Directed by John Hough
Written by Malcolm Marmorstein
Characters by Alexander Key
Starring Bette Davis, Christopher Lee, Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, Jack Soo, and Anthony
Tia and Tony are back in human civilization for an unsupervised visit, which turns out to be exactly as bad of an idea as it sounds. Having avoided the Trump-like clutches of Aristotle Bolt in Escape to Witch Mountain, you’d like to think that the space children had learned to keep their mental powers secret. Yet within moments of screen time after leaving Uncle Bene, Tony saves a falling man in as noticeable a way as he can manage and is kidnapped by Doctor Victor Gannon (Christopher Lee) and his patron Letha Wedge (Bette Davis). It’s up to Tia and the four kids of the Earthquake Gang to save Tony and Los Angeles.
Directed by John Hough
Written by Robert M. Young
Based on the book by Alexander Key
Starring Eddie Albert, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasence, Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, and Denver Pyle
If you asked me who my favorite child actor at Disney was when I was growing up, I’d say Jodie Foster. Her hidden-treasure movie Candleshoe lodged in my brain and never left. But if for some reason you’d excluded Foster from the choices, I’d definitely give you a give you two answers: Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann. They seemed to be everywhere, and most importantly they were Tia and Tony Malone: the Witch Mountain kids.
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Written by Stephen and Elinor Karpf
Starring Richard Crenna, Yvette Mimieux, Kim Richards, and Ike Eisenmann
In August of 1977, David Berkowitz was arrested for the “Son of Sam” murders — so-called due to a bizarre note found at one murder scene. He admitted to the killings, claiming that his crimes were ordered by a demon (a black lab named Harvey) kept by his neighbor (Sam). The outlandish confession caught the public’s attention by the throat, fueling debates about legal insanity and inspiring laws to prevent convicted criminals from selling their stories.
I would contend that it also planted the idea of demonic canines in the fertile imaginations of writers. The following year saw the release of Albert Band’s Dracula’s Dog, and only three years later Stephen King unleashed Cujo. Yet the most explicit connection to Harvey the demon pooch is Lucky, the cuddly threat of Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell. Filmed for television, Devil Dog first aired on Halloween in 1978. It’s a good feature to hand out candy during, being both fairly ridiculous and sporadically interesting.
The premise is that a satanic cult distributes demonic puppies to unsuspecting suburban families. Once established within middle-American families, the pups corrupt their homes. The details are vague, but somehow this scheme aims to break the Beast’s 1,000 year confinement. I took careful notes, but I’m afraid it defies all attempts at logic.
The cultists first acquire a proven breeder dog. They want her immediately, and she must be in season as it were. They’ve had an entire millennium to prepare for this, but some people will always leave everything to the last minute. The next step is to summon a barghest in a dark ritual. (A barghest is a mythical creature from Northern England that takes the form of a large black dog.) From such humble beginnings, more barghest pups are sired. Once weaned, the creatures will spread corruption. There’s a missing step that connects that to the final step in their plan, wherein the Beast roams the Earth. More on this confusion later.
The film follows the Barry family, who’ve taken a young demon puppy into their home after the suspiciously-timed death of the family dog. Specifically it follows Mike Barry as Lucky collects the souls of his family. Mike is played by veteran actor Richard Crenna, whose professionalism helps ground the film. The Barry children are portrayed by Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, the young stars of Escape to Witch Mountain and Return to Witch Mountain. Their comfort with each other and experience working with animals come through here, lending credence to some rather unusual moments. Indeed, the pair of them are often more threatening than the barghest.
The family barghest is first played by an absolutely adorable puppy. Despite the best efforts to splice shots of Lucky into horrific events, it only serves to undercut the tension and danger. Sure, someone’s burning to death, but look at that sweet face! The adult Lucky is a little less cute but still appears friendly. There’s hardly a shot of the dog where its tongue isn’t hanging out, and sometimes the embodiment of evil sits on its right haunch as though unwilling to fully commit to the corruption of the nuclear family. When the barghest’s true form is revealed to be Lucky in dark paint and a black feather boa, you have to give credit for simply trying anything.
Part of the difficulty of making the dog scary also lies with the jumbled mythology that’s presented. The use of a barghest is pretty cool and should be enough to carry a horror movie in itself, but the demon litter is supposed to lead to the release of the Beast. At times this seems to be the Beast from Revelations, but it’s also a non-specific 3-eyed demon. The children draw it in blood, but when shown this portrait an occultist’s only observation is that 3-eyed ones are clever. A photo of an entirely dissimilar demon drawn on a cliff sends Mike to Ecuador, where a shaman ties it all back to Revelations again. What nobody manages to do is explain what the barghest has to do with anything. A less apocalyptic plot could have helped focus the story and create some actual tension.
Another detriment to establishing any sense of danger is that nearly every event in the movie is completely self-contained. Aside from the presence of the barghest and the corruption of the family, much of the film is comprised of plot chunks so complete and modular that they could be removed without any damage to the structure. One notable example is the matter of the school election. In one scene, we learn that young Charlie is running for class president. In the next scene, a teacher comes to say that he’s concerned about how Charlie won (by framing his opponent for stealing). Then Lucky kills the teacher. Most of the supporting roles follow this pattern, with the characters being introduced and discarded within minutes.
While this doesn’t add up to a good movie, it is an enjoyable one. The episodic construction means that something new and different happens every ten minutes, which helps keep it fresh. It also allows whole sections to be missed with little cost to comprehension. Watching the actors come and go is entertaining, and it’s just plain fun to see the dog be utterly harmless.
I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the scene that directly connects the film to David Berkowitz’s confession. While Mike is considering whether he can actually believe that the family dog has been turning everyone into Satan’s tools, he catches an item on the news that seems connected. A reporter is interviewing a woman whose husband has just been arrested for murder. According to her, her husband had claimed that the dog next door had made him do it. Airing just over a year after Berkowitz’s arrest, this is no coincidence. Ultimately, that may be the most compelling reason to watch this — to see the slap-dash TV cash-in of the “Son of Sam” confession.
Directed by Elliot Silverstein
Written by Dennis Shryack, Michael Butler, and Lane Slate
Starring James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, and Kim Richards
Some movies carry a deep message. They seek to make us wiser, or at least to think for at least a little bit. They may be cringingly obvious, like the delightfully silly rock-and-roll biblical allegory The Apple; or they may be immersive and well-crafted, as in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Then there are movies that never reach beyond their high-concept premise.
The Car is a movie of the latter ilk, and the only thing it asks of its audience is to accept that a car just really likes killing people. Sure, there are characters. After all, the car needs victims. There’s even a main character: Wade Parent, played by James Brolin. Parent is a deputy sheriff who has to protect his community, his children, his girlfriend, and his officers from the car. Without revealing which people he fails, I’ll just observe that this was made at a time when the most common special effect was a police car getting wrecked.
Ultimately, while the film centers on Sheriff Parent’s efforts, it’s clear that the car is the star. It’s not just randomly running people over, although it is often opportunistic. It kills the sheriff early on for trying to wreck its fun, and a person who taunts it from a position of safety is explicitly targeted for vengeance later. It’s playful too, like a house cat tormenting mice. We don’t know where it came from, and we can only guess that it’s somehow satanic (it can’t enter holy ground), and these mysteries grab our attention. Like the graboids in Tremors, the lack of explanation only heightens the immediacy of the threat.
I confess that my first reaction on seeing this one was that someone had filed the numbers off of Stephen King’s Christine. Demonic car, indestructible, taste for blood — there’s a certain conceptual similarity, you’ll admit. In fact, this came out about five years before King’s book and the subsequent John Carpenter film adaptation. Moreover the stories come from different places. King’s story was about the relationship between people and their cars. Yes, the car was possessed and evil, but it gained power through the love and attention of its owner. The car in this movie does not need anybody. It runs on nothing but its own desires to kill.
Maybe that’s the meaning of The Car. There are threats we cannot understand, enemies with whom we cannot reason, and when that happens, you’ll need to have one hell of a mustache.