Piranha (1978)

PIRANHA (1978)
Article 4343 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-21-2013
Directed by Joe Dante
Featuring Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy
Country: USA
What it is: JAWS-inspired thriller

A strain of genetically mutated piranha are accidentally released from an abandoned army site into a nearby river. Is there any way to stop them before they reach the ocean?

According to IMDB, Universal originally intended to sue New Line for this movie because of its similarities to JAWS; however, Spielberg saw an advance copy of this movie and loved it, so the suit was dropped. I’m not sure whether the suit would have stuck; though the movie does have some similarities (an underwater terror and an attempt by authorities to downplay the threat), it’s far from a slavish imitation of its source. This is the first movie I’ve covered from the oeuvre of Joe Dante, a director whose work I generally enjoy; his love of using actors from older genre movies and his references to those earlier films add a lot of fun to the proceedings. On top of the actors listed above, the movie also features Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, Keenan Wynn, Paul Bartel and Richard Deacon. It also features the screenwriting debut of John Sayles. Overall, the movie is fairly uneven, and there are moments where the editing could be better, but there are a number of individual moments I really like; in particular, the scene inside the laboratory (which also features a little bit of stop-motion animation with a miniature monster running around) is very entertaining. One thing it certainly does is to up the fantastic content a bit; by making the piranha genetic mutations, there’s some science fiction added to the plot as well. I look forward to covering more of Dante’s films in the future.

The People that Time Forgot (1977)

Article 4342 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-20-2013
Directed by Kevin Connor
Featuring Patrick Wayne, Doug McClure, Sarah Douglas
Country: UK
What it is: Burroughsian sequel

A group of adventures arrive in the prehistoric land of Caprona to see if they can locate the hero of the previous movie.

Will they find him? Well, given that Doug McClure’s name is in the credits (though not as the lead) pretty much answers that question. You know, you really can’t blame them for making a sequel to THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT; after all, Edgar Rice Burroughs did as well, and this is based on that sequel. I really should read those books; I’m rather curious as to how closely this movie follows the book. It has the same fun-but-not-quite-convincing dinosaur action, various primitive tribes of people, and ample proof that they had hairdressers and Frederick’s of Hollywood in primitive lands. Now I know in an adventure movie of this sort, one is supposed to concentrate on the episodic action rather than dwell on the the whole story arc. However, when I do the latter, I can’t help but dwell on the fact that the ultimate purpose of this movie is to put in place the commonest “lost world” cliche of them all, a cliche that the previous movie overlooked (if it hadn’t, there would have been no sequel). The minute they mention the volcano, I should have seen it coming. Still, I did learn one thing here – there are no volcanoes in Nebraska. All in all, this is one is silly but passable, though not as much fun as the original.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Article 4341 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-19-2013
Directed by Wes Craven
Featuring John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp
Country: USA
What it is: Dreamworld serial killer

Several teenagers begin having nightmares about a stripe-shirted razor-fingered mutilated man trying to kill them. When one of them ends up dying horribly, it becomes apparent that the death at the hands of the killer means death in real life.

It looks like I’m having a bit of a run of child-murderer movies here. Actually, I’ve long been curious about this one. The basic concept is brilliant; having a killer that can stalk his victims in their dreams really opens the door to all sorts of possibilities in terms of spooky, non-realistic imagery. It also means that during the dream sequences, normal standards of logic and smart behavior are not relevant; when confronting a killer in a dream, there may be no such thing as a good choice. Still, a certain degree of internal logic makes for a more intriguing story, and when the script starts addressing the issue of how the dream world interfaces with the real world, opening up the possibilities that Freddy Krueger is indeed a defeatable entity, it’s a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the script as a whole isn’t quite up to the concept or its best moments; clumsy moments abound, and the script ultimately turns its back on its own internal logic. As a result, I can understand why the concept was interesting enough to lead to a whole slew of sequels, but I can also see why the series would get quite tiresome after a bit. The movie also features the movie acting debut of Johnny Depp, and Robert Englund would actually achieve a certain level of horror movie stardom as Freddy Krueger. All in all, it’s a good horror movie; a better script might have made it a real classic.

Si muero antes de despertar (1952)

aka The Lurking Vampire, El vampiro acecha
Article 4340 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-18-2013
Directed by Carlos Hugo Christensen
Featuring Nestor Zavarce, Blanca del Prado, Floren Delbene
Country: Argentina
What it is: Thriller

A child believes he has a clue to the identity of a man who killed one of his classmates, but he is either unable to tell or unable to convince the authorities. Can he prevent another child from being the next victim?

This movie entered my list under the title THE LURKING VAMPIRE, and for several years, I was unable to match it to any title on IMDB; searches on the given alternate title and on some of the cast members also proved fruitless. It’s only recently that IMDB matched the alternate title (EL VAMPIRO ACECHA) to the correct movie, and I realized that part of the problem was that my other sources claimed that certain actors listed (specifically, German Robles and Abel Salazar) were not, in fact, in the cast. The above plot description is a bit of a guess, as my copy of the movie is in Spanish without subtitles, but I did know a few facts to help me along; I knew the story involved a child murderer and a boy had to battle him. The Walt Lee guide says there are a few touches that make the killer potentially supernatural, and some of the scenes look spooky enough to back that up. I really wish I could have followed this one better; it looks like a tense little thriller, and there’s a memorable nightmare sequence in the middle of the movie. It’s apparently based on a story by Cornell Woolrich. This is one I really hope shows up for me someday with English subtitles and a good print.

I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

aka Day of the Woman
Article 4339 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-17-2013
Directed by Meir Zarchi
Featuring Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace
Country: USA
What it is: Revenge thriller

A woman writer goes to a cabin in the woods in a small town to finish her novel. When she is attacked and raped by four of the residents, she decides to exact a bloody revenge.

If I weren’t committed to be as comprehensive as possible for my movie-watching project, there are a few movies I would skip. This is one of them; I’d heard about it for years, and I never had the slightest desire to see it. To me, it sounded like the ultimate in pandering revenge dramas, a movie where the first half consists of a group of people doing horrible things to someone for the sole purpose of making you want to see horrible acts of vengeance performed on them in the second half. Having watched it now, I can say that I’m right; that’s pretty much what the movie is all about. If there was anything that surprised me about the movie, it was that it was as competently directed and produced as it was. Oddly enough, that may have made the manipulation of the first half less effective; had the movie been cheaper and more amateurish, the violence might have had the effect of seeming grittier and more real. The same effect might have been accomplished had the direction and editing been sharper and more intense. As it is, the movie’s worst problem is that the rape sequence is just interminable, encompassing as it does three separate attacks; it runs almost thirty minutes, and after a while you start to resent the filmmakers for trying to stretch it out as long as they could. Still, despite the fact that I would love to reject the movie completely, it’s not totally worthless; in some ways, it gives insight into the nature of “rape culture”, a subject that has been in the news lately. Still, those observations could have been made in a much less exploitative movie, so I really can’t bring myself to recommend this one to anybody.

The Mummy’s Revenge (1973)

aka La venganza de la momia
Article 4338 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-16-2013
Directed by Carlos Aured
Featuring Paul Naschy, Jack Taylor, Maria Silva
Country: Spain
What it is: Mummy movie

When the mummy of a sadistic ancient Egyptian is discovered, a high priest steals it and sets out to revive it. For that, he is going to need the blood of virgins…

I’m going to point out immediately that I saw a dubbed, pan-and-scanned copy of this movie. I feel the need to point this out because I couldn’t help but notice that on IMDB, this is one of Naschy’s more highly rated horror movies, and given the fact I thought it was one of his weaker films, I find myself wondering if there is a superior subtitled version out there that might change my mind. The print that I saw was atrociously dubbed, to be sure; some of the acting in this regard is quite awful. The pace is also very lethargic at times. I also found the score to be pretty maddening; occasionally it was effective, but often it’s missing in scenes that really need some music, and it seems to come and go randomly in other scenes. However, I did find the plot to be relatively focused for a Paul Naschy film, and I do like a few touches here and there; in particular, I appreciate that it was perceptive enough to realize that not every woman in the street that you find for use in your arcane rituals is going to prove a virgin. Some of the attack scenes are also well done. One interesting touch this time is that Naschy does not play the hero here; he usually sets it up that he plays both the monster and the hero, but here, he’s the monster and a secondary villain. All in all, it makes for a very mixed bag.

Mr. Superinvisible (1970)

aka L’inafferrabile invincibile Mr. Invisibile
Article 4337 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-15-2013
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Dean Jones, Philippe Leroy, Gastone Moschin
Country: Italy / Monaco / Spain / West Germany
What it is: Shopping Eurocart Movie

When an experimental virus is stolen by enemy spies, one of the scientists embarks on a mission to stop them. Fortunately, he’s stumbled across an invisibility potion to help him.

You could always leave it to the Italian film industry to jump on any cinematic bandwagon they thought would make a profit, so we’ve had James Bond imitations, rip-offs of THE EXORCIST, rip-offs of JAWS, etc. And from the looks of this, they even took a shot at the Disney “shopping cart” movies, and to help pull it off, they turned to an alumnus of the form; namely, Dean Jones of THE LOVE BUG fame. I even remember the ads for this one on TV, where they were trying their damnedest to make it look like a real Disney film. The ads didn’t fool me back then, and the movie itself is desperate, loud, clogged with badly-timed slapstick, and quite embarrassing. In fact, the only thing I liked about the movie was a comic idea that would have been pretty amusing had it been done well, and that was the concept of having the invisible man show up at a seance. I’m assuming the movie must have been something of a failure, as it didn’t seem to lead to a whole slew of imitations; no, we were spared a spate of “spaghetti cart” movies. Two of my favorite aspects of the Disney movies are definitely lacking here; the special effects are singularly lame, and the movie is badly lacking in star power that made the Disney movies more fun … and having the English dubbing feature a man doing a Peter Lorre impression doesn’t quite compensate for it.