The Evictors (1979)

THE EVICTORS (1979)
Article 3347 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-28-2010
Posting Date: 10-13-2010
Directed by Charles B. Pierce
Featuring Vic Morrow, Michael Parks, Jessica Harper
Country: USA
What it is: Horror thriller

During World War II, a young couple moves to a farmhouse in Louisiana so that the man will have a job that will make him too valuable domestically to be drafted. However, the house has a history of violent death somehow tied to an eviction fourteen years earlier that turned violent.

I don’t mind the deliberate pacing of this horror thriller, though a horror movie that goes on for almost twenty-five minutes before it even hints that it may be a horror movie is bound to turn off some people. I also really like the strong period and regional flavor of the movie. And, as a thriller, it works well enough for most of the movie. The movie loses steam near the end, though, as it starts relying on plot twists that tie the action to the somewhat muddled and confusing opening eviction sequence. Then it tries for one final twist which is especially hard to swallow, partially because there’s no logical reason for it and partially because it’s hard to believe that someone would go for nineteen years without replacing a broken pair of reading glasses. It’s supposedly based on a true story, but count me among the dubious.

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The Elephant Man (1980)

THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)
Article 3346 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-27-2010
Posting Date: 10-12-2010
Directed by David Lynch
Featuring Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft
Country: USA
What it is: Biography of a deformed man

A noted doctor rescues a hideously deformed man from a freak show. But can this man ever hope to have a normal life in his new environment?

This is one of those movies that always brings tears to my eyes when I watch it. Granted, that’s one of the intentions of the movie, and occasionally it tries a little too hard to jerk the tears; there’s a number of lines and moments that would benefit from a bit of rewriting and careful pruning. Yet these moments don’t damage the movie as a whole because there’s something so compelling in the way that the movie tries to get us to understand and empathize with John Merrick and what his life must be like having been born with such extreme deformities. It makes sense that he might himself weep when the doctor’s wife treats him with courtesy; the idea that a pretty woman might treat him this way after all the others have run away screaming may be unthinkable to him. No, the movie doesn’t turn away from the darkness or difficulties; we have moments where the doctor ponders his own morality in his use of John Merrick, and even when the actress visits Merrick, there is a real awkwardness to the meeting that makes one wonder whether the she herself is questioning her own motives. And the lower class exploiters (Bytes and the night porter) are never very far away. Mel Brooks of all people was an executive producer, albeit uncredited, and this would be the second full-length movie made by cult director David Lynch; it would prove to be one of the real anomalies in his oeuvre.

As a final note, I always found it interesting that the stage production Merrick attends near the end of the movie seemed more like a compendium of special effects than a real-life stage production. It was only watching it this time that I realized that we were seeing it through Merrick’s eyes, and it made me wonder what it would have been like had I never seen a movie in my life but was then allowed to see one and only one; I wonder how my memory would have recorded that experience.

Dr. Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo (1972)

DR. JEKYLL Y EL HOMBRE LOBO (1972)
aka Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf
Article 3345 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-27-2010
Posting Date: 10-11-2010
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Featuring Paul Naschy, Shirley Corrigan, Jack Taylor
Country: Spain
What it is: Monster mash

When an English couple visits Transylvania, the husband is killed by thugs, but the wife is saved by Waldemar Daninsky. She takes him to England to cure him of his lycanthropy… to a certain Dr. Jekyll.

It’s a good thing Paul Naschy’s sincere love of the classic monsters counts for a lot; otherwise, there wouldn’t be a lot to recommend in this somewhat stolid and muddled compendium of horror cliches mixed with bizarre plot elements and an eye towards exploitation. Some of the plot elements are real head-scratchers; if someone out there can logically explain why turning Waldemar into Mr. Hyde will cure him of his lycanthropy, I’d love to hear it. As usual, Naschy gets to play both hero and monster, with the real villains of the movie being some boorish villagers and Dr. Jekyll’s insanely jealous (and just plain insane) girlfriend. Still, some good ideas pop up; I like the concept that one of the rampages occurs because Waldemar is caught in a malfunctioning elevator for a long period of time. Still, I’m willing to bet the original language version is better than the dubbed one I’ve seen. Leon Klimovsky’s direction is pretty pedestrian, but I will have to admit having been totally blindsided by an unexpectedly arty transformation sequence near the end of the movie. This is not one of the better Waldemar Daninsky movies, but it’s not the worst either.

Judex (1963)

JUDEX (1963)
Article 3344 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-25-2010
Posting Date: 10-10-2010
Directed by Georges Franju
Featuring Channing Pollock, Francine Berge, Edith Scob
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Crime drama

A corrupt banker is threatened by a mysterious figure of justice named Judex; he must either give his fortune away to those he cheated or die. When Judex seems to make good on his threat, a woman who was hoping to marry the banker seeks to get hold of papers the banker had been using for blackmail so that she can make a fortune. This puts the banker’s innocent daughter at risk. Will Judex be able to save her?

Not only was Georges Franju a fine filmmaker in his own right, he was also an archivist and a lover of classic cinema. This is his tribute to classic serial-maker Louis Feuillade; it’s an adaptation of Feuillade’s own 1916 serial JUDEX. I saw the Feuillade version seven years ago, and found it nearly impossible to follow because the subtitles were in untranslated French, so this version which tells pretty much the same story is a revelation. Still, it’s no wonder I was confused; since Judex employs tricks I would be more likely to expect from a Fantomas-style criminal, and the banker’s crimes were mostly talked about rather than shown, it was very difficult to sort the good guys from the bad guys. In its own right, this is a fine and entertaining adaptation; it perhaps relies overmuch on outrageous coincidence at times (and that applies equally well to Feuillade’s original serials), but it has a real sense of fun and there’s even a touch of lyricism to it as well; I particularly like the scene with the mysterious magician at the party. Like the original serial, the only fantastic content is a closed-circuit television unit used in the banker’s prison cell, which, since this adaptation also takes place in the same time period as the original serial, is a scientific anachronism.

The Hunchback of Soho (1966)

THE HUNCHBACK OF SOHO (1966)
aka Der Bucklige von Soho
Article 3343 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-24-2010
Posting Date: 10-9-2010
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
Featuring Gunther Stoll, Pinkas Braun, Monika Peitsch
Country: West Germany
What it is: Krimi… in Color!

Police investigate a series of strangulation murders. These appear to be tied to the disappearance of an heiress and her replacement by a substitute.

This was the first of the German Edgar Wallace movies of the sixties to be shot in color. To my mind, this stripped the series of one of its strengths; the black-and-white photography of the earlier movies gave them a serious, moody ambiance that is missing in this brightly lit movie. Furthermore, though it may be just the dubbing, I do really get the sense that the comic relief has inexplicably taken over the movie; it gives the impression that everyone is playing for laughs which aren’t in the script. On top of that, the score sounds like someone hired an avant-garde jazz composer to write a James Bond-style score with vocals by a black-belt karate expert practicing his kicks; it’s disorientingly strange. Fortunately, the score isn’t used near as much as it might have been, and once you get through the confusing first half of the movie, the plot finally gains momentum and it turns out not half bad. The hunchback strangler is the horror element of this one, which isn’t a giveaway – it’s established before the opening credits. Though some of the later color movies in the series would show a bit more skill in retaining the moodiness, it was starting to be obvious at this point that the series was starting to go downhill.

The Beast of Babylon Against the Son of Hercules (1963)

THE BEAST OF BABYLON AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1963)
aka L’eroe di Babilonia
Article 3342 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-23-2010
Posting Date: 10-8-2010
Directed by Siro Marcellini
Featuring Gordon Scott, Genevieve Grad, Andrea Scotti
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Sword and Sandal mayhem

A noble of Babylon returns to find the king has become a cruel tyrant who indulges in human sacrifice. He decides to help some rebels who plan a revolution with the aid of an invading Persian army.

The beast of the title is metaphorical, so there’s no monsters in this one; in fact, this is another case where the only fantastic content is the great strength of the hero (called Nippur). There are some nice touches to this one; the character of the tyrannical king is particularly well played, and the head of the invading army is a more interesting character than is usual for this sort of thing. Furthermore, there is at least one impressive scene of spectacle; it’s a battle scene which features several layers of soldiers, some on horses and some on foot, running in opposite directions. However, you don’t have to have seen too many of these movies to know that the plot here is strictly by-the-numbers, and after a while the movie gets a bit tedious in its predictability. It’s far from the worst of these movies; in fact, it may be one of the better ones, but I’m really at the point with these types of movies that if they don’t offer something new or up the fantastic content a bit, I find little satisfaction in watching them.

The Velvet Vampire (1971)

THE VELVET VAMPIRE (1971)
Article 3341 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-22-2010
Posting Date: 10-7-2010
Directed by Stephanie Rothman
Featuring Michael Blodgett, Sherry Miles, Celeste Yarnall
Country: USA / Philippines
What it is: Arty vampire tale

A young couple is invited to spend some time in the home of a mysterious woman who lives in the desert. They begin to suspect she is a vampire… and has designs on both of them.

Stephanie Rothman was one of the directors who worked on the bizarre hodgepodge TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE; having watched this movie, I suspect that she was responsible for the dancing on the beach sequence at least. She returns to vampires here, and the result is not unlike DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, in which a seductive older bisexual female vampire gets involved in the lives of a young couple. She’s got an impressive visual sense, especially with montages; there’s a luxurious sensuality to this movie, and there’s something so appropriate at having a vampire live in the middle of the desert, an area that seems to have been drained of life. She also has a nice sense for the music; the score is quite haunting. I’m less impressed, however, with some of the other aspects of her work; the dialogue is terse and lacks the sensuous quality of the visuals, the story becomes obvious and rather silly, especially towards the end, and the acting is often mannered and fairly weak. Still, these strikes against it don’t take away the visual sense, and the movie lingers. Had it been better around the edges, it might have been a classic.