I find Neil Jordan's commentaries more interesting than his films. I find his films look samey. I like certain images in Mona Lisa (1986), the caravan in the shed, but it's a TV play. It's a Channel 4 film C4 didn't want. It's about a racist/homophobe falling in love with a black lesbian.
When A Stranger Calls (1979) - Though Tony Beckley is good, a well-made if rather lacking, depressing film - doesn't know if it s a cop thriller or a slasher. It lacks punch. Good performances from Carol Kane and Charles Durning, but it's not that special. But then I find the slasher a rather limiting genre. I don't enjoy them really. Not even the big ones. Not even Halloween. US teens often annoy me (and a lot of US horror alienates me - even stuff like the Count Yorga films, sometimes when trying to do gothic, they just don't have the budget, locations or actors fit for it). The difference between a good slasher and a bad slasher is not the plot, but usually in the cast and cinematography. There may be one little difference in the costume or backstory, or a difference between the filler scenes of teens doing stuff, but I realise that an intriguing experiment would be to make a slasher film out of different slasher films. Cutting scenes from one to another to try to create something as coherent as the incoherent films themselves.
Phenomena (1985)- I'm not an Argento fan (Suspiria and Inferno look good but they're more about visuals than story), and I used to like a lot of Italian horror, but now find a lot of it bollocks because there's no substance - and often a lot of it can be very slack, visually, and overstyled where it isn't. Moments may be fun, but a lot of the films are magpies stealing from other things, and Italian exploitation's knockoffs always lack the invention of a John Sayles, and plus actors are often cast for their look, not for their presence or talent. Phenomena is a weird but sometimes enjoyable mess. It's a typical slasher at first, then goes insane with the insect attacks, and a few off-kilter additions. The Mallory Towers with an otherwise appealing Jennifer Connelly stuff is wearing, the metal soundtrack including some unfortunate Bill Wyman tracks just doesn't work, but Donald Pleasence as a Scottish professor trying to teach a chimp not to get paper cuts is just extraordinary. And the photography of Switzerland is nice. But it's a mess.
The Brain (1969) - All-star comedy, like After The Fox, Grand Slam, a heist film that is only slightly entertaining yet extremely colourful, attractively shot but almost utterly forgettable. One of Niven's various follies around this time, Casino Royale, Prudence and the Pill, Where The Spies Are... There is a weird cartoon interlude, but there's too much laboured, utterly baffling Euro-slapstick from Bourvil, though the end gag is fun. A lot of these heist movies, e.g. the Italian Job, I liked them as a kid. But they're like cakes. Big sugary delights you love as a kid, but then as an adult, are so incomprehensible, they overwhelm you until you get violently sick. At least, Grand Slam has an affecting performance from Edward G. Robinson as a man stuck in Brazil for years who gets to see his native New York again. And a good soundtrack.
But it suffers because like Those Magnificent Men..., After The Fox, Who Is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe, et cetera, you have all these comedians from all over the world - and their comedy stylings clash because their comic timing and sense of humour are all at different time zones. Even 1941 has this.
Bloodtide (1982) - Dull Greek sea monster thing with James Earl Jones, Jose Ferrer and aerobics.
Alligator (1980) -The monster action is sensational, but the comedy is not the sort I ever gravitated to. It's similar to how I feel with apart from The Stuff and Salem's Lot, the cop vs monster plot is so rote and basic, and typical. I'd have made Henry Silva's character the lead. His big game hunter is so much more interesting than Robert Forster's typical B-movie cop hero. And the Chicago setting isn't that convincing. It feels too small for the size of the world. It's no Digby the Biggest Dog in the World, even though the plot is similar. Jim Dale might have been a more interesting hero, and I'm not actually joking. Forster's good, but the character's a bit of a walking cliché, albeit a bit more fleshed out than normal. And I'm weird. But I don't necessarily want an episode of Hill Street Blues with my monster. The UK poster pushed it as a ZAZ-type spoof comedy, and I honestly wonder if that would have worked better. It's un-enthusiastically directed. A Joe Dante could have done wonders.
Avalanche Express (1979) - What could have been an interesting film, a slightly more B-movie Cassandra Crossing with Irish production money and added British character actors (Richard Marner from 'Allo 'Allo! Cyril Shaps from everything!*), despite some well-orchestrated action can't stop but feel somewhat empty after the deaths of director Mark Robson and star Robert Shaw in production. Gene Corman's post-production gives the whole thing a TV movie flair. Like Don Siegel's Telefon or John Hough's Brass Target or the Sean Connery vehicle The Next Man or the same year's Love and Bullets, it is a competent but aimless Euro-thriller that is well-orchestrated but just lacks that fizz or sufficient interest from the cast and crew. Lee Marvin is good, but it lacks the weird energy of the Cassandra Crossing. The plot is also over-complicated. The action's good, but there's no fizz. The avalanche is better done than the Corman film of the same name. And at least it has a scene in a room decorated with pictures of Cyril Shaps, pencil portraits, paintings, the whole works. And every house should have a room like that, the Jackdaw Suite, if you will.
*Doctor Who, The Spy Who Loved Me, The Odessa File, Porridge, the Young Ones, lots of US miniseries - The Bourne Identity, QB VII, Holocaust, all those Hallmark fantasies, The Spaceman and King Arthur, one of Harry Alan Towers' Sherlock things...