Shoot Loud, Louder…I Don’t Understand (1966)

aka Spara forte, piu forte, non capisco
Article 1808 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-25-2006
Posting Date: 7-25-2006
Directed by Eduardo De Filippo
Featuring Marcello Mastrioianni, Raquel Welch, Guido Alberti

An artist witnesses the murder of a gangster, but begins to wonder whether what he saw was true or a dream.

Whether this movie can actually be classified as fantasy or not is the first question to address here; I have at least one source that classifies it as such. To some extent, it is about fantasy; we have a man who has strange dreams, and then isn’t quite sure whether he was dreaming. Some of the elements of his life are certainly bizarre; his mad uncle only communicates with fireworks (and the artist understands him), and the girl of his dreams (or is she real?) keeps dumplings in an oven in her van. I actually like the central idea here, but I’m far less taken with the way this movie handles it, or at least the dubbed version I saw. The movie is frantic, shrill and annoying most of the time; it feels something like having a fever dream while people in the next apartment are having a screaming argument, and the feeling is neither pleasant nor fun. Nonetheless, Marcello Mastrioianni does a very good job in a strange role, but it’s the mad uncle who steals the movie (played by Eduardo De Filippo, the director). The best scene comes near the end, and involves a rain of wooden chairs from the sky. The curious may want to check it out, but it’s certainly not as much fun as it sounds.

Starcrash (1979)

aka Scontri stellari oltre la terza dimensione
Article 1802 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-19-2006
Posting Date: 7-19-2006
Directed by Luigi Cozzi
Featuring Marjoe Gortner, Caroline Munro, Christopher Plummer

Space smuggler Stella Star is recruited by the emperor to investigate a secret weapon begin developed by the evil Count Zarth Arn and to find his missing son.

As if you couldn’t tell from the title (and the pseudo-John-Williams soundtrack) (and the title graphics), this is a STAR WARS ripoff. Well, even ripoffs can be amusing up to a point, and one nice thing about this movie is that it occasional references something other than STAR WARS . For example, I like the fact that the ship during the opening of the movie is named the Murray Leinster, and then there is the JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS reference with the giant metal robot (even if she’s poorly animated), and I’m further amused that one of the villain’s henchman is named Elric (a name that should be familiar to Michael Moorcock fans). Still, this kind of thing wears thin pretty quickly, and the movie gets fairly tedious. Still, if you’re a Caroline Munro fan, she does what she does best here (which has nothing to do with filling out roles and everything to do about filling out costumes). The movie even has the token “great actor” in a significant role (Christopher Plummer), but even his performance disappoints; he adds way too many “significant” pauses during his speeches. Still, he comes across as better than Joe Spinnell, who overacts shamelessly in the Zarth Arn role. Still, I’m not sure he can be held entirely responsible because only two of the English-speaking actors in the movie were allowed to keep their own voices in the English dubbed version; David Hasselhoff and Plummer.

Suspiria (1977)

Article 1787 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-4-2006
Posting Date: 7-4-2006
Directed by Dario Argento
Featuring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci

An American woman arrives at a ballet academy and discovers that several people associated with the academy are dying in horrible ways. She begins to figure out the dread secret of the academy…

This is only the second Dario Argento movie I’ve seen, and it’s considered by many to be his best and one of the scariest movies ever made. Is it the scariest movie ever made? I wouldn’t rate it quite that high; the heavy stylistic touches that flood this film tend to (for me, anyway) detract a little from the scare value of the movie. However, the stylistic touches are almost deliriously intoxicating, and they go a long ways towards making up for the fact that the story doesn’t hold up to close inspection. Still, I do think it’s a great movie, and I like Goblin’s music here a lot more than I did in DEEP RED , though I don’t think it’s always used as wisely as it should be; there’s a scene near the beginning which would have been a lot scarier had there been no music at all. There are a few moments here that reminded me of other witch movies; Suzy’s special diet as prescribed to her by a doctor brought back memories of the diet prescribed to Rosemary by her doctor in ROSEMARY’S BABY, and there are moments surrounding the death of the blind man that made me recall BURN, WITCH, BURN . What I like best about the movie is the way the use of color and light can sometimes make the horror very subtle indeed. Horror fans should also be able to recognize Udo Kier and Joan Bennett in the cast. The movie also featured Alida Valli, who was at one time dubbed “The Next Garbo”, and who passed away only a few months ago.

Sugar Hill (1974)

Article 1786 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-3-2006
Posting Date: 7-3-2006
Directed by Paul Maslansky
Featuring Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Colley

A black woman takes revenge on a mob boss (who killed her boyfriend) by hooking up with a voodoo priestess to conjure up Baron Samedi and his zombie minions and sending them out to kill.

Now this one is just plain goofy. This cross between blaxploitation and horror is about as funky as you can get (for a PG-rated movie anyway) and the zombie victims die most horrible deaths (for a PG-rated movie that is). It’s also incredibly dumb, utterly predictable, and the movie largely unfolds as a series of cliches that follow up each other with the speed of falling dominoes. As a horror movie, it’s a washout, but as an unintentional comedy, it’s pretty entertaining. Most of the acting is pretty bad, but Don Pedro Colley seems to be having a lot of fun with the role of Baron Samedi, and fans of the Count Yorga movies will be glad to see Robert Quarry on hand as the mob boss whose men start dying in horrible ways. I don’t know how Baron Samedi was able to find so many zombies that all died from freak pinball machine accidents (which is the best explanation I can give as to why their eyes are like they are). The funniest line comes from the mob henchman who, upon being lifted up by the zombie minions to be tossed into a pigpen of starving carnivorous hogs, turns to Sugar Hill and asks “You’re not going to do anything funny, are you?”

Space Monster (1965)

Article #1785 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-2-2006
Posting Date: 7-2-2006
Directed by Leonard Katzman
Featuring Francine York, James B. Brown, Baynes Barron

Astronauts go to space, meet alien with flicking tongue, are attacked by seafood.

The poster for this movie (which appears on the cover of my VHS casing) features the text, “Horror so incredible, it stretches the mind of man past the breaking point!” I’m telling you, it wasn’t horror that was stretching my mind on this one; I think boredom is closer to the mark here. This movie was the last gasp of fifties-style science fiction, and gasp is the key word here; this movie is about as inept as they come. In fact, this movie is so inept, it even fails in the task of basic exposition; it’s not until an hour into the movie that they even mention that the purpose of the space mission is to visit Taurus and find land suitable for human colonization. It would have taken one line of dialogue to establish this near the beginning of the movie. Its omission leaves a gaping hole in the movie; you watch each scene in the hope of picking up the thread of a storyline without any clue that all you’ll undergo is a series of loosely connected events. Granted, the movie still wouldn’t have been much good even with the correct exposition; I stopped taking it seriously when we first meet the crew, and the captain begins complaining about how he doesn’t like the fact that there is a woman aboard the spaceship, a concept so hackneyed that it only underscores how dated this movie was in 1965. This, combined with uninspired acting, a plodding pace, and subpar special effects, makes for a way-below-average space adventure. And this was the movie where I finally realized that one sure way to try to build suspense and fail is to have someone trying to reach earth on the radio and failing about a hundred times in succession. Years from now, you’ll only remember one thing about this movie, and that is a tongue darting in and out of an alien’s mouth.

Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)

Article #1784 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-1-2006
Posting Date: 7-1-2006
Directed by George Roy Hill
Featuring Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, Eugene Roche

Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time, finds himself flitting back and forth through his life, including his time as a prisoner-of-war in Dresden and his abduction by aliens from Tralfamadore.

I was once a voracious reader of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read one of them. For some reason, I never warmed up to this novel (I preferred Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions), but from what I remember, the movie seems reasonably true to it, and I liked the movie enough that I plan to revisit the novel in the near future. It’s supposed to be his greatest work, but I suspect that I was really not mature enough at the time of my reading of it to appreciate the many dark ironies that make up the story here. And it is, after all, dark ironies that drive this story, from the circumstances that surround the death of his wife to the fact that the greatest threat to his life during the war is not the Germans but a fellow American. Adapting this work must have been a daunting task, but George Roy Hill manages it by largely shunting back and forth between two storylines; the incidents surrounding the fire-bombing of Dresden and the story of his life after his return home. Humorous at times, darkly tragic at others, you become attached to the many characters you meet, especially to his wartime friend played by Eugene Roche. Other Vonnegut characters pop up in the story; Eliot Rosewater was from Vonnegut’s “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” and Howard Campbell was from “Mother Night”. There are several familiar names in the cast, including Ron Leibman, Valerie Perrine (almost her motion picture debut), Holly Near (who is primarily known as a folksinger), Perry King, and the ever-popular John Dehner.

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974)

Article #1783 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-31-2006
Posting Date: 6-30-2006
Directed by Theodore Gershuny
Featuring Patrick O’Neal, James Patterson, Mary Woronov

The owner of a large deserted house returns home after a long absence. He catches fire in his house and burns to death, and is buried. The house is inherited by his son, who has never seen it. Twenty years later, the house is put up for sale. On discovering this, a violent inmate in a nearby insane asylum breaks loose, and before long, people are dying…

What is it about the song “Silent Night” that seems to inspire the titles for Christmas-themed horror movies? I fully anticipated that I was about to watch another of those killer-Santa-Claus movies, and I wasn’t expecting much. Such is not the case, though – there are no killer Santas to be found here. Instead, I found myself sucked in by this one. It’s not a great movie, but it is surprisingly suspenseful at times, largely due to the fact that a certain amount of creative style went into it, and the central mystery/backstory is truly intriguing. I guessed at least one aspect of the mystery before it was all over; the committee of townspeople that greets the lawyer (a group which includes John Carradine as the editor of the newspaper, who, oddly enough, can only speak in a croak and does most of his communicating by ringing bells) in charge of selling the house all have something in common that makes them specific targets for the lunatic. The acting is quite uneven, and it looks like the movie was heavily edited at one point; there are a number of abrupt jump cuts that seem unnatural. At other times, the editing is fascinating, and the use of Christmas music on occasion is unexpectedly haunting. This one was better than I expected it would be.