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)

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)

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.

Swords of the Space Ark (1981)

Article 3113 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-5-2009
Posting Date: 2-21-2010
Directed by Bunker Jenkins and Minoru Yamada
Featuring Hiroyuki Sanada
Country: Japan
What it is: STAR WARS clone via Japanese TV series

Three pilots undertake to destroy the evil Roxia with the help of the hearts of three planets and the woman from the Space Ark, Sophia.

From the moment I saw the title, I suspected a STAR WARS clone. From the minute I heard the rinky-dink theme music, I knew it was going to be a cheesy STAR WARS clone. The minute I saw the way the credits segue into the movie, I knew we were dealing with a movie culled from episodes of a TV series, and I was wondering which TV series it would be. The second I saw the first actual human character, I knew it was from a Japanese TV series. And the minute I heard the Chewbacca-style talking ape mention banana daquiris, I knew we were at the bottom of the barrel.

The series was “Uchu kara no messegi: Ginga taisen”, it ran 27 episodes of 23 minutes each, which puts it at 623 minutes. Since this movie only runs 70 minutes, it’s missing almost 8/9ths of the footage. Fortunately, the movie does remain a little coherent, though it’s obvious that events are rushed at all points. You get space battles, beautiful women disguised as old crones, a mystical spaceship, retractable swords, evil betrayals, good and bad twins, talking apes with unmoving mouths, lots of things blowing up, and badly dubbed actors mouthing idiotic dialogue. This movie is either bad movie paradise or unwatchable dreck, depending on who you are (and you know that better than I).

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Article 3074 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-7-2009
Posting Date: 1-13-2009
Directed by Mel Stuart
Featuring Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum
Country: USA
What it is: Live-action children’s musical fantasy

A poor young boy desires more than anything to get a golden ticket to visit the Willy Wonka candy factory, which is a mysterious, perpetually-locked and forbidding place. When he does manage to acquire a ticket, he finds himself being tested for his honesty and goodness of heart.

I’ve not read the book by Roald Dahl, but my wife has, and she tells me that the movie doesn’t really capture the spirit of the book. Dahl himself was unhappy with this adaptation of his work (though he is credited as the writer, his screenplay was extensively rewritten) and refused the filmmakers permission to produce the sequel. I do smell the air of compromise here, and the movie does make me want to seek out the original book to get a sense of what it’s really like. Nevertheless, despite a few caveats with this production (I found only two of the songs memorable and only one pleasantly so, and the parts where the movie is obvious stand out noticeably when surrounded by the unpredictability of the rest of the movie), I discovered that I really like the movie and can understand its strong cult following. The first half is an often hilarious satire of ballyhoo, with the out-of-control media coverage of what is essentially a fluff story even more relevant today than in its time; this is definitely something that it’s easier to appreciate when you’re an adult. The second half is anchored by a brilliant performance by Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, who manages to achieve his acting goal of making his character utterly unpredictable while still managing to have a clearly defined character; his half-hearted calls of admonishment to the children who break his rules show us that he is slyly aware of and even eager to see their comeuppance. Several other great actors were considered for this role, but Wilder’s performance makes me glad he was the final choice. I also like the touches of Lewis Carroll and Dr. Seuss that pop up, and I always wonder if the tunnel sequence was influenced a little by a similar sequence in 2OO1: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Quite frankly, this movie seems to improve with time, though I do still hope to read the original book.

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.

Till Death (1978)

Article 3052 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-15-2009
Posting Date: 12-22-2009
Directed by Walter Stocker
Featuring Keith Atkinson, Marshall Reed, Belinda Balaski
Country: USA
What it is: Love from beyond the grave

A man has a nightmare that he is locked in a crypt with a dead woman stalking him. He is awoken by a phone call from his fiancee, who he will marry that day. They marry, but she dies in a car accident on their wedding night. He survives the accident, but is torn by guilt. He decides to visit her in the crypt where she’s buried…

This earnest but cheesy horror film seems so out of place in the late seventies that I was sure that it had been shot earlier. And sure enough it was; it was made in 1974 and sat on the shelf for four years. I’m tempted to describe it as a cross between CARNIVAL OF SOULS and the second half of 100 CRIES OF TERROR, except that makes it sound more complex than it is; the plot is obvious and threadbare, and, unless you find the endless conversations about love to be heartfelt and compelling, it’s probably going to bore you. It must have been made on a tiny budget, and it remains Walter Stocker’s sole directorial credit, though he did have a career as an actor, and appeared in the infamous THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN. I’m not surprised it has its supporters, though; it has a certain low-budget charm for all its problems.