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.


  1. See also the Horsemen and probably the Jerusalem File and Operation Daybreak for other adventure films from that era, now forgotten.

    1. Also the likes of Masquerade/Assignment K, etc, some of the lesser Le Carre stuff
      Horseman and the similar but less epic, and more Euro-grotty Romance of the Horsethieves which exists in a borderline unwatchable print.

    2. And also weird exotic romances like the godawful from what I've seen In Search of Gregory.
      Terence Alexander and Marianne Stone above Edward Fox in The Long Duel - a lot of those Raj epics I can't take seriously because of Up the Khyber, phony back projection and browned up faces.


  2. Also attempted but didn't finish -
    The Love Ban (1973) - feels like a Video Arts film.
    The Lady in the Car with Glasses And A Gun (1971) - Ollie Reed Noir. Tried to watch it, seemed pathetic.
    The Rookie (1990) - A trashy B-rate Dirty Harry knockoff that managed to get Clint Eastwood.
    Shadey (1985) - Not a film, a bad TV play.
    Kill (1971) - WTF awfulness from the Salkinds.
    Hero's Island (1964) - More James Mason. Disneyish boredom.
    In The Shadows of Kilimanjaro (1984) - A bloody, graceless retread of the Sands of the Kalahari.
    See also the barely glimpsed
    Before Winter Comes, The very ITC-ish Double Man, The Naked Runner, etc.

    Target of an Assassin (1977) - Dire South African Anthony Quinn vehicle

    white mischief, Jimmie Blacksmith, Newsfront, Zazie, Victors, Sonny Boy
    See also the barely glimpsed
    Before Winter Comes, The very ITC-ish Double Man, The Naked Runner

  3. The Destructors is basically an overlongZoo Gang with extra doublecrossing and bad Caine.