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Featured Post - Mystery Movie Marathon

I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Cold Night’s Death (1973)

My made for television marathon continues with this little gem that was an ABC movie of the week. It stars Robert Culp and Eli Wallach and basically no one else. The two of them are scientists that have been assigned as a relief team for an isolated testing facility high in the mountains. There they are to experiment on chimps in the high altitude to simulate what our astronauts have to deal with on their missions. The men are replacing another scientist who was acting irrational and suddenly broke off contact. When they arrive they find him dead, frozen to death in a room with the window open.

What made the man kill himself? They don’t know and focus on continuing the experiments. But soon they start to experience odd occurrences like the heat going off and the generator just stopping. Windows open and equipment turns itself on as well. But there are just the pair of men working at the isolated lab, so which of them is responsible. Or perhaps they are just going crazy. But maybe there is something more happening that neither of them is ready to admit until it is possibly too late. Regardless they can’t get any help due to the snowstorm that has the lab isolated from the rest of the world. Isolated and alone how will the pair survive?

Be warned that I’m going to be vague so as to not spoil the payoff. A Cold Death’s Night could be accused of being boring. While I admit not much actually happens beyond them fixing broken equipment and keeping the generator running I was still sucked right in. The movie manages to create an atmosphere of mystery that keeps the viewers’ attention until the very end. I kept trying to figure out what the hell was going on and filling in the blanks. But I honestly didn’t see the ending coming until it was pushed right into my face. Though if I think about it the movie was hinting at it along while doing away with all the other possible explanations.

Robert Culp was awesome
Which brings me to one of the things that the story and plot does well. It gives the viewer several potential solutions for the odd things that are happening. Did the original scientist get cabin fever and go nuts? Is that what is happening to his replacements? That is certainly possible. Could there be someone else sneaking around the facility causing issues? Again, that is suggested by the doors closing on Culp’s character. Then again maybe one scientist is using his colleague as a test subject, which is also brought up during one of their arguments.

With the exception of a brief sequence with a helicopter pilot at the start the entire movie is just Culp and Wallach’s characters. They have to carry the movie with their performances alone. As mentioned above there are some things hinted at, but there isn’t much action until the end. And while I love the plot and think the writing is stellar without two great actors it wouldn’t work. These guys are great and because of them the movie is successful in creeping out the audience.

Finally, without spoiling anything I have to say the ending is “chilling” (pun intended) and creepy. The little window on the door… holy crap man that freaked me out. Obviously, I recommend this one. The link above takes you to the movie on YouTube. Check it out!

© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

Monday, January 29, 2018

Killer Bees (1974)

The made for T.V. madness continues. Today’s fun comes to us from the ABC movie of the week. It stars Kate Jackson and Edward Albert as an engaged couple heading home to meet his family. These are the same two stars that made up one of the doomed couples on Death Cruise that I covered during the marathon. Good times.

Edward and Victoria are off to meet his family. He seems reluctant to introduce her, but she insists since they are engaged, and she is pregnant. Both of which he insists they keep secret. As they arrive in town they come across a car wreck that we the audience know from a pre-credit scene was caused when the man angered some bees that then swarmed him. They finally make it to Edward’s family estate and both he and she receive a chilly reception.

The family is a big deal and run the local vineyard as well as the neighboring town. Right away we also notice that they have a strange relationship with the bees. The matriarch, played by the legendary Gloria Swanson, seems to have some control over them. It also becomes clear that the family knows they caused the accident and wants to keep it quiet. When more accidents happen, Victoria is horrified to the extent that the family goes to keep the hive safe. These special aggressive African honey bees are the secret to the unique taste of their wine and very important to the family. When the grandmother dies the bees go after Victoria, but do they mean her harm or are they after something else?

This is another case where I sat down expecting to get one kind of movie but ended up with something altogether different. To me Killer Bees indicated I’d see them rampaging across the screen collecting a nice body count, basically a creature feature with many little creatures. What we get instead is a well written and acted psychological story with a couple of twists and turns. The family and the bees have a symbiotic relationship that benefits both of them. And while the movie doesn’t blatantly assign intelligence to them you get the feeling that the hive has an idea of what is going on.

Be warned spoilers are coming… In anger Victoria tells Madame (the grandmother) about her engagement to Edward and that she is pregnant with his child. The older woman gets very angry and threatens Victoria while accidentally bumping into the bees. You think that she dies from heart failure, but Victoria claims the bees killed her. The family laughs since the bees would never attack the matriarch. But then we get to the end of the movie. It appears that the bees are attacking Victoria and chase her into the attic where we find a giant hive. But when the family returns they find her unharmed and a changed woman. Instead of leaving she now wants to stay and raise her family at the winery. We also realize that the bees crawl on her like they did Madame, as if they have chosen a new queen. Is this because she is younger? Or perhaps because she was carrying the next generation of the family? Regardless it is a creepy way to end Killer Bees.

I like this one a lot. Many of the genre outings in the ‘70s had that creepy ending where our protagonist doesn’t escape but is actually co-opted into the evil that they faced. Somehow that is worse than if they had just lost. The final scene of Kate Jackson’s character sitting with the family sporting a creepy smile was perfect. I recommend checking out Killer Bees. The link at the top of this review will take you to the movie. Check it out!

© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Midnight Hour (1985)

The made for T.V. movie marathon continues. This time we dip into the mid ‘80s for a bit of Halloween fun. This ABC movie premiered the day after Halloween and tells the story of one terrible All Hallows Eve when the dead came back to haunt the town of Pitchford Cove. This is a good one so let us waste no time diving in.

The local teenagers are getting ready for Pitchford Cove’s annual costume party on Halloween night. They get the bright idea of breaking into the local museum and stealing the authentic costumes from the towns legendary witch and witch hunter. While poking around the find a chest and take it with them as well. After finding a scroll they decide to break the seal and read it in the cemetery! Really teenagers are so stupid… All the dead and demons from hell are unleashed and it is up to one of the teens to save the day. But first we get some mayhem.

The Midnight Hour is a well assembled movie that is paced quickly, has a lot of humor, some creepy monsters, and a satisfying ending. The story wastes no time establishing the characters and getting them right to the good stuff. We go from meeting them to holy crap there are bad things everywhere quickly and that is one of the things that makes the movie fun. The casting is perfect and features some familiar faces. Let me give you a prime example that will blow your mind (if you are a child of the ‘70s anyway…). Vampire dentist Dick Van Patten! How can that not bring a smile to your face? Oh, and the legendary Kevin McCarthy shows up playing the father of one of the kids. Towards the end of his career no one did the angry old guy better.

The movie is also surprisingly sweet. While the characters might not realize that the cheerleader, Sandy, who shows up is a ghost we certainly should. Her reactions at “modern” 1985 is amusing to watch. She also gets to have a romance, completely innocent in a ‘50s sappy way, that she never had in life. There are also some funny bits the ghouls as they show up at the big costume party. Everyone assumes that they are just people dressed up which means you have zombies making out on the couch and a little demon guy commiserating with a spurned teen boy. Maybe not laugh out loud but it was amusing. It is also a very sad twist when Sandy is forced to help save the town, knowing that it will send her back as well. There is a song and dance routine that is quintessentially an ‘80s thing that put a smile on my face as well.

Not bad makeup for a made for television movie!
The creature designs are good. The ghouls/zombies look stellar. We get a couple of them that seem to be featured. They get a lot of screen time and the makeup holds up really well. Even when viewed in close-ups. We get a lot of background zombies in the cemetery scene that are just tattered clothes and grey skin, but they aren’t really seen until the end. There are also a couple of werewolves that look okay. The vampires are mostly just teeth and not much else. We do get a nice vampire attack in a wine cellar that is staged in a unique and memorable fashion.

There is a lot to like about The Midnight Hour. I can’t think of a made for T.V. horror movie that I like any better than this one. I put it right up there with the Kolchak movies from the early ‘70s and Dark Night of the Scarecrow from 81. This movie used to be impossible to find (I still have my bootlegged VHS rip on DVD!) but while writing this review I found it on YouTube. See the link at the top of this page. Really you should check this one out!

© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer