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The Hypnotic Eye (1960)
Short and sharp
"The Hypnotic Eye" is a fairly effective B movie about a spate of self-mutilations by beautiful women who appear to be in a trance when they do the deed. A detective tries to unravel the link between the victims and a stage show that features a hypnotist that they have all attended.
A lot of what appears in the movie is fun, although "The Hypnotic Eye" is barely 70 minutes long, and a lot of this is padding, featuring several needlessly long looks at the "hypnosis" act, as well as a very tiresome sequence set in a beatnik bar where we have to watch the whole show of beatnik music and poetry. It's a shame, because these really slow down the action. Surely it would not have been to difficult to make the actual storyline events take up some more time.
The acting is ok, although a little hammy. The story actually has a really brutal side to it, as the methods the ladies use to self-harm are all pretty twisted. We don't witness many of them happening, but seeing somebody screaming with their hair fully ablaze is quite something for 1960 (even if it's not very realistic). Some of the "after" make up of the others victims is also pretty good.
If all the padding was stripped out, this would rattle along and be a lot more fun, but it would be over in less than an hour! The plot really is tiny and there is barely any quality time given to the climax, in fact events dash to the closing credits with far too much haste...a little time spent on a proper ending and explanation would have been nice. Still, it's pretty entertaining while it lasts.
The Car (1977)
"The Car" is a cool little movie that seems to have taken its inspiration from "Jaws", but replaced it with a car instead of a shark, and dusty desert roads instead of water. It's well filmed and the title vehicle looks great, with a believable aura of evil around it whenever it's on screen. The comparison with Jaws continues with the way scenes of innocent people are intercut with shots of the black shape in the distance gradually getting closer while they remain unaware of the danger they are in. All the acting is good and the characters are realistic
Although the car itself works as a menace, what doesn't work is how easily it is able to bump people off. Two cyclists stupidly try to out-pedal it in a straight forward line rather than slow down or veer off. When the car charges into a marching band rehearsal, all of the people run in a straight line directly down the road in front of it, with not one of them leaping off to the side where there are many obstacles, such as steps and concrete blocks that would protect them. There are many deaths but nothing stronger than you would see in a made-for-TV movie - which this could easily be if it wasn't for the wise, Panavision aspect ratio (which works well).
The car's stunts get more outrageous as the movie goes on, culminating in a pretty cool showdown. Although it's a little too long, it's enjoyable for most of the time.
Lisa, Lisa (1974)
Three hoodlums invade a farmhouse that belongs to a teenaged girl and her invalid grandfather. They get more than they bargained for.
This is a very bad film. "Axe" is more well known that it remotely deserves to be, simply because it got caught up in the UK "video nasties" scare when it came out on home video. Most of the film is very slow and most of it is horribly photographed. The continuity is awful, natural sunlight seems to come and go randomly, along with what time of day it is. The editing tries to put together footage shot out of context and expects us to believe theres a method behind the erratic stitching together of what was presumably the best available shots that made it into the can...but it fails to result in an enjoyable viewing experience.
The music is terrible, consisting of bone-rattling, electronic droning, and irritating piano doodling. Axe does deliver some gore for sure, but it's not very effective. There seems to be an in-joke in the movie about the "red stuff", with ketchup and tomato soup taking up screen time as well as actual human blood. On the plus side, the acting actually isn't too bad, and it's barely over an hour long, so you don't have to waste too much time on it. A creditable video nasty this ain't.
It's hard to imagine how "Trog" ever got green-lighted to go into production. Was it entirely down to the inclusion on Joan Crawford? Because on paper it must have looked like a joke, and the production of it scarcely rises above that.
The plot is simple...a prehistoric ape-man is discovered living in a deep cave. he is captured and studied by a research institute but after some progress is made he eventually escapes and runs riot.
The low budget is evident, although the film is made with proficiency and most of the acting is ok. Joan Crawford delivers a committed performance as the director of the institution. But the monster costume for Trog himself is highly unconvincing (nothing below the neck is made up). As are many whacky and implausible experiments done on him, especially Crawford's "training" which consists of giving him toys, rolling a ball towards him, and showing him coloured discs while shouting out the names of them. There is then some bonkers medical procedure carried out that enables him to talk (and apparently learn English), during which time we are treated to ridiculous flashbacks of Trog's memories (rubber dinosaurs being wiped out by a volcanic eruption).
It all goes horribly wrong though, as eventually Trog gets loose and terrorises a village, which consists of a single street with no people whatsoever in it. You'll watch in terror as Trog: Eats an Orange! Throws a person through a window! Tosses fruit and vegetables about! Rolls the only car that is actually moving VERY gently onto it's side, which somehow causes it to burst into flames)! Observes a children's playground!
Things don't end well for Trog, but worse really is the incredible stupidity of the people who want him killed even though anyone with a brain would realise he's not violent unless provoked. It's a very weak ending, but it fits with the film, which is pretty weak all the way through. Joan Crawford deserved better for her last movie.
Very early William castle creepy
Macabre tells the tale of a small town doctor who gets a cryptic message telling him his small daughter has been kidnapped and buried alive. He has to find her before time (and her air!) runs out.
William Castle started as he meant to go on, with a low budget, yes, but also with the ability to direct and photograph what counts: tight dramatic scenes, stark lighting and shock effects. I am sure the audiences loved this when it first came out. It's pretty short and actually quite low on action, even tough it's central idea (death of a child by suffocation in a coffin) is quite nasty.
The acting is variable. Jacqueline Scott overacts rather as love-lorn nurse Polly, whereas William Prince tends to keep things fairly wooden as the tormented doctor. They are better supported by the rest of the cast, who all do great work, especially Ellen Corby who I love as the child's elderly nursemaid. Castle always seems to get quality actors for the small parts in his movies, even if the leads can be a bit flakey.
There's lots of acton set in a graveyard as the cast equip themselves with spades and torches to search for the missing child, and in a nice touch the film only covers a period of about 5 hours in time (a clock reminds of of this), although two fairly long flashback fill in some details of past intrigues. The film only really boats a handful of shocks, the notable one being some hilariously gruesome remains found inside a coffin, and a dead body found suddenly in a dark corner. Short enough and silly enough to be entertaining, it shows that William Castle knows how to make a movie.
Sole Survivor (1984)
I can't believe I'm only just discovering this movie in 2017! "Sole Survivor" tells of a woman who is the only person to survive a plane crash, but although she is physically healthy she starts to be haunted by mysterious apparitions who appear randomly, silently staring at her. Unnerved, she searches for an explanation, while things gradually get worse.
If you've seen "Final Destination" and "It Follows", you are going to feel like this is all very familiar, but let's remind ourselves that "Sole Survivor" was made in 1983! Beating both of those movies by decades, it's just as chilling and creepy. as either of them. It's only real precursor is the seminal "Carnival of Souls", which is also a great and unnerving story of a haunted accident survivor. The acting in "Sole Survivor" is great all round, and although I thought at first this was a made-for-TV production, the inclusion of some gore and topless nudity made it clear that it was not. It's a real shame that it did not make a greater impact when it was first released. The first hour is superb, it only sags a little in the final few minutes as the ending doesn't really work. But even so, I think it's really good.
Blood for Dracula (1974)
Elegant perverse classic
Blood For Dracula is a gorgeous looking piece of cinema that succeeds even though it has some real weaknesses
The story tells of Count Dracula coming to Italy to look for a virgin bride in an aristocratic family with four daughters. Sadly (for him), the first two daughters offered to him have already lost their virginity to the randy gardener. This much is predictable, but what awaits the remaining two girls makes for an interesting conclusion to the story.
The movie looks stunning. Whatever faults it has, the cinematography is not one of them. Beautifully shot on location in an ornate villa, every shot drips with elegance. The whole thing looks consistently lavish. It even has a delicate and wonderfully nuanced musical score. Not overly gory (a million miles from it's partner "Flesh For Frankenstien"), only a couple of pretty realistic blood-vomiting scenes and an over- the-top axe chopping conclusion would give the squeamish any trouble.
What lets things down here is the acting. All the cast look great, Udo Kier is effective as the ailing count, and Arno Juerging is hilarious as the manservant, but the rest of the performances are terrible. The four daughters are certainly beautiful but the way they read their lines is appallingly stilted and often very difficult to understand. And Joe Dallessandro provides his usual wooden performance, although he does contribute to the frequent and lengthy sex scenes. There is a LOT of (female) nudity in the movie, and even today it still seems quite excessive.
Apart from the excellent photography, the film shows little originality, but I particularly liked the budding friendship of Dracula and the prudish, oldest sister, who never gets offered as a romantic option, but is actually the best match for the eccentric count. There are tender moments between the two that were quite touching.
The movie is still worth watching. "Flesh For Frankenstein" has become the more notorious of the two, but Dracula still has it's moments.
Starts well...loses momentum
"Journey to the Far Side of the Sun" has such a great premise that it's a real disappointment that they makers didn't do more with it. The film actually comes to a close just when it should get going. Handled correctly it could have led to a spin off TV series!
If you are unfamiliar with the plot, let me fill you in on the good stuff. A planet is discovered on the far side of the sun, in exactly the same orbital rotation as the earth but on the opposite side, which explains why it has never been seen from earth before. A spacecraft is sent out to investigate it, with two astronauts on board. The long journey ends with them crash landing on the new planet, and what they find there is beyond their wildest expectations.
What you will see straight away when you watch this film is the trademark style of a Gerry Anderson production. Filled with miniatures models of groovy buildings and spacecraft, it brings to mind a TV episode of Thunderbirds or Joe 90 on the big screen. This is a mixed blessing as Gerry Andersons miniatures always looked a bit like toys - very detailed and beautifully crafted toys, but when mixed with live actors appearing on full sized sets, the differences start to become noticeable. However this is science fiction from 1969 so be grateful that they are of a quality as high as this. The rest of the film looks great too, space fashion in all it's 1960's glory litters the screen, beautiful women, snappy gadgets and gaudy décor are present in abundance. The camera work in the film is great, everything looks crisp and colourful, again in the same way the the TV puppet shows always appeared. The acting is pretty good too, from the two male leads Ian Hendry and Roy Thinnes (for the US audiences) and the supporting cast too.
I had great fun watching this but my main gripe is the huge disappointment that I experienced after the film revealed it's "twist". The twist itself is great but from that point onwards the film has nowhere to go, and nothing to do with it's trump card. The ending seemed ridiculous to me, because it basically puts a stop to so many intriguing "what if's" that could have been dreamed up, but instead they chose a really bad pay- off for all the build-up that had been so wonderfully laid down.
You should have a great time watching the first 80 minutes of this film, but the last 20 might well leave you unsatisfied. It looks so good and the pacing of the first hour is fantastic. I just wish things had been taken somewhere more exciting instead of thrown in the trash, which seem to me how the scriptwriters decided to end the story.
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
Re-appraising old Monroe movies in the modern age does not show them in a good light. "How to Marry a Millionaire" tells a pretty sour tale of three gal pals who try to swindle themselves into a life of money and rich husbands. That's the plot, told with a sense of humour or course, but that's still the plot.
Although it's a fairly nicely filmed movie, it looks very artificial, with any outdoor scenes looking particularly fake. but the cinemascope photography is bright as a button. The three leads (Bacall, Grable and Monroe) make a rather odd trio, but they look and dress great. It's just a shame that the plot leaves such a nasty taste in the mouth. Admittedly Grable ends up ditching the money plan and marrying for love, but not before first telling her suitor that she's wasted her time on him... before having a change of heart and going back to him (oddly, the break up is shown on screen but the re-union is not). Monroe's character finds redemption not by marrying for love, but by accepting herself as a glasses wearer. I could forgive these, but the worst offender is Bacall's character who is the most cut-throat in the game of love. She ends up marrying for love too, resigning herself to being the wife of a "gas pump jockey", only to find out that he's been a secret millionaire all along. So the most money-grabbing of the three gets the richest husband. What a great moral message. The film actually ends with a really vile shot of the secret millionaire hubby pulling out a massive rolls of dollar bills and peeling off a hundred to pay for something, and the three ladies all fall off their chairs in a faint at the sight of it. Hilarious punchline? I think not...it's like money as pornography. Presumably in the mid 1950's this was humour, but I found this ending particularly tasteless. I'll have to accept that this attitude is of it's time. But I won't be watching this again
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
Although it contains one of cinema's most enduring and iconic scenes, The Seven Year Itch is not actually very good. Tom Ewell plays a married man who has the family apartment to himself for the summer, and Marilyn Monroe plays a ditzy blonde who lives upstairs. The plot charts the "will they, won't they?" situation, but hardly anything actually happens.
For Monroe fans, it's a poor deal as there is an awful lot of screen time devoted to Tom Ewell delivering extended monologues, which probably worked as a stage play (which this originally was), but gets pretty boring in a movie. This is not really Ewell's fault, he knows how to perform dialogue, but the script is not engaging, as it consists mostly of the character's neurotic musings and guilt about his attractiveness/fidelity/health/the heat/work/smoking, etc.
As soon as Monroe is on screen though, she lights it up, but the extent of her dimness is very forced, particularly as Ewell's character is so obviously trying to seduce her, yet she remains unbelievably and steadfastly oblivious to it for nearly all of the running time, while he burbles away via the ever present monologues. Even the skirt blowing scene is disappointing - a real let down when the on screen footage of the situation is compared to the wealth of still photographs that exist of the famous event, because in the movie it's barely even shown.
Directed by Billy Wilder, it's nowhere near as smart and sassy as "Some Like It Hot". I think the stage origins drag it down. Town Ewelll is actually the central character, but he fights a losing battle against both the luminous Monroe, and the drivel of his character's dialogue. And for Marilyn Monroe fans, she does provide a textbook dizzy breathy blonde bombshell, but a sharper and wittier script would have made so much more of her.
The Uninvited (1944)
Spooky...but some flatness
I'm a big fan of classic supernatural movies, and The Uninvited is an enjoyable ghost story that takes the subject seriously, but it does have a few flaws. Set in Cornwall, it tells a simple story in which Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey play the new owners of a large house on the coast. They discover that is is haunted. Rather than flee, they endure the frightening situation and try to put the spirit to rest. The photography and art direction are great. The house looks elegant at yet slightly sinister but not overtly "spooked-up" . The acting is good, although somewhat dated in delivery and style when viewed today. And the story follows an interesting flow of turns and revelations, with a satisfying conclusion. The scares in the film are well handled. When there are strange noises at night, or when Milland is exploring in the dark, the sense of unease is handled well. One of my favourite scenes is when all the characters are in a room and some large double doors open. In the first second we don't register this, but when the doors are fully open and nobody is there. it's suddenly frightening. Same thing when Milland and Hussey hear noises at night and look down the stairs. Somehow, the inky blackness of the lower hallway looks horrific. The director should be given credit for being able to turn the mundane into the unsettling, and he does it on several occasions.
However I said the film has flaws, and I do think it falls down in certain areas. There are scenes of humour inserted all over the place which really dilute the tension. Cute dogs and squirrels running about with Disney-esque music, Ray Milland saying he's feeling brave but performing almost goofy facial expressions to "portray" that he is not come to mind. The "salt-of-the-earth" Irish housekeeper is a complete cliché. To be honest the central premise is also slightly off-kilter by having Milland and Hussey as brother and sister rather than a married couple. This robs the film of having any real emotional heart as there is no visible emotional investment between the pair. Instead, they both find romance with other characters: Milland sets his cap at a 20 year old girl which is excruciating to watch as he is far too old for her, and Hussey gets stuck with a doctor as he's the first and only eligible male she meets in the movie. Ah, romance!
One more thing that didn't sit well with me is how disappointing the climactic revelation is. It really only hit me on my second watch of the move, but the way the film wraps up the proceedings once the truth behind the haunting is revealed is botched. I think it's the way the revelation is handled by the actors who quickly blurt out some expository dialogue and that's that. The film doesn't do drama via close ups or pauses, and the way that the character of Stella almost tosses off what could be a life-changing revelation with a few seconds of script reading is very poor. And now I realise what troubles me about the movie as a whole - none of the characters has any emotional depth. Milland and Hussey are as dull and dry as cardboard. Stella is blank and gauche, and everyone else is even more lifeless.
In writing this I have just realised I how much have heavily criticised a movie which I am actually quite fond of, and that I recommend as a good treatment of the supernatural in serious vintage cinema. I still think it is, but I'm not going to shy away from saying that it has faults. Ghostly atmosphere and unease it definitely has, but passion or believable emotion seems to be lacking.
The Incredible Melting Man (1977)
Gooey and not a lot else
The Incredible Melting Man is a movie with the slenderest plot imaginable: a man called Steve West develops a condition which causes his flesh to liquefy and drip off. He goes on the run killing people until the film ends. That's it.
"TIMM" (I'm not writing out those words any more than I have to) might have worked if this flimsy situation was padded out with some emotion. The title character only appears in the film as a recognisable human being for the first 2-3 minutes. Pretty soon after that he's a shambling, people-eating ghoul with no dialogue and only a wheezy laboured breathing noise to act with. If the character of Steve West had been given any kind of personality, we could have sympathised, or at least cared just a little bit about him and his predicament, but he has no character whatsoever. The film only seems to exist to showcase the gory attacks and the disgusting melt effects, both of which are well done, although as usual it's easy to spot when we are seeing the actor's real eyes through the gloop and when we are seeing a very different looking one plop out.
The movie is full of very poorly acted and staged scenes. Steve West starts out confined to a hospital, but when a screaming nurse dashes out of his room, she is next seen running through what looks like a huge hangar/warehouse/cold storage corridor. Which is also deserted. Later on, two main characters are seen being driven along this same corridor on some kind of automated moving platform, going past chicken wire screen doors covering vast chambers of giant machinery, venting and blinking lights. What was the name of this "hospital" again? A scene involving a fisherman ends with a very nasty scene of a severed head breaking open on rocks - great effects, though. A painfully bad scene of hide and seek with three child actors really grates on the viewers patience, as does an even worse scene of a doddery old couple in a car talking about oranges and lemons. As does the scene where a young couple are attacked at home and the director thought it would be good to show the woman going into an unconvincing meltdown for many, many frames of pointless screen time.
It is possible to watch TIMM just for the gore and the gloop, but along with this you have to endure the poorness of a fake eye falling out, the ineptness of the actor keeping his arm inside his shirt to simulate not having one, and the fact the Steve West's body seems overall a lot larger and fatter after he starts dissolving than it was before, due to the makeup having to be applied over a normal, non-melting actor. Add to that all of the terrible scenes of non-horror that pad out the running time, and you've got an experience not really worth sitting through.
Die Säge des Todes (1981)
Grotty but gory
I think if it wasn't for the fame that being a "video nasty" brought it, "Bloody Moon" wouldn't be enjoying anything like the longevity it currently has. Set in a Spanish language school for girls (how original), the story sees our heroine Angela in peril as her friend begin to die around her, and nobody believes her. Suspects are all over the place, one gory murder follows another until the truth is revealed. The thin plot is a threadbare mechanism with only enough substance to it to drive the most basic of story events, and all attempts to generate mystery and tension fall completely flat. A lot of this is due to the English language soundtrack which has the most inept dubbing I've seen for a long time. There's an excess of "sexy" giggling and gossiping that goes with every scene of the female cast members, unless they are being stalked or terrorised, in which case it changes to an excess of screaming and wailing. None of the vocal performances match what the actresses appear to be saying in the slightest. Trying to work out whodunnit is hampered by the appalling direction, in which red herring characters pop up and down every few moments before and after a murder scene, making you wonder if anything you are seeing is by design or just random.
Truly awful film-making is here in abundance, in such scenes as the one where Inga is merrily driven to a saw mill and tied up, gabbling the entire time, or the one in which Angela sees a shadow on the wall, walks backwards (??) towards it and stabs the figure hysterically and then runs off, or the one where a snake dangles into view and is snipped to death by hedge cutters, or the one where a huge foam rock bounces out of nowhere to menace Angela, or all the time we spend watching the girls in their language class and nothing actually happens, or the one with Inga (again - she's particularly bad) bouncing on her bed pretending to be having sex, with a dead body in her wardrobe that it would be impossible for her not to notice, and many, many more. The only strength the film could possibly claim to have is the graphic gore, but these scenes are also pretty poorly done. Some work well for being crudely violent (the sawmill decapitation and the knife through breast killing), but the death by neck- clamp is blatantly out of focus, and most of the others are amateurishly accomplished.
If you only want to see a lot of boobs and blood, plus some of the worst 80's knitwear ever put on celluloid, then treat yourself. Otherwise, this is almost laughably terrible. Even the soundtrack, which underscores the drama with lots of deep "bloop-bloop" noises is unforgivable. The 2 stars are for the saw mill murder as it has become almost iconic, and at least the film has enough energy not to be boring.
Chilling movie about contagion
An early David Cronenberg film, "Rabid" showcases the director's skill at unsettling his audience with themes of disease transmission and infection. The plot sees the heroine Rose (Marilyn Chambers) suffering a road accident and receiving emergency treatment at a plastic surgery clinic (due to it being the closest place to the accident site). The treatment she receives is experimental, and the results are unexpected to say the least because Rose develops some very unnatural eating habits, leaving a string of victims behind her, who go on to spread a fatal infection to other people.
The character development is better than it might have been. Rose is oblivious to the chaos she is causing. She is scared and confused by her own physical condition, but unaware that her victims are becoming something far worse than she is. Marilyn Chambers does a good job in the role. Wavering between frightened, nauseous, sexually alluring and bewildered, she successfully carries the movie. Some of her ambiguous expressions may be a result of the actress's inexperience but I think this makes Rose a complex character. In some of her scenes she has an impassive, almost sleepwalking demeanour but for me this works too, and I was able to imagine the many layers of inner dialogue going on inside her mind.
Chambers is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast. All the acting is all very natural, and the people who get ill really do look horrible. The film goes a lot further with it's spread of the rabies-like disease than I expected, skilfully hiding it's low budget. Scenes of attacks on subway trains and in shopping malls are chilling and realistic. The special effects are very good. My only niggle is the amount of time Rose spends naked in the film, in many scenes where it is simply not relevant, and it seems like Cronenberg exploited Chamber's past movie career by asking her to do this and boost box office takings. The role would have worked very well without it. One other issue is that all of the men Rose meets after she leaves the hospital seem to be slimeballs who only want one thing. Like his previous film "Shivers", the movie seems to warn of the perils of sexual contact. It does it well, and the result is effective and memorable.
Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976)
This cheap and tawdry disaster of a movie appears to be the re-telling of the Marilyn Monroe story in some kind of parallel universe. A universe where documented facts don't matter, and where the fashions, music and sensibilities of the1970s were somehow alive and well 30 years too early, as Marilyn grew from abused teenage orphan to casting-couch victim, to Hollywood star. Along the way she is raped by multiple men (and a woman), gets mixed up in the porn and snuff movie business, slashes her wrists, shacks up with some Hugh Hefner producer type, speaks to people with the filthiest mouth imaginable, and ends the movie with the immortal line "That's the last cock I'll ever have to suck!". Hooray for Hollywood.
Apart from all the misery and abuse, the film seems to suggest that the transformation from Norma Jean into the blonde bombshell Marilyn is very sudden - just the addition of a new hairdo and a figure hugging silver dress seem to do the trick, and the story ends soon afterwards.
Poor Misty Rowe does her best, and I really mean that. Although she gives it a go, she plays the part with the dumb blonde act and constant kittenish whisper right from the start, which I don't think is how Monroe acted off camera, and I think this was pretty ill advised. The script is the reason she comes across so poorly, it's diabolical. The rest of the cast is a lot worse, and the attention to period detail is all but absent. The movie's lighting, sound and general quality are all rock bottom, and there's really nothing here for anyone to enjoy
Less of a sequel, and more of a remake, this 2nd movie about the Blind Dead re- hashes the whole scenario including the "origin" story, and just remakes the first movie all over again with not very many new ideas.
This time it's a whole village that is terrorised. Due to the actions of an imbecilic villager, the log dead Templars are fed with blood and come out of their graves to wreak more havoc. The village suffers an invasion during a night of celebrations, and many deaths occur before the Templars are defeated.
The recycling of material from the first movie is very lazy. We have the same gory flashback to a sacrifice of a young girl (rubber boobs being cut up with a knife again), we have the slow motion clip-clopping horses, the moaning and clanking soundtrack and the macho fights over women by several boorish male villagers.
Luckily the film benefits from very real settings of the village and ruined abbey/castle, and the look of the ghouls themselves still packs a punch. The effects are not very good. In the "crowd" scenes, it's very obvious that some of the zombies are just immobile skulls on sticks with a tatty robe thrown over them - especially when they are beaten down and collapse immediately like a pile of cardboard tubes and coat hangers.
A few set pieces however really do work: firstly when the evil major uses a small child as bait (!) in order to selfishly escape from the monsters. This is a very effective sequence and the poor girl looks convincingly unhappy upon finding herself among the skeletal mob. Don't worry, the evil major pays heavily for this craven behaviour! The second effective sequence is the climax when the survivors attempt to creep past the blind dead as dawn breaks...this is great film making and works despite the rest of the films cheap effects.
On the whole, though, it's only a remake of the original, which has so many original touches it was a hard act to follow. But follow it they did, and then again, two more times after this one!
Burnt Offerings (1976)
"Burnt Offerings" is a haunted house movie, not reviewed very kindly among horror fans, and it does kind of lay itself open for this by being a bit daft. Basically, a not-so happy family rent out a HUGE empty mansion for the summer, from very kindly caretakers and for next to nothing (Why is it so cheap? What's the catch? Oh please...). Soon, they are turning on each other and terrible things are afoot. Will they escape alive?
I won't reveal the secret of the house in Burnt Offerings, just in case a handful of people wish to find it out first hand, but be aware that the title is completely meaningless! What you should know in advance, though, is that Karen Black, Oliver Reed and Bette Davis (plus small boy) have to be the most unlikely family unit ever in existence - they are all nothing like each other. I know this is supposed to be a dysfunctional family, but there isn't an ounce of screen magic between any of them, they all act like they are not even on the same screens as each other, let alone in the same film. Without this important chemistry, you may find you don't have the slightest interest in the fate of this unlikeable bunch, as none of the characters are even particularly nice people: Black is a whiney drudge, Reed is a thug, and Bette Davis plays almost no important part at all.
Apart from the quite picturesque looking house at the centre of all the trouble, there isn't really a lot of on screen excitement to get carried away with either. There are very few shock or horror scenes, and the very low level of evil atmosphere marks this down as more of a "made-for-TV" chiller rather than the big budget theatrical release it is supposed to be. Mind you it was created by TV veteran Dan Curtis, who has a very impressive TV success legacy to his name, but maybe that is exactly what seems to be keeping it rooted in this understated territory. Now I can enjoy a low key thriller, but with all the rather grand presentation, I felt let down that nothing really dazzling ever actually happened.
There are however, some good moments. All the characters seem to be menaced in ways that seem tailor made to prey on their personal fears (Reed's visions are of a creepy hearse driver which actives painful memories of his mother's death). This personal manipulation is a nice idea, but it's not new, as characters being preyed on by something that "knows what scares you the most" is an old horror staple, already used a decade earlier in "The Haunting", a film which this movie often draws comparisons with. Still, some of it works. Reed has one good scene when he appears driven to quite roughly (and realistically) drown the young son in the swimming pool - I wondered for a moment whether the boy's struggles were actually acting or not! Black's fate is a bit more whimsical, she appears to drift into reveries that connect with the former residents of the house and ends up moping over old photos and spending all day in the attic. And as mentioned, Bette Davis has an insult of a role that simply sees her fall prone to some degenerative affliction and become bed-ridden and unintelligible.
The main problem (and it's one that the film is not alone in), is that there is no reason why these people don't just pack up their stuff and leave. The script still gives us all the various excuses, but surely when lives are very obviously at risk, they would just get out? And when they finally do manage this, the script STILL engineers a way to get them to follow each other back inside, i.e. "She's been gone too long, I'll just go back inside too and check on her...arghhh!"...Groan!
Sorry, it's just not exciting or horrifying enough to satisfy horror or haunted house fans. The house is elegant rather than creepy, and the scares are thinly served. Watch it only if bored, or if any of the cast are favourite actors of yours.
Un delitto poco comune (1988)
Lame and limp
A successful pianist, surrounded by beautiful female admirers, is dogged by a string of murders that seem to follow him around. The movie follows him as his life begins to unravel. I admire Shameless for bringing these movies out for us to experience, but this is not a good film. It's badly made, and it looks AND sounds horrible. The sound quality is really bad, the volume leaps between low muffled spoken dialogue one minute, to heavy, blaring orchestral music the next. I was playing with the TV remote to whole time to compensate for this. And when stars Michael York and Donald Pleasance speak their lines, the audio quality is appalling - totally different to the person they are having a conversation with. Donald Pleasance in particular speaks in every scene (no matter where he is) with the tonal quality of being in an echoey, tiled chamber, while everyone else's vocals sound really close and flat. There's no way to get immersed in the performances with sloppy dubbing like this.
The editing and flow of the various scenes is also really bad. Case in point, the scene when one victim is knifed at a train station, the scene carries through her death scene to the police arriving, body being covered up and Michael York watching in anguish, with the same intense score, as though these thing are all happening at the same time. That's not artistic, thats bad movie crafting. Michael York (as the main character) seems to dash all over the place with no sense of any real time passing. You'd think that with the experience that director Deodato has under his belt, there would be a bit more polish than this.
So what are we left with? Some splashy but cheap gore (who has a bedroom lampshade with a 2ft spike on it?), some attractive ladies who's appeal is sadly ruined by terrible late 1980's fashion disasters. The acting is dire. The killer seems to have no motive for the way he is behaving. Donald Pleasance looks troubled and unwell the entire time. Michael York is shrill and hammy.
Sorry, but I'd give this one a miss. You are very likely to lose interest before the whole sorry thing limps to a close.
The Balcony (1963)
I watched this film out of curiosity and came away very unsatisfied. This probably worked as a play, but even as that it must have been hard work to sit through. Serious and pompous, with a lot of long, long scenes of talking, it's definitely a piece about words. I'll take it that this is the style of the Jean Genet source material.
The story tells of a brothel that is still in operation while the country outside is falling into chaos due to a revolution. People from the brothel are persuaded to use their skills in role play to pose as various heads of power and calm the panicking masses.
The film contains many lengthy vignettes where characters just read heavy and pretentious dialogue to each other in small rooms/stages, or make speeches in cheap and unconvincing "interaction" with stock footage of crowds outside. It's barely using the medium of film to all to any advantage when things are as threadbare as this. Even the music is nasty and discordant.
There's nothing here that takes advantage of the switch from stage to screen. It's little more than an earnest group "reading" of the script. All of the cast look like they are acting, nobody realistically inhabits any single one of the characters. I guess this movie is considered "art" because of the pedigree of the literary source material, but as screen entertainment, this is dismal.
The Haunted House of Horror (1969)
The Haunted House of Horror is a boring and dated horror movie from England about a group of "swinging party goers" who spend a night in an empty house for fun, only to find that a murder is committed. There are spoilers in this review, but as the film is no classic, I feel like you might as well know what you are going to be in for if you are remotely interested in seeing it.
You could imagine this film building to some kind of sustained suspense as the group arrive and begin exploring the house with candles, but once the murder is committed, the film spirals into all sorts of baffling red herrings and pointless dead ends. The group immediately decide to hush up the murder rather than call the police. Next, they all leave the house without further incident and go back to their lives. So much for the "horror"! The middle chunk of the film then shows us some very boring police investigations over the missing person, and the friends meet up to discuss what they should do - you're in for a laugh when you hear what they agree on - to go back to the house again and search it from top to bottom. Sounds reasonable enough, except that rather do it in daylight, they deem it necessary to do it in the middle of the night, and also to follow the exact same actions as they did on the night of the murder. WHY?? God knows. But off they troop again, and there is another portion of screen time allotted to creeping about with candles AGAIN, and a really dismal attempt at suspense in a ridiculous "who-is-holding-the-knife?" scene with two characters, in a scene which generates absolutely no tension at all. The film even does a double-take of a female character getting her shoe caught in the same staircase twice, adding no real dramatic effect (either time). The story isn't very strong at all. If all the action had taken place on a single night there could have been some tension but having everybody leave and then come back again a month (!) later to "solve the mystery" is ludicrous.
The film also doesn't look great. There are many day-for-night shots which look very obvious. The exterior shots of the house look like they are of a different house each time. Character seem to swap having affairs with one character to another for no reason. One of the women has a rich "sugar daddy" boyfriend who spies on her throughout the whole thing, again this has nothing to do with the rest of the story. The special effects are terrible, with blood that looks like tomato soup being smeared on the outside of people's skin or clothing to simulate shocking gore. The main entertainment comes from seeing the awful fashions of the period being liberally unleashed across the proceedings, but that alone does not make this movie worth watching! So...no chills, or thrills, and a ridiculous plot.
Up from the Depths (1979)
"Up From The Depths" belongs at the bottom of any discerning movie-buff's list of "Jaws" relatives, it is truly dire. The plot summary needs no more than one line - a giant monster fish terrorises staff and holidaymakers at a Hawaiian beach resort.
The movie is actually not too badly filmed and a lot of the action takes place on boats and in open water. I say "action", although in fact there isn't really very much. The giant fish attacks are portrayed on screen by means of very fast cutting, and lots of extreme close ups of thrashing, bubbles and red tinted water, so in other words, NOTHING. The fish, when it does make it's fleeting appearances is pretty plastic and immobile looking, although there are almost no clear shots of it anywhere in the entire movie.
What can't be ignored, though, is the unbelievable audio soundtrack. According to another reviewer's comments about the movie on IMDb, this was all added in post- production because the original live recorded soundtrack was lost. This makes for some pretty jaw-dropping viewing, and if you come in expecting to watch the film for laughs. you might even find it hilarious. Towards the end, when a full scale hunt gets underway for the fish, the movie begins to resemble the comedy movie "Airplane!" as all the cast speak the most ridiculous dialogue in rapid fire comedy turns. It makes it look like the film was originally intended to be a comedy...maybe it was? If it wasn't, then the vocal dubbing well and truly destroys it. Maybe the post-dub recording cast didn't give a damn and just decided to enjoy themselves. It's probably the best thing about the movie.
Sadly, the visual disappointment of the fishy menace itself, and the lack of any real special effects in general, mean that "Up From The Depths" is devoid of any tension or drama. But bad movie fans might find it to be worth a look
Wicked, Wicked (1973)
Wicked Wicked is an amusing film about a stalker killing pretty blonde women in a hotel. There's nothing unusual about that except for the movie's gimmick of presenting the entire story in split screen, which is a novelty but it does kind of dilute the suspense rather. Split screen can work in horror - Brian De Palma has used it on more than one occasion and made effective use of it, but here it's rather irritating. What doesn't help is you never really get a good view o anything as the two images are small and not very hi definition (well it was 1973!). For just a couple of very short moments of screen time, the double screen reverts to a single view and seeing this left me yearning for the whole movie to be like this, so that watching it would be less hard work! . Apart from the gimmick, most other aspects of Wicked, Wicked are fun but mediocre. The only DVD release is on the Warner Archive label which is very badly cut! Those archive DVDs are sold at a premium price so pushing an incomplete version of the film is quite an insult to the fans who wish to buy it. For novelty value only
La saga de los Drácula (1973)
A bit wobbly
The Dracula Saga is a rather ragged attempt at a costume horror movie that sadly fails on more levels than it succeeds. The story follows a young couple travelling to a remote castle in central Europe to visit the remaining family relations of the wife, who is pregnant. Along the way villagers warn them that the castle is evil, and dead bodies are found along the way with neck wounds. Nothing very original there! On arrival at the castle, all manner of strange things happen as the truth about the family background is revealed...which should come as no surprise, bearing in mind the title of the movie! There is a fair amount of nudity, with lots of female cast members removing their blouses, and some gruesome action as well, especially at the movie's climax.
Unfortunately the enjoyment of all this is hampered by some very basic shoddiness. Although Deimos Films have found a beautiful clean print, and colours are rich and clear, a lot of shots are out of focus. No amount of remastering can correct badly focused photography, and it really shows. Several shots also have a gauze-like mesh effect overlaid on them, which at first I thought was a technical issue, but in reflection it might have been a failed attempt by the director to add atmosphere. The acting is not very good, the English language dub is truly awful, and in another bizarre lapse of continuity, the heroine clearly wears different wigs in different scenes throughout the story!
I suppose this accounts for why Leon Klimovsky never made it as a big name horror director. Having a stunning authentic castle as a setting and adding lots of bare boobs does not make up for all the other budgetary and artistic shortcomings. Even European beauty Helga Line (in a minor role) is wasted here. I do love Deimos' presentation of these Euro horrors, they do very well with the quality, packaging and DVD features. This is just not one of the better movies.
Chamber of Horrors (1966)
Mild thrills but a bit of a con
This little known 1966 movie tells of a murderer taking revenge on those responsible for his capture in various warped ways. His gimmick is that he has a missing hand, and is able to screw various weapons of death into the stump in order to carry out his executions. Trying to catch him are the police plus two amateur detectives who run a wax museum. Incidentally, the inclusion of the wax museum seems to be a mere side line of the plot, as it serves no real dramatic purpose except to provide some visual interest.
The film is nicely shot, although it does look like a polished and extended episode of a TV show - which according to most sources, is what it was originally intended to be. The acting is pretty good, the period details is as good as any TV series from the 1960's could get away with on a limited budget. The story is interesting and entertaining, and the climactic scene is fun.
But the reason for my gripe about it being a con is it's very core gimmick: the Horror Horn and the Fear Flasher. The film takes great pains to point out that these warnings will alert the audience to look away whenever a horrible thing is about to happen on screen - but every time the alarm goes off, not one damn horrible thing happens on screen! The action immediately fades out or cuts away to another scene as soon as the alarms has ended - no blood, no special effects, nothing - which makes for the lamest, weakest excuse for horror I have ever seen. At least William Castle delivered on his gimmicks. This film has absolutely no payoffs for it's promises.
Gripe over, as I said earlier it's entertaining enough, but the alarm gimmick is a serious disappointment. Maybe it was added after the filming was complete, and the movie was never intended to be graphic. You could watch this on a Saturday morning and not raise a single goose-bump. Shame.
Ally McBeal (1997)
Great show that eventually unravelled
I've just watched all five seasons of Ally McBeal again and the gloss it had when it was first aired does seem to have worn off. Basically the story of a kooky, single female professional in short skirts, whose life revolves around her ex, her inner world, and her career as a lawyer, does't really progress very far in it's 5 seasons. It also goes downhill quite quickly from the later half of Season 2 onwards, but more on that later. This is a review of the entire series, so there will be SPOILERS.
Season 1 introduces us to Ally and her quirky outlook on life. Basically all of the first season is one long tale of pining for lost love as Ally works alongside childhood sweetheart /soul- mate, Billy, who is now married to another woman. Of course, they all work at the same firm, a company called Cage & Fish. The episodes follow an extremely repetitive template: Ally and her firm take on a case, which always hold up a mirror to the emotions and events going on in Ally's personal life in that episode. As well as defending cases in court, Ally and her colleagues spend each evening after work in a bar, mulling over events of the day, while "bar singer" Vonda Sheperd sings songs that - funnily enough - also underscore the emotions and events of the episode. The episode will normally end with Ally (or occasionally another main character) speaking from the heart during the trial, using their parallel pain and insight to win over the jury, and thus (nearly always) winning the case.
Season 2 kicks off in the exact same style, demonstrating that the show really seems to have no direction to move in. Two new characters are introduced, Nelle and Ling, which normally speaks of desperation in a show, but luckily both Nell and Ling are very entertaining and played to perfection by Portia De Rossi and Lucy Liu. Nelle is by far the more interesting of the two, and I would love to have seen more time spent on her character.
On to Season 3, and this is where I started to lose my faith in the show on my first viewing. The character of Billy now becomes easily the worst aspect of the show, with his metamorphosis into an idiot. I never really warmed to the character of Billy, and sadly by season 3 she now has no depth whatsoever, which turns this whole plot strand into a cartoon. Luckily there are episodes that still have warmth, where the other cast members get a chance to show some depth. Episodes like the one where Elaine finds an abandoned baby, or where Ling makes friends with people in a care home, are good showcases for some nice stories and acting. Ally carries on dating guys and failing, but she is so picky that it makes you lose a lot of sympathy with Ally's so-called loneliness.
So here we are at Season 4 and I was relieved to see that the show seem to gather itself again. Characters feel more realistic, although by now Georgia has been silently written out of the show, while Nelle and new guy Mark pretty much has nothing to do. But the introduction of Robert Downey Junior as a new love interest is pretty good, and it's a shame that this was marred by the later scandal involving the actor, as he brings a lot to the show. Same for Anne Heche as a new love interest for John Cage, another quirky character (of course), but thanks to Heche's acting ability I think it comes across nicely. Season 4 concentrates on Ally's insecurity as part of a couple instead of her insecurity at being single, which is at least a change from three whole seasons where she was incapable of holding onto a man at all. But all in all, Season 4 is an improvement on the shallow and erratic Season 3.
And now finally Season 5, where the whole thing really unravels and slides down the hillside to the bottom. It's easy to see why Season 5 is the last one. Characters are dropping like flies, some are just not carried forward from Season 4 (Renee, Mark), others gradually appear less and less and then disappear (John Cage), and others are turned into little more than extras without story lines of their own (Nelle, Elaine). The worst aspect of the season is to introduce new characters at an alarming rate - including a new lawyer (Jenny) who is identical to Ally, which seems to serve no dramatic purpose. Ling returns briefly in a new ludicrous side story, and of course (for people that remember it), Ally acquires a 10 year old daughter. But other than that the plots go all over the place. Ally pretty much stops taking on any legal cases altogether and all we see is her being a mother. The abrupt tying up of events in the final episode is ridiculously condensed.
So in conclusion, it's a case of diminishing returns for the series as a whole. The positives that hold the entire thing together and made me want to return to watching are is the main cast, who are all pretty good. There are some touching moments in several episodes. Seasons 1, 2 and 4 are the best. The saddest thing is to wonder if the series might have recovered if Robert Downey Jnr hadn't had to leave, as he was really making the series pick up again, but by Season 5, it seemed like other cast members too were either opting out or being fired. With issues like this to contend with, it's no wonder the series was incapable having a longer run.