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A Forgotten Gem from the Vietnam Era
5 January 2016
WELCOME HOME JOHNNY BRISTOL is a sorely underrated and mostly forgotten little gem of Vietnam War-related horror. MARTIN LANDAU is outstanding in the title role of a U.S. Army Captain rescued from captivity in North Vietnam and returned to the States to convalesce at an Army Hospital. He falls in love with his attending nurse Ann Palmer(JANE Alexander)and wants to marry her in his hometown of Charles, Vermont- a bucolic little hamlet he grew up in of which he has fond and wonderful memories. When they make the trip, they discover that the town is not there- and there's no official record of any town by that name ever existing in Vermont. And this is where the horror begins, for LANDAU is convinced that a Government conspiracy is at work- that a top-secret calamity occurred there and that the Army is covering it up. This thesis fits in very nicely with what was happening in the country at the time- the general distrust of the Government and all the revelations related to our debacle in Vietnam that Washington tried to hide. For those who haven't yet seen this minor masterpiece, I won't give away the denouement except to say that when the truth is finally revealed, it will be as jolting to the viewer as it was to the Captain.
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Drones (2010)
A Quirky and Compelling Sci-Fi Comedy
25 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I caught this on cable a couple of nights ago while channel-surfing and was very pleasantly surprised and entertained by it. The main reason why I decided to watch it was because I saw Angela Bettis' name in the on-screen blurb. I enjoy her performances and I figured if she's in it, it's worth a viewing. I was not disappointed. As the female lead, she carries the whole movie and does so quite competently. She is just an absolute joy to watch. She has a great talent of being able to blend both the comedic and the dramatic and to make it believable. She's both sweet and sinister. Though the plot is ostensibly about space aliens masquerading as humans and living among us as they perfect whatever plans they have in mind for Earth, that's only a subtext to the main theme. These different alien species(who seem to be unaware of the others' presence here) are interested in either colonizing our planet and becoming our supervisors at work(!!) or wiping out humankind and grabbing our natural resources. But that's just a plot device to allow a satiric look at corporate office politics and culture and the rewards and dangers of office romance. It all works beautifully and one can see that the cast had a fun time making this film. Samm Levine and Dave Allen are just wonderful and James Urbaniak, with his humorous deadpan facial expressions, will crack you up. Don't miss this one. It's a real hoot!
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One Step Beyond: The Riddle (1959)
Season 1, Episode 22
Reincarnation for Beginners
6 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Dealing with the cycle of rebirth, reincarnation and revenge, this is one of the very best episodes of the series. A married couple, Leonard and Elizabeth Barrett of Westport, Connecticut, are vacationing in India. Travelling by rail on the Bombay-Calcutta Mail, their trip takes an unexpected and frightening turn when an elderly man named Kumar(PATRICK WESTWOOD), who bears a knife scar on his neck, enters their compartment by mistake. As soon as Mr. Barrett(WARREN STEVENS) lays eyes on him, he has an incredibly hostile and violent reaction to Kumar. The very sight of this inoffensive and harmless old man provokes such hateful, murderous rage in her husband, that Mrs. Barrett(BETHEL LESLIE) can't believe what she's witnessing. She simply can't fathom why her husband is acting this way. Barrett moves to attack Kumar with the jagged neck of a water bottle he had smashed in his rage. Kumar's life is saved by the sudden appearance of the conductor(LEONARD STRONG), who was drawn by the commotion. Understandably confused and frightened by this man's violent hatred towards him, Kumar whimpers piteously in his native tongue, begging forgiveness for the intrusion and the misunderstanding. The conductor ushers him away and admonishes Barrett for his intemperate behavior over such a minor mistake. When the train pulls into the town of Narainpur, where Kumar lives, he gets off and Barrett watches him walk away, all the while ranting to his wife that if Kumar tries anything, he'll kill him. Kumar, feeling Barrett's eyes on the back of his neck, turns and stares very intently at Barrett, as if he were searching Barrett's face for something recognizable. Barrett then chases Kumar through the crowded streets of the town until, overcome by heat exhaustion, he collapses unconscious. A medical missionary named Graham(BARRY ATWATER) and Constable Gaising(ARTHUR BATANIDES) arrive. Gaising questions Mrs. Barrett as to why she and her husband are there and she tells him that her husband left the train unexpectedly. Barrett, loaded onto a jeep to be taken to the medical mission, rants that "I've got to find him. I've got to find him." The constable now ratchets up the level of his inquiry and Mrs. Barrett tells him there was an old man on the train and that her husband took a dislike to him. She describes the man down to the scar on his neck and Gaisingh realizes it's someone he knows very well. He confiscates Barrett's passport, telling Mrs. Barrett he'll need it for his report. At the mission, Barrett tells Graham that he's as perplexed as anyone over what occurred. He says this has never happened to him before and that there isn't anyone he really dislikes. Yet, the moment he saw Kumar, he felt this incredible hatred towards him and he knew if he didn't kill Kumar, Kumar was going to kill him. The constable arrives and tells Barrett that the Calcutta Express will be making an unscheduled stop that evening at 10:12 p.m. and that he and his wife will be on that train when it leaves. His tone and demeanor indicate that it's not open to discussion. Graham shows the Barretts the collection of odds and ends in his storeroom which the grateful villagers had given him over the years in appreciation for his services to them. One of these artifacts catches Barrett's eye. It's a clay sculpture of a woman's head with the word "piari" on its base. On hearing this word, Barrett translates it into the English "beloved." Both Mrs. Barrett and Graham regard him with amazement that he would somehow know this Hindi word. The sculpture is disfigured and Barrett says they're knife slashes made while the clay was still wet, almost as if he had personal knowledge of this. Barrett is transfixed by this sculpture and can't take his eyes off of it. When his wife returns later with his dinner, the sculpture is lying on the floor, smashed to pieces and her husband is gone. We then see Barrett, who has inexplicably lost his sight, make his way in his blindness to Kumar's home. Pounding on his door and violently screaming at him in Hindi, he breaks the window and moves to strangle Kumar with his bare hands. Kumar defends himself with his rifle. The constable, Graham and Mrs. Barrett arrive and they take the mortally wounded Barrett to the mission for treatment. Mrs. Barrett is at her wit's end to comprehend the apparent senselessness of what happened, but Constable Gaisingh knows. He tells her Kumar's wife asked a similar question- "How can the same thing happen twice in one lifetime?" He tells her that Kumar and a gifted artist named Ranjit were both rivals for the love of the same woman. Ranjit attacked Kumar, slashing him on the neck with a knife. Kumar defended himself with his own knife, the blade cutting across Ranjit's eyes, blinding him. On Kumar's wedding day, Ranjit made his way to Kumar's home to kill the man he had come to hate so passionately. But Kumar had a gun and used it on Ranjit in self-defense. Gaisingh tells Mrs. Barrett he remembers the date, July 17th, 1925, very well because it was his first homicide. He tells her he feels somewhat responsible for what happened because he didn't take better charge of her husband until the train arrived to collect him. Graham tells Mrs. Barrett to go to her husband and her cry of anguish from the next room tells us that Barrett has succumbed to his wound. Graham tells the constable that it's over. Gaisingh says "Is it?" and tells Graham to look at Barrett's date of birth on his passport and then tell him if it's ever over. Gaisingh, seeing confusion on Graham's face, tells him that Barrett was born on the same day that Kumar killed Ranjit. This is my all-time favorite episode- I give it 10 out of 10, hands down.
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One Step Beyond: Make Me Not a Witch (1959)
Season 2, Episode 14
Beautifully done
24 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
PATTY McCORMACK turns in a heartwarming and sensitive portrayal as Emmy Horvath, a sweet young farm girl who discovers one day that she has been made the recipient of a very unique and special gift. She suddenly finds that she can read people's minds and this ability causes consternation to her and her folks, especially her father. She's afraid that he will reject her for being a "witch." But what she doesn't know is that she has been given this ability for a very special reason. Praying in church one day, she confides in the priest (ROBERT EMHARDT)who saw that she was troubled and wanted to help her. The reason for this strange chain of events becomes very clear when two children become trapped on an island and have no means of getting off. The authorities do not know what specific island they're on, making the search for them all the more difficult. But there is someone who does know where the children are- an elderly Hispanic fisherman who, because of a paralytic stroke, has lost his ability to speak. The priest realizes that, with her ability to hear people's thoughts, young Emmy can be of help. She could "read" the old man and tell the priest where the children are. He knows now this is why she was given this gift. He goes to her home and tells her that this is the reason and that she's the only one who can help them find the children. They leave together and go to the old man, who's confined to a bed. The priest tells the elderly man to think of the island where the children are and Emmy will be able to hear his thoughts and pass them along. But when Emmy tries to "read" him, she cannot understand what he's "saying." It's unintelligible to her. The priest quickly realizes that he's thinking in Spanish. He tells him that Emmy does not speak Spanish and could he try to think in English. The man tries but cannot. Then the priest says that he knows a little Spanish and that the man should think slowly in Spanish so that Emmy could repeat his words. The priest would then attempt to translate them into English. This strategy works and watching Emmy haltingly pronounce the Spanish words, knowing that the children are going to be saved as a result, will bring tears to your eyes. And that this was indeed a miracle from God. Because once the children are found and rescued, Emmy's very special gift is no longer needed.
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The Twilight Zone: Twenty Two (1961)
Season 2, Episode 17
Death is a woman
24 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of the scariest, most nerve-wracking episodes in the series. It is genuinely frightening and will affect you on a visceral level. It's done so well that it's actually discomfiting to watch. It borrows its seminal idea from a segment in the 1945 English horror entry "Dead of Night", but that's where the similarity ends. The episode goes down a different path entirely and has its own unique character and identity. While paying homage to its earlier predecessor, it stands alone quite well. Some of the other reviewers have criticized the fact that it was shot on videotape, claiming that it detracts from the quality of what we see on screen. However, this reviewer feels that it does exactly the opposite. It's an asset, not a liability. Filming it on videotape actually provides a documentary -like feel to the production, enhancing the realism and the shock value.

We are introduced to the character of Liz Powell(BARBARA NICHOLS), a professional nightclub dancer who has been hospitalized for nervous exhaustion and fatigue brought on by overwork. She has been experiencing a recurring nightmare for the past six nights, which she claims is not a dream, but an actual waking occurrence. Her Doctor, played in a suitably creepy and sardonic manner by JONATHAN HARRIS, refuses to allow that it's anything more than a bad dream caused by her fatigued mind playing tricks on her.

This "dream" unfolds in an exact chronology each time. She is in a fitful, restless semi-slumber and awakens feeling very thirsty. The bedside clock is ticking loudly and as she reaches for a glass of water, the glass slips out of her hand and shatters on the floor. She then hears the sound of squeaky footsteps outside her door, such as that made by a nurse in rubber-soled shoes. She goes over to the door, opens it and sees a nurse in the elevator across the hall as its doors close. The nurse is standing motionless, her face in shadow and her hands clasped at her chest. The elevator goes to the basement and Miss Powell follows it down. She does this in fear and trepidation, knowing what she's going to see. But she appears unable to resist the compulsion that seems to be drawing her there. She exits the elevator in the basement and walks down a corridor, which branches off to the right. She stops in front of a room- Room 22- which is the hospital morgue. The doors are swinging shut as if someone had just gone inside. All of a sudden, the door swings open and a nurse appears. The inference is that it's the same nurse who was in the elevator. The nurse is beautiful but has a sinister air about her. Definitely not Florence Nightingale. Beautiful but spooky. She is played by ARLENE MARTEL, billed herein as ARLINE SAX. She looks right at Miss Powell and utters five words. Five words which cause Miss Powell to run screaming in fright. MARTEL is only seen on screen three times for a few seconds each. And each time she says the same five words. The way she says it and the look on her face will send chills down your spine. Her voice sounds like it's coming from the grave.

Now the 'red herring" in this episode occurs when the Doctor is speaking in private with one of the staff nurses. Although convinced up to that point that Miss Powell had been dreaming the whole thing, he is nonetheless puzzled over the fact that she mentioned going down to the basement to Room 22 and identifying it as the morgue. Since patients are not allowed down there and do not have access to it, how would she know what room it was and what it contained?

It is MARTEL's performance in this episode which helps to make it so memorable. Even though BARBARA NICHOLS received top billing as the lead actress, it was MARTEL who stole the episode. And she did it with style. She was absolutely perfect. In her brief time on screen, she definitely proved that less is more. I remember being badly frightened by this episode when I originally saw it. And all these years later, it still frightens me. It's not until the end, in the last scene, that we are given to realize who this nurse really is. Serling at his best. Definitely a nail-biter. 10 out of 10.
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The Twilight Zone: Eye of the Beholder (1960)
Season 2, Episode 6
Hard-hitting , intense, and timelessly relevant
22 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This episode is the one that people usually associate and remember as being the classic representation of the Twilight Zone series. It pulls no punches and delves into territory that network executives were not always comfortable in depicting. Like many Zone episodes, this was a morality play with a lesson to be learned. Ostensibly a debate over society's concept of beauty and ugliness, it also contains a political subtext attacking fascism and racial segregation. Rod Serling was able to bring his point home by adopting a more subtle approach and not specifically mentioning race. It was alluded to, however, when the main character, Janet Tyler(MAXINE STUART) lashes out at the Doctor when she criticizes the presumptive right of the government to segregate those individuals who do not look the way "normal" people look.

The story line involves the above-mentioned character, whom we see lying in a hospital bed, her face completely covered in a thick swath of gauze bandages. We learn that she is horribly deformed and has just undergone her ninth and last medical procedure to try and make her look normal. The society this woman lives in is depicted as some kind of 1984-like Big Brother totalitarian state, where conformity and homogeneity are the rule.

Her circumstances set the stage for a debate between her and her Doctor over how people who are considered "different" are treated by society. She is aware that "the State" as it's referred to herein, has spent a large amount of time, money and resources to try and fix her face so that she can live among "normal-looking" people. The Doctor tells her that this is proof that the State is not unsympathetic to her plight. However, if this final procedure does not bear fruit, she has no hope whatever of joining normal society. She would be relegated to a segregated community, far apart from normal people, where she would live out her existence with others of her own kind.

It is this rule which she finds morally repugnant and unacceptable. She wants to live in society and be a productive, contributing member of it. She wants to belong. She really wants to belong and to be accepted. And she tells the Doctor she will do anything for that to happen. She will even wear a mask so that people would not have to look upon her ugliness.

Now, when this episode first aired, I was watching it with my Dad. And he picked up on something. He picked up on the "red herring" of the episode. He said to me "Have you noticed they're not showing the faces of the Nurses or the Doctor?" And he was right. You did see the medical staff in shadow or conversing together in darkened rooms. And though you could see their profile in the darkness, you couldn't actually see their faces or make out their features. But when in lighted conditions, you would only see a hand or an arm or a shot of the person from the neck down or from the rear. And in the shots where you were expecting to see a staffer's face, such as when they started to turn towards the camera, the camera would pan down and away to show another part of their body. My Dad told me that when they take the bandages off the woman, she's going to be beautiful and the Doctor and Nurses are going to be the ones who are ugly! My Dad was a smart man! But even with that foreknowledge, I wasn't prepared for what Serling was about to show us. Their faces went beyond just being ugly. They were horrifying. Horrifying and frightening. The actress who played Miss Tyler when the bandages came off was DONNA DOUGLAS, in her pre-Elly Mae Clampett days. She, of course, is beautiful. And when she sees the Doctor and the other staff, she flees in terror through the hospital wing- until she literally runs right into EDSON STROLL, a representative of the segregated community where she will now be going to. He, of course, is very handsome and good-looking. He tells her that they have a lovely village with lovely people and that she will soon feel a sense of belonging and of being loved. She asks him why is it that they have to look like this, as they do? He tells her he really doesn't know, but there's an old saying, a very old saying- "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." This ending is so bittersweet, yet uplifting. Because it holds out the possibility of finding happiness no matter who you are or what you look like.
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The Twilight Zone: The Howling Man (1960)
Season 2, Episode 5
"I saw him and didn't recognize him"
21 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes. It is superb from start to finish. With a thought-provoking storyline, believable performances, a creepy set and a haunting score, this stands out as one of the best in the series. It is told in flashback, with the opening scene and the end sequence bracketing the episode in bookend fashion.

After the end of the First World War, a man named David Ellington(H.M.WYNANT) gets lost in a storm one night while on a walking trip through Central Europe. He happens upon an old monastery and requests food and shelter for the night. He is rebuffed by Brother Jerome(JOHN CARRADINE), the authoritarian patriarch of the religious order which occupies the premises. Physically ill, Ellington is about to be turned back out into the cold, rainy night when he collapses on the floor from exhaustion.

When he revives, he hears an unearthly sound which reverberates through the building. It's a mournful howling and he traces it to a makeshift cell containing a dirty, unkempt man in raggedy clothes. Ellington doesn't know what to make of this, especially when the man tells him how he wound up in the cell and asks his help in setting him free. Brother Jerome then appears and orders Ellington into his quarters. This sets up an interesting exchange between the two men, with Ellington making too many inquiries about the man in the cell and Jerome very anxious to get rid of this unwanted guest. Jerome feigns ignorance and keeps denying that a man is being held captive against his will. He tells him that no man has ever been imprisoned at the Hermitage. Ellington is incredulous at being told this, since he just saw the man with his own eyes and had a conversation with him. Apart from the fact that Jerome and the others saw him as well. Ellington threatens to go to the police and Jerome, realizing that he has a big problem on his hands, decides to reveal the uncomfortable truth to Ellington. He tells him that what he saw was not a man, but the Devil himself.

Ellington considers himself a modern, scholarly, 20th century man- too intelligent to give credence to a belief he considers little more than a medieval fairy tale. As Jerome continues to try and persuade him otherwise, Ellington becomes more convinced that the bearded Old Testament-like figure standing before him with the heavy wooden staff and the booming voice is a lunatic. And in the way he comes across, Jerome doesn't do much to disabuse him of that notion. Ellington says "But if he's the Devil, how do you keep him locked up?" Jerome holds his staff out in both hands and replies "With the Staff of Truth. The one barrier he cannot pass." Ellington decides to play along and tells Jerome that, although skeptical at first, he, Jerome, has managed to convince him otherwise. Ellington promises to keep their secret safe. Jerome accepts this and tells him he can leave in the morning. Ellington then heads over to the man in the cell and with a smile on his face tells him that Jerome says he's the Devil. The prisoner says "You don't believe him, do you?" and Ellington replies "No, of course not." But there's just the slightest appearance of doubt, both in his voice and on his face. He doesn't want to admit the possibility, but it's starting to nag at him. He stares intently at the prisoner, as if he's looking for something. A telltale sign, perhaps.

Later, Ellington steals a key from the sleeping Brother Christoforous, who was assigned to guard him, and locks him in the room they were in. He makes his way to the cell and the man tells him to lift off the wooden bolt that secures the door. Ellington sees that it's easily within his reach through the barred opening and asks why he hasn't done it himself. The man tells him there's no time for explanations and they'll both be killed if Jerome finds them together. Ellington starts to remove the bolt and then hesitates, letting it drop back in place. Christoforous awakens and yells at Ellington to stop. Ellington removes the bolt and the door swings open. He hands the man a cloak to protect him from the rain and then turns away. As the man exits the cell, he has a look of smug satisfaction on his face. He paralyzes Ellington, and changes into his true form before disappearing. Jerome approaches Ellington and tells him "I am sorry for you, my son. All your life you will remember this night. And you'll know, Mr. Ellington, whom you have turned loose upon the world." Ellington replies "I didn't believe you. I saw him and didn't recognize him." Jerome intones "That is Man's weakness and Satan's strength."

The last scene brings the episode full circle and again highlights our human frailty and vulnerability to the sorrowful-sounding entreaties of Evil. A masterful production. 10 out of 10.
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The Twilight Zone: Perchance to Dream (1959)
Season 1, Episode 9
Heart-pounding and terrifying
21 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is my favorite Twilight Zone episode. It is so well-made and frightening that, when you watch it, you'll feel as if you were punched in the chest. It poses the question- Is the reality we encounter in our dreams and nightmares, where we can suffer and die, greater than the one we experience while awake? RICHARD CONTE turns in a stellar performance as Edward Hall, a man in his mid-thirties with a weak heart and an all-consuming fear of falling asleep. Visiting a psychiatrist(JOHN LARCH) whom his doctor recommended he see, Mr. Hall tells a story which, for him, turns out to be a nightmare in living color.

Upon entering the Doctor's office, he regards the receptionist with a strange, perturbed look as he passes her desk. Hall tells the psychiatrist that he's extremely tired and the Doctor suggests that he lie down on the couch. This Hall does, closing his eyes for a few seconds. He then opens his eyes and bolts off the couch. Spying a picture of a sailing vessel over the Doctor's desk, Hall uses it as a prop to reference an ability he has had since childhood regarding his overactive and very vivid imagination. Hall tells him that when he was fifteen, he developed a rheumatic heart. He was told he would never really get well and that he was to avoid any kind of excitement or shock. He asks Dr. Rathmann whether he believes it possible to dream in sequence, like in the old-time movie serials. Rathmann replies that he doesn't think it's impossible and Hall assures him that it can happen. He tells the Doctor that he's been awake for 87 hours now. He says it's not that he can't fall asleep, he mustn't fall asleep. Because if he does, it will be the final shock.

Hall relates a frightening story of having two sequential dreams the previous week in which he found himself in an amusement park at night. He describes the park as the kind of place you see only in nightmares- everything garish, grotesque and misshapen. He stops at one of the attractions which features a carnival dancer named Maya the Cat Girl. Played by SUZANNE LLOYD, who deserved an Emmy for her performance, Maya focuses her attention on Hall and seems to know quite a lot about him. She is incredibly beautiful and sexy in a devilish way. She has a very sensual-looking mouth and gorgeous teeth. She's all that. Hall is both uneasy in her presence and attracted to her at the same time. She lures him into the funhouse and invites him to kiss her. He says "What if I don't want to?" She replies "Oh, you want to." With that, she plants a full-mouth liplock on him. Freaked out by her and the scary exhibits, he bolts as she mocks him with her devilish laugh. The psychiatrist asks him if he recognized her from somewhere and Hall replies that he might have seen her on the street, but he wasn't sure.

He goes on to tell the Doctor that after waking from this first dream, his heart was pounding. The next night when he fell asleep, he found himself back at the amusement park with Maya. It's obvious that he's very scared of her. He knows she wants to kill him and if he dies in the dream, he'll die for real. But he cannot escape her or the hold she has on him. He tells her that he knows none of this is real. That he's home asleep in bed and that he's having a dream and that she's a part of his dream. She tells him she knows that and that now he can do all the things he can't do when he's awake. She coaxes him to follow her onto the roller-coaster and he finds himself powerless to resist her. As they hit the crest of the first rise, Maya says sardonically "Hold on, Edward!" As the coaster picks up speed, Hall is out of his mind with fear and we see Maya sitting there with the shadows of the night playing across her features. She fixes him with an evil smile, her teeth flashing in the darkness. He screams "I've got to get out" and she tells him "Jump, Edward. Jump." He tells Dr. Rathmann that if he falls asleep again, he'll go right back to the roller-coaster and Maya will push him out. And that will be the end of him. But if he stays awake much longer, the stress will be too much for his heart and that will be the end of him. He opens the door to leave and looks at the receptionist again. And this time, we see her, too. He runs back inside and tells Rathmann that it's her, the woman in his dream. Realizing there's no escape for him, he dives headfirst out the window, screaming his life away.

We then see Rathmann sitting at his desk, with a pensive look on his face. He calls the receptionist in and they walk over to the couch on which lies the inert form of Edward Hall. The Doctor checks for a pulse but finds none. He declares him dead and the receptionist is shocked at this, saying that he just came in a minute before. Rathmann says he had Hall lie down because he complained he was tired and a couple of seconds after he closed his eyes, he let out that scream. The receptionist says "Heart attack?" and the Doctor replies "Probably. I guess there are worse ways to go. At least he died peacefully." Phenomenal episode with terrific performances, a surreal atmosphere, and a very effective haunting, eerie score. 10 out of 10, hands down.
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Nighthawks (1981)
Slick and tense action thriller with a twist ending
20 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
NIGHTHAWKS is a remarkable film on many levels and more than eerily prophetic, considering what took place in New York City twenty years after its release in 1981. It focuses on two undercover police detectives, Sgt. Deke DaSilva(SYLVESTER STALLONE) and his partner Sgt. Matthew Fox(BILLY DEE WILLIAMS)who work in the NYPD Citywide Street Crime Unit as decoy officers. Donning different disguises, they walk the streets of the City's toughest neighborhoods, offering themselves up as bait for muggers and other lowlifes. This unit was responsible for taking a lot of guns and dangerous people off the streets. Unfortunately, in the wake of the Amadou Diallo shooting in the Bronx in 1999, it was disbanded.

The arrival in New York of an international terrorist named Wulfgar(RUTGER HAUER) finds the two Detectives temporarily reassigned to an elite counter-terrorist unit called ATAC. A British expert on counterterrorism in general and Wulfgar in particular(NIGEL DAVENPORT) is recruited by the Department to train the selectees in the different strategies and tactics they'll need to deal with this new threat. His character, Peter Hartman, is an old hand at understanding the terrorist mentality and how they operate. He is also a believer in "taking the shot" when the opportunity presents itself, even if it results in "collateral damage", or death to a civilian hostage.

Stallone's character has a big problem with all this. He indicates that he didn't join the Department to kill people, whether they're street criminals, terrorists, or especially, innocent civilians. Clashing with Hartman at every juncture, he says he doesn't want any part of this and indicates to the Englishman that he's quitting the unit. His partner talks him out of it by telling him that Hartman sees him as one of the best and that's why he was chosen. In reviewing DaSilva's wartime kill record in Vietnam, Hartman tells him that he has faith that when the time comes, he'll do what needs to be done.

Wulfgar is very intelligent, cunning and good-looking and his MO is to hook up with women he meets at discos and move in with them, using their apartments as a safe house. When he meets Pam(HILARIE THOMPSON), an airline stewardess, she asks him what he does for a living. Knowing that she won't believe him, he tells her the truth- that he's an international terrorist wanted by the police in various European countries. When she stumbles upon his weapons stash in her closet after he moves in with her, she realizes too late that what he told her was not a jocular remark. When the police find her body they also find a clue that he inadvertently left behind indicating what his strike target here in the City will be. DaSilva and Fox start scouring the discotheques with the woman's photo in hand to try and get a line on whom she might have hooked up with. They hit paydirt when DaSilva spots whom he suspects might be Wulfgar at a disco with his newly altered facial appearance, courtesy of plastic surgery in Europe. DaSilva uses the police trick of staring Wulfgar down to see if he gets hinky and Wulfgar realizes he's been "made." A chase into the subway ensues, with Wulfgar taking an elderly woman hostage at knifepoint. DaSilva gets him in his sights but doesn't take the shot out of fear of hitting the hostage. In the ensuing chase, Sgt. Fox is ambushed by Wulfgar, who slices his face open and then makes good his escape. DaSilva, whose button has now been pushed, will no longer harbor any illusions about what he's dealing with.

Wulfgar's associate in terrorism is one Shakka Holland, played by the beautiful late Indian actress PERSIS KHAMBATTA. She is so effective in her portrayal of a coldhearted woman who kills without compunction or remorse, that your blood will be chilled when you see her on screen. Without even saying anything, she will terrify you. You will not forget the look on her face. It will definitely haunt your dreams.

We all know that the movie is leading up to a climactic confrontation between DaSilva and Wulfgar. And we know when that moment of truth arrives that DaSilva, now effectively disabused of his "I'm not here to kill anyone" philosophy, will indeed do what needs to be done. I won't reveal the ending here, other than to say that it reflects well on his training and experience in the Street Crime Unit.

This is a well-crafted thriller with excellent performances, beautiful photography, and a storyline that will resonate with the viewer on a visceral level. It will keep you hooked from the opening sequence until the end. Yo Adrian- this is my favorite Stallone film. I give it a 10 out of 10.
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Silent Night (2002 TV Movie)
Poignant and memorable
13 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Hallmark Channel films are always well-made, thought-provoking and excellent and this one is no exception. I saw it last night and it really resonated with me. It's based on a real incident that occurred on Christmas Eve 1944 in the Ardennes Forest during the World War II German counteroffensive known as the Battle of the Bulge.

The opening sequence and the end sequence act as bookmarks to bracket the film and bring it full circle. Three American soldiers- a sergeant and two privates- one of whom has a serious leg wound, find themselves cut off and are attempting to make their way back to their own lines. They stumble upon a cabin in the woods occupied by a German woman named Elisabeth Vincken(LINDA HAMILTON) and her 12-year old son, Fritz(MATTHEW HARBOUR). Mother and son both speak English, but this does not help in endearing them to Sergeant Ralph Blank(ALAIN GOULEM), whose hatred of Germans does not distinguish between soldiers and civilians. Mrs. Vincken is depicted as a proud, strong-willed woman who is grounded in morality and has only distaste and contempt for Adolf Hitler and the ruinous war he has foisted upon the German people. Fritz, on the other hand, like most young boys his age, is a believer and looks forward to becoming a member of the Hitler Youth and joining the fight against the Americans.

Mrs. Vincken allows the Americans to use her house to try and patch up their wounded comrade- but with one condition attached. She will not tolerate the presence of weapons inside her home and has her son hide them for safekeeping in the cellar when the soldiers' attention was with their wounded buddy.

The arrival of three German soldiers at the cabin serves as the focal point for what will turn out to be a very unusual encounter between opposing enemy forces. The Germans- a Wehrmacht Lieutenant named Hans Klosterman(MARTIN NEUFELD) along with his Sergeant and a Private, are tricked into dropping their weapons by Private Jimmy Rassi(ROMANO ORZARI), a street-smart Italian-American soldier from Brooklyn.

With both sides now effectively disarmed, Mrs. Vincken offers them the hospitality of her cabin for Christmas Eve and works to establish and maintain a shaky truce between the two hated enemies. The main conflict comes in the obvious mistrust and dislike between the two ranking officers of each group. Lieutenant Klosterman is a hard-liner who believes in the inevitability of a German victory against the Allies. He believes that this battle is the first step in an eventual German rout of the Allied Armies that will succeed in pushing them back through France and into the English Channel. He realizes early on, however, that Sgt. Blank, a tough, grizzled combat veteran with an attitude, is no pushover and can handle himself quite capably in their verbal jousts. Mrs. Vincken has her hands full keeping them apart. However, when the German Sergeant(MARK KRUPA) helps save the wounded American's life by cauterizing his leg wound with a heated knife, it goes a long way in establishing a measure of trust and comradeship as the evening progresses.

Mrs. Vincken offers to feed these soldiers a Christmas meal out of the goodness of her heart and in the hope that sitting down at the table and breaking bread together might help both sides see that they share a common humanity in spite of their differences- at least for one night. She is challenged in her assumptions by the Lieutenant, who feels that she lacks the proper allegiance to the Fatherland. She puts him in his place by telling him that she has already lost her eldest son in the war and has no intention of sacrificing her youngest son in what has become a lost cause. Private Rassi understands what she's trying to do and suggests that each soldier- German and American- contribute to the meal by offering up items of food from their personal supplies. This goes over quite well and gives Rassi the opportunity to display his quick wit and repartee about Italians and food. He is shown as a sensitive, wise, intelligent and caring person. He knows how to communicate with people and reach them on an inner level and this ability goes a long way in bringing the two groups together.

As the evening wears on, the desired effect is achieved. With the exception of a conflicted moment between Rassi and the German Lieutenant, which was about to lead to fisticuffs but was resolved by a painful personal confession and an apology, the two groups actually start to relax in each others presence and begin to enjoy each others company as they come to know one another better. The effect that Mrs. Vincken had hoped for becomes a reality as the soldiers come to see each other not as a faceless enemy, but as people with shared dreams, fears, hopes and desires. Even Lieutenant Klosterman loses some of his hard edge and allows himself the spirit and significance of this night.

The next morning, the slumber of the men is disrupted by the sudden appearance at the cabin of an American Army MP Captain. I won't reveal what happens after he arrives, other than to say that this officer is a surprise for both sides. When the two groups part, they part as friends, with Lieutenant Klosterman giving Sergeant Blank a compass to help the Americans find their way back.

This is a beautiful, sensitive movie which shows that even amidst the horrors of war, men wearing different uniforms can, if only for a moment, come together in peace, reconciliation and healing. I give this one a 10 out of 10, hands down.
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Unusual and different type of slasher film with an incredible twist
3 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
SLEEPAWAY CAMP stands out from the rest of the 80s slasher films in the unique approach it takes to its subject matter. It shares similarities with Friday THE 13th to a degree and more importantly and significantly, with Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO. Not just another mindless killer-on-the-loose movie, this film actually involves the viewer on many different emotional and psychological levels. There are themes and undercurrents here that serve to make this film a bit different than the usual cheap gorefest. Usually films of this type do not merit the accolade of "intelligent." But this film does. It touches on themes that society has traditionally been uncomfortable with- homosexual eroticism, rape, pedophilia, gender identity, and nonconformity.

The movie is stolen by young newcomer actress Felissa Rose, who turns in a phenomenal performance as Angela- a painfully shy, quiet, and withdrawn adolescent girl who has a secret that she's been hiding since the death of her father and her sibling in a tragic boating accident eight years earlier. Without even saying anything, Miss Rose projects a screen presence that will indelibly imprint itself on the viewer. She is just so immensely appealing and involving. There is just something about her that makes you want to hug her and befriend her. I was very drawn to her character because I could definitely relate to her and her personality type.

Raised by her offbeat and eccentric aunt after her father's death, Angela is sent to sleepaway camp for the summer in upstate New York with her cousin Ricky, who is very protective of her. From the moment she arrives in camp, it's obvious that she will not fit in. Because she's different and doesn't interact well with others, she quickly becomes the target of harassment and bullying from the other adolescents- most notably a camp counselor named Meg(KATHERINE KAMHI) and a teenage queen bitch named Judy(KAREN FIELDS). Angela doesn't utter her first word until about the halfway point of the film and until then, we don't know if she can speak. We don't know if she's a mute or not.

Soon after her arrival, she's targeted for sexual assault by the head cook- a fat, ugly, repulsive pedophile who's thwarted in his attempt by the sudden, unexpected arrival of Ricky. This sets in motion the gruesome "accidents" and deaths that are to occur throughout the film. The cook, of course, is the first target of revenge- getting his comeuppance by being scalded on his face, body and arms by boiling water from a large cooking pot.

All the people who hurt Angela and are mean to her wind up paying a stiff price for their behavior. *** SPOILER ALERT*** It won't take long for the viewer to figure out that Angela is the killer- although the film, like most films of its type, tries to throw the audience off by steering it toward an obvious suspect. But seasoned veterans of this genre know that's just a ruse. The twist is not that the shy, quiet girl is capable of such homicidal violence- because that's the way it usually turns out in these films. The twist comes in the revealing of who Angela is- and what she is. Although other reviewers have already spilled the beans on this, I will not do that here. Suffice it to say that, even if you know how the film ends from reading some of the other comments, you will nonetheless be shocked by the disturbing image you see when you watch it. I give this one a 10 out of 10.
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The Outer Limits: Quality of Mercy (1995)
Season 1, Episode 13
Excellent and very well-crafted episode with an incredible twist ending
16 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This was without a doubt the best episode ever from the new Outer Limits series. I agree wholeheartedly with my esteemed colleague from the initial review. It had an impact on me that has stayed with me since I first saw it on its original release. It's one of those teleplays that haunts you long after you've seen it.

The background plot involves a war of subjugation waged against our planet by a superior race of aliens. This conflict has apparently been going on for a long time and the Earth is barely holding its own against the invaders, with little or no hope for any victory. A U.S. Air Force Space Command Major played by ROBERT PATRICK is captured by the aliens and thrown into a cave-like cell on their planet. He sees that he's not alone, for in the cell with him is a very attractive, young female cadet played by NIKKI DE BOER. Her character displays a vulnerability and sensitivity that the viewer will immediately hook into. She tells him that she was captured on a training mission flight. In spite of their dire straits (or perhaps because of it), they start to bond. It's apparent that PATRICK is quite attracted to her and she to him as well, through her shyness and innocence. Their jailer(MARK McCRACKEN), a hulking alien, periodically opens the cell door to throw their food in, which consists of two crablike crustacean creatures. DE BOER knows the trick of how to open the creatures to drink their slimy insides and shows PATRICK how to do it. The jailer also periodically cracks the door to grab DE BOER and drag her out of the cell. From his vantage point, PATRICK can hear her screams from a nearby chamber. When she's returned, he sees that portions of her body are populated by a reptilian-like, scaly skin. She tells him that when the aliens remove her from the cell, they operate on her with the goal of turning her into one of them. She says that's one of their tactics- to turn people into what they are through grafting and implantation. She's scared that it will only be a matter of time before she's no longer human. Knowing that time is running out for her, she tells PATRICK that she wants to know what it's like to be loved and wanted, but he cannot bring himself to make love to her. During the next operation on her, he climbs through a vent in the ceiling and crawls down a shaft until he's above the operating theater. He tries to grab one of the aliens through the grating and winds up having his hand cut off at the wrist. Back in the cell with DE BOER, who's now at least 50% alien, he sits her down and tells her that any hope they may have had of escape is gone. She mourns for them both and for the people of Earth who now have no hope of overcoming the enemy. She tells him she doesn't want to go on any more. She wants it to end. But PATRICK cannot bring himself to kill her. He tells her to have hope- not for the two of them- but for the Earth. He tells her that a huge armada of Earth's best fighter craft has been marshalled on the far side of the Sun and that in 30 days time from the date he was captured, this force will be unleashed against the aliens' home planet. It'll be enough to turn the tide. So in the end we will have won. DE BOER listens closely as he tells her this and then says "Thank you for telling me, John." I won't give away what happens next. Suffice it to say that this last scene follows the tone of the entire episode. It is dark and downbeat and will leave you with a desolate feeling. A phenomenal production. 10 out of 10.
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Landmark film about military racism and redemption in World War II
20 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
When this film was released in 1949, it was light years ahead of its time. In its depiction of racial prejudice and bigotry among American soldiers fighting in the South Pacific during World War II, it pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. Most of the film is shown in flashback, as a U.S. Army psychiatrist with the rank of Captain(JEFF COREY), attempts to uncover the reason why a young soldier who volunteered for hazardous duty and suffered no physical wound, returns from that mission unable to walk. The storyline concerns a group of four American soldiers who volunteer for a dangerous mission behind enemy lines. Their mission is to scout a Japanese-held island and draw maps of the terrain that would be needed for a future amphibious invasion. One of the soldiers is a Negro private named Peter Moss(JAMES EDWARDS). When he reports to the commanding officer, a Major Robinson, the Major is obviously taken aback at whom his superior sent him to be a part of the team. Robinson calls the Colonel, thinking a mistake must have been made. He references Moss's color and the Colonel, in effect, tells Robinson in so many words that he doesn't care if Moss is purple with pink polka dots. He has a technical skill that's needed for the mission and he, the Major, is to utilize him accordingly. Moss joins the unit and upon meeting the other volunteers, recognizes one as a former friend and fellow high-school basketball player from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania named Finch(LLOYD BRIDGES). The other two team members are Corporal Everett(STEVE BRODIE) and the non-commissioned officer in charge of the squad, Sergeant Mingo(FRANK LOVEJOY). Cpl. Everett is a blatant, out and out racist who doesn't hide his prejudice about Negroes. And when they land on the enemy island, this leads to discord and conflict among the men, in turn jeopardizing the integrity of the mission. They complete the mission, however, but not before Sgt. Mingo gets hit in the arm by a Japanese sniper. Moss shoots the sniper and the men head back to the beach where they hid their dinghy. Finch realizes he inadvertently left his map case back in the jungle and tells Moss he's going back for it. Moss, knowing that the Japanese are closing in, tries to talk Finch out of going back. Finch realizes the whole mission will be in vain if they don't get the map case back. When Moss tries to prevail further upon his friend, Finch calls him "a yellow-bellied n----r." Finch finds the map case and gets wounded by a Japanese sniper. Moss doesn't want to leave him but Finch tells him to get the maps back to headquarters. Moss abandons his buddy and rejoins the group on the beach. They sit helplessly as they hear Finch being tortured to death by the Japanese soldiers. Moss subsequently goes back for Finch and finds the mutilated body of his dead friend. He cradles Finch in his arms and Cpl. Everett comes up and tells Moss that the recovery vessel is coming to pick them up. Moss doesn't want to leave his friend. Everett orders him to move out and when Moss tries to get up, he finds his legs paralyzed. Everett asks if he was shot and Moss replies no. Everett slings him over his shoulder and carries him back to the beach. As Moss relates what happened on the island under drug-induced hypnosis, the Captain- a sensitive and intelligent man-realizes what Moss's problem is. Since there was no physical reason for Moss' paralysis, the Doctor realized it had to be psychosomatic. He asks Moss what he felt when he saw his friend get shot and gets him to admit that he was glad it was Finch who got it and not him. This set up survivor's guilt. The Captain tells him that every soldier who sees a buddy get wounded or killed in combat feels the exact same way- he's glad the other guy got it and not him. He also tells Moss that if he couldn't walk, then he couldn't leave his friend. And that his mind made it happen. His mind made it possible for him not to leave. Moss attempts to understand what the Doctor is telling him but it doesn't help when he tries to stand up and walk. The Doctor realizes he has to change his tack and adopts a more authoritarian tone with Moss, ordering him to get up and walk. Moss tries but can't. The Doctor now realizes he has to go for Moss where he's the most vulnerable- his sensitivity to prejudice and hatred. He moves back to put some distance between them and says something that brings Moss to his feet and propels him forward toward the Doctor. Moss realizes that he's walking and realizes what the Doctor did to get him to walk. He falls into the Captain's arms and they embrace. This is a hard-hitting film with excellent performances that dealt with a controversial topic in an intelligent and sensitive manner. I give it a 10 out of 10.
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Fascinating blend of time travel and a famous American battle
1 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of my three all time favorite Twilight Zone episodes- the others being "Perchance to Dream" and "The Howling Man." It combines two subjects which I have always been fascinated with- time travel and the Battle of the Little Big Horn, AKA Custer's Last Stand. The premise is an intriguing one- what would happen if a modern-day US Army tank crew went back in time to the actual battle? Three Montana National Guardsmen, on maneuvers near the site of the battle in June 1964, experience a series of anomalous events. The Master Sergeant in command of the tank(RON FOSTER), possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the historical battle and rattles off details and minutiae that would make a college history professor envious. He is the first to accept the possibility that because of the physical, visual and auditory evidence they're encountering, that they might be slipping back and forth in time to 1876. He doesn't come right out and say this but hints at it when he tells his men that, somehow, they're "following the same trail that Custer did." The words "time warp" or "time travel" are never mentioned, but that is exactly what is happening. The time portal is never seen or described. When the tank goes through it, there is no "bump". One minute they're in the present and the next, they're 88 years in the past. When the Sergeant attempts to explain what they've seen and heard to his commanding officer Captain Dennet(ROBERT BRAY), the Captain starts measuring him for a strait jacket and asks him if he's "bucking for a Section 8." For those not familiar with that term, it refers to being discharged from the military for mental instability. The next day, June 25th, is the fateful day and the crewmen, ordered back out on maneuvers, find themselves at the Little Big Horn. Inexplicably leaving their tank behind, they climb to the crest of a hill overlooking the battlefield, individually lock and load their weapons and move forward amid the sound of gunfire and Indian war cries. When the crew doesn't return to base, the Captain sends out a search party to find them, but they're nowhere to be found. The abandoned tank is found, however, and this raises an interesting question that was glossed over. Since the physical condition of the tank is not commented on, it's assumed that it was found in the same pristine condition it was sent out in. But since the abandoned tank could not move under its own power, it could not drive into the time warp to appear back in the present. This would indicate that the time warp was mobile and that it "caught" the tank and sent it forward to 1964. Otherwise, when it was found it would have been a rusted-out hulk. In fact, that would have been an interesting twist to include at the end- "Sir, we found the tank. But there's something really strange going on. It's all rusted and decayed. Like it's been sitting out here for the last 100 years." The twist that Rod Serling opted for was when the Captain and his Lieutenant(GREG MORRIS) check out the stone memorial marker at Custer Battlefield National Monument. They see three names they recognize. The Lieutenant remarks at the coincidence and the Captain, having now done a one eighty, says "Too bad they couldn't have brought up the tank. It would have helped." This is a terrific episode and I give it a 10 out of 10.
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Fine comedy-drama hits the mark
9 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
In his first solo run without Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis is wonderful as a bumbling janitor in a tenement building who decides to make something out of himself by becoming a police officer. He finds himself walking a fine line between his friendship with Officer Mike Damon(DARREN McGAVIN), who has taken a personal interest in him and believes in him, and the local gang of neighborhood delinquents headed by Monk(ROBERT IVERS) and his sidekick Artie(RICHARD BAKALYAN). Lewis' exposure to the police academy provides most of the film's humor as he fumbles and stumbles his way through his coursework. The funniest sequence here is when the recruits are given a class in hand-to-hand combat by a Japanese sumo wrestler, who picks Lewis to demonstrate the techniques on. The interpreter tells Lewis he was picked because the wrestler says he looks Japanese! After getting karate-chopped numerous times and twisted into a pretzel, Lewis pleads with the martial artist to let him live- in Japanese! This is what makes the sequence so hilarious- that Lewis would be able to speak Japanese, considering who he was and where he was living. It's a riot to watch these two men walk off the mat with their arms around each other, conversing fluently in Japanese. In one critical scene, Monk and Artie pay a visit to Lewis in his basement apartment. These guys are poster boys for Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Monk tells Lewis that before he leaves this world, he going to make a lot of noise. Lewis tells him that there are lots of good, decent people in the world who are not looking to break anyone's back and that he wants to be one of them. When they leave, Artie asks Monk why he didn't let him rough Lewis up and Monk, clearly affected by what Lewis told him, says "I got confused... He made sense." As part of their final evaluation before being graduated from the academy, the rookie cops are paired with veteran officers to go out on armed street patrol and Lewis gets paired up with his buddy Mike. Called to a burglary in progress, the two buddies and other officers confront Monk and his gang and a free-for-all ensues. A gunshot rings out and Artie falls to the ground, a bullet in his leg. The discharge is quickly traced to Lewis' revolver and Artie accuses him of deliberately shooting him. It looks like Lewis' police career might be over before it even starts, but someone from an unlikely corner comes forward to speak up for him and tell the Precinct Captain(HORACE McMAHON) what really occurred. Someone who had firsthand knowledge of what happened with Lewis's gun and how Artie wound up getting shot. Someone who vindicates Lewis and himself. This is a wonderful film that still holds up 50 years later. I give it a 10 out of 10.
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The Sentinel (1977)
Creepy, suspenseful and atmospheric religious horror
1 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This happens to be one of my favorite horror films. It's a rich, classy production boasting an excellent cast of ensemble actors, beautiful on-location cinematography, a haunting musical score, an intelligent and novel plot theme, and an atmosphere of dread and menace. It's reminiscent of such classic films as ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE SHINING, wherein young, vulnerable women find themselves victimized by supernatural forces in old, creepy buildings with a macabre past. Here, CRISTINA RAINES plays a top New York City fashion model named Alison Parker. Her happy, outgoing exterior masks a deeply conflicted and troubled soul. This is evidenced by the revelation that in her past, she attempted suicide twice- once as a teenage girl after walking in on her degenerate father cavorting in bed with two women and having him rip a silver crucifix from her neck and toss it on the floor, and the second time, after her married lawyer-boyfriend's wife supposedly committed suicide over learning of their affair. Telling her beau(played by a suitably slimy CHRIS SARANDON) that she needs to live on her own for a year or so, she answers a newspaper ad for a fully-furnished, spacious one-bedroom apartment in an old Brooklyn Heights brownstone. This building actually exists and is located at 10 Montague Terrace right by the Brooklyn Heights Promenade off Remsen Street. The producers actually filmed inside the building and its apartments, paying the residents for their inconvenience, of course. The real estate agent, a Miss Logan(AVA GARDNER), seems to be very interested in having Alison take the apartment- an interest that cannot be solely explained by the 6% commission she would earn. Especially when she quickly drops the rental price from $500.00 a month to $400.00. Alison agrees and upon leaving the building with Miss Logan, notices an elderly man sitting and apparently staring at her from the top-floor window. Miss Logan identifies the man to her as Father Halliran and tells Alison that he's blind. Alison's response is very logical- "Blind? Then what does he look at?" After moving in, Alison meets some of the other residents in the building, including a lesbian couple played by SYLVIA MILES and BEVERLY D'ANGELO, who provide Alison with an uncomfortable welcome to the building. Alison's mental health and physical well-being soon start to deteriorate and she is plagued by splitting headaches and fainting spells. When she relays her concerns to Miss Logan about her sleep being disturbed on a nightly basis by clanging metal and loud footsteps coming from the apartment directly over her, she is dumbstruck to learn that apart from the blind priest and now herself, no one has lived in that building for the last three years. Summoning the courage one night to confront her nocturnal tormentor, she arms herself with a butcher knife and a flashlight and enters the apartment upstairs. She is confronted by the cancer-riddled specter of her dead father and uses the knife on him in self-defense when he comes after her. The police investigate and find no sign of violence in that apartment- no corpse, no blood, nothing. Yet Alison fled the building and collapsed in the street, covered in blood- her own, as it turns out. But there's nary a mark on her. What Alison doesn't realize until the film's denouement is that her being in that brownstone has a purpose. She was put there for a reason- a reason whose origin dates back to the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden and of the angel Uriel who was posted at its entrance to guard it from the Devil. She is being unknowingly primed and prepped by the Catholic Church to assume a most important role- one that will guarantee that her soul, which is damned for her two suicide attempts, can be saved. At the same time, the "invisible" neighbors, who turn out to be more than just quirky oddballs, have a different agenda in mind for her. This is a competent and intelligently done film and one that surprisingly portrays the Church and its representatives in a mostly sympathetic light.
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The Believers (1987)
Genuinely unnerving and frightening
28 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
THE BELIEVERS is one of the scariest and most intelligent supernatural horror films ever made. Its shocking premise- an African-based witchcraft/voodoo cult operating within the confines of Manhattan's upper class high society and trading in ritual child murder, delivers a blend of suspense and terror that compels the viewer to believe the unbelievable. This is a rich, handsome production which boasts an excellent cast of actors, beautiful on-location photography in New York City, a fine script, and pre-CGI special effects that will leave you a nervous wreck when you see them. After the untimely death of his wife by electrocution caused by a defective coffee maker, Minneapolis psychologist Cal Jamison(MARTIN SHEEN) moves to New York City with his young son Chris(HARLEY CROSS). Hired by the New York City Police Department as a crisis counselor with the Psychological Services Division, Cal soon finds himself drawn into the dark underside of the city and the horrors it can hold when he's called in to try and help a police detective who appears to have suffered a complete psychotic breakdown. As Detective Tom Lopez, actor JIMMY SMITS, pre-NYPD Blue, gives a standout performance so real and believable that you will feel what he is feeling. His fear and terror leap right off the screen at the viewer. And he has very good reason to be afraid. Stumbling onto the site of one of the ritual child sacrifices, he is knocked out and, when he recovers, discovers that his police shield is missing. Like the stage actor in ROSEMARY'S BABY, whose act of loaning out his necktie suddenly results in his going blind, the taking of Lopez's badge seals his fate. He knows the cult is going to kill him- he just doesn't know how. And when he realizes in his torment and agony what they've done to him, the viewer will be reaching for the tranquilizer bottle. Except for a couple of quick shots showing the eviscerated child victims, there is very little gore in this movie. Instead, it derives its emotional power from a framework that builds character development and suspense little by little until you accept what you're seeing as real. You will accept that an evil shaman priest from the Sudan, in this instance, can harm others if he comes into contact with an item belonging to them- be it a detective's gold shield, an NYPD business card, or a powder puff. And what's even worse- that no power in Heaven or on Earth can stop it. That's what makes this movie really frightening- the victims of the cult's wrath and supernatural power are at the mercy of people who have none.
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Saved by the Light (1995 TV Movie)
Deeply moving and profound look at one man's redemption
13 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Eric Roberts gives a standout performance in the role of Dannion Brinkley- a cruel, angry, violent town bully living in Aiken, South Carolina in 1975. His life changes one night during a thunderstorm when he gets struck by a bolt of lightning while talking on the telephone. Declared clinically dead for 28 minutes, he has a near-death experience in which his soul leaves his body and goes through a "tunnel", emerging in Heaven. Confronted by beings of light as he refers to them, he relives all the violent episodes of his life in flashback and is made to experience the pain and hurt that he caused others from early childhood on. He hears God tell him that love is the answer and shortly thereafter revives while being taken to the hospital morgue on a gurney. Profoundly shaken and altered by this experience, he seeks to turn his life around and become a kinder, gentler person, while at the same time attempting to understand the new psychic abilities which the lightning strike appears to have bestowed upon him. This is a wonderful movie with a universal message to share about human kindness and compassion and redemption through God's love. I give it a 10 out of 10.
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Wonderfully engaging romantic comedy
18 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This film has to be one of the very best romantic comedies ever made. It works well on so many levels and leaves the viewer with a good feeling at the end. I remember seeing it numerous times when it was released in the year 1960. This is a real feel-good movie, made in a more innocent time before the antiwar protests and campus revolts which characterized the latter years of that decade. This movie stays with you long after you see it. It was just released on DVD, 47 years after it came out. I have always had fond and wonderful memories of this film. Watching it tonight just before sitting down to write this review was like seeing an old friend whom you haven't seen for decades. All those warm feelings and fond remembrances just came flooding right back and it's like you're 10 years old again. The storyline is simple and straightforward. TONY CURTIS plays David Wilson, an assistant professor of chemistry at Columbia University. His wife Ann(JANET LEIGH) decides to surprise him by dropping in unexpectedly and catches him in a liplock with a female co-ed who initiated it. She runs out, jumps in a cab and angrily announces that she's divorcing him and he'll be out of their apartment that evening. Panic-stricken, David calls his old friend Mike Haney(DEAN MARTIN), a mystery writer for the CBS television network. David pleads with him to come up with a good excuse that he could use with Ann to explain away what happened. Over tall drinks of 90-proof chemistry lab hootch, Mike comes up with an explanation- and it's a doozy. He tells David that he was kissing her in the performance of his duty- as an undercover agent for the FBI! David thinks that Mike is nuts and tells him that Ann would never buy such a ridiculous tale. But Mike convinces him that it would work and takes him to the prop department at CBS where he orders up an authentic looking FBI identification card and a police revolver that ostensibly will be used on his show. They confront Ann at the apartment that evening and go through a whole routine to convince her that her hubby is a G-man. Skeptical at first, she winds up buying it after seeing the card and the gun. A comedy of errors ensues when the FBI gets involved after the props are not used on the show and when DEAN MARTIN decides to capitalize on the situation by suckering David into going on a double-date with two platinum blonde bombshells played by BARBARA NICHOLS and JOI LANSING, all in the line of duty, of course. David and Ann wind up on the six o'clock news when Ann goes to the Chinese restaurant with a real FBI Agent(JAMES WHITMORE) to give David "his" gun which he forgot to take with him. Misinterpreting what she overhears in the powder room, Ann thinks the two blondes plan on killing her husband and Mike! She attempts to stop them at gunpoint and in the ensuing struggle for the revolver, the gun goes off and Agent Powell takes a bullet in the arm. David is rendered unconscious by a flowerpot falling off a window ledge that lands on his head. A mobile television news crew arrives and Ann, cradling her unconscious husband in her arms, tells the reporter that he works for the FBI and the two blondes are enemy agents! The next day the newspapers have blaring headlines about FBI undercover agents capturing Soviet spies in Times Square! The plot thickens when government wiretaps reveal that actual Russian agents want to get their hands on David because he knows the names of fellow scientists at Columbia University who are conducting research on germ warfare and radioactivity. Posing as FBI Agents, the Russians(LARRY STORCH and SIMON OAKLAND) sucker David, Ann and Mike to the Empire State Building for a photo shoot by the Bureau's Public Relations Division. The FBI sets up a stakeout but the Russians succeed in isolating the trio in an elevator and administering sodium pentothal to make David talk while using chloroform on Ann. This is one of the funniest sequences in the film. David doesn't reveal anything and STORCH tells him if he doesn't cooperate, they'll take his wife and put her on a submarine and he'll never see her again! When the Russians realize that the pentothal is starting to wear off and the FBI is hot on their heels, they abandon the three in the building's basement. When his wife regains consciousness, David, still coming off the pentothal, tells her he's going to jail for 180 years because it's against the law to have a fake FBI card. Then he asks her if she'll wait for him! When she asks him about the two platinum blondes, he tells her "They sing and dance- like rabbits." Angered, she runs out of the basement. Mike had been knocked out and when he and David "wake up", David, seeing turn valves, levers and utility pipes, thinks they're on board a Russian submarine! They decide to sink it by opening all the valves and pulling all the levers. As the basement floods with water, it shorts out the building's electrical system, causing the even-numbered floors to boil over and the odd-numbered floors to freeze! The film ends on a happy note as firemen break in to halt the flooding, the Russian spies are captured, and Ann, now knowing the whole truth of what happened, tells her husband, "Come on home, my darling." The last scene is a shot of Manhattan taken from Queens, showing a mushroom cloud of steam rising from the top of the Empire State Building! This is one of my all-time favorites and I give it a 10 out of 10. Don't miss this one. It's an absolute gem!
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The Night Stalker (1972 TV Movie)
Investigative Reporter Meets Modern-Day Vampire
15 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This 1972 entry in the ABC Movie of the Week pantheon is one of the finest vampire movies ever made. Presented in a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact format that almost has a bit of a semi-documentary feel to it, it takes itself and its subject matter seriously. Based on a screenplay by Richard Matheson from a story by Jeff Rice, the film introduces us to Carl Kolchak(DARREN McGAVIN), a wisecracking, cynical, world-weary, middle-aged reporter working for the Las Vegas Daily News. Having been fired numerous times from other newspapers around the country due to his penchant for butting heads with managing editors, he finds himself in the journalistic sticks, hoping for that one big story that will catapult him back into the Big Time. He finds it, alright, and it turns out to be more than anyone bargained for. Assigned to cover the story of a female casino worker found murdered in an alleyway and stuffed into a garbage can, he learns from one of his contacts, a staff physician at the hospital, that the dead woman had lost a lot of blood. Not seeing anything too out of the ordinary here, Kolchak files a pro forma report with his editor. But very soon, more young women start turning up dead, their bodies completely drained of blood and with bite marks on their throats. A press conference is held at the Clark County Courthouse where the county pathologist reports on how these women were killed and indicates that human saliva was found mixed in with the traces of blood in the throat wounds. This leads Kolchak to ask whether it was possible that this maniac murdered these women by biting them in the throat for the express purpose of drinking their blood- a viewpoint that doesn't go down well with the city and county law enforcement authorities in attendance. That's the last thing they want to hear. Yet once the authorities realize what they're really up against, they'll wish it was just an ordinary garden-variety whack job. As the evidence starts to pile up in the form of blood thefts from hospitals, more dead women drained of blood, and pitched battles between the police and a suspect with superhuman strength who can outrun police vehicles, toss pursuers around like Steven Seagal and is impervious to bullets, it becomes apparent that they're dealing with something very out of the ordinary. At the prodding of his girlfriend Gail Foster(CAROL LYNLEY), who believes that the killer may be a real vampire, Kolchak does some research and after piecing together all the evidence, comes to accept the reality of the situation- that a real live vampire has turned Las Vegas into his latest feeding ground. At a second press conference, Kolchak's friend and confidant, FBI Agent Bernie Jenks(RALPH MEEKER) delivers a report on the identity of the suspect based on the Scotland Yard and the INTERPOL findings. His name is Janos Skorzeny(BARRY ATWATER), he was born in Craesti, Romania at the turn of the century and his travels on the Continent in pre-war Europe, in England during the German Blitz, and in postwar Canada have all been accompanied by mysterious deaths and bodies showing massive blood loss. The authorities, in conjunction with the media, engage in a massive cover-up to suppress the facts, since revealing the truth about the murders and the man who is committing them would be "bad for police operations, bad for the people and bad for business" in the words of the District Attorney(KENT SMITH). Kolchak chafes at the restrictions placed upon him by his managing editor Tony Vincenzo(SIMON OAKLAND). Kolchak doesn't care about ruffling feathers or stepping on the toes of officialdom. He has no patience or tolerance for the "good old boy network." He has an air of smug superiority about him and believes it's the public's right to know what the System wants to hide from them. Kolchak believes he has cut a deal with the authorities- he will tell them how to arm the police against Skorzeny and how to get him- by following him back to his lair and waiting until after the sun comes up to stake him in his coffin. In return, he'll be given the exclusive rights to the story. The DA agrees to this, but the look on his face as Kolchak leaves tells us that he's going to screw him good when the time comes. Through one of his contacts(ELISHA COOK JR), Kolchak finds Skorzeny's house and tells him to have the police come there after sunrise. He then disregards his own advice and goes to the house armed with a silver cross, a mallet and a wooden stake. He finds one of Skorzeny's victims, still alive and being transfused while tied to a bed- a human blood bank. Skorzeny arrives and Kolchak wards him off with the cross but has to fight for his life when he loses his protection. Agent Jenks arrives and he and Kolchak team up to defeat Skorzeny with the help of the morning sun and a wooden stake through the heart. The police arrive just as Kolchak finishes staking Skorzeny. Later that morning after preparing his story, he is summoned to the DA's Office where the DA, with a warrant in his hand, informs Kolchak that he's under arrest for murder. The DA reads him the story that will be printed and that if Kolchak breathes a word about what really happened, they'll execute the warrant, try him for murdering a suspect who hadn't even been arrested or charged, and put him away forever. With no cards left to play, Kolchak leaves Las Vegas under a cloud. This is a well-crafted, suspenseful tale with an excellent cast, good production values, an eerie musical score, and credible performances. This is one of my favorite vampire movies and I give it a 10 out of 10.
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Rage (1966)
Suspenseful low-budget medical thriller
7 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I remember seeing this movie when it aired on television 40-odd years ago. I found the premise intriguing. It's a shame they never released it on video or DVD because it's definitely a watchable film. The two lead actors are Glenn Ford and Stella Stevens and they both turn in tour de force performances here. Filmed on location in Mexico, the story revolves around a rural construction compound where Ford plays the company doctor, 'Doc' Reuben- a lonely, bitter, hard-drinking medical man who walks around feeling sorry for himself and doesn't seem to value his own existence or life in general for that matter.. Stella Stevens plays a very attractive and sensual "camp follower" named Perla. Her profession is not blatantly advertised but rather portrayed in a low-key understated manner. She finds herself attracted to Ford because he doesn't pursue her like every other guy within a ten mile radius. She is the prostitute with a heart of gold who knows a suffering man when she meets one. And that makes her want to get close to him, even though he appears to rebuff her at every turn. Into this situation comes an invisible enemy- invisible but deadly. An enemy whose very name inspires feelings of terror and dread. One of the Mexican laborers had a pet cat. The cat bit him. And in doing so, it delivered a death sentence. By the time the sickness manifested itself, it was too late to save him. The man is dragged into the camp bound with a series of ropes like a hogtied steer. He cries in pain and torment and has white foam around his mouth. Doc Reuben comes out and pours a glass of water on the ground in front of the man, who reacts violently at the sight of it. The man will soon be dead, the virus having reached his brain tissue. Doc Reuben will soon undergo his own trial by ordeal. He had a German Shepherd which had also been bitten by the infected feline before it succumbed. When the dog bites him and Doc Reuben learns that it was infected, he realizes he has approximately 72 hours to get to the nearest big city for medical treatment before the virus takes hold. With no automobile available, he is relegated to using a horse-drawn wagon as a means of transportation. With Perla accompanying him, they set out across the hot Mexican desert in a race against time. In stark contrast to his earlier manifestation as a washed-up drunk wallowing in self-pity, he is now a man who wants desperately to live. Now that his life may be taken from him, he quickly comes to realize just how precious life really is. Redeemed by Perla's love, he now has even more reason to want to live. But can they beat the ticking clock and the harsh desert to get to the serum in time?
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A Haunting Underrated Work of Art
5 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I remember watching this movie back in the 1960s when it played with some frequency on TV. It affected me then, and now, more than 40 years later, the memory of it still haunts me. This is a film that stays with you long after you see it. It is so moving and evocative- a minor masterpiece of timeless cinema verite. The two lead actors, Carroll Baker and Ralph Meeker, are just excellent in this film. Their performances are believable, honest and real. Miss Baker showed great range and depth in her portrayal of a young woman named Mary Ann, living at home with her domineering mother, who encounters the dark side of New York City one night in the form of a hulking assailant who drags her off the street and brutally rapes her. For a film that was made in the early 60s, this rape sequence is pretty graphic and shocking. Haunted by the attack, she wanders the city until in despair, she attempts suicide from the Manhattan Bridge. She is saved from a watery grave by the sudden appearance of Ralph Meeker, who pulls her to safety. Meeker's character is Mike, a lonely garage mechanic who sees in Mary Ann a fellow lost soul. He takes her back to his place, which turns out to be a shabby, dingy basement apartment in a tenement building. The stark desolation of these living quarters mirrors the desolation and loneliness of Mike's existence. Mike winds up keeping Mary Ann a prisoner in the apartment, locking her in during the day while he goes to work. He's hoping that she will come to know his soul and will fall in love with him and want to stay with him. But the traumatized woman soon grows scared of her benefactor and tries her best to keep him at arm's length. At one point she asks him why won't he let her go and he replies "Because you're my last chance." Mike is a drinker. He drinks to deal with his pain. And when he comes home drunk, Mary Ann becomes even more terrified of him. In his besotted state, he attempts a move on Mary Ann. After futilely pleading with him and demanding that he stay away from her, she winds up kicking him in the face in self-defense, which results in him losing an eye. The next day, when he's sober, he doesn't recall the events of the night before and doesn't realize it was Mary Ann who did that to him. He thought he must have gotten into a barroom brawl. After getting a black eye patch he hears Mary Ann tell him that she did it because she was afraid she was going to be violated again. When Mike leaves for work afterward, he leaves the door unlocked. Realizing that he can't win her love by keeping her prisoner, he sets her free. Ecstatic at her newfound freedom, Mary Ann again wanders the city, but this time with a light heart and a smile on her face. Fate, however, moves to bring these two lonely people together as, one day, Mary Ann finds herself on Mike's block and goes down to his apartment, as if drawn by curiosity- or something else. She finds him sitting alone, the room in disarray. He asks her what she's doing there and she doesn't respond. He asks her why she came back and she replies "I came for you." They embrace and kiss, two lonely souls no longer lonely. This is such a fine film. A sensitive treatment of how pain and loneliness can be offset by the redemptive power of healing love.
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The Strangler (1964)
Brilliant and viscerally disturbing
30 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is an excellent film detailing the police manhunt for a psychopathic serial strangler of women in a large unnamed city. Based on the case of the Boston Strangler, the film introduces us to one Leo Kroll(VICTOR BUONO), an obese, mother-dominated hospital lab technician with a pathological hatred of women engendered by his lifelong negative relationship with his mother. Watching the interaction between them gives the viewer the insight needed to understand why he turned out the way he did. The respective performances are just amazing to watch-this is as real, believable and lifelike as it gets. ELLEN CORBY gives a wonderful performance as Mrs. Kroll- a coronary care patient confined to a hospital room who berates, belittles and criticizes her son for everything and anything whenever he comes to visit her. And it's obvious that this has been the pattern of their whole relationship from the time he was a little boy. It is quite apparent that Leo, a very large and obese man, feels much nervous fear and trepidation around this small elderly invalid with the critical tongue. But he also feels incredible hatred for her as well. Mrs. Kroll is an angry, embittered, domineering shrew of a woman who has made her son's very existence miserable from Day One. She claims to love him, but we see that it's not true, honest, caring love. It's false and manipulative. In one scene, she tells Leo "You love me and I love you." The way she says it and the look on her face tells us that this is an evil, controlling woman who uses her son for her own devious ends- another version of the Mrs. Bates persona from PSYCHO. When the movie starts, Leo Kroll is racking up his eighth strangulation murder and the police Homicide Division is stumped. The Detective Lieutenant in charge of the investigation, Lt. Frank Benson, is played by The Marlboro Man(David McLEAN). McLean turns in a very believable performance here. He is COP PERSONIFIED. He looks the part and acts it- tired and haggard, yet tough, tenacious and determined. After Kroll is interviewed by the police, they develop more than a passing interest in him. A battle of wits ensues between the detectives and Kroll, with Kroll seeming to upstage them at various points. The most humorous line in an otherwise dark movie is when Kroll tells them that he wasn't able to afford completing his medical school education, but that he has sufficient training to become a policeman! The film explores the psychopathology of the woman-hating serial killer by having the Department Psychiatrist do a profile workup for the Lieutenant. This clinical aspect of the film is quite informative and revealing and the conclusions portrayed herein have been substantiated by experts in the field of abnormal psychology. In addition to venting his hatred for his mother by murdering women(he seems to specialize in young, attractive nurses), strangling these women also gives him a sexual release. By his bodily twitching and shaking and sweaty, perspiring features, it's quite obvious what we're seeing. Obvious though understated. Leo's one glimmer of hope for some happiness is a young woman named Tally Raymond(DAVEY DAVISON), who works at the Ring Toss concession in the local penny arcade. Smitten with her and starved for affection, he mistakes her kindness to him for love. An interesting aside- Tally has a co-worker named Barbara Wells, played by DIANE SAYER. Barbara seems to be quite interested in Leo and she doesn't hide her interest. She comes on to him but he's not interested in her at all. He's brusque with her and treats her in a very perfunctory manner. Here's a guy who has been rejected by women all his life. Yet when he encounters one who wouldn't mind being with him, he summarily dismisses her. This is a man, who, at the age of 30, has never been with a woman or had a normal relationship with one. He has no idea what it involves. All he knows is that this woman Tally showed him some kindness and he's going to propose to her. When he does, offering her his now dead mother's engagement ring, she is understandably alarmed and taken aback and tries to diplomatically turn him down. But this final rejection is the one he can't walk away from. It leads to an ending which is predictable but nonetheless tragic. This is a very well-crafted crime noir thriller with excellent performances throughout. VICTOR BUONO is just perfect in this film. This part was made for him. I think he deserved an Academy Award for his performance. The film has an eerie score which I found to be quite unnerving. It helps create the film's unsettled tone. This is a minor classic and I give it a 10 out of 10.
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Frogs (1972)
Effective, understated eco-horror flick
22 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
FROGS is an entertaining entry in the sub-genre of Nature Strikes Back environmental horror films popularized during the 1970s. It draws part of its inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"(1963)- though in Hitchcock's film the motive and reason for the bird attacks is not clearly defined, whereas in FROGS the viewer comes to understand why the local wildlife has it in for people. The film starts out slowly and quietly as ecologist and free-lance photographer Pickett Smith(SAM ELLIOTT), doing a photo spread on the despoliation of the environment for an ecology magazine, makes his way along a Florida waterway by canoe. The canoe overturns when it gets caught in the wake of a speedboat that passes too close. Smith is rescued by the occupants of the other craft, Clint Crockett(ADAM ROARKE) and his sister Karen(JOAN VAN ARK) and invited back to the family estate to clean up, dry out and meet the other family members. The choice of watercraft used by these two men serves to help define their character- Smith's boat is environmentally friendly whereas Clint's is loud, noisy, and polluting. Smith is taken back to the family estate which exists on a privately-owned, secluded island in Florida swamp country. Smith has arrived at an auspicious time- it's the annual family gathering to celebrate both the Fourth of July and Grandpa's birthday. Grandpa is family patriarch Jason Crockett, played by RAY MILLAND, who turns in an outstanding, tour de force performance as the wheelchair-bound, cantankerous millionaire industrialist who personifies the ugly rich at its worst. He has a mean streak in him as evidenced by his high-handed authoritarian manner and disdain for the natural environment. He believes that Man was put here as the Master of the Earth and all life forms must bow before him. When his handyman does not return from a poison-spraying mission in the swamp to kill the frogs whose incessant croaking is driving his family nuts, he asks Pickett Smith to look for him. Smith finds him alright- lying in a swampy pool, dead from venomous snakebite. It's here that the film's Dark Tone of Ominous Portent manifests- as one by one the various family members find themselves isolated and targeted by the denizens of the swamp. There is not a whole lot of gore in this film. To achieve its desired effect, it relies more on creating an unsettled mood and an atmosphere of quiet doom in a low-key understated manner. It's our stalwart hero Pickett Smith who speculates that maybe Nature is getting back at us for what we've done to the Earth. Crockett dismisses this as rubbish and stubbornly refuses to heed any warnings. These swamp creatures are going to show him the proper respect- or else. The title creatures of the film do not kill anybody, because they can't. They're depicted as the brains behind the operation, like generals getting their troops in position and waiting for the enemy to walk into an ambush. Long before the movie is over, we have a pretty good idea who is going to survive and who isn't. Though the Good People make it off the island intact, in spite of some close calls, for them the Horror may be just beginning. This movie is quite effective in an understated way. It benefits from beautiful location photography (it was filmed in Florida's Eden State Park), strong performances, good editing and the creation of a sense of claustrophobic horror. This is one of my favorite Nature Revenge movies and I give it an 8 out of 10.
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Does that sign say Wamport Road?
16 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
CITY OF THE DEAD a/k/a HORROR HOTEL is the best and most atmospheric witchcraft movie ever made. It's proof that a film doesn't need a $200 million dollar budget, high-tech special effects, gallons of blood, and a cast of big name actors to achieve success and generate a cult following. Working on a low budget, director John Llewelyn Moxey, in collaboration with screenwriter George Baxt, cinematographer Desmond Dickinson, and an ensemble cast of mostly English actors, managed to create a suspenseful, moody, atmospheric masterpiece of horror reminiscent of the work of Val Lewton in the 1940s. Horror films work best when the horror is suggested or implied. The power of suggestion is more frightening than actually seeing the ceremonial dagger plunged into someone's face. This film creates an unsettled mood of dread through a masterful blend of story composition, sound, lighting, stark black and white photography, set design and character development. The opening sequence takes place on March 3rd, 1692 in Puritan New England where the townspeople of Whitewood, Massachusetts burn one Elizabeth Selwyn(PATRICIA JESSEL) at the stake for witchcraft. As the flames consume her, she levels a blood curse on the town in the name of Lucifer. Fast forward to the year 1960 where we find Prof. Alan Driscoll(CHRISTOPHER LEE), a college history professor, giving a lecture in his home to a select group of students on the events that occurred in Whitewood three centuries before. He displays an intense, hard, angry demeanor about him as he regales the class with his recounting of the witch burnings. One of his students, star pupil Nan Barlow(VENETIA STEVENSON), is totally mesmerized with the subject and tells Driscoll that she wants to spend her mid-winter break by going to New England to do some first-hand research on the topic for her senior paper. Driscoll conveniently steers her to the town of Whitewood, telling her that she may very well find what she's looking for there. Nan's brother Richard Barlow(DENNIS LOTIS), a professor of science at the college, comes by to pick her up and winds up getting into an angry debate with Driscoll. It's obvious that these two men, though professional colleagues, can't stand one another. Barlow sees himself as a rational man and summarily dismisses any notion of the supernatural as "fairy tale mumbo-jumbo." He, along with Nan's boyfriend Bill Maitland(TOM NAYLOR), display the contempt of modern man towards anything that can't be verified by the scientific method. By the ending sequence, they will both come to regret their dismissive arrogance, albeit too late for one of them. Nan arrives in Whitewood on February the 1st and is treated to a desolate-looking, foreboding town shrouded in perpetual foggy darkness. She checks into the local inn and we see that the innkeeper, a Mrs. Newless, bears a striking resemblance to Elizabeth Selwyn. Nan is warned by a blind reverend(NORMAN MACOWAN), whose church has no congregation here, that the town is in the Devil's thrall and that she should leave at once, "before it is too late." She visits the town bookstore and makes the acquaintance of Patricia Russell(BETTA ST. JOHN), the reverend's good and decent granddaughter. Miss Russell shows Nan an old, rare tome on witchcraft entitled "A Treatise on Devil Worship in New England" and tells her she can borrow it to help with her research. That same night, Nan disappears- for she has arrived in Whitewood on Candlemas Eve, which is a hallmark date on the Witches Calendar of Important Dates to Remember. After not hearing from Nan for over two weeks, her brother and boyfriend attempt to find out what happened to her. They both learn more than they bargained for when they travel to Whitewood individually in search of the missing girl. The climactic sequence in the town graveyard is very imaginative and impressive, demonstrating the power of Good over Evil. This movie is horror film-making at its best. It has never been equalled and I give it a 10 out of 10.
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