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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.