The Astral Factor (1976)
THE ASTRAL FACTOR
WRITERS: Screenplay by Arthur C. Pearce
Story by Arthur C. Pearce & Earle Lyon
DIRECTOR: John Florea
STARRING: Robert Foxworth as Lt. Charles Barrett
Stefanie Powers as Candy Barrett
Sue Lyon as Darlene DeLong
Mark Slade as Detective Holt
Alex Dreier as Dr. Ulmer
Frank Ashmore as Roger Sands
QUICK CUT: A convicted criminal discovers the ability to become invisible through meditation, using it to escape prison and continue his killing spree.
Roger Sands - The antagonist, a man convicted of strangling a dozen women, who somehow discovers his mind has the power to turn himself invisible. He had a hard childhood, but please. Don't feel sorry for him.
Lt. Charles Barrett - The lead detective trying to hunt down and capture Sands. He's a family man, dedicated to his job, and does good policework. He also doesn't believe in the supernatural, and it takes him awhile to go there.
THE GUTS: Delving back into the little known corners of 1976, comes the paranormal flick, Astral Factor. We open up on a facility for the mentally insane, where one of the inmates gets to watch one of his fellow nutty buddies start to sparkle like the Enterprise is calling him home.
The sparkly one notices he's being watched, and tries to make sure his fellow inmate has no plans to reveal his secret career as a nightlight. Instead, he gets threatened by Miller, and to shut him up, Sands' eyes sparkle, breaking the Miller's glasses, tossing him across his cell, dropping books on him, and generally acting like Trumpy from Pod People.
His telekinetic attack culminates when he tosses the matress onto Miller, holding him down until he agrees to stay quiet. In Astral Factor, bed sleeps on you!!
With all that sorted out, Martin beams back on board the V mothership, just as a guard comes around the corner. He sees Miller's cell all messed up, and then notices the missing inmate. He opens up the cell, and the Invisible Sands books it out of the jail.
Sands ends up at his mother's grave, where he has a grainy flashback to when she was alive, and denying she had a son. She knew he was real, but was an important person, and his existence would jeopardise her standing. THAT kinda denial. She wasn't delusional and forgot the pregnancy.
A watchman shows up to question Sands on his being there at night, and goes to call the cops, but not before the wannabe Phoenix mentally shoves him into a conveniently open grave. He then uses his powers to bury the poor guy alive. Hey, at the very least, he can use his newfound powers as a gravedigger.
Sands uses the time eaten up by the opening credits to clean himself up, and stalk a woman to a parking garage. Once there, he sparkles like he's in Twilight again, and follows her invisibly to her apartment, where he watches her take a bath.
Oh, and strangle her. After calling her mother. Yeah, he's got a few Oedipal issues to work through.
Since murders tend to be bad, Lt. Barrett gets called in on his day off to deal with things. Much to his wife's displeasure. I guess this is why she left him and married that Hart guy on that detective show...
Naturally, everyone shows up, and the room was all locked up tight from the inside. So, they've given us a classic locked room mystery, but already handed us the answer, with Sands escaping once the cops arrive. Oh well, should be fun watching the cops try and figure this out, right?
After questioning the deceased's love interest, Barrett does some good ol' policework, and discovers Sands prints at the crime scene. We get some backstory on how Sands likes to kill celebrities and models, and they learn he disappeared, quite literally! from his cell.
Barrett runs around looking for previous survivors of Sands' attacks, and finds one safe and sound by a pool living the life of a trophy wife, and another is living as a dancer. But she's actually in danger, as I can tell by the dramatic closeup of an empty chair, that must clearly contain the Invisible Sands.
They meet up with the doctor from the facility Sands broke out of, and discover his interest in paranormal activities. They all seem pretty readily willing to accept the existence of invisible thought rays, if you ask me.
Sands heads home to hide out, and has another flashback to mommy dearest. They have the most telling line about how she hid him away from the world, so no one would know how old she really was, has made Robert feel like he's been invisible his whole life.
Barrett and his partner, Holt, arrive at the same place, since they actually seem to be decent cops, and Sands goes all cloaking field on them. He tries to drop a giant bust on them and misses, and then starts huffing anything he can grab that isn't nailed down at the cops.
Naturally, they don't find anyone, since they can't see anyone, and call in a search team. They don't do any better. And you just know that Sands is right behind Barrett making funny faces at his failure. They do find a list of potential victims though, so it wasn't a total loss.
Meanwhile, one of those victims is painting away in a field, when her dog senses something awry. As you can probably guess, he chases after the Invisible Sands, the woman chases her dog, and both end up buying it at his hands.
Barrett heads home after a long day of great policework, but little results. His wife surprises him for his birthday, and the whole scene is kinda awkward, but it's maybe supposed to be? I can't quite tell if it's the acting, the writing, or just genuinely supposed to be one of those awkward relationshippy moments people have.
Sands is busy trying to break into a stage area to capture his tiny dancer, when a cop interrupts him. He tries to act all innocent, but the cop sees right through him. Which is a shame, because Sands uses his brain powers to run the guy over Christine style with his own patrol car.
After Holt rouses Barrett from a restful sleep to get back on the case, he heads off to watch over the dancer, and Barrett heads to the ESP research facility, where he actually sees a guy moving a ball with the power of his mind.
Which again has me questioning that people seem rather unimpressed about such things. If someone in the real world did that, it would up end all of science for the last hundred years!!
So, they have the rest of the kill list to deal with, and the movie jumps to one of them getting down with some diving, and likely about to encounters some invisible hands. But before we can deal with her, we jump back over to the trophy wife from earlier, whom Barrett is checking in on and trying to take her into protective custody.
With her dealt with, it's back to the dancer, with a very weird dance routine indeed. Needless to say, it's very 70s. But not in a disco way, even if there is a guy that looks like he escaped custody of the Village People.
Fortunately, it culminates in the woman they are trying to protect, dying right in front of everyone, under full view. Doing the whole locked room, sneaking past people in plain sight thing is a great gag, but THAT? That totally sells me on an invisible killer. Lots of witnesses, and a death right there? Good stuff.
Back on the boat with Bambi, her boyfriend is badly barking about the badges on his boat. He's not happy about the attention, for no particular reason than the inconvenience. But it's not long before Sands shows up and takes care of the cops for him. With them out of the way, he wastes no time in strangling the girl. And he's visible this time to do it!
After only knocking Bambi's boyfriend unconscious, Sands steals a boat near Mario's, and then Barrett gives chase by leaving everyone else behind as he follows in the police boat. They reach the shore, and Sands pulls his disappearing act. Why he ditched the wetsuit, I have no idea, he's vanished plenty of clothes before. I guess he just wanted to run free like the monkeys.
With Christine being the last living name on the list, everyone heads back to her place for the final confrontation. The place has been well-fortified, but that won't do much good when the Invisible Sands can just walk through any open gateway.
They bring in a female cop to keep an eye on Chris, or she may just be a kissagram girl, what with her outfit's resemblence to Amy Pond's, but I digress...
We spend a good, long time with all the cops just sitting around and staring off as night falls over the estate. Fortunately the wait isn't too long before Sands shows up and starts making mischief.
As bodies are dropping, they head inside to better control the situation, and Sands soon follows. At long last, Barrett sees things moving of their own accord, and pieces together he's dealing with an invisible foe. Well. That only took 90 minutes.
Christine comes out and calls to the unseeable Roger, and he speaks back, giving Barrett a target to aim at. And Barrett's a good shot, to hit something he can only hear.
Roger screams out as he falls from the shots, and grabs the stairway's railing, which has been handily electrified for just such an occasion, leaving us with crispy-fried Invisible Sands.
Once he's about to die, he goes all staticy again, until he comes in with better reception. He gives one last cry out to his mother, and uh...he dies? Implodes? I'm not sure what. He blinks out again, and his staticy form falls through a starfield? Did he just enter another dimension? The Twilight Zone? Did the Phoenix just show him the entire universe??
The movie just kinda shrugs at this point and doesn't even have an answer for it. Barrett sighs heavily and walks right out of the room without a word. He heads home to his wife, and it doesn't even try to make sense of things. He just grabs a beer, drinks it, and stares blankly at the wall for a minute until his wife comes over and they kiss.
Which may be the single best way a movie like this can end. Just a serious dose of even the lead himself just going, "What the fuck was that??"
Video: It's pretty bad, like everything in the public domain 50 packs this was in. The video quality varies wildly, and is clearly degrading.
Audio: A mono track, and pretty standard. It sounds pretty crap, but for the most part, things are audible.
Sound Bite: "Did you catch your maniac yet?" No, that was a different movie.
1 - Night watchman at the graveyard gets buried alive six minutes in.
2 - A poor woman strangled to death in her bath.
3 - A woman (and her dog) are the strangler's next victims.
4 - A poor cop gets run down with his car.
5 - The dancer that Sands is stalking dies on stage.
6 - A cop gets strangled and drowned.
7 - Another cop gets a harpoon gun fired to his back.
8 - Sands takes out Bambi on the boat.
9 - One of the cops, seemingly dead by gunshots.
10 - Cop #2 gets it in the gut with a pitchfork.
11 - Sands gets shot and killed by Barrett. I think.
Best Corpse: The dancer's death is the best, because it's done in front of everyone, and the theatricality of the production she's in add to the bizarreness of the moment.
Blood Type - D: There's not much blood here, but they make up for it in volume of bodies.
Sex Appeal: Various women in various states of undress, parading around before they die.
Movie Review: Well, let's face it. This is a cheesy movie. The premise is silly, it's not greatl told, but the movie itself is competent enough. It's shot well, as far as I can tell with this transfer. The plot at least makes sense, which is more than I can say for a lot of films on this site. The acting isn't terrible from the stars. But it's low budget, it's nothing special, but it's thoroughly okay. Two out of five staticy criminals.
Entertainment Value: Almost worth watching just for the dancer's routine and the peek into 70s culture. Much like Embryo, in that regard. It's actually a fun movie, with some charm. Especially from Barrett actually being a decent cop, and his constant annoyance with Holt. How Sands gets out of situations is fun. But there's not a lot of cheese here to hang your hat on, but it's harmless enough, and entertaining enough. Three out of five red balls.