust of the story here, but they’re there all the same, especially when you consider the husband’s job and the title of the movie. It’s really a rendering of that crime subgenre about the “perfect murder”, and it is a delicious piece of black comedy to boot. It spends a good two-thirds of its running time dealing with the wife’s cruel treatment of the husband, and of her ability to make everyone see her as the victim in the process. This is essential for the story to work; our sympathies are with the husband and must remain so even when he enacts his ghastly revenge, and it helps establish the characters of the various people manipulated by the wife, including a local priest, two biddies from next door, and her siblings. The setup of the perfect crime is brilliant, in that the husband uses his wife’s own wiles to clear himself, while setting up a situation where the most damning piece of evidence against him actually works to his benefit. The movie is not for the squeamish; we get to see just enough of the taxidermist at work to put us on edge. The movie is filled with great performances, but neither the movie credits nor IMDB attach character names to the actors, and outside of a comment saying that Arturo de Cordova plays Mr. Morales (and gives an excellent performance), I don’t know who plays what. It’s all deliciously entertaining, and highly recommended. My two favorite moments are when Dr. Morales finally gives in to his wife’s perpetual request to wash his hands with alcohol, and to the ending, where we learn once again that there is no such thing as a perfect crime.