Thursday 6 December 2018

Horror-fantasy - 43

The Sentinel (1977)- God bless you Michael Winner. One of the most insane and joyous and entertaining horror films of the 70s. Actually makes one want to live with notorious murderers. And has a horror film ever had a better cast?

House of Wax (1953) - "Suicides - just like a woman they always have to have the last word." One of Price's best performances, though the whole masked killer stuff is hokey though of course it's just surface, and the period drama stuff colourful but anodyne. But the setting is great. Doesn't the spare head look more like Nanette Newman?
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) though may be better, if only because of the revolutionary process in which it was shot in, and having the hero be a woman, in Glenda Farrell's jolly reporter, who helps rescue Fay Wray from Lionel Atwill.

Etoile (1989) - Ponderous, overlong, dreary fairytale-giallo starring Jennifer Connelly, who is lovely,  and Charles Durning, who does his best, even when dubbed with Italian, hamming it up. Sub-Argento ballet themes run through. It does look expensive, though. The male lead is annoying.

The Evictors (1979) - One of Charles B. Pierce's exploitation-wannabe prestige pictures. Looks expensive, has a decent cast - Jessica Harper, Michael Parks, Vic Morrow - but  it is slow, and nothing much happens in the farmhouse setting. The film is very classy, so it doesn't  work when it goes all sleazy.

Deliverance (1972) - The world doesn't feel convincing. Because it's Boorman, even though it is Atlanta, everything looks like Wicklow (Neil Jordan has the same problem). Ned Beatty being raped is a sight, in his diaper. But everything is underplayed. The dialogue is incomprehensible. The killers don't feel like a community.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) - Unenjoyable, cheesy proto-pilot for Irwin Allen's series, with a bigger cast, including women. But it's a slog. Gave up and fast-forwarded.

Battle Of The Worlds (1961) - Silly Italian sci-fi about the end of the world, despite a cute dog longing for its owner Claude Rains at the end. Yes, Claude Rains is in this.

Wild In The Streets (1968) - Rather silly hippie nonsense, despite a prophetic ending and a decent Shelley Winters turn. Christopher Jones is annoying, but the end theme is funky.

The Ghost in The Invisible Bikini (1966) - Nonsensical Beach Party spinoff, typical dire sitcommy hijinks, with added Old Dark House gorilla and ghost stuff, and a slumming Karloff and Rathbone. Lots of Corman Poe props reused.

Digby The Biggest Dog In The World (1973)- Is Dinsdale Landen doing a Graham Chapman impression? He's very annoying in that sort of silly Python military officer way. Milo O'Shea's hair is astonishing. Joe McGrath's direction captures the wonder of a giant cucumber, but there's lots of weirdness. The crazy rapey chimp. Jim Dale eating dog food. Milligan treating Dale as a dog.The whole panto-horse background. It's a tonal clusterfuck. Is the Dulux product placement a deliberate reference? The trouble is it's very stagey. Milligan especially is doing a silly German accent, and he is entertaining, but it goes from sub-Children's Film Foundation to giant scientist B-movie. John Bluthal is miscast as Norman Rossington's thug sidekick. It's a bit like the Goodies. The visual jokes are brilliant, but the stuff joining them is variable. It threatens to turn into some indulgent all-star comic dirge, but it feels so odd. Some bits look cheaper than others (the weird bit where it skirts a Concorde test flight). There's that odd musical breakfast dance with the Playboy bunny.  That circus scene with an uncredited Charlie Atom seems to prefigure Octopussy. Harry Towb does a Cockney accent. Bob Todd s a flamenco bandit knife-thrower is something. It takes a while to start,  but once it does, it becomes increasingly mental. Why  are the Russian characters speaking in Russian with Russian subtitles? Someone needs to tell the story of this film. Because it is barmy. It reminds me of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in many ways - in that it's someone who is not by trade a maker of family films trying to beat Disney, and doing it, I don't want to say "wrong", but doing it in a way that these sort of things are not supposed to be done. Milligan does drop out of sight halfway though.

Alison's Birthday (1981) - Though theatrically released, this Aussie horror was coproduced by 7 Network, and has that grainy film insert look commonplace in Aussie kids' TV. John Bluthal (RIP) plays an Aussie suburban satanist with a Stonehenge in his garden. Feels very anthology-ish. With a "trapped in your own grandmother's body" twist.

Day Of The Triffids (1962) - Atmospherically shot attack scenes aside, it's a slog. Howard Keel is rubbish.  Yes, he was a great singer. But he has no thespian presence. Some great panoramic shots. But it gets quite schmaltzy and confused. A treatment a la The Day The Earth Caught Fire would have been better. Having scenes of attacks scored by jazz seems to be making fun of the Triffids.

Invaders From Mars (1953) - Not traditionally good, weird dreamlike sense of reality merged with stock footage thrills. Seemingly a no-budget thing until the final revelation. Though the actual Martian stooges are terrible.Very Public Information Film-ish.

Black Zoo (1963) - A strange hybrid. Michael Gough in a Hollywood vehicle, by regular producer Herman Cohen, set and shot in California, with the likes of Elisha Cook supporting. Interesting but not good. Gough feels kind of lost, although it is interesting to see a zoo with multiracial guests, very odd to see a horror film from this era with black faces that are not colonial or tribal folk. It doesn't feel quite as lurid as the British based films Cohen did. Gough eats tripe. His domestic scenes with soap star Jeanne Cooper don't click the same way he and Margo Johns do in Konga, even though he has weirdly out of place passionate love scenes. It feels like it is trying to be a proper Hollywood film. It does have some production value, compared to the Corman Poes. It's just weird when you see Gough getting angry at Elisha Cook, rather than, say, Michael Ripper or Sam Kydd. and smacking him to a pulp before feeding him to a lion. Towards the end, it gets a bit crazier, when the nearest to that previously was Gough playing an organ to a lion. There's a gothic swamp funeral that's very Poe-ish, thanks to Floyd Crosby's cinematography, with a big cat parade, and a panther doing a double-take. They really seem to try to make Gough "the new Vincent Price". There's a tiger-skin psychic soul transfer.   "Beloved wife, where are you going?" There's a divorce over chimps, but the ending doesn't have a kick. It's a catfight in the rain, and some childhood trauma involving his young sidekick being his son, whose mother was eaten by a lion, and somehow his second wife was never told of this, despite him being around the house for years. There's no savaging by lion.   This is a true Monogram picture.  The same gorilla suit from Konga and The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini and Hillbillys In A Haunted House turns up. In all, it's very odd, but there's too much Hollywood melodrama.

Rampage (1963) - Unexciting adventure-melodrama with Robert Mitchum and Jack Hawkins in the jungle. Sabu plays a 40 year old "jungle boy".  Written by Alan Caillou. Not a fantasy but similar enough to Black Zoo, in having a more suitable climax where a big cat gets released onto Berlin. That's the one highlight, but it comes way too late. Hawkins becomes quite deranged.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) - I'm sorry, but Corman's Poe cycle tends to leave me cold. They feel very sloppy, cheap TV sitcom-level sets, Vincent Price something looking mournful for the other actors who unlike him, do not fit at all in period gothic settings and costumes. Feels cheaper than it is, astoundingly.

Tales of Terror (1962) - A dodgy adaptation of Morella, Price probably has never looked better. But it feels very stilted. Despite a joyful Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone.

The Raven (1963)  - Initially, it's quite entertaining, with Price and the winged Lorre sniping at each other. But it's only really driven by its cast, with Karloff, Hazel Court and Jack Nicholson miscast as the medieval hero. It's a sub-Disney medieval comedy.

The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1963) - The titular form of Tony Randall's quasi-Time Lord magician is kind of excruciating, with his "velly solly" acting, even though his makeup is quite good. But the character is of course merely a front. He drops the accent, pretty quickly, and soon gives way to gravitas. Randall apparently became ashamed of his film, and yes, I can see why for the initial Dr. Lao (but most Chinese magicians were phonies, and the script heavily implies he's not Chinese at all), but he's a decent Merlin. It's a bit tedious at times, typical western comedy, but his performances are so odd at times. The serpent is great fun. You can't help but like it, even if some of it is a bit too goofy, but Randall is extraordinary.

The Best House In London (1969) - Denis Norden-Carlo Ponti coproduction, very odd.  Music conducted but not composed by Eric Rogers, that sounds vaguely Some Mothers Do 'Ave Em-ish. It has an extraordinary cast - David Hemmings, George Sanders, Warren Mitchell, John Bird, William Rushton, Bill Fraser, Maurice Denham, Wolfe Morris (as a tearful Chinese opium dealer who seems at first to be a cameo, but is actually the big bad), Martita Hunt, Hugh Burden as Tennyson, Peter Jeffrey and Thorley Walters as not-Holmes and Watson, and even Joe Lynch as a Welsh copper but it's awful. It's a giant-budgeted, X-rated steampunk sex comedy that is written by Denis Norden, filmed on the sets of Oliver, filled with cameos from fictional and historical characters,  including Clement Freud who isn't very good, but then he allegedly murdered Madeleine McCann.  The nearest thing to a joke is when little Emmeline Pankhurst sings, "my pretty little pussy". I kind of miss when the British film industry could make something like this, even though it's astrocious. The trouble is, the brothel stuff is the main focus, and that's just tonally awkward. Some of it looks very realistic, but most isn't.  There's a scene that is basically the ending of Carry On Up The Khyber. It almost gets good towards the end, but it's a slog.  It descends into an orgy of leery tits, that's quite shocking for the time.

 Quest for Fire (1981 - Nice mammoth, beautiful visuals, but the cavemen performances by the likes of Ron Perlman and Everett McGill are a bit OTT, though Exotic Adrian Street is one of them, and he was the most OTT wrestler in Britain.

Dangerous Game (1988)- Nonsensical and gaudy Aussie film, by future Hollywood hack Stephen Hopkins. The theme is Irish Eyes is Smiling.  Shot like a Fanta ad. Over-stylised.

The Shout (1978) - Not a fan of relationship dramas, but this is arty and up its own bollocks, despite the intriguing noise Bates makes, plus I find Tim Curry needs the world around him to be heightened to make it work (at least in live action, his Nigel Thornberry is glorious, but I digress).

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972) - Amdram theatrics with a dodgy zombie. Atmospheric nonsense.

Microwave Massacre (1983) - Well-photographed but idiotic comedy starring the baffling presence of funeral roast circuit favourite Jackie Vernon. Mostly drinking in bars.

The Golden Child (1986) - It's utter crud. Charles Dance is great. But the plot makes no sense. Murphy is grating. Charlotte Lewis - why is she playing a Chinese/Tibetan character? Wouldn't it have made more sense to cast her as Indo-Nepalese? It feels at times it wants to be Carpenter, but can't.

Heavy Metal (1981) - Most of it disinterests me. I love the Bernstein soundtrack, but not the New Wave bits. The early stuff with all the tits, not my thing at all, very crude, the space station bit has a fun punchline, the bomber bit is nicely NFB-esque, and John Candy's Den voiceover is charming, but nah.

Rat (1999/2000) - Actually quite fun. Pete Postlethwaite and Imelda Staunton make convincing Dubliners. Steve Barron directs, with a Wesley Burrowes script, Burrowes for once dealing with urban environs. There is some of Burrowes' odd touches, like odd names ("Phelim Spratt", "Conchita Flynn") and a detour to Glenroe country, with a trip to a Dunlavin maggot factory, but there's a good cast, though the to-be-expected Doobalin/Fair City types. But it is a good fantasy film made in Ireland, which is rare. And by the Hensons too. And there's a showband soundtrack with Joe Dolan and the Royal Showband, plus mentions of the Late Late Show.

Nothing Lasts Forever (1984) - Peculiar, long-unreleased b/w/colour oddity, trying valiantly to feel like a 30s film but feels like a weird retro-oddity in the line of Crime Wave and Forbidden Zone. And for that reason, it doesn't quite register. Interesting cast - Zach Galligan, Paul Rogers, Lauren Tom, Bill Murray, Eddie Fisher, Sam Jaffe. 

Mysterious Island (1929 - B/W) - Primitive, ambitious but mostly ropey Verne adap that makes Captain Nemo Lionel Barrymore's Russian Count Dakkar. Some stunning underwater scenes, though. 

Psycho (1960 - B/W) - I know this is sacrilege, but I find it a flat film. I know it was made with a TV budget, but it feels undramatic. Obviously, the idea was new and brave, but aside from the standout moments, it feels like a TV movie. Perkins would be great later, but the idea is silly. Bloch was basically America's Brian Clemens. It's stupid rather than daft, and everyone underplays it. It's Hitchcock trying to be William Castle, but it's even more ordinary than any of Castle's ventures.

A Bucket of Blood (1959 - B/W)/ - Corman comedy. I must admit I am not a fan of his directorial efforts. This and Little Shop Of Horrors (1960 - B/W) are goofy would-be comedies limited by budget, time, and cast. There's ideas and energies, but they feel overlong and idiotic.

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957 - B/W) - More Corman no-budgetry. Tedious, bar some interesting monsters.

Harvey (1950 - B/W) - Yes, it's quite charming, but it's not my kind of comedy. Plus it seems confused as to what the concept actually is. But, still - Wallace Ford!

Them! (1954 - B/W) - Edmund Gwenn and the giant ants are fun, but this sort of 1950s sci-fi never does it for me. Routine, and I think gung-ho Americana doesn't quite sit with me. There's no real variation.

THE TWONKY (1953 - B/W)  - Ironic a film about the dangers of TV should feel like a bad sitcom. "My Mother The Telly".

The Thing from Another World (1951 - B/W) - I find it slightly too gung-ho (well, it is Howard Hawks?), and wouldn't they be in woolly jumpers rather than uniforms? Some interesting visuals, but it has been done better elsewhere. It's pretty standard, done well, but it's standard.

Red Planet Mars (1952 - B/W) - WTF? Typical anti-Commie nonsense. Peter Graves plays a father of a pre-teen son age 26.

Scrooge (1951 - B/W)- Sim is great, but as a friend pointed out, it needed more darkness. Too jolly for its own good. Some direction more like Laughton's in Night of the Hunter may have helped.  Has a  blind boy with a sign reading blind. It's not spooky enough, even though there is a creepy shot of a laughing automata. Francis De Wolff steals the show. Miles Malleson weirdly cast against type as Old Joe, on screen with Ernest Thesiger!

An Inspector Calls (1954 - b/w) - Sim is great,  but the attempts to open up the play kind of diminish it.  The time-loop twist is a punch, but it'd be better as a half-hour.  But everyone is too posh and unlikeable. The chair being alive is odd, at the end.

The Raven (1935 - B/W) - Basically an hour of Karloff and Lugosi torturing each other. Proto-torture porn. Enlivened by nice set design.

Rewatching Night of the Hunter. Never copped that the bloke who gets executed is Peter Graves. Plus, is Steptoe a more common name than I thought?

Rewatched the Princess Bride, a film which despite a wonderful Peter Falk, I can't quite stand. It's too gloosy, too American.

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