Twisted Brain (1974)

aka Horror High

Article 3643 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-21-2011
Posting Date: 8-5-2011
Directed by Larry N. Stouffer
Featuring Pat Cordi, Austin Stoker, Rosie Holotik
Country: USA
What it is: Jekyll and Hyde story

A harried but powerless chemistry student discovers a potion that can change his physical appearance… and give him the ability to take vengeance on his tormentors.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that so blatantly sets up its premise that it manages to strip practically every potential surprise away from the movie within the first ten minutes. We see the student in a literature class watching a movie adaptation of the Dr. Jekyll story, and then we see the geeky weakling being tormented by teachers, janitors and other students. During this time we learn that he’s working on the above-mentioned potion. Heck, you even know how two of the tormentors are going to be killed by dint of how heavily the murder weapons are called to our attention. Then, once he confronts each of his tormentors in his new body, we get a flashback to how they tormented him just in case we forgot they were doing so. It’s best appreciated if you’ve got the attention span of a gnat; for the rest of us, it’s like doing a connect the dot puzzle when it’s blatantly obvious what the picture is going to look like before we start. Nonetheless, I’ll give the movie a little credit for coming up with one surprise; there’s a character moment where we discover that the process of killing off his tormentors is actually making him less shy and more confident, a character touch that is actually sadly disturbing in its insight. This goes to show that in even something this routine, you can occasionally find something worthwhile, and somehow that makes the process of watching all these movies seem a little more rewarding.


Trick or Treats (1982)

Article 3628 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-6-2011
Posting Date: 7-21-2011
Directed by Gary Graver
Featuring Jacqueline Giroux, Peter Jason, Chris Graver
Country: USA
What it is: Horror comedy

On Halloween, an aspiring actress takes a babysitting job for a child hooked on magic and practical jokes. However, the former husband of the child’s mother has escaped from an insane asylum and is headed for the house intent on revenge.

On the surface, the movie seems like a rip-off of HALLOWEEN, but, to its credit, it only borrows the bare bones of that movie and comes up with its own approach to the story. It is, in fact, much more of a comedy than a horror movie. That’s not to say it works; in fact, the movie is a disaster. It’s both too broad to be taken seriously and too blandly tame to be funny, the psycho is too much of a chatterbox to be scary, the familiar names in the cast (David Carradine, Carrie Snodgress, Paul Bartel) are all wasted, the succession of practical jokes that makes up the first hour of the movie is tiresome, the pacing wouldn’t challenge a snail, and the overall effect is that of muted awkwardness. The most jaw-dropping credit is seeing the name of Orson Welles as a magic consultant; apparently, director Graver and Welles were good friends. Still, this may well be one of the worst movies Welles was ever associated with.

Torture Dungeon (1970)

Article 3627 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-5-2011
Posting Date: 7-20-2011
Directed by Andy Milligan
Featuring Gerald Jacuzzo, Susan Cassidy, Patricia Dillon
Country: USA
What it is: Andy Milligan film

The evil Duke of Norwich plans to seize the throne by killing all of those who stand in his way.

Yes, it’s Andy Milligan again, and, as always, I find myself more than a bit surprised by the good things in his movies rather than the bad things. For one thing, he’s one of the few bad directors who has a talent for casting good actors; the performances throughout this movie are pretty good, though because he draws his actors from the theatre, they occasionally go over the top in ways that would work on stage but not in a movie. The problems, as usual, are in the confused script, the confused editing, and the jerky camerawork. Still, I will say one thing about this movie; it didn’t quite raise in me the same level of itchiness I get when watching most of his other movies, and that’s meant as a compliment. In fact, I’m even beginning to understand a little why he has his supporters.

The Twilight People (1973)

Article 3615 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-23-2011
Posting Date: 7-8-2011
Directed by Eddie Romero
Featuring John Ashley, Pat Woodell, Jan Merlin
Country: Philippines / USA
What it is: Filipino horror

An adventurer is kidnapped and taken to an isolated island where a scientist is performing strange experiments… and he is the next subject.

The Philippines would actually be a decent place to shoot a version of “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, if you think about it. For that matter, it would also be a good place to shoot a remake of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. However, a movie that mixes the two ideas and is shot in the Philippines by the same people who gave us the “Blood Island” movies isn’t necessarily going to turn out to be a good movie (and it isn’t), but it’s a moderately entertaining one. My version of the movie clocks in at eighty minutes, and IMDB lists the time as 84 minutes, so I wonder if there’s a few minutes missing here. If so, it might be that some of my major problems with the movie may be in the missing footage. There’s never an adequate explanation of just what the scientist is doing altogether, though the fact that he’s having humans kidnapped rather than animals does indicate that it’s doing something of a reverse on the Moreau story (and that is clearly confirmed in the final moments); still, that doesn’t explain the disembodied brains. The final confrontation between the John Ashley and Jan Merlin characters is a huge question mark; is the answer in the missing four minutes? or, did they just forget to resolve the situation? or is there some psychological nuance that I’m missing? On a more basic level, the man/animals here are just not as scary as the ones in ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, and all the bloodshed in the world (and there’s plenty in this movie) can’t fix this problem. The scenes of the Bat Man flying around are actually a little better than I thought they would be, though. And if anyone can figure out just what type of animal that one woman is supposed to be (the one known as Angel with the halo), they’re welcome to explain it to me.

Time Warp (1981)

TIME WARP (1981)

Article 3614 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-22-2011
Posting Date: 7-7-2011
Directed by Robert Emenegger and Allan Sandler
Featuring Chip Johnson, Adam West, Gretchen Corbett
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction comedy

An astronaut is sent out to investigate reports of a black hole. However, the military Colonel who sent him out on the mission is infatuated with the astronaut’s wife, and he rigs the mission so the astronaut won’t come back alive. However, the astronaut does manage to come back to earth, but only after going through a time warp that puts him a year into the future… and renders him invisible and unable to be heard by all around him.

I went into this one expecting the worst, and was quite surprised to discover that it was a comedy; the DVD that has the movie makes no mention of this. Amazingly enough, its being a comedy may be its biggest saving grace. This is not to say that it’s a good comedy; it isn’t, and it is mostly very awkward. However, every once in a while there’s a clever or funny idea that cuts through the awkwardness; for example, I like the idea that he can only communicate with those around him with the help of animals. Still, these are only small touches and passing moments, but I suspect that as a drama this would have been just consistently dull, and, as it is, there are a few decent moments at least. Nevertheless, I can’t recommend this one.

To Kill a Clown (1972)

Article 3577 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-11-2011
Posting Date: 5-31-2011
Directed by George Bloomfield
Featuring Alan Alda, Blythe Danner, Heath Lamberts
Country: USA
What it is: Psycho movie

A couple rents a beachside house in an isolated area from a crippled Vietnam vet who lives next door. They soon discover that their landlord is not quite sane… and that his dobermans obey his every command.

I don’t know when the concept of a psychotic Vietnam veteran became a movie cliche, but I don’t think it was quite this early in the game. At any rate, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill psycho, and Alan Alda gives one of his most interesting performances here in the role of the veteran. One does sense there’s something a little wrong with him early on, but it’s not until the veteran and the husband engage in a game that is supposed to teach the husband how to “focus” that we start getting a real sense of the veteran’s madness. The couple themselves have some real problems, and their relationship is quite complex. As a result, there are some really interesting moments in the movie, and in some ways it reminds me of CUL-DE-SAC. The movie does have a few problems; it’s too slow at times, and certain scenes don’t seem to have a point. Its worst problem, however, is its ending; for some reason, it is totally unsatisfying in that it leaves so much unresolved, and I came out of it with the feeling that the movie doesn’t really know what it’s trying to be. The movie was based on a novel by Algis Budrys.

Thunderbirds to the Rescue (1981)

Article 3535 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-25-2011
Posting Date: 4-19-2011
Directed by Alan Patillo and Desmond Saunders
Featuring the voices of Peter Dyneley, Sylvia Anderson, Shane Rimmer
Country: UK
What it is: Puppet action

The members of the International Rescue Organization try to save an airplane from certain destruction in the form of a bomb, and then must figure out why aircraft have suddenly began disappearing mysteriously.

I’ve not seen the “Thunderbirds” TV series; I’ve only seen the two movie offshoots of it and this, a movie cobbled together from two episodes of the series. One thing that struck me when I was watching the movies and struck me again when I watched this was the way it tries to avoid feeling like a puppet show; it’s shot in such a way that you can imagine it wouldn’t look that much different if the show had been made with live actors. The two episodes edited together here are “Trapped in the Sky” and “Operation Crash-Dive”; the first one was the pilot for the series, and, if the IMDB ratings can be trusted, may be the best episode of the series, while the other one is a direct sequel to that episode, making it a good second episode to combine with the first. The first half is indeed the better episode, as it actually builds up a decent amount of suspense in the rescue effort, especially during final rescue attempt. One could argue that the characters are wooden, but character isn’t really the point; it was an action series, after all, and it keeps itself moving on that level. Things only really drag when the movie gets a little too enamored with its hardware, but that doesn’t happen frequently enough here to be a problem. Actually, it’s not a bad introduction to the series.