Terminal Island (1973)

Article 3107 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-25-2009
Posting Date: 2-15-2010
Directed by Stephanie Rothman
Featuring Don Marshall, Phyllis Davis, Ena Hartman
Country: USA
What it is: Exploitation actioner masquerading as social science fiction

In the future, the death penalty has been outlawed. Murderers are sent to an inescapable island to live out the rest of their lives with other murderers. Much carnage ensues.

I may be misremembering, but I think I recall having read an article once that talked about the social and political subtexts of this movie. I’m not surprised; the central concept lends itself strongly to finding just those types of subtexts, and the opening sequence of the movie (which features short man-on-the-street interviews and cynical TV newsmen) certainly taps into them. Once we reach the island, though, the movie heads straight into exploitation-style action flick territory and doesn’t look back. It ends up a bit like a cross between a women’s prison picture (four of the murderers are women, and they get the lion’s share of the screen time) and your basic jungle action flick; I was tempted to compare it to THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, but the plot doesn’t match. It basically turns into a standoff between the good murderers and the bad murderers. Those who find this kind of shtick satisfying will like it most, and “Magnum P.I.” fans may want to catch Tom Selleck and Roger E. Mosley working together before that series. The oddest thing to me about this movie is that it ends on a rather upbeat note, which, given the context, is pretty surprising, because the concept is inherently cynical; in order for it to work, the government will need to only send good (as in non-evil) murderers to the island, and what’s the likelihood of that happening?


Terror From Under the House (1971)

aka Revenge, Inn of the Frightened People
Article 3102 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-20-2009
Posting Date: 2-10-2010
Directed by Sidney Hayers
Featuring Joan Collins, James Booth, Ray Barrett
Country: UK
What it is: Drama / thriller with horrific undertones

When a child molester is released by the police for lack of evidence, an innkeeper (whose child was murdered) joins forces with a another man to kidnap the suspect and force a confession out of him. However, things don’t run smoothly…

The horror content of this thriller is the presence of a serial child molester, and there are definite horrific touches when we visit the home of the molester for a short time in the movie. However, the main plot of the movie revolves around how the kidnapping and the subsequent complications causes the lives of all concerned to spiral out of control. Most of the spiraling involves the central family, consisting of the innkeeper, his second wife, his son, and his surviving daughter. As it turns out, this family isn’t in the best shape to begin with; the daughter resents her stepmother, and the second wife is a little too friendly with… but it’s best not to give too much away on this point. Combine this with the fact that the kidnapped molester is being held hostage in the basement of a bar with visitors every night, the second man involved with the kidnapping is undependable, the kidnapped man may not be the person they want, and everyone’s emotions are on a hair trigger to begin with, and you have a recipe for disaster. The movie’s potential strength should be the way it taps into fears that this is something that actually might happen to you under similar circumstances, but this is a little marred by the fact that the family is just a little too dysfunctional for the necessary sense of universality. Nevertheless, it’s rather intriguing (and even a little bit darkly comic) to watch how things spin out of control and everyone starts unraveling. Considering the subject matter, the movie isn’t near as explicit as it could have been (it had a PG rating here), but the inherent unpleasantness is there nonetheless. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but I think it works more than it doesn’t, and is worth a watch.

Target for Killing (1966)

aka Das Geheimnis der gelben Monche
Article 3070 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-3-2009
Posting Date: 1-9-2009
Directed by Manfred R. Kohler
Featuring Stewart Granger, Karin Dor, Rupert Davies
Country: Italy / Austria / West Germany
What is is: More spyghetti

A secret agent becomes involved with a woman who is set to inherit a fortune… and is also the target of assassins.

I like this Eurospy outing a little more than yesterday’s, largely because I find Stewart Granger’s take on a Bondian superspy to be a real hoot. The story is a little unusual, as it’s less concerned with the evil spy organization’s other activities than it is with its single assassination attempt, which is, of course, a bid to get a hold of her imminent fortune. Still, many of the same elements are there, and this one has two elements that are similar to yesterday’s; the criminal organization works out of an abandoned monastery, and rats play into the storyline. The cast here also features Klaus Kinski in an interesting if abbreviated role as an unpredictable hit man, and Adolfo Celi as someone other than the primary villain. There’s some funny scenes here; I like the one in which Granger tries to cover up his job as a secret agent by telling the local police he’s a snake fancier, only to discover that the head of the police is actually one of them, and is then is forced to contend with a snake he’s been told is deadly poisonous. The fantastic content is less central to the plot, but it is there; the criminal organization uses a sort of telepathic hypnotism to bring its victims under control.

Tainstvenny Ostrov (1941)

aka Mysterious Island
Article 3067 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-30-2009
Posting Date: 1-6-2009
Directed by Eduard Penslin
Featuring A. Krasnopolsky, Pavel Kiyansky, A. Andriyenko-Zemskov
Country: Soviet Union
What is is: Jules Verne adventure story adaptation with science fiction elements

Some civil war prisoners make an escape in a hot-air balloon and end up on a deserted island, but mysterious events lead them to believe they are not alone on the island…

I really shouldn’t be surprised to discover that the Soviet Union did an adaptation of this novel, but I am anyway. I know the reason for this; Jules Verne has always struck me as being a distinctly American author, which is of course incorrect – he was French. Nonetheless, I always sensed an American air to his work, and the fact that the protagonists of this story are Americans underscores this. I’d have to say at this point that this may be the most faithful version of the Verne story I’ve seen to date; it is bereft of many of the additional fantastic touches (undersea creatures, giant chickens, miniskirt-wearing Venusians) that have popped up in the other adaptations I’ve seen. Granted, it’s not totally faithful; it’s been a while since I’ve read the novel, but I don’t remember any youngsters being along, and I’m also suspicious about the domesticated ape subplot. Furthermore, since my print is in unsubtitled Russian, I have no idea what the characters are actually saying, and I wouldn’t be surprised were I to discover that the story had been politicized to reflect a more Soviet way of thinking. Nevertheless, this looks like a solid version of the story, and the final scenes (in which we find out why it’s a sequel to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”) are quite memorable.

Track of the Moon Beast (1976)

Article 3059 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-22-2009
Posting Date: 12-29-2009
Directed by Richard Ashe
Featuring Chase Cordell, Leigh Drake, Gregorio Sala
Country: USA
What it is: Wolf Man variation of the lizard variety

A geologist is hit by a meteor from the moon. A piece of it lodges in his brain, and he turns into a murderous lizard monster on a nightly basis.

This movie sat on the shelf for four years before it found a distributor. That’s no surprise; it’s a tired variation on THE WOLF MAN, badly scripted, flatly directed and atrociously acted. The most striking thing I noticed about it is that the director must have also seen THE LEOPARD MAN; he borrows a key moment from that movie, though he doesn’t handle it near as well as it was in that one. The dialogue runs from the trite and cliched (“Why did this have to happen to you?”) to the ludicrous (“Moon Rocks? Oh, wow!”). It might be good for a laugh, but little else.

Time After Time (1979)

Article 3058 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-21-2009
Posting Date: 12-28-2009
Directed by Nicholas Meyer
Featuring Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen
Country: USA
What it is: Time travel story with horror overtones and a comic edge

Writer H.G. Wells is appalled to discover that one of his closest friends is actually the notorious Jack the Ripper… and is doubly shocked to discover that that friend has stolen his time machine to continue his murders in the future. Fortunately, the time machine returns to its original time, and H.G. Wells uses it to go to the future and track down Jack the Ripper.

This has long been one of my favorite time travel movies. I find the premise clever, I like the juxtaposition of two historical characters thrust into modern times, and having them try to adjust to how the actual future diverges from their views of it. All three leads are excellent; both Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen are engaging, and David Warner is the perfect choice to play Jack the Ripper. The movie has a fair amount of humor, especially with Wells trying to come to terms with such modern conveniences as telephones, cars, garbage disposals, and fast-food restaurants. It has its social commentary as well; when Jack the Ripper shows Wells all the violence on TV and describes himself as an ‘amateur’, we get the point. It’s quite scary on occasion, especially when the Ripper discovers how Wells got his address. One thing I noted with this viewing; the scenes in England actually feel like they’re from movies from the late fifties or early sixties (when the original version of THE TIME MACHINE was made), and it doesn’t start feeling like a modern movie until H.G. Wells reaches the present day. In between we get the time travel sequence, which looks like the stargate sequence in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and I couldn’t help but feel how that made a perfect bridge from the earlier movie style to the later one. My favorite moment is when H.G. Wells replaces his broken glasses.

Till Dawn Do Us Part (1972)

aka Straight on Till Morning
Article 3055 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-18-2009
Posting Date: 12-25-2009
Directed by Peter Collinson
Featuring Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant, James Bolam
Country: UK
What it is: Offbeat Hammer psychothriller

A plain young woman dreams that her life can become like the fairy tales she writes. She leaves home and goes to live in London to find the man of her dreams. She is eventually drawn to a young man who lives in a big house and who has a Peter Pan infatuation, and she moves in. But the man is not sane…

The first part of this movie uses a lot of jagged fast-paced editing which makes it a little difficult (though far from impossible) to get to know the characters and their situations. This is surprisingly effective, because it puts the viewer on edge despite the fact that it takes a while for the thriller aspects to really manifest themselves. The story is highly character-driven, and the movie takes the time to establish and develop those characters. Rita Tushingham is excellent as the neurotic, fragile woman who is drawn into the web of a man who she doesn’t even recognize as a threat because their respective fantasy fixations dovetail so neatly. The movie eventually settles down into a more straightforward style, and the story almost becomes predictable, but it still has some surprises even after this point. The movie does turn the screws very nicely, and it makes the psychosis of Shane Briant’s character seem real. My biggest problem with the movie is the ambiguously downbeat ending; we’ve become so attached to the central female character that it’s unsatisfying for it to end this way. Incidentally, the title that I watched this under is obviously one of those that have been tacked on for a video release of some sort; the freeze-frame and cheesy graphics when it appears are a dead giveaway. I much prefer the original title, STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING, which will become quiet clear once the Peter Pan references start to crop up. All in all, this is an interesting if really odd movie from Hammer.