Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Io: Outland (1981)   6 comments

On a mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, workers are acting strangely. They go outside the space station without spacesuits and cut their own air hoses and generally explode, spilling their guts all over. Is this a strange new space hobby? Why are they doing this?

Enter Marshall William T. O’Niel (Sean Connery), the new sheriff in town. O’Niel has just arrived at his new duty station with his wife and son. None of them is overjoyed with this new assignment, but O’Niel sucks it up and begins to learn about his new job. As soon as he heads off to work, O’Niel’s wife and kid hot foot it off planet and head back to Earth. So much for family.


“Yeah, dad can’t make it.”

Right off the bat, O’Niel gets the message from the mine’s general manager, Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle) that since the miners work so hard, they also play hard in the bar and the company brothel and it’d be best if O’Niel looked the other way. O’Niel is not amused.


“I am not amused.”

When a miner (Steven Berkoff) goes on a tear and holes up in one of the leisure (read brothel) cells, threatening a prostitute with a knife, O’Niel and his men, including Sergeant Montone (the underrated James B. Sikking) arrive on the scene. The hostage situation goes a bit pear-shaped, but the ensuing autopsy shows the miner was on a powerful synthetic narcotic, polydichloric ethylene (PDE). Since Dr. Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen), who performed the analysis, assures O’Niel the colony lacks the facilities to manufacture PDE, it’s clear someone is smuggling it in. A bit of research leads O’Niel to the two men who must be in cahoots with the smugglers.


“Avoid spikes. This is my favorite part.”

Now the fun really begins. Since the whole compound is wired for camera and sound, O’Niel surveils the two suspected drug runners and catches them in the act. He wants to question them to find out who’s behind the operation, but things go poorly for the pushers. He confronts Sheppard with the news that he’s seized and destroyed the contraband, knowing Sheppard will have to call his superiors and retaliate. Now O’Niel is the target.

Peter Hyams wrote and directed Outland as a futuristic western. It’s High Noon in space. In Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 film. High Noon, Will Kane (Gary Cooper) tries in vain to get the townspeople to help him defend against an outlaw with a grudge who will arrive on the noon train. In Outland, Connery’s O’Niel fails to get any of the locals to help him fight off two hired killers, expected on the regularly-scheduled space shuttle. In both films, the directors ramp up the tension by showing shots of clocks to highlight the approach of the bad guys. The only difference is in Outland, the clocks are digital. Both directors also offer their heroes help from the women in their lives. In High Noon, Katy Jurado and Grace Kelly come to Cooper’s aid. In Outland, Frances Sternhagen’s wreck of a doctor (her words), serves as Connery’s only ally.


“Think it over.”

The sets in Outland are like the air-lock connected hallways in the 1979 film, Alien. They also have that same industrial look. The bar is a bit wilder, with it’s neon lights and nude performance artists. The club does nod to the western with its swinging saloon doors though and it works. Hyams is an artist and he dabs the dark sets with pops of color to accentuate certain features, like the huge digital clock counting down the arrival of the hit men. There are also stunning shots of Connery walking outside the structure in his space suit.


“One small step for—ah you know the rest.”

Peter Hyams directed a number of films, including The Presidio (1988), Narrow Margin (1990), and the space-centric films 2010 (1984) and Capricorn One (1977). He was also a painter and a jazz drummer, performing with Maynard Ferguson and Bill Evans at Birdland, the Newport Jazz Festival, and other prestigious venues.

Hyams adds a dose of paranoia and a mistrust of authority to many of his films, including Outland. The mining company, Con-Amalgamate, wants to boost production, so they dose the workers with powerful uppers that fry their brains, making them psychotic. They cover the deaths by jettisoning the bodies into space. Con-Amalgamate is also the company in Capricorn One that makes the faulty life support systems leading Hal Holbrook to devise his cunning plan.


“Is Kubrick here yet?”

I’m a big fan of Outland. I saw it in the theatre with my dad when it came out and it’s one of my favorite films from that era. We also saw The Long Riders the year before, so offbeat westerns must have been our thing at the time. I like the main characters a lot, too. Connery is terrific as O’Niel, a worn, but professional law enforcement officer who ticked off one too many superiors and wound up on Jupiter. He’s smart and resourceful. When he knows the hired killers are on their way, he prepares. He formulates a plan to compensate for his lack of help by closing airlocks, stashing weapons, and generally out thinking the criminals. He’s also lucky to have Sternhagen’s Dr. Lazarus on his side. She’s a joy in this. Sarcastic, self-deprecating, and smart as a whip, Lazarus makes a great partner. I wish she had more screen time.


“I’m unpleasant; I’m not stupid.”

There are a few oddities in this film. Sean Connery has a Scottish accent. Kika Markham, who plays his wife, is British. Nicholas Barnes, another British actor, plays their son, but speaks with an American accent. Why? Also, why does Connery have a shotgun in space? A shotgun blast might not be my first choice in a pressurized space cabin. That said, any film with Sean Connery busting baddies on an Io space station gets my vote.


“O’Niel. William T. O’Niel.”

I wrote this piece for the Outer Space on Film Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini. She’s @debbievee on Twitter. Thanks for having me!

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Blood Feast (1963)   4 comments

“This looks like one of those long hard ones.”
-Detective Pete Thornton (William Kerwin) commenting on a series of violent murders

Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) runs a grocery store and deli that caters to the rich and bored. He specializes in authentic ancient Egyptian cuisine and brutal mutilation. Ramses murders beautiful young women and takes a different body part from each of them to make a sort of sacrificial mulligan stew.


“Bake at 450° for 45 minutes until medium rare.”

Soon, Florida’s beautiful sunshine-riddled lifestyle is all bloody. The headlines are filled with stories of murder victims and people are starting to notice. Well, some of the people are. The murders pale in comparison to the important issues in this film. Namely, will Suzette be surprised at her party? The whole time the killer is butchering helpless victims, society matron, Mrs. Fremont (Lyn Bolton) is planning a big party for her daughter, Suzette (Connie Mason). It should be a gas, since they’ve hired Fuad Ramses to cater.


“Authentic Egyptian cuisine!”

Blood Feast broke new ground for violence in 1963. Made in four days for $24,000, the film angered or disgusted a lot of people. It also sold a lot of tickets. Director, Herschell Gordon Lewis generated buzz around the film by issuing vomit bags to filmgoers. He even served an injunction against theatres in Sarasota, Florida to prevent the showing of Blood Feast, which, of course, drummed up business considerably. According to imdb, Blood Feast made $4 million in the US. It’s no Hitchcock thriller, but at least Lewis accompanies the unrealistic gore with wooden acting and unnatural dialogue. At one point, Mrs. Fremont reads her lines off a sheet of paper sitting on the sofa beside her. Classic.

Ramses continues his violent spree, taking pleasure in eviscerating his victims and caressing, then stealing their innards. The only hint to his motive comes from an Egyptology class Suzette and her boyfriend, Detective Thornton, both take. Ramses may be following a recipe from his own book, Ancient Weird Religious Rites. Isn’t that a great title?

Crazy must make you strong, because, despite his small stature and a severe limp, Ramses pushes a strong healthy woman onto a bed and pulls out her tongue. Apparently, she didn’t fight back because she didn’t need it anyway. Later, in the hospital, she manages to describe her assailant articulately to Detective Thornton using her auxiliary tongue.


“Tell me who cut out your tongue.”

Lewis directed mostly nudie films before Blood Feast, but jumped into the slasher genre with both feet. The first film in the Blood Trilogy, Blood Feast preceded Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965). Blood Feast is a gory film, even when weighed against today’s slashers. Ramses holds a severed leg and a tongue and manhandles assorted internal organs. He also whips a young girl ecstatically.


This pretty much say it all.

Blood Feast entertains accidentally. It’s fun to guess which organ Ramses will collect from each murdered woman and the acting is stiff and stilted. Mrs. Fremont and Suzette are attractive, but no competition for Meryl Streep, or her gardener. Then there’s the soundtrack. Cool organ music from couples’ skate night at the roller rink plays while Ramses stalks and kills women for parts.


“I have issues.”

I enjoyed Blood Feast. It’s goofily unreal and full of scenes like this. After rescuing Suzette, clad in her best pink party dress and white gloves, Detective Thornton and his partner, Frank (Scott Hall) go after Ramses. Mrs. Fremont fires off the best line. When it’s obvious Ramses is the killer and he’s abandoned his catering duties, she says, “Oh dear. I guess we’ll have to eat hamburgers tonight.”


“I wanted granite.”

After the dramatic rescue, the police chase Ramses to the landfill, where he jumps in the back of a trash truck and gets squashed.

“He died a fitting death for the garbage he was.”
-Frank (policeman poet)


Frank

It’s only 67 minutes.

Grave Encounters (2011)   Leave a comment

“It’s hard to beat a derelict mental institution used in Dr. Mengele-like medical experiments for pure heart-warming joy.”
-Some guy in a straitjacket

The crew of a Ghost Hunters-esque TV show led by Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) lock themselves into an abandoned mental hospital in Maryland to look for spooks. Will they find any? Three guesses.


He seems overly cheery about this.

Lance and his team, Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko), Matt (Juan Riedinger), and T.C. (Merwin Mondesir) investigate paranormal activity. They look for legends and local rumors about long-abandoned abattoirs, orphanages, and schools and, armed with their Scooby-Doo starter kit—Geiger counter, ectoplasm detector, special hand-held tape recorder that picks up ghost chat, a metric shit-ton of cameras, and crappy walkie-talkies, our valiant ghost spotters, hunt for things that go bump in the night.


Pose away, Matt.

The foursome and their resident mystic, Houston (Mackenzie Gray), who looks like the middle-aged love child of Eric Roberts, Robert Davi, and Willem Dafoe, get a tour of the facility from the caretaker, Ken (Bob Rathie) complete with descriptions of the horrific treatment of the former inmates, the experimental surgeries performed, and the ghastly suicides of the poor tortured souls. Every new horror has the crew licking their lips and seeing ratings nirvana.


“Eat your heart out, Zak Bagans.”

To add to the general eeriness, Lance has Ken lock them into the asylum all night and promise to return in the morning. Great plan, Lance. Matt sets up the stationary cameras and they head out with a hand-held one to prowl the long hallways in search of spirits. At first, their trip is uneventful, but they persevere, consulting with Houston and checking the readings on their ghost gizmos. When the team are manhandled by invisible forces, they decide to pack it in and wait for Ken. Unfortunately, Ken doesn’t show and they’re stuck in a creepy insane asylum with a bunch of spooks.


Cozy

Directors, Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz (The Vicious Brothers), establish the appropriately sinister atmosphere early on. The dark hallways are full of doors, each leading to another filthy room bedecked in peeling paint, graffiti, and disused wheelchairs. Through subtle exposition we learn the team know little more than the terminology used in paranormal, um, science and that Houston is merely playing a part. There are quite a few jump scares and the found footage aspect comes off naturally.


“A little paint, a few throw pillows…it can work.”

I liked Grave Encounters. I’m not usually a huge fan of shaky-cam cinematography, but they pulled it off here. The cast of actors were new to me and did an effective job of making me like them and not want them to die horribly. They were also not soul-crushingly stupid. As the film progressed and emotions took over, they made some less-than-stellar decisions, but they were running away from disembodied asylum inmates with grudges, so they sort of have an excuse.


“Take your stinkin’ paws off me, you damn dirty inmates!”

I do wish these nutty ‘let’s stay overnight in the labyrinthine haunted house where police found 68 bodies skewered to the fenced-in part of the back garden’ folks would change it up just a bit. First, DRAW A FUCKING MAP! You’re in a place you’ve never seen before with a vast system of identical halls, empty rooms, staircases that go nowhere, and ghosts and it’s as dark as a coal mine at midnight. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs or something. Mark up the walls. Come on, guys, think! Second, bring a weapon. Carry a bat, a Maglite, a pointed stick, or some damn thing, and don’t, DO NOT drop the knife, bottle, or curtain rod the second after you use it to poke the evil spectral presence in the eye. You might need it again later.


Correct.

The main issue I have with Grave Encounters is the prologue. In the beginning of the film, a TV executive sitting in a production booth gives us a completely unnecessary introduction to the crew’s adventure. We don’t need it. The conversation among the protagonists explains it all without the tacked-on looking start, but the segment would make sense if it were bookended by an epilogue at the end. The abrupt ending with no explanation was unsatisfying. I get that some filmmakers want to withhold closure to amp up the sense of unease, or leave room for the sequel, but it left me with the same feeling I get when I get distracted and all the water drains out of the tub. Either do a scene at both ends or, if you must choose, do one at the end explaining how you got the film. Did kids, using the hospital as a place to party, find the equipment, watch the tapes, and turn them over to the police? Did criminals run across the pricey-looking stuff while dividing their loot after a hold-up, pawn it, get busted, and lead authorities back to the asylum? Did an apparition drop it off in the TV station mail slot? Enquiring minds want to know.


“It was not delivered by the US Postal Service. I can tell you that.”

Grave Encounters was entertaining and scary. It did its job.

The Great Lie (1941): I Ain’t Gonna Lie on Maggie’s Farm No More   2 comments

 

Rich country girl, Maggie (Bette Davis) loves Peter (George Brent). Peter loves Maggie, but he can’t commit. In a weak and drunken moment, he marries Sandra (Mary Astor), a globe-trotting concert pianist. She’s sort of awful though so when a paperwork glitch nullifies their marriage, Peter marries Maggie.


“You’ll do.”

All is happiness and light until Sandra drops a bombshell—she’s pregnant. When Peter’s plane is lost during a mapping expedition to the Amazon, Maggie has an idea. She’ll take Sandra to a secluded cabin where she’ll have her baby privately, then Maggie will claim the child as her own so the kid has a dad, at least on paper. The two women travel to Arizona, where Maggie takes care of the difficult Sandra during her pregnancy. When Maggie returns, she has a new baby with Peter’s name.


“No, I don’t have any eights!”

Despite her heartbreak at the loss of her husband, Maggie soldiers on and focuses on raising her son, who she names Peter, after his father. Maggie is a wonderful mother and young Pete thrives with the help of Maggie and maid superwoman, Violet (Hattie McDaniel). Things proceed swimmingly until Peter returns from the dead and eats the rest of the cast. I’m kidding, but that would be an interesting plot twist, wouldn’t it?


“This is a human child, right?”

Peter comes back to Maggie and is overjoyed to see her and to meet his son. He’s a loving and dedicated husband and father and he, Maggie, Young Pete, and Violet live happily ever after. Not so fast, bub. Sandra finds out Peter is back from the jungle and she wants him AND her baby. During a tense visit to Maggie’s farm, Maggie has a head full of ideas that are drivin’ her insane. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.


“Don’t trust her, Pete.”

Anyway, Sandra threatens to tell Peter that Young Pete is hers, claiming Peter will leave Maggie since the baby is the only thing holding their marriage together. This is a film made in 1941 in which a boozy career woman has a child out of wedlock, so you can guess who wins.


“Dammit.”

The Great Lie is a terrific melodrama with great performances by all the leads. Bette Davis is lovely as the good girl with confidence issues. In the beginning of the film, Maggie’s idea of domestic bliss is a little too dull for Peter. He’s not ready to settle down. Brent plays Peter as a bit of a playboy, but overall, he’s a decent guy. When he finds out his marriage to Sandra isn’t legal, he offers to remarry her. Of course, he wants her to give up a gig to do it. You could call that dirty pool, but she wants him to give up his job to follow her around while she plays concerts too. It’s more like the two alpha personalities just don’t mesh. I like how he handles the news about Young Pete, too.


“I double dog dare ya!”

Davis and Brent are good together. She always said Brent was her favorite leading man and the two were close on and off the set. They had a passionate affair, but stayed friends even after it ended, making eleven films together.


“Race ya!”

Brent is more talented than he gets credit for because he makes it look easy. He excels at playing the cad with a heart of gold. Clark Gable does that too, but I’ve always preferred Brent. He’s smoother and doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. Keeping his thoughts and feelings closer to the vest makes him more mysterious and more appealing.


“It’s sweet of you to wait four years for me to commit, then watch me marry and impregnate someone else. Is supper ready?”

Mary Astor, as Sandra, is fantastic! She’s a demanding prima donna with genuine talent who wants everything done yesterday. She’s accustomed to getting her own way and is put out when anyone challenges her. She’s not evil though. Astor could easily have played this as a one note character, but she gives Sandra depth. Maybe the marriage wouldn’t have lasted, but not because Sandra doesn’t love Peter. When Sandra sees Maggie, Peter, and Young Pete living so happily together, she wonders if she’s made the right choice. The forties were not exactly the ‘have it all’ decade. Sandra has chosen a career and perhaps she has moments in hotel rooms in Sydney or Budapest when she regrets not having a family. The audience sees flashes of these thoughts as Sandra holds her baby.


“TA DA!”

The Great Lie is fleshed out by a cadre of veteran character actors. Lucile Watson, Jerome Cowen, Grant Mitchell, Russell Hicks, and the charismatic, Hattie McDaniel lend their enormous talents to the film. Warner Brother had an impressive well of talent to draw from and that’s obvious when watching any film they made, especially in the 1940s.


“You’re paying me scale?”

Edmund Goulding directed The Great Lie and two other Davis/Brent vehicles, Dark Victory and The Old Maid, along with a gang of other films, including the amazing, and completely different, Nightmare Alley and The Razor’s Edge. This is a low-key melodrama with sympathetic characters who act like normal, flawed human beings. There are some noble moments, but overall, the story, written by Lenore Coffee from Polan Banks’ novel, is realistic. Sure, everyone is rich and no one has to go to the bathroom, but it’s a movie. The film also looks and sounds great thanks to Orry-Kelly’s gowns and Max Steiner’s music.

I was thinking this plot could have taken an entirely different path. What if Maggie brought Sandra out to Arizona to steal her baby, kill her, and bury her under a cactus? Then, Peter comes back to Maggie after fighting off piranha and anacondas and junk and finds out he has a baby. He’s thrilled until detectives come calling at the farm asking where Maggie was for nine months a while back. Oh, and why were she and Sandra going to Arizona anyway? When a thirsty man, stranded in the desert, cuts open a saguaro to survive, he notices a woman’s shoe poking out of the dry ground. After he makes it back to civilization, he tells the story to a doctor with ties to law enforcement. His friend, a local deputy with political aspirations, digs up he body, connects the dots, and bingo! Maggie’s doin’ hard time and Peter’s looking for wife #3.


“These new taffeta jail duds are stunning.”

I digress. The Great Lie is an entertaining story made by a talented director, a veteran cast of lead and character actors, and produced at the height of Warner Brothers’ powers.

This is a good one.

Twins of Evil (1971)   6 comments

Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing) is an avenging angel, burning folks at the stake for doing horrible things like living alone, being too pretty, and not attending church regularly. He’s looking for evil in all the wrong places though because living right next door is a super evil guy, Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), who worships the devil and rents local girls for torture, sex, and blood-letting. The aristocracy protects the Count though so Gustav’s out of luck. Into Gustav’s already full life enters his twin nieces, Maria and Frieda Gellhorn (Mary and Madeleine Collinson), who come to live with Gustav and his wife Katy (Kathleen Byron) after the deaths of their parents. Since the girls are twins, one is good and the other bad. Natch. Maria, the sweet, pious girl does what she’s told and falls for her teacher, Anton (David Warbeck), while Frieda, the scamp, falls for horny Count Karnstein and his torture chamber of fun.


“We’re all out of dip.”

Count Karstein and his agent, Dietrich (Dennis Price) continue with their late-night debauchery until some loose blood makes its way to the gates of Hell or Vampire Town or somewhere and Countess Mircalla (Katya Wyeth) transubstantiates to chew on Karnstein’s neck. Now that he’s a vampire, none of the peasant girls he leases from their families have a snowball’s chance in, well, you know where. Since Frieda’s been hanging out at Karnstein’s grotto, she too goes vampiric, but since her guardian’s a religious zealot, she keeps it to herself. When more villagers turn up with small neck holes they weren’t born with, Gustav and his minions decide to switch from hunting random hotties to chasing down actual murderers.


“And I-I-I will always love youuuuu!”

Twins of Evil is a fun entry in the vampire exploitation genre Hammer perfected. The village and castle look appropriately provincial and the story, written by Tudor Gates and J. Sheridan Le Fanu, is more fun than similar films. Peter Cushing does sanctimonious well and you can see he really believes he’s doing the right thing. Later, when he realizes the true impact of his actions, he makes a huge sacrifice to redeem himself, save the good twin, and release his town from the clutches of Satan. John Hough, who also helmed The Legend of Hell House and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry directs, highlighting simply the difference between the daylight world of goodness and the dark, malicious world of the Devil. The film moves at a good clip and the Collinson twins can act and are lovely to look at. Since this is a Hammer film, the women are between 19 and 25, buxom, and not averse to a little gratuitous nudity. It’s like the producers invaded the Castle Anthrax to cast their picture.


“A spanking?”

I’m a big Hammer fan, but I’ve seen more of their thrillers than straight Gothic horrors. Watching this crisp, high-definition transfer makes me want to see more.


“Oh, hi.”

Slither (1973): No Snakes on the Plains   Leave a comment

James Caan polishes his comedy chops in this meandering story about an ex-con who takes a field trip with a gang of oddballs.

Dick Kanipsia (Caan) and Harry (Richard Shull), two cons just released from prison, head to Harry’s house to drink a few beers, have a sandwich, and relax in front of the TV. As soon as they start to get comfortable in the ramshackle cottage, gunshots ring out. Neither of the men can tell who’s shooting or where the gunshots are coming from and let’s just say things go poorly for Harry.


Harry and Dick in happier times.

Soon, Dick’s on the road, hitchhiking. He gets picked up by nutty Kitty Kopetzky (Sally Kellerman), whose manic behavior belies an off-center brand of innate logic, and the two begin a quasi-romance. Dick wants to keep moving though because he has a destination in mind. You see, Harry dropped a name and hinted about a big payday, so when Kitty takes a little too much speed and pulls a gun at a truck stop, Dick takes off again in search of Harry’s fortune.


Their denim game is strong in this.

Dick contacts Barry Fenaka (Peter Boyle), Harry’s old friend, and Dick, Barry, and Barry’s wife, Mary (Louise Lasser) hit the road in Barry’s Airstream camper.


“Mary who?”

Pulled by his shiny red Cadillac, the trio take off followed by an ominous black super van.


Got your copy of Catcher in the Rye?

I recently recorded a podcast (The Forgotten Filmz podcast) to discuss Slither and I stick by my theory that the mission to find the missing money is just a MacGuffin. The real point of this film is to let us meet and get to know these offbeat characters. It’s one of the reasons I love 70s films so much. In quite a few of them, the characters are the plot. Eccentric characters meet haphazardly, and because of their idiosyncrasies, they get into mischief. Their weirdness either extricates them from their problems or gets them in deeper. That’s a 70s film. By the time the film ends, you either love them, hate them or mourn them, but you’ve long since stopped caring about their quest.


“Course it’s a good idea!”

Another great thing about 70s films is the natural look of the actors. They’re not all shined up with perfect teeth and zero body fat. They look like regular people. They wear bellbottoms and jeans shirts and crappy poly blend sports shirts with white belts. They have average complexions and sticky-outy teeth. Slither has that in spades. It’s hard to shine up Allen Garfield and Alex Rocco, who, by the way, is billed as Man with Ice Cream. Man with Ice Cream! The year before, Rocco was Moe Greene, who was making his bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!


“I got a business to run. I gotta kick asses sometimes to make it run right.”

Slither is a weird, slice-of-life film with a road trip thrown in. Howard Zieff, who also directed The Main Event, House Calls, and Private Benjamin, keeps the structure loose even as he ramps up the tension. I mean, who are those guys in the scary black vans? The dialogue was natural, quick-witted, and perfect for Boyle and Caan, who have more comedic ability than they get credit for. The screenplay, an original by W.D. Richter, who also wrote the screenplay for Home for the Holidays and adapted Big Trouble in Little China for the screen, was a mix of road movie, crime film, and madcap adventure.


“Just one more thing.”

I have to admit, this film was completely off my radar before Todd Liebenow of the Forgotten Filmz podcast suggested it. I’m glad I saw it. I will say, Slither is a misleading title for a road movie. There’s not a single snake in this. I can only assume they called it Slither because of the labyrinthine plot. OK, I guess. I wonder if a gang of folks came to this film hoping to see Marjoe Gortner wrestle a boa and left scratching their heads.


Marjoe does not appear in this film.

Sidenote: There is a made-for-TV version of this film, directed by Daryl Duke ( The Silent Partner) starring Barry Bostwick and Patti Deutsch, made one year later. I have not seen this, but now I must.

Please listen to the Forgotten Filmz podcast  to hear the always gracious, Todd Liebenow and I discuss Slither. Find Todd @ForgottenFilmz and me, @echidnabot on Twitter.


Serpentine!

The Best Films I Saw in 2017   Leave a comment

franc

2017 was a great year for film watching. I got to see a bunch of new movies in the theatre and at home. Seventy-three ‘new to me’ films made it onto my list, ten of those in the theatre. Here are the top 20 films I saw this year. Well, 22. After I started this, I remembered two more. They’re not all new. In fact, here’s the breakdown.

2010s-9 films
2000s-2
1980s-2
1970s-7
1960s-1
1950s-1

These are in alphabetical order.

100 Bloody Acres (2012)

bloody-acres

100 Bloody Acres is a nifty Australian horror/comedy about a trio of friends stranded in the Australian countryside, who hitch a ride from the wrong guy. It has enough weird little eccentricities and twists to keep you engaged. I like Australian horror in general. I think it’s the accents. This is a gory one, but I was laughing all through it.

68 Kill (2017)

68-Kill-New-Poster

A couple with the most dysfunctional relationship ever, rob a rich guy and then everything goes pear-shaped. Part After Hours, part Midnight Run, part every Tarantino, Rodriguez, Ritchie film ever made, 68 Kill moves fast. The breakneck pace, fun characters,and unexpected turns make it a terrific watch, and the sexual role rehearsal adds a nice twist. AnnaLynne McCord and Matthew Gray Gubler are excellent in the leads. A nice surprise.

And Soon the Darkness (1970)

soon

Two young British women, bicycling through the French countryside, become separated. It doesn’t go well. Is one friend lost or has she fallen victim to an unseen killer? Pamela Franklin, Michele Dotrice, and Sandor Elès star in this fun British thriller. I love these smaller British films. I’m happy I found this one.

Baby Driver (2017)

baby

What a fun movie! Ansel Elgort stars as a sad young guy with a tragic past who is forced by criminal boss Kevin Spacey to work as a getaway driver to pay off a debt. It’s a stylized sort of heist fantasy and the direction by Edgar Wright, cool stunt driving, and performances by Jon Hamm and Eiza González make it an edge-of-your-seat winner. I know people have a love/hate relationship with this one, but I enjoyed it.

 

Deadly Strangers (1976)

_Deadly_Strangers__(1974)

Hitchhiker, Hayley Mills gets a ride from Simon Ward. Pretty soon, a friendship with possible romantic undertones develops. As they motor along the M-5 to Prudenham-on-Twee or whatever, they have a row and get separated. Oh, there’s also a killer on the loose and Sterling Hayden! This is another terrific British thriller.

Deadpool (2016)

deadpool

A wisecracking mercenary finds out he’s terminally ill. He signs up for a treatment program which may be a bit off the grid. What’s great about this superhero film is that the superhero, Ryan Reynolds, is a funny, sharp, smartass who truly loves Morena Baccarin. I’m not sure who wouldn’t love her, but that’s not important right now. This and The Nice Guys are the two funniest films I’ve seen this year.

Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)

dont-torture-a-duckling-banner

A child killer in a small Italian village brings police and a reporter from the big city. Everyone is a suspect. This is a terrific crime film that doesn’t belittle the villagers or the police. Really well done.

Free Fire (2017)

free

Two groups meet in an abandoned warehouse in a town which may or may not be Boston. Oddly, since these folks are criminals, a fight breaks out. Since the deal they were doing involves a large number of firearms and it’s set in the 1970s, a major gunfight ensues. Ben Wheatley, who also directed the amazing Sightseers and High-Rise, actually choreographed this film in Minecraft, which I think is way cool. It seems like a simple plot line and it is. That simplicity allows Wheatley to develop the characters and enable them to smart off with impunity. I had a blast with this film and seeing it in the theatre with Wheatley introducing it and a gang of weirdo cinephiles in attendance made it even better.

I Drink Your Blood (1970)

Satanic hippies, led by the nasty Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, mess with some folks in a small town. To retaliate, a young boy doses their food with rabies. Yeah, not a great plan. The gang runs amok, killing and maiming the townsfolk and each other. I know this sounds less than stellar, but the film is actually pretty good. Chowdhury and friends can act. There’s character development and a score and everything. Seriously, check this one out.

The Last Shark (1981)

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This is a weird one. It’s an Italian Jaws knockoff set in the United States, during a windsurfing contest. “Close the beaches?” It’s kind of nutty how much this film rips off Jaws and Jaws 2, but the acting, by James Franciscus and Vic Morrow, makes up for it. This film is so much fun because of scenes like this.


“Ouch!”

Latitude Zero (1969)

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Joseph Cotten and Cesar Romero earned their house payments in this Japanese 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea kinda deal. Cotten is trying to solve problems and save the world and junk while Romero just wants to make his own griffins by cutting the wings off condors and sewing them onto lions in his weird-ass Dr. Mengele/Moreau lab. The fashion alone makes this film worth watching. Thanks, #DriveInMob !

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Just look at this guy!

Layer Cake (2004)

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A smart, experienced lieutenant (Daniel Craig) in a British criminal organization is forced into an impossible situation by his double-crossing boss. Will he be able to extricate himself and leave the business with his fortune and his health intact? Craig is excellent as are Kenneth Cranham, Colm Meaney, Sienna Miller, and Michael Gambon. This is a terrific entry in the London crime film category. Highly entertaining.

The Nice Guys (2016)

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Fast-paced, clever, and surprisingly warm, The Nice Guys pits Ryan Gosling, a grieving, mostly drunk, private detective and Russell Crowe, a thug-for-hire, against major players in government and the automotive industry. The two unlikely partners join forces to solve a few murders and redeem themselves. Angourie Rice, as Gosling’s daughter, is impressive. I hope to see her in a lot more. Also, Gosling and Crowe need to make about 600 more movies together.

Night of the Demon (1957)

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Niall MacGinnis, an occultist who doesn’t like scientists telling the world that he’s peddling bunk, battles Dana Andrews, who believes none of his scary monster crap. Jacques Tourneur directed this atmospheric and beautifully-shot film and it’s terrific. There are some great smoke effects, a scary soundtrack, and effective cinematography. Critics have argued about showing the monster vs implying the monster since 1957. While I love me some Cat People-type subtle effects, I also love this creature. It’s incredibly scary and the sound accompanying him is perfection. You should probably watch this right away.

Phantasm (1979)

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Phantasm is a legitimately frightening film. A metric shit ton of evil centers around a funeral parlor and the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) who works there. Terrific practical effects, a scary, heart-pounding score, and characters who aren’t stupid, make this horror film stand out. I enjoyed the hell out of this film. I can’t believe it took me so long to see it. Don Cascarelli made this for $300,000 and it looks like he spent 20 times that. So good.

Prevenge (2017)

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Alice Lowe wrote, directed, and starred in this black comedy about a very pregnant woman listening to the voice of her unborn baby, who tells her to kill. This film is full of sick, British humor and I loved it. Grief is a bitch.

Rolling Thunder (1977)

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William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones return from a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp to a world they don’t recognize. As they sink into an abyss of depression and loneliness, a brutal, senseless murder wakes them up and gives them purpose. Yay, revenge! Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould wrote this and the dialogue, though spare, works. The action scenes are well done too and the 95-minute running time seems to fly by. Rolling Thunder is great 70s grit.

Surveillance (2008)

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A violent highway killer strikes in a remote town. FBI agents Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman arrive at the police station to interrogate the witnesses. What unfolds is a Rashomon-like thriller that keeps you guessing and on the edge of your seat. Jennifer Lynch directed this fun little gem. Another nice surprise.

The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975)

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Sergio Martino directs this crime thriller about an undercover police detective, the excellent Claudio Cassinelli, investigating the death of a prostitute. His search leads to a human trafficking ring involving a number of powerful people. I love police procedurals and the giallo addition makes it even more fun.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

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Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson are all fantastic in this surprisingly warm black comedy from the mind of writer/director Martin McDonagh. After seeing In Bruges (one of my favorite films of all time) and Seven Psychopaths, I couldn’t wait to see this. It was worth it. There’s so much going on in this film, I feel like I need to see it a few more times to do it justice. McDonagh is a huge talent. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Turkey Shoot (1982)

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I have a thing for The Most Dangerous Game story and films with people hunts. This one is set in post-apocalyptic Australia and stars Steve Railsback and Olivia Hussey as prisoners in a concentration camp for social deviants. It has an evil prison warden, two kinky jet-setters, a score by Brian May, and a werewolf. Seriously. You owe it to yourself.

The Void (2017)

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The Astron-6 guys make funny horror films. I really liked this. I don’t love the ending, but directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski build the tension and characters so well during the first four-fifths, I don’t care. I liked The Editor more, but I’m always happy to see whatever weird films these guys make.

2018, here I come!

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