Thursday, October 28, 2010

October Quick Picks and Pans

Today’s post marks the debut of a soon-to-be regular feature, Quick Picks and Pans.  It’s three reviews for the price of one, now in convenient, fun-size form!

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965): Revisiting one’s childhood isn’t always the best thing, but here’s one that manages to deliver the goods, for the most part.  When I was a kid, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors seemed to play on TV every year, and I always tried to catch it when it was on.  Oddly enough, this is unavailable on DVD, but I was fortunate enough to catch this on Netflix streaming.  Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough and Donald Sutherland star in this classy Amicus production full of low-key thrills.  Consisting of five different stories of varying degrees of quality, it’s still one of the best horror anthology movies out there.  During the course of a train voyage, Dr. Terror foretells the fates of his fellow train passengers on a dark and foreboding night.  My two favorite segments as a kid, and coincidentally as an adult, are the stories about a killer plant that terrorizes one household and Michael Gough’s disembodied hand that goes out for vengeance against caustic art critic Christopher Lee.  Although the effects are primitive by today’s standards and the stories are a little uneven, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors succeeds by managing to be reasonably scary and fun.  Just don’t scrutinize it too much, and you’ll have a good time.  Rating: ***½.  Available through Netflix streaming only.


Forbidden World (1982): Did you know that decades before the current green revolution, producer Roger Corman was already invested in the practice of recycling?  Forbidden World consists of sloppy seconds from other then-current Corman productions, including Battle Beyond the Stars and Galaxy of Terror, unabashedly lifting shots and sets from both.  According to behind-the-scenes interviews, the filmmakers consciously set out to make a rip-off of Alien.  They succeeded, without the pesky annoyances of story, credible acting, coherence, or real scares.  The best I can say about it is it wasn’t boring.  Forbidden World is chock full of gratuitous violence and nudity, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, if the rest of the movie is fun.  Even these elements are squandered, however, thanks to vapid, unlikable characters and scenes that seem voyeuristic rather than sexy.  Corman exploitation can be fun if viewed in the right light (notably Deathrace 2000, Piranha), but this one left me cold.  Stupid plot, stupid characters and terrible sets (think corridors made of empty cardboard egg cartons and Styrofoam fast-food burger packages) add up to one dismal experience.  Similar to Galaxy of Terror, the stories behind the scenes are much more compelling, so if you rent it, be sure to check out the “making of” documentaries.  You’ve been warned!  Rating: **.  Available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981): Here’s an oddity -- a TV movie that manages to be genuinely suspenseful, atmospheric, and engaging.  The net has been buzzing about this recently rediscovered film, so I decided to take a look.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Larry Drake (Darkman) plays a mentally challenged man wrongfully accused of a brutal attack on a young girl.  Four friends capitalize on an opportunity to make him a scapegoat, and decide to take matters into their own hands, only to suffer the consequences of their actions. You’ll likely recognize some familiar faces in this production, especially Charles Durning (Tootsie, The Muppet Movie) in a role he was born to play – A creepy, sociopathic mailman with a dark secret who will stop at nothing to protect his secret.  It’s engaging stuff, definitely a cut above the usual sub-standard fare that passed for entertainment in the days before HBO and Showtime.  How they managed to get this one past the network programmers of the day is beyond me, but I’m glad they did.  Highly recommended!  Rating: ****. Available on DVD.

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