adriangr

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Reviews

Dead Ringer
(1964)

Great fun
Dead Ringer is a sensational thriller starring Bette Davis in a dual role as twin sisters Edith and Margaret. Edith is poor, while Margaret is loaded, having married into wealth. Trouble is that Margaret's wealthy husband was once Edith's first love, and when the sisters meet at his funeral after a decade of silence, sparks begin to fly again, and Edie plots a fiendish scheme to escape from her unhappy and debt-ridden life.

If you don't know the film, and have not heard much about the plot, you are in for a treat. This is a first class, highly entertaining thriller. For a black and white Hollywood star vehicle from 1964, the movie still stands up strong today with a plot that keeps you gripped from the moment the wheels of crime start turning, until the bitter end - and it's bitter, believe me! Bette Davis makes a real feast of her dual role, and the effects that keep her on screen as both sisters at the same time are flawless. I was scrutinizing the screen to spot the joins on some occasions, but completely failed. Davis also skilfully makes herself into two different personalities, showing why she is considered to be one of the greats of the Hollywood golden age. True, at this point in her career some of her subtlety had gone, and the familiar Baby Jane screech is in full effect, but she still does a great job, constantly smoking like a chimney as Edie (amusingly lectured by the other sister at one point, that smoking is unhealthy!), and throwing juicy insults around. Although the direction and cinematography are fairly mundane, Davis' performance makes the film shine. You can practically see the machinations of Edie's mind as she starts to flounder among the constant stream of obstacles that threaten to sabotage her plan, and its great fun to watch her. There are good performances all round from the rest of the cast as well, plus some fantastic surprise twists in the plot, so do yourself a big favour and avoid reading any plot summaries before you watch it.

It may only be Saturday matinee entertainment now, or a filler DVD for a rainy afternoon, but Dead Ringer will keep you hooked right through to the end if you give it your time, and there's no shortage of films around even today today that can't beat that.

The Star
(1952)

Surprisingly weak
In "The Star", Bette Davis plays Margaret Elliot, a movie star who's career is on the way down, but this is no "All About Eve", it;s not even close. Davis portrays a character who cannot grasp the fact that she's no longer the box office draw that she once was, and blindly stumbles from one mis-step to another trying to keep herself relevant. She drinks, she drives, she gets thrown in jail, she has no patience with anybody, and seethes with bitterness the whole time. When she has no choice but to audition for a role as an "older" character, she cannot reconcile to the insult of playing someone dowdy, and so insists on ignoring alla advice and direction and plays the character as a giggly flirt. It's a disaster of course, but it's also completely unbelievable that a seasoned, professional actress (by which I mean the character, not Miss Davis herself ) would come up with such a dumb idea.

This is not the only wrong note in the movie. The script is awful and visually the movie always looks flat and dull. I expected Davis to be worth the effort of watching it, but she gives a performance that is cartoonish and unsubtle, playing Margaret Elliot like a brainless fool. I waited until the end hoping to see an "epiphany" of some sort for the central character, but the ending of the tale is also as weak as pond water. It would seem that, given poor material to work with, even the great Davis cannot please an audience on her own.

The Boy Friend
(1971)

Fantastic ...for the right mindset
"The Boyfriend" is one of my all time favourite movies. But beware if you are simply looking for the story and it's songs on film - when I asked people who were familiar with the original show/musical if they liked this version, I was surprised by the violent level of criticism they responded with! But to be fair, they were not far off, as Russell stomps all over the source material in this re-telling, which uses the "show" of The Boyfriend as just a show-within-a-film, and concentrates more on the bickering, the egos and the behind the scenes drama that plays out among the cast in the theatre where the show is being staged.

The main "plot" of this version of The Boyfriend is that before the performance (that we are about to see in the film) starts, the main star of the show pulls out due to injury so her understudy, who is a nerdy production manager, has to step in and save the show by playing Polly Brown, heroine and star of the story. We then see how the show turns out as the cast bumble through with the unexpected replacement doing her best, and also, every now and again, we see chunks of the show as "imagined" by both the show's director and a visiting movie producer, if it were to be produced with a mega budget. With all this going on, it's unsurprising that the full length version of the film lasts over 2 hours.

The reasons why I love this movies is that it is constantly hilarious. The cast playing "the cast" are nearly all Russell regulars, and they do a superb job. Standouts are Antonia Ellis as the scheming Maisie, furious that an unknown is being propelled into the limelight instead of her, Max Adrian as the harassed director, and surprisingly, Twiggy (I say that because she wasn't a professional actress) who is superb in the role of gawky, love-struck Polly. But the whole cast are good. The contributions by Nancy, Dulcie and Fay are all great, with Georgina Hale as Fay, but then she's always good, and a particularly deranged performance from Sally Bryant as Nancy (I think) who seems capable of opening her eyes wider than would appear to be humanly possible. Also Barbara Windsor steals many scenes as the maid Hortense with a truly ear-splitting French accent.

Another reason I love this movie is the visual appearance of it. Everything backstage looks authentic (it's set in the 1920's), but it's Russell's flair and sense of style that bring the film to life. The threadbare but very camp theatrical production seems to have props and scenery that would be virtually impossible to implement into a real stage show. Like the set for the costume ball? No stage is that big! And I am referring to the actual show here, not the "re-imaginings". But it's all part of that crazy Ken Russell imagination. He consistently uses lighting and sudden fast changing shots in the "show" portions that makes the action look almost cartoon-like. Going back to the fantasy sequences, these are actually among my least favourite parts of the film. They seem to add nothing except extra running time. The "I Could Be Happy" sequence with the gnomes and mushroom houses is typical Russell goofery, but the giant gramophone record and endless lines of dancing girls are actually quite boring.

However, despite that last comment, "The Boyfriend" is a delight in my mind. For fans of the original score, you won't find it here, as a lot of the songs have been savaged in this version, in fact the actual plot of "The Boyfriend" itself barely surfaces, but as a film in it's own right, I think it's superb and very entertaining.

Trottie True
(1949)

Charming but dated
Trottie True tells the tale of a music hall girl who rises to stardom and soon has to navigate the pitfalls of having too many suitors, and choosing between love and her career.

Jean Kent does seem to be a talented actress but the movie is now dreadfully dated, although having a British movie made in colour in 1949 is quite a find. But the script and direction do not bring the film to life. Many scenes are rushed. There is no care taken in any scenes that show the character development. Even the musical numbers are mostly drawn up short without any respect to members of the audience who might just be enjoying the songs. Everything fades out or cuts at rampant speed, without a chance for the emotional side of the story to properly land. And there is a good story here, and in more skilled hands the characters could have really come to life. As it stands it's all just moving wallpaper. With sound. But much of the dialogue is delivered so fast that you miss a lot of what people are saying

The movie shows it's age most painfully in the songs, which Jean Kent trills her way through in an ear-splitting, high register that I am sure was all the rage when the movie was made, but it just hurt my ears.

The highlights are...well. just that it's a delightful, colourful, period relic. The ladies costumes are mind boggling, especially the never-ending parade of outstanding feathered hats. The acting is broad and unsubtle. I bet Jean Kent could have displayed some impressive depths of emotion but she isn't given a chance. It's the director's fault. There is a lot of plot here. Probably enough for 2 hours, but he filmed like he couldn't bear to spend an inch of celluloid more than was absolutely necessary on any shot or scene. Maybe in 1949, that was a genuine reason for brevity.

Beyond the Door III
(1989)

They don't make 'em like this any more
Amok Train ( a far better title) tells the tale of a group of American students on a study trip in Serbia who are first terrorized by an evil village, and then by a runaway train they they attempt to escape on. It's all because one of the students is a "chosen one" of a group of devil worshippers.

The film has so much going on, it's never boring, even if some of the story and acting are a bit hokey, there are always plenty of things to look at and some outrageous gore is showcased, including a face being pulled off, decapitations, impalements galore, and quite a shocking dismemberment of one poor guy caught between moving carriages.

Actually some of the most frightening scenes of the movie are those depicting the actors being filmed on the moving train. We see them running alongside and jumping aboard, clambering over the top of it, hanging off the sides and dangling between the couplings - all while the train is clearly moving at some speed. I don't know how they filmed all of this, it looks completely hair-raising. If these are faked via special effects, then I take my hat off in admiration.

There are some rather shonky miniature models that spoil some of the tension, but the movie is otherwise beautifully photographed, and the music is great too. It's bursting with energy and great visuals, reminiscent of Lamberto Bava's "Demons" , and the more obscure "Spider Labyrinth", so if you have seen and enjoyed either of those, and can suspend your criticisms, you'll have fun with this.

The Black Torment
(1964)

Passable Gothic
Somewhere between Hammer's period horrors and the Italian ghost shockers featuring Barbara Steele falls "The Black Torment". It's not very well known, but it does have a fairly good story, even if the delivery is a little flat.

The plot is fairly formulaic: nobleman Sir Richard Thorndyke and his new (second) wife Elizabeth return to the family mansion, only to be haunted by what seems to be the ghost of the first dead wife, walking around at night in a white dress and veil. The extra twist to this tale is that they are also being haunted by another Sir Richard - while he's still alive and well! There's also a wheelchair bound, crippled father who may be keeping a secret, and the murders of busty young wenches.

The acting is not great. John Turner really hams it up in the lead role, while Heather Sears makes a rather two dimensional heroine. What works best are the scenes where Sir Richard keeps being informed that he has been seen somewhere when he has not been anywhere near there. I really enjoyed these. The best was when Sir Richard departed down the house drive in a carriage, but as soon as Elizabeth turns around and walks back into the house, a servant tells her that Sir Richard is currently in the living room, and we can hear him through the door, shouting the place down! This is a great scene, and really racks up the bewilderment as the characters stare at the door and try to deduce which one is the real Richard. Very clever.

The climax does explain everything but it's pretty daft and there aren't enough suspects in the cast for the big reveal to be that much of a surprise. There's very little in the way of shocks, and zero blood and gore, but at least the rather bonkers story makes it worth seeing through to the end, to find out the explanation

Screaming Mimi
(1958)

What happened??
"The Screaming Mimi" is based on a detective novel published around 1950 in which beautiful young women are being murdered. In the book, a hardboiled reporter named Sweeney becomes obsessed with solving the case, but the only leads he has are that one of the victims has survived, and that a macabre statuette of a screaming woman seems to link all the victims together. This is the same plot as the movie follows, but what boggles my mind is how badly the movie screenplay handles the events depicted in the book. The book only reveals it's secret at the very end. The movie, however, reverses the order in which the truth is uncovered, thereby destroying the entire twist.

*Spoilers follow from here!*

The movie opens with Anita Ekberg as Virginia, having a mental breakdown after being menaced by an escaped asylum escapee with a knife. The movie then flashes forwards to Ekberg again, who, after years of therapy, has changed her name to Yolanda, and is now trying to start a new life as a stripper (a sure fire way of having stable mental health!). She is then attacked again, apparently by the maniac who has already stabbed and killed several other women, and this is when the reporter Sweeney starts to take an interest in the case. Sweeney follows up clues, investigates who else had a copy of the statuette (it is a mass produced item), and generally starts to fall in love with Yolanda, who occasionally suffers night terrors and moments of memory loss. Eventually Sweeney manages to work out who the murderer is, but by that time, you may have nodded off.

I can't quite put my finger on why, but watching the movie is a really boring experience. None of the acting is any good. The two leads deliver really drab performances. There are many boring scenes set in the nightclub where Yolanda does her act. But the worst part is the way the movie messes up the plot of the book, which I will now explain:

*Last chance to avoid spoilers*

In the novel, we don't know about Virginia or her trauma. Sweeney only knows that there have been knife murders, and that the screaming statuette is somehow linked. Only at the very end of the book do we discover that the statuette depicts Virginia, and this is the first time we learn about the original attack and resulting trauma, and that Virginia and Yolanda are the same person. Yolanda psychotic and it is in fact she who has been performing the murders, but outwardly she has been exhibiting a calm and controlled persona. That's the book. What the movie does, is blow this revelation by showing the original trauma at the start, showing that the statue is based on Virginia's terror, and showing that Yolanda is suffering from memory loss and nightmares, and shows that the sight of the statuette triggers her. What a disaster. There's no real attempt to divert suspicion away from her, so what we end up is a character study of Ekberg's madness, rather than the surprise explanation that didn't come to light until the final few pages of the book.

As a movie, watched with no prior knowledge of the book, it still doesn't work because everything that happens is so unconvincing. A sad waste of time

One Minute Before Death
(1972)

I've seen worse...but not much
This is a pretty shabby affair, although it was evidently produced with some energy and at least the camera work is good - and in focus.

The movie tells of a woman named Lisa who arrives at a country mansion with her mother and is haunted/terrorized by ghosts, strange people, and an eerie painting of a dead woman called Rebecca. After 20 minutes, the modern day story gets put on hold while a boring and gushy explanatory flashback plays out for nearly 45 minutes! One we come back to the main cast again, the story rattles to a sudden end, with at least some attempt at true horror involving a nasty corpse.

There is lots of unintentional humour throughout. The mansion is spotlessly clean and well decorated...clearly the movie was filmed in somebody's large private home. It's also mercilessly lit, so regardless of day or night, everything is showcased in a blaze of industrial arc lighting, even when the cast laughabley hold candles ( that do absolutely nothing). All the acting is poor, and the special effects are nothing more than double exposures and sudden cuts. Stock "terror music" is applied with a trowel over every sequence of drama. Despite all of this, the amazing thing is that the photographer who shot it actually knew how to handle a camera, and most scenes look well storyboarded and nicely framed. Shame the photography is scuppered by the ghastly lighting.

The actresses totter around in "period" dresses that look like party costumes bought from the nearest high street store, and sport enough hair for about 3 people on top of their heads. There are even 2 versions of the painting of Rebecca, that the director swaps between randomly for no apparent reason, and they are glaringly different enough to ruin the little verisimilitude that the movie actually has to start with.

Overall the effect is that of a well produced home movie, so approach accordingly.

When Michael Calls
(1972)

Creepy thriller from 1970s TV
"When Michael Calls" is an ABC Movie of the Week from 1972 that belongs to that special group of made-for-TV chillers that everyone who saw still remembers as terrifying the life out of them. I'm pleased to report it still works even today.

A young divorced mother named Helen suddenly starts receiving prank phone calls that claim to be from her nephew Michael, crying and asking for help. Trouble is that Michael has been dead for years. As the calls continue, people around Helen start to get murdered.

Although the movie as a whole is fairly low key, the first 30 minutes or so are really effective. The calls from "Michael" are genuinely creepy, and on first viewing, there really does seem to be no rational explanation for them. This sets up a great sense of unease for the characters and viewer alike. Elizabeth Ashley does a great job in the lead role as Helen, in fact all of the acting is good, including her young daughter. Gradually the mystery is explained, but you won't hear a spoiler from me, so I recommend seeking out a copy of this. The opening premise is so good and so spooky, that it will certainly make you curious to watch it to the end.

Curse of the Fly
(1965)

Pretty Good
I think the maligned "Curse of the Fly" manages to be a successful horror movie in it's own right. Concentrating on the dangers of messing with science and nature is enough of a creepy premise, without the need for any buggy eyed fly monsters.

What we get now, is the story of the same family as the original scientist from "The Fly", still practising teleportation, and with locked cells full of failed guinea pigs as a result, mutated and gone mad. A young woman unwittingly enters the madhouse, as a bride of one of the adult sons, and gradually uncovers what is going on. The events that unfold are well scripted and gruesome. There are full spoilers ahead, if you haven't seen the movie.

The tensions springs from the plight of the young wife, and how the family try and conceal what they are doing. There's even a kind of "Rebecca" sub-plot, which sees the housekeeper remaining loyal to the son's first wife - a mutated failure herself - and ultimately letting her loose from her cell out of pity, to wreak havoc. There's even a fairly shocking scene towards the end in which the father of the family decides to teleport multiple humans at the same time without waiting for them to be "received" - which results in a fused "blob" of them all arriving at the same time. This is a horrific concept, and leads to a climax of poetic justice, as the main villain also tries to teleport himself away from the approaching police, not knowing that the other machine has been destroyed by the poor guy who had to witness this monster arriving, and therefore, there is nowhere for him to go.

The film is set in Canada but painfully obviously made in the UK. They might has well have come clean and set it in England, it really doesn't matter. The acting is pretty good, but on the other hand the "teleportation machine" is really flimsy and cheap looking. The appearance of the mutated failed experiments is fairly shocking, and the photography is nice. Shot in black and white, it still looks good, and the plot moves along at quite a good pace. I enjoyed it.

House of the Damned
(1963)

Mediocre effort
House of the Damned is attempts to rival to "House on Haunted Hill", "Two on a Guillotine", and other 1960's creepy house movies, but at only an hour in length it's definitely a quickie in more ways than one.

The plot tells of an architect and his wife who are asked to visit a remote mansion to map its measurements for the owner, but they find that they are not alone, and several mysterious events happen as they are menaced and frightened over the course of a few days.

There is nothing remarkable to see here although the scenery and photography are fairly good. There's a very impressive shot of the couple standing on the house driveway looking at a lake in the mist, which is just thrown away. There are also several scenes of spookiness, such as the face behind the grille, the hand grabbing the keys from the bedside table, the headless but moving body and the small figure roaming the house in the darkness. All of these could have been been the basic of some very dramatic and frightening scenarios under the right direction, but here they just don't have any life breathed into them. I am guessing that the director did not possess the required skills that would showcase this raw material to it's best effect.

As we only have 62 minutes to spend here, the movie would easily have benefitted from drawing out these wasted shots into bona fide scare scenes. Even the climax is hastily dealt with, and the end credits rush up really quickly. Usually, B movie makers have to pad out their films to make them feature length. Here it seems like the opposite, as if they wanted to trim it mercilessly to make it as short as possible.

The acting is all pretty good, and the music isn't bad. It's just a wasted opportunity to make a better film than the one that we ended up with. An experienced director could have really racked up the tension and wrung plenty of screams out of this content...what a shame

La maldición de la Llorona
(1963)

Modest chiller
The Curse of the Crying Woman kicks off with a couple of elements that are the movie's hallmarks. One is the striking image of the eyeless woman crying, and the other is the unfortunate overacting of the supporting cast and the threadbare budget. The plot begins shortly after this curtain raiser by showing us the arrival of a married couple at a sinister mansion. It is owned by the aunt of the young bride, who has summoned her niece to visit her, with the plan of introducing her to the family curse/revenge plan. The best actress in the movie is definitely the aunt, whose handsome appearance and expressive eyes are put to good use as she plays the fiendish bearer of the curse. The rest of the movie is a bit shoddy, showing how the young couple are terrorised by visions, bats, dogs, a hunchbacked servant and a mysterious relative who is locked in the attic. All the stock cliches are here!

Although it's possible to do a lot with a small budget, a lot of the time the movie is let down by this. What is done right is the photography, with scenes well composed and crisply shot in rich black and white. On the other hand the effects are not good at all, especially in all of the dog scenes where the attacks are really badly portrayed, with shots of the dogs licking jam off glass held in front of the camera. It's an imaginative attempt, but short sharp editing would have been much more effective than drawing out the scene so much, which really showcases the lack of any convincing action. Nearly every scene goes on too long, in particular the climactic fight scene in which the couple try to escape as the house collapses. This is ridiculously padded out and produces no tension at all. It's a shame because there are moments that hint at the unrealised potential here. The film is carried by the dynamics between the two female leads ( the husband is a total washout), and this could have worked a lot better if the supporting framework had been better handled as well.

Windows
(1980)

Nope.
Windows is a dreary film that is no fun to watch. It tells the tale of a mousey drudge named Emily who is obsessively stalked by her crazed neighbour Andrea. Andrea pays a cab driver to viciously assault Emily, and tape record it so she can listen to it later (is this love?). Andrea then watches Emily through a telescope that provides a crystal clear view into her apartment from a ridiculously distant vantage point across the river. She terrorises Emily further in an attempt to...well, I don't know what, and I don't think the film knows, either. A detective takes an interest in Emily and somehow puts the story together.

The film opens with the assault, which I will admit is pretty unpleasant, but for then on, everything becomes very slow, and a lot of it is hard to understand. The attacker actually comes back a second time (why???) but is stopped by Andrea who smashes a door on his hand (I hope she paid him extra for that, but this is never mentioned again). Then later, in a pivotal scene, Emily realised that the taxi she is riding in is being driven by the man who assaulted her. Her realisation of this seems to be when she sees his name on his licence. His NAME. Which she never knew. The fact that he has bandaged fingers (which is the REAL clue) is a barely acknowledged fleeting glimpse. Keeping her cool, she convinces the man to stop the cab so she can get out. And what does she do next? She makes a call from a public phone and then GETS BACK IN AGAIN!!

There's also pointless subplot involving Emily's elderly neighbours that has no effect on the plot whatsoever. Unless Andrea is supposed to have had something to do with it? I have no idea. The detective who is investigating somehow seems to work out that she is being watched by telescope, although I cannot remember how on earth he knew this. Andrea has scenes with a psychiatrist which do not help the plot in any way whatsoever.

The acting is fairly dreary, especially from the detective, and Talia Shire as Emily, who has no redeeming or attractive features at all, that might gain the viewer's sympathy. There isn't even a good ending. The film ends without showing Emily being rescued, or Andrea getting arrested. In fact, Andrea just disappears from the film at the end. Come ON! All in all, a very unsatisfying viewer experience.

Cruising
(1980)

No fun here
Cruising is an offensive and grimy piece of film making which was reviled on release and the passing of time has only made it look worse. Al Pacino plays an undercover cop, deemed "pretty" enough to act as bait to trap a gay serial killer. He immerses himself in every depraved aspect of the New York gay underworld in an attempt to find the murderer.

The opening credits start with a disclaimer, stating that the movie is about one small fragment of gay lifestyle, but the then goes on to suggest that New York is one giant playground for sex crazed gay men. Every club, street, alleyway, park, woodland, shop and bar are bursting at the seams with lascivious men, all of whom are either rubbing someone or something, or getting rubbed themselves. The clubs all play dirty, tuneless, punk music. Apparently disco never happened in this universe. The extras partake in hilarious "sex acts" by doing such things as sucking pool cues, or sniffing each other's leather jackets. Every single gay man is depicted as a perverted hedonist, sex mad and getting it 24-7. The depiction of gay life is overblown, and cartoon like. In one ridiculous portrayal of "perversion", two men are shown walking along in full studded men's leather gear - while also wearing women's wigs and high heels. It's a delusional fantasy, seemingly created by people who know nothing about the world they are claiming to reveal.

The murders are not particularly graphic, but what is far more unpleasant is the behaviour of the police, especially in an interrogation scene involving a suspect. I hope this was intentionally used as a juxtaposition of the police's violence being as bad as the killer's, but it's more upsetting to watch than any of the murder scenes - and unlike them, it's all too believable. Pacino seems to turn in a fairly subdued performance. His apparent unease may be how he wished to portray the character's conflicting feelings, but it doesn't make his performance very dynamic. He just looks really uncomfortable. This non performance also gives us a very ambiguous ending. There's nothing remotely feel-good in the movie. Watching it is a dismal experience. There is one single sympathetic gay character - Pacino's neighbour - who (surprise surprise!) ends up as just another victim.

Watchable for pure curiosity value only.

The Cabinet of Caligari
(1962)

Try to avoid spoilers
This is one strange movie. It's been unavailable for a very long time and residing in something of a limbo until this welcome DVD release at an equally welcome low price. Basically, "The Cabinet of Caligari" has nothing to do with the famous 1919 silent movie expect for re-using the title, but is based on a thriller story written by the legendary Robert Bloch. It's hard to know how to describe this film, but comparing it to an extended episode of the Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits would be a good start - it has exactly the same stagy TV-like appearance, over wordy and deliberately obtuse script, and earnest (if rather hammy) performances.

The film starts with the heroine Jane (Glynis Johns) speeding blissfully along in a sports car, before coming to an unexpected halt due to a flat tyre. The motives or origins of this car journey are never explained, but don't worry, this is just the beginning of the disorientation that the movie is going to throw at you. Seeking help at a large house, Jane is welcomed inside and meets a handful of strange characters, all of whom appear helpful and pleasant. However, time passes and Jane begins to realise that she is being dissuaded from leaving, in fact she soon finds that it is actually impossible to leave the house and grounds. Presiding over the estate is a mysterious figure known as Caligari, who (with a hilarious hybrid accent) questions and confuses Jane, and generally menaces her in various ways. Jane begins to get more and more afraid as days go by, before losing control completely as the film's several shock twists start to kick in.

What to make of it all....? In a way, the film fails on a lot of levels due to the lack of realism of Jane's predicament. The casting of Glynis Johns as Jane works for me, as she has a very appealing vulnerability, but the script she is given really lets the character down. Jane never explains or expounds upon her feelings in the situation she is in, and therefore, some very obvious questions such as "Who are you all?" and "Why are you keeping me here?" never get asked or answered! Most of the time I was screaming at Jane to just confront her captors and demand some kind of explanation, but she simple drifts around the house engaging in rhetorical conversational ping-pong with the other "guests", with nearly everybody speaking in cryptic riddles like some low budget re-hash of "Last Year at Marienbad". But a lot of the situations she finds herself in are pretty odd, and there is a surreal quality about all the proceedings that works quite well, with some very unconventional filmic techniques thrown in at important moments. Although I couldn't shake the sense that Jane really wasn't trying that hard to get out of the place which did blow the mood somewhat.

However, having said all this, the final few minutes of the film contain the big twist that goes a long was to explain this very odd state of affairs...something which I cannot spoil for you here. I really regret that so many reviews of this film have given away the ending, as it must have been a very odd experience to watch it with no idea of the explanation...sadly I knew the ending in advance as well. But it does make for a worthwhile second run through of the whole film - if you can face another 100 mins of rambling nonsense and slightly whacky psychedelic effects - to see it in the light of what you learn at the end. The film is in black and white Cinemascope and looks gorgeous in full widescreen. The sets and imagery are pretty basic, but the cinematographer does what he can with selective lighting and weird angles.

To sum up, the film works best for fans of the two TV shows mentioned above. It's clever, but nowhere near as important as it thinks it is. I have to say though, that the DVD cover is a total knockout. You also get a full screen version to watch (don't - it ruins it) and a clunky trailer. Not bad for the price. A collector's curio.

Sins of Rachel
(1972)

Vintage curio
"The Sins of Rachel" is a sleazy vintage grindhouse movie which starts with a murder (of Rachel herself) and the rest of the movie consists of flashbacks which detail the various shady businesses that the title character was mixed up in, as police interview the people who knew her. There isn't much to get excited about. Rachel is presented as a middle-aged, dissolute sex-pot who sexually abuses her son, who in turn, fails to maintain a relationship with his girlfriend and instead strikes up a fledgling romance with another man. The camera dwells on the men undressing more than the women, which gives the impression this was aimed at the gay market, but the events are pretty mild, so the titillation factor is very low. It's mostly just a lurid soap opera. The acting is not as bad as it could have been, in fact the actress playing Rachel is almost good - something like a low-rent Bette Davis crossed with Patsy Rowlands! The film also boasts a cool theme song and showcases a killer vintage motorbike, but the ending is pretty flat.

She-Man: A Story of Fixation
(1967)

Yikes!
"She-man" tells an extremely odd tale of a man who is kidnapped by a shadowy organisation which turns out to be a kind of private prison where the inmates (both male and female) are forced to cross-dress and serve the haughty dominatrix in charge (who is clearly a man in drag), called Dominita. All the inmates are victims of blackmail, so none of them attempt to leave. The main character is forced to dress up as a maid in mini skirt, with thick make up, a tall wig and heels. He suffers various humiliations at the hand (and switch) of Dominita, while also striking up a romance with a lesbian inmate. The movie ends with a rebellion and liberation, leading to a very vague happy ending . The story and plot are so narrowly tailored for a very niche type of interest, that it's hard to imagine this got much of a release outside of speciality clubs. The acting is all dreadful, and there's no real redeeming features except for sheer oddity.

The Spell
(1977)

Moderate
If you get the chance to see this movie, don't pass it up. Very obviously inspired by "Carrie", it is nonetheless a fairly effective made-for-TV thriller in which an overweight 15 year old finds she has powers that enable her to take revenge on people who bully and tease her. The film stars the capable Lee Grant in the role of the mother, and Susan Myers plays the troubled teen, Rita, with some flair, mixing moments of intensity with a general childish air and a touching propensity to say please and thank you when asked to! Unlike Carrie, she actually has a fairly normal family, and Grant in particular makes for a very supportive parent who tries her best to get to the bottom of Rita's problems. The meat of the action, of course, lies in what Rita actually does to her enemies, but don't get too excited because as you might expect from a TV movie there's little in the way of bloodshed or violence.

That's not to say that there is nothing worth seeing, however, as the film does have one stand-out scene which everyone who has seen it seems to remember. When Rita's mother pays a visit on a elderly lady to see how she is, this (previously unseen) character walks down the stairs to welcome her, but before she can say anything she starts choking on her own tongue, her eyeballs turn zombie-white and her head swells up and goes purple! Seconds later she is billowing smoke and crashing through a glass door, before collapsing on the ground and dying in agony. This brief but remarkable (and horrific) scene comes as a real surprise when up until then all we have seen is a near miss hit-and-run car accident, and one of Rita's tormentors falling off a rope in gym class. It certainly gave me nightmares as a child. The remainder of the film follows Grant as she uncovers how Rita is carrying out her psychic reign of terror, and attempts to stop her.

Although well acted by the cast (including a very young Helen Hunt as Rita's more popular sister), the overall effect is weakened by some indistinct plotting and not very good continuity. Some characters and events are barely fleshed out at all. At one point we are introduced to a psychic researcher (or something) who has a tape recording of Grant, seemingly explaining her situation in some kind of therapy session. This is very badly inserted into the film, as its hard to work out when it is supposed to be happening. Similarly, the old lady who burns up is a character who has only ever been vaguely referred to by the cast, and as soon as she does appear she is dead before she utters a single line of dialogue. Other events and character motivations are tossed into the background in a similarly hap-hazard manner. This seems to be a film made in a hurry, and to make it worse, several scenes are also quite sloppily edited together.

What works is the likeable cast (I always enjoy watching Lee Grant), and the one totally out-there shock scene, but apart from that it is rather mundane and not really capable of standing out among the many other late 1970's TV thrillers. However I would still recommend a viewing if you come across it.

Penny Serenade
(1941)

Hmmm
I'll agree with all the other people who don't like the ending...it strikes real odd note, in a movie that doesn't really tug on the emotions enough.

The story is slight and the presentation is also rather dated. Irene Dunn is leaving her husband and while she looks back, she listens to records. Each record she plays reminds her of a past event and the film flashes back to another part of her life ever time she puts on another disc. She meets Cary Grant, they get married, go to Japan, live well, lose money, live frugally, have a child etc, etc. It's really mild soap opera stuff, and once the baby joins the movie, things actually get really BORING, and the movie is probably too long.

The acting is oddly stilted. I don't know Irene Dunne, but she plays her character almost too subtly, to the point that I couldn't tell what she was supposed to be thinking. Some big scenes are fluffed because of this. Others are fluffed due to the odd directorial choices. Case in point 1: When Grant leaves on a train and Dunne gets on just to say goodbye but accidentally departs with him instead of getting off. This is really poorly presented and the impact is totally spoiled. Case 2: When the couple have to have to visit a judge to see if they get to keep their adopted child, the pivotal moment of Grant leaving Dunne behind to go to the hearing is played out with the camera pointing a just the couple's feet. A very odd choice.

The movies highpoint is an impassioned speech that Grant delivers to the judge who is refusing his adoption. This is genuinely touching. But oddly Irene Dunne's role in this is dramatic part of the story is extremely limited.

And now, onto the ending...oh dear. SPOILER ALERT! The couple are experiencing family bliss with the adopted daughter when she abruptly dies. This extremely important moment is handled dreadfully - by a minor support character reading about it in a letter and doing all of the reacting instead of the star couple. What a waste! And then, as the marriage falls apart due to the couple turning their grief inward (which is actually a good dramatic idea), they get another call from the adoption agency asking if they'd like another baby. They immediately brighten up and fall back in love, in the space of a few minutes. Worse still, the adoption agency says something along the lines of: "This time we've got a baby for you that matches the description of the child you really wanted from the beginning". Subtext: "This baby is better than the first one we gave you and will completely improve on the first (dead) child, who was only a runner-up prize, anyway". An appalling message to end on.

Mostly flat and too long, "Penny Serenade" has not dated well.

The Angry Red Planet
(1959)

Bonkers
The Angry Red Planet tells of a rocket ship expedition to Mars that is told in flashback by a surviving return crew member. Be prepared forgive a lot because of the time the movie was made, and you might enjoy it.

The first 15-20 minutes are pretty dull as the crew of four travel through space to reach the red planet. But during this time you can marvel at the dated feature such as typewriters, reel to reel tape recorders, lack of any gravitational effects, and so on. On arrival, the movie switches to it's visual gimmick which is "Cinemagic", also known as an acidic orange coloured effect added in post production to all of the Mars scenes. It's pretty obvious that reason for implementing this is to hide the cheapness of the special effects, particularly on cases where some of it is no more than drawings. In other cases, it actually turns out to be pretty good, especially the (sadly short) scene with the "rat-bat-spider-crab" which looks very cool. In fact, the "red" footage effectively turn the movie into a Saturday morning cartoon serial, which then goes back to a serious sci-fi movie again in all the other scenes . The actors play it straight throughout and they are not bad, except for the captain, who looks like a ridiculous ham as he struts, waves a gun around (badly), puts his leg up on the furniture and cheesily romances the lady scientist.

The movie slows down yet again for the final 10 minutes and really blows the climactic "medical breakthrough" which is explained and then never filmed! Utter nonsense the entire way through, but still deserving of it's place in movie halls for fame for the awesome monster that it showcases!

Corruption
(1968)

Gory and Lurid
Corruption is the ugly skeleton in the portfolio of Peter Cushing but it is great horror entertainment - full of energy and sleaze. It tells a familiar tale, in which a man is driven to madness by his efforts to restore the lost looks of his wife. The cure requires the use of the pituitary gland from other women, and let's just say that the women are not willing donors! Set and filmed in England in the swinging Sixties, the film has dated somewhat, especially evident in the "groovy party" opening scene, but apart from that silliness, the rest of if holds up pretty well. Peter Cushing is of course exemplary in the lead role of the doctor who kills to cure his disfigured wife. Even in the most lurid scenes (more of these later), he acts the part realistically and with dignity. Sue Lloyd plays the vain wife with the ruined face, and she also does well, portraying a nasty, selfish character that you really feel no sympathy for. It would be fair to say that she is the villain and Peter Cushing is the good guy in this set up, even though he does the killing!

A few things let the film down, some of it's very "Britishness" means that the violence can sometimes be ineffective, especially noticeable in a "home invasion" scene when a gang of thugs terrorise a small house - the gang don't seem threatening in the least, and I think it's a combination of the acting, the script and direction that no sense of real menace exists in this scene. It's a shame because elsewhere in the film all the acting is quite effective, but this confrontation is not, and it's pivotal to the climax of the film.

So what does work well? Well the performances, as I mentioned before, and this goes for most opt the rest of the cast too. Again to mention Peter Cushing, his most startling scenes are those in which he attacks and murders the female victims of the movie. Theres aren't many but seeing this mild mannered man observe, stalk, and finally attack his prey is very unsettling. Theres not a lot of overt gore in the film, but the scene on the train is effective even without it, as the sense of peril for the female passenger is quite well realised, and it's a nasty scene. Actually what bloodshed there is in this scene is actually pretty badly done!

Now for the most notorious part of the whole film: the scene in which Peter Cushing murders a prostitute. In the UK cinema release,, and in all the late night TV showings throughout the last 3 decades, we saw Cushing meet up with and kill a very chirpy Cockney "call-girl" who spent the entire scene wearing a pink fluffy bathrobe and died with almost no bloodshed or violence shown on the screen. Well, Grindhouse have recently done the impossible with their Bluray release, and unearthed the alternative footage that was only shown in some more tolerant European and far Eastern countries at the time. In the alternative version, the whole scene was re-filmed using a different actress as the prostitute, with the bathrobe off so she is topless , and gore and violence in abundance! On the Grindhouse release, you get the choice of which version you'd like to see when you start the film. Let me say now that the difference is quite shocking. The "strong version" of this scene is outrageously sleazy. It leaves you in no doubt about what a horrible thing Peter Cushing's character is actually having to do. Quite an eye-opener.

Oddly, it's almost a shame that this murder was filmed separately, as it makes neither version of the film definitive. The "mild" version actually fits better with the overall tone of the film because the actress playing the prostitute can actually act and she is great. It also is much cleverer at setting up the actual kill scene, and it's pretty realistic, even if completely bloodless. On the other hand, the actress in the "strong" version is terrible, she makes a real mess of reading her lines (there are hardly any, the scene plays differently). You can't argue with the fact that it's very violent, but even this does make it feel quite different from the rest of the movie. The quality is great though, there's no difference between the two scenes in terms of technical terms, which is a great job on behalf of Grindhouse who were able to find this footage intact.

Either way, Corruption is a nasty, rotten story with nothing nice happening to anyone in it - and that's just the way it's supposed to be! Effective as much for the performances as the sick story, reviled at the time, rediscovered now, you could do a lot worse than to pick up a copy of this!

Forty Guns
(1957)

An Incomprehensible Mess
Apart from the ravishing widescreen photography, there's little to enjoy in this odd western. The movie opens with three nondescript men in a horse and cart traversing the great outdoor plains on a narrow track, when suddenly a gang of 40 horseback riding cowboys, led my a lone woman on a white horse, come charging over the hill towards them on the same narrow track. This is an impressive opening scene, but once it's over everything starts going downhill. The three men laugh that impressive moment off and shortly thereafter arrive in a town where lawlessness seems to prevail and drunken troublemakers continually wreak havoc. On of them turns out to be the brother of the woman and her 40 cowboys. One of the three nondescript men seems to be some kind of law maker. He and the woman seem to have a history. The woman and the town seem to have a history. The three nondescript men seem to be brothers, with two more of them maybe also being some kind of lawmakers. The town sheriff seems to have a history with the woman. The woman's troublemaking brother seems to bear a grudge with the three nondescript men. A lot of guns get fired, and people go in and out of jail a lot.

All of this is very vaguely and confusingly dished out during the running time. It's as though we missed a whole hour at the start of the film where all of this plot might have been properly introduced, but as it's not there, everything is just bewildering. Barbara Stanwyck does a good job, but all of the other acting is woeful. I don't even think the direction is very good. Gun fights have loads of shooting but you can never tell what's being hit. A crucial scene near the climax tries to depict a dramatic showdown with actual wounding and killing but the depiction on screen is laughable as you can't tell who's been hit , who's dead and who's not. Not a single bullet impact is ever clear. This is very bad. To cap it off, the very final scene, which is a pivotal moment of the two main characters' relationship, is filmed in an extremely zoomed out, long-distance shot, reducing this critical moment of the story to a microscopic piece of nothing. I said at the start of this review that the photography was very good, and it really is. But that's all I can recommend.

Beach Rats
(2017)

Flat and aimless
Watching this story of a young man from Brooklyn struggling with his sexuality feels like little more than a moving slide show of still photographs, as there is so little action or energy on screen. The story tells of the central character's three way struggle between having secret gay encounters with random men from the internet, trying to have a relationship with a girl, and developing a drug problem. The central actor is very wooden, and emotes by simply staring blankly for 90% of the time, although the director and photographer clearly love him as there are endless shots of his naked body from various angles, but his emotionless performance gives no life to the character whatsoever. His three dopey (straight) friends are even worse actors, and the gay "pick-up" scenes play out in deserted car parks and pitch black forests, which is more akin to the 1970s than 2017 . There is no ending or resolution to reward you for paying attention for these 90 loo-oong minutes, so I'd recommend you do something else

Trauma
(1962)

Small time thriller
This is largely a forgotten movie, and it has both good and bad points, but it ends up more fun than failure. The plot concerns a young woman who witnesses a murder and then has amnesia for the next 6 years. When she returns to the place of the crime, her memory gradually starts to come back, and the mystery of what happens starts to reveal itself.

"Trauma is both filmed and titled like one of the Hammer Films "psychological thrillers" of the same era, but it looks like it had way less budget to play with. This doesn't impact the story too much because the sets, lighting and locations all work pretty well. The murder scene at the start of the movie is quite nasty, and the black and white photography looks pretty classy. But, oh my god what really skewers the movie is the terrible acting. Mostly by the actress playing the central character of Emmaline, who cannot seem to manage more than about 2-3 expressions. Most notably in the pivotal murder scene near the beginning, the movie's title suddenly blasts onto the screen over freeze-frame of her face, which holds an expression of nothing more than sleepy disinterest. I think the director could have at least shouted at her to look a bit more...well... traumatised! She maintains this lack of emotional depth throughout the rest of the movie...there's just nothing going on in there, despite the character supposedly going through the agony of trying to recall her memory, you'd think she was just wondering what flavour of ice cream to buy at the local store.

The rest of the cast do little better. Emmaline's love interest Craig is acted slightly better then her, but he's very one-dimensional, sadly he plays in a lot of scenes with a work assistant, who does an acting job equally as bad as Emmaline. Nearly all the rest of the cast are equally poor. All of this would probably sink the film, but for the fact that it has a twist ending that I did not guess. The revelations in the last few 10-15 minutes of running time were good fun, and it worked for me, even if a lot of inconsistencies that came before it are never explained.

Currently not officially available on DVD or Bluray, you'll have a hard job finding a clear print of this to watch. I had to make do with a pretty poor copy. A good clean up and polish might even make this marketable again as a curiosity. But please don't believe any review that describes it as "maybe better than Psycho"!

I Saw What You Did
(1965)

Promising but unsure of itself
One of William Castle's later efforts. "I Saw What You Did" was made the year after the terrific "Strait Jacket", and also stars Joan Crawford. She must have got on well with Castle as this was a much smaller role, in what it is a less impressive movie all round. The film stars two teenage girls who have been left to babysit the much younger sister of one of them in a remote house. To relieve the boredom, the pair decide to make lots of prank calls, whispering the movie's title down the telephone to lots of random people they pick out of the phone book. Trouble is, one of their victims really DID do something - he just murdered his wife! And once the call has been made, he decides he has to act fast and remove any potential witness.

Now, on paper this all sounds like it has the potential to make a really suspenseful and exciting movie. But for some reason, Castle sabotages the atmosphere by seemingly directing it for an audience about the same age as his two girl stars. Right from the opening credits, swinging beat music blares out over shots of the two friends gossiping over the phone, followed by nearly half an hour of cutesy family orientated comedy-melodrama. It's a problem shared by the original "13 Ghosts", in which a similarly spooky setting was spoiled by the irritatingly humorous sparring of the happy family involved. Why does Castle do this, when he's showed he has the know-how for creating real suspense if he wants to? My only guess is that a hard-hitting, adult film about a murderer terrorising two teenagers is not what Castle felt comfortable making here. But if that is the case, why is the film (and Castle's whole career) marketed at "scaring the pants off America" (to quote his autobiography)? He managed to make "Strait Jacket", "The Tingler" and "Homicidal" pretty effective, but he drops the ball here.

Which is a shame, because in places, the film shines. The main murder, which leads to all the trouble, is a knockout. Although it's totally stolen from "Psycho" (it takes place in a shower), the roles of killer and victim are cleverly reversed, and it is short, sharp and surprisingly brutal. But once this is over, the plot really creaks as the machinations of the phone call and the murderer's discovery of who made it get awkwardly spun out on the screen. The script makes a real meal of setting up the drama... I'm sure they didn't need to make it quite this complicated, with lots of phoning, scheming and re-phoning going on. As a result, it takes forever for the film to reach it's climax in which the murderer finally starts terrorising the teenagers at their home, but when it does, there's some more real tension as he breaks in and starts his chase. I won't reveal the climax, but after it, as the film comes to a close, it's all ruined with a stupidly jaunty burst of music and some unbelievably inappropriate merriment (along the lines of "That's the last crank call I'll ever make - ha ha!"), which wipes out the whole dark mood of the preceding 15 minutes. Unforgiveable.

So I was a little disappointed. Shame really, as the two girls playing the lead roles make good work as the giggly teenagers - not too annoying, and turning realistically scared when things become nasty. Even the little sister isn't bad. Castle must really like working with children, as all his child actors seem pretty relaxed and natural to me. Joan Crawford also makes an impact, in a very small role that she's really acting too well for. It's worth re-watching just the scenes she is again a second time. And there are brief moments of very good suspense. But basically, this could be a film aimed at kids about the perils of making prank calls, in fact if you took out the rather graphic (in this context, anyway) shower murder scene, it would be little more than a piece of Saturday morning matinee fluff.

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