Random Film of the Week: Doctor X (DVD)

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For all that trouble setting their private and expensive game show up, no one could guess what was behind Curtain #1.

Dr. XLet’s just say that as a kid of, oh, seven or eight years old back in the 70’s, I had no idea (not a clue!) what I was watching when the local public TV station ran Doctor X so very many years ago. I do recall not knowing what was going on for a bit and some parts were wacky, but yes indeed, I did perk up when the “Synthetic Flesh” scene kicked in. Hell, I was a Frankenstein fan by then, even if my exposure was courtesy Universal Pictures and James Whale and not Mary Shelley until I read the book years later.

When I revisited the good Dr. Jerry Xavier (Lionel Atwill), and the film as I got older into my teens, elements started to click and it was all “Oh, that’s what that means!” on more elements I didn’t understand previouslyWhich of course means that as a grumpier and older old man these days, I’m all over this freak-fest like I’ve run into an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. This one’s pretty funny, pretty grim and completely bonkers. Oh, by the way, Doctor X sounds better and scarier than Doctor Jerry. That and if it were called Dr. J, there’s that slim chance a slimmer handful of folks might get fooled into thinking it’s a sports biopic (heh).

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Jacket jealousy here, as Fay’s got the stripes. but Tracy’s got the tweed and they both win the fashion lottery.

It’s also a great pre-code film, what with its discussion of a few hot topics those who think “well, those old movies were DULL!” might find they’re a bit incorrect about if they ever get off that dead horse they always jump on and see a few of these films. Now a little murder? Hey, that’s fine and dandy in a film about a mysterious killer. Toss in elements like that mysterious killer who happens to cannibalize corpses, a bit of prostitution and rape as story elements, plus a few old guys sitting around talking about their fetishes (hey, that may be the most creepy thing about this to some!), and more atmosphere that you can shake a few sticks at, and you get a true classic.

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Review: The Monster of Piedras Blancas

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“Oh, crap. I forgot to put on my silky underthings BEFORE I got into the costume. Er, they prevent chafing, you know, right…”

MFPB_MP2On one hand, Irvin Berwick’s 1959 flick The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a pedestrian and very slow-burning “B” horror film with some neat noir-like shots, light early gore, and a great creature costume cobbled from a few sources that looks quite spectacular when it’s finally revealed. On the other hand, it’s still a pedestrian and very slow-burning film that drags out its plot a wee bit too long.

Its big monster reveal comes so late in the film and manages to come off as somewhat disappointing because you still see less of that really cool-looking monster than you’d like, but at least you get some action on-screen when it happens. It’s far from a “bad” film, it’s just a bit dull in its presentation of an otherwise great-looking man in a suit. The again, with a budget under $30,000, you can see where the money went thanks to the suit that man is in being so well-conceived.

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“I will roar from the highest rooftop that I DID NOT DO IT!”

Granted, the film teases the titular creature right at the very beginning as a claw reaches for a beat-up metal bowl and afterward, some kids are sent packing off the beach by a lighthouse keeper named Sturges (John Harmon) with a secret. He’s the one keeping the creature well-fed and of course, he’s got a tasty and somewhat gorgeous daughter, Lucille (Jeanne Carmen) he’s kept out of the loop for years (ten years of boarding school, eep!). Naturally, she’s all grown up now and she and her curves caught the eye of Fred (Don Sullivan) a visiting biology student who’s not at all after her for her shapely figure and hey, this is 1959 we’re taking about and that stuff didn’t happen in movies like this (he said, sarcastically). Sturges is not a fan of Biology students who want to date his shapely daughter, it would seem.

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Review: The Terminal Man

the terminal manI hadn’t seen Mike Hodges’ somewhat exceptional The Terminal Man for over 40 years, so naturally, that film I derided that long ago for its awful TV edit was quite the gloomy, rewarding surprise as a revisit a day ago as a complete film. As a kid, I can recall vividly the scene where George Segal, wearing a messy blond wig, white suit and whiter shoes was beating a large triangular-headed shiny metal robot to “death” and how it made me laugh as I retold the scene to a few amused school friends.

As you can guess, I want to kick my younger self a bit now (not too hard, though) because it’s one of a number of haunting images the film has and it comes a few minutes after a shocking murder mostly clipped from the TV edit. Initially to be directed by its author, Michael Crichton (who the studio felt was changing his own novel too much for the film), Hodges was given the task of getting it into the depressing, downbeat sci-fi thriller it turned out to be, writing and directing the project himself. Amusingly, I came into the film as a fan of The Andromeda Strain. The film version of that had me go take the book from the the library that past summer and I blew through it a few times (it’s a fast, tense read and took under a day to blaze through non-stop the first time). So I didn’t get the less conventional manner in which some of The Terminal Man was structured. Well, the edited network version didn’t help much, that’s for sure.

terminal_man_ver3That initial derision from my younger self was also a definite case of being too young to grasp the film’s tone and my only exposure to Segal’s work being a few comedic and lighter performances. Seeing the film now reveals the range and rage on display, or an actor fully in charge of the character he’s inhabiting. As Harry Benson, a computer scientist prone to anger and seizures, he goes through an experimental surgery that has a tiny computer hooked into his brain to keep things under control.

Guess what? The early predictions of a successful recovery by his smug doctors? Yeah, they’re rendered into obsolescence when Harry decides to stop taking his meds and escapes from the hospital with the help of his girlfriend (Jill Clayburgh) who has no idea Harry’s implanted computer (which she has no clue about) is going to misfire quite badly. There’s murder and mayhem to follow, but the film doesn’t go to places it doesn’t need to outside of telling its particular tale, clocking in at a lean 107 minutes before it ends.

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Review: Texas, Adios (Blu-Ray)

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“It might be Mark’s store… but its MY town…”

texas arrowMarketed as a a Django film in some territories, Ferdinando Baldi’s Texas, Adios definitely isn’t one. It has more in common with earlier western formula and pretty much sticks to its guns (ha!) throughout as a solid film that’s not as stylized as other spaghetti westerns, yet it’s unmistakably one that tries to be as American as possible. It’s a bit more violent than the older oaters, but it’s perfectly acceptable by today’s standards. Franco Nero makes for a decent single-minded hero when all is said and done, there’s not a love interest in sight, and the film gets a bit ruthless when it needs to make some points. Just don’t count the times no one reloads (unless the plot calls for it, guns seem to run on rechargeable batteries here).

Nero plays Burt Sullivan, a sheriff in a small town who travels to Mexico to bring a man named Cisco Delgado (José Suárez) back to justice in one piece. He’s got a strict moral code in effect, but he’ll absolutely kill anyone else who tries shooting him, of course. Cisco happens to be somewhat of a big deal feared criminal there, what with being a well-dressed meanie with a big villa, a ton of henchmen, and quite the cruel streak. Sullivan wants him alive because he killed his father many years ago also he can see him hang or be jailed in America. Naturally, Cisco very steadfastly has no travel plans to leave Mexico. Must be the weather and assorted torture he’s fond of exposing those he disagrees with that keeps him happy.

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“Look, I know you’re a bit tied up at the moment, but, ma’am, you can’t sleep here!”

Sullivan’s brother, Jim (Alberto dell’Acqua [under the unwieldy moniker “Cole Kitosch”, which sounds like a designer of expensive clothing you’d never wear]) tags along and we find out that Jim’s got something not even he knows is a secret. I’m keeping that secret a secret because it’s a nifty twist that kicks the plot above its level (and adds some poignancy to the affair), but really isn’t much of a surprise if you’ve seen other films that have similar themes

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Review: Terror in a Texas Town (Blu-Ray)

Terror in a Texas Town coverI sure wish director Joseph H. Lewis got more a lot more respect these days. Granted, his career spanned 41 mostly B-movies spread across different genres that it was hard to shoehorn him into a box (but that’s a good thing for those who love variety and surprises). You could say he was a journeyman with quite a vision, as some of his films were memorable and considered classics by those some film lovers who’ve seen his work and appreciate it. He took some chances in his time in the director’s chair, but also made the some pretty generic titles between the brilliant ones.  While some of the results might have gone over the heads of some viewers at the time, it’s worth tracking down some of his work to see a quiet master in action when the results were really good.

In 1958, Lewis planned to retire from movies and go to TV, but opted out to make one final film, the B-quality, but memorable for a few reasons western, Terror in a Texas Town. While it’s no epic (hell, it opens right off the bat with part of the ending sequence and also uses some ancient stock footage a few times, clearly as a means to kill time and save money during its tidy 81 minutes) and the story is a bit weathered (until you know certain things about its genesis), it’s worth a watch because it’s an intriguing B-grade flick on a few fronts. Is it a “good” movie? Well, one could say where it counts it is despite its budgetary limitations.

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“No, I don’t like your tie. Besides, I’m married to the man who’s going to try and kill you, sooo…”

Sterling Hayden plays George Hansen, a Swedish immigrant, who after almost 20 years at sea, comes to America to live and farm alongside his dad, Sven, who’s been waiting for him to arrive. Unfortunately, Sven is murdered in cold blood while trying to defend his land from Crale (Nedrick Young) the steel-fisted and black-clad killer hired by McNeil (Sebastian Cabot) who it turns out, would probably rather have paid Sven off or burned him out instead of having him killed. But, gone is gone, McNeil gets his ill-gotten land and Crale quite enjoys what he does. Protests from his weary wife, Molly (Carol Kelly) who warns Crale the law could close in any moment, go ignored by Crale and it seems he’s due for a fall at some point. He’s not exactly in his prime and his former gun hand was shot off and replaced with a steel one (it’s too bad more isn’t made of this, though). McNeil’s plan is to grab all the land in the area for its newly found oil and the film opens (after the titles) with a literal barn burning as a elderly couple gets one of McNeil’s less violent choices of treatment.

(Thanks, HD Retro Trailers!)

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Review: The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

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Hmmm… I was going to post this pic upside down, but I wanted to not spoil the film for those who’ve yet to see it.

Yes, friends, it’s time for another episode of…

Video Store Action Heroes - Banner 9 final

Other posts can be found here, here, and here, so get in your reading, I say,

This month, we’re all going on a cruise, yay!

Well, sort of (just remember to climb the Christmas tree, or else). Ronald Neame’s 1972 classic (co-directed by Irwin Allen) is a star-filled one with impressive practical effects (well, the ship model looks these days like an expensive toy you don’t want to accidentally sit or step on while in the bath) and very cool upside down sets. While it’s not your typical “action” movie, it’s certainly exceptionally well made and packed with more than enough thrills and (wait for it…) spills galore (expect a lot of puns here, friends). As a disaster flick, it certainly wasn’t a disaster at all, raking in 93 million dollars for 20th Century Fox over its time in theaters.

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A big movie deserves a big poster, right?

These days (and a poorly received sequel plus a expensive few remakes later) is the original The Poseidon Adventure still a seaworthy film? I say yes, it still holds its water rather excellently if you throw caution to the wind and don’t go overboard with your expectations. Granted, for all its death and angst on display, the film is not as cruel as the 1969 novel was with some of its characters. One could say Stirling Silliphant’s adaptation of the Paul Gallico novel softens the impact somewhat yet still has enough drama for its target audience.

If you’re new to the film, all you need to know is how it starts and sit back to enjoy the rest (and NO, it’s not a true story):

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You better not think this actually happened.

Let’s just say it’s New Year’s (Rockin’, as ships do in bad weather with no ballast) Eve, stuff happens minutes after the happier vibe the film kicks off with that isn’t too good (like any New Year’s party, things can kind of get a little out of hand) and the world is turned upside down for a bunch of people (as I said, like any New Year’s party, things can kind of get a little out of hand). The survivors bond (well, sort of) and have to find their way off the doomed ship before she sinks to a watery grave like a former swimming champ does after a bit of too much exercise.

Uh, did I say this review was spoiler-free? I lied. Here’s the trailer, doing what it needs to to get 1972-era butts in theater seats:

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Review: Black Sunday/Mask of the Demon (Blu-Ray)

(Thanks, FulciLives!)

Layout 1Say, did I ever tell you all the story of the time a few decades ago back in the 80’s when I learned how to brine a chicken thanks to a pair of very helpful Satanists looking for Kosher salt at a grocery store? No? Well, that’s not why we’re here, so I won’t go into it other than to say I didn’t know they were into that stuff, and hell, I’m an atheist anyway. The chicken? It was excellent by the way. Still is, whenever it’s made.

Uh, speaking of “anyway”, Let’s move on.

Still scary and somewhat phenomenally timeless, Mario Bava’s classic “first” film La Maschera Del Demonio/The Mask of Satan (aka Black Sunday in the US) starts off unsettling and keeps the frights coming until the end. Bava’s direction and art direction here are generally superb, although yes, there are a few plot holes you can drive a rattly (or rat-filled) old Fiat through if you follow the story too closely. But taken as a whole, it’s still a work of brilliance that many films have paid homage to over the decades since its release.

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“Where the hell is my coffee? I just woke up after 200 years!”

Very loosely based on The Viy, Nikolai Gogol’s horror tale from 1835, the film revels in its high Gothic style, early use of gore effects and the stunning Barbara Steele who plays both the evil Asa Vajda and 200 years after her demise, her relative, Katia Vajda. It’s a revenge story of sorts, as that witch and her soulless-mate Igor Javutich (Arturo Dominici) are separated and then executed in a most bloody fashion for their crimes and yes, there’s a bit of a promise of defiant revenge from the witch. 200 years later, it’s young Katya who’s target of a newly revived Asa’s demonic ways and in tandem with the revived Javutich, things get ugly for a few people after that curse literally comes to life. Wait, or is it figuratively? I forget.

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Vincent Price wants his stage wig back when you’re done, pal.

Interestingly, the film links Satanism and witchcraft to devil worship as the same thing, which is about the sole flaw that sticks out (well, I’d guess it was seen as the same in the 1630’s, but I’m a terrible time traveler, getting too sick from the trips to pay attention and all that).

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Review: Torso (Blu-Ray)

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“Hello, I’m your masked and gloved fashionable scarf-wearing killer. Today, I shall be your GUIDE. Then I’ll have to kill you, of course.”

Torso Arrow(Lectures): Sergio Martino tells an interesting story about the film’s originally planned title in an excellent interview on this lushly produced Arrow Video disc. The film’s  producers wanted something more salacious to sell tickets, so they chose to pump up the sexual violence aspect with what they saw as a fitting title, I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale (The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence). where as Martino wanted to use I corpi non mostrano tracce di violenza carnale (The Bodies Bear No Traces of Carnal Violence) here after his working titles like Rosso come l’amore, nero come il terrore (Red Like Love, Black Like Terror) were rejected early on. The Torso moniker (Carnal Violence was a title created for the export release) was a choice from the film’s US distributors, by the way,  In the States, Joseph Brenner Associates worked up a new title opening, chopped out 4 minutes of footage seemingly for some gory content and likely to make the film a run a compact 90 minutes (more butts in the seats at the end of the day), changed some music cues (the great Guido & Maurizio De Angelis score was fine, thank you), and there you have it.

*Ahem* I’m starting this review much like the film does (with an intentionally dull lecture after a sexy-ish opening) as a little joke because I’ve heard some kooky grumblings over the years at how the film gets off to a slow start for about 20 minutes or so. Nonsense, I say. Torso works as an effective and disturbing popcorn flick you’ll want to gather a few like-minded giallo-loving friends up to see. Yes, those friends will have to like some copious female nudity, icky flashes of gore in two of the early murders and nearly every male in the film portrayed as a leering goon of some sort (there are some regular guys here, but as background noise or padding out the lovely Perugian scenery). But this is a film where you’re getting almost exactly what you expect from with a title like this.

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Ooh, pardon me while I do some gift-giving. “Hey, nice lady, I got you a scarf!” Oops, I kind of got carried away in my excitement. That’s Patrizia Adiutori doing a great job playing dead, by the way.

After the murder of some friends by the above mentioned killer (Hello!), four college students decide to hoof it over to a secluded villa, only to have the killer and a few other suspects trail them. While that’s pretty much the plot here, Martino makes things quite tense as well as very 70’s sexy (well, as far as the ladies are concerned). The film tosses a few potential suspects your way as it goes on, so you’re always on the fence as to who the killer might be. The killer not only has a penchant for he ladies, he turns out to be an equal opportunist, as the bodies pile up and more are claimed by a few means.

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Review: The Pyjama Girl Case (Blu-Ray)

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La calma prima della tempesta: Ray Milland as Inspector Thompson does a bit of gardening (sans FROGS to interrupt him).

The Pyjama Girl Case coverLoosely based on a true story (that’s still a tad unresolved), Flavio Mogherini’s 1977 film La Ragazza Dal Pigiama Giallo (aka 1978’s The Pyjama Girl Case) is a pretty depressing flick to sit through when all is said and done. It’s skillfully edited to spool out two tales: one of a retired police detective (Ray Milland) coming back to work on the trail of the person who murdered and mutilated a woman, and the second is the story of Glenda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), a Dutch immigrant who comes to Australia, gets a job as a waitress and later ends up a victim of a particularly horrifying crime.

Even more horrifying are the police coming up with the idea to preserve and display the unidentified remains to the public (yes, this actually happened in real life for a whopping ten years) and painfully getting information though beating up a few suspects (not sure if it’s 1977 addition, but man, is it so not an OK thing to do even if a guilty party is eventually found). Nevertheless, Milland is clearly having a blast in his role, and Di Lazzaro is a lovely, tragic victim you want to see not a bad thing happen to. The film even makes you feel sorry for a suspect in her murder, but you’ll have to watch this to see how the director plays that out.

(Thanks, Blazing Trailers!)

In fact, save for Milland’s Detective Thompson who’s eager to take on the case, most of the detectives and investigators here seem to be all too happy (and incompetent) with finding the quickest means to end the case, even if it means one seemingly obvious suspect is discovered early on who’s a pure creep and not a killer. This adds an air of hopelessness to the narrative as the film plays out and you witness the results of haphazard work (save for the one man who should be home with his flowers). Granted, poor Glenda would still be deceased even through the shoddy police work, as Detective Thompson is only called after she’s been disposed of.

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Review: The Fifth Cord (Blu-Ray)

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Looks like a fine day for a murder, no? Pamela Tiffin as the “lucky that the killer isn’t targeting her here” sometimes girlfriend in The Fifth Cord.

THE_FIFTH_CORD_BDMurder most stylish, one would have to say about Luigi Bazonni’s (The Possessed) beautiful-looking giallo (brilliantly shot by Vittorio Storaro), The Fifth Cord from 1971. While the plot may be pedestrian, this is certainly one of the most fanciful-looking and visually well-conceived murder mysteries of the era if you’re into the artsy stuff and don’t mind a few plot clichés. The film has the basics you’d expect: a black-gloved killer with issues, a man who’s a suspect even though he’s got an alibi that’s more than solid, and a few suspenseful murders that have very nice scares (the ending is particularly frightening without being gory). There’s even a bit of tasteful nudity for the heck of it (also artistically shot and lit). I found myself captivated by the film’s visual style and way in which space is utilized throughout. This one’s a grabber from start to finish and yes, worth a watch for the art direction alone.

When boozy journalist Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) gets the call from his boss to investigate a man’s assault, he gets caught up in a series of serial murders after the killer promises to dispatch five victims before he’s done. All of the victims happen to be close to Bild in one way or another, so he’s a suspect (despite being drunk most of the time and out of place of the murders as the crimes continue). Speaking of out of place, the film does an outstanding job of presenting Bild as a man who seems to be lost in his surroundings but also angry at the powers that be who force him off the story at one point.

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Grabbing Walter White is kind of a bad idea, heh.

This one tosses a few suspects at you from the get-go, but the true killer is a slight surprise if you’re not paying attention. Fortunately, this is one flick you can’t look away from thanks to how awesome it looks (you still might not figure out who the killer is until the end, though). The film has enough twisty mystery, some odd sexual content as a plot point (hey, it’s important to the story!) and a bit of violence that’s nicely handled throughout (you can watch this without hiding behind that trusty blanket you tend to whip out in some cases. What, you don’t have a Horror Blanket yet? Shame on you!).

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