The Super Devil (1966)

aka L’arcidiavolo, The Devil in Love
Article 3865 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-5-2012
Posting Date: 3-14-2012
Directed by Ettore Scola
Featuring Vittorio Gassman, Claudine Augur, Mickey Rooney
Country: Italy
What it is: Diabolical comedy

In the fifteenth century, the state of peace has reduced the influx of new souls to hell to a trickle, so Satan sends up the devil Belphegor in the shape of a man (and assisted by an invisible demon known as Adramalek) to start a war between Rome and Florence. However, will his human form leave him vulnerable to human emotions?

This is a comic fantasy with a few science fiction elements as well; some of Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions come into play during the proceedings. Vittorio Gassman seems to be having the time of his life playing the cocky, fearless Belphegor, while Mickey Rooney plays his part like an older Puck; in my print, he appears to be have been dubbed into Italian. Still, the biggest problem with this movie is that for the most part, it’s a one note affair; the plot itself isn’t clever enough to really engross the viewer, the humor is mostly all on the same level, and any character development is saved for the end of the movie. It’s sporadically clever and energetic, but ultimately a bit tiresome.

Starman (1984)

STARMAN (1984)
Article 3862 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-2-2012
Posting Date: 3-11-2012
Directed by John Carpenter
Featuring Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith
Country: USA
What it is: Alien on Earth story

An alien being takes the form of a bereaved woman’s dead husband, and enlists her help to transport him to a crater in Arizona where he can return to his own world. But the government knows of his existence and plans to capture him…

I saw this movie many years ago and it didn’t make much of an impression on me then; about all I could remember was a gag involving what to do when the lights turn yellow. I like it much better now, most likely because I didn’t turn myself off to the emotional resonance of the story like I did then. It’s tempting and not entirely inaccurate to describe it as a cross between E.T. and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, but thanks to a mostly thoughtful script and two excellent performances from Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen, the movie moves beyond a mere imitation and finds its own voice. And as a movie that involves love between humans and non-humans, I certainly prefer it to SPLASH, another movie that feels very similar to this one. If I do have a little problem with it, it’s because it’s a tab overlong, a problem that could have been fixed with some tighter editing here and there; I also can’t help but notice that the main characters seem to find it a little bit too easy on occasion to enlist the help of strangers. It also seems to be setting itself up for a sequel that never came, and I do find myself wishing to know what will happen after Allen’s character has her child and what he will be like.

Splash (1984)

SPLASH (1984)
Article 3860 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-29-2012
Posting Date: 3-9-2012
Directed by Ron Howard
Featuring Tom Hanks, Darryl Hannah, Eugene Levy
Country: USA
What it is: Mermaid romantic comedy

A mermaid falls in love with a neurotic produce distributor, and he ends up falling in love with her as well. But will he still love her when he discovers her true nature?

I remember that, despite the movie having a good critical reputation, I had no desire to see it at all for the simple reason that I find mermaids to be one of the least interesting fantastic creatures of legend. And, despite the fact that the movie is not badly done, it didn’t really change my opinion on that point. As for the movie itself, I can see its appeal all right, but I find the Tom Hanks character to be rather unappealing; he’s a bit strident at times, and I find him a bit of a jerk, and I really don’t care to spend as much time with him as the movie does. From a comic perspective, my favorite actor here is Eugene Levy; I’ve always liked him from SCTV, and he does manage to make me smile and laugh more than anyone else here. I’m sure some others would opt for John Candy, but the odd thing for me is that I really don’t laugh at his work much; I admire some his character touches, and I do think he had real acting ability, but he just didn’t make me laugh. I do like the way the movie allows both the Levy and Candy characters to becomes slightly more complex as they go along, but overall, the movie is simply not a favorite of mine, though I do credit Darryl Hannah for making her own character likable enough that I cared about her.

The Stolen Voice (1915)

Article 3857 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-26-2012
Posting Date: 3-6-2012
Directed by Frank Hall Crane
Featuring Robert Warwick, Frances Nelson, George Majeroni
Country: USA
What it is: Romance / melodrama

When a society matron becomes enamored with an opera singer and his beautiful voice, her jealous lover uses hypnotic powers to strip the singer of his voice.

This one ended up on my “ones-that-got-away” list, and almost immediately upon its entry, I was pointed the way to an online copy of the movie at the George Eastman House website, thus allowing me to remove it from the list. The plot description certainly made it look like it was your standard romantic melodrama of the era, a sort of reverse take on the Svengali/Trilby story. As far as the fantastic content goes, the most interesting thing about it is that the evil doctor hypnotizes the singer from a distance rather than directly, pushing the hypnotism element even farther into the realms of fantasy. Still, what ended up really charming me about this movie were the plot developments after the singer loses his voice; he eventually makes his way into silent pictures, and a portion of the movie involves scenes of him acting in them, making this one of the first movies about movies, as well as giving us a movie-within-a-movie scene. I found this touch pretty fun, especially as it leads to one of the wittiest scenes of the movie; without giving away too much, let’s just say that one character’s demise in this movie is almost gleefully ironic. It’s these story surprises that really make this one a fun experience.

The Severed Arm (1973)

Article 3853 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-21-2012
Posting Date: 3-2-2012
Directed by Thomas S. Alderman
Featuring Deborah Walley, Paul Carr, David G. Cannon
Country: USA
What it is: Psycho killer revenge movie

When six men are trapped in a mine and are facing starvation, they draw lots to see who will give up a limb so they can eat. Minutes after the loser has his arm cut off, they are rescued, and lie about the reason the arm was amputated. The amputee swears revenge. Five years later, after the amputee is released from a mental hospital, someone begins cutting the arms off of the other men trapped in the mine…

This movie has a pretty poor reputation, and I’ll admit there are definite problems here; there are flaws in the script, the acting is merely functional at best, there’s some pretty stupid behavior going on (Why do some of the survivors try to rely on the help and advice of a relative of the alleged killer? Why does a man going to a mill in expectation that he will be attacked by the killer investigate the place while keeping all the lights off?), and the movie gives away its biggest plot twist by keeping the face of the killer in the shadows despite the fact that we meet the alleged killer in person fairly early in the story. Yet, I think there’s some decent things about this one. I like the basic premise, it does come up with some interesting suspense-generating ideas (I like the sequences where a man who may be attacked at any moment finds himself in an elevator that has a stop on every floor before he reaches his destination), and though the movie is a bit slow-moving, I never really found myself bored with it. So I’m calling this one a bit of a mixed bag, but I think overall it is worth a look.

Sette scialli di seta gialla (1972)

aka Crimes of the Black Cat
Article 3822 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2012
Posting Date: 1-31-2012
Directed by Sergio Pastore
Featuring Anthony Steffen, Sylva Koscina, Giovanna Lenzi
Country: Italy
What it is: Giallo

A murderer is killing models in Copenhagen using a black cat whose claws have been dipped in curare. A man overhears a conversation which may reveal the murderer… but he is a blind pianist who can’t visually identify the killer.

I hear there’s a version of this one out there with English subtitles, but that’s not the one I ended up with; my copy is in Italian with no subtitles. Giallo is one of those genres that is very difficult to follow under such circumstances, though a few plot descriptions here and there did give me an inkling of what was going on. One says the plot is largely copied from BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, so watching that one again may help. Based on what I could follow, this is probably a fairly decent giallo, though its stylistic touches are the type I find more irritating than enticing – specifically, its high-speed multiple zooms during the murder sequences. In terms of the gore content, this is for the most part one of the milder examples from the genre, but it’s mostly to put you off your guard; there’s a murder near the end that’s in the running for one of the most gruesome ever committed to celluloid. My favorite scene has the blind pianist drawn into a treacherous environment where his blindness may be the death of him.

The Starlost: The Beginning (1980)

TV-Movie made up of episodes from “The Starlost”
Article 3820 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2012
Posting Date: 1-29-2012
Directed by Harvey Hart
Featuring Keir Dullea, Robin Ward, Gay Rowan
Country: Canada
What it is: Episodes from a low-budget SF series

A rebel from an agrarian community discovers that his world is one of many aboard a giant space ark.. and the ark is in danger.

Despite the title, this marks the end for me… which is to say, it’s the last time I’ll be covering a movie cobbled together from episodes of the TV series “The Starlost”. I’ve been pretty harsh on this series in my other reviews, but this one has the pilot episode, “Voyage of Discovery”, which showed a bit of promise. The other episode pillaged for this was “The Goddess Calabra” which also seems to be the one of the better episodes, but you can already see the deterioration of the main characters into nonentities and the turgid pace that would plague most of the series. You know, it’s a shame this show never worked out; the central concept would have made for a decent series had the cheapness and lack of care in the production not crippled it. Still, of all of the movies I’ve seen edited from the series, this is the one that most gives me a sense of what it could have been. Well, maybe someday someone will take this idea and run with it.