Secrets of Sex (1970)

SECRETS OF SEX (1970)
aka Bizarre
Article 4117 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-27-2012
Directed by Antony Balch
Featuring Richard Schulman, Janet Spearman, Dorothy Grumbar
Country: UK
What it is: Anthology involving sex

A mummy narrates a series of stories involving the battle of the sexes.

To be truthful, I was expecting a movie that would settle for little more than a series of sex scenes, and the cover of the DVD package certainly did little to convince me otherwise. I turned out to be wrong; the movie has a theme (namely, the stranger manifestations of the battle of the sexes) and it sticks to it, as each of the sequences does deal in some way or another with sexual politics and manipulation, and not just sex per se. In fact, some of the sequences don’t even involve nudity; the opening story about a man who thinks his wife’s lover may be hidden in a trunk certainly has none. It doesn’t quite live up to the claim to be one of the strangest movies ever made, but it gets a lot closer than I thought it would. Outside of the framing device (an ancient mummy narrates the various stories), a couple of the stories do have fantastic content; the story about the photographer doing a study on torture lapses into horror before it’s all through, there’s a spy pastiche among the stories, and the story about the old woman and the greenhouse has some fantasy elements. Those catching it for the sex scenes only will be the ones most disappointed; I found myself rather intrigued and amused by the whole thing. I found this one to be much better than I thought it would be.

Signale – Ein Weltraumabenteuer (1970)

SIGNALE-EIN WELTRAUMABENTEUER (1970)
aka Signals – An Adventure in Space
Article 4101 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-8-2012
Directed by Gottfried Kolditz
Featuring Piotr Pawlowski, Yevgeni Zharikov, Gojko Mitic
Country: East Germany / Poland
What it is: An adventure in space

A spaceship disappears. Another spaceship goes out to find it.

The bare-bones plot description is just my way of saying that the movie is in unsubtitled German, and ended up being mostly incomprehensible to me; even the details I did find were mostly due to finding a few short plot descriptions. That leaves me mostly with the visual look of the movie to cover, and I will say that it does look like it’s learned a few good lessons from its no-doubt stylistic model, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The trouble is that knowing a few cinematic tricks isn’t the same thing as using them wisely, and the few this movie has learned get repeated ad nauseum; people appearing upside down in the frame and rotating camera whirls are the biggest culprits, with the latter nearly giving me dizzy spells. Once again, it’s not strictly kosher for me to comment on the story, as I couldn’t follow it, but I sense that there’s a lot of dead space and arty padding, and there’s something about how the final moments play out to give me the sense that the story isn’t particularly special in the first place. And, given this movie has a rating of 3.7 on IMDB, I suspect my instincts will prove to be right. Still, the movie has some sequences that are just plain weird; I’d like to know why we have all the footage of gymnasts on the beach, and what the animated segment (showing one character’s love affair with a beautiful woman with eyelashes half the size of her body) has to do with anything.

Sugar Cookies (1973)

SUGAR COOKIES (1973)
Article 4087 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-23-2012
Directed by Theodore Gershuny
Featuring George Shannon, Mary Woronov, Lynn Lowry
Country: USA
What it is: Erotic thriller

When a pornographer kills one of his actresses during a session of erotic games, he covers up by having the actresses’s lesbian lover provide him with an alibi. However, the lover then recruits another woman to take the place of the dead actress… but to what end?

Director Theodore Gershuny directed three films, and with this one, I have now covered all three of them. The first, FOR LOVE OR MURDER, came across as a tedious art house flick. The second, SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT was a strange little horror film that had some elements of interest. This one is probably the strangest, not to mention the most ambitious, but what do you expect when two of the producers were Oliver Stone and Lloyd Kaufman (the mastermind behind Troma films)? Given this collection of talents, it may be no surprise that the movie is a combination of exploitation and art house flick; it’s full of nudity and sex (and Mary Woronov fans will not be disappointed by this one), but it’s also slow moving and somber, though very well-acted. I’m not sure why the title was chosen for this movie; it tends to make it sound saucier and more light-hearted than it is. As for the story, it’s all right, but every plot blurb I’ve seen from this movie gives away a plot point that is supposed to be a surprise near the end of the movie, and knowing this ahead of time does decrease the satisfaction of watching it somewhat. There are other problems; for example, there’s a subplot involving the pornographer’s ex-wife and overweight son that seems to be from another movie entirely. As for whether the movie is genre or not… well, it claims to be a horror movie, but it really isn’t; the closest it comes to being one is that the pornographer isn’t particularly sane. All in all, I’m not sure how I feel about this one; I admire some touches, dislike others, and ultimately see the movie as more of an odd curiosity than anything else.

She-Devils on Wheels (1968)

SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS (1968)
Article 4086 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-22-2012
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Featuring Betty Connell, Nancy Lee Noble, Christie Wagner
Country: USA
What it is: Bikesploitation, HGL style

An all-female gang of bikers wreaks havoc and tussles with an all-male rival gang.

If you were in the mood to lay into a bad movie and wanted an easy target, you needn’t go any further than the work of Herschell Gordon Lewis; his movies usually have bad sound, atrocious acting, bad music, stupid dialogue,etc… it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s almost too easy, which is why sometimes I find myself, instead of focusing in on his shortcomings, taking a look at some of the eccentric touches in his work. In this movie, for example, I find it rather odd that one of the favorite pastimes of the motorcycle gang here is to recite poetry; granted, it’s mostly double-entendre-laden limericks, but it’s still pretty strange. Furthermore, I actually find myself rather charmed by the fake-out ending of the movie; just because you’ve reached the final credits doesn’t mean the movie is over in this case. No, it’s not a horror movie; I suspect its inclusion in at least one genre source is due to Lewis’s reputation as the Godfather of Gore, and some of the violence in this one is pretty bloody. Nevertheless, I can’t help but notice that, despite his penchant for extreme bloodletting, his taste in other exploitation elements is sometimes pretty tame; the orgy sequences here would rate no worse than a PG. And if the theme song of this movie is any indication, then Lewis is no better a song lyricist than he was as a director. At any rate, those familiar with Lewis’s oeuvre won’t be surprised by anything here, but will probably need to know that, this not being one of his horror movies, it’s far less bloody than his more famous work.

Schizo (1976)

SCHIZO (1976)
Article 4084 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-20-2012
Directed by Pete Walker
Featuring Lynne Frederick, John Leyton, Stephanie Beacham
Country: UK
What it is: Psycho thriller

When a figure skater gets married, she finds herself being stalked by a sinister figure from her past. And then the murders start…

Actually, the first half of this movie works pretty well; the acting is solid, the suspense is strong, and the movie’s gruesome reputation keeps you on edge. Once the murders start, however, I found myself dealing with one of the sure signs that there’s a big plot twist up ahead; whenever a movie goes to great lengths to establish a putative killer whose face has been seen constantly, and then keeps the face of the killer hidden during the murder sequences, you know the movie’s not to be taken at face value. Once you light on the truth of the matter, though, the story flaws start becoming apparent, and, despite the graphic nature of some of the murders, the movie starts to get a bit tiresome. The fact that the movie once again confuses schizophrenia with multiple personality certainly doesn’t win it any points, either. In the final analysis, the movie is just okay, but I suspect a shorter running time might have helped this movie quite a bit.

The Spiral Staircase (1975)

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1975)
Article 4072 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-6-2012
Directed by Peter Collinson
Featuring Jacqueline Bisset, Christopher Plummer, John Phillip Law
Country: UK
What it is: Suspense remake

A serial killer is on the loose knocking off women with handicaps. Is the woman who can’t speak (due to psychological blockage caused by the death of her husband and daughter) the next victim?

The 1946 version of this story is a suspense classic; this one could be used as a poster child for those who argue that they shouldn’t remake classics. It’s got several decent actors trying to do their best, but the script is clumsy and overwritten, and the direction is sodden and dull. It’s the type of movie that, instead of tingling your spine, it just sits on your head till you find yourself wishing that the movie would just go away and leave you alone. This is not a high point in British cinema.

The Sign of Four (1983)

THE SIGN OF FOUR (1983)
TV-Movie
Article 4062 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-24-2012
Directed by Desmond Davis
Featuring Ian Richardson, David Healy, Thorley Walters
Country: UK
What it is: Sherlock Holmes adaptation

When a beautiful woman receives a mysterious and rare diamond with a note that she has been wronged, she hires Sherlock Holmes to help unravel the mystery, which eventually leads to a long history of murder and betrayal.

The biggest mistake this adaptation of the second of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels makes is apparent right off the bat; rather than revealing the backstory as Holmes unravels the clues, we are given a sizable portion of it in the opening scenes; in other words, the “mystery” portion of this mystery is undercut. Nevertheless, I quite like this movie; the performances are solid, the atmosphere is quite strong, and it’s mostly rather faithful to the original story, with a scene involving a carnival being the primary exception. Also, because of the way it chooses to tell the story, we actual have the horror content upped somewhat, as we see a lot more of the cannibalistic pygmy character than we would otherwise. At any rate, this is a nice change of pace from all of the silent shorts I’ve been watching lately.