The Witches and the Grinnygog (1983)

Article 2730 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-27-2008
Posting Date: 2-2-2009
Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence
Featuring Paul Curtis, Hilda Fenemore, Eva Griffiths
Country: UK

In a small English town, a gargoyle-like statue falls off of a truck hauling debris from an old church, and ends up in an old man’s garden as an ornament. It turns out the appearance of the statue (known as a Grinnygog) causes the appearance of several mysterious characters who were involved with a witch-burning that occurred as part of the town’s history.

This is a six-episode British TV series adapted from a novel by Dorothy Edwards. At one point, one of the children who is helping to organize a museum for the town asks the mysterious Mr. Alabaster whether there’s going to be any danger, and is told that it depends on what he means by danger. In some ways, this story is driven by this ambiguity; you’re not sure for a good length of the time whether what appears to be a gentle fantasy will turn into something more sinister. As a matter of fact, I hesitate to speak in terms of story, as I think it’s not really story-driven; it mostly recounts the various magical experiences of the various people most directly involved with the strange goings-on in the town. The series is full of little touches; without giving away too much, there’s a bell that doesn’t ring, a trip back in time, an animated ceiling, the magical creation of a hat, and the scene where we hear the Grinnygog talk to two separate people. There’s a definite charm here, but it never quite becomes compelling; despite its charms, it gets a little dull on occasion. Still, it’s a unique fantasy and worth catching.


The Woman Hunt (1973)

Article 2698 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-20-2008
Posting Date: 1-1-2009
Directed by Eddie Romero
Featuring John Ashley, Pat Woodell, Charlene Jones
Country: USA / Philippines

Women are being kidnapped by a man who lives in a secluded mansion in the middle of the jungle. He plans to organize a hunting party with the women as prey.

When I see Eddie Romero at the directorial helm with John Ashley as the star, I think of the “Blood Island” movies made during the late sixties/early seventies. This isn’t part of that series; in fact, I’m not sure it’s even really a horror movie. It’s modeled off of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, which I’ve always considered only marginal horror in the first place, and this one contains even less overt horror content. Instead, it’s more action thriller in the drive-in exploitation style, a style that I would describe as “giving the people what they want at a lowest-common-denominator level while refusing to be distracted by such things as good taste”. Therefore, we get lots of bloody violence and bare breasts, dumb and obvious dialogue, lesbianism, and Sid Haig, who is a master a this sort of thing; he shows a knack for making his character the type of person who would say the dumb dialogue. IMDB says this one was shot in English, but it certainly feels like a dubbed movie at times. If you’re looking for subtlety and intelligence, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for typical drive-in thrills, this’ll do.


The Worm Turns (1937)

Animated Short
Article 2663 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2008
Posting Date: 11-27-2008
Directed by Ben Sharpsteen
Featuring the voice of Walt Disney
Country: USA

Mickey Mouse develops a potion that can make weak and timid creatures brave and strong.

So far, I’ve barely scratched the cartoon surface; after all, most cartoons are fantasies of one sort or another. However, very few of my sources have bothered to classify them as such, and if it weren’t for the science fiction aspects of this one, I probably wouldn’t be covering it for some time. Disney was putting out some of their best shorts during the thirties, with Fleischer being their biggest competitor at the time. The animation is excellent, as I would expect, though I never find the Disney shorts quite as funny as the Warner Brothers ones when they were at their best. One odd piece of note; at one point, Mickey Mouse gives the potion to a mouse being threatened by a cat. The curious thing here is that Mickey is already a mouse, and it points out the phenomenon I occasional notice in the cartoon universe whereby some animals are anthropomorphized and others remain animals. My favorite occurrence of this is in a Warner Brothers cartoon (whose title I can’t remember at the moment) in which it is revealed that farmer Porky Pig raises pigs on his farm.


The Woman in White (1948)

Article 2631 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-18-2008
Posting Date: 10-26-2008
Directed by Peter Godfrey
Featuring Alexis Smith, Eleanor Parker, Sydney Greenstreet
Country: USA

An artist meets the strange characters at an English estate. He begins to suspect that a visiting count has sinister designs on the family fortune. He also encounters a strange woman in white who bears an uncanny resemblance to the daughter at the manor.

“The Motion Picture Guide” classifies this movie as a horror/mystery, but most of my other guides omit this one. I can see why. The horror elements are very slight; there’s certainly a mysterious element to the appearance of the woman in white, but outside of that, the only fantastic genre touches are the presence of the common horror elements of madness and hypnotism, and these are used only slightly if effectively. The movie is also quite entertaining, but, for me, the best thing about watching this one was being able to encounter the great Sydney Greenstreet; the only other movie I’ve seen him in for this series is BETWEEN TWO WORLDS. He’s great here as the menacing and scheming Count Fosco, and, for those who love character actors, he’s married to the character played by Agnes Moorehead, who gives one of her most restrained performances, and is also excellent. John Abbott’s character is similar to Vincent Price’s in HOUSE OF USHER, except he’s played more for comic effect. The story is complex enough that I have a hankering to read the original Wilkie Collins novel on which this is based.


Work is a Four Letter Word (1968)

Article 2628 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-15-2008
Posting Date: 10-23-2008
Directed by Peter Hall
Featuring David Warner, Cilla Black, Zia Mohyeddin
Country: UK

In the near future, technology has advanced to the point that businesses have to create artificial jobs for people just to keep them employed. This benefits an otherwise unemployable young man whose passion is raising mushrooms, and who hopes to get a job at a utility plant so the boilers can create a hot, moist environment to grow his crop.

I’m going to start right off by saying that this late-sixties counter-culture comedy is a self-indulgent piece of twaddle. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it; its eccentric sense of humor fits in well with my own, and I like that it never takes itself too seriously nor gets pretentious. I respond well to its kooky charms, and I always enjoy watching David Warner (who I remember most strongly as having played The Evil One in Terry Gilliam’s TIME BANDITS) in anything. Still, there is a part of me that wished the movie had dwelt on its science fiction aspects more, but, I suppose if it did, it wouldn’t be the movie it is. For me, the movie only really stumbles towards the end, when all of the major characters start eating the mushrooms and freaking out; it’s here that the movie becomes more dumb than fun. It’s based on a play by Henry Livings with the unpromising title of “Eh?”.


Willard (1971)

WILLARD (1971)
Article 2616 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-4-2008
Posting Date: 10-11-2008
Directed by Daniel Mann
Featuring Bruce Davison, Elsa Lanchester, Ernest Borgnine
Country: USA

A mousy young man, dominated by his mother and bullied by his boss, only finds respite in the friendship he develops with some rats. As the situations in his life worsen, he discovers that he can use the rats to get what he wants.

I remember this movie making the rounds when I was a kid, and though I never had a chance to see it, it was quite a sensation by word-of-mouth. This marks the first time I’ve actually had a chance to see the whole thing. It’s no classic, but I did find it quite satisfying. Its biggest problem may be that you know where it’s going long before it gets there, largely due to the fact that it was made quite clear at the outset that the movie was horror; horror fans may be a bit disappointed by the wait. For most of its running time, it doesn’t really feel like a horror movie, and rather than having Willard sic his rats and everybody and anybody from square one, we have a long buildup where he develops his relationships with his relatives, his associates and the rats, and only step by step escalating the use he makes of his furry friends. I think the buildup works quite well, and the big payoff comes when Willard has his final confrontation with his boss. Good performances from Bruce Davison and Ernest Borgnine help a lot; unfortunately, Elsa Lanchester’s character departs too early from the proceedings. At any rate, it’s much better than the saccharine sequel BEN, and it definitely gets extra points for having no rat puppets. Reportedly, the recent remake isn’t too bad either, though I’ve heard this is largely due to a good performance by Crispin Glover.


War of the Planets (1966)

aka I Diafanoidi vengono da Marte
Article 2614 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-1-2008
Posting Date: 10-9-2008
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Tony Russel, Lisa Gastoni, Franco Nero
Country: Italy

Gaseous beings from outer space attempt to take possession of earthlings.

Yes, it’s another sixties Italian space opera, which is to say it’s another compendium of colorful sets, a whole slew of poorly differentiated characters, non-stop verbal science-fictionese, and a maddening dearth of exposition. I’m not sure whether it’s something in the English dubbing, or if it’s something inherent in the movies themselves that make them so frustrating, but I never feel like I know what’s going on, and not in the “mysterious suspense-inducing” way but rather in the “we’ll tell you everything but what you need to know to enjoy the movie” way. You can figure them out if you watch them three or four times, but I really don’t think that should be necessary. Apparently, this was part of a series of four movies called “The Gamma 1 Quadrilogy”; I’ve seen the other three movies in the series, and I would have never guessed they were part of a series, partially because not a single character from any of these movies stands out in my mind, but also because these movies seem so confused that I never really see them as being attached to anything at all. Still, the “He’s gone galaxy!” line is memorable. Incidentally, one of the alternate titles of the third movie of this series is WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS; now, how are you supposed to tell the difference between these movies and still tell them apart from other titles like BATTLE OF THE WORLDS?