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)

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)

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.