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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Miracle Mile (1988)

I was told repeatedly over a number of years that if I loved nuclear apocalypse movies then this was one I needed to see. I finally did see it, and my only regret is not being able to unsee it. At first I thought "hey I'm glad I watched this just to find out its deal" but a few days later it became "this movie blows and I am going to tell the internet why I think so in selfish and base terms". For those of you out there that actually like this film, that's okay by me- you can keep it.

Plot synopsis: Harry (Anthony Edwards of Top Gun fame) meets Julie (Mare Winningham) at the La Brea tar pits and immediately falls in love with her. They spend a sappy romantic almost John Hughesian day together and set up a date for later that night. The power goes out in Harry's apartment so he misses the date (via a HUGE PLOT GAP I will discuss momentarily) and showing up to the coffee shop he leaves a message on her answering machine explaining what happened. Shortly after he hangs up the pay phone begins ringing and he finds the caller (who has misdialed at the worst possible moment) is attempting to warn his dad about the nuclear holocaust that will begin in roughly 50 odd minutes. All hell and insipid mushy love bullshit that would never ever actually occur begin to take place.

Like I mentioned, I have heard from various friends over the years that this was a cult film I needed to see. Too bad all of them were (in my opinion anyway) completely wrong. This movie could have been really honestly good in the most disarming of ways, but really got done over by what seems to me to be the screenwriter/director's (both the same person for this film) unwillingness to really go for it and leap off the edge. Starting out the film paces like a mushy love story which made me very weary indeed, but then the whole pay phone thing throws the film on its head and I was really hoping for it to continue on a maddeningly fast trip downwards into the hell that we all imagine would ensue from the knowledge of catastrophic nuclear armageddon, but...


Sure we do get that for a little while, with lots of jarringly illogical actions by the main characters peppered in to make things unentertaining as possible, but the director goes back to the ridiculous and overused idea of "love conquers all". No it does not, sorry bub. In fact, the way this film was handled made it come out to be nothing more that an apocalyptic date movie. It's like dudes who want to act like they are in to bleak shit want to take their girlfriend who isn't to something they can both enjoy so they pick this.


A better title for this film, once all of its romantic trappings are considered, would have been "Love Is Nice". It's almost as if the initial idea for this story was a very bottom of the barrel boy meets girl affair but considering how incredibly worn out that story is it was decided to take the unfinished middle and lackluster end of the nuclear war movie also being scribbled on cocktail napkins at the same time and combine them into one movie that was worse than if both were watched separately.

I had better give you some nitty gritty to back up these accusations, as painful as they are to recount. First things first- the HUGE PLOT GAP I brought up a bit ago: Yes the power in Harry's apartment fails so his alarm clock doesn't work. How is this a problem you ask? HE WASN'T USING A PLUG IN CLOCK. Willing suspension of disbelief is often a very important part of stories that use extreme plot elements like nuclear war, but if you think I'm so fucking stupid that I won't notice the fact that the prop master couldn't spend the extra $4.99 to get a plug in style alarm clock to carry your story to fruition (because the alarm not going off in the first place is what propels this story to its unfortunate conclusion) then you are dumber than you think I think you are. It was a very potent warning sign that this film would not turn out as I had initially hoped.

What else? Well there's a lot but I shut most of it out of my memory in the wild and likely unattainable hope that some day I will forget about this train wreck, so I will narrow it down to a couple of things for the ease of explanation. Harry really fucks up his nuclear escape plan six ways from sunday. How?

(In no particular order, in case you are curious. There are lots more ways than this sure, but these two stick out in my mind most of all)

1) By continuously separating from Julie and saying "Wait here I'll be right back".

THAT SHIT NEVER WORKS IN REAL LIFE, EVEN AT A GROCERY STORE WHEN THERE IS NO NUKE THREAT. Seriously, you tell someone you are going off to grab a tin of pinto beans while you are shopping at Fred Meyer and you tell them to wait for you by the ice cream you are currently standing in front of and they wander off almost immediately making what should have taken thirty seconds go into a fifteen minute long search to find them so you can get back to proper shopping. Why are you doing this to us over and over Harry? Oh yeah I know why- because you're an ignoramus, that's why. That or more likely the screenwriter wasn't nearly creative enough to find a different way to build tension or flesh out what was likely (sans craptastic fluff like this) a 70 minute movie with hum drum "I have to go find this person because I am an idiot and didn't take them with me on my pointless errand" type garbage. Never ever separate in moments of crisis- EVER.

2) By telling everybody about it creating a general atmosphere of insanity and desperation because they want to bring someone with them too.

Everyone he beseeches for help winds up discovering what is about to happen (or at least a version of it because Harry is a lying sack of shit who doesn't even tell the girl he is madly in love with that he has known for like 12 hours the actual truth) and immediately says "I need to get this or that such person". The problem with this is he has less than 50 minutes to get the hell out of dodge and LA is fucking HUGE. How on earth could any of this even work? Think about it for a second.

Try as I might to find the original first draft of the script in hopes that it provided a better bleaker story, I was disappointed. Considering the fact that this film was being touted around Hollywood for a good ten years before it was made and was referred to as one of the best unmade screenplays in 1983 by American Film magazine you would think it would have been posted somewhere by someone. Nope. I can only assume the story sucked this bad the entire time and that was why no studio would pick the thing up. That and the fact that the screenwriter put a clause in there that he would get to direct it. Considering that Steve De Jarnatt (there, I finally gave you his name) had never directed anything before it is unsurprising everybody turned their noses up. Maybe I should have mentioned that bit earlier, but I didn't want to give you any ray of hope for the proceedings here.

I have to say it- the choice of filming locations made me bored as hell. Plenty of films have used bits and pieces of this iconic section of Wilshire Boulevard but it just added to the boredom for me. Granted some of the locations used appeared in movies that came later (which unlike this movie, are actually entertaining in some regard), but I just don't care about would be iconic southern California architecture. Maybe I just don't like affluent rich people areas of cities- yeah, maybe that is the problem because I for one am usually broke. Johnie's Coffee Shop for instance hasn't been open for anything but filming business since 2000. I won't lie I wouldn't half mind drinking a malted in there but it will never happen. There's a page entry for it where three people give some reports on what's what.

Perhaps the best one reads as follows:

"Pretty sure this place is only used for filming. I live right by it and have only seen homeless  guys peeing on it. Never seen it open, although they do run the lights on the sign at night, my guess is it's an effort to drum up more film business."

The ending is just so sappy and ridiculous I am surprised I didn't taste bile surging up my throat in protest. It was composed of all this mumbo jumbo of our two would be lovers slowly sinking into the mire of the La Brea tar pits and going on about how they will either be preserved by tar to be found by a future race or something (DUMB) or turned into diamonds if they get a direct hit from a nuke so their atoms will be smashed together forever (DUMBER). Even a room full of monkeys hammering away at typewriters couldn't come up with this...

There you have it. I think now is an appropriate moment to give you a very brief rundown of what I would do in the event of an impending nuclear war that I by extreme serendipity of the worst possible kind. As I am disabled by Multiple Sclerosis in real life and to go any appreciable distance over say a block on completely level ground I will give you two separate scenarios based on that and if I were able bodied.

Here goes:

A) Make-believe able bodied me
-Probably panic a bunch.
-not try to lie to everybody I force into helping me
-not tell anyone to "wait here I'll be right back"
-Probably be selfish and just leave everyone I know and love behind as survival instinct (no matter how displaced) kicks into full gear
-or sit there and wait to be atomized

B) Real life disabled me
-Probably panic a bunch
-Hope I might find some way of escaping knowing I will likely die a horrible slow death from nuclear fallout
-go hang out with my girlfriend if I had one at that particular moment
-or sit there and wait to be atomized

Face it- nuclear war would be pretty messed up and the rawest of raws. If you don't believe me watch the really excellent BBC TV film Threads made in 1984 for what is likely a very realistic portrayal of what a nuclear strike on Britain would play out like. Expect a review of that in the future when I manage to track down a copy of this rather scarce and bleak gem of television history.

That's about all I have to say about this movie. I don't consider this to be underrated as some online reviews state, and calling it a cult film I feel gives it credit it richly does not deserve. How this has an 86% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes I will never ever know come to think of it. Watch it if you are curious, but don't expect anything worthwhile out of this farce. That's all there really is left to say about it. You be the judge, but you were warned ahead of time.

***********************************************************************************************************POST INITIAL POST UPDATE (Timed at or around 2:35pm Pacific time): I forgot to mention that this movies has a surprise appearance by Denise Crosby, most famously known as Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Terrific, but not enough to make this movie good.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Invaders From Mars (1986)

When I finally got to see this movie (I seem to remember watching it as a kid, but only actually SAW it when I saw it in 35mm a while back) I thought for sure this was a movie every self respecting sci-fi/horror fan loves to bits. Unfortunately my smug sense of who likes what couldn't be further from accurate on this one. As such, I am here to defend its honor for anyone who cares to read this.


FUN! The plot to this movie is pretty cut and dry but I suppose I will give indulge myself. Young David Gardner has a very active imagination. When he sees a giant UFO land over the hill from his house one night, his parents wave it off as a simple nightmare. As the days go by his parents- followed by all the adults (and at least one kid too) that he sees- begin acting very strangely and all seem out to get him because he knows what's up with the invasion. Enlisting the help of the school nurse (the only adult he can trust, played by the legendary Karen Black), David sets out to right what has gone horribly wrong.

That plot synopsis I just wrote kinda sucks, but I rewrote it three times already and am just going to let it be and hope that you trust me here because the movie is actually pretty fun to watch. How many movies can you name where a school teacher gets taken over by evil aliens and gets eaten by their creepy looking soldiers in one tremendous gulp? Anyways, it seems that a decent majority of the moviegoing public really didn't seem to care very much about this film when it was released. The film barely made half of its budget back, and critical response was and generally still is rather lukewarm towards it while the public opinion (based upon my own research) seems to be very mixed and in some cases inaccurate (more on this in a hot minute).

I think one of the bigger reasons this film failed in the box office was that our good old bottom of the barrel friend Cannon produced it (for you readers who have been here since the beginning of this blog you might remember my reviews of two other Cannon films- The Hitcher and Allan Quatermaine and the Lost City of Gold) and for any of you out there savvy to the stuff this company churned out you will know it was done on the cheap end of the scale nine times out of ten.

Lucky for us, Tobe Hooper was at the helm of this picture and he has absolutely no fear of budgetary constraints and pulls off a pretty impressive picture. He is a film maker that in my opinion thrives on such constraints. The original 1953 version of this film had the budget of a pint of potato salad at Fred Meyer (which adds to its schlocky entertainment value to the maximum) so to give this the budget of a major blockbuster would have made it look completely ridiculous. The estimated cost of production is in the 12 million dollar mark (sadly, it only managed to make about 4 million in theaters, but Cannon nearly always recouped its losses in home video rentals and sales anyway). With the crazy looking aliens, sometimes expansive sets, and for a bit some gregarious gunfire, one would think the budget would have been more in the 15-20 million area. Such is the glory of Mr. Hooper. I definitely don't like a lot of his films, but I can say this- they are all pretty well made.

Okay I got a bit sidetracked there but remember like a minute ago when I was discussing response to the film? When one looks it up you find a pitiful response in favor of it. I don't know what people are expecting when they see this besides i don't know, SOMETHING FUN, but they apparently did not find the pseudo intellectual HJ they were hoping for. One would be critic claimed the ending is a "middle finger to the audience". Whoever this fella is obviously has no idea that the original film ends exactly the same way. Middle finger indeed. I feel this is a film that somehow managed to slip through the cracks for 90% of the Earth's population.

I know this is a cult movie, but I wish it were one with a far wider audience than it has as I don't feel like it gets the respect it deserves. The casting is spot on, even Louise Fletcher (if you don't know who she is, you better google it immediately) is in the mix. I should also mention a Devo related cast member for all you you spoudboys and spuddesses out there- Laraine Newman. For those not in the know, she played Donut Rooter (daughter of Rod Rooter of Big Entertainment) in a few inbetweeners on one of their video collections. Anyways Devo time over. Suffice to say the cast is awesome.

I think people really have a problem with this movie because of the childish tone of the story. In case nobody noticed, the events are all viewed through the filter of a little boy, of course it plays out halfway like a cartoon. When you are about four feet tall the world is a very different place, think back on that for a second. You can't drive a car, and adults are already weird to begin with. Everybody needs to drop the logic and get with the program here, this movie is fun period.

The moral here?

Don't take things so damn seriously all the time and enjoy life once in a while.

That includes this movie.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Penitentiary II (1982)

My brother picked this up from a VHS swap meet here in town last week. Obviously we were drawn in by the insanely vivid box art but the pictures/description on the back only made things worse. By worse I mean this movie could be one of two things: really unbelievably awful or honestly really good in a not very scummy or entirely exploitative way. We got column B much to our deep satisfaction. While I haven't seen any other films in the oeuvre of director Jamaa Fanaka, this one definitely makes me want to take a closer look.


Yes this movie is as good as the trailer would lead you to believe. Maybe you won't agree and think this movie is shit anyway, but that's fine by me because I know a diamond in the rough when I see one as far as my own personal tastes are concerned.  Giving a proper plot synopsis as it relates the the first Penitentiary movie made in 1979 is impossible, as I have yet to see it and frankly didn't know it existed until I saw this copy of the sequel. But by information from friends who have seen all three of these films (yes, it's a trilogy!), the second one is the best of them. IMDB user/critic ratings show the opposite is the case but I obviously don't agree with their assessment insofar as the quality of the second film is concerned. I want to see the first one to be sure things are in line. Expect me to get back to you about that at some point maybe.

Plot synopsis: Martel "Too Sweet" Gordone (Leon Isaac Kennedy) has just been released from prison on parole and is struggling to set his life in order. He shacks up with his sister Ellen and her husband Charles (Glynn Turman of Cooley High fame!) and gets employment at a boxing gym. Too Sweet refuses the owners attempts at getting him to box like he did in prison, as he wants to get on the straight and narrow and put the past to rest. Unfortunately for Too Sweet, his former cell mate and prison rival Half Dead (Ernie Hudson, just two years before being in Ghostbusters!) is out for revenge. After Half Dead rapes and murders his girlfriend, and tries to kill our hero, Too Sweet vows to return to boxing in her memory. With the help of his trainer Mr. T (obviously played by Mr. T, right after his appearance in Rocky III) he gets into fighting shape. But Half Dead never dropped his revenge scheme...

Considering the significant blanks I had to leave (an audience update is provided by and obviously Star Wars influence angled opening crawl even!) I think that gives you enough to figure out how this movie works. It's really strange to see a film made in the early 1980's that still utilizes tried and true Blaxploitation style dialogue. It made me think the film was made several years earlier until I looked it up, leaving me doubly surprised as you can very well imagine.

This movie really doesn't fuck around at any point. I did not find a single minute where I was checking my watch to see how long it had been on, because it has a capable cast and a pretty decent script. Sure the cinematography is really pedestrian, but when the cast is pulling their weight like this all things fall by the wayside. It's a pleasure to see a film like this that doesn't drag anywhere like so many do. The director (who had several films under his belt at this point) had a pretty respectable budget to work with, and hired some really terrific actors. On top of that, there's a few surprising cameos too- including Rudy Ray Moore and a very early film role for Tony Cox (billed here as Joe Anthony Cox). As a HUGE Tony Cox fan, I was stoked beyond belief to see him appear out of nowhere.

The soundtrack for this movie is really truly amazing. What's perhaps more amazing is the fact that it was never commercially released. A cursory internet search reveals absolutely nothing sans other people looking for it. While I have not researched this thoroughly, at least a couple of the songs in the film by the later era disco/funk group Klique (who also briefly appear in the film at a night club) are likely available on one or more of their albums or singles of the era. The real killer track that nobody can track down so hard that even the title eludes us is linked below. I think any self respecting DJ would kill for this:

If anybody out there finds a lead on info for that track you must let me know IMMEDIATELY. I'm pretty fucking serious about this. I'm fairly certain the main riff would be pure hip hop sample gold. For all of you that never seem to watch the youtube clips I ever so carefully select for my reviews, you just missed an unknown classic.

One thing I really have to comment on is the unintentional homoerotic undertones in this movie. I don't really think I have to explain further than it's a boxing movie featuring shirtless sweaty dudes with lots of muscles. If you need a plainer picture than that, maybe it's high time you took a few steps outside the third grade. Repeatedly showing how Too Sweet is desired by the ladies makes things seem forced but in a really hilarious and understated way. I know this was not the director's intention but I can't help but bring that sort of thing up.

If Jamaa Fanaka were still alive (he unfortunately passed away on April 1st of this year) I would definitely shake his hand to no end. I think that about does it, because I'm leaving the rest of the movie as a surprise for the faithful. It is readily available on DVD and at least three (though probably several more than that) VHS editions.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bad Dreams (1988)

This review is late as I decided to scrap the review I was going to post due to circumstances beyond anyone's control. Actor Richard Lynch died last Tuesday at the age of 76, and I felt it only proper to do a review dedicated to his memory. In fact I received this film in the mail just last wednesday which happens to be the day his death was officially confirmed to the public. It was a creepy experience to open this package and find this tape in with another one I had bought (it was a surprise bonus thrown in unbeknownst to me) and turned out to also be a pretty creepy movie too. Win/win situation.


This trailer gives away two of the grosser bits of gore in this movie. The hand impalement was a bit too much for me and I had to purposefully blur my vision and squirm around and moan a bit while it happened to make it through that few seconds of film. I hate shit to do with knives- they're sharp, pointy, and dangerous. But before I get side tracked even further I should probably give ou a rundown on what this movie is about. Be warned, there are maybe going to be some spoilers later on, but I will mark the section containing them beforehand so if you haven't seen this yet, it won't be ruined for you.

Plot synopsis: In the mid 1970's Cynthia (played by Jennifer Rubin, known for her roles in Nightmare On Elm Street 3, Screamers, etc.) narrowly escapes a group immolation (headed by cult leader Harris, played by Richard Lynch) and winds up in a coma for thirteen years. Awakening to the extreme bummer that is the late 1980's, she finds herself in a mental ward undergoing treatment for hallucinations she keeps having of the long dead Harris stalking her everywhere. A series of grisly deaths of other patients at the hospital uncovers something far more sinister than what she might have suspected.

This film seems to be ignored by most people, or simply derided. Much of this is due to some similarities (which are mostly on the surface if you really stop and think about it) with Nightmare On Elm Street 3. I think this is mainly due to the casting of Jennifer Rubin and the reliance of a mental health clinic for the main setting. That is pretty much where the similarities stop. I will get to that a little bit later though because it involves plot spoiling, so instead I will talk about the gore effects. Trade off? Anywhat, this movie has some simple yet extremely cringeworthy bits of gore in it. One of which you may have seen in the trailer if you are one of the people who reads my reviews as intended rather than skipping about willy nilly. 

As I said earlier a lot of it is to do with knives which I really hate when it is this realistic looking. The only thing that is really a shame is the effects in horror films of this era seldom match the film that accompanies them (this one I feel is an outstanding exception) leaving us with nothing more than lackluster films with good gory bits in between. This came after horror had mostly abandoned showing topless women running everywhere (breasts are great and all, but I want to watch a horror film not a nudie cutie reel), and there really wasn't much of a middle ground at this point of the 80's. The 1980's as most of you know is really the last gasp of consistently good horror movies. Major studios were all in on the act and as they usually do they start out doing some really ace stuff and then completely flood the market with trash so bad that true gems like this film get lost in the flotsam and jetsam of lame imitations. I know I got a little off track there but this is all stream of consciousness so go along with me on this. Back on point: The blood in this movie looks really real and it actually almost made me curl up into a ball because I was really grossed out.

This film begins with a really unexpected but awesome musical choice but ends with a VERY 1988 (read: shitty) musical choice. It was really disarming to hear The Electric Prunes play right at the beginning, and I really applaud the film makers for doing that. Unfortunately Sweet Child Of Mine by Guns N Roses was chosen for the end credits play out which dates this film more than the now hilarious fashion choices laden throughout. To give pause before I go on my short spoiler rant, here's that Electric Prunes track from the movie I like so much.



Don't you go and say I didn't give you fair warning now. I was mentioning how this film is often compared to Nightmare On Elm Street 3. I think the comparisons are all on the surface (I had already stated earlier), because the actual plot of the movie revolves around not a bullshit serial killer who attacks you in your slumber after making a would be witty pun but is about drug induced hallucination. Harris isn't actually killing anyone, he only appears in Cynthia's mind. It's the head of the clinic that is doing everything, not some would be emo dude in a striped sweater. Another difference would be that this movie unlike NOES 3 is actually pretty good.

A doctor doing fucked up drug shit to less fortunates is the real story here, and to me it resonates further- into the medical community as a whole. How many doctors would rather treat a symptom than an actual cause by throwing pharmaceuticals at the issue than actually dealing with said cause of trouble? As someone who has had this happen repeatedly I can tell you that it happens quite a lot. While health care commentary is very likely not what the film makers had in mind, the magic of film brings these thoughts up to anyone who has their mind open to them.


Oh wait, the review is over too... whoops. I think you should go watch this movie if you haven't already. Just be prepared for the gross bit with a hand getting stabbed over and over with a syringe. Those things hurt period, and I didn't really need to see that.



Monday, June 11, 2012

California Axe Massacre AKA Axe (1977)

***********************************************************************************************************ANNOUNCEMENT: Apologies for having been away for so long, but after over a year straight of writing a review each week I was rapidly approaching burnout and had to take a break. We're back, and we're bad. ***********************************************************************************************************

I watch a lot of movies if you haven't guessed already. Seldom have I actually sat all the way through one that turned out to be such a raucous test of my undeniable patience. Usually I will just stop watching (because I could be spending my time watching good movies instead) or I get shitfaced drunk in order to make things passable, but this one was a gift from a friend and I was therefore obliged to sit all the way through it just so I could see what's what. I regret that decision.

Since trailers are often inconclusive I will do my best to tell you what this was about. The plot is pretty much a cookie-cutter run of the mill deal full not of "total terror" but total predictability. Several murdering psychos are rampaging about the land killing innocent folks they come across at will. They come across a nice country and home and get more than they bargained for after they rape Lisa who begins to ruthlessly kill each of these scumbags in turn.

The title of this film is really pretty bothersome to me. It actually has several of them- the two listed above and others such as the very weak "The Virgin Slaughter" to the much more whimsical (and frankly better in my opinion) "Lisa, Lisa". The title of the VHS seen above is obviously trying to capitalize on the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which came out three years previous to this.

This was done by using the following formula:
1. Name of a state to indicate location
2. Name of implement primarily used to kill during feature
3. Use of the word 'massacre' to imply unwholesomely large entertainment value for those of     us on the exploitative viewing tip

I don't believe this was done by the folks who originally made the film though, as the trailer provided clearly illustrates. I believe it was done by the company releasing the video to try and squeeze more rentals out of what they knew was a pretty mediocre movie to start with. I do not have a way of doing screen grabs because if I did I could show you the lame insert done during the opening credits with the new title that is done in cable access quality to show you just what I mean. Trust me though, it is nothing to write about on a blog write home about.

The pacing of this film is somewhere between grass growing and a three toed sloth going at a full on charge. It is easily one of the most boring horror films I have ever had the patience to sit through. Yes, European horror is generally pretty slow moving plot wise, but that is generally because they are busy building atmosphere where this film is just plain insipid. It is also NOT European. I could have more fun watching a scab harden than I could watching this ever again. The running time is an overly generous 74 minutes. I feel like the movie could probably have skirted by with being only about half an hour long. The plot content in this movie is pretty thin so the amount of crap shoveled in to try to pad things out a bit really doesn't help anything.

Character development is next to zero- which is never really much of a problem with a film like this, but considering the fact that it also happens to be completely bereft of pretty much everything else an entertaining horror flick is supposed to have I am more than prepared to hold that against it. When my friend gave it to me (he already had a copy) a while back he said "it sucks". I really should have taken his warning to heart but what else was I going to do NOT watch it to see what the fuss is about? Merely saying something like this "sucks" is not enough for me sometimes, and as you can tell I can sufficiently measure its suck factor.

"At last... total terror!" whoever came up with that tagline obviously meant it to mean this was a film filled to the brim with and unbridled amount of terror. Instead: I think they might have been thinking about going to go get lunch after finishing up one last tagline before digging into a decadent submarine sandwich the size of a zeppelin. Maybe "Really... totally terrible" would have been a better and more accurate one. Most people would counter my claims about this movie by saying "then why don't you make a better movie?". Well I have to be perfectly honest and admit that if I did go do that it would probably resemble this one to some degree and because I know that for an almost definite fact I feel it's better I not invite such an abomination into this world.

What else more is there to say really?

Oh yeah,


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Incubus (1966)

It has been far too long since I reviewed a film I actually didn't like, so I figured I had better get off of the "this movie is great and you should see it" kick for a hot minute to deliver a write up on a hot steaming turd of cinema instead. That sounds fair, right? This one has been lurking on my movie shelf for far too long, mocking me weekly and daring me to write about it so like it or not its time has come. Please do not claim that I gave you no warning...


There is no proper theatrical trailer for this so far as I am aware (the only country it received wide distribution in was France- more on that later), so instead here is the home video release trailer from some time ago. It's a bit cheesy yes, but at least shows you a little of what you might get yourself into. I have done so many reviews that have no trailer available it's a pleasure to find one for a film this esoteric whether I like the movie or not. But enough meandering, I should tell you what it is all about.


In a small village there lies a well which legend has it can make people young again and heal the sick. many conceited people come here and are victimized by succubi who lure them to their deaths in the lands surrounding the village. A young succubi named Kia tires of luring drunkards and corrupt whinos to their deaths and wants to destroy a purer soul. Along comes Marc (Shatner), a target which Kia cannot resist. She fails to heed the warnings that with a pure soul comes the danger of love (something the succubi cannot combat), in what is an ultimately predictable and boring fairy tale.

You might have noticed from the trailer up above (unless you are one of the MANY slouches who apparently think I put clips in these reviews for no reason at all so you just skip over them like a tremendous ninny) that this movie has the added bonus of not only being bogus but also being entirely in Esperanto. I don't know a lick of that language at all, and I don't think the cast does either. 95% of the time it sounds like they memorized the lines phonetically just to get paid. William Shatner is perhaps the one exception here, as he is also a halfway decent actor, but even he seems to struggle with this strange language much of the time. Apparently Esperanto was chosen to make the film feel more mysterious and ethereal but unfortunately the opposite is true, so instead the film becomes tedious and unintentionally hilarious. It is said that when this was premiered the portion of the audience that spoke Esperanto roared with laughter the entire time, which says all I need to know.


It's like watching a bunch of 14 year olds do Shakespeare, am I right? Now would be a good time to mention the dude who plays the Incubus. The actors name is Milos Milos, and his career is very short indeed (two whole movies). He had an affair with Mickey Rooney's wife and was found-along with Rooney's wife- shot dead in her home. One wonders why that happened as affairs generally do not end in suicide but theorize all you like. The cast is made up of actors who mostly did television work, and this makes sense when the forces vehind it are taken into account. The film almost feels like it was made for TV (it wasn't), which is kind of interesting in my opinion. It was written and directed by Leslie Stevens, who was the creator and also executive producer of The Outer Limits throughout its entire run. After the series was cancelled in 1965 he wanted to make a film with his now seasoned production crew with the idea of marketing it to the art house circuit. Needless to say it didn't really work.

The crew involved were no slouches though, and included people such as Dominic Frontiere writing the score (he later went on to do music for such films as Hang 'Em High and Hollywood superturd The Color Of Night which was unfortunately his final score) and cinematographer Conrad Hall (Electra Glide In Blue, Marathon Man, American Beauty). But no amount of talent could save the film thanks to the ridiculous choice of language used for shooting and the Milos Milos murder scandal, along with the suicide of actress Ann Atmar just weeks before the premiere, made it so nobody would touch it. It apparently enjoyed a good run in France (like I said earlier) which turned out to be quite fateful later on.

When Stevens wished to do a home video release in 1993 he found out the negatives, etc. had been lost and were presumed to have been destroyed by a fire. As not many prints of the film were struck, it remained a lost film until a print showed up in 1996 in the Cinematheque Francaise. The only problems were A) the condition of the print and B) the fact that burned in French subtitles were on the negative. After an exhaustive restoration (partially funded by the Sci-Fi Channel) everybody can marvel at just how bad a seemingly good idea can get. The French subtitles being part of the print used are why the English titles have a black border around them, which has the added consequence of blocking out a significant portion of the frame during certain scenes.

I think the idea of this film is compelling. The finished product is sluggish and actually almost painful to watch, and I do not recommend it to anyone but the curious or the Shatner completist. Art house horror movies are usually pretty bad with very few exceptions (The original version of The Wicker Man  is an example of a good one so far as I see things) and you can probably guess where this one falls in my opinion. I don't think being drunk while watching it would help much, come to think of it I don't think anything would. BUT: I am glad that this film wasn't lost forever no matter how bad I think it is, because there is nothing worse than having a piece of cinema good or bad disappear so that it can never be viewed again.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Out Of The Past (1947)

How I lived so long without having seen this film is a really really good question. I have always had a deep love of film noir and all of its trappings and I cannot readily think of a film that really sets the bar for the rest more than this one. I know that is a bit of a blanket statement considering how many really terrific titles there are in this genre but I am not the only one who feels this way. I wish movies still had snappy hard boiled dialogue like this today, I would be more likely to shell out the pocket money for a ticket.

The film is all about the past of Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), a seemingly normal bloke, and how it catches up with him. He operates a gas station in a small town of little significance, and leads a simple life with his fiancee' Ann Miller (Virginia Huston) until a man from out of town starts asking questions. A major flashback (involving 40,000 dollars and a dame to end all dames) through Jeff's seedy past reveals all to Ann as they drive toward a fateful meeting. Sensing a setup but with no choice left but to finish business he would rather forget, Jeff must confront his past love (Jane Greer) and her maniacal lover (Kirk Douglas) and finally put things to bed.

This movie is a great deal more complex than this of course. What I give you above sounds a great deal like most other noir films but trust me there is far more than that to chew on. Not all films that fit into film noir can boast that, as with anything there are 50 B grade trash fests for every A lister like what we have here. I think that is something that helps the film the most. RKO Radio Pictures had been focusing on the all to lucrative market of B movies for a good while and someone decided it would be a good idea to give Out Of The Past an A budget, and it shows. Director Jacques Tourneur made one hell of a masterpiece with the money they gave him.

But of course flashy cinematography and good casting simply are not enough, the script is what is really important here. Daniel Mainwaring (who later went on to write the screenplay for the original 1956 version of Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers) pulled out all the stops to deliver a screenplay so full of hard hitting dialogue and intrigue it makes my head spin. It is no surprise either, considering he also wrote the novel that the film is based on which was titled Build My Gallows High. The colorful speech used in movies like this has always been a major point of interest for me, and sometimes I wonder if everyone talked this way at one point in time and everyone was magically wittier in the 40's but somehow I doubt it. It's up to us clever folks to make sure that witty comebacks like the ones Robert Mitchum uses constantly in this film never go the way of the Dodo.

In case you have the memory of a goldfish, I mentioned a major flashback during the plot synopsis. The flashback is so major it actually takes up a vast majority of the running time. Much like an over extensive voiceover (think Apocalypse Now for an example of where it actually worked), a flashback of such epic length can be hard pressed to carry a movie. It happens so seamlessly that unless you stop and think about it you forget that a flashback is even happening. Try to think of another movie where this was done and done so very well, I bet you can't. Such a showcase of screenwriting skill is a rare occurrence indeed.

Most of the films I have seen lately have really incredible casting choices, and I have to say this is one more to add on the pile. Not a single dud to be seen anywhere. Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas' talents need no introduction. Seeing Kirk Douglas so young however was a real treat (he was around 30 or 31 at the time of release), due to the fact I didn't even read the DVD case to see who was in it in order to achieve maximum surprise. Jane Greer is a supreme femme fatale, displaying both fragility and also deadly cunning. Virginia Huston does an amazing job with the relatively small part she has, and it is a shame that she never got more successful. A car accident broke her back at the height of her fame, and by the time she was healed all she could muster were B level movie roles. A true shame indeed.

There is always so much more to tell with any film I choose to review, but I can never seem to bring myself to go all out (unless the movie in question is a stinker). Besides, part of the fun is letting you discover at least a little bit about a movie yourself. I can't find a single thing wrong with this movie, and I hope you feel the same way too. Color film is great but sometimes black and white can do more than any amount of Technicolor could ever hope for.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Westfront 1918 (1930)

**Special thanks to Movie Madness in Portland Oregon for having this on their rental shelf!**

The First World War is a sadly neglected subject in our modern age. Films about World War Two have become quite popular in the past ten to fifteen years as a sudden awareness of how many veterans from the conflict are dying all the time, yet barely a note was played when Florence Beatrice Green-the last known veteran of WW1- passed away in early February of this year. One can speculate why no one (at least of my generation) seems to care all that much. To be fair it was a war that accomplished very little (besides being a major cause of WW2 that is), and this film illustrates that to a tee.

As a trailer for this epic does not seem to exist, you will have to do without. The film follows the activities of a squad of German infantrymen in the trenches of France late in the war. Their life is of course far from idyllic, with death surrounding them at each and every second- you are just as likely to get buried alive in an artillery barrage as you are shot by the enemy. Will the squadmates make it out alive? Watch and see.

You are probably thinking this sounds quite a bit like All Quiet On The Western Front (Also a talkie released in 1930 with similar anti war sentiments) and you would be correct. While the similarities between the two are numerous, both are based on different novels. The main difference between them is Westfront 1918 is by far the bleaker film in overall tone. AQOTWF however has a far more memorable ending and wider distribution which is likely why this film is the much better known of the two which is honestly quite unfortunate once you see both, as each has a very strong statement.

This is Director G.W. Pabst's very first talkie. For those of you who are woefully unaware, he directed many films- perhaps the most famous of which the three which feature silent film goddess Louise Brooks. Pabst does some incredible work in this picture. Whereas American talkies generally feature talking just for the sake of it, Pabst litters the film with normal chit chat and everyday interactions. There really is no plot necessarily, and the film plays like a series of long vignettes. This makes the film feel more like a documentary than a movie played out by actors, which definitely works to its credit.

One thing that really struck me was the amount of tracking shots present. Films of this era often feature static camera work (many early screen actors had theater experience, soit makes sense), and Pabst even went so far as to make sure he had a way for the sound to keep running along with the shot. How on Earth Pabst and his crew managed to do this with 1930's sound technology we can only guess at, but this achievement should not be overlooked. We take it for granted that movies just have sound now and it is easy to lose sight of just how difficult adding sound to motion pictures was in the beginning.

Remember when I said this movie was bleak? I meant it. There's loads of shots of the muddy and barbed wire strewn no man's land to exacerbate the death that surrounds our characters sure, but there's a whole lot more than that going on. One of the most memorable sequences for me was when the character Karl (played by Gustav Diessel, who appeared in Pabst's film Pandora's Box and Fritz Lang's The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse amongst other films) goes home on leave. Upon arriving home he finds his wife in bed with another man. Such an occurrence is most certainly common during wartime and for a film in the 30's to show such frank expression of human sexual needs is equal parts daring as it is accurate.

The DVD I viewed for this review is actually a DVD-R. For reasons unknown to me, this film has never had a DVD release, only VHS. A film of such seminal importance deserves better, and the print used to strike the copy is littered with breaks and abrasions. Interestingly the opening titles of the film are entirely in German yet there are several intertitles that appear throughout the film in English. Why this is I do not know, and I can only assume that they were added to the US theatrical release as the ability to add on screen subtitles simply did not exist. Do not quote me on that last bit, but I do know that redubbing films at this period of time was an incredibly expensive endeavour, so if adding intertitles in English was a way around this (however clunky the finished product) it would make perfect sense to me. Although I do know it was cheaper to reshoot an entire film in a different language than it was to overdub, and I have heard that at least three different versions exist (French, English, German) but cannot confirm this as the German version is the only one I have seen available.

The cut I watched is presumably also missing some footage (total running time for review copy: 90 minutes), as IMDB lists three different lengths for this film depending on where it was released- mot notably the original German cut ran for 97 minutes. That footage was probably lost during later re-edits of the film in its native Germany, where Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels had the film banned. The irony of banning an anti war film during war time really amuses me to no end. In the end, this film seems to have been all but forgotten by critics and film buffs alike which is a sad fate for a film with such a powerful message to deliver and such a technical and cinematic triumph as well.

If you are interested in talkies or films about WW1 I highly recommend this title. In fact I just recommend it period if you love movies in general. While finding a copy is not necessarily easy (some editions of this film lack subtitles, beware!) the end result of your search should prove worth it. Thankfully for those of you who don't necessarily want a physical copy, someone has uploaded it in its entirety onto youtube in a far better quality print than what I viewed and is from a Janus Films print as well. Considering that Janus is responsible for the Criterion Collection and has not released this yet is truly baffling.

Get to it already Criterion!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Five Easy Pieces (1970)

I honestly believe that this is one of the best American films ever produced. The only problem? Most people have never even heard of it. I could be wrong in that fact, but I can count the amount of people I know who have seen it within ten fingers. Sure that makes me bad at statistics but you're picking up what is put down here. Upon first glance the film is a very simple tale but as things unfold it becomes much more complex, revealing much much more than you thought you were in for. Every time I watch this I realize just how magical films of this era can be.


For once I can say I am actually pleased that a film trailer falls short of the mark in telling us what exactly a given film is about. Five Easy Pieces is a simple film but loaded with complex things, something many modern films utterly lack. Plot synopsis you say? Fair enough: Robert Dupea (Jack Nicholson) is a seemingly simple blue collar oil field worker. He drinks beer with his buddies, plays poker, goes bowling, cheats on his girlfriend- you know, the usual. But for all of this image, Robert is actually a former child prodigy pianist, and for reasons unbeknownst to us, has turned his back on his past. After quitting his job and briefly taking off to Los Angeles, his older sister Partitia (Lois Smith) tells him that his father is tremendously ill after having strokes. Bobby sets off with Rayette (who through his friend he finds out is pregnant) to his family home in Washington, but to what end?

I admit I did water that down a little but in my everlasting zeal to not give each and every thing away in a film I truly love gets the better of me. This film is not always 100% serious but still is. I say this because there's a strange interlude on the way to Washington where Bobby and Rayette pick up two women (one played by Toni Basil- known for the 80's hit "Mickey") on their way to alaska. All they talk about is environmentalism and filth. I have a thing for serious messages delivered via comedy and I think they really hit the nail on the head. I won't post any clips of that to ruin it for you, but I just have to put in the infamous diner scene where Nicholson displays his supreme sarcastic abilities to their fullest.


I find it hard to believe that a diner wouldn't offer toast but the social context is obvious. So obvious in fact that I won't explain it, because if you're clever enough to be reading this far you probably already get it. But enough about shenanigans, this film has some truly fine acting from all members involved. I can't find one character that is cardboard for so much as a millisecond anywhere in the picture. How Karen Black never got more attention after being Rayette I'll never know (she of course has a terrific back catalog of films to boast of regardless) but after seeing her in this movie you realize she has tremendous acting ability. Susan Anspach (who plays his brother's fiancee') should not be overlooked either. She is a reminder of what Bobby could have if only he would allow himself to love himself, and her lines are so matter of fact I nearly burst into tears from the truth in them.

One really has to hand it to Nicholson as well as he is in top form here. Sure Chinatown is amazing but I feel this is his best effort, and the monologue he has with his disabled father is the clincher. I could post that for you as it is on youtube, but I would prefer you see it in its proper place in the film. Bobby is a man who cannot and will not accept the world as it is, and finds hiding and running away from his problems a more acceptable solution than owning up to them. He both cares and refuses to care. Where this mode of living will take him nobody knows, but such a misanthropic modus operandi tends to catch up with you sooner or later. To Bobby Dupea, everything truly is nothing at all.

One thing I regret not being able to post for you (maybe later but as I have no mp3 turntable so you'll have to wait indefinitely) is the soundtrack. It is a strange mixture of Tammy Wynette tracks mixed with the "five easy pieces" (from an early script reference left out of the finished picture) by Chopin, Bach, and Mozart. Also rare for a soundtrack of its era are loads of dialogue from the film, both as stand alone tracks and as intros and outros to several songs. Unfortunately the rather obscure nature of this film means it will likely never receive a CD release but thankfully the LP can be had for 2 dollars US if you know where to look. Anybody who likes country music of the era and Chopin like I do should love it.

For the sake of reference I will throw in a picture of it below:

Why see a film about a man who cannot be loved because he refuses to love himself? That is up to you to decide. The 70's in American cinema were touched by the misanthropy that lay underneath the nation's collective consciousness. By 1970 the hippie movement was winding down from their stupor and the counter culture started to look inward on itself, and I am glad films like this were the result of that soul searching. One can only talk about peace and love for so long before you realize that it starts from within you. I think it is a period for films that we will never see again, at least not in the way it was the first time around. Sure the tag line on the DVD cover is a bit lame (and I sincerely hope it wasn't used on any theatrical posters at the time), but don't let that deter you should you find this lying around in a Safeway store like I did.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Allan Quatermaine And The Lost City Of Gold (1986)

*********************************************************************************************************** EXTRA SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: TODAY FUCKSHIT!- THE HOME VIDEO REVIEW HAS TURNED ONE YEAR OLD, REJOICE!

I used to watch this movie all the time as a kid. We all have movies like that in our lives and many of them remain just that- in our childhood. Sometimes they manage to rear their heads out of distant memory by pure chance, and this is exactly what happened in this case. My friend Paul found me this at a Goodwill and my jaw dropped as soon as he handed it over. I had long kept a memory of a movie sequence involving a scary dude dipping a live victim into a huge pool of molten gold that scared the crap out of me as a small boy. Turns out it was from this movie, thanks a lot buried childhood memory.

Something I would very much like to point out about this trailer: There are several things in the footage above that are not in the finished film. The most noteworthy of which is the cable car sequence, which features Quatermaine using a whip much like Indiana Jones would do. Note that this sequence appears to have been cut so late in the game that it also managed to find its way onto the VHS box art pictured above. Curious, don't you think? Too bad really, because the couple of snippets lead me to believe it might have been a pretty cool bit. On a side note, Quatermaine is carrying a whip upon his shoulder on the box art besides the cable car thing. He never EVER carries or uses a whip anywhere in the movie.

Plot synopsis: Super adventurer Allan Quatermaine (Richard Chamberlain) is planning on settling down and marrying his bride to be Jesse (Sharon Stone) until an old colleague of his stumbles out of the jungle. Mumbling in delirium about a city made of gold, Quatermaine realizes that his missing brother might be there and goes on the attack to find him. Putting together a rag tag search party Quatermaine and his friends face unknown dangers in a death defying quest for the mythical city, finding much more than he expected once he arrives.

Gotta admit, I did okay describing that there didn't I? Let's get one thing straight right off the bat, this movie is capitalizing on the wild success of the first two Indiana Jones films and is not (necessarily) a rip-off of them. While huge liberties were taken with the source material, Allan Quatermaine (for those of you not in the know) is just one of several inspirations for Indy. This is a straight up adventure movie, but is definitely not without its flaws. Filmed at the same time as its successor from 1985 King Solomon's Mines in order to save money (leave it to the Cannon Group to make two movies for the price of one with minimal effort), they even went so far as to reuse most of Jerry Goldsmith's score from said movie in this one, which means music that really doesn't always fit what is happening and the exact same action cue used every 30 fucking seconds. There's also a bit of music that sounds suspiciously like the drumming from the title theme to Conan The Barbarian from 1982 only sped up a couple of times.

I'm not sure where to even begin on the acting. It seems pretty obvious to me that Richard Chamberlain and James Earl Jones only did this movie for some easy cash, at least I really hope so. Chamberlain's Quatermaine is very odd to say the least. He's constantly laying down half assed jokes and rather than use a whip like Indy he just shoots everything with his forever loaded revolver. Each member of the cast  is either on the borderline of or is a full blown racist caricature. Especially the weasel like Swarma (played by Robert Donner, who you will recognize as Boss Shorty in the 1968 classic Cool Hand Luke). Watch it and you will see what I mean. Sharon Stone couldn't act her way out of a wet paper bag, so I wasn't expecting much there to begin with. Henry Silva is as always, and I am now as certain as before that he's never actually acting, just being totally insane himself. Cassandra Peterson (sans her trademark Elvira makeup) makes a brief and completely forgettable appearance as someone or other. I'm not going on about the cast anymore, I could write a book before I finished.

This movie has the pacing of explosive diarrhea. Think about it, it runs all over the damn place. It's almost as if the film makers decided to model the movie off of a 1930's movie serial so very closely that they somehow forgot to release it as a serial. What do I mean by this you ask? Well, look at an old serial from the 30's/40's and you will see that each and every installment has an action sequence of some sort or other to crete a cliffhanger to keep viewers hooked. Apparently the film makers so clung to the dream of that idea that they must have decided that viewers could be lulled in by the technique through a full length feature.

Luckily for Cannon, it actually worked for me in a quite literal "so bad it really IS good!" kind of way. Sure there's an awful lot wrong with this movie (I won't even go into the often very hokey effects sequences), but even I will throw caution to the wind from time to time, put my arms up and say fuck it and just enjoy something this bottom of the barrel. I don't know just how this movie keeps me so entertained exactly, but maybe it's better off that way.

I suggest watching it over good conversation that has little to do with the movie and some delicious food and drink.

Maybe burritos or pupusas.

Definitely pupusas.

An extra little tidbit I found on youtube is this combination of the movie trailer (as linked above also, though seemingly slightly shorter but I didn't bother timing it) as well as the video rental store promotional campaign featuring some sorta neat stuff. I wouldn't half mind the 3-D poster they mention to tell you the truth (so if any of y'all have one hit me up). Also around 2:08 there's a great example of Henry Silva being completely insane himself.

See it below:

Now go get yourself booze and pupusas please.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Harold and Maude (1971)

Almost everyone knows the title of this movie and what it is about, but few seem to have actually seen it. Why this is is anyone's guess, but unavailability on VHS/DVD could be a main factor in that. To be perfectly honest, I don't know what the hell took me so long to view it either considering there's always been a copy nearby me at a video store for umpteen odd years. While not a life changing film for me per say, it does have a peculiar charm that will keep me coming back in the future again and again. The ending almost made me cry like a baby too- which is a good thing because I like feeling feelings.


Plot synopsis: Harold (Bud Cort) is a young man with a rather intense obsession with death. He visits funerals for fun, has no friends, and only finds happiness when he thinks of being dead (and keeps setting up elaborate fake suicides that do little to shake his inattentive mother). While attending one of these funerals he enjoys so much, he meets a spritely 79 year old woman named Maude (Ruth Gordon). He is somewhat nonplussed with her at first, but cannot help but keep going back. Harold falls in love with Maude and through her unique vision learns the value of life and just how much it is worth living, with some serious shenanigans along the way.

I bet you never thought I'd be a right ponce and write a review of a romantic comedy would you? This one gets special dispensation for not only being unique but also being a true cult classic. I can't think of any other film about a misanthrope in his mid twenties who falls in love with a woman about to turn eighty and if I could it would be a total rip-off of the film in question. One thing is certain: This movie would NOT be able to be made in our day and age. Just reread the plot synopsis if you don't believe me and mull it over with yourself, I'm sure you'll reach the same conclusion as I did.

While I don't know about you, I do enjoy a good black comedy now and again. One thing I really got a repeated kick out of was Maude's infallible ability to steal an automobile. How on earth she manages to do this (and almost always get away with it) is beyond me. The one time she does get caught we are treated to a most unexpected (and well camouflaged) appearance by Tom Skerritt, but manages to pull the wool over his eyes and get away thanks to her lead foot and a carefully selected El Camino. Being a fan of horror movies (you might have noticed this from my repeated reviews of various films from said genre) I for one find Harold's repeated (and for a film from the early 70's, awfully realistic) fake suicide attempts uproariously funny. The humor in this film is often times very dry and understated and if you aren't paying attention and actually watching the movie you are bound to miss a prank or ten.

Another strength of this movie is the myriad of things that aren't said. Perhaps the most notable of these is the seconds long moment where Harold notices a concentration camp serial number on Maude's forearm. This moment happens quite late in the film, and is never remarked on or even brought up in the movie besides that one brief moment. I found this an unusually powerful moment for an otherwise comedic romp, and it really gives the attentive viewer something to chew on once the credits role as it pertains to Maude's character and her overall outlook on life. I leave the implications of the scene up to you dear reader, as we will surely all attach our own meaning to it (part of the magic of such open film making).

The soundtrack is done entirely by Cat Stevens. I can't fucking stand Cat Stevens on a normal day, but somehow his music actually manages to work here, and melds with images on screen to create a truly joyous experience. I'm generally not a fan of singer/songwriters doing entire scores for films (if anyone out there recalls the truly cringeworthy effort by Joan Baez for Douglas Trumbull's 1972 movie Silent Running you'll get my meaning), but somehow the rabbit was successfully pulled from the hat here (please for the love of god don't ask me how, because I just don't know). Touche' Cat Stevens, Touche'...

What else is there left to say? This film (as I said a few paragraphs ago) is a true cult classic. Maybe more people will go seek it out after reading this, maybe they won't, or maybe they have already seen it and just want to read what I think about it. Who knows? One thing is sure, and that is that this film's place in cultdom is secure for all times, and I wouldn't have it any other way. If you are grossed out by the idea that two people of such disparate ages can fall in love, then you can it this one out buster because I will gladly take your place on the ride.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Asphyx (1972)

I could hardly believe my eyes when I first saw the trailer for this movie- it was like Ghostbusters but serious and set in Victorian England. How could I NOT find it awesome? It's a very rare thing indeed when a movie not only lives up to its theatrical trailer but also exceeds it. How this movie manages to remain so far below the radar confounds me. I think now is a good time to stop jibber jabbering about it and let you get to the goods.


Am I right or what? The trailer is a bit annoying what with the "More than a myth...More than a maybe!" horseshit but at the end of the day what can you really do about it?

 The story revolves around Sir Hugo Cunningham, a scientist/philanthropist who discovers a mysterious blur on photographs taken by him and fellow colleagues of people taken at the moment of their deaths. He believes this blur to be the image of the soul as it leaves the body, but his doubts lead him to further experimentation after the accidental death of his son. Through a series of mishaps and accidents he discovers something far more insidious- a being known as the Asphyx, a spirit which appears at the moment of death to take one away the the underworld. Theorizing that one could become immortal by capturing their Asphyx before death, he begins experiments to prove the unimaginable, but not without dire consequences.

While this is considered a horror film, it only fits via technicality. Like most British horrors of its era, this film is less of a scare and more of a morality tale. Hugo's obsession with cheating death so as not to lose those close to him ever again leaves him completely blind to any consequence, and we see his character and human decency erode along with it. If you can't figure out what I am getting at then you are probably a sociopath.

But back on track here- Poor Hugo's desire for immortality is the true centerpiece, and the horror we see is not of the blood and guts variety but completely cerebral in nature. I find it sad that modern horror films seldom play on this aesthetic and concern themselves with more bargain basement gore fest plots with zombies or werewolves or some such other overdone elements from decades past as their main focus. The plot is more than compelling and really quite original, and I would not be surprised if this movie wasn't at least a teensy tiny inspiration for Ghostbusters some years later.

The Ghostbusters parallel is an easy one to make, and the trailer posted above provides you with all the ammunition you need to make the jump. One thing I am definitely surprised by is that this film isn't bigger with the whole "steam punk" crowd. Considering the fact that there's lots of cool technology reverse engineered to look plausible in a different era (examples: spirit capturing "light boosters" powered by blue crystals and coffins capable of containing them, and also a motion picture camera in use a full 20 years before they were invented), you would figure they would have latched onto this one immediately. Maybe it's better that way because I think that whole genre and it's title are total bullshit.

The cinematography gets big ups here, as the Director of Photography was the formidable Freddie Young, who you will recognize from various films you haven't seen such as Lawrence of ArabiaYou Only Live Twice, and Doctor Zhivago. Unfortunately for me, the Magnum Entertainment vhs edition is pan and scanned all to bloody hell so I couldn't really enjoy any of his meticulous work. I cannot say how the Interglobal Home Video editions look and I assume that any DVD edition from the US or UK is likely in widescreen format and does not suffer from this problem. Even though this happened through the entire movie in the most annoying ways possible I still got sucked into the movie enough that it did not matter, but having a widescreen copy would definitely be worth it.

Something else I would like to mention is the difference between the prints used for the DVD and VHS masters for the tape I saw and the DVD my brother had seen before recommending this to me. In my old vhs things are ever so slightly washed out (part of the charm of British horror films of this era I think) and the Asphyx appeared to be blue, but you might have noticed that it is green in the theatrical trailer posted at the start of this review. Upon doing some research, I found out that someone (some sources say All Day Entertainment, but I cannot confirm this) actually did an incredibly extensive restoration of this film which included very careful color correction of a badly faded 35mm print. For a film this obscure that is a very major effort, and I am thankful someone stepped up to the plate. Maybe I should go get the DVD too.

I think you might have guessed by now that I REALLY enjoyed this film. It's well shot, a compelling idea, has cool artwork on the cover, and has some great moral dilemas for the audience to mull over. Of course I do have a couple of misgivings (mostly the absolutely terrible old age makeup used at films end, it looks like a really lame papier-mache mask), but no film is 100% perfect and that's why I love the artform so very much. No matter what edition you choose to pick up or come across (I won't lie, I went for the artwork on mine, plus it was only 5 bucks) I think the smarter folks out there will really enjoy it and find that there's quite a bit to chew on in what most people might dismiss as nothing more than a simple ghoul movie.

Please do watch this and enjoy yourself.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Curse (1987)

Talk about sleeper hits, wow! I never knew this movie even existed until saturday evening when a friend of mine found it and boy oh boy am I glad he did. I was pretty skeptical at first considering the fact that Wil Wheaton (aka Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation for those of you living under a god damn rock- in fact this movie was released mere weeks before TNG premiered on TV!) received top billing followed by once big time character actor Claude Akins. I can honestly say the billing order was justified after viewing the finished product. I can also prattle on about that forever though, so time for the main course.


I know that's probably one of the shortest trailers ever (I'm fairly sure part of the intro is missing if you ask me), but what can you do? Plot synopsis: Zack (Wil Wheaton) is living out on a farm and trying hard to adjust to his stepfather Nathan (Claude Akins) but is hating every minute of his beatings and religious bigotry. One night a mysterious meteor crashes on their land only to completely melt away shortly afterwards, seeping into the water supply and unleashing deadly parasites everywhere. Can Zack stop the madness before it's too late?

This movie is based on H.P. Lovecraft's short story The Colour Out Of Space, and from what I understand the film follows the source material pretty closely too (it remains unfortunately one of a handful of Lovecraft stories I have not read yet, sorry folks). It's pretty easy to totally screw up a Lovecraft based movie, but thankfully this one works (at least I seem to think so anyway). Granted it has a four point something rating on imdb, but I was really honestly entertained here. This movie is regularly branded as mediocre by lots of folks and I'm not really sure what their problem is. I feel like the people who brand this movie like that are really missing the point.

What is the point you ask? Simple: entertainment. My girlfriend and I watched it and weren't bored for a single instant. I thought it was well paced and contains heaps of atmosphere (which as avid readers know is something I really love in a horror flick) and is pretty damn creepy in some bits too. Having such and odd cast helps too, especially since Wil Wheaton actually does a pretty good job as a frustrated and cussing teen who can't wait to tell his step dad to go fuck himself. Having only really known him from Stand By Me, TNG, and some sporadic voiceover work through the years, it was really nice to see him doing some acting outside of a cartoon or television series and I really feel like he pulled his weight here plain and simple.

Claude Akins is a real bastard in this movie. I find him an odd yet fitting choice for the stepdad role as I don't recall seeing him in too many other horror movies and the fact that he was about 60 when he made this, making him a bit too old for the character in my opinion. Either way he really puts his well honed character actor skills to good use and despite my misgivings about it really comes across really well. Another odd casting choice is John Schneider who you will no doubt recognize due to his role as Bo Duke in the series The Dukes Of Hazard. Odd of a choice as he might be I think he goes the distance along with the rest in a worthy fashion.

Perhaps the oddest credit here belongs to first time Director David Keith. You might recognize him from all over the damn place as an actor, as he has been in every movie you probably haven't seen. It's always a mixed bag when an actor decides to direct a movie rather than act in one and this is one of the few times where I think things worked out. As this was his first feature as director, the film has some obvious production woes that people really like to rag on. Yes, there's some sloppy editing and etcetera but blah de fucking blah, a good horror movie is a good horror movie plain and simple. If you like movies based on Lovecraft stories, or weirdly cast horror movies, then this one is for you.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Krull (1983)

I'm sure a lot of you who read this blog on the regular are more than aware this movie exists, but I have noticed throughout my life that few people outside of their 30's and 40's (sans me of course) have never really heard of it. That fact alone warrants me reviewing it for you here but it also happens to be a fairly entertaining fantasy film despite being rather derivative. I am pretty sure most of you reading this know that already, but I like to keep m bases well covered lest they become "are belong to us" if you get my meaning.


Plot synopsis- On the faraway world of Krull, a hideous creature known only as The Beast and his army known as the slayers is enslaving all in their wake. Two rival kingdoms are joining forces to fight The Beast's armies, but to seal the alliance there must be a marriage between Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony). After Lyssa is kidnapped, Colwyn- with the aid of a powerful ancient weapon known as "The Glaive" (which is a pretty kickass looking five bladed flying knife)- must form a makeshift army composed of everything from thieves to a crackpot wizard on a quest to rescue her from the Black Fortress and free his world once and for all.

Sure the plot is really standard fairy book stuff, and if you've ever been exposed to a story where the hero has to rescue the damsel in distress then you know how things will turn out. But come on, this one has a fucking cyclops as a character- A CYCLOPS for crying out loud! Not a CGI one either, but one made with makeup and handcraft. Alas, this movie still manages to have a rather lackluster reputation. I can see why people would feel that way but I obviously don't subscribe to that interpretation. Critics gave mixed reviews upon it's release, probably due to it's similarity in many respects to the Star Wars franchise. Couple that with the fact that it was released only two months after Return Of The Jedi and you roughly wind up with a financial disaster.

Thanks to site like imdb, movie fans like myself can crunch numbers with ease and Krull was a bona fide FLOP. The USA gross earnings were only 16 million dollars of its estimated 27 million dollar budget (some people claim it was a bigger budget than that, but 27 sounds more realistic to me). A lot of care and attention was put into the production of this film, especially where set and costume design are concerned and I find it a downright shame this movie din't manage to find its audience while in the box office. One must never underestimate Star Wars mania.

Sets and costumes aside, this movie is pretty well cast all things considered. There are some surprising appearances in the supporting character roles (perhaps most noticeably a very early film appearance by Liam Neeson). My favorites have to be Freddie Jones and Francesca Annis, their scene together is enough to have made me cry on several occasions. This is one year before they were also cast in David Lynch's 1984 film version of Dune, and it's a pity they never had another scene such as this together. The acting in the movie is so wooden it might as well be a forest, but somehow it doesn't bother me all that much considering the bedtime story type flair the movie has coming out of everywhere.

This film was obviously designed to become a smash hit by the studio judging by the merchandise produced. While not as extensive as some films it did have an Atari arcade game, a board game, an Atari 2600 game a tie in Marvel Comics adaption, and various other brik-a-brak. These plans of course evaporated as I explained earlier. I do rather find it a shame that there were never any Krull action figures though, as a toy of a Slayer would be pretty damn awesome if I do say so myself. Alas, it was not to be, maybe I can get someone to make me one? Thankfully this nice special edition DVD came out a good long while ago and for a movie so harshly put down on it has a real cornucopia of special features.

So yeah, this movie has a hell of a lot of deficiencies. The one that bothers me the most was the obvious overdubbing of Lysette Anthony with an American accent. It is jarring and really unnecessary, and doesn't really help things. Like I already said, the acting is pretty so/so, and the fact that there's a little kid and a comic relief wizard in the mix really fucks things up. One could go on for hours about just what is wrong or perceived wrong with Krull, but at the heart of it it's just a fun fantasy movie and haters are gonna hate. This is one of very few movies I can say that I really liked as a kid and still like just as much now. If you haven't seen it then I definitely recommend giving it a go, you just might like what you see. Like I said, there's a great deal of deficiencies to ignore but let's face it- this ain't Citizen Kane, it's sword and sorcery for christ's sake, and last I checked you're supposed to have FUN when you watch a movie like this.

Critics lambast this as a b-movie, I call it awesome.