Tourist Trap (1979)

Article 4535 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-15-2014
Directed by David Schmoeller
Featuring Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness
Country: USA
What it is: Horror thriller

A group of teenagers on a trip find themselves stranded at a remote rustic museum full of wax figures with a madman on the loose… and the latter has telekinetic powers.

The basic premise here is a very familiar seventies/eighties horror theme; young people in a remote isolated location being threatened by one or more homicidal maniacs; the telekinetic ability could be just an added twist to the mix. There’s also a number of plot twists that certainly won’t be surprising. Nevertheless, there’s a downright strange vibe to this one that sets it apart from the mix. It’s anchored by an interesting performance by Chuck Connors, who finds levels and quirks in his character that you don’t often see in horror movies. It also turns oddly comic at unexpected times, and the mood switch is a bit jarring, but perhaps not inappropriately so. The telekinesis is mostly used to make the various mannequins and wax figures come to life, an effect which is distinctly eerie. It doesn’t quite hit the heights of horror it aspires to, but it is fascinatingly eerie, and is quite watchable. This one was really a lot better than I expected.

Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982)

Article 4531 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-11-2014
Directed by William Dear
Featuring Fred Ward, Belinda Bauer, Peter Coyote
Country: USA
What it is: Time travel story

A motorcyclist is caught up in a time travel experiment and is sent 105 years into the past. He meets a girl. Villains see his bike and want it for their own. Stuff happens.

There’s some mildly diverting motorcycle stunt work in the movie. The acting is adequate, and the cussing in the script, unlike that of TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING, doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. It’s also interesting to note the presence of former Monkee Michael Nesmith in several production capacities, including co-writer and uncredited co-producer. I also do not hate this movie, which is a good thing. I do think, however, that there really isn’t very much to the story here; it’s basically about a guy who goes into the past with a modern invention (the motorcycle), and a bunch of villains from the past try to get hold of the invention, and, with the exception of a not-entirely-original time paradox twist near the very end, it is utterly predictable. As far as I can tell, this is one of those movies that is simply not special in any way.

2069: A Sex Odyssey (1974)

2069: A SEX ODYSSEY (1974)
aka Ach jodel mir noch einen – Stosstrupp Venus blast zum Angriff
Article 4530 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-10-2014
Directed by Georg Tressler
Featuring Nina Frederik, Catharina Conti, Heidrun Hankammer
Country: West Germany / Austria
What it is: Sex comedy (as if you couldn’t guess)

Five women from Venus land on Earth with a mission to gather as much spermatozoa as they can. They land near a small German village where they are mistaken for a French ski team. Many encounters ensue.

Once again, I find myself pointing out that it is my desire to be comprehensive in my coverage of the fantasy/horror/science fiction genres, and this does lead me to certain films I wouldn’t bother with otherwise, and this takes me once again into the realm of sexploitation. On that level, this one is rather mild; it only garners an R rating. That’s one of the two surprises in the movie; the other is that it is a hair funnier than I expected it would be, but then, I didn’t expect it to be funny at all (though I certainly expected it to try). Beyond that, this movie is pretty much at the level you’d expect. This one is checked off; let’s move on.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

Article 4529 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-9-2014
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Featuring Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Roscoe Lee Browne
Country: USA / West Germany
What it is: Political thriller

A former Air Force general, jailed under trumped-up charges, escapes from prison with a couple of men and manages to infiltrate a missile base. He then threatens to launch nine nuclear missiles to start World War III if his demands aren’t met, one of which is that a secret document describing the ulterior motives for Vietnam war is released to the public.

This had the potential to be a truly nail-biting thriller; unfortunately, the movie never realizes that potential. There are various reasons for this, and at least one of them is that several usually dependable actors disappoint in their performances, including Burt Lancaster (who I usually really like) and Charles Durning; for some reason, Lancaster’s character never becomes compellingly real, and Durning fails to convince as a president. There are also a number of scenes that strike very false notes, not least of which is the scene where the secrets of the document are finally revealed. The movie has also one of the worst cases of what I believed Roger Ebert referred to as the phenomenon of “Mamet Dammit”; there is a lot of cussing in the script, but it all sounds forced and fake. These problems, combined with an overuse of unnecessary split screen and a length of two and a half hours, conspire to make this movie almost interminable. Ultimately, the movie failed to convince, and despite a handful of good performances (including those of Melvyn Douglas and Joseph Cotten), it never takes off. I was very disappointed.

They Might Be Giants (1974)

Article 4528 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-8-2014
Directed by Anthony Harvey
Featuring George C. Scott, Joanne Woodward, Jack Gilford
Country: USA
What it is: Odd comic romance

A female psychiatrist by the name of Watson takes on the task of treating a man who is under the delusion that he is Sherlock Holmes, and, towards that end, she follows him in an adventure where he seeks the whereabouts of his enemy, Moriarty.

James Goldman originally wrote this as a stage play, but after its initial production, he withdrew the play, feeling that he never quite got it right. The fact that he wrote the screenplay for this movie version does seem to indicate that he didn’t quite give up on it. Still, I can see what he means; there’s something about this meditation on Sherlock Holmes as filtered through the sensibility of “Don Quixote” that doesn’t quite come together. Whatever its flaws, however, the acting is not at fault; both George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward are wonderful in their respective roles, and there are some wonderful moments here. Two of my favorite moments include a scene where Scott’s character manages to make a non-speaking mental patient finally open up and talk, and the wonderful, if ambiguous, ending where he finds what he’s looking for. The theme of the madmen being saner than the supposedly normal people of the world isn’t particularly novel, especially in the anti-establishment countercultural world of the early seventies, but I find myself wondering if that was the theme of the original play from ten years earlier; nevertheless, Scott’s acting abilities give it a fascination and a depth that make the theme resonate. The fantastic content is a little tougher to pin down; we do have the theme of madness here, and the ending may lend itself to a fantastic interpretation. At any rate, I’ve developed a definite love for this movie, and I’d like to read the play version, if I ever get a chance.

Torgus (1921)

TORGUS (1921)
aka Verlogene Moral, Torgus the Coffin Maker
Article 4472 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-12-2014
Directed by Hanns Kobe
Featuring Gerd Fricke, Ferdinand Gregori, Eugen Klopfer
Country: Germany
What it is: Drama

A strict aunt plans to send her nephew away to agricultural school, only to learn that one of her maids is pregnant with the nephew’s child. She sends the nephew away and hides the maid in the house of a local coffin-maker, and then steals the baby away from the maid after it is born.

For the most part, there is certainly nothing here that would make this rather dark drama qualify as a horror movie. However, there is a final macabre turn to the tale that pushes it into horror territory, and that’s why it’s being covered here. This one was quite difficult to find, and the only copy I’ve been able to acquire is in very poor condition; this makes it a little difficult to follow, and though I’ve heard that it has some of the same expressionistic style of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, it’s hard to confirm that with this print. I quite liked it overall; it’s a sad tale of cruelty and tragedy, and even with the print in the condition it is, it retains some of its power.

The Treasure of the Petrified Forest (1965)

aka Il tesoro della foresta pietrificata
Article 4451 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-15-2014
Directed by Emimmo Salvi
Featuring Gordon Mitchell, Ivica Pajer, Eleanora Bianchi
Country: Italy
What it is: Norse epic

Evil viking Hunding seeks the Sword of the Nibelungen, which is hidden in the petrified forest. It is up to Siegmund, son of Wotan and leader of the Nibelungen, to prevent him from getting it.

Though I can’t quite think of this one as a sword-and-sandal movie, it’s pretty much in the same mode. It takes place in the same fantasy world as the Nibelungen myth, but I think those seeking it for its fantastic content will be disappointed; Siegmund may be the son of Wotan, but he has no superpowers; the Valkyries (who decide who will live and die in battle and take the dead to Valhalla) mostly ride around on horses and shoot bows and arrows in battles that they are not supposed to be involved in, and if the sought-after sword has any powers at all, all that manifested itself in the movie is that you can run someone through with it, a power that it seems any sword might have. In fact, outside of the presence of a soothsayer who makes some predictions, almost all of the fantastic content is merely talked about rather than shown. As for the movie itself, it seems to be mostly an endless series of battle scenes fleshing out a story of little consequence. However, I will say that this movie convinced me that Gordon Mitchell is probably better cast as a villain as he is here than he is as a hero; he has the ability to project an effective streak of cruelty that is on display here. There’s lots of carnage, the usual betrayals, a comic-relief dwarf, and very little in the way of surprises.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976)

Article 4431 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-26-2014
Directed by Charles B. Pierce
Featuring Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells
Country: USA
What it is: Based-on-a-true-story serial killer thriller

In 1946, a serial killer began a reign of terror in the town of Texarkana. A famous Texas ranger leads the investigate to catch him.

Charles B. Pierce wasn’t a particularly good director, but he had a good handle on how authentic locations and local color could enhance a movie, and he knows enough about how to keep you on the edge of your seat to get by. When the movie embraces its semi-documentary approach and keeps the tone serious, it works quite well. Unfortunately, the script makes a big mistake; instead of concentrating on focusing on the details of the investigation of the killings, it tends to gloss over them and shift the attention to a comic relief character played by the director himself. The character isn’t so bad that he becomes intolerable, but his scenes are so poorly integrated into the main story that they reveal themselves for the padding they are. That’s a real shame; I’d rather have been presented with a real-life investigation of the murders, and had the movie gone for that, there would have been no need for the padding. Still, the tension, suspense and horror are strong enough to compensate for this, but I do feel it’s merely a good movie when it could have been a great one.

La terrificante notte del demonio (1971)

aka The Devil’s Nightmare, La plus longue nuit du diable
Article 4422 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-14-2014
Directed by Jean Brismee
Featuring Erika Blanc, Jean Servais, Daniel Emilfork
Country: Belgium / Italy
What it is: Offbeat Eurohorror

A group of tourists are forced to spend the night at the castle of a Baron whose family lives under a curse; the daughters born into the family are succubi.

If there’s one thing I can say about this movie, it’s that it recognizes that the devil isn’t just after your life; it’s after your soul as well. And since the seven people staying at the castle represent the seven deadly sins, their demises happen when they’re deepest in the throes of whichever particular sin is their one of choice. It gives the movie an interesting vibe, which is a good thing, as it helps compensate for the occasionally lethargic pacing and the fact that it takes quite a while before things really start moving. It even manages to throw some surprising and interesting twists as the movie nears its end. Still, you have a lot of the usual Eurohorror setpieces, including the obligatory and unnecessary lesbian sex scene. It’s a mixed bag, but I do like that it does have a few surprises up its sleeve.

2019: After the Fall of New York (1983)

aka 2019 – Dopo la caduta di New York
Article 4388 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-9-2013
Directed by Sergio Martino
Featuring Michael Sopkiw, Valentine Monnier, George Eastman
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Post-apocalyptic action

After the apocalypse, all women have been rendered sterile by radiation. What remains of the American government recruits a loner to infiltrate New York (under the control of an invading foreign power), find the only fertile woman left on the planet, and get her out of there so they can save the human race.

As should be fairly obvious, the movie is one of the many clones of THE ROAD WARRIOR and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, with Michael Sopkiw playing a Mad Max/Snake Plissken role. As such, it doesn’t score any big points on originality, and it has its share of problems, with the jittery, hard-to-follow action sequences being one of them. Still, amid the very familiar elements, it does have a few interesting touches. My favorite of these is that the sterility of the human race ends up having a side effect of causing a resentment of dwarfs because of their resemblance to children; the latter have a hidden colony in the sewers of the city. It also shows a certain tenderness and a sense of philosophy on occasion; yes, these touches don’t always work, but given that the rest of the movie is non-stop action, I’m a little surprised they exist. As a result, though the movie is nowhere near as good as its models, it isn’t a total waste of time either, and those with a weak spot for this type of movie will like this one all right.