Tuesday, October 31, 2023

SPECTRE (1977)

Dr. Hamilton (Gig Young) arrives at the home of his former criminology partner William Sebastian (Robert Culp) in answer to a desperate plea for help. Hamilton is in trouble with his hospital for his alcoholism and too fervent attention to young nurses; Sebastian has become a student of the occult and is trying to help Anitra Cyon who believes that her family back in England is involved in black magic. Hamilton is reluctant to help until Anitra, a very seductive young woman, visits. She tells Sebastian that she no longer wants his help, but Sebastian thinks there is deception afoot, and sure enough, when he opens the mystical Book of Tobit and presses it against her, she shrieks and falls writhing to the floor, emitting smoke and eventually disintegrating. It turns out she was not Anitra but a succubus in disguise. Though Hamilton still doesn't quite believe in the supernatural, He accompanies Sebastian to England to visit the Cyons and on the way, visit the home of Qualus, a fellow occultist whom they find dead in a room in flames with a pentagram on the floor. Standing in the pentagram for protection, they glimpse what appears to be an actual demon. Hamilton begins to believe and the next day, they meet the Cyons : the real Anitra, decidedly more plain than her demonic double, her younger brother Mitri and her older brother Sir Geoffrey, seemingly stuffy but actually rather decadent. Geoffrey has the house staffed with sexy young women, a couple of whom visit Hamilton in his room after hours with some whips and chains, assuming he might be in need of a booty call. After some investigation, Sebastian learns that when a Druid ring on the estate called the Fire Pit was excavated some time ago, the workmen all died, the imprisoned demon Asmodeus escaped, and may be controlling Geoffrey. But is Mitri also up to no good? And can Anitra really be trusted?

This film, co-written by Star Trek's Gene Roddenberry, gets away with a surprising amount of nasty occult doings considering it was a TV-movie (and probably a pilot). It conjures up the work of British author Dennis Wheatley (THE DEVIL RIDES OUT) and builds to a blood-and-thunder climax involving skimpily-clad chanting Satanists and an attempt at a human sacrifice to Asmodeus. (A couple of brief shots of bare breasts appear to have been spliced into European theatrical prints, which is the version available on YouTube). It can't quite overcome its TV-movie budget and style, but all things considered, it works pretty well. Culp and Young (pictured above) make a good team, though Young, whose career was hurt by his alcoholism, seems at times a bit fragile; he died in a murder/suicide event the next year. Their rapport seems to prefigure that of Mulder and Scully in The X-Files with Sebastian as a true believer and Hamilton as the skeptic. The young John Hurt is Mitir, Ann Bell is Anitra, and James Villiers is Geoffrey, and all do well enacting characters who are mostly unsympathetic but remain engaging enough to keep us interested. Gordon Jackson (Upstairs Downstairs) is a British cop who is looking for less occult evidence to track down the killer of Qualus. There are many incidents and subplots. One involves a voodoo curse on Sebastian which has left him with a weak heart. Sebastian is cured of his alcoholism thanks to a spell worked by Sebastian's housekeeper (played by Majel Barrett, Rodenberry’s wife, who would certainly have been a cast regular had the show been picked up). There is also a mummy, a Black Cathedral, a gold bullet, and the gory death of a dog. It was unwise of the filmmakers to show us glimpses of the demons (Asmodeus in particular looks like a man in a Halloween costume), but in general, this is good demonic fun for Halloween. [YouTube; the print is a bit murky but watchable.]

Monday, October 30, 2023


In a monastery, a rite is being performed to "banish the devil from the house of God." Brother Javier, recently arrived, is sickly and suffering from fits and the monks assume he is possessed by evil spirits. Brother Juan is sent to his cell to perform an exorcism, but when they see each other, there is a spark of recognition, and Javier grabs a huge crucifix and batters Juan with it. Later Javier makes a confession to the head monk, the Prior, leading to the flashback that takes up the rest of the film. As a young man suffering from consumption, Javier would play love songs at the piano for Anita, the lovely young woman who lived next door and sat in her window listening to him. One day, he sees her boyfriend assaulting her; she scratches his face and is then turned out of her house by her parents. Javier and his mother take her in and soon they become quite close. Eventually, Javier's old friend Juan returns from adventuring and vows to help Javier build a career with his music, but for some reason, Juan begins avoiding Javier. After a while, Juan decides to go adventuring again, but the night before he leaves, Javier catches him in a compromising position with Anita. Javier attacks Juan who pulls a gun and fires at Javier, accidentally hitting Anita who dies. Juan leaves and Javier vows revenge. Then the Prior hears Juan's story and discovers a different truth: Juan and Anita had been lovers before she met Javier, and he was leaving to avoid any further involvement with her. Juan's story casts the conflict between the two in a different light. Can there be a reconciliation before Javier succumbs to his consumption?

Juan Bustillo Oro, who directed this, co-wrote PHANTOM OF THE MONASTERY which came out the same year. This is often lumped in with Phantom as a prime example of early Mexican horror films, but this isn't really a horror film, though it often conjures up the look and feel of 30s Hollywood films like DRACULA or THE BLACK CAT, especially in the intense concluding sequence in which Javier has a nightmarish vision of his fellow monks as a small army of grotesque living crucifixes. It's actually a fairly straightforward melodrama with two interesting techniques: the early use of the "Rashomon" story twist featuring multiple character takes on one story, and a visual look inspired by German expressionism, especially THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. Most of the sets are patently artificial, a bit askew, and even a little spooky, especially in the monastery. When we first see Javier playing the piano for Anita, it looks like a stage set with Anita upstage in a window frame and Javier downstage. The acting is also fairly mannered, though Victor Urruchua (Juan) and Carlos Villatoro (Javier) are fine. The artificial staginess of this may put some viewers off, but I quite enjoyed it, and whether or not it's really 'horror,' it would make fine Halloween viewing. [Criterion Channel]

Sunday, October 29, 2023


This is often described as Ingmar Bergman's only horror movie. That, I think, is overstating the influence of the atmosphere. More to the point, it's a psychological thriller—not a Bergman rarity—with some horror imagery. The story of the disappearance of the troubled artist Johan Borg (Max von Sydow) is told in flashback directly to the camera by his pregnant wife Alma (Liv Ullmann). The two came to a small Swedish island to spend the summer in an isolated rustic cabin. Johan is moody but still finds artistic inspiration from the seaside landscapes. But he begins to tell Alma about his strange encounters with villagers, including a birdman and a woman who takes off her face when she takes off her hat. As Johan's behavior becomes odder, an older woman in a hat visits and tell Alma to read Johan's diary which is filled with not only his fantastic characters (who may or may not be real) but also with guilty references to his former lover, an actress named Veronica Vogler (Ingrid Thulin). A baron who owns land on the island invites Johan and Alma to a dinner party which becomes a rather gloomy and Gothic affair. We see a puppet theater presentation which seems to feature an actual miniature person, and one discussion topic is the "hour of the wolf," between 3 and 5 a.m. when according to folklore, the most deaths and most births occur. The climax of the evening is when the baron shows Johan that he has the painting that Johan did of Veronica, his former lover, hanging in his bedroom. The next day, Johan shows Alma claw marks on his neck, and relates the story of how a prepubescent boy showed up on the rocky shore while Johan was painting. In what might be real or might be fantasy, we see the boy bite Johan, after which Johan kills him by smashing his head in with a rock. From here, Johan plummets into possibly psychotic behavior, shooting and wounding his wife, and returning to the castle where horrors, including the naked (and possibly dead) Veronica, await. In the end, as we've known from the beginning, Johan runs off into the woods, never to be seen again. 

I feel like if you asked an AI program to produce a script for a Bergman horror movie, this is what it would present to you. The horror is mostly in the nightmare-like imagery (a man walks up a wall, then across a ceiling; that old woman in the hat does eventually take off her hat and her face) done to show the falling apart of Johan, and it's on the level of the visual that the movie works best. In terms of narrative, however, the pickings are slim. Aside from finding out about Johan's former mistress, we know practically nothing about him or Alma, and we have to take for granted that they were a relatively settled couple before they arrived on the island. Searching for meaning here is ultimately fruitless, unless one looks on this as a personal search by Bergman—apparently much of the imagery came from his own dreams. Sydow and Ullman are, of course, quite good, and hold the screen even when the narrative does not. In the end, you can decide one of two things: either there is a lot to process here, or there's not much at all to process except the visuals. [DVD]

Thursday, October 26, 2023


Like 1973's THE VAULT OF HORROR, this is another horror anthology film from Britain's Amicus Productions. But instead of being based on EC Comics stories like the previous movie, these narratives are all drawn from the work of one author, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, a British author not terribly well known in the States, though he won a Bram Stoker award for lifetime achievement in horror writing. Each of the four stories (each with Twilight Zone vibes) is triggered by a visit to an antique shop called Temptations Limited, with Peter Cushing as the proprietor; the visitor then either steals from or cheats Cushing, but winds up getting a supernatural comeuppance. In "The Gatecrasher," David Warner buys an ancient mirror which, he discovers after holding a séance, is inhabited by a demon who commands Warner to make human sacrifices in order to strengthen the demon so he may soon leave the mirror in human form. In "An Act of Kindness," Ian Bannen (pictured below), stuck in a loveless marriage (to Diana Dors), befriends a lonely veteran (Donald Pleasance). Bannen steals a military medal from Cushing in order to bond further with, and get respect from, Pleasance. He falls for the vet's daughter (Angela Pleasance, Donald's real-life daughter) and she uses voodoo to kill off Dors. It looks like Bannen and Pleasance may have a happy life together until voodoo enters the picture again.

"The Elemental" begins with Ian Carmichael in Cushing's store, switching price tags in order to get a good deal on a snuff box. On a train, Carmichael finds himself seated opposite a flighty, eccentric woman (Margaret Leighton, pictured above with Carmichael) who tells him he has an elemental on his shoulder, an invisible imp-like creature, and offers her help to get rid of it. He ignores her at first, but once he gets home, he finds reason to contact Leighton for an exorcism which works, sort of. Finally, in "The Door," Ian Ogilvy buys an elaborate antique door (and swipes a bit of cash from Cushing's register) to install in front of a small vanity closet, but soon finds that behind the door is a creepy blue room which, as in the first story, is inhabited by a demon looking for a human host. In a brief coda, a burglar tries to rob Cushing, much to his regret. Like most anthology films, this is a mixed bag, though all of them are watchable. The first one feels the most padded out, and only The Elemental stands out because Leighton plays the medium in a comic fashion, reminding me of Margaret Rutherford in the film of Noel Coward's BLITHE SPIRIT. Frankly, the quality of acting in these anthologies is not necessarily indicative of how enjoyable they are. Here, the honors go to Warner, Carmichael, and Leighton. Lesley-Anne Down is fine as Ogilvy's wife in the final story. Cushing doesn't have much to do except seem creepy and he manages that just fine. I closed out my review of THE VAULT OF HORROR by saying the production looked cheap and felt rushed, but it made for fine October viewing. The same can be said for this. [TCM]

Tuesday, October 24, 2023


A gang of pirates, led by a man with a disfigured face, take over a ship called the Dragon King. They chain most of the passengers together and mercilessly slaughter them, including a young woman named Yoriko and her husband, despite her pathetic pleas for their lives. Three years later, Yoriko's twin sister Sakeo lives in a coastal village as assistant to a priest who basically raised her after she was orphaned. Though she was told that the boat her sister was on was lost in a typhoon, she suspects there is more to the story of Yoriko's disappearance. One day while she and her boyfriend Mochizuki are diving, they see a vision underwater of skeletons in chains. Sakeo feels her sister's ghostly presence, and one stormy night, she and Mochizuki see a freighter in the distance. When they investigate, it turns out to be the Dragon King. They find the log book and discover that the pirates were after a load of gold bullion on the ship. Then, we catch up with the pirates in their everyday lives (one is an alcoholic, one runs a titty bar, etc. though we don't see the pirate leader). Soon, they are all being visited by what appears to be the ghost of Yoriko, seeking revenge. This Japanese ghost/horror film is moody and serious and well shot, though there are some plot points that I'm fuzzy on (mostly spoilers so I won't discuss them). A couple of twists near the end come out of nowhere but are welcome and help the movie stand out a bit from the run-of-the-mill ghost story. The black and white widescreen image is nice, and there's a theme that sounds like it belongs in a James Bond movie. Nicely creepy. The picture at right is of Yoriko (Kikko Matsuoka) reflected in the glasses of the chief pirate. [DVD]

Thursday, October 19, 2023


In an opening perhaps inspired by Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we are in a psychiatric ward in Tokyo where a college professor named Kenji is telling the story of how he wound up there. Kasai, a rich businessman, invites some friends to go on a day trip on his yacht (cue the Gilligan’s Island theme song of “a three hour cruise). In addition to Kenji, there’s a famous pop singer, a psychologist, an employee of Kenji’s, a shy young female student, and a sailor. A storm hits that evening and the next morning, the disabled craft eventually comes across a seemingly uninhabited island. They find fresh water and lots of mushrooms, and also a derelict oceanography ship covered in mold with no survivors (and with all the mirrors taken down). As tensions emerge between the group, mushrooms become a main source of food, but some suspect that the diet is causing humans to mutate into, yes, mushroom people. Though only 90 minutes, this has some doldrums in the middle with a series of stagy dialogue scenes highlighting, to some degree, the social differences between the characters. There is also a lot of what MST3K would call “rock climbing,” as we watch people explore the island and the derelict ship with little dramatic payoff. But the ship sets are fairly convincing, and the jungle sets are colorful. The mushroom mutants are a variation on slow-moving zombies with gross skin. I didn’t find them all that convincing, but their appearances come fairly late in the film. Production values are a notch above that of equivalent American B-movies of the era. The blogger at Allusions of Grandeur thought of it as sort of Lovecraft lite and I agree. Directed by Ishiro Honda, best known for directing the original GODZILLA. The title refers to the name that the original scientists on the derelict ship gave to the original fungus which became the mushroom people (I think). Not a waste of time, but not essential viewing. Pictured is Akira Kubo as the psychologist. [DVD]

Tuesday, October 17, 2023


Arletty (Marianna Hill) is telling her story in flashback in an institution. She went to the beach town of Point Dune to see her father, Joseph Lang, an artist, who has been sending her strange disjointed letters about feeling threatened. The town, an artist's colony, is not very welcoming to Arletty; people know who he is but claim to know nothing about him. A blind art dealer, who dismisses his work, tells her that three other people came around looking for him for an interview. She meets up with them (well-dressed Thom and hippie girls Toni and Laura—they seem to function like a threesome, but that’s never quite clarified) and soon they join Arletty in her dad's house, the walls of which are painted in huge stark murals of creepy-looking people. A homeless man (Elisha Cook Jr.) tells them of a coming "blood moon" which will affect townspeople in strange ways, and suggests that her father may already be dead. Moments later, the man is killed in an alleyway. Slowly, more information emerges, something about the expected return of a Dark Stranger who, a hundred years ago, showed up in town. He was a survivor of the Donner Party and established a new religion that turned people into what can best be described as cannibal vampire zombies. Now, the townsfolk believe that the Stranger will return to spread their religion across the land. And they need a sacrifice…

This 1973 B-horror flick has an interesting pedigree: it was written and directed by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz who also, around the same time, wrote American Graffiti. Those who see this as a zombie movie are reminded of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead—and the film was re-titled, for a time, Return of the Living Dead until a lawsuit stopped that. Interestingly, this has a few scenes that seem to anticipate Romero's later movie, Dawn of the Dead, including a scene in a near-empty grocery store where a handful of the creatures are gnawing on raw meat. Perhaps the best-known sequence is one reminiscent of Hitchcock's The Birds in which a young woman sits down in a near-empty movie theater and slowly the auditorium fills up with zombies behind her. Very effective. I guess technically the townspeople are zombies, since they do attack and eat (at least partially) other people, but I was more struck by its tonal and occasional visual resemblance to Carnival of Souls. There are some very well done moments; the nighttime street scenes are all spooky, and the artwork in Joseph's house gives the place a surreal feel.

Unfortunately, the script could have used another draft. The whys and wherefores of the Dark Stranger and his cult are not examined in any detail, and I wasn't sure if the people of Point Dune were always cannibal zombies or only when there was a blood moon. Arletty's dad does eventually show up (a nice cameo performance from veteran character actor Royal Dano) but to no particular purpose except to provide a scene of fiery destruction. The acting is mostly B-level: Michael Greer, Anitra Ford and Joy Bang as the threesome (pictured at right) all feel a bit amateurish, though they weren't amateurs, so perhaps it was a directing problem. I have read that the production ran out of money and post-production was taken out of the hands of Huyck and Katz which may account for some of the problems. The print I saw was a slightly squeezed full screen version of a widescreen movie, and not in the best shape, though a restored version is now available on Blu-ray. Despite some flaws, I would recommend this to fans of 70s horror. [YouTube]

Friday, October 13, 2023


We open with five minutes of maps, stock footage, and a narrator droning on about how radar is our country's first line of defense. In the Southern hemisphere, a volcano explodes and since, as our narrator reminds us, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, there is also an explosion in the Arctic. The men at Red Eagle One, an American military post in Northern Canada along the DEW line (that's the Distant Early Warning line of defense as the narrator helpfully tells us), realize that one of the weather outposts has not reported in. Military man Craig Stevens flies up there to find the outpost in shambles, strange gigantic tracks in the snow, and no one, living or dead, present. Next, a weird blip is seen on radar just before an Air Force plane is attacked and downed. Again, there are no bodies but a huge chunk of matter looking like a claw is found which is determined to be, indeed, from a living creature. In Washington, a paleontologist (William Hopper) figures out that they're dealing with a giant prehistoric praying mantis that is eating its human victims. 

Need I go on? This is one of a number of relatively interchangeable SF movies from the 50s about giant monsters, and it seems to have been built on the template of one of the first and best of the genre, 1954's THEM; it begins with a couple of mysterious attacks, then scientists figure out what’s going on, and there's a climax in an urban setting. The title makes this sound a bit silly, but it mostly takes itself seriously. Stevens and Hopper don't look too embarrassed to be involved; Alix Talton, the female interest, playing a magazine editor, has to undergo a dreadful scene (not too dissimilar from an early scene in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD) where a bunch of military men in the Arctic Circle who have been without female companionship for months start drooling and bucking when she arrives at their base. It's so bad the movie almost doesn't recover. (Paul Smith so overdoes his butch reaction that he comes off as a closeted gay man afraid of not seeming boorishly straight enough.) But movies of this genre live and die not on acting, but special effects. When the mantis is shown flying, it doesn't look like a mantis at all, but in other scenes, a combination of miniatures, a life-sized model and, maybe, a real mantis give this movie's effects a passing grade. In addition to the decent climax on the streets of New York City, there is a nice fog-shrouded scene in which the mantis attacks a bus. Overall, if you can get past that batch of horny men in the Arctic, it's fairly painless. [DVD]

Wednesday, October 11, 2023


After the opening credits, which are played over a light-hearted, comic score, a narrator tells us that Hicksburg is a boring little town. At a late night diner, Artie and Joe, two traveling con-men, are bemoaning the town's lack of nightlife and female companionship. The slightly drunk Joe decides to take off in his car and look for fun, but before he can get very far, he sees a UFO landing in the woods outside of town. Meanwhile, young couple Johnny and Joan are driving up to Lover's Point (headlights off so as not to bother the other parking and necking couples) for their own fun and accidentally run over and kill a short bulbous-headed alien from the UFO. Its hand detaches itself from the body and its long, sharp fingernails puncture the car's tires. The kids go to old man Larkin's place to call the police (Larkin being one of those angry "get off my lawn" types that crop up in teen movies of the era); meanwhile, Joe happens on the body and decides to take it to use in a money-making scheme, but other big-eyed, big-brained aliens come along and, with their retractable fingernails (pictured at right), inject Joe with a large amount of alcohol, which, since he's already drunk, kills him. By the time the cops arrive in response to the kids' bizarre story, they find Joe instead of the alien, and the Air Force, alerted to the UFO sighting, has sent a couple of men to Hicksburg. But by the end, it's the teenagers at Lover's Point who figure out the aliens' weakness: they disintegrate when flashlights and headlights are shined on them.

This wacky story is played more for laughs than anything else, but the humor only sporadically works. Professional comic Frank Gorshin is OK as Joe, but he bites the dust fairly early, leaving B-range actors in charge of delivering the comic relief and most of it falls flat. One amusing scene involves Larkin's bull getting attacked by aliens, though the bull winds up drunk instead of dead. I would have thought that, if comedy was their point, the filmmakers would have had scenes of townsfolk getting attacked and getting immediately drunk instead of dying. (Woulda, coulda, shoulda…) The blandly handsome Steve Terrell (MOTORCYCLE GANG) held my attention as Johnny, and Lyn Osborn had promise as Gorshin's buddy, but doesn't get much to do. Gloria Castillo is serviceable as Joan. The aliens, based on publicity stills and posters, look like something out of Outer Limits (that's a compliment), but they are barely seen in the film as they spend most of their time in the bushes or in the dark—the whole thing plays out in almost real time over one night. Fans of SF schlock or 50s teen flicks should like this. Others beware. [YouTube]

Monday, October 09, 2023


I first became acquainted with the classic EC horror comics of the 1950s in the mid-1960s when I was about 10. EC (Entertaining Comics) was driven out of business by censorship efforts (too gory, too sexy) in 1956, the year I was born, but DC Comics ran tamer horror stories in comics like House of Mystery, and I grew up reading magazines like Creepy and Eerie with very EC-like stories. By 1965, EC stories were being reprinted in black & white mass market paperbacks and I devoured them. A few years later, the original stories were being republished regularly, and by 1989, HBO's series Tales from the Crypt, which adapted EC stories, started a seven season run, helping to ensure EC’s place in popular culture. In the early 1970s, the British studio Amicus started releasing anthology films featuring 4 or 5 dramatized horror stories. This one is based on stories from the original EC comics (though none of the stories were published in the comic called Vault of Horror). If you've read even a couple of the original comics, you know what to expect: a melodramatic conflict is set up, usually between lovers or partners or friends, someone betrays someone else, and a moralistic payback happens, usually involving the supernatural, some dark humor, and a fair amount of gore.

Here, five strangers share an elevator in a modern London building. They wind up in a sub-basement with no way to go back up. A dining table is set up and the men begin telling stories involving recent vivid and unpleasant dreams. In the first story, Daniel Massey hunts down and kills his sister (real-life sibling Anna Massey, both children of Raymond Massey) for her inheritance, only to realize he's trapped after dark in a village of vampires. [I won’t give away spoilers for most of these, though only someone with no knowledge of spooky storytelling won't see the endings long before they arrive, but the last shot here is memorable—a vampire holds someone upside down and plunges a spigot in his neck so all can feast on his blood.] Next up, Terry-Thomas, a stodgy man set in his ways, marries Glynis Johns who proceeds to accidentally mess up his meticulously organized household until she does some organizing of her own. The third story features Curt Jurgens and Dawn Addams as magicians who try to figure out an Indian magic rope trick they see performed in the street, ultimately murdering the girl magician and stealing her rope which they assume is truly enchanted. Disappointment follows. Next, Michael Craig tells of his plan to pull off an insurance scam by faking his death, with the help of a friend who betrays him, leading to a buried alive situation. Finally, Tom Baker is a Gauginish painter living in the South Seas who discovers that his agents and a museum director are cheating him out of money back home; he turns to voodoo to get revenge. As the viewer will have figured out very early on, the five men are all dead and in an afterlife anteroom. This is no better or worse than any other anthology film of the era. Some actors clearly think they’re slumming (the Massey siblings, Curt Jurgens) and some play along gamely (Terry-Thomas, Tom Baker). Glynis Johns, pictured above, who just turned 100, does quite well considering her characterization is nonexistent. As I noted, there are very few surprises in store, though story #2 has a surprisingly gory, if played for laughs, climax. Production values are cheap, and the whole thing has the air of something done in a hurry. Still, it's October so go ahead and watch. [YouTube; also on Blu-ray]

Thursday, October 05, 2023


At a huge computer center, Dr. Forbin (Eric Braeden, at right) has just finished work on a massive project: the building of a supercomputer, theoretically incapable of error, that will control the nuclear defenses of the United States and its allies. The computer itself is strategically tucked away in the Rocky Mountains where it's impervious to attack or access. Forbin and his team of scientists have envisioned a rosy future in which Colossus will also help solve other problems of mankind. However, as soon as the computer is fired up, its first communication, typed out on a news ticker device, is, "There is another system." Forbin thinks that's impossible, but it turns out that the Russians have a similar system, called Guardian. Colossus demands to be linked to it, and despite misgivings, the scientists allow the link, but the American and Soviet governments are worried about the sharing of secrets, so they order the link cut. The next communication is "If link not restored, action will be taken." The action involves missiles fired between the two countries. The US manages to intercept the Russian missile, but the American missile destroys a small Russian town. After coming up with a cover story, the link is restored and soon Colossus has taken on a human voice. Apparently worrying that Dr. Forbin will figure out a way to take the computers down, it keeps an eye on him 24 hours a day. Forbin and Dr. Cleo Markham (Susan Clark) pretend to be lovers so the computer will give them unsupervised time alone—when they work out a plan to overload the computers—but Colossus will not be outsmarted by mere humans.

I always assumed from the awkward title that this was a TV-movie but it's not—it was originally released in theaters as The Forbin Project, with Colossus added as it widened its release. However, in many ways, it does have the feel of a TV pilot. It has good sets, if a minimal number of them, and a crisp and colorful look, but winds up seeming rather stagy, with the bulk of the story taking place in the main computer lab. At times, it feels like a play being enacted on a huge set. For me, that's neither good nor bad, just descriptive. The actors are mostly known for TV work (again, not being judgmental, just descriptive). Eric Braeden, whom I know best as the German nemesis in the 60s TV show The Rat Patrol, gives a low-key performance here, though a bit more tension and/or anger would have livened up the proceedings. No one else, not even leading lady Susan Clark, makes a strong impression—though to be fair, Colossus does tend to be a scene-stealer. Marion Ross, William Schallert, Georg Stanford Brown, and Dolph Sweet are all familiar from television. The open-ended conclusion is another reason this feels like a pilot, though to its credit, it is a fairly bleak ending, not what I was expecting. Based on a novel, this was at one time set to be remade as a TV series, though it has not yet gotten a green light. Not a great film, but one that seems apt for our current "fear of AI" era. [Criterion Channel]

Monday, October 02, 2023


In the small town of Brownsville, the Blake murder trial is big news. The rich Mrs. Blake was murdered in her home, and her caretaker, the kindly Olaf, is on trial and based on the testimony of one woman, is about to be found guilty. Jimmy (Jackie Moran, at left), a young office assistant at the local newspaper who'd like to be a cub reporter, is sure that Olaf is innocent, and holds a bit of a grudge against the paper's editor, Henshaw, for just reporting on the trial and not digging deeper into the case. When Henshaw's young niece Millie (Marcia Mae Jones) comes to stay for the summer, Jimmy enlists her to help him clear Olaf and soon falls for her, despite having a sort-of girlfriend already. Their first suspect is Eph, the gas station owner, who doesn't seem to have an alibi for the night of the murder, but Jimmy's grandma ends up unknowingly giving him one. Next up is Mrs. Blake's lawyer Cy, who was in a ideal position to have been embezzling from the old lady and may have a motive for murder if she became suspicious. When they learn of some missing money, they break into Mrs. Blake's house hoping to find it, or other clues that might point to Cy's guilt. But time is a-wasting if they hope to exonerate Olaf.

You will notice I did not mention a haunted house in my summary. That’s because there isn't one. Granted, there is an "old dark house" (Mrs. Blake's) that is spooky looking, but no one assumes it's haunted, not even our young heroes. If you're looking for ghosts here, you'll be disappointed, but if you adjust your expectations, you’ll enjoy this B-movie as a juvenile detective story, as if Nancy Drew, on summer vacation in a small town, met up with a Hardy boy (or, more precisely, the Hardys' plump buddy Chet) and solved a crime. Jackie Moran is a bit stocky in build but has a charming, twinkly-eyed innocence—he reminds me of the Macy's stock boy in Miracle on 34th Street; Marcia Mae Jones is every bit a Nancy Drew type, maybe even more than Bonita Granville who played Drew in a handful of 30s movies (I should re-watch some of those to review here soon). The adult cast is a little more second-rate, though some familiar faces (Christian Tub as Olaf, Clarence Wilson as Eph) help brighten the proceedings. Some fun is had as the kids try to figure out a clue in the form of a quote from a poem by James Whitcomb Riley with the word "hassock," which neither of them know. Mostly for fans of B-movies and teen detectives, but with just enough atmosphere to make this potential October/Halloween viewing. [YouTube]