The Stranger (1973)

THE STRANGER (1973)
aka Stranded in Space
TV-Movie

Article 3468 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-6-2011
Posting Date: 2-11-2011
Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Featuring Glenn Corbett, Cameron Mitchell, Sharon Acker
Country: USA
What it is: “The Fugitive” crossed with JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN, TV-pilot style

When something inexplicably goes wrong during a space mission, an astronaut finds himself a virtual prisoner in a hospital. He escapes, only to discover that he hasn’t returned to Earth at all, but is on a planet called Terra which is under a totalitarian state known as the Perfect Order… and he’s too dangerous to be allowed to live.

One of the ground rules I set for myself when I started this movie-watching project is that I would never base my review on a viewing of the MST3K version of the movie. Don’t get me wrong; I’m actually a big fan of the series, but I also believe watching their versions inherently changes the viewing experience, making it impossible to give any fair judgment of the movie. Only twice have I been tempted to break that rule, and in each case, it was due to the difficulty I had in tracking down the movie in question; one of them was RADAR SECRET SERVICE, and this was the other one.

I found this one particularly frustrating to find; I would see the title pop up occasionally in my hunting, but every time I got around to actually purchasing it, it had lapsed into unavailability again. I’m glad to say that I finally found a copy.

The movie is sitting with a lowly 3.6 rating on IMDB, mostly because of overeager Msties giving it a low rating merely because it appeared on MST3K. It’s not a great TV-Movie, but it’s far from the worst I’ve seen. Its worst problem is that the premise is quite far-fetched; it’s really hard to swallow that the planet would be this similar to earth, even to the point that everyone is speaking English. Yet among the implausabilities, there’s some nice ideas and interesting touches in the script. Furthermore, I find Cameron Mitchell’s performance in it to be one of his best; though he’s the primary villain, his combination of conviction and vulnerability (he’s well aware how quickly things could turn against him if he doesn’t recapture the astronaut) makes for a surprisingly complex character. Had this pilot managed to spawn a series, it might have been worth catching for Mitchell alone; however, I find myself wondering if he would have ended up a regular character. At any rate, I ended up liking this one better than I thought I would.

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Evil Stalks this House (1981)

EVIL STALKS THIS HOUSE (1981)
TV-Movie
Article 3372 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-25-2010
Posting Date: 11-7-2010
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Featuring Jack Palance, Cindy Hinds, Helen Hughes
Country: USA / Canada
What it is: Strange little horror movie

A father and his two children become stranded on a lonely road when their car breaks down. They take refuge in the home of two old women and their dimwitted son. The man plots a scheme to loot the home, but it turns out the two old women aren’t quite as helpless as they seem…

Near as I can figure, this movie is edited from episodes of the pilot of a TV series called “Tales of the Haunted”, which would have featured Christopher Lee as a host/narrator. The time is listed as 96 minutes, but the only version I’ve been able to find runs slightly under an hour, and Lee is noticeably absent; the abrupt editing of some of the scenes shows that a lot of trimming went into this. The story starts out in typical “old dark house” fashion, but rapidly goes off in its own direction. The main villain is the father, and Jack Palance plays him as an almost cartoonish parody of the actor at his most malevolent; every line is delivered in whispery menace, whether it’s appropriate or not. Not that this really damages the movie much; the whole movie is a bit of goofy lark, and works pretty well in that mode. We get a mysterious witch cult, a deadly spider, and a pit of quicksand in an unlikely place to enliven the proceedings. The ending is a bit of a jawdropper, but within the context of the rest of the movie, it fits in well enough.

Dominique (1978)

DOMINIQUE (1978)
aka Dominique is Dead
Article 3339 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-19-2010
Posting Date: 10-5-2010
Directed by Michael Anderson
Featuring Cliff Robertson, Jean Simmons, Jenny Agutter
Country: UK
What it is: Revenge from beyond the grave…or is it?

A rich woman with frayed nerves believes her husband is trying to drive her crazy. Nonetheless, her loneliness and isolation get the best of her and she commits suicide. However, the shoe is on the other foot now, and the husband begins to see visions of his dead wife come back to haunt him…

The movie opens with a GASLIGHT-style scenario, and though I usually don’t care for this type of story, I like it here, largely because Jean Simmons doesn’t play up the fear as much as the frustration of knowing she’s being manipulated and the sadness of knowing that she is alone and has no one to turn to. Still, the GASLIGHT plot points are only a setup for the rest of the movie. The movie is underplayed, going for quiet chills rather than big scares, and I like that. Unfortunately, the movie never overcomes its major problem, and that is that it’s a little too obvious what is really going on, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of brain work to figure who is responsible. Furthermore, the husband himself is particularly dim in handling his situation; if I had encountered the piano playing itself as he did, I most assuredly know what I’d investigate if I suspected someone was trying to scare me. The most unexpected plot twist comes about two-thirds of the way in after the exhumation of a grave; I became really curious why an unexpected character was flipping out, but even then it didn’t take me too long to figure out what was behind that as well. Ultimately, the movie is a mixed bag; it’s half empty and half full, and how much you enjoy it depends on which half you concentrate on.

Le Passe-muraille (1951)

LE PASSE-MURAILLE (1951)
Article 3308 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-19-2010
Posting Date: 9-4-2010
Directed by Jean Boyer
Featuring Bourvil, Joan Greenwood, Gerard Oury
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Fantasy comedy

A man stumbles upon the ability to walk through walls.

My copy of this movie is in French with no subtitles, but given that I’ve already seen the English version of this movie (MR. PEEK-A-BOO), you’d think that wouldn’t be an impediment. Unfortunately, I discovered that the English version didn’t really stay with me, so I couldn’t really use my memory to help me with this. Much of the humor is visual, usually involving the protagonist’s use of his ability to play pranks on others, but much is also verbal. I may have to rewatch the English version to see what I think. Based on the ratings on IMDB, this French version is supposed to be the superior; it has a rating of 6.0 to the English version’s 4.1. At any rate, the French version looks fast-moving and fun.

He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE (1980)
Article 3223 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-15-2010
Posting Date: 6-11-2010
Directed by Armand Mastroianni
Featuring Don Scardino, Caitlin O’Heaney, Elizabeth Kemp
Country: USA
What it is: HALLOWEEN clone

A psycho killer who specializes in prospective brides (and anyone else he feels like) is on the loose. A detective (whose own bride-to-be was murdered by the psycho, who happened to be a jilted boyfriend) has vowed to catch him. A woman about to be married is the killer’s next target.

It’s a slasher script, modeled off of HALLOWEEN rather than FRIDAY THE 13TH, which means it’s more interested in the suspense than the gore. But Armand Mostroianni is no John Carpenter (but this was only his first movie, and he got better), Caitlin O’Heaney is no Jamie Lee Curtis, and Lewis Arlt is no Donald Pleasence. We get lots and lots of lines like “I think I’m being followed” and “Is someone there?” and unending conversations on the woman’s doubt about her impending marriage (all designed to lead up to a lame twist ending). There’s a few good moments; the opening murder is well-staged, and it effectively sets up a clever hint that the killer is in the house at one point (if you can count to five, you’ll know what I mean). However, the movie way overdoes its attempts to ratchet up the suspense; all too often it comes off as annoying rather than scary. By the way, this was Tom Hanks’s first movie; his character was originally supposed to be killed, but he turned out to be so likable that the murder was taken out of the script.

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971)
aka The Blind Dead, La noche del terror ciego
Article 3197 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-20-2010
Posting Date: 5-16-2010
Directed by Amando de Ossorio
Featuring Lone Fleming, Roger Whelan, Maria Elana Arpon
Country: Spain / Portugal
What it is: Spanish zombie flick

A woman jumps off of a train in the middle of nowhere and ends up camping out in the deserted ruins of a monastery. However, the ruins are the home of rotting blind Templars who have used black magic to gain eternal life… and who still thirst for human blood and flesh.

I’ve not been impressed by any of the other films I’ve seen by Amando de Ossorio, but I also kept in mind that he also had directed this one, the first of the “Blind Dead” series. I’d originally seen this one many years ago and had been quite impressed with it at the time; watching it now, there are still things I admire and other things I don’t. On the plus side, the blind dead themselves are very memorable and eerie, especially when they trot around on their horses in slow motion (the use of sound during these sequences is effective). I also like some of the settings, such as the creepy monastery and the warehouse full of dummies. I’m less impressed with the plot holes, the poorly thought out characters, certain unnecessary scenes of exploitation value, and the lapses of logic; in particular, given the logic behind the nature of the Templars, there is no reason why one of their victims should come back to life and start attacking people. I rather liked the idea that the Templars had to track their victims by sound, but then giving them the ability to hear heartbeats felt something like a cheat. Still, this is certainly Ossorio’s scariest and best movie.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (1933)
aka Le testament du Dr. Mabuse
Article 3157 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-3-2010
Posting Date: 4-6-2010
Directed by Fritz Lang and Rene Sti
Featuring Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Thomy Bourdelle, Karl Meixner
Country: Germany
What it is: Crime movie with supernatural undertones

A series of nearly perfect crimes seems to be the result of arch-criminal Dr. Mabuse, but he’s committed to an insane asylum. So who is the mastermind behind them…?

Hey, wait a minute…didn’t I already cover this movie? Yes and no. I’ve covered the German language version, but I discovered that at the same time he was directing that one, Fritz Lang was also directing, on the same sets, a French language version with a mostly different cast (I think Rudolf Klein-Rogge is the only actor among the major roles to appear in both). This was a common practice during the early thirties. When this version first entered my list, I suspected that I would probably not be able to find it, but I was wrong; the recent Criterion release of the movie features both versions. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the original version, so I can’t do a strong compare of the two, though this one is a good twenty-seven minutes shorter. Still, it’s nice to see it again; this is one of those movies that follows so many threads of the plot at once that it can be a bit overwhelming on first viewing, and repeated viewings do help sort them out. Watching both versions together would, at the very least, probably give us a good idea of how editing can effect a movie.