Archive for the ‘1970s’ Tag

Jaws (1975)   6 comments

jawsposter

A series of bizarre deaths plagues a small community. Local officials, unable to deal with an emergency of this magnitude call in the pros from Dover.

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Not these guys.

The imported scientist, sensible law enforcement professional, and smart-ass guy with horse sense team up to thwart the evil ant/spider/squid/gerbil/shark’s plans for world domination or chowing down the locals. People die. At least one person does something massively heroic. Stuff blows up. In one last ditch effort to save the world from the mutant lemming/reindeer/gnat, our plucky hero takes a wild stab and saves the day. The End. I’ve just described the plots to Them!, Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, The Thing From Another Planet, a bunch of less professionally made B-movies from the 1950s/60s, and Jaws. I know. I’ve heard the arguments. Jaws is a drama or an action/buddy picture, but it’s not horror. To that I say, “That’s some bad hat, Harry.” Wait. Of course Jaws is horror. It’s also a drama with comedic moments, a buddy picture, a floor wax, and a dessert topping. Jaws ticks a lot of boxes.

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Harry

Director Steven Spielberg took the biggest novel of the day and its author, Peter Benchley, his actors, crew, and a barely functioning mechanical shark to Martha’s Vineyard to make one of the best movies of the last 40 years. The film opens with the violent death of a young girl in the ocean off fictitious Amity Island. Told by the coroner the cause of death is shark attack, chief of police Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches, Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) convinces him to keep them open saying “We need summer dollars.” Meanwhile, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) from the Oceanographic Institute arrives to consult with Brody as to whether or not they have a shark problem.

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Did you see a shark?

They do. The public deaths of two more people force Vaughn to close the beaches and hire Quint (Robert Shaw) to kill the shark. Brody, Hooper, and Quint head out to sea to catch them a porker. Bonding ensues. There’s also chumming and knot-tying and drunken story-telling and death.

If the story sounds simple, that’s because it is. The simplicity of the story allows Benchley and co-screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, who also plays the local newspaperman, to fill it up with complex characters and great dialogue. When Brody’s wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) meets Hooper she says, “My husband tells me you’re in sharks.” When Mayor Vaughn stubbornly refuses to listen to Hooper and Brody and says the beaches will stay open Hooper says, ”I’m not going to waste my time arguing with a man who’s lining up to be a hot lunch.” Great stuff.

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“Amity, as you know, means friendship.”
-Mayor Larry ‘Hot Lunch’ Vaughn

The characters have some depth too. Through their anecdotes and conversations we learn more about Brody, Hooper, and Quint than cop, scientist, and crusty sea-dog. The men indulge in some macho one-upsmanship including a funny scene in which Quint chugs a can of beer (Narragansett, or ‘Gansett in the local parlance) and crushes the can. Hooper drains his drink and crushes a Styrofoam cup. Then there’s THE scene. Brody dumps chum over the side of the boat. He turns to make a smart ass comment to Quint, then turns back just in time to see a huge shark come up beside him. He backs up slowly to Quint in the cabin and says the famous, ad-libbed line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

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Surprise!

After a day of shark hunting, the boys toss back a few and the exchange that follows has become one the most famous scenes in modern cinema. According to Steven Spielberg, he first asked Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden to play Quint, but they both turned it down. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown suggested Robert Shaw. I like both Marvin and Hayden, but I can’t think of anyone other than Shaw in the role of Quint. His speech and spot-on delivery about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis is a gorgeous example of story-telling. Writer Howard Sackler (Killer’s Kiss, Fear and Desire) had the idea for the speech. John Milius (Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now) gets most of the credit, but Robert Shaw, also a writer, polished and delivered it over two nights. Editor Verna Fields pieced together the two readings to make the speech as we know it. She also blended real shark footage with that of Bruce, the mechanical wonder and made it look real…and scary. The rest of the film is a rollicking good time that is better seen than described. Since we’ve gotten to know these three men, we care when we see them in danger. They care too. You see it in their faces.

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Great writing and acting make Jaws a wonderful film. What elevates it to top ten list status is the music. Spielberg chose to work with John Williams in Sugarland Express the year before after hearing Williams’ score for The Reivers. He asked Williams to score Jaws and that choice made the film. The soundtrack moves from ominous and suspenseful to joyous and light-hearted seamlessly and Spielberg uses the music to punctuate his scenes. Spielberg knows a good thing when he hears it. Williams has scored all but two of his films.

The writing, cast, and acting combine with the beautiful location to make Jaws a terrific film, but it’s the little things that make it one of my favorites. I love when Brody knocks over the paintbrushes in the hardware store and grimaces. When he tells his deputy, Jeffrey Kramer to make Beach Closed signs he says, “Let Polly do the printing.” Then there’s that great dolly zoom shot of Brody on the beach.


Perfect.

Later Quint sees Hooper’s high-tech equipment and says, “Jesus H. Christ, what are you some kind of half-assed astronaut?” Perfect. I grew up in Massachusetts and have spent time on the Cape and islands all my life. The phrases and cadence in Jaws are pretty darn good. My dad says Jesus H. Christ on occasion. The accents even pass for the most part. One of the town council sounds more like Maine than the Vineyard, but we’ll let that go. Even Quint’s brogue of sorts fits.

I love Jaws. My top ten changes around as I see new films and re-watch old favorites, but Jaws is always there…looming in the depths.

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I wrote this piece for the Spielberg Blogathon hosted by Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled http://kelleepratt.blogspot.com/ on twitter @IrishJayhawk66

Michael It Rains…You Get Wet http://le0pard13.com/ on twitter @le0pard13

Aurora of Once Upon a Screen http://aurorasginjoint.com/ on twitter @CitizenScreen

Thank you!!

smile
Smile!

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Hausu (1973): Miss Havisham Joins the Donner Party   1 comment

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Hausu. Every time I mentioned it to a fellow film lover, I heard, “Trippy!” or “You won’t forget that one.” Intrigued, I finally sat down to watch. At a Japanese school for girls, we meet our protagonists. Like the seven dwarves, our seven school girls exhibit one major personality trait each. Melody loves music. Sweet has a gentle nature. Fantasy has her head in the clouds. Prof reads constantly. Kung Fu lives for sport. Mac thinks of nothing but food, and Gorgeous is, as you might have guessed, gorgeous. Due to a change in their original plans to enjoy a holiday by the sea, the girls go instead to visit Gorgeous’ aunt in the country. The aunt lives alone pining for her fiancé who died in the war. Weak and wheelchair bound, Auntie never quite got over his death or that she never married. She lives isolated from the rest of the world. Through a series of flashbacks we see Auntie as she was with her lover and then after his death, looking bitter, at her sister’s wedding.
Soon after the girls arrive at Auntie’s house with their fluffy white cat, weird things start to happen.

cartoon cat
Boo!

Part fairy tale and part horror, Hausu both embraces and parodies slasher films. People die in weird ways and as their number starts to dwindle, the girls get more frightened and the pace more frenetic. Girls disappear, Auntie gains strength, and the skeleton in her kitchen does another dance.

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Auntie and friend

Lines like “There’s a human hand in there.” and “Just let me eat you.” contribute to the Little Shop of Horrors vibe. The effects get stranger too. The cat’s green glowing eyes and the cut paper animation superimposed on live-action film look different from any other film I’ve seen.

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I enjoyed Hausu because it looks so different and combines fantasy, horror, and fairy tale well. I mean, how can you dislike a film which includes death by piano?

natalie portman in the professional
Does Auntie remind you of Natalie Portman in The Professional?

Posted July 14, 2014 by Kerry Fristoe in Reviews

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The Bees (1978)   2 comments

the bees

A man and his young son break into the compound of apiologist (bee guy) Dr. Miller to steal the valuable honeycombs. Ignoring the danger signs, they open a particularly nasty hive of killer bees which overtake them. The next day, the man returns with some friends and his dead son. He blames the scientist for his son’s death because he brought things to the area worth stealing. Despite this flawless logic, Dr. Miller (Claudio Brook) asks the men to leave. The angry mob refuses and, as angry mobs often do, they wreck the place. In the riot that follows the villagers release the bees, die violently, and catch fire. In an effort to retrieve his notes, Dr. Miller dies, but manages to save his wife Sandra (Angel Tompkins) by locking her in a walk-in fridge.
Cut to Sandra in the elevator in John Norman’s (John Saxon) California apartment building. Two muggers attack Sandra in the elevator and immediately open her cosmetic bag. Standard behavior so far. Sandra, a natural beauty, has no need for make-up so in her bag she carries bees. The killer bees run amok and kill the muggers. Sandra emerges from the elevator unscathed since she coos sweetly and bees like that. She arrives at John’s apartment with her bag half full of bees and never mentions the mugging or the two dead guys in the hall. John and Sandra hit it off right away and make plans to go to John’s lab to look at bees and flirt a lot.
Meanwhile, massive clouds of killer bees form all over the country and leave destruction and death in their wakes. Behind all the mayhem, a large cave of bees hums with activity. It reminds me of scenes in The Haunting in which Robert Wise shows us an event, then cuts to a shot of Hill House to let you know the house sees all…only with bees.
John, Sandra, and Sandra’s uncle Ziggy (John Carradine with an atrocious accent) start working on methods of taming the bees or preventing them from reproducing. It helps that Ziggy (the Bee Whisperer) believes bees use a more sophisticated form of communication than most people think. There’s a cool scene in which Ziggy translates bee dancing. It may have been a bit embellished, but it was still fun.

bees carra

Fighting the scientists, “Big Business” wants killer bees to thrive so they can add them to their huge corporate hive. This would create superbees and a more refined and expensive type of royal jelly. The corporate baddies want to replace the sugar in most consumer products with honey thus becoming honey sheiks and ruling the world and getting all the hot chicks. To that end, “Big Business” has a politician in its pocket who helps them with the copious bee legislation which crosses his desk. At a hearing before several pols, John outlines his plan to treat the killer bees with a pheromone which will make the drones mate with each other rather than the queen which breaks up the panel because they have a mental age of seven. They crack a lot of bad gay jokes and say things like “adding incest to injury” and make plans to go get popsicles. While John speaks in Washington, the bad guys send a couple of guys to off Ziggy. They try to escape after their crime, but the bees have other plans and John returns home to a blood bath in the lab. Worn out from cleaning corpses out of their office, John and Sandra go to bed. John wakes in the middle of the night and begins to make love to Sandra only to find she and he and their bed covered in bees. The lovers manage to extricate themselves from the bedroom though because they speak bee. This was the last straw. John, determined to inform the world about the plight of the bees and the reach of their power and avoid bee-us interruptus again, goes back to Washington to testify before Congress. As he speaks, a cloud of bees enters the room and begins to air their grievances through John.
Alfred Zacharias (The Pearl, Crime of Crimes) wrote and directed The Bees and while it’s not the best B-movie I’ve seen, it is the best bee movie I’ve seen involving John Saxon, hit men, and terrorists wielding jars full of bees. I enjoyed The Bees and it even won an award. Dan Genis won the award for Best Special Effects at the Catalonian International Film Festival. Besides, it was fun. John Saxon always entertains, John Carradine played a fun, quirky character, and I never knew what would happen next. Bzzzzz!

bees bed

The Wicker Man (1973)   1 comment

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This is one wacky island.

Sergeant Neil Howie flies to Summerisle, a remote Scottish island, to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Immediately he notices the queerness of the townsfolk. Their ways differ wildly from his devoutly Christian life on the mainland and as Howie’s investigation into the villagers progresses, his outrage grows. Robin Hardy directed The Wicker Man from an Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth, Frenzy) screenplay on location near Inverness, Scotland. Edward Woodward of Equalizer fame plays Sgt. Howie as an uptight, morally certain policeman thrust into a bizarre world of bawdy songs, pagan teachings, and orgies.


Spinal Tap comes on at 8.

His incredulity mounts as Howie realizes that not only will the villagers not help him find young Rowan, but also they don’t care if she’s found. Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento, and Aubrey Morris, as a creepy gravedigger, play their parts well, but it’s Christopher Lee who steals the show. As Lord Summerisle, Lee has all the best lines and looks thoroughly amused by Howie’s righteous indignation.
Example: about some girls dancing in the altogether during a religious rite Howie says, “They’re naked!”
“Well naturally” says Summerisle, “It’s much too dangerous to jump through fire with their clothes on.”


“The Welcome Wagon’s here!”

The Wicker Man lives up to its cult classic status because the writing is solid, the performances strong, and the locations authentic. The statements it makes about religious hypocrisy aren’t subtle, but they don’t achieve Oliver Stone ball peen hammer to the skull-level either.

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“It’s good!”

The Laughing Policeman (1973)   Leave a comment

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An unknown man wielding an automatic weapon massacres the passengers on a city bus. San Francisco detectives Walter Matthau, Bruce Dern, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Val Avery must use their expertise and the crime scene evidence to find the killer. Complicating the investigation is the fact that one of the victims is Walter Matthau’s partner. The detectives, led by Matthau hit strip clubs, stoolies, and drug dealers in search of the elusive spree killer. Along the way they butt heads with their lieutenant, the always impressive Anthony Zerbe, and the criminal low-lifes they see every day. The film focuses on Matthau and his new partner, Dern, who has a talent for rubbing people the wrong way. From the beginning the two clash as Matthau refuses to communicate and Dern, new to the unit, wants to jump into the fray.

We see the differences in the styles of the two men as the story progresses. Matthau’s ranking officer leads and instructs naturally while Dern’s aggressive nature puts him at odds with the rest of the squad. They find common ground in their desire to close the case and even though they have different reasons for doing so, it works. Dern wants to solve the murders to prove himself to his new partner and squad and check another case off the list. Matthau has a gut feeling these murders relate to an old unsolved case and feels guilty because his obsession with it may have led his partner to risk his life to solve it. Never close to his partner, Matthau’s feelings made me think of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade toward Miles Archer in The Maltese Falcon.
“When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.”

Since they’re cops and this is the 70s, Matthau and Dern disobey orders and follow their own instincts. While the case serves as the central point of the film, it’s the people we want to watch. Chock full of talented character actors, The Laughing Policeman has that cool 70s vibe that says these actors look like they do because of DNA, not teeth whitening and plastic surgery. Along with those I’ve mentioned the cast includes Cathy Lee Crosby, Albert Paulsen, Joanna Cassidy, Clifton James, and Gregory Sierra. The seedy joints and their back room denizens give the film a realistic look and the acting let’s you relax and ease into the story.

Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, The Pope of Greenwich Village) directed The Laughing Policeman by standing back and letting his stellar cast go to work. As American as the story seems, it comes from the Swedish novel Den skrattande polisen by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. The Laughing Policeman made me smile. It starred Bruce Dern and Walter Matthau, had a compelling story, complex characters, and some great lines. At one point Bruce Dern comments on a suspect’s influence by saying “…probably got enough juice to get a sodomy beef reduced to following too close.”

How can you not like a movie like that?

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The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)   Leave a comment

king of marvin gardens

David Staebler (Jack Nicholson) writes fiction loosely based on his life and reads it on his late night Philadelphia radio show. He lives with his elderly grandfather and goes through the motions of living. After an emergency call from his brother, Jason (Bruce Dern), David travels to Atlantic City and gets sucked into Jason’s world of lowlifes and get rich quick schemes.

The decaying boardwalk and scuzzy locales of Atlantic City in the 1970s serve as a perfect backdrop for the desperate wheeling and dealing Jason, his lady friend, Sally (Ellen Burstyn), and her daughter Jessica (Julia Anne Robinson) have to do to get by. Jason works for local mobster, Scatman Crothers, but dreams of an empire of his own on a Hawaiian island. His charisma and charm have gotten him this far, but his bravado and lack of business acumen threaten to derail Jason’s plans. He’s also playing fast and loose with the two ladies in his life which almost never ends well.

As he did in Five Easy Pieces, director Bob Rafelson paints a sad picture of frustration, loneliness, and promise unfulfilled. Nicholson underplays his role as the smarter, sensible brother and Burstyn shows great range as the aging beauty queen who knows she’s past it, but tries to muddle through anyway. It’s Dern who transfixes though and you can’t take your eyes off him. He’s all energy and spontaneity and you want to believe in his dreams, realistic or not. For a film without a lot of action or even crackling dialogue, The King of Marvin Gardens held my interest if only to see what these odd characters would do and how these terrific actors would show it.

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The Dunwich Horror (1970)   Leave a comment

dunwich poster

  Set in the mythical Miskatonic Valley like many of H.P. Lovecraft’s tales, The Dunwich Horror revolves around Dean Stockwell in a role even creepier than the one he plays in Blue Velvet. Stockwell’s Wilbur Whately lives in Dunwich, Massachusetts with his raving grandfather Sam Jaffe, and where the natives, who often speak with southern accents, avoid them.  Anyway, Wilbur Whately wants Ed Begley’s Necronomicon so he can summon some of his buddies from a parallel universe to come and play with him and Sandra Dee. Sandra digs hanging with Wilbur because he adds copious amounts of hallucinogens to her tea which make her woozy and dream she’s watching a revival of Hair.  I won’t spoil it for you but the trippy lighting and creature effects and projections onto canvas gave the film a distinctive look and the breathy heartbeat sounds added to the spookiness factor.  Along with the cast I’ve mentioned, Lloyd Bochner, 70’s staple, and Talia (billed as Coppola) Shire also appear in small character roles.  I haven’t read the original Lovecraft story but I know many of them take place in a fictionalized version of Wilbraham, Massachusetts (the real home of Friendly Ice Cream) which sits about 160 miles inland so the ocean puzzled me a bit but no matter.  It was a fun 60s, 70s, witch hunt, hippie, parallel universe, Satanic ritual, acid flick.

Yog-Sothoth!

stockwell dunwich

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