Category Archives: Mystery

Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bizarre occurrences at lodge.

Inspector Glebsky (Uldis Pucitis) is summoned to a remote winter lodge known as the Dead Mountaineers due to a climber who fell to his death off a nearby cliff and whose faithful St. Bernard sleeps underneath a portrait of him in the hotel’s lobby. Glebsky was informed from the anonymous call of some unusual activity that was occurring at the place, but once he gets there no one, including the innkeeper Alex (Juri Jarvet), know what he’s talking about. After he meets the strange collection of guests he becomes even more suspicious. Then he’s handed a note stating that Hinkus (Mikk Mikiver), a man supposedly weakened by tuberculosis, is planning to commit murder. When one of the guests, Olaf (Tiit Harm), does turn-up dead, but Hinkus is later found tied-up in his bed, so he couldn’t have done it. A avalanche blocks off all outside roads trapping Glebsky and the guests in the building where more and more weird things begin to occur until the inspector can no longer trust his senses, or even his logic.

Some people ask; what makes a great movie? And the answer is that a good movie needs a unique and distinctive image that impresses the viewer right from the start and which they can take away with them once it’s over. This film has just that image with a bird’s eye view of the hotel that’s so remote, as it’s nestled in the snowy, mountain landscape, and so small when glimpsed from high up, that at first I thought it was a prop, but it’s a real building, which makes it all the more impressive. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such an isolated place, it doesn’t even seem to have roads leading into it. This shot alone, of which it goes back to it a few times, brilliantly sets the tone for the rest of the movie where everything is totally unique and like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

The fact that this was all shot in what was then the Soviet Union, in this case what is now Kazakhstan, makes it even more jaw-dropping as productions there didn’t receive the same type of budget as a studio driven Hollywood one and yet the visual design is impeccable. The inside of the place has a pronounced, surreal look with excellent shadowy lighting and the special effects, while sparse, come into strong play during the climactic surprise ending that like with the beginning leaves an equally lasting impression. The music by Sven Grunberg has a distinct futuristic tone that helps accentuate the outer worldly quality while the sun glistening off the bright white snow during the outdoor scenes makes it seem almost like another planet.

The story was written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and based on their book of the same name. They’re better known for their novel ‘Roadside Picnic’, which was turned into the acclaimed Stalker directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Both brothers also wrote the screenplay and it pretty much stays faithful to the book though there’s a few missing characters and Glebsky’s motivation for going to the lodge is different. Here it was due a mysterious phone call while in the book it was for vacation. The plot at first gets played-up like it’s just another police/murder investigation complete with interviews with potential suspects and even Agatha Christie-like flashbacks showing what each guest was doing when the murder occurred, which had me getting bored as the movie starts out as something really different, so to have it devolve into the conventional murder mystery was disappointing, but by the second act this all changes and that’s when it gets really interesting.

The acting is solid and I enjoyed Pucitis in the lead, who despite having his voice dubbed, has the perfect chiseled features of a hardened police detective. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one and probably the only one in this potential cult classic that desperately needs more attention and a Blu-ray/dvd release, comes at the beginning during Glebsky’s voice-over narration where he speaks in the present about his time at the hotel and how during a ‘slow shift’ the events that he witnessed there comes back to haunt him. I found it hard to believe that he’d only think about this when there was nothing else to do, or in this case a ‘slow shift’, as I’d think it would be on his mind all the time to the extent that he may never be able to go back to police work again as the events would’ve been too traumatizing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 20 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Grigori Kromanov

Studio: Tallinnfilm

Available: dvdlady

Cancel My Reservation (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Celebrity accused of murder.

Dan (Bob Hope) is the exhausted TV-personality of a New York talk show that he co-hosts with his wife Sheila (Eva Marie Saint). The two have spent a lot of time bickering and on his Dr.’s advice decides he needs to retreat to a rural area to catch-up on some rest and relaxation. He travels to Arizona where he briefly meets Mary Little Cloud (Betty Ann Carr) at the Phoenix airport. Later on when he arrives at the ranch he discovers Mary’s dead body in his bedroom. When he goes back to the living room to notify the police and then returns to the bedroom her body is gone. Later the police find her corpse in the back of his car and immediately arrest him on the suspicion of murder. Now out on bond he and Sheila must follow the clues in order to solve the case themselves to prevent him from spending the rest of his life in the slammer.

This marked Hope’s last starring vehicle and may be close to being the worst film he did. Reports were that at the premiere he kept complaining to his wife that he looked too old on the screen and felt he was no longer leading man material. A lot of the fault for this goes to Hope himself had he played a character his same age, like a grandpa who enjoys spending his retirement being an amateur sleuth, then it might’ve worked, but instead he tries to play-it like he’s a middle-aged guy, which is just absurd. This comes to a ridiculous head right at the start when he’s brought into the police station and the sheriff, played by Keenan Wynn, asks him his age and Hope, who looks every bit of the 68 years of age that he was, replies that he’s ’42’. I had to actually rewind the film just to make sure I heard it right and the cops don’t look at him with an incredulous look like anyone else would’ve, which makes this the funniest moment in the film even though it’s unintentional.

Pairing with Saint was another mistake. Originally he was supposed to re-team with Lucille Ball, but at the last minute changed course and decided to go with Saint. Presumably this was again for his own vanity as he thought playing a character with a hot, youthful-looking blonde would make him come-off appearing younger even though it does the exact opposite and just makes him seem even older, like an aging daddy going out with his daughter. The two share no chemistry and Saint lacks the comic ability that Ball could’ve brought. The two don’t even fight. They do a little bit at the start while they’re still in New York, but once they reach Arizona they get along even though having them bicker would’ve at least allowed some comic banter, which is otherwise lacking.

The story, which is based on a Louis L’Amour novel ‘The Broken Gun’, is uninspired and gives away the identity of the killer half-way through. What’s the use of sitting through a mystery if you know well before it’s over who the bad guy is? Paul Bogart’s direction has no visual style with bland sets that would be better suited for a TV-sitcom than the big screen.

Hope’s voice-over narration are the only amusing bits. There’s also a dream segment where Hope imagines himself being hung in front of a large group of onlookers, which amongst the crowd is Johnny Carson, Bing Crosby, and John Wayne, who say brief quips as they watch the noose being fitted around his neck, which is the film’s only diverting sequence. I came away thinking it would’ve been more interesting had Carson, Crosby, and Wayne starred in the film alongside Hope playing a group of actors set to do a film, but then turn detectives when one of the cast gets murdered. It might not have been perfect, but certainly couldn’t have been any worse than this.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: His doppelganger takes over.

Pelham (Roger Moore) is a conservative, staid businessman who is married with two kids and for all practical purposes leads a predictable life. One day he goes out driving and begins to pretend he’s a race driver in a sports car. He removes his seat belt and accelerates the vehicle before getting into an awful crash. The doctors at the hospital are able to save him, but as he returns to his normal way of doing things he keeps hearing about another man who looks just like him appearing all over town. The man associates with many of his same friends and eventually moves into his home and has relations with his wife while he’s not there. Pelham tries putting at stop to it only to find that his friends and family prefer the new Pelham over the old one.

While the concept has intriguing elements the way it gets handled is a letdown. Supposedly his doppelganger represents his more reckless side that he keeps oppressed, but then having him immediately give into his wild impulses through his driving doesn’t seem like dual personalities, but more like it’s all-in-one. His recovery, especially after such a life threatening accident, happens too quickly and the idea that he can just go back to normal and continue to drive the same car that he totaled (he buys a new one, but the same model) seemed dubious as I’d think in reality his license would’ve been suspended for causing a crash that put both him and others at extreme risk.

The movie makes clear through flashback that there really is a double versus keeping this aspect a mystery and allowing in the idea that it might be a person disguising himself as Pelham. There’s very little difference between the two, so having them both walking around adds nothing. If the twin is supposed to represent his wild side then this needs to be shown through his attire, hairstyle, and speech pattern. The only real difference is that one drives a flashy sports car, but that’s it. You’d also think that those around him, especially his family, would sense something was off instead of having the real one become the odd man.

Moore has stated in interviews that his was his favorite role, but I don’t know why because outside of having a perpetual confused look on his face his character has little else to do. The production values, for what it’s worth, are excellent, but the story is too thin for feature length. The second act gets especially boring as Pelham is constantly hearing from others about his double over and over again until it becomes redundant. It takes too long for the protagonist to become aware of something that the viewer catches onto early on. The ending is vague and offers no suitable conclusion or answers. Normally I’d say this is the type of story, which was based on the novel ‘The Case of Mr. Pelham’ by Anthony Armstrong, that would’ve been better as an episode for an anthology series, but in this instance that’s actually what occurred as 15 years earlier it was a first season episode of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’. with Tom Ewell playing the part of Pelham and the compact 25-minute runtime did a far superior job with the concept than the 94-minutes does here.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 18, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Basil Dearden

Studio: EMI Films

Available: DVD

Freeway (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in a car.

Sunny (Darlanne Fluegel) is an emergency room nurse still grieving over the senseless death of her fiancee at the hands of a highway killer (Billy Drago) who drove-up beside them one late night and shot him through their car window. Sunny is constantly hassling the police for updates on the case, but the police sergeant Lt. Boyle (Michael Callan) is aloof and put-off. Frank (James Russo) is an ex-cop who left the force when a drug gang he was investigating annihilated his whole family. He senses Sunny’s despair and the two team-up to find the killer along with radio talk show host David Lazuras (Richard Belzer) whose show gets calls from an unhinged man, who quotes Bible verses and claims to be the one they’re looking for.

The story has some intriguing elements and I liked how initially we don’t know the identity of the assailant, but the concept, which is based on the novel of the same name by Deanne Barkley, is poorly thought-out. This freeway shooter makes headlines for having killed many people, so Sunny wouldn’t be the only one getting on the police about finding the culprit as the entire city, which would be gripped with panic, would also be and if the city’s force wasn’t doing enough then federal agents would be brought-in.

The car that the killer drives, which is an older model with a broken front grill, is similar to the haunted vehicle used in the cult-classic The Carbut because it has a distinct appearance the guy wouldn’t be able to get away with his crimes for too long as surely other people on the very busy L.A. freeways would’ve spotted him and had his license plate, or general whereabouts, called-in. Some drivers would likely have tailed him and even cornered his car with theirs until the police got there. The car also smashes into several other vehicles, and since it was an old clunker, it would need body work, and thus pique the suspicions of the auto repairman who would likely alert authorities. In either event having the killer get away with as much as he does and with only one person emotionally vested into finding him doesn’t gel.

While the leads are bland the supporting cast is interesting. Callan, who was a semi-star during the 60’s before his career cratered, does well as the non-nonchalant police chief and still looking good despite some weight gain around the face. Clint Howard has a fun bit as a porn obsessed mechanic, who agrees to let Sunny drive his prized sports car while he gets her’s fixed. While allowing some random chick to take his car, which no auto mechanic in the history of the world would do, or feel obligated to do, I was willing to accept it using the rationale that he was hoping it might help him score with her later, but the fact that she keeps this ‘loaner’ for days, even weeks, without returning it gets ridiculous.

Country music legend Roy Clark is listed in the part of a CHP officer, but I didn’t spot him. I had a feeling it was played by someone with the same name, I know when I lived in Indy there were 7 other men in the phone book with my name, and since Roy and Clark are both quite common, it seems reasonable that it was somebody else, so listing it in Roy’s filmography on IMDb is a mistake.

The tension isn’t strong and weakens quite a bit by the third act, which is when it should’ve been the strongest. Director Francis Delia, who before this worked on music videos, tries hard to give the proceeding a stylistic touch, which might’ve fared better had the story and characters been thoroughly fleshed-out.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 2, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Francis Delia

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Cotter (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rodeo clown seeks redemption.

Art Cotter (Don Murray) is a Sioux Indian who works as a rodeo clown, but when his alcoholism causes the tragic death of a rodeo rider he leaves his hometown in shame. Years later he returns hoping to make amends. He meets up with his old friend Roy (Rip Torn) and Roy’s wife Leah (Carol Lynley) and begins living with the two while trying to find work, but before he can fully turn things around tragedy strike again. This time it’s in the form of murder when wealthy rancher Wolfe (Larry D. Mann) turns-up dead with a large bag of money that he was carrying missing. Cotter was the last person to see him alive, so suspicions are cast on him almost immediately. Roy offers to let Cotter hide-out from the mob in his pump shed out back, but Roy has ulterior motives as he believes Cotter committed the crime and begins hassling him for the whereabouts of the cash. Even Leah, who had shown a liking for Cotter earlier, begins to use her sensual appeal, at her husband’s request, to get him to talk leaving Cotter with the harsh realization that nobody, even his friends, believe in him.

This was one of the last of a string of films that were released in the early 70’s dealing with modern-day rodeo stars. Many of those were hits at the box office, so it was a surprise why this one, which was meant to be released to the theaters, couldn’t find a studio to distribute it, so ultimately it ended up becoming, on April 4, 1973, the first movie to ever premiere on cable television, which at the time was still very much in its infancy.

On the surface I was surprised, given the success of the other rodeo movies, that it had to settle for direct-to-cable, but after watching it it’s pretty easy to see why. For one thing the script, which was written by actor-turned-writer William D. Gordon, doesn’t have much to do with the rodeo world. It’s just used as a set-up at the beginning, but seems much more like it should be put into the murder mystery genre instead of a modern day western, or character study. The mystery itself isn’t intriguing and gets wrapped-up too quickly making it flimsy entertainment no matter which category you put it into.

Casting Murray in the lead was another problem as he’s a white guy who doesn’t resemble an Indian at all. In fact the viewer has to keep reminding themselves that his character is one as you’ll forget otherwise. They do give him some make-up to make his skin appear redder, but this just makes him seem more like a white guy with a sunburn. There were plenty of genuine American Indian actors out there at the time, like Ned Romero, that could’ve played the part and made the character more authentic, which Murray’s presence doesn’t.

I was also disappointed that despite what Leonard Maltin states in his review, or whoever wrote it for him, the movie does not give one a good feel for the Midwest and it become painfully clear to this former Midwesterner that it wasn’t even filmed there in the first place. The Midwest has farm fields, which aren’t seen anywhere, and the towns always have a strong city center usually with the courthouse sitting on one block and then the rest of the downtown shops surrounding it. The downtown here has no distinction just a bunch of nondescript buildings plopped in a row and built on a Hollywood studio black-lot, which makes the setting as bland as the rest of the film.

Outside of Murray there are some good performances particularly by Torn and Lynley, but the script is unfocused and in need of dynamic direction. If its motive was to show the plight of the American Indian and racism then an actual Indian should’ve been cast while also bringing in a Native American as a consultant, which might’ve helped the script seem less generic.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Paul Stanley

Studio: Gold Key Entertainment

Available: DVD

Figures in a Landscape (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chased by a helicopter.

Ansell (Malcolm McDowell) and MacConnachie (Robert Shaw) are two men on the run in the middle of a bleak, desolate desert. What they are escaping from is never clear, but they’re constantly hounded by a helicopter that seems intent at stopping them. They come upon a small village and steal food and supplies and then continue on their escape, but find trying to get along with each other is just as challenging as avoiding the copter.

I’m a big admirer of Joseph Losey’s films and I also enjoy movies that have an air of mystery and don’t feel the need to have to explain everything, but this attempt at avante garde doesn’t work. The Barry England novel or which this is based and received high critical praise when it came out in 1968 at least made it clear that these two were soldiers who were deserting for whatever reason, but the movie doesn’t even mention this. We’re simply left with a nothing-burger of seeing two guys we have no emotional connection with scurrying around the countryside, which gets old fast and has nothing to keep it compelling though the bird’s eye shots of them on the ground looking like dots as they run at least allows it to live up to its title.

Fans of the film will admit that the story is lacking, but the helicopter sequences and stunt work more than makes up for it, but I found this aspect to be underwhelming. The camerawork of showing the copter bearing down on them while splicing in shots from the pilot’s point-of-view is well handled, but it’s not as exciting as could’ve been because when the pilots have a chance to shoot the men they don’t. McDowell’s character explains that they (the helicopter pilots) are just ‘toying with them’, but the viewer can’t be expected to get wrapped-up in a silly cat-and-mouse contest that has no life or death consequence.

Much of the blame for why this comes-off more like a misguided experiment than an actual movie, can be attributed to Shaw, who was given permission to rewrite the script and promised to have it completed by the time shooting began, but didn’t. Apparently revisions were being made on a daily basis and no one knew where the plot was going, or how to end it, which ultimately makes for a flat and detached viewing experience.

The two leads do quite well with McDowell interesting as the younger of the two, but still more emotionally mature. Shaw is equally fine giving off a maniacal laugh that I’ve never heard him do before. Their bout with diarrhea at a most inopportune time is amusing. While some may find it gross it’s something that could happen to those who haven’t eaten in awhile and feeding off canned food, so in that way the movie tackles a realistic subject other escapees-on-the-run movies shy away from though the shaving aspect was a problem in reverse. I didn’t understand why Shaw would feel it’s so important for them to remain clean shaven when they’re just trying to survive and there’s no explanation for how they were able to remain without beards at the beginning when they were running around with their hands tied behind their backs.

In any case the movie desperately needed a conclusion as way too much is left open-ended. There should’ve been a final twist, like in an episode of the ‘Twilight Zone’ that makes sitting through it worth it. Ultimately it lacks focus with a concept better suited for a novel and never should’ve been made into a movie in the first place.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Losey

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Corruption of Chris Miller (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Is he the killer?

Ruth (Jean Seberg) has been abandoned by her husband leaving her alone in his large isolated estate with only his daughter Chris (Marisol) to keep her company. Chris has issues of her own as she was raped years earlier as a teen while in the girl’s shower at her school by a weightlifter and whenever it rains the sound of  falling water brings back the horrible memories, which cause her to lash out with a sharp object, as if defending herself, to anyone who comes near. Ruth has learned how to talk her down from these episodes, but she’s getting tired of dealing with it as well as the hateful comments that Chris gives her as she blames Ruth for her father leaving them. Barney (Barry Stokes) is the drifter who comes into their lives. Initially it was just for the night, but as he gets to know the two and their inner-dynamics he becomes intrigued as well as sexually attracted to Chris. He and Chris begin a romance, much to the displeasure of Ruth, who wants Barney to herself. Meanwhile there’s a rash of killings that are going-on in the nearby town and Ruth and Chris begin to believe that Barney may be the culprit. 

The film was helmed by renown Spanish director Juan Antonio Bardem and while differing some from the giallos released in Italy this is still considered in high regard by fans of the genre. Bardem’s use of mood and atmosphere are the main selling points. The house, both the one that Ruth and Chris reside in as well as the stately country manor that gets featured during the opening murder, are given strong foreboding presences and the non-stop pounding rain adds an eerie element. 

The gore isn’t quite up to the level of Italian horrors. There’s lots of blood, but the onscreen violence is minimal. There’s also a lot of soft-focused shots of horses galloping and of the beautiful Marisol riding on one until it almost seems like a non-horror film, but there’s enough underlying intrigue to keep it interesting through the slow spots. The climactic stabbing more than makes up for it as it features shots of the blade going directly into the naked flesh of the victim versus done over clothing where the prop knife can more easily be concealed. It also gets done in slow-motion, which makes it look even more horrifying, but in a visually striking sort of way. 

The acting is excellent and includes Seeberg, who was once the darling of the French New Wave during the early 60’s, but by this time had gracefully grown into middle-aged roles, of which she does well though her facial expressions are a bit overdone. Marisol, whose career began as a child singer, is terrific too and in some ways she upstages her co-star with her distinct eyes, which have an hypnotic effect that focuses your attention on her in every scene that she’s in.

Spoiler Alert! 

The twist ending is original though questionable. The reveal of the killer, played by Rudy Gaebel, is a bit mechanical as no explanation is given for what lead police to him, we just see him carted away in hand-cuffs, where having a smoking-gun reason that the viewer could understand would’ve been more satisfying. Having the townspeople celebrate his arrest seemed a bit precipitous as sometimes murderers can still have mistrials, or be deemed not guilty by a jury, so just having some guy nabbed by the authorities doesn’t end things it’s just the beginning especially since police can be known to sometimes arrest the wrong person.

Having pea sprouts grow through the cracks in the tar of the roadway, which causes the road crew to dig up that portion of the highway where they then discover the dead body of Barney, which Ruth and Chris buried there, is a problematic too. First I’m not sure pea sprouts would be a strong enough plant to create such cracks and it would take many years for that to happen. The police wouldn’t necessarily know who buried him as Chris was only seen in public with Barney once by a family that eventually got murdered, so there’s otherwise no direct link between him and the women. Therefore the discovery of  the corpse would not immediately lead to the women’s arrest, as the movie seems to want to imply, if ever. 

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 17, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Juan Antonio Bardem

Studio: Ibercine S.A.

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Tubi 

Assault (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Schoolgirls attacked by rapist.

One day after school Tessa (Lesley Ann-Down), a teen who attends a local British high school in rural England, decides to cut through the nearby woods as a shortcut on her way home. As she treks through the forest an unseen assailant attacks her, which leaves her in a catatonic state. A few days later, despite the warnings, another female student goes into the woods and is later found murdered. The police inspectors (Frank Finley, James Cosmo) have idea who it could be and are unable to come-up with any leads, which frustrates the local teacher Julie West (Suzy Kendall). She decides it’s up to her to nab the culprit, so she uses herself and some of her students as bait to lure the killer out. She drives into the woods in a station wagon, but then the car gets stuck. While she tries to back it out she gets a glimpse of the perpetrator’s face as he deposits another of his victims, but when she describes to everybody what he looks like, saying he has the face of the devil, everyone thinks she’s gone mad.

This is another one of those British thrillers where in an attempt to gain more interest in the film the studio would release it under different titles. In the US the film was known as ‘In the Devil’s Garden’ to take advantage of the possession craze that was occurring after the release of The Exorcist and then a few years later it got re-released under the title ‘Satan’s Playthings’ and billed as a provocative story with erotic overtones. In either case the plot, which is based on the novel ‘The Ravine’ by Kendal Young, comes-off more like a cop drama/mystery than a horror flick.

That’s not to say it’s bad as director Sidney Hayers throws in some good touches. The attack on the girl is well handled using a hand-held camera that makes it seem unrehearsed and sudden. For a British thriller it’s even kind of racy. Normally films from England are quite timid about showing nudity, blood, or violence, but this thing does push-the-envelope a bit, far more than I was expecting, while still remaining ‘tasteful’ enough not to come under the ire of the British censors. The pounding music score helps create an urgent mood and grabs your attention at the start though it gets overplayed by the end and resembles a score heard on a cop TV-show.

The acting is good, but seeing Down looking so young and appearing much different from what we’re used to seeing her now kinda threw me off as you’d almost think she’s a completely different person. Kendall, who became a British scream queen for all the horror movies and thrillers that she was in, is quite appealing and I loved seeing her in glasses, which gives her a certain sexy look. The male actors are okay, but there’s more of them than are necessary and I think this was only done to create more suspects to choose from though their 70’s haircuts complete with long sideburns gives the film a very dated quality.

I was able to guess who the culprit was with about 20-minutes to go. It’s not that hard to figure out and the film gives-off a few too many clues to the point that it would be hard for someone not to know who it is. The story itself is standard. Not much thrills or chills though the electrocution via a cable that the victim touches while climbing up an electrical tower is admirably realistic and probably the most impressive part of the movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 11, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Hayers

Studio: J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Deadly Games (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who killed her sister?

Clarissa (Jo Ann Harris) travels to where her younger sister Linda (Alexandra Lawrence) lived before she was inexplicably murdered inside her home by a masked intruder. Clarissa hopes to help with the investigation, but finds herself initially at odds with the lead investigator Roger (Sam Groom) though the two eventually become romantic partners. Clarissa begins to suspect that Billy (Steve Railsback), an eccentric loner who manages the nearby theater, may be the culprit. Billy and Roger are longtime friends from their Vietnam days and regularly hang-out in the basement of the theater to play a board game. Clarissa tries to devise a way find out if Billy really is the killer, or if it might actually be Roger.

The most shocking thing about this would-be slasher obscurity is just how lame and uneventful it really is. The film starts out right away with a killing, which is poorly lit and the viewer can’t really see what’s going-on, and then proceeds for the next hour and a half to have a bunch of lightly dramatic moments that aren’t scary, or intense at all. Clarissa seems to be not upset about her sister’s passing and spends most of the time worrying more about getting together with old friends, or her dating life. She lives in her sister’s old house while openly stating that she’s not afraid to be there, which lessens the tension. If the protagonist has no concerns about if there’s a bad guy lurking about then why should the viewer?

There’s way too many scenes, like watching the group of friends take part in a backyard football game, or having Clarissa, Roger, and Billy watching an old movie together, that doesn’t propel the plot along in any way nor have much to do with the main story. There’s even a sappy song that gets played during the middle part that has absolutely no place in a horror movie, or any other film for that matter.

I also didn’t get where all of the ‘in-jokes’ were, which Leonard Maltin states in his review comes at you ‘fast and furious’. I came away feeling that this was yet another example where he, or whoever wrote the review for him, was seeing a completely different film altogether. In fact the only thing that is truly deadly here isn’t the ‘games’, but just the movie itself.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending is a big letdown as the killer turns out to be Roger, but since he acts so strangely all the way through even entering young women’s apartments and homes unannounced that makes him seem like a genuine creeper, this revelation comes as no ultimate surprise.

Maltin states that the final plot explanation is ‘really stupid’ and reviewers at IMDb say essentially the same thing. It ends with Clarissa killing Roger, who she thinks is Billy until she takes the mask off of him. She then goes back into the theater where Billy shouts our from somewhere that Roger was his best friend and he was now going to avenge his death. He then seems to fly out of nowhere towards Clarissa. I took it that he was hanging onto some sort of prop rope, which they do have in theaters, but it also looked like he was intended to be some sort of ghost that was literally floating towards her and this is what viewers felt was stupid. I don’t know as it’s not clear either way. What I did find frustrating is that the film freezes with Billy coming towards Clarissa and then cuts to the credits, so we never see what happens. Did he kill Clarissa, or did she fight him off? Either way this is the type of thing that needs to be shown, so for it to cut away when it finally gets exciting is ridiculous and if this is what they meant as being ‘stupid’ then I wholeheartedly agree.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The movie really deserves 0 points, but the one thing I did like was the music score. So many other slasher films from that era tried to replicate the score in Halloweenor Friday the 13thbut this one doesn’t sound like either of those. It’s has an acoustic quality that is quiet and subtle yet still effectively creepy. It’s the coolest thing about the movie especially as it gets played over the closing credits, but this production is otherwise so inept that you justifiably might not make it that far.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Scott Mansfield

Studio: Great Plains Films

Available: VHS

Disconnected (1984)

disconnected2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Receiving harassing phone calls.

Alicia (Frances Rains) is a young adult woman who brings an elderly man (William A. Roberts) up to her apartment one day so that he can use her phone to make a call. However, once he leaves she begins receiving odd calls at all times of the day and night where loud unexplained sounds emit from the receiver. She also gets a call where she overhears a conversation between her boyfriend Mike (Carl Koch) and twin sister Barbara-Ann, who are apparently are seeing each other behind-her-back. She then breaks up with Mike and begins dating Franklin (Mark Walker) whom she met while working at a video store. Franklin seems nice at first, but she’s unaware that he’s also the notorious serial killer who has been murdering young women in her area.

This horror oddity is the product of Gorman Bechard, who while still a film student decided to make a movie on his own with the low, low budget of only $40,000 and filming it almost entirely inside his tiny one-bedroom apartment. While it’s not a complete success it’s offbeat enough to hold your attention and guaranteed to keep you guessing to the very end.

The scenes inside the video store I enjoyed the most particularly Franklin’s complaints at how it didn’t have enough foreign films, or older movies, which was always the criticism I had of my local video stores too. The dark humor of Franklin hanging a crucifix over his bed where he commits the murders and the little prayer he does before he offs his victims I found amusing. Bechard’s odd camera shots including one segment done with black-and-white, freeze-frames is another asset that keeps it inventive.

The performance by Raines, who is beautiful, is excellent and I felt she would’ve had a long career ahead of her had she not giving up acting in order to raise a family. I was not as enamored though with the two guys playing the cops who lend a cartoonish flair that was not needed. I didn’t like too that one of them gets interviewed by someone sitting behind a camera that we don’t see and asking a bunch of questions almost like it’s a documentary, which begs the question as to who this person was and why does he just interview the cops, but no one else?

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest problem though is that it gets rid of the Franklin too quickly without playing up that scenario as much as it could’ve. It also cuts away without ever showing how the cops are able to subdue him, or how Alicia is able to get away, which seems like a standard scene that a horror movie fan would want to see and not just have discussed later.

The weird calls ultimately become boring. It also takes Alicia too long to figure out that maybe a good way to stop them would be to unplug the phone from the wall, which she finally does at the very end, but most other people would’ve done it a hell of a lot sooner.

The twist ending where the old man that was seen at the start, but then disappears only to return and be shown walking out of her apartment makes no sense. Some viewers have speculated that maybe he was a ghost of some kind, but that’s not made clear. My personal feeling is that there was no meaning to it and it’s intentionally left vague, so the individual viewers can read into it whatever they want, but it’s not a satisfying way to end almost 90-minutes of viewing and in many ways, despite the interesting bits, makes it quite annoying. A better, more focused conclusion would’ve certainly helped.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gorman Bechard

Available: VHS, Tubi, Blu-ray (Limited Edition only 2,000 copies printed)