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 My out of date Halliwell's filmgoer's comapnion from 1988 was a help, but I also avoided certain things cos I had a Davros-induced phobia of classic Doctor Who from the age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.