Wednesday 20 December 2017

December - 85 (it could be 87/90 but it mayb eisn't)

I, Madman (1989) - stylishly shot, neat idea but not quite pulpy enough, not enough focus on the monster, and with not quite a strong enough cast. But I just realised my problem with a lot of post-80s horror. Prosthetic monsters being witty, often coupled with an unattractive NTSC smear. Post-Freddy, post-Fango, Chucky, Crypt Keeper, various Charles Band beasties, most post-80s telefantasy (Friday the 13th: the series, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Tales from the Darkside/Monsters, Babylon 5, Amazing Stories, Tales from the Crypt), neither scary or funny - more uncanny valley Shiver and Shake than anything. And it continues - NuWho's characters like Strax the Sontaran butler.

The Salamander (1981) - From a book by Morris West, whose adaptations (The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968), the 1977 John Mills Devil's Advocate) can be watched by simply seeing their trailers. This is a confused mess from the dying days of Lew Grade's ITC. Basically a faux-polizioteschi film with Franco Nero travelling the world, shagging Sybil Danning, versus Anthony Quinn, Christopher Lee, Eli Wallach, Cleavon Little, a bunch of cameos strung together by a vaugely interesting plot failed by its makers - a typical ripe Europudding.

Trial by Combat - A Dirty Knight's Work (1976) - Ropey CFF-type medieval-themed capers with Barbara Hershey, David Birney, John Mills, Donald Pleasence and Peter Cushing in blue-tinted stock footage, and the villain turns out to be John Savident. Bernard Hill pops up. Brian Glover does Cockney. Margaret Leighton does Dame Edna.

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea (1976) - slow, but oddly compelling tale of posh, unlikeable killer schoolboys and their leader versus the lad's mother Sarah Miles and her new man Kris Kristofferson in his full 70s prime. Seeing Kris (my dad's hero) potting about small towns in the British Isles isn't as weird a sight as it seems. Like a lot of US country stars, he has been known to tour the small, country-mad towns of Ireland.

Agatha (1979) - Dull, without the spark of the Christie adaptations. Like one of the duller TV adaptations, than the camper films.

Zeppelin (1970) - Confused early Michael York vehicle, WW1 caper with Elke Sommer, the inevitable Anton Diffring, Marius Goring playing a steampunky scientist, cool model work, aerial shots of the Irish countryside per usual for a WW1 film of this era. Directed by Etienne Perier, whose short English language career (this and When Eight Bells Toll (1971)) encapsulates the British film industry of the early 70s, of not entirely worthless but unremarkable films designed to fill Sunday afternoons that bored one so much at times that you can't remember if you tuned out halfway, the not terrible, reasonably solid but only intermittently fun likes of Innocent Bystanders, Mr. Moses (1965 - so unmemorable I forgot I had seen it), the racist THE SOUTHERN STAR (1969 - which also counts as one of those steampunk adventures, and has a comedy ostrich called Olga) the Mandela-esque Wilby Conspiracy (1975 - despite being written by RTE's Peter Driscoll, and with an interesting focus on Indian immigrants in Africa), the overlong Michael Winner's Scorpio (1973), Figures in a Landscape (1970), the overrated Gumshoe (1970), various United Artists war movies (half a dozen at least), the fun if you are in a drunk/unexpected state of mind Paper Tiger (1975), Kidnapped (1971), the Chairman  (1969), 11 Harrowhouse (1974), The Day of the Jackal (1973- though The Odessa File (1974) is actually decent and effective), The Black Windmill (1975), the depressing A Dandy in Aspic (1968), Otley (-1968), various Eurospy joints that failed to capture that Bond magic,  The Human Factor (1975 AND 1979), Perfect Friday (1970 - David Warner as a kohl-eyed pretty boy who then disguises himself with grey hair and puberty tache), Universal Soldier (1971) Permission To Kill (75), the not-as-fun-as-it-should-be Avalanche Express (The Cassandra Crossing shot in Dublin, and with added Cyril Shaps and Robert Shaw is the less of its parts), The Looking Glass War, Fragment of Fear, The Marseille Contract (1974), A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square (1979), A Twist of Sand (1968 - Honor Blackman as a German), Callan! (1974), most of Sky Riders (1976 - it's a little Zoo Gang-ish), the stuff in Puppet on a Chain (1971) that isn't that chase scene, the Persuaders-esque You Can't Win 'Em All (1970), Inside Out (1975), Penny Gold (1974), File of the Golden Goose (1969), Midas Run (1969), Play Dirty (1968), Only When I Larf, the tonally all over the place Robinson Crusoe-meets-Reuben Reuben Man Friday (1975), Riddle of the Sands, worthy but overlong flops like the Royal Hunt of the Sun, the Long Duel (1967 which inspired Carry On Up The Khyber) and the depressing The Last Valley (1971), the lesser Richard Lester canon and that's the decent budget stuff, not the actually not very good Harry Alan Towers stuff or Medusa with George Hamilton. But at least, they're not the 80s equivalents, the even more boring likes of The Disappearance (1977), Eye of the Needle (1981), all those Michael Caine films funded by dodgy Arabs. Although I actually like The Mackintosh Man (1973) a little more, because my grandad's in it. Hennessy is for an Irishman, too unintentionally funny, and while Brannigan  (1975) does go into these areas, the sheer novelty of John Wayne in a British action film lifts it. And most of them do have the Spatz effect, as The Sitcom Club podcast describes it, they entertain because they encapsulate the era in which they were made. Dark Of The Sun seems like it is going to be one of these, but is actually brilliant.

Farewell To The King (1988) - I admire John Milius. The Wind and the Lion  (1975) is overlong, slow and not as fun as it should be, but it looks fantastic. Conan's good for what it is. But I'm not a surfer. I'm not a westerns guy. I'm not really a cop movie guy. Red Dawn I should like, but the "young" cast annoy me. And unless it creates a convincing enough world (like the lovingly sleazy Thailand of the much underrated Milius-produced Uncommon Valor (1983)) or is fun in an adventure movie sense, war movies don't usually grab me. This is Nick Nolte as the Man Called Horse/Man from Deep River versus World War Two, and Nigel Havers and James Fox pop up too. And it's not very good. It's got that Return from the River Kwai "nothing else on satellite TV" feel. Unless they're different or adventurous or international themed, the typical, usually domestic American-based "tough guy" movies don't quite appeal to me. I appreciate good action here and there, but a lot of those films are forgettable fare made to be rewound and fast-forwarded and then forgotten. They are films you can watch simply by seeing the trailer.

The Black Stallion (1979) - Saw bits as a kid, but then learnt about the opening, which has a ship at sea exploding, like my script. And it is one of the most gorgeously shot films ever, by Caleb Deschanel who later directed the similar and much underrated The Escape Artist (although I would have loved to have seen Paul Daniels in the Gabriel Dell role of that, but I'm going off topic). I'm not a sports movie guy, but it's lovely. The sequel, The Black Stallion Returns (1982) is more of an adventure film, with our hero, the likeable Kelly Reno returning, only to find his horse taken by its original owner, a sheik played by Ferdy Mayne and his browned up granddaughter, so Reno goes off and stows away in a seaplane to Casablanca/Italy and then it becomes an Arab movie with Joisey-accented Berbers, less the Wind and the Lion and more like dire ITC Terence Hill vehicle March Or Die (again proving why Hill never broke out of "last video on the shelf" in the English speaking market), but the opening stuff is great.

The Last Run (1971) - George  C. Scott drives through "Portugal"  into "France" (actually it's all Spain) with his two wives and whatshisface from Bird with the Crystal Plumage, while a great Roy Budd-esque Goldsmith score plays.  Featuring Ski-Boy/Chopper Squad's Robert Coleby as a randy British hitchhiker. Caught up between being a relationship drama, and an action film, and doesn't quite gel,yet that adds something - conflict! And the race stuff is great - especially a drive directly from desert into snowy foothills. Aldo Sambrell dubbed by Robert Rietty.  Richard Fleischer directing after John Huston quit.Huston was in the middle of doing a run of films that ranged from the boring Reflections of the Golden Eye to the nice western The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972 - from that 70s "slow western" boom of Wild West tales about nothing much, the likes of Oklahoma Crude and Another Man, Another Chance) to the incomprehensible messes of Casino Royale and the Kremlin Letter.

The Producers (1968) - I'd give it three stars. The beatnik Hitler doesn't really work, Mostel and Wilder have charm, the best bits probably the stuff with Christopher Hewett and William Hickey. There's an infectious joy, but you can see Brooks is building.

Knight Moves (1992) - Lacklustre Christopher Lambert neo-giallo from the assistant director of the Legend of Tim Tyler. Should be more international-flavoured than it is, though.

Black Christmas (1974) - Doesn't really get going until the last 15 minutes,  Bob Clark tries hard as director, the atmosphere is suitably Canadian, cold, nervous, but stilted - then Wham - towards the end, it improves. I've a weird relationship with Canadian film. I find the majority of Canadian exploitation from the tax shelter era, the likes of Death Weekend and a lot of the slashers boring, most of Cronenberg's oeuvre bland bar the entertaining The Brood, I like the Silent Partner and Murder By Decree (Bob Clark's best film), think The Amateur (1981) is an entertaining Cold War programmer, find Guy Maddin's stuff baffling. A lot of the stuff I find bland. I like bits of SCTV, but can't quite understand Strange Brew. The other SCTV spinoff The Shmenges - The Last Polka is so much better (maybe because chintzy European music loved by grannies is a more universal subject - James Last, for example). The weirder stuff is the better. The National Film Board stuff on the other hand is almost always great, though.

Screamtime (1983) - Rather fun compilation of British shorts by Stanley Long disguised as an anthology. Best story is Robin Bailey as crazed Punch and Judy man killing the likes of Bosco Hogan and Adrian off Bread.

The Cabinet of Caligari(1962 - B/W) - Cash-in on the original. Depsite Cinemascope, still like a dull episode of a TV anthology.

The Brain (1962 - B/W) - Freddie Francis-directed, Kenneth Kendall-guesting suspenser. Nicely shot, nice cast (Cecil Parker, Miles Malleson, Bernard Lee) but nothing special, like the dozens of similarly gothy British b/w psychothrillers churned out by Hammer, Merton Park, etc, with titles like House in Marsh Road and The Snorkel. And overlong. An idea better suited to a 30-minute anthology.

The Head (1959 - B/W) - Fun, routine but nicely gothy-in-a-modern-setting German horror, similar to the Brain that Wouldn't Die with Horst "the Baron from Tim Tyler" Frank and the head of Michel "Boudu" Simon. In the same mould as similar era films as the Mask, the Maze, etc.

Theatre of Death (1966) - Nonsensical 60s horror, in the same barrel of poverty row nonsense like The Vulture (1967), The Projected Man (1967), The Black Torment (1964), the Frozen Dead (1966), the Hand of Night (1968, NICE PERFORMANCE FROM EDWARD UNDERDOWN) and Devils of Darkness (-1965) and the better made but still slightly overrated likes of Night of the Eagle (1962 - B/W) and the "fun when you're 12" Sorcerers (1967). Christopher Lee and Julian Glover in what appears to be an episode of a rubbish ITC series hijacked by a giallo. 

Cuba (1979)-  Tonally muddled Richard Lester (per usual for him) film, can't quite tell if it is a tragic romance, a romp, a documentary-style exploration of pre-revolution Cuba or a chance for Connery to make a film in Spain. A slog, beautifully shot but a slog. Has Hammer regular Wolfe Morris as Batista, watching Horror of Dracula in B/W, and a dubbed  Roger Lloyd Pack playing Latino, a la his role in the Professionals, amongst a cast of unconvincing Hispanics (Brooke Adams doesn't ring as a Latina, while Earl Cameron, one of numerous Afro-Caribbean-British support actors in this, for once is cast colour-blind playing Rossell-Leyva, a white Hispanic military leader who in real life resembled oddly absent Lester regular John Bluthal). I like Lester's Superman films, and Juggernaut (1974), but the rest are never as enjoyable as they should be.

I've been watching the Tales from the Crypt TV series, and despite interesting casts and directors, unlike the Amicus movies, they never end up more than padding to neat imagery, the crutch-using  ghouls, and shoes haunting undertaker Moses Gunn, the Don Rickles foetal-dummy,  the dead M Emmett Walsh, John Astin's Hamlet, Whoopi Goldberg holding a head of James Remar in a Caribbean island plantation,  Zelda Rubinstein torturing David Warner with her disfigured skull-faced daughter. There's a reason why they work best as comics. They're still images, good as comics, but probably better as trading cards. And the heightened performances, multicoloured yet bland style and NTSC smear detract. Then again, I'm not that mad on 50s US B-Movies or even the US gothics. I appreciate the Corman-Poe stuff, but it always felt a little like a dodgy US TV series of the period, especially the supporting performances. Once AIP moves that sort of thing to Britain with Masque of the Red Death (1964), it gets  slightly better. As mundane as something like The Oblong Box (1969) is, I'd still watch it over, say The Fall of The House of Usher, because at least it has numerous solid character actors to support Price rather than just say a brief performance from Karloff or Lorre or Rathbone or a dubbed Barbara Steele. They are stylish films, but like their Italian brethren, style isn't everything.

Also watched the Black Cat (1934 - B/W). The thing is I am not an expressionist fan, but I don't hate them. Karloff is nicely camp. I see a lot of classic films as paintings. They are nice to look at, and you can admire them for what they are, but you don't have to like them. But you can't really hate them. What I like in black and white photography is the clear, sunny style you see in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Night of the Iguana, Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964 - b/w - a load of melodramatic pish), etc, something which very few master.

Nightmare Alley (1947 - b/w) - Again not a noir man, but I found the setting interesting and the concept something. Solid.  Although more should have been made of the carnival.

Dinosaurus (1960) - Really beautifully shot dinosaur movie that used to show up on C4 back in the day. Unoriginal, uninspired, but the Virgin Islands locations lift it. And some stop motion. Feels like I've seen it before, and my mum turned it off halfway through cos she thought it silly. And some pontificating on why a caveman should die.

The Cellar (1989) - Unoriginal but nicely shot, Raimiesque desert Native American-themed demon-hog monster horror, by Kevin Tenney. The monster's okay. Fair enough.

The Caller (1987) - Charles Band film, as with all Empire-era Band films, well-shot, with good solid production value in Italy,  Slow duologue,  Malcolm McDowell as a strange person who doesn't understand certain phrases, and talks with a weird Mid-Atlantic accent between Yorkshire and Calgary. Good performances, but it's a stretched out Tales from the Darkside. It's not a film. The ending is neat (it's all a game), and the effects on McDowell are interesting.

The Bat People (1974) - nicely shot in Carlsbad Caverns, nice atmosphere, but its slow, dull, with dull monsters, not great acting. From the director of Raise the Titanic.

Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972)- cult sacrifice, homemade horror. Diverting but rubbish at the least, godawful at the most. 

Sky Pirates (1986) -  John Hargreaves a solid Aussie Indiana Jones-alike, even if his chemistry-free love interest is wooden,  but the too on-the nose named Dakota Harris is an interesting character in his own right, a sort of Antipodean Biggles in this rather odd, fun little Australian Raiders cash-in. Assigned by US general Alex Scott (the frog-masked bloke in the Abominable Dr. Phibes) to fly a plane to Washington, only to be re-routed to French Polynesia. Strikingly shot by Colin Eggleston (director of 1979's eco-horror Long Weekend), and with an interesting time loop plot, and intriguing imagery - floating Easter Island heads,and location shooting on the island itself. Good dialogue. "Fancy taking my chances on a mirage." With many of the cast of George Miller's miniseries The Dismissal (Hargreaves, Bill Hunter, Max Phipps as the blond-flattopped villain). And a plot that doesn't quite go the way you think it would (our heroes are rescued, then thrown into military  prison, then Dirty Dozen-style, Hargreaves steals a plane from RAAF ally-turned-enemy Max Phipps find the missing Reverend). Also features Nigel Bradshaw, the English actor who played a Yorkshireman on Prisoner Cell Block H simply because Yorkshire TV were the only ITV region showing the series, and thought that some local appeal was needed. An interesting little pulp pleasure. Brian May's soundtrack is serviceable, but not his best, and a little too indebted to Williams.

Shatter (1974) - Not very good Hammer-Shaw actioner, Stuart Whitman as assassin, sort of whitesploitation feel, a middle-aged white Conservative take on similar Blaxploitation efforts like That Man Bolt. Peter Cushing and Anton Diffring turn up. 

The Amsterdam Kill (1977) - Basically the same as Shatter, but actually with some standout action sequences, and Robert Mitchum and Leslie Nielsen, and for Golden Harvest rather than Shaw Brothers. It begins with Mitchum (no stranger to foreign weirdness, having starred in confused Swedish TV spy spinoff Foreign Intrigue (1957), arguably the first true Eurospy film) undercover in Wandsworth, and watching a badly-accented TV football commentator over some clearly American stock footage of "the Rangers",  which then cuts mid-match to a flash news bulletin of an Amsterdam drugs raid that no British station would ever do. Mitchum wears a flat cap well, probably why Lean cast him in Ryan's Daughter. Since it was directed by Robert "Enter the Dragon" Clouse, who was deaf, you can watch it without sound and still follow. Has fun scenes of Chinese goons basically getting trapped in the title sequence of the Adventures of Black Beauty.  And Mitchum gleefully crashes a bulldozer through a greenhouse.

Mother Lode (1982) and Death Hunt (1981) - Two serviceable faux-Canadian actioners. Mother Lode is a muddle, but it has the Two Ronnies Christmas Special 1987's Charlton Heston as two Scottish brothers named Silas and Ian, who have a Scrooge McDuck-like obsession with gold, while one lusts after Kim Basinger, who's searching for her husband. Nonsensical, and confusing. Death Hunt has RCMP men Lee Marvin and Carl Weathers hunt for mad trapper Charles Bronson, in a Golden Harvest production based on a true story. Nicely shot adventures, both, though Death Hunt is the better film. Both better than the various mountain men/Great North movies of the same period, the High Country, the Wilderness Family, Surfacing, Challenge to be Free, etc.

Sunday 17 December 2017

The Return of Captain Invincible (1983) + 5 refs to Mora's career

The Return of Captain Invincible (1983) - A shambles. Philippe Mora is a director whose work is very strange, from Ozploitation ventures as the rather silly Australian western Mad Dog Morgan (1976) to the Sullivans-esque GIs in Australia murder conspiracy of Death Of A Soldier (1986) to US ventures as dire Howling II: Stirba Werewolf Bitch (1985) and The Beast Within (1982), a film which has an interesting cast, concept and setting and does everything that it sets out to do, but is still quite icky and unfocused, and nasty. The fact that his best film might be the insane Howling III - The Marsupials (1987) may say it all. He's a director who specialises in the daft. But Captain Invincible isn't quite daft enough. Written by future US action specialist Steven E. De Souza, the Australian setting feels tacked on, as if to please the Australian producers and also Actors' Equity to keep a mainly Aussie cast. Alan Arkin is decent as Captain Invincible, and Christopher Lee is perfect as his nemesis, Mr. Midnight. But the  film is confused. Arkin, then pushing 50 plays a Second World War veteran superhero who surely is pushing 80, but then again he is beyond human, who somehow has spent the last few years in Sydney, but still thinks it is NYC. The US President (Australian-born western vet Michael Pate, who would reprise the role in Howling III) is handily in Australia, when a hypno-ray is stolen, and the alcoholic Cap, taken in by an unlikeable female cop/journalist (the script is hazy), has to stop Midnight and his goblin sidekick Julius from wiping the ethnic minorities of New York (i.e. a few stereotyped Arabs and Jews, and ex-Laugh In star Chelsea Brown, the only African-American woman living in Australia at the time in a cameo). It is also a musical, featuring a few songs written by Richard O'Brien, and a few not by the Rocky Horror creator/future Crystal Maze host. An interesting joke is ignored - that Invincible's singing style is rooted in the 1940s, but then the soundtrack resorts to using old standards and the Peter Gunn theme. A lot of goofy comedy emerges, a lot of repeated training routines and magnetism jokes, endless flashbacks, endless in-your-face Americana to distract you from the barrage of Aussie faces (Blankety Blanks host Graham Kennedy, his regular panellist Noel Ferrier, Bill Hunter, David Argue, Chris Haywood, Arthur Dignam, Bruce Spence) and some of these are baffling (a bizarre few seconds of interlude with a female supervillain distributing dog excrement from robot doghouses there to give Australian drag act Mr. Tracey Lee some screentime), while one, a foodfight involving the legendary John Bluthal, one of the finest comic actors of his generation as a "Jewish deli owner" who isn't Jewish or a deli owner, and has a fish-shaped rifle instead makes one think what Bluthal would have been like as Captain Invincible. If the film did have Bluthal as a more unorthodox hero, the film less glossy (the high-quality second unit shots of 42nd Street in the climax jar with the obvious sets where we see the main cast),  perhaps with a more heightened sense of reality and artifice, and either the songs written by one unit, or dropped entirely altogether, it might have worked. Perhaps with the plot changed too. Instead of Captain Invincible being an alcoholic, he could have been a deli owner whose life is no longer interesting, because he is now afraid. In all, a tepid mess.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Thank you, TVC.

It's a few months late, but I realised the debt that TV Cream influenced me. They celebrated their 20th anniversary a few months back, and having been a longtime fan, I was recently sent a beloved Friend of TV Cream badge as a thanks for doing bits of research and general nice fandom.  I discovered them when I was 11, after becoming a fan of BBC Cult. However, by the time I happened upon BBC Cult, it was dead. I remember counting down to the days it closed, only to realise it said June 2005 and not 2006, as I thought. Through a link in their defunct news page, I found TV Cream. And I was hooked. You see, this was in the era of dial-up internet, and the internet was rationed in our house. You could only use it at night, or on weekends, or else it was too expensive. So it was hard to find stuff about old TV. My out of date Halliwell's filmgoer's comapnion from 1988 was a help, but I also avoided certain things cos I had a Davros-induced phobia of classic Doctor Who from the age of 5 to 10 (just after when you become afraid of things you were too young to previously understand). I also observed my school library's shelves for it contained books that tied into TV shows I didn't know, Educating Marmalade, the Bagthorpe Saga, the 1977 version of Treasure Island, the Famous Five. In my school, kids were being exposed to series by chance. I had to get mum to buy a VHS of the old Southern Famous 5 for my friend Cerin. But also, I was getting into Who fandom by this stage. And I found TVC a vat of fact. It explained in-jokes, introduced me to shows I hadn't heard of - and through their choice of photos - misinformed me. For years, I thought the BBC's Borgias was an Italian-coproduced Addams Family knockoff with Adolfo Celi cast as a spoof of his character in Thunderball. But by the time I was in my teens, I was recommending Coronation STreet fan teachers their 50 Great Things About Coronation Street podcast, and eventually commenting. My enthusastic "no introductions" Asperger's-y style alienated a few. For instance, Tim Worthington and Chris Diamond, two of Cream's most distinctive voices (Worthington the encycloapedic mind of children's TV, rare music and certain cult film genres, Diamond the embodiment of the avuncular video shop employee recommending rare  tat that turned out to be solid cinematic gold) both blocked/muted me. I understand for I was a bit too pally and thus came across as an arse, like that twat  from the local burger bar, but if it wasn't for them, I think my writing style would be different, and my knowledge not as varied. I read their books constantly in secondary school, almost distracting from my rough days in Kilcoole, but still I owe them so much, so thank you TVC.
And to Tim and Chris, sorry.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

November - 49 (minus Carpenter) Cheap Detective, spy stuff, Night of the Following Day, Shark Hunter, Pretty Maids, Dead Pigeon, Proof of the Man, Carpenter, Unman, Labyrinth, True Confessions, the Stunt Man, Hooper, L'Animal, Slayground, Full Circle, Invaders from Mars, Freaked, Frankenstein Island, Company C, Hackman, Games, Psychobiddy, Horror of it all Amicus.

Matchless(1967) - almost sub- Danger Diabolik, with a better Europsy cast thank to DDL, Patrick O'Neal, Donald Pleasence, Henry Silva, Boss Hogg, written bizarrely by Jack Pulman. But still falls into the traps of Eurospy fare. Watchable cast, but full of nonsensical interludes and attempts at humour, perhaps something was lost in translation from English to Italian to English, again.

Night of the Following Day (1968) - grim home invasion/hostage Richard Boone/Pamela Franklin/Marlon Brando nonsense -weird dream/time loop plot. Would work better as an anthology i.e. an episode of Thriller, Pamela  Franklin and all. It would work better on claustrophobic VT.

The Cheap Detective (1978) - Disappointing follow-up to Murder by Death, with Peter Falk and Eileen Brennan not playing the same characters, just very similar characters, even though it is written by Neil Simon, directed by Robert Moore and produced by Rastar like its predecessor. A lot of the cast from MBD appear (James Coco, James Cromwell as well), plus the likes of John Houseman, Paul Williams, Ann-Margret, Stockard Channing in elderly teen mode again, Brooks imports Dom DeLuise and Madeline Kahn as a woman of many names (and gets to do a Chinatown-ish "my husband, my father!" routine), Louise Fletcher as Ingrid Bergman, Nicol Williamson as a US-based Nazi, Sid Caesar in old age makeup, etc, and while there are good jokes (the opening caption, Brennan leading a singalong of "la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la vi en rose!"), and some very Crackerjack!-ish jokes about a Chinese waiter whose name is either Huang Jin Sling or Brandy, it's a muddle and not deliberately so a la MBD. It seems to be every Bogie film at once, and feels especially sub-Mel Brooks, although that said, post-Brooks spoofs are always more polished than say, post-Airplane! spoofs.

Mad Mission 3 (1983)- Crazed, madcap, inventive but not especially funny Tsui Hark spy spoof in the visually pleasing but always peculiarly dubbed and not very funny Hong Kong spy/adventure series - with peter Graves, Neil Connery, Richard Kiel and bad lookalikes of Sean Connery, the Queen and Ronald Reagan. Competent, reasonably inventive but unremarkable stunts, one of those films where everything's in the trailer, and a few interesting cultural quirks may be seen in the full film, but nothing else that hasn't been seen before.

Cellar Dweller (1988) - Another interesting but not-very good Charles Band film, with its anachronistic 40s comic artist-created monster, and appearances by Yvonne De Carlo, feels more like an over-extended episode of Tales from the Darkside, but more visually attractive. The thing with Band's films is they make great trailers, but even at 70 minutes, they're overlong.

The President's Analyst (1967)-  Muddled, overlong but memorable satirical spy spoof, James Coburn not as Flint and Godfrey Cambridge not in whiteface, featuring Aquacars, Liverpudlian spies, imagery later cribbed for the Spanish short La Cabina, and a nice cast. Passable Sunday afternoon waster.

The Shark Hunter (1978) -  Enzo Castellari directed turgid actioner with Franco Nero as blond-dyed hero fighting something involving treasure and a conspiracy is less a Jaws imitation and more like all those bad treasure hunt movies that came out both before and after the Deep, the likes of  the Italian-esque Evil in the Deep/Treasure of Jamaica Reef (1976), the Treasure Seekers with Rod Taylor, Sharks' Treasure, Mako the Jaws of Death (1976) etc, and despite mondo-ish footage , a great jazzy theme tune by the De Angelis brothers, a few explosions and a few fractured flashbacks, these elements do not make a good film.  More fun that the late 80s knockoffs like the Rai Uno-funded Night of the Sharks with a "what the hell is he doing in a SOV-looking Italian C-movie" Treat Williams (this is what Italian licence fee money went into in the 80s!) and the Killer Crocodile films, though.  End credits weirdly has cast credited with first name as initial only.

Pretty Maids All in A Row (1971) - Weird all-star tonally-odd Roger Vadim-directed Gene Roddenberry-written Rock Hudson killer teacher nosh. Has the tone of an all-star caper comedy, but is actually a murder mystery about teenage girls being slaughtered. Odd. Not as good as the flawed  Barbarella (1968 - too much in long shot!), and the intriguing, colourful modern lesbian vampire story Blood and Roses (1960), Vadim's best films IMO.

Proof of the Man (1977). I am fascinated by when people try to imitate other cultures' films, and try to disguise them as other countries, and the levels. From Kadokawa, makers of the astonishing Virus (1980 - which like this, stars George Kennedy), this is a Japanese attempt to do an American cop movie with Japanese elements, and almost feels aimed more at the US than Japan, with its Japanese cop karate-chopping assailants, but there's a very un-American nihilistic element resulting in a confused mess that perhaps could have been something very special, if the Japanese had been subtitled. A mess relating to the murder of an African-American in Japan brings two cops together, a young Japanese and a gruff vet played by Kennedy in 70s B-movie action hero mode. The American is unconvincingly played by Caribbean-Japanese reggae star Joe Yamanaka, who is badly dubbed, struggles to play a jiving stereotype, and looks nothing like his darker skinned parents, Robert "yes, he's James' dad" Earl Jones, and Theresa Merritt, star of US sitcom That's My Mama, ironic considering Yamanaka's 70s J-ballad theme is called "Mama, do you remember?" and the tagline was "Kiss me, mammy", an unfortunate statement that while in the US perhaps results in cringes relating to African-American female caricatures, in Ireland, sounds exactly like the title of an episode of Mrs. Brown's Boys. Centres on the revelation that Kennedy murdered his partner's da in World War Two and urinated on him. 

Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street-(1974) strange Fuller-directed episode of German TV staple Tatort, complete with crew and cast in bizarre Are You Being Served-esque "you have been watching" style credits, in fancy dress. A weird mix of dubbed late night ITV import and more surreal elements - lots of cameras focusing on tellies including a videophone, US import Glenn Corbett speaks English while select characters speak German, Anton Diffring pops up inevitably,  and basically the Profumo-esque plot gives up and becomes an unfunny spoof of awful German cop shows or things like the then-contemporaneous "Assignment - Vienna" (also starring Diffring) by an American trying to find work. Watchable but weird.

Escape From New York (1981) - Let down by the lack of world-building. Escape from LA is actually more fun. I am not a big Carpenter fan. Halloween III, The Thing (purely for the visual feats it achieves) and Big Trouble in Little China aside. I kind of like The Fog and Prince of Darkness has some moments, mainly the Pleasence stuff, but aside from that, his films are good ideas caught up against budget, ambition, and studio bosses... 

Starman (1984) - It's basically a sci-fi tinged pilot for a serious comedy-drama remake of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, and every bit as odd as that sounds. Some nice visuals, but Bridges' character is hard to take seriously. The photography is nice, but it feels cold. There is very little warmth there, oddly, yet it is also too sentimental. Carpenter is a very technical director, often too interested in the visuals and structure to get into the deeper tics of characters. Then again, I find The Man Who Fell To Earth bollocks. It's a cliched idea - the idea of a naive alien being boggled by our world - the stuff of bad French comedy.

Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1970) - Slow thriller with David Hemmings. A good cast doesn't help a Clemens-ish premise. 

Labyrinth (1986) - Okay Hensonia. Lots of dodgy CSO, and a nice British voice cast. But is basically a duff episode of the Muppet Show in fantasy dress.

The Stand (01994) - Overlong Stephen King miniseries - world saved by mad old woman who sings the Volkswagen Changes song.

The Stunt Man (1980) - Nonsensical meta-hippy nonsense.

True Confessions (1981) - Chinatown with priests. Despite Cyril Cusack, not much. See also - Monsignor (1982).

Providence (1977) - Weird for weird's sake Dirk Bogarde werewolf-related cobblers.

Watched crap Donald E Westlake Southport slasher Slayground (1983). Needed more Southport, despite Bill Dean and Mel Smith. Feels a bit Euston once it gets to the UK. Has soeone tarred and feathered literally.

Tried watching Hooper 1978, but adult me has a low tolerance for prime era Burt Reynolds stuff. Even Belmondo's L'Animal (1976) is better and that's tepid.

Full Circle (1976) - Despite Mia Farrow, is helped by having a nicely directed atmosphere. And the most brilliant cast. Damaris Hayman! Anna Wing! As Lesbian Psychics! Mary Morris! Nigel Havers! Julian Fellowes! Edward Hardwicke!  Tom Conti! Peter Sallis! Denis Lill! Michael Bilton!

Shark (1969) - Burt Reynolds in Sam Fuller directed Mexican-shot Arab shark hunting movie. Feels like a ropey Spanish cheapie and not a ropey Mexican cheapie.  Burt's tache-free Conneryesque appearance suggests a Eurospy feel.Better than the likes of Burt's Filipino venture Impasse from the same year.

Invaders From Mars (1986) - Cannon/Tobe Hooper do-over. The filmmaking style is very reminiscent of Michael Laughlin's for Strange Behaviour and Strange Invaders, which also feature Louise Fletcher. An interesting failure that meanders.

Watching 80s Granada anthology Shades of Darkness. My problem with all Granada and a lot of period spooky stuff in general is they all try to be sinister and still look like Catherine Cookson adaps (in this case The Mallens), so I don't get terrified by them. This is the same with a fair few of the Brett Sherlock Holmes episodes (the later ones, everything before the Hound of the Baskervilles is at least watchable, even the Devil's Foot's crap video effects have a charm. The fact he's so unwell in later ones also just makes you feel sorry for the pain he's suffering.)
And Granada's Philip Pullman adap How to be Cool has dated badly, offputtingly yoof TV. The fact it has Gary Glitter in it is the least of its worries. He's actually very camp and sinister, but annoying. That's the trouble. Even as a baddie in Super Gran, he was never a likeable screen presence. And he says "Shbielberg".

Freaked (1993) - Rather fun freakshow horror with  a reunited post-Bill and Ted Alex Winter (who also directs) and an uncredited Keanu Reeves as a dogboy, as Winter's ex-child-star journeys to Randy Quaid's South American carnival to find the weird chemical he's been using, and meets the likes of Mr. T as a bearded lady, a faux-British aristocrat worm-man, a literal Cow-Boy, a giant-nosed guy, a female Pinhead, Bobcat Goldthwait as Sockhead, and a few other weird cameos including Brooke Shields, former Crackerjack! star/Jack Douglas' comedy partner-turned-regular Hanna-Barbera voice Joe Baker and Pamela Mant, who began as Christine Archer in the BBC radio soap, then moved to Ireland, played one of the token Protestants in RTE's proto-Emmerdale  Farm The Riordans, then moved to the US after a time in the UK, and appeared in US soap Santa Barbara as the Queen, then in Leprechaun. Inventive, given a big budget yet screwed by Fox. Worth a watch.

Frankenstein Island (1981)- a bunch of middle-aged male balloonists crash on a desert island, are rescued by blonde cave girls, then brought to a castle occupied by Sheila Frankenstein-Von Helsing (sic) trying to revive the spirit of John Carradine in her comatose husband,  who keep prisoner a Poe-quoting Cameron Mitchell and army of shades-wearing, black-jumper and bobble-hatted goons. A monster breaks out. Our heroes escape in a raft, and then return to rescue the cave-girls, but then they realise they were in a time-warp. Awful but astonishing that former Mexican footage importer Jerry Warren was making stuff like this, earnestly in 1981.

Covert Action (1978) - David Janssen in Eurospy fare 70s style, Corinne Clery as doomed girlfriend, features an odd scene in an amphitheater full of suspicious nuts, feels built around location shooting in Greece, went straight to TV in the US and feels like other glamorous but vacuous Euro semi-TVM joints of the same era, Golden Rendezvous (1977), S+H+E - Security Hazards Expert (-1980), and various BBC thrillers in the mould of Michael J. Bird's work, (you know the type, the Treachery Game, the Assassination Run, Kessler, almost endearingly trying to be glamorous, constructing  a nonsensical plot around quickly-shot interludes in foreign territories alongside usual videotaped shenanigans with various British actors doing funny accents or no accent at all).

The Boys in Company C (1978) - One of the better Vietnam pics,  shot atmospherically in the jungles of the Philippines, feels like a real place, unlike the M*A*S*H* esque TV movierama of Go Tell the Spartans (1978), which also features Craig Wasson, Apocalypse Now's Wagnerian hell or Full Metal Jacket's Home Counties Hue, a film which pilfers a lot from Company C, including R. Lee Ermey.

Prime Cut (1972)  A rural comedy with thriller elements, or a rural thriller with comedy... Dad film legends Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman (playing a meat mogul called Mary Ann) battle each other in something a lot darker and sardonic than the later rural actioners in the Burt Reynolds mould. It is  muddled and oddly entertaining, similar to the Richard Harris film 99 & 44/100 Dead. Sleazy, enjoyable, but erratic in both tone and plot. Sissy Spacek turns up as orphan hooker. Memorable moment involving a combine harvester.

Scarecrow (1973) - Al Pacino over-does his schtick, while Gene Hackman looks bemused in a flat cap. Tries itself to be a "charming story" of two idiots roaming America. Similar to Midnight Cowboy, another one of these New Hollywood stories about eejits about town.

Night Moves (1975) - Hackman again. I'm not really into private eye stories, but this is interesting for what it is. Kind of odd seeing Kenneth Mars in serious mode, and name-dropping Alex Karras (whose future wife Susan Clark appears - in further non-Mel Brooks-related CELEBRITY PARADOX!, and yes, I know he was a football player, but I'm Irish, he's Mongo). Goes tonally from freewheeling loveliness about Melanie Griffith being mysterious yet outgoing, and then - wham! she's dead. Tonally, it seems to be a mess, until the twist that everything just gets worse. And timely in the age of the Hollywood conspiracy. It has all the flaws of New Hollywood thrillers, but it's slow because it's not the mystery it seems to be, it's the story of a man. That nothing is what it seems. But it is not as sinister as it should be, though it may not have worked as well as a trad-mystery. Might have been a bit too Chinatown.

Games (1967) - Similar in tone to Rosemary's Baby, caught between gothic and the modern, James Caan and Katharine Ross as sadistic socialites, while Simone Signoret does psycho-biddy. Similarly muddled but more metropolitan than sitcom-gone-wrong suburban shockers a la the irritatingly Disneyesque I Saw What You Did (1965 - B/W), the silly Avon ladies-vs-hippie chick nonsense of The Mad Room (1969) and the better but still TVM-ish What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice (1969), even though director Curtis Harrington is often better in TV movie mould, the Cat Creature and the Dead Don't Die more fun than the likes of Night Tide (1960 - B/W) or the Killing Kind (1975). These films seem to work watched at 10 o'clock at night.

What's The Matter With Helen (1971) - Harrington again, but more fun. Exquisite period setting. Psycho-biddy schlock involving Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters rowing over a stage school, Dennis Weaver is nominal lead, and Irish theatrical titan Micheal Mac Liammoir (the connection between Orson Welles and showbands), in a scene-stealing turn as theatrical agent. Timothy Carey is memorably creepy as a tramp. Still relevant satire on child stars, here a mix of sexualised adult impersonators and Shirley Temple types in the 1930s. Harry Dean Stanton pops up. Agnes Moorehead excels as a sort of Aimee Semple McPherson-type evangelist, crooning the Volkswagen Changes theme, but the shock ending is spoiled on the poster. Double-billed on DVD with Winters/Harrington's pleasing but confused UK-made Who Slew Auntie Roo (1971), its weird semi-family film tone making me wonder did co-star Lionel Jeffries "help" in direction. However, that film is crippled by being unsure who the protagonist and antagonist are. I'm not a psychobiddy man, but the setting and characters just click. Child starlets are a great root for such a film.

The Horror of It All (1964 - B/W) - disjointed, sometimes fun Terence Fisher-directed  semi-musical Old Dark House knockoff (based on the same script as Castle's remake) with Pat Boone, a few inventive vignettes involving relatives "inventing" electricity, Confusing ending seemingly changed, to avoid similarity with the Old Dark House remake, where the blonde love interest turns out to be killer, now involving Dennis Price. Similarly threadbare  to the other Lippert productions in UK, with almost-ITC feel.  See also What A Carve-Up (1961 - bB/W) for more similarly-themed/toned UK old dark house comedy.

Also watched colorful but not great UK horrors Amicus' the Psychopath (1965 - atmospheric but inert, feels like an episode of ITC's Thriller or a Merton Park cheapie) and the not great Devils of Darkness (1965), despite a nice performance from Eddie Byrne.

Monday 16 October 2017

What I've been watching in October - 50

Going Bananas (1988) - Dom Deluise deputises for Bud Spencer in a 40s jungle comedy complete with stereotypes (Jimmie Walker as the Mantan Moreland-ish Mozambo), but made in 80s South Africa by Cannon with Herbert Lom as a dictator-ish Captain and Deep Roy essentially playing the Peking Homunculus again.  A dull Disneyesque joint intended as a sequel to the Clint Eastwood and Clyde the Chimp films AND an adaptation of an Israeli Curious George knockoff, and the Needham-esque circus scenes hint at the former, pumped up to ultra-weirdness levels by Cannon. Nice Pino Donaggio soundtrack.

Iron Eagle (1986) - average, very 80s Karate Kid-via-Top Gun, Lou Gossett as mentor. David Suchet livens up proceedings, but too 80s teen movie for its own good, something which has hurt the likes of Night of the Comet (1984) and Night of the Creeps (1986).  

Machinegunner (-1976) - HTV pilot shot on film, feature-length Leonard Rossiter vehicle. Interesting failure, the tweedy harpschicord soundtrack does not work against urban Bristol. Murkily shot in some scenes, a complicated plot involving Nina Baden-Semper, Colin Welland, Kate O'Mara,  feels overlong at 80  minutes, lots of non-dialogue spying and chasing, 

TRAPPED! (1982) - Blackfaced hillbilly nutter Henry Silva wages war in slasher/vigilante rural terror movie, uninteresting characters against interesting setting. 

Blazing Magnum (1976) - Stuart Whitman, Martin Landau, John Saxon, Gayle Hunnicutt all feature in Italian-Canadian cop thriller with some exciting action scenes - Whitman getting beaten about transvestites on top of a skyscraper, lots of proto-parkour,  an ace car chase, a helicopter assassination climax that seemingly influenced the opening of For Your Eyes Only in camera direction (Remy Julienne worked on both) and a nicely Canadian feel a la the Silent Partner. Stunt director Remy Julienne miscredited as Julienne Remy.

Ruby (1977) - Piper Laurie in  muddled supernaturally gangster drama that also revolves around a haunted drive-in, and features a moon-eyed teenaged daughter for extra Carrie-ness.  Like an episode of Happy Days directed by someone who wants to be Argento. Curtis Harrington directs, but he's not sure of the plot. Is it a horror or a 50s melodrama?

Russian Roulette (1975) - ITC-funded George Segal thriller/travelogue of 70s Vancouver,  Gordon Jackson, Denholm Elliot and Nigel Stock play Canadians, only the latter attempting an accent. Typical tax shelter larks, although good action and an interesting soundtrack, its main theme a high school band performance of Polyushka Polye, its Canadian-ness creating a friendler tone than other Cold War thrillers including Segal's cold Quiller Memorandum (1966).

Three For All (1975) - Early Martin Campbell film, all star disaster of a comedy musical. More interesting behind the scenes story, frankly.

The Dunwich Horror (1970) - A duff episode of Night Gallery that goes on for 90 minutes.
The Dove (1974) - True life adventure, Charles "Condorman" Jarrott directing, though with its partly Australian setting, less Disney, more Lost Islands. Teen Joseph Bottoms travels around the world and falls in love with Deborah Raffin.  Features staged Fijian kitten-butchery.

 Ghost Story (1981) - Atmospheric but dull all-star horror. Shock ending at odds with tone of the film. Craig Wasson a rubbish lead.

Watched a few Blake Edwards films, find his stuff self-indulgent, too weighed down to work. Even the Pink Panthers go overlong, even the brilliant Pink Panther Strikes Again. Then watched the likes of Breaking Away (1979 )and More American Graffiti (1979), like most coming of age stories, pleasing but only occasionally interesting - an average time-killer. Although the theme to the TV version of Breaking Away is very close to Mrs. Brown's Boys.

Killer Force (1976) - Fast-paced but not endearing Val Guest-directed pseudo-blaxploitation actioner with OJ Simpson among a cast of Peter Fonda, Hugh O'Brian, an Afrikaaner-accented Maud Adams, Christopher Lee and Telly Savalas as a character called Harry Webb, the real name of Cliff Richard, whom Guest directed in Expresso Bongo. Fun, very 70s, Fonda with a perm, lots of showcasing for South African-based actors of the era. Double-bill it with the similar, overlong but more fun Gold (1974).

Pigs (1972) - More not-conventionally-good-or-bad indie horror weirdness. Marc Lawrence in a bad ginger wig feeding victims to pigs. Kind of fun. Prototypical hillbilly cannibal nonsense. Lawrence lifts the material, but then he also directed it, and features his daughter. Dreamlike.

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982) - Badly-accented Susan George and Edward Albert move to Japan, she has an affair with Doug McClure, cool kabuki-samurai ghosts appear, but otherwise routine haunter. Boring, bad child acting, too.

Figures in a Landscape (1970) - routine Defiant Ones-ish adventure with Malcolm McDowell and Robert Shaw chased through South America by Henry Woolf.  Ends on a shootout against the military. And perks up. And then continues into the snowy mountains. Overlong. Feels like a Beckettian travelogue. Final image arresting, of bloodied Shaw alone on the mountain. 

Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun (1969) - Bonkers, incredibly confusing, lovely sets and design, slightly warmer than UFO, but hard to follow. The "flash-forward geriatric wheelchair/mirror suicide" ending is insane.

 Lisa and the Devil (1974) - The original, moody, atmospheric, slow cut not the House of Exorcism piece. Like a lot of Italian horror from this era, like most Euro-genres merges into one, and I can't take early 70s Elke Sommer seriously cos of Carry On Behind, interesting supposed-to-be-a-twist ending with If-era Telly.

Runestone (1991) - Interesting, watchable but average Viking-themed Highlander knock-off with some interesting character comedy bits.

Crescendo (1970) - I'm not a big fan of Hammer's psychodramas. A lot of them blend into one, but this almost impressed me, nice  jazzy score, and the sunny photography keeps it above TV movie level,  similar to And Soon The Darkness. The old mad twin-brother gambit, with James Olson (who I presumed for years to be a Yank in the UK along the lines of Ed Bishop, only to realise he was a solid non-star Hollywood character lead). Stefanie Powers plays along cliches, wheelchairs, missing luggage, crazy maids, orphans, it does devolve into a Brian Clemens-ish mess, but the exterior stuff is lovely.  Joss Ackland rocks many an all-black ensemble.

Daughters of Darkness (1971) - Confusing but interesting, nicely shot lesbian vampire horror. Ponderous in some respects and the back and forth in location (is it in a castle or a hotel? God knows?), but the idea of a vampire countess driving a car which then explodes and supernaturally burns, with its owner is a fascinating one. Symbiotic. And a  great soundtrack and a great location in the hotel and surrounding Ostend. The two leads are bland, but that may be the dubbing, and John Karlen doesn't have the beard he has in Cagney and Lacey or the Irish accent he had as the murderous Gard in Murder, She Wrote. But there is a definite Euro-smut vibe with those two. An above average Euro-horror.

Malpertuis (1971)- Nice design, maybe it's Welles, but it reminds me sort of what Jodorowsky's Dune may have looked like, completely different setting, but in terms of fat Orson in Euro-weirdness. But not as mind-expanding.

Daughter of Darkness (1948 - B/W)- Siobhan Mackenna in weird Irish horror-noir. Shows that the Brits always had trouble spelling Irish names. Frightfully young Honor Blackman. Atmosphere, kind of lags, I'm not a noir guy, really, but the  Irish angle is interesting. Not the 1970s vampire movie Daughters of Darkness, or the very interesting Stuart Gordon TVM, set in Romania, but filmed in Hungary. 

Watched Jean Paul Belmondo's That Man from Rio (1964) and The Burglars (1971) - which are nice time-wasting visual treats, watched them in French/Italian, but it didn't matter, cos they are visual films, with all his stunts, better than Italian stuff of the same era. But they work best or purely as excuses of doing great stunts.

Also watched intriguing but rather cliched and stilted Martin Sheen-Sam Neill spy thriller Enigma (1982), very clearly shot entirely in France by Jeannot Szwarc with a dubbed Michael Lonsdale, dubbed by Marc Smith doing a Lonsdale impression with an American accent.

The Silent Partner (1978) - Christopher Plummer as Santa - two icons of Christmas in one being. And then he's in drag. He's doing panto. Superman tin. Robertson's jam. Away in a manger. John Candy with a kipper tie. Plummer wears eyeliner even out of drag, and a blond syrup. Celine Lomez's head cut along the fishtank. Elliott Gould's realistic reaction - almost vomiting as Plummer laughs. The nearly headless corpse rolled up in carpet. Little touches in Plummer's performance make him such a memorable villain. The way he touches his hair constantly, sauntering down. His hairy chest in the Chanel blouse. Recommended.

The Glove (1979)- Decently made if rather inert TV-ish Canadian-funded LA-shot thriller - Rosey Grier has a studded metal glove. John Saxon is in narrator mode as the bounty hunter out to get him. On DVD with similarly average Vietnam-revenge-in-Toronto thriller Search and Destroy (1979), starring Perry King, Tisa Farrow being a waxwork of her sister essentially and George Kennedy.

The Snake-Woman (1961 - B/W) - Sidney J. Furie b/w horror, an atmospheric but not very good colonial Victoriana with a sub-par cast, seemingly an influence on Hammer's the Reptile.   Double-billed with Furie's slightly more fun but rather dull-if-colourful  Dr. Blood's Coffin (1962).

The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977) - Larry Cohen's all-star CIA expose, almost an anthology of US political vignettes,  entertaining in its almost-Churchill's People sense of cramming it all in if a little confused. And never gets at outrageous as it should.

I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1958 - B/W) -  Threadbare average AIP (who I prefer in their 70s era) B-monster fluff. Titular creature a well-spoken disfigured lad. It and the actually-not-very-exciting I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957 - B/W) were united in semi-meta not-really-a-horror-more-a-poignant-but-halfbaked melodrama sequel How To Make A Monster (1958 - B/W) the next year, with Gary Conway once again in makeup as the Frankenstein's Monster, again a normal kid with horrible makeup, but much better than that film. Michael Landon alas is nowhere to be seen.

 Also watched the fun Truck Turner (1974), though I'm not a big blaxploitation guy (Larry Cohen's efforts in the genre are occasionally enlivened by his trademark guerilla action work, but are otherwise well-done but token blax-gangster fare), it has an interesting cast, Isaac Hayes as the lead, Nichelle Nichols as a madam with a hooker called Colonel Sanders cos she's "finger-lickin' good", Scatman Crothers as a pimp and Yaphet Kotto being weird with a client named Joe Dante, a deliberate reference, as this was directed by Jonathan Kaplan, another Corman alumnus. Also saw JD's Revenge (1976), a fun gangster film masquerading as a horror, though the period stuff is ragged. It may have been more interesting with a racist white gangster possessing the black lead. But Glynn Turman is astonishing.

 Watching Fog Island (1943 - B/W), the ultimate Old Dark House quickie, plus the similar Horror Island (1941 - B/W), the repetitive Gorilla Woman films (1943, (194, (1945 - B/W), the surprisingly atmospheric Terror is a Man (1959 - B/W) - which spawned a series of colourful but ultimately worthless colour Blood Island films, keeping its monster little-seen and mysterious unlike its sequels. I've seen Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968), Brides of Blood (1968), Beast of Blood (1970) and yet they all blend.

Wednesday 30 August 2017

More reviews -not all British but I'm not that loyal. - 49

Been watching a couple of 70s horror indies, the slow, deliberate and kind of dated sorts of I Drink Your Blood (1971 - which has a fun twist ending), Messiah of Evil (1973), and Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971), all in the same 70s style, though the latter two feel more like art dramas disguised as horrors. Then again, I'm not really a slow horror guy, I respect those sort of films, but they're not for me. I'm more excitement, gothic, creating a world, etc.
Also tried watching paedophile scumshit Victor Silva/Salva's Clownhouse (1989) - initially nice style, but too much leering on the young boys' bodies.

 Skullduggery (1970)- weirdo melodrama about missing links, the Tropis headed by Pat Suzuki as a  sort of cheesecake innocent female progeny of Dr. Zaius discovered by Burt Reynolds and sidekick Roger C. Carmel doing a Swedish Chef accent, in New Guinea, and Canadian-trying-to-be-English archaeologist Susan Clark.  Interesting plot. Are the Tropis human?   William "Blacula" Marshall plays a Papuan barrister. Chips Rafferty adds some Australian credibility as the old Ocker minister who tries to baptise the Tropis.  Eventually, Motown exec/actor Booker Bradshaw comes in as a stereotyped Black Panther who argues the Tropis are prototype-Caucasians as they have pink skin/straight hair (but are headed by a Japanese actress), then  touches Suzuki's doll/surrogate child, she goes mad and gets squashed by a bookshelf, leaving Welsh Hollywood vet Rhys Williams as the judge to mull whether they can be classified as human until we classify ourselves as human.  Tonally all over the place, very preachy, with a feel akin to the Ron Ely Tarzan or a Disney adventure, i.e. Reynolds mugging and taking mick of Papuan chiefs' jewellery clashing with subplots about rape and trying to sell Papuan tribeswomen into prostitution.

 Also realised the pervading horror styles of 1980-82,  the disjointed One Dark Night (1981, and its identikit brethren Mausoleum (1983), though not the confusing slow-as-death itself slasher pair of Mortuary (1983) and Funeral Home (1980)), Fear No Evil (1981), the Incubus (1982), the  1982 Albert Salmi two-fer of the gory, nonsensical Superstition and the rather better Bert I. Gordon-directed Burned at the Stake (1981 - he was also in Dragonslayer, which also features witch/virgin sacrifice), Evilspeak (1982), Jaws of Satan (1982) - all similarly shot,  witchcraft, priests, demons, fire at night, day-for-night blueish tints, and though Fear no Evil is rather initially excitingly shot, and there are elements of atmosphere to all, the performances are quite lacking and it quickly descends into soft-focus. They are all one-time watches, all forgettable, often tedious entertainments that try to go for weird for weird's sake Jodorowsky-style but are too pedestrian in other ways to be fully off-the-cinematic wall. Though not quite to the level of the insane but badly-directed (and only really watchable in the daylight bits) Oliver Reed vs giant snakes film Spasms, Fritz Weaver elevates Jaws of Satan, and it features a subplot about how the snake-related druid cult originated in Sligo. No, really.
One Dark Night is at first quite a sunny, attractively shot but rather boring slasher with lots of teens going about, while Adam West does exposition. Then, it becomes your typical early 80s witch/demon with lightning eyes in a confined space.

Class of 1984 (1982) has a nice performance by Roddy McDowall, but it suffers from a nasty, unrealistic tone somewhere between Fame and Death Wish. Nice punchline.

I wonder with the likes of Canadian spooker Ghostkeeper ('81), does watching on NTSC VHS print contribute to the dullness. Though it may be the slowness. Even Ghost Story (1981) had this problem, and that was a major release. And Class of 1984 had it, I think it is common in a lot of domestic-based action films of the period, especially Canadian ones.

 Frightmare (1983)- not the Pete Walker classic, but Norman Thaddeus Vane's rather dull horror, with unlikeable victims.  Ferdy Mayne is good, but at odds with the 80s slasher aesthetic.

Highpoint (1982) - Awful action-comedy, not quite saved by the wonder of Richard Harris' Scouse accent.

Nikita (1990) - Crazy French "teen", resembling a sexy and mental Jimmy Krankie goes on warpath. Didn't quite capture my interest, because I found the titular French heroine annoying. 

The Yakuza (1974) - Slightly too dry Robert Mitchum goes to Japan thriller, needed Michael Winner to perk it up.  Then again I'm not really a man for private eye thrillers. Almost Friedkin-ish. Humourless. Attractively shot, but it lacks something. Nasty and hard to follow.

The Osterman Weekend (1984) - almost good but becomes impossible to follow conspiracy thriller, perhaps needed more international elements to keep it from being a boring LA news thriller, Ludlum/Peckinpah crossover, and Peckinpah I find insufferable. Lancaster and John Hurt good, Rutger Hauer his Rutgerish self. 

Also saw Gallery of Horrors (1967) - Lon Chaney, John Carradine, and 60s USA posing as Victorian England and Scotland, with literally no changes to sets, accents, etc.

Wavelength (1983) - Boring conspiracy thriller. Robert Carradine saves alien kids from being holed up in a bunker. As exciting as it sounds.

Knife for the Ladies (1973) - Low budget late-era Bonanza-quality western with a Jack the Ripper-ish killer thrown in. Just a below-average 70s western with some gore.

The Baby (1973) - Like Knife, features Ruth Roman. Feels like a bad episode of one of the lesser Universal NBC Mystery Movie series when it isn't featuring a wet bloke dancing around in a romper with child's screeches dubbed over. Odd and oddly sweet ending. 

Blood Link (1982) - Forgettable Canadian-Italian telepathic twin nonsense with Michael Moriarty, Greystoner Geraldine Fitzgerald, and a nice soundtrack from Morricone.

Beyond Evil (1980) - John Saxon in "exotic" but rather pedestrian almost TV movie-level horror, like one of those boring Filipino tourist shockers like The Thirsty Dead (1974) or Daughters of Satan (1972), without the actually exotic-looking locales.
Filipino exploitation is curious but most of it is terrible - all those Eddie Romero Blood Island films and similar variants like Beyond Atlantis (1973) and the Mastermind theme-soundtracked Twilight People (1973) and then other things like the "what were they thinking?" kung fu jungle cannibal adventure/Gilligan's Island with Nazis of Raw Force (1982).

Non-horror, watched Melvin and Howard (1980), which is a nice but rather unexciting rural comedy which isn't really about Jason Robards as a wild and crazy Howard Hughes, sadly, as that is just a cameo.

The Savage Innocents (1960) - ridiculous and not very funny (it's not supposed to be, but it is slightly unintentionally hilarious) Eskimo epic - yellowed-up Anthony Quinn discovers rock and roll and starts clicking along with his buck teeth. Might have only seen a few bits.

These Are the Damned (1963 - B/W) - Interesting Hammer SF, nice plot, but the protagonists are rather unlikeable, though Oliver Reed is menacing as the rocker gang leader. Then again Joseph Losey's kind of British cinema is not my kind of British cinema.

13 Frightened Girls (1961) - William Castle does Disney, teen girl thriller, not very good, only interesting because of the rather odd fact the teen lead is in love with middle-aged father figure Murray "Mayor of Amity" Hamilton.

Bunny Lake is Missing (1965 - B/W) - As a kid, I imagined this as an ultra-sensationalist weirdo mystery like an even schlockier Hammer psycho-thriller or a better spin on something like the soap opera-ish shenanigans of Picture Mommy Dead (1967), but it is a nicely made thriller, though Carol Lynley is slightly annoying.

The Liquidator (1966) - I've realised that I don't like 60s spy movies much, even Connery's Bonds leave me cold bar Diamonds Are Forever.  Even though this has Eric Sykes and Shirley Bassey, and Rod Taylor as a British secret agent with a bad American accent, it has no real plot, just a series of not very exciting vignettes about the Duke of Edinburgh, and it's lots of things going on, no real action, just a lot of sort of gags. But they're not funny. Nice Richard Williams titles that don't really fit.

Candy (1968)/Skidoo (1968) - the thing about these 60s square celebrities-go-apeshit movies is that they are terrible movies that instead become works of art, pieces of social history, less films, but ultra-expensive embarrassing home videos-cum-variety shows. Though the Magic Christian (1969), like Candy featuring Ringo Starr, is unlikeable in its self-indulgence, no matter how many stars, and fun little vignettes it throws. And possibly Manson family aside, another reason why Roman Polanski stopped dating mature women, in the fear they'd all be Yul Brynner.

To Catch A Spy (1971)/Otley (1968) - Dick Clement can't direct spy films, because he doesn't know should he go full Clement and Le Frenais or full spy glamour. I can see why people like Otley. But Tom Courtenay's kitchen sink Northerner spy doesn't quite fit in. It's trying to be both 60s fab and down and dirty Northern, mixing Le Carre with Dick and Ian's style.It needed to be more fantastical, perhaps. It's a mess. See also 1971's Gumshoe, which, though written by Neville Smith, is a similarly conflicted and messy mix of international espionage and kitchen sink British grimness. Juggernaut may be the best attempt at such a thing.

Also Permission to Kill (1975), promising but rather dull Euro-strollaround with Timothy Dalton, Dirk Bogarde and a post-Doctor Who pre-convention anecdote snorer John "Sgt. Benton" Levene, almost exactly like fellow Bogarde Euro-boreathon The Serpent (1973).

Loophole (1981) - Sheen and Finney in dull "can't believe it's not Euston" heist flick.

Also watched various episodes of 80s anthologies such as the late 80s Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Ray Bradbury Presents, Darkroom, the Hitchhiker, Tales from the Darkside, all with the same sort of "video-edited cable filler" feel, even those that don't have "tits" still feel like they are filler for softcore action, no matter how many good actors you throw. And even the Bradburies, no matter how many interesting ideas they throw, there's always an air of twee charming smugness. And 70s mid-Atlantic anthology Anthony Quayle's The Evil Touch (-1974) seems to be the same schtick of US "name" finding that Aussie people are either eccentric, murderous or just plain odd. 

Secret Ceremony (1968) - That awful Taylor woman who was married to Richard Burton and Mia Farrow were lesbian sort of adopted mother and daughter figures who go around England/Holland, in arty bobbins. "Mean" Robert Mitchum appears with a sort of British accent.

If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium (1969) - tedious "all-star" supposed comedy from when Hollywood thought they could make Ian McShane the next Michael Caine fails to raise a laugh, bar a joke where US tourists travelling through London gawp at US-themed casinos, Safeway and Woolworths and comment about how exotic they are despite having all three back home. An almost unrecognisably slim and youthful Dame Pat Routledge appears.  Produced by David Wolper and directed by Mel Stuart and the feel is astonishingly similar, the bus scenes one long version of the boat scenes, but with annoying sitcom level dialogue and  despite a parade of cameos, it lacks the madness.

Deathtrap (1982) - pleasing but rather overlong Caine vs Reeve Sleuth-alike, may have worked better as an one hour anthology play. Neat ending, but it repeats itself. And it doesn't have as good a setting as Sleuth.

Also saw trailers for the too-OTT-for-its-own-good 99 and 44/100% Dead and Deadfall, the 1968 heist movie with Michael Caine, seems to be a prototype for all his boring pedestrian Sunday afternoon thrillers in the 80s, funded by dodgy Middle Easterners. 

Thursday 29 June 2017

Review Roundup -3 - The Unseen, Boogens, Humanoids of the Deep and Monsignor Quixoteally

 Monsignor Quixote (1987)-   a waste of of talents, prototype ITV comedy drama premiere - Alec Guinness as David Jason. Euston does Graham Greene does Don Quixote, with all the visual flair of a substandard BA ad. Like El Dorado if made by Euston.

Watching 1980's Humanoids from the Deep. It's okay. But it's too routine, there's none of the quirkiness of a John Sayles script, and the monsters are good, but there's none of the florid colour of your typical Doug McClure fantasy film. i.e. what this film needs is Ron Pember and Keith Barron. It needs a Joe Dante. It is like the Boogens (1981), another well-shot, well-designed horror - with cool monsters but little else.
EDIT: Watched it, and there's some fun bits, the old people's orchestra and the whole fairground bit, and the ventriloquist's dummy being used as a witness to a sex and murder scene. And there's an impressive explosion. And the fat kid on the boat.  The setpieces are all well done, but if it had the character and appeal of a Piranha, and perhaps a less sleazy tone, it might have been a classic. Ann Turkel is a plank of wood. And McClure doesn't look interested.

The Unseen (1981) - Barbara Bach (before she became Barbara Bachhkkkeeeee (said in Scouse accent)) meets baby-monster. 80s slasher, sort of like a more evil, more straightforward The Baby (1973) if done as an episode of Brian Clemens' Thriller, with annoying eccentrics a la the Avengers, and a nice Michael J. Lewis score, which belongs to a better film. It features the Danish colony of Solvang, which is an interesting location, and sadly not enough is made of it. But it does have a bizarre chicken-used-as-a-torture weapon scene.

Saturday 27 May 2017

My latest article - Fortean Times.

You can read my latest article in the Fortean Times issue out now. I wrote the Les Dawson article. Read it. Danny Baker liked it.

For the time being - focusing my attention on this -

Find me on twitter @swmtdinnercast

Thursday 25 May 2017

Bits and bobs - 6 - The Oscar, Hill and Spencer, House of Cards, Rage, Greek Tycoon

House of Cards (1968) Good-looking but tedious Eurospy thriller, directed by John Gullermin, George Peppard vs fascists Keith Michell and Orson Welles - ends with pre-Way of the Dragon coliseum chase.

Old films don't really excite me unless they're different. I've seen so many identikit horrors, thrillers, etc, that I'm bored by a lot of old films because they seem samey.

The Oscar (1966) - an actual film about the actual Academy Awards, and not the "Awards Presentation Ceremony" featured in The Lonely Lady. Designed as a vehicle for Tony Bennett, this is in the category of "famous singer tries acting and fails". Astonishingly not based on a Robbins novel, but one by pulp writer Richard Sale, and with a script co-written by Harlan Ellison, of all people, it features Belfast's very own Stephen Boyd as someone who desperately wants to win the Best Actor award, but then loses to yer actual Frank Sinatra as himself. Weirdly, set in a world where Sinatra is himself, but Peter Lawford is playing someone else. It also has Bob Hope, Merle Oberon,  and other Hollywood sorts as themselves, Elke "How are your doings?" Sommer, Milton Berle, Joseph Cotten, etc. It's at times mind-numbingly awful, but sometimes, it gets unintentionally brilliant i.e. Bennett's narration. But it is something else.

Been watching a ton of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer movies (which are odd to say the least, syrupy tough-guy comedies. Charleston (1977), a Spencer-only joint is interesting. A Sting knock-off set and shot in 1970s London but with everyone in 1920s costumes to convince us otherwise, starring Herbert Lom, James Coco, and as Spencer's fellow gang members, Geoffrey Bayldon (RIP) and Ronald Lacey and featuring Peter Glaze, and copious amounts of Harp product placement.

I also caught the interesting George C Scott infection folly Rage (1972), and Tippi Hedren-guest starring French ITC-ish TV nonsense Docteur Caraibes (from Telecip, makers of the films of Rene Laloux, 80s Channel 4 French soap Chateauvallon, coproducers of 1978 BBC panto-esque semi-musical period drama the Devil's Crown).

I also watched another French telefantasy, 1960s noirish ORTF series Belphegor - allegedly about a mummy, but as I was watching it unsubtitled, seemed to be an atmospheric but rather empty Maltese Falcon-ish thing. I also saw a 1973 French-Spanish-Italian miniseries of The Mysterious Island, cut for feature release, with threadbare Harry Towers-ish production values, a pseudo-steampunk set design,  lots of moaning in a balloon, an annoying kid dubbed by a man and not much going on, and Omar Sharif clearly looking for a paycheque as Captain Nemo, here portrayed as Verne later saw fit to retcon Nemo, as an Indian prince.

The Greek Tycoon (1978) - Directed by J. Lee Thompson, written and produced by Greek exploitation mogul Nico Mastorakis, Anthony Quinn once again plays a Greek, despite being an Irish-Mexican (basically, to quote Richard Herring, there are four types of race, "black, white, Chinese and those played by Nadim Sawalha", but Quinn could be used as an easy substitute), in this case Theo Tomasis, a Greek tycoon who is NOT Aristotle Onassis despite marrying Jacqueline Bisset as Elizabeth 'Lizzie T" Cassidy, former First Lady, married to the assassinated President James Cassidy (James Franciscus). This film is all kinds of strange. The aforementioned assassination isn't done in Dallas, but on a beach God knows where, possibly the Isle of Wight, as some of it was filmed in the Solent. 

Saturday 22 April 2017

Robbins? Robbins! 3

Recently watched a few Harold Robbins adaps.

The ludicrous Stiletto (1969), where Alex "Archangel from Airwolf" Cord plays a Mafia assassin playboy who shags Britt Ekland and constantly visits an "Italy", i.e. Puerto Rico with a few Fiats, an Italian flag and a sign  saying "Italian poste", while chased by Patrick O'Neal and Roy Scheider. Features a character called "Hannibal Smith", not played by George Peppard, who alas, did appear in Robbins' Howard Hughes roman รก clef The Carpetbaggers - "aka the one with the Money Programme theme, chandelier-dancing and a dying Alan Ladd as Nevada Smith". Smith, a half-Indian cowboy-turned-film star (and name inspiration for Indiana Jones) was played in the prequel by Steve McQueen, aged 35 playing 16, and people think he was old in the Blob...

Not as ludicrous as 1969's the Adventurers (1969), intended to launch Yugoslavian Bekim Fehmiu as an international star, about a fictional Cinecitta-realised South American state of "Cortequay", where we see a skinny-dippying Ernest Borgnine seemingly cosplaying a Mexican Ted Bovis.  Quickly transforming from a childhood romance to a spaghetti western, and we see that director Lewis Gilbert, who hated directing this film for he lost out on Oliver! seems to forget where exactly Corteguay is, and introduces us to a who's who of Europudding vets, Fernando Rey, Rossano Brazzi, Charles Aznavour, Ferdy Mayne, etc. Overlong and seemingly about five films in one, you have to marinate in its weirdness.

Mayne also is in the Harold Robbins miniseries The Pirate (1978), "my favourite", according to Mrs. Hamilton in Fawlty Towers. In Robbins' view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Franco Nero as an Israeli sold at birth by his dad Eli Wallach to Sheikh Christopher Lee, to an Arabia where Ian McShane and Armand Assante are natives. Features Olivia Hussey as Leila the terrorist and James Franciscus as "Dick Carriage",  and Hollywood doubling as Monte Carlo, Geneva, Israel, etc. Typical 70s network trash, punchily directed by Ken Annakin.

The Betsy (1978) is Robbins' view of the car industry, Featuring a confused chronology, 70-year-old Lord Olivier playing a dirty old car mogul, Loren "Number One" Hardeman from the age of forty to ninety, Robert Duvall as his grandson, Kathleen Beller as the titular Betsy, the great-granddaughter with a car named after,  Tommy Lee Jones romancing Lesley Anne Down as the wife of a race-driving Lord, a John Barry soundtrack and feels like a driving instruction video padded out by soap opera.

Monday 3 April 2017

My problem with Brazil/HBO

Okay, here is a confession. Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits has been one of my favourite films since I was eleven. But I tried watching his followup, Brazil years ago, and found it alienating. So I tried again...
BRAZIL (1985) I find an overblown mess. It's a film where visually it's glorious but there's no substance. There's no real likeable characters in it. You can tell Gilliam began in animation and was influenced by Mad magazine, but it becomes tiring, all this beautiful detail stuck onto a story which is frustrating, an incredible cast which is lost in the mass of detail and silly plotting. It's a place you want to go, but Sam Lowry's story is so meaningless. I can see why Universal wanted the film re-shot. The thing is Time Bandits is one of my favourite films, and that is a film where it is basically split into chunks, each chunk different to the other, different design, different cast, different atmosphere, and it works, with Brazil, everything's clashing, It'd make a great videogame, hours of exploring all that detail, but as a film, it stinks.
I love Time Bandits, but Gilliam's other films bar possibly Jabberwocky and the Crimson Permanent Assurance alienate me. I am not saying he'd be a better director if he'd died young like the grossly overrated Michael Reeves, but he's someone who worked better on a budget, than with a budget.
Same with John Landis. I love American Werewolf in London (though the usually reliable Joe Dante's slightly too slasher-y The Howling has the better werewolves) and find moments in his two Eddie Murphy comedies appealing, but everything else, nah... 

Most TVMs, especially post-1990 have the same bland dullness, even the likes of Cast A Deadly  Spell (1991)/WitchHunt (1994), Fatherland (1994), various ones starring the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Alan Arkin. HBO original films, as all these films are a mixed match, from the theatrically released likes of The Hitcher (1986) and Three Amigos (1987) to the straight-to-cable likes of Cold Room (1984) which resembles  an episode of Quantum Leap where Sam is played by Amanda Pays in a school uniform who has to leap into a girl who suffers incest from her Nazi butcher father played by Warren Clarke. The Cold Room features George Segal, who also appears in the Tales of the Unexpected-y HBO-BBC coproduction The Deadly Game (1982), where Trevor Howard and Robert Morley lead a cadre of elderly judges who try to put Segal on a fake trial in Switzerland. I've been watching a few. A few too grand to be boring, but not exciting enough like Alan Rickman's Rasputin (1996) or the Christopher Lloyd/John Heard-starring one about the Exxon Valdez disaster, directed by Paul "the Graff Vynda-K" Seed who started his career as a director, playing one in the swinging 60s "Blue Marigold" Tales of the Unexpected episode.

Hence the likes of:
"Sword of Gideon" (1986), a slow but engrossing Canadian CTV/HBO TVM based on the same book as Spielberg's Munich where Rod Steiger and Michael York (unconvincingly cast as a Belgian) and Lino Ventura hunt Black September from Paris to London (actual location footage) .
Mom and Dad Save The World (1992) where Teri Garr and Jeffrey Jones on their wedding anniversary are kidnapped by aliens and go to a planet where all the females are bipedal fish and the men bipedal dogs (as if to get known nonce Jones to get turned on by child-fish creatures as if bestilaity is better than paedophilia). Somewhere between daft and stupid. Colorful, inventive design but too silly for adults, despite or maybe because Eric Idle appearing. Similar to the similarly muddled mess that is Stay Tuned (1992), but not quite as inventive.
David Lynch's Hotel Room (1992 )- bundle of incomprehensible weirdness - features Freddie Jones vs Harry Dean Stanton, and Crispin Glover romancing Alicia Witt (who I weirdly mistook as Bernadette Peters).
Citizen X (1995) - Stephen Rea, Max Von Sydow and Donald Sutherland try to pin down Soviet killer Andrei Chikatilo. Best thing is Rea's brilliant Ulster-Israeli-Russian-Chicago accent. Also features Imelda Staunton and Joss Ackland.
A Dangerous Life (1989) - coproduction with the Aussie ABC about the assassination of Filipino politician/First Man Ninoy Aquino, shot in the Philippines, starring Gary Busey, Filipino staples like Vic Diaz and being Aussie, Mr. Udagawa from Neighbours. Bland and soppy.
Even Joe Dante's The Second Civil War, despite that cast doesn't quite feel like a Dante movie, despite a strange portrayal of Pakistan. It's progressive and satirical but its tone is misaligned.

Today, watched soppy, not as interesting as it sounds Burl Ives-guest starring Japanese-Bermudan Rankin/Bass giant turtle-themed tragic romance  the Bermuda Depths, bonkers but stretched-out Bette Davis as Lord Summerisle "witchy town" miniseries The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (1978) which should have been thirty minutes not three hours, and the actually interesting and rather good 1996 BBC-HBO true story Deadly Voyage (Sweaty Joss Ackland and a wonderfully seedy David Suchet play sadistic ship's crew who bump off African stowaways).

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Journey to the Centre of the Earth 1989

Watching Albert Pyun/Cannon's South African venture Journey to the Centre of the Earth 1988 - it begins in London full of fake snow and people in pith helmets, at "Nannies R US". Nicola Cowper (of TV's Dangerfield, ultra-gritty CBBC domestic abuse thriller Break In The Sun, Dennis Potter's Dreamchild and real-life sister of The Wicker Man's Gerry Cowper)  is sent off to a very white Hawaii with Table Mountain in the back, and discovers she's looking after a dog for a punk rocker. She teams up with two brothers to find something, and this disjointed mess results in armies of sub-Hensonian Rasta-Yetis, a micro-cameo from shrill-voiced American comedian and Bob Monkhouse favourite Emo Phillips wandering about in a Bet Lynch cast-off leopard skin coat and a sudden crossover with fellow Cannon junkyard hidden world movie Alien from L.A., also directed by Albert Pyun. A troubled production - and it shows, as it literally makes no sense. One scene, we're firing laser guns at rasta-yetis,  the next we're in a sort of Blade Runner-ish neon, sort of cyberpunk world(which turns out to be Atlantis) run by vampirish alien-obsessed Afrikaner albinos not unlike the Family in the Omega Man. Is either a sequel to or a prequel to Alien from L.A.  (lampooned on Mystery Science Theatre 3000), shot on the same sets and featuring a brief appearance by Kathy Ireland in her role from that film, but sadly unlike Alien from L.A., there is no Deep Roy. Apparently, original director Rusty Lemorande was fired, Pyun took over and then he himself got fired. it shows.    
Astonishingly not produced by Harry Alan Towers. We end with a sort of televised Atlantean Eurovision Song Contest that we never see.
Not to be confused with the 1993 TV pilot of the same name where F Murray Abraham dies at the beginning, and John Neville plays a fake-English countryside resident Doctor-type with a Holly/AOL woman-type floating hologram head in a bubble who leads an expedition to a hidden world full of Yetis called Dallas and becomes a ripoff of At The Earth's Core, even with similar monster makeup.

Sunday 19 March 2017

Hennessy (1975)

Hennessy (1975), one of the early last-ditch attempts by AIP to make a mainstream film, and one of their last UK productions is weird. Rod Steiger is the lead, as an IRA man with a not-very-good accent, but he's quieter than he usually was at this time, which isn't saying much. 1970s London, as rundown as it is looks too recognisable to be Belfast in most shots, though the terraced streets look right. Its when they show high street areas that it looks very London-ish, especially when the film moves to London playing itself (though the genuine shots of second unit Belfast could almost be London if not for the mountains peeking out behind). Eric Porter and Lee Remick's accents are a bit too Southern-inflected, though Eric Porter almost gets it. Ian Hogg is too Scottish. Patrick Stewart  appears as an IRA man. He has hair, but not much of it. He's balding, but still not quite the pure slaphead the world knows and love. His accent's terrible, but it was his first film. Stanley Lebor appears as an IRA man in the same sort of sweater he'd wear in Ever Decreasing Circles (and weirdly, Peter Egan appears too, though they share no scenes). David Collings is literally a leprechaun cabbie. Some of the funeral mourners sing God Save Ireland  out of tune. Basically, Steiger is a reformed IRA man whose wife and child (7 year old Patsy Kensit) are shot by Christopher "That's My Boy" Blake, as a British soldier. An interesting film, because it is so odd. A British film with a dissident IRA hero trying to blow up the Queen on her visit to the Houses of Parliament. Rod Steiger is Niall Hennessy (yes, they say it right), a former WW2 vet who served with Montgomery, then joined the IRA and now, fuelled by the accidental murder of his family by Mollie Sugden's boy, goes off to London, smuggled in by John Hallam (who was born in Ulster, but simply because his family were evacuated, he is one of two Irish actors in it - the other being  Fair City's Oliver Maguire) and Patrick Stewart (with a bizarre West Country-Yorkshire accent, but it was his first film), where he hides with his dead mate's non-love interest widow, the possibly Catholic-but-with-a-Protestant-name Kate Brooke, played by Lee Remick (sounding a bit Oirish and being far too Hollywood glam for a downtrodden Provo widow from East Belfast) . Eric Porter and the lads learn of Hennessy's plan, and realise that blowing up the Queen is a greater risk to Ireland, and chase him, while  Trevor Howard, Richard Johnson and Peter Egan of the Yard investigate, Johnson literally haunted by his time in Belfast as an RUC 'tec. Hennessy sits in Remick's house, where the BBC are somehow showing footage of the funeral of Mrs. Hennessy nationally, and not just on BBC Northern Ireland. Hennessy then decides to take on the identity of a popular Corbynesque MP who protests about the city outside the Albert Hall., trapping the real MP in his vest and underwear. Remick is killed by Porter and the lads.  On Hennessy's way, we begin to see the film's other controversial element - genuine footage of the Queen, her family (even the Duke of Kent), Archbishop Robert Runcie and the Paedo PM himself, Ted Heath from an old newsreel,  intercut with shots of a newsstand selling the Sun and the Daily Mail on Westminster Bridge. The film because of this use of footage got pulled from UK release, and yet the final scenes are the best bit. They are reminiscent of the similar VIP bloodbath of the Medusa Touch (also with Remick), and is efficiently shot by director Don Sharp. Johnson manages to foil the plan, and chases Hennessy out the door, before Hogg shoots Hennessy instead, and is carted away by coppers. However, Hennessy gets up, pleading, only for Johnson to shoot him again, and he blows up, a mushroom cloud descending over Westminster. Johnson wakes up, as God Save the Queen plays. A really interesting  film. Not for all the right reasons. It's laughable, especially if you're Irish, but has a weird sense of morbid charm.  And John Scott's score is nice. It feels similar to other Brit-actioners of the period, like The Black Windmill (1974) or Brannigan (1975). It feels similar to Day of the Jackal, but at least it has more energy than that film, and dare I say it, Steiger and the various bungling IRA men are more captivating protagonists than Edward Fox in a cravat turning his nose up at Paris.  but then again, I am Irish.

Sunday 12 March 2017

TV movie-mania!

Did a marathon of Kolchak - the Night Stalker (1974-75) and the two preceding TV movies, The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973). I tried watching Kolchak a few years ago, and found it tonally all over the place. A little sweet here, a little sour there. Watched it again, and my opinion changed, I suppose. The two TV movies I hadn't really seen before and they're great - Darren McGavin is brilliant, world-weary, believable and likeable, and Simon Oakland as his boss, Vincenzo is great as this newspaper editor being forever stymied by the authorities. Dan Curtis produced both and took over from John Moxey to direct the second, and Richard Matheson adapted them from the book by Jeff Rice. Good cast. We're talking the likes of Carol Lynley, Elisha Cook, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins and Kent Smith (more on him later) in the Night Stalker, and in the Night Strangler - John Carradine as the wonderfully named Llewellyn Crossbinder and Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West herself as an old posh, rather sinister exposition-giver. The first film is set in Vegas, and Kolchak is a journalist who seeks out this series of murders, and no one believes him when he finds it's a vampire. It looks good, very cinematic, because it's shot on location, it doesn't have a set-bound backlot TV aesthetic, like most TVMs. The vampire, Janos Skorzeny, played by Barry Atwater is interesting. Unlike Curtis' previous vampire, Barnabas Collins in "Dark Shadows", he's mute, very animalistic, similarly styled but he's not a suave creature, he's just out for blood. As the series shows, vampires in this universe seem to be humanoid but they're animal-minded, they're hissing anti-social creatures, bats in human bodies, essentially. The Night Strangler is similar, but they go for a different tack. Here, the titular menace is Richard Anderson, before his role as Oscar in the various Bionic series as a 144-year-old immortal alchemist lunatic strangling belly-dancers in Seattle, and man, Seattle looks great. They also shoot in the old Underground Seattle, of which I was previously not aware, which does exist - streets from before the Great Seattle Fire that now lie underground. And they are atmospheric, they're creepy, they're the perfect place to set such an idea. You also have good performances. Wally Cox's cameo as a strange, weedy little newspaper archivist is great, Curtis directs with flair, and it was again a hit, after the original broke all ratings records for a TV movie at the time. And ABC wanted a series, but Curtis wanted another movie, the Night Killers - which sounds great. Vincenzo and Kolchak are now in Hawaii, where polticians are being replaced by androids controlled by aliens who plan to use the subterfuge as a means of allowing an invasion to take place. Sadly, ABC got their way. Out goes Curtis and Matheson, in goes Universal, and we get Kolchak: the Night Stalker, wildly seen as one of the great sci-fi series, despite one series, an influence on the X-Files, and yet...
Kolchak: The Night Stalker just isn't as good. It's thankfully not as bland as McGavin's sub-Exorcist haunted house drivel "Something Evil", despite that film being directed by a certain Mr. Spielberg. McGavin and Oakland return, but everything else is different.  We're now in Chicago, which yes, is atmospheric, full of character, but it gets samey. I wish they could have changed it, so every episode, we're in a new locale. Because now in the series, Chicago is a Hellmouth-ish magnet for all sorts of weirdness. We have new characters. We get a camp, waspish rival named Uptight Updyke, a sweet old lady columnist named Emily/Edith (it depends on the episode) and Keenan Wynn as a recurring cop. And yes, it has a great cast of guests - the likes of Scatman Crothers with a bad Haitian accent, Mary Wickes as a scientist, Tom Skerritt as two monsters and Phil Silvers amongst others.

Sameyness is a problem. Too many of the villains are mute stalkers, be it an immortal Jack the Ripper (again memories of "The Night Strangler"), a spiritual force, a killer robot (created by a female scientist named Leslie Dwyer, whom everyone thinks is male, presumably because of her Hi-De-Hi! star namesake), a female vampire, a zombie, a werewolf, et cetera. Climaxes are usually at night, with brief glimpses of the monster, and usually, the monsters have cool designs. And there's a lot of sinister female, attractive but evil characters, including Dark Shadows' own Lara Parker basically reprising her Angelique character, Cathy Lee Crosby as a Greek Hecate-worshipper (hence as exposition guy, George Demosthenes Savalas - Kojak's brother meets Kolchak) amongst others. There are some interesting ideas, a Bedknobs and Broomsticks-style walking suit of armour, and the episode "The Horror in the Heights" is probably the most fun. A neighbourhood full of elderly people is being targeted by some unspeakable horror. Swastika are appearing all over the place, Abraham Sofaer has opened up an Indian restaurant inside this mostly Jewish area, and Phil Silvers appears post-Follow That Camel as one of the residents. It turns out Sofaer is in town to hunt down the Rakshasa, a Hindu spirit which takes on the form of those its victim trusts, i.e. cops, husbands, wives, milkmen, hates Swastikas and can only be killed by crossbow. It is a fun episode, and perhaps it shows that Kolchak really should have had him touring the world. Imagine, Gargoyles in Paris, leprechauns, banshees and IRA men in Ireland, the Lambton Worm... A missed opportunity.

I was also watching Dan Curtis' Dracula (1974). Shot in Britain, it looks lovely, with some additional shooting in Yugoslavia. Palance brings some menace, Nigel Davenport is good as Van Helsing, the design and cinematography by Oswald Morris is better than some Hammer stuff, and yet it pre-empts the whole Coppola thing, i.e. Vlad the Impaler, the "Dark Shadows"-ish idea of reincarnation of a lost love in the form of Mina, and even the title - "Bram Stoker's Dracula". It feels lacking. Dracula should be more beastly. And Mina and Lucy are miscast, slightly too old. Simon Ward looks a bit lost. But John Challis, before his fame as Boycie in "Only Fools and Horses" makes a cameo. He told me on Twitter that Dan Curtis was nice to him, during their brief time on set together.

Talking about Kent Smith, I was watching, perhaps re-watching on the recommendation of Matthew Coniam, Curtis Harrington's The Cat Creature (1973). It's a TV movie from the period, and slightly more archetypal of the genre. It's set bound, it's full of ageing, past-it names (Gale Sondergaard, Keye Luke, John Carradine again, Keye Luke) and younger but still fairly veteran figures like Stuart Whitman and David Hedison. It begins with Kent Smith, thirty years after his role as "Oliver Reed" in Cat People (1942), finally being killed by a cat-lady, or a cat that jumps out of a sarcophagus, because this is a TV movie and they don't have the budget for full-body costumes (see 1977's Snowbeast for a Yeti conveyed through some close-ups, hairy hands and lots of POV). We learn that this is Meredith Baxter, before her sitcom fame in "Family Ties", as a mysterious, attractive young woman named Rena who has some weird connection to an amulet. It's fun. And the ending with Baxter swooping about in Egyptian dress, camping it up, with bat-wing sleeves is something to be witnessed.

Similar is the Aaron Spelling-produced Cruise into Terror (1978) which cashes on Bermuda Triangle mania, The Omen and disaster movies. Dirk Benedict, John Forsythe (as a priest in a bitter, sexless marriage with Lee "Lily Munsters Today/Catwoman #2" Meriwether), Christopher and Lynda Day George, Ray Milland (as an archaeologist who believes the Egyptians went to Mexico and helped the Aztecs), Stella Stevens (in one of several post-Poseidon maritime terror roles, see also The French Atlantic Affair) and Hugh O'Brian are among the cast of luminaries, finding in the Gulf of Mexico, Milland's treasured Egyptian-Aztec tomb, which we learn contains the Antichrist born the same day as Jesus, in suspended animation. It's slow. TV movies work better as 75 minutes not 90 minutes/2 hours including ad breaks. It takes over a half an hour for the treasure hunt to begin and almost an hour for the tiny papier mache sarcophagus to be recovered. It is also full of POV shots, evil suggested by huge red lights/eyes. Milland and Forsythe are the highlights, arguing over exposition and following the trail of "Sir Richard Littenhurst". The insidious child carries out Omen-ish drownings, causes women to go mad, and it peters out with an inferno and narration by Forsythe asking us if there is a Devil... Shoddy, ropey, sporadically fun, and with a proper Goldsmith knockoff for its score, all sub Ave-Satani chanting over what sounds like knock-off Bela Bartok.

I also watched a bit of Dan Curtis' similar Curse of the Black Widow, with Patty Duke (Harrington's first choice for the Cat Creature) as a spider-woman, but it was 100 minutes, which for a TV movie of that style, a bit of a chore.
And also Dan Curtis' other Kolchak-type pilot - The Norliss Tapes with Angie Dickinson and Roy Thinnes. It is fun, has nice mountain footage, and feels like a demonic Columbo. Atmospheric, it features voodoo, motels and mad sculptors building living statues. Watching Brian Clemens' Thriller, I wondered what was lacking, and realised it should have been more like this, rather than endlessly padded stories about adulterous psychopaths and American girls being stalked in English mansions by nutters (I was never a fan of the almost identical Hammer psychodramas - Fear In The Night is fun, but the others are too samey). 

TV movies of the suspense/horror genre I do enjoy. Some can be samey, i.e. Taste of Evil - a remake of Hammer's identikit psychodramas with Barbara Parkins, Roddy McDowall and a rifle-toting Barbara Stanwyck being terrorised by unlikely rapist Arthur O'Connell, or all those post-Carrie teenage girl ones e.g. The Spell (1977), Shelley Winters sorority witch yoke The Initiation of Sarah (1978) Wes Craven/Linda Blair/Lois Duncan joint Summer of Fear (1978), a film which has a clever twist where we think Lee Purcell as Blair's cousin is just your average US TV teen played by a 30-year-old, but isn't - and the Dennis Quaid/teen date rape Afterschool Special-y antics of Channel 5 favourite "Are You Alone In The House?" (1978).

The weirder ones are usually the better, i.e. 1973's Scream Pretty Peggy - Bette Davis as a woman "who never learnt to bake"  keeps mad daughter Jennifer apparently locked up in house under pretence she's in "Europe".  Peggy, an eager, ultra-plucky slightly annoying art student comes to work as housekeeper. Loaded guns are kept in drawers. Davis tries to get Peggy out, even though she's besotted with her idol, who just happens to be Davis' sculptor son (Marge Simpson's dream-husband Ted Bessell) who spends all day making statues of Lovecraftian monsters. We think it is going to be a sort of distaff Beast in the Cellar via House of Wax...
 Except Jennifer's being impersonated Psycho-style by Jeffrey in a wig and nightie, gets shot by Mum and is crushed by one of his own statues, which turns out to be Jennifer encased in amber. It turns out that he killed Jennifer, because he was in an incestuous relationship with her and she was engaged to someone else, and had to kill all his girlfriends because "Jennifer" wouldn't let him go. Davis blames herself, . Written by Jimmy Sangster and Directed by Gordon Hessler. Fun, suitably ridiculous and suitably played.

The House That Would Not Die is 1970, pre-Exorcist, but has Kitty Winn from that film as the young lead. Has Stanwyck dressed like the Don't Look Now dwarf while Richard Egan attacks her with a knife. Possession means you talk in an English accent. It's mostly long seance scenes, and kind of watchable.

Spelling-produced slasher Home for the Holidays (1972) where Jill Haworth (with dyed black hair), Eleanor Parker  and Sally Field as the various daughters of Walter Brennan are terrorised by a killer in a sou'wester. Julie Harris appears as housekeeper/second wife who everyone thinks is the murderer, because she poisoned her last husband or something, around the time she became the USA's Hylda Baker in Thicker than Water, short-lived adaptation of Nearest and Dearest. Overdone melodrama, again like House That Would Not Die by John Moxey. There's also a crazy woman-child, and lots of red herrings. It's kind of fun, but like a lot of these films, slightly too full of arguments between ageing starlets and/or up and comers who not always went onto better.

Watched others - The Devil's Daughter -where Shelley Winters (as Lilith) and Abe Vigoda arrange marriage for a young woman and play Poundland Castevets who cry "you are your father's daughter". Robert Foxworth plays youthful hero, and does a dry run for his role in Damien: Omen II. Jonathan "Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows" Frid plays the servant/fiancee. It's sensationalist enough to be watchable. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
Also saw bits of Winters' "daughter in prison" weepie "A Death of Innocence" by Joseph Stefano.It didn't catch my attention.
How Awful About Allan (1970) - starring Anthony Perkins, basically feels like a pilot for a 1970s TV series - The Adventures of Norman Bates, i.e. Psycho reduced to a bland 70s cop show aesthetic. Kent Smith appears again. He seems to crop up everywhere.
Then, there's also duff phone-calls-from-the-dead rope When Michael Calls (1972) with Ben Gazzara as "Doremus Connolly" and "Special Guest Star" Michael Douglas, at the beginning of his career  when he was still just Kirk's son. It's slightly creepy and the denouement is suitably daft, but like a lot of these films, bland, similar to the likes of Dean Stockwell-vs-teacher Jane Wyman "The Failing of Raymond", 1972's The Screaming Woman - which is 78 minutes of Olivia De Havilland screaming back at a screaming woman buried alive, She Waits (1972) with Patty Duke terrorising David McCallum, Along Came A Spider where Suzanne Pleshette dons a bizarre fur-hat/blond wig to enact revenge, the "trapped alone" likes of The Victim (1972), that John Carpenter one the name of which escapes me, etc.  Usually, everything is boiled down to generica.

Killer Bees (1974) has Gloria Swanson with three layers of headwear, hat, headscarf, and Princess Leia buns. Highlight is a scene where bees rise out of a coffin and attack a funeral mid-sermon -  "land of milk and honey". Otherwise quite bland. It's about bee-human hybrids and features less desert-based bee-car chases than the dire "town under attack" Savage Bees (with Ben Johnson fighting bees after fighting locusts with Katherine Helmond and Ron Howard in the not-very-horror-y "Waltons meets James Herbert" period drama Locusts!) and its Swarm cash-in sequel Terror Out of the Sky, which features Efrem Zimbalist running the "National Bee Center".

Also watched Kate Jackson in slow steel-drum soundtracked "fake travel company" 10 Little Indians on a cruise Death Cruise (1974) and Death at Love House (1972) where Jackson and Robert Wagner, investigating the latter's father's ex-lover, long-dead Golden Age Hollywood queen/witch Lorna Love meet the likes of John Carradine, Joan Blondell, Dorothy Lamour and Sylvia Sidney. Needless to say, Lorna Love isn't long-dead. It's an entertaining  old Hollywood tribute, shot in Harold Lloyd's house too.

Killdozer (1974) was okay, not weird enough, felt like a bad day at my dad's workplace. I read a comic based on the original story - about a killer bulldozer possessed by alien influence, and seeing bunch of a middle-aged has-been blokes in a quarry needs more energy, really.

Devil Dog Hound of Hell (1978) features Martine Beswicke leading a cult who look like the Family from the Omega Man but fresh. Richard Crenna, Yvette Mimieux and the Witch Mountain kids adopt cursed puppy. Family start painting satanic pictures, and the dog doesn't appear in its horned form till the end, in the night. It's very Kolchakesque, as in the series not the TV films. So not as good as the artwork, though the end has a great shot - of superimposed flames around the dog. A lot of these films only get watchable at the end, i.e. Satan's School For Girls.

Watching 1972's Gargolyes - Bernie Casey quite creepy as the lead 'goyle. Wonder did his performance influence the cartoon of the same name? And the flying effects are quite cool in their tattiness- the flying scenes look like the gargoyles are being carried by a raven, Father Ted-style. Better than the myriad "woodlands/desert chase, usually with moon in the title" TV films it nearly resembles, that I found samey, mainly because despite being Irish, I'm not a western fan.