Snuff (1976)

SNUFF (1976)
Article 3681 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-28-2011
Posting Date: 9-12-2011
Directed by Michael Findlay
Featuring Margarita Amuchastegui, Ana Carro, Liliana Fernandez Blanco
Country: Argentina / USA / Canada
What it is: Manson inspired gore film

Female bikers follow a charismatic leader who plans to have them break into an estate and slaughter everyone there.

Though it’s not strictly kosher to judge a movie by its ad campaign and publicity, there are times where it’s very tempting, and this is a definite example. Director Michael Findlay had made a Manson-inspired film called THE SLAUGHTER which was so bad that it sat on the shelf for five years before he pulled it out, edited in a four minute sequence at the end in which the camera shows the crew shooting the movie engaged in the torture, murder and disembowelment of another crew member; the publicity then claimed that the sequence was film of a real murder. This was certainly the most cynical and crass movie marketing campaign in history. As for the movie itself, it’s easy to see why THE SLAUGHTER sat on the shelf; it’s aimless, pointless, dull and irritating, and it never gets more stupid than when it tries to be meaningful. When you get right down to it, the footage from the earlier movie only serves as seventy-five minutes of filler to lead in to the last scene, which was shot only for the marketing to have something to play with. In the face of this, criticism seems beside the point. My main reaction ultimately is that I’m glad I did not go the movie theater and sit with an audience of people hoping they were going to see a real-life murder; I think this would have creeped me out more than anything in the movie itself.

I’m glad this one is out of the way.

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Strange Invaders (1983)

STRANGE INVADERS (1983)
Article 3661 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-8-2011
Posting Date: 8-23-2011
Directed by Michael Laughlin
Featuring Paul Le Mat, Nancy Allen, Diana Scarwid
Country: USA
What it is: The Aliens are among us

When his ex-wife vanishes after leaving their daughter in his care, a professor decides to visit his ex-wife’s hometown to look for her. Everyone in the town is slightly hostile and no one claims to know his wife. When he is prevented from leaving town and his car is destroyed, he begins to realize that the town is populated by space aliens.

When I first saw the movie years ago, a big deal was made about it being a homage to the science fiction movies from the fifties. I was disappointed with it then, largely because it lacked that certain vibe I get from science fiction movies from that era; it feels too much like an eighties movie. In terms of plot elements, one can draw parallels; though I hear INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS mentioned a lot in comparison with this one, I think it would be closer to say that it’s a reworking of I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, one in which the marriage actually resulted in a child (and the movie is enough like a fifties movie to leave the details of that transaction to your imagination). Watching it again, I still feel somewhat dissatisfied; I think the main problem I have is that the movie doesn’t seem to know what effect it’s trying for. It tries to be funny, scary, suspenseful, mysterious, and have a sense of wonder, but it does all of these things only slightly, and the overall effect is rather bland. My favorite performance comes from Kenneth Tobey as the leader of the aliens, though I also like Michael Lerner as an asylum resident who also had an encounter with the aliens. All in all, I thought it was a nice try, but it doesn’t really work.

Son of Dracula (1974)

SON OF DRACULA (1974)
Article 3660 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-7-2011
Posting Date: 8-22-2011
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, Dennis Price
Country: UK
What it is: Odd horror musical

The Son of Count Dracula is slated to become King of the Netherworld, but there’s a problem; he wants to give up his vampiric ways and become human.

I once put forth the theory that any movie that features the character of Merlin the Magician that does not also feature the character of King Arthur is going to be awful. Of those that I’ve seen, this is the movie that comes closest to proving me wrong; the movie is not what I’d call “good”, but it’s not quite awful. The problem is that it’s such a curious and odd movie that I’m not quite sure what I think of it. It was produced by Ringo Starr (who plays Merlin) and stars rock star Harry Nilsson in the title role. Nilsson’s performance is not awful, but it seems obvious that he’s not an actor, and this shows especially when he shares the scene with the likes of Dennis Price or Freddie Jones. Ringo actually does okay as Merlin; despite the stereotypical wizard costume, he plays the character fairly straight. The cast also features Keith Moon, Peter Frampton, Leon Russell, Klaus Voorman and John Bonham, but they essentially play members of Nilsson’s band and only perform as musicians. The story weaves in Dr. Frankenstein, Van Helsing, a werewolf, the Frankenstein monster, and a mummy into the plot. It’s not scary, but it’s not really trying to be, and though I’ve heard it described as a comedy, it’s not particularly funny, either. However, the music is very good, and perhaps that’s why, whenever the plot comes to a standstill for another song, it doesn’t bother me. According to IMDB, David Bowie was originally considered for the Nilsson role; I wonder how different the movie would have ended up in that case.

Seizure (1974)

SEIZURE (1974)
Article 3659 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-6-2011
Posting Date: 8-21-2011
Directed by Oliver Stone
Featuring Jonathan Frid, Martine Beswick, Joseph Sirola
Country: Canada / USA
What it is: One man’s nightmare

A horror writer discovers that three of his creations have come to vivid life… and are holding him, his family and some houseguests as prisoners with the intent of leaving only one of them alive.

Ever wonder who would win in a battle to the death between Jonathan Frid and Mary Woronov? Or who would win in a battle between Jonathan Frid and Herve Villichaize? Well, this movie gives us a chance to see how Oliver Stone sees these battles playing out; it was his first full-length movie as a director and a writer. I’ve heard it described as incoherent, but once you realize that the nightmarish scenario is really only directed at a single person, the movie doesn’t seem quite that impenetrable. The cast also features Martine Beswick as the Queen of Evil and Troy Donahue as one of the guests, but the performance I liked best came from the lesser-known Roger De Koven, whose philosophical musings on the situation at hand really give the movie some depth; my favorite scene has him discussing the nature of the three evil menaces (a sinister midget, a beautiful but deadly woman and a large black executioner) in terms of their historical sources. The movie isn’t great, but it’s got some interesting touches, and it’s nice to see that Stone tried at least a little to alleviate the groan factor of a cliched ending that I saw coming at about the halfway point in the movie; after all, once you figure out what it is, you have a really good idea where it’s going.

Super-Hooper-Dyne Lizzies (1925)

SUPER-HOOPER-DYNE LIZZIES (1925)
Short

Article 3658 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-5-2011
Posting Date: 8-20-2011
Directed by Del Lord
Featuring Billy Bevan, Andy Clyde, Lillian Knight
Country: USA
What it is: Car comedy

An inventor devises a way to run automobiles without gasoline, much to the chagrin of a gas merchant.

I almost reviewed an Andy Clyde short a few weeks back, but it turned out it wasn’t the movie I was looking for but just shared a title with it. So it’s nice to run into him again into this silent short, though Billy Bevan gets the lead listing. It’s a pretty bizarre comedy, and often very fun; my favorite sequence has the inventor’s assistant (Bevan) pushing a car with an empty gas tank home and inadvertently destroying several other cars in the process. On top of the science fiction aspects of the story, the short even ventures into horror territory when the gas merchant sneaks into the inventor’s house at night in order to destroy his machine, and then mistaking the inventor and his friends (who were at a costume party) as ghosts and demons. Sadly, this part of the short tries to get most of its laughs with the stereotypical “scared black man”, once again played by someone in blackface. And for those people who are up on their American history, they’ll get the joke of a character named “T. Potter Doam”.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)

STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
Article 3657 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2011
Posting Date: 8-19-2011
Directed by Richard Marquand
Featuring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Country: USA
What it is: Space opera

Luke Skywalker and his friends embark on a mission to save Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hut, and then they must face a final showdown with Darth Vader and the Empire.

A giant monster lies dead. Some men enter the room, and one big shirtless man, obviously the monster’s keeper, looks at it, turns to one of the other men and starts to cry.

If you’ve seen this final episode of the original trilogy in the Star Wars franchise, you probably remember that scene. I mention it specifically because when I was watching it this time, I realized how much light, humorous moments like this defined just how much fun the original trilogy was. This is the third time I’ve seen this movie. The second time was many years ago, and I watched it then with the sort of sad realization that it was the last and least of the series; this was long before the prequel trilogy emerged. This time, I found myself watching the movie with that later trilogy in mind, and I really found myself wondering that, when the time comes for me to revisit that later trilogy, if I was going to light on little favorite moments like this. Somehow, I don’t think so; to my mind, the later trilogy lost that lightness of touch and became mired in its own mythology to the point that the series just wasn’t much fun anymore. As a result, I found myself enjoying this one quite a bit.

Nevertheless, I do still think of it as the weakest of the original trilogy. The first third of the movie is for me the strongest part of it; I like the various creature designs, and I like the way the plot bit by bit weaves in all of the major characters one by one. I’m not quite as down on the Ewoks as some other people are, but then, I have a high tolerance for teddy bears as long as they don’t have rainbows on their bellies and the word “Care” in front of them. But they are a little more cute than is strictly necessary, and the middle of the movie does drag a bit. My biggest disappointment is that the climax of the movie involves another assault on another Death Star; it leaves me with the feeling that the series was really starting to run short of new ideas. And I do want to say that I really liked Ian McDiarmid’s performance as the Emperor, at least for the reason that I rarely hear any mention made of him or his performance in the movie. And, for the record, I watched the original theatrical release of the movie, rather than one of the “digitally enhanced” versions.

Short Stories of Love (1974)

SHORT STORIES OF LOVE (1974)
aka Rex Harrison Presents Stories of Love

TV-Movie
Article 3655 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-2-2011
Posting Date: 8-17-2011
Directed by John Badham, Arnold Laven, and Jeannot Szwarc
Featuring Rex Harrison, Bill Bixby, Lloyd Bochner
Country: USA
What it is: Anthology series pilot

Rex Harrison presents three short story adaptations on the subject of love. The first involves a shy computer programmer who discovers that the supercomputer he has been working on can write love poetry, and he uses the poems to woo a female co-worker. The second involves a man from the air force who meets and falls in love with a movie usherette, unaware that the woman has a secret. The third involves a French shopkeeper who agrees to help an American painter who loves the shopkeeper’s daughter to sell his paintings… especially when he sees the painter has made a stunning copy of a Watteau.

I always feel a bit antsy when I’m watching a movie anthology that isn’t specifically geared to the genres; I’m always a little afraid that it will turn out to be a false lead and have no fantastic content. However, in this one, two of the stories do hinge on the genres. The first one features Bill Bixby, and is based on the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. short story EPICAC, and is clearly science fiction; despite a rather far-fetched premise, it’s rather endearing and even moving towards the end. The second is based on a Daphne Du Maurier story called KISS ME AGAIN STRANGER, and given that radio announces early on that a serial killer is on the loose who preys on men from the air force, it’s clear that the second one has some horror touches as well. This one features Leonard Nimoy and Juliet Mills; both do quite well, though Nimoy can’t quite hold on to his British accent. The third (Somerset Maugham’s THE FORTUNATE PAINTER) is likable enough and has some fun performances in it from Lorne Greene, Agnes Moorehead and Alan Hale Jr., but it has no fantastic content, and it is also the one that least fits in with the others, as the theme of love seems more of a side issue than the main focus of the story. Still, overall it’s an interesting combination of stories, and it might have been interesting to see what the series would have been like had the pilot sold.