''War of the Worlds,'' ''Saboteur,'' and more have sinister plots and hysteria galore

By David Everitt
Updated September 20, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Black Sunday

  • Movie

Hollywood has always been good at manufacturing more problems for us than we already have. Whether it’s the imagined techno-threat of Executive Decision (a video hit since its release in early August) or the even more imaginary menace of Independence Day, some of these crises have yielded edge-of-the-seat entertainment, while others have been just plain over the edge.

The Mask of Fu Manchu Paranoia: The yellow peril. Spawned by: Pulp fiction hysteria. Apocalypse how? Dr. Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) attempts to become the messianic leader of Asian hordes so that he can conquer the world. Chilling suspense or fearmongering foolishness? Foolishness to the extreme, but also entertaining gothic delirium. B

Saboteur Paranoia: Axis sabotage. Spawned by: Real World War II Axis menace. Apocalypse how? A conspiracy of traitorous Americans plan to cripple the country’s defenses; their fall guy is an innocent factory worker (Robert Cummings). Chilling suspense or fearmongering foolishness? Suspense; exciting early Hollywood Hitchcock, including one of his most memorable finales. A-

The War of the Worlds Paranoia: Martian invasion. Spawned by: UFO sightings — and H.G. Wells’ imagination. Apocalypse how? An onslaught of war machines lays waste to the planet, with the help of then-state-of-the-art F/X. Chilling suspense or fearmongering foolishness? Suspense; dynamic fantasy holocaust, the Independence Day of its day. A-

Seven Days in May Paranoia: Right-wing military cabal. Spawned by: The growth of the military- industrial complex and Cold War jitters. Apocalypse how? A small group of high-ranking officers, led by a charismatic general (Burt Lancaster), plan a coup to reverse a nuclear disarmament treaty. Chilling suspense or fearmongering foolishness? Suspense; low-key, realistic treatment, with Island of Dr. Moreau director John Frankenheimer at his expressionistic best. A-

Black Sunday Paranoia: Palestinian terrorism, plus the spectre of deranged Vietnam vets. Spawned by: Palestinian terrorism, plus the irresistible opportunity to cast Bruce Dern as a deranged Vietnam vet. Apocalypse how? The Black September movement enlists Dern to help detonate a bomb-carrying blimp at the Super Bowl. Chilling suspense or fearmongering foolishness? Suspense; Frankenheimer once again orchestrates a methodical nightmare. B

Episode Recaps

Black Sunday

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  • John Frankenheimer