Monday, January 31, 2011

Maniacal Movie Poster Monday #1!

It's poster art eye candy!

The Arena  (New World Pictures, 1974)

Why not start off this new feature with the King, Roger Corman? Sadly, I do have to report this movie does not reside in the Video Vault, and worse - I've never seen it!!!!

Deathbed (aka Terminal Choice)  (Almi Pictures, 1985)

I guess we're going to turn this into a special edition: Movie Posters for Movies I've Never Seen!

The Neptune Factor  (20th Century Fox, 1973)

Sure enough - three for three - not in the Video Vault, and unseen by me. For now!

Til next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies! 1/29/11

Who cares what picture we see?

You might, and this could be the one!

Here's one of the neat little monster/sci-fi flicks Universal Studios was cranking out in the 1950's. It's a monster unlike any other - big rocks that fall on you, break into pieces, and the pieces start to grow and fall on you again! Now that's scary!

It's in the Video Vault, ready for loading - anytime! Til next time, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

Friday, January 28, 2011

It Takes Stew to Tango!

Random Stew, that is! Grab your spoons and let's get started!

It's winter time, so here's a little Snow for you.

Lugosi gets top billing, but Karloff only needs one name. And looks like they were
billed with the old school version of Faces of Death...

Here's some weirdness from back around Halloween.

Here's Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th movies, when he was still in the pink of health, circa part 3:

Now, here is Jason Voorhees again, now thoroughly mooshy after being killed 57 times across another five movies or so:

Okay, so here's my "Punkin Voorhees" from this past October 31st:

Okay, after Halloween had come and gone, PV went to live out behind my house with our other two jack'o'lanterns. And look what happened after he'd been out there a few weeks:


Can't you just hear the "bridge sound effects" when you look at that pic?

Here's one of my fave short-lived TV shows from the 80's: Masquerade. It starred Rod Taylor (l), Greg Evigan (c) and yup, Kirstie Alley (r). The set up was that all of the enemy spies in the world knew all of the American spies, so aging agent Taylor started Operation: Masquerade, where he and his two assistants would put together a team of five or so specialized "experts" in a field - like, maybe a long distance runner; a plumber who can get into tight spaces; an average joe who resembles a Soviet nuclear scientist - and run a complicated mission with them in a foreign country, all under the guise of an American tourist group. Mix Mission: Impossible with The Love Boat and you pretty much have it. Crystal Gayle sang the theme song, which was also a lot of fun. It was all really pretty cool, albeit in a cheesy 80's way, and I wish it had lasted longer than the 8 or 9 episodes they managed to make before cancellation terminated the show with extreme prejudice. Here's a few pics of the show:

The United States government would like to invite you...
...to come spy with me...

Man that was a good show - They could put the whole thing out on two DVDs...a guy can dream, right?

Look! It's Isis!

And we'll finish out with a little dessert - you know...cheesecake?

Yummy! Til next time, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Conquest of the Planet of the Buddha Man!

Golden reviews from a little golden head...

All films are from the 2010 Halloween Film Festival

Isle of the Dead/Bedlam (RKO, 1945/RKO, 1946)  Boris Karloff stars in this double feature for producer Val Lewton(paired up on the same DVD). In Isle he plays General Nikolas Pherides, a ramrod career military man so inflexible he pushes a subordinate into honorable suicide for a minor infraction in the opening scene. In 1912 Greece, Pherides and a few others - including Alan Napier (Alfred on TV's Batman) and Jason Robards, Sr. - make their way to a small island nearby that is mostly a graveyard. They all show up for various reasons, but then all find themselves stuck on the island for the same reason: plague. To make matters worse, Boris's wife's body has disappeared from the crypt, putting the old soldier on edge, and one old woman in the group is working hard to convince the others that one of the other women quarantined with them is really a vorvolakas, a Grecian vampire/werewolf combo. Tension ensues.

Boris checks Ellen Drew for vorvolakasism.
In Bedlam, Boris is Master George Sims, who runs the asylum known, rather coincidentally, as Bedlam. Much more in villainous mode here, Karloff takes a shine to the haughty young Nell Bowen (Anna Lee - Momma Quartermain on TVs General Hospital for decades) and when she spurns his advances, connives to get her committed to his none-too-gentle care in Bedlam, an asylum so dank and teeming with the violent and crazed its name has gone on to become synonymous with calamitous brouhahas ever since.

Boris is delighted to see that Anna Lee threw scissors.
Both films were directed by Mark Robson, a fine director, but they are considered Val Lewton pictures, as the producer really ran his own shows no matter who was calling 'Cut!' behind the camera. As such, they are of course deliberately paced and much more interested in pulling fear from your imagination than showing you awful things. And of these two pictures, only Isle can be considered a fright film, as Bedlam is instead a melodrama with some scary touches. Both are well worth watching, if only for Karloff alone; but where I thought Bedlam was pretty good, I really liked Isle of the Dead. They each run a bit over an hour and feature very familiar faces in the supporting cast (like Skelton Knaggs in Isle and Ian Wolfe in Bedlam) so they are both recommended. Give 'em a try!

The Silent Scream  (American Cinema, 1980)  Here's another one of the scarepics released in the wake of Halloween that I somehow missed seeing for thirty years! I don't know how that could happen, but I don't think it ever played at Toler Cinema, which was about the only theater I could get my parents to drop me off at on a Sunday afternoon in 1980; it never played Showtime in the early-to-mid 80's; and I never managed to find it on VHS, though it was released in that format at some point. And it had a pretty scary trailer that gave away no secrets. Nonetheless, I finally found it! And this one might have some major spoilers, so proceed only if you don't mind that. Scotty (Rebecca Balding - The Boogens) is a college freshman dismayed to find there's no room in the dorms for her. Taking her search for living space to the streets of Los Angeles, she finally finds a spot in the Engels manse, a rather imposing old house on a big hill on the coast. She finds the owner's son Mason more than a little weird, and his mom sure does stick to her room a lot, but the price is right and her new roommates Dori, Jack, and Peter are all pretty cool. But there's someone else in that mansion. Someone unseen. Someone who likes to get out at night. Then one of the roommates is slashed to death on the nearby beach, bringing cops Cameron Mitchell and Avery Schreiber (!) onto the case, but they're not that much help since the murder didn't happen in the house. Can Scotty solve the mystery before she finds "Terror So Sudden There is No Time to Scream?"

They could have been the Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald of the 80's.
Well, the filmmakers tried. They really tried. The movie is fairly well mounted, there's some very nice camerawork, the actors all give credible performances, and there are a couple of creepy moments. But in the end this doesn't hold together all that well. There are stories on the internet that this was shot first in 1977, then extensively reshot in 1979 after major rewrites by Ken and Jim Wheat (Lies, one of the TV Ewok movies, and The Birds II: Land's End), leaving only about 15% of the original shoot in the final film. Maybe that's why the flick feels strangely choppy for a movie that moves pretty slowly. There are also a few too many echoes of Psycho sprinkled throughout, and for a movie trying to present a mystery, too bad there's one performer in the opening credits who is nowhere to be seen for the first hour. I wonder who that unseen killer is? Still, if you don't mind slasher pics that take their time building a single digit body count or you're an 80's horror completist, this is out now on DVD and can be streamed on Netflix. All others need not apply.

Halloween II  (Dimension, 2009)  SPOILERS APLENTY AHEAD! After stating that he would never make a sequel to his "reimagining" of Halloween in 2007, Rob Zombie promptly started work on part 2 after Dimension made it clear they were going to make a sequel with or without him. Apparently he didn't want anyone to come along and make a crappy sequel to his movie. But before that, as a part of trying to ensure there would be no sequel, at the end of the first movie Zombie had his lead actress shoot her tormentor in the forehead with a .357 Magnum while sitting on his chest. Seems like it might be a mite difficult to bounce back from; but Zombie's a clever lad, he's bound to come up with a solid twist to show how Michael Myers survived. (He had to have survived, by the way, because Zombie finds no fright in the supernatural, only in white trash people who scream at each other until one of them hacks the rest up with a large blade. So no zombie/supernatural force/Samhain legends here.)
    Before that, the movie actually starts off on a strong note as a bruised, broken, and bleeding Laurie (Scout Straight Out of Compton again) wanders aimlessly through the streets of Haddonfield Illinois after killing Michael Myers. (Really. She killed him. There's no denying it.) She is soon found by Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif, turning in the finest acting in the film) and is taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. Ah ha. So it appears that again, despite internet reports to the contrary, Zombie is remaking the original Halloween II. Speaking of Laurie, when she gets to the hospital she looks like a cherry popsicle from all the blood (which is coming from where by this point?) so while they get her cleaned up we pop over to the ambulance carting Michael Myers' body to the morgue. (Because he's dead. Seriously. Large caliber bullet + forehead shielded only by latex mask = dead guy in latex mask) Well, then it's put up or shut up time. What can Zombie do to get Myers up and at 'em? How about...the ambulance hits a cow! (!?!?) And it must be a magical cow, because it splatters the ambulance from hell to breakfast, and then Michael Myers calmly climbs out of the back (where he was lying dead - I've never been less kidding), kills the vaguely surviving ambulance guy and sets right out for the hospital. And this time, he's directed around by a vision of his mom, a white horse, and himself as a kid, (but it's a different actor, not quite so girly looking this time.)
    Shortly after that, Laurie wakes up, finds the hospital empty, then looks down and sees all the bloody bodies on the floor just as Michael comes around the corner. Wow, we're wasting no time with this remake. Where's Mrs. Alves? Mr. Garrett? Dr. Mixter? Nurse Jill? Bud, for cripes sake? Dead on the floor apparently, leaving a lot of running time for a chase around the hospital. Then a half hour into the movie, Zombie completely loses his damn mind and has Laurie wake up from the nightmare she's been having!!! So thirty minutes in, and we find out nothing we have seen so far has been the movie's reality, but instead a whole cloth-never happened-jettison it and lose nothing-why was it even there wasting my time in the first place DREAM SEQUENCE!! While we sit wishing we could have our half hour back, magical cow notwithstanding, the movie now goes ahead and actually begins.

This may not be so much symbolic imagining as a memory of mom's
most popular routine at the strip club. Ewwww!
    It is "Two Years Later." Laurie, portrayed in the first film as an unlikable obnoxious loser has somehow become even worse - now she's an insufferably whiny unlikable obnoxious loser who lives with Sheriff Brackett and his daughter Annie (the lovely Danielle Harris) - who also survived that horrible movie  er, night, two years previously. Annie seems to be pretty much back to normal, but Laurie just sits and whines and cries about how terrible the world is, not just to anyone who'll listen, but to anyone in earshot. Including animals. Her therapist (Margot Kidder - nice to see her) is paid to listen to her, but Annie is pretty sick of hearing it, so she yells back. A lot.
    Between these strident screaming scenes with more F bombs than a Tarantino family reunion, we spend another indefensibly huge chunk of the movie's running time cutting over to Doctor Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, fairly disinterested from the performance we get), who has turned into a celebrity A-hole promoting his new book about Michael Myers, set to be released on Halloween Day. Ah! Halloween! Relevancy! Eventually, and in no particular order: it is revealed that no one has any sympathy for Laurie not because she is beyond annoying (which she is) but because no one thinks Michael Myers is alive, even though his body disappeared from where Laurie left it after she shot him in the face; Michael Myers (healthy and walking around despite being blasted in the forehead by a cannon with NO explanation how he lived, as what we saw earlier was a DREAM) makes his way back to Haddonfield where he walks around without his mask (!) for a long time while listening to mom talk and talk and talk before ruining Halloween for several people, including my old buddy Dan Roebuck and eventually Laurie and her new pals; Annie finds she does not have the same luck twice; Loomis manages to hide a secret from everyone until his book is on the shelf in bookstores, and it's the same secret revealed in the first version of Halloween II; said secret makes everyone flip out when they find out; Loomis just kind of shows up in Haddonfield; and the whole thing climaxes in a really silly looking movie shack in the middle of a field, and features Michael again removing his mask (!) and talking (!!). Wow. What the hell was that all about?
    Don't ask me, I just work here. Apparently, the director's cut I watched is VERY different from the theatrical version for no discernible reason. The theatrical version takes place one year later, which makes more sense - why would Michael skip the intervening Halloween? Was he too busy for an annual rampage? Also, apparently Laurie is more likable (though obviously no better acted as Compton is useless in this role) until the heat turns up in the later reels. But regardless of any of that, this is just not a good movie. You could watch Bambi and it would be a better Halloween movie than this was. There's not a note of John Carpenter's masterful theme music until the end credits, which makes you realize how much you missed it across the previous 120 minutes. There are a lot of kills, and they are fairly graphic and nasty, but so what? This Michael Myers is still just a Terminator in a mask, as he still bursts through walls, and at one point flips a car over with his bare hands! And you may have noticed - I'm a little hung up on the whole thing where Michael Myers was extremely killed in the first movie, but walking around in this one. Well, if you are a filmmaker who makes it clear the supernatural is not a part of the universe you've created, then have a character supernaturally survive a death that you specifically engineered to not be survivable, I'm a'gonna call you on it, loudly and often. And lastly: while I'm glad Mr. and Mrs. Zombie like working together, after the early flashback scenes of Momma Myers visiting Junior (in the dream, natch) Sherri probably should have gone and cashed her check as the white queen thing is just goofy and heavy handed.
    As I said earlier, apparently Zombie didn't want anyone to come along and make a crappy sequel to his movie, so he did it himself.

And with that, I take my leave of you. And always remember: Goldfinger doesn't expect you to talk. He expects you to DIE!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dracula and Baby Jane vs Uncle Jesse's Space Kin!

Return from Witch Mountain  (Disney, 1978)

Before the Camera:

Christopher Lee  (Starship Invasions)
Bette White  (Wicked Stepmother)
Ike Eisenmann  (Escape to Witch Mountain)
Kim Richards  (Escape to Witch Mountain)
Jack Soo  (TV's Barney Miller)
Anthony James  (Burnt Offerings)
Dick Bakalyan  (The Strongest Man in the World)
Ward Costello  (Terror from the Year 5000)
Stu Gilliam  (Blazing Saddles)
Denver Pyle  (Uncle Jessie himself!)

Behind the Camera:

Directed by John Hough

Produced by Kevin Corcoran, Jerome Courtland, and Ron Miller

Written by Malcolm Marmorstein   based on characters created by Alexander Key

    In the 1970's, Walt Disney Studios was not the company it had been in the previous decade. Both Walt and his successor Roy Disney had died by 1971 (well, officially, anyway...unofficially there might still be a Waltsicle wrapped up in the back of a Disney freezer somewhere). So the 70's saw the studio in a bit of a slump, both creatively and financially. There were some bright spots here and there, it just wasn't a golden era for the company. One of the bright spots came with the release of Escape to Witch Mountain in 1975. This live action flick told the story of Tony (Eisenmann) and Tia (Richards), two kids with strange powers,   pursued through the film by bad guys Ray Milland and Donald Pleasance, and helped by crusty old guy Eddie Albert.
    Three years later, Disney brought the kids back for a second go-round. The movie opens as the kids' Uncle Bene (Pyle) flies them lickety split over southern California in a blazing fast flying saucer (take that, Duke boys!) and lands in the Rose Bowl stadium. The kids are taking an ill-defined "vacation" from Witch Mountain ostensibly to let them experience some Earthly education but really to get them back into the world for another round of adventure. The fun starts right off when the taxi driver waiting to take them into town turns out to be Dick Bakalyan, coming off like Paulie Walnuts' more stable brother (and seriously, whoever isn't casting Dick Bakalyan and Tony Sirico as brothers in something while they're both still around is totally missing a REAL opportunity!)
    But I digress.
    The taxi runs out of gas, which conveniently leaves the kids Bakalyan-less for a few minutes. The kids promptly split up for no particular reason and leave the area of the taxi. We then meet our baddies, scientist Victor (Lee), financial partner Letha (Davis) and their henchman, Letha's nephew Sickle (James) as they test out Victor's latest invention, a mind control device worn behind the ear and guided by a large solid state remote the size of a toaster with antenna. Victor makes Sickle climb a fire escape and walk around the top of a building despite a fear of heights, proving his invention works, but Letha gets whiny worrying about her nephew and knocks the remote out of Victor's hands. This causes Sickle to get dizzy and walk off the side of the building to his doom - except no - Tony shows up and uses his levitation power to lower Sickle safely to the ground. Thinking quickly and proving his villainous worth, Victor then immediately pops the kid with a hypo and the trio run off with the unconscious lad to their hideout so Victor can slap a mind control thingie on him. Meanwhile, Tia wanders into the middle of a gang of pre-teen ne'er do wells calling themselves the Earthquake Gang who mainly try to stay out of school and avoid truant officer "Yoyo" Yokomoto (Soo).
    Now Victor and Letha have a mind controlled Tony in their power and begin a series of escalating crime capers going from gold theft to nuclear terrorism while Tia and the Earthquake gang try to track them down and save Tony. Can a bunch of kids outmart all those adult authority figures who dismiss them and save the day?

Disney's first topless scene, with bonus booze!
    I didn't see a lot of the live action Disney movies back in my childhood - my parents just weren't much on taking me to movies like this - they instead took me to movies they might enjoy, so my earliest movie memories are of Night of Dark Shadows, Little Big Man, The Sting, and Papillon. I did see The Apple Dumpling Gang and The North Avenue Irregulars, but missed almost everything else. I didn't even see them on TV because the Sunday night Disney program was not a staple of our household viewing. So, I'm now setting forth on a program of checking them out when they cross my path, and this sequel became the first in that new directive! For a G rated flick from 1978, this was pretty palatable. Disney's formula of a very solid cast of old pros, good production values, and pretty amazing special effects (considering no computers were available to assist) works well, and this was a fun watch. As far as the actors go, the kids are okay; Lee is great as usual as the villain; Davis is more whiny than anything else; and the rest of the familiar character actors all bring something fun to the table. There's certainly nothing edgy or daring about the movie, but that just makes the picture a kind of filmic comfort food. If you are looking for something to watch with the nearest kid, or want to relive some cinematic memories from your own childhood, or if like me you also missed this one as a kid, give it a try!

Let's Get Out of Here ?
At around the 47:00 Bette Davis indicates she doesn't like the idea of a family reunion; and at about 1:13:00 Christian Juttner sees truant officer Jack Soo before anyone else does.

Eye Candy ?
I love Bette Davis, but no. Kim Richards wears a fetching red skort outfit, but she's 14 here. So no. Sorry ladies.

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "Return from Witch Mountain is the best
movie from 1978 starring someone named Ike you might ever see."

And that wraps this one up! Til next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies! 1/22/11

Who cares what picture we see?

In this case, my wondrous wife Suzie, who went deep in the video vault to choose the feature we could be watching tonight! But then a couple of years later the trailer she chose - Queen Kong - disappeared off the internet - so I've stuck in a different giant ape movie from the video vault:


I haven't seen this British Kong knockoff in decades - not since seeing it on the late show back in the early 80's. I'm ready to watch it again - and since it resides on DVD in the video vault we could be spinning it right round any time - even tonight - if you wanted to come by!

In honor of the original subject of this post - here is the movie poster and what I had to say about to close us out:

This goofy spoof didn't get a lot of play in 1976 thanks to Dino deLaurentiis's lawyers - but it's been rescued from oblivion and issued on a DVD complete with director commentary...and it could be the main feature in a Saturday night full of giant ape nonsense!

And til next time, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Paperback to the Future!

Bookworm's Book Club Presents:

Psycho II  by Robert Bloch (Warner Books, 1982)    Robert Bloch waited over twenty years to write a sequel to his 1959 classic about lonely ol' Norman Bates and his crazy mom out in that old motel in California, finally releasing Psycho II in 1982. In part two, Norman, a guest of the state for the same period since the novel ended, finds out Hollywood is filming his story as a slasher movie called Crazy Lady. Combine this news with a dark and stormy night and a visit from two nuns, and soon you have Norman picking up an old habit and escaping the joint. A burned up van down the road convinces the authorities he is dead, but his doctor doesn't believe it, and sets out to play junior detective. The body count climbs, and the trail takes the doctor out to Hollywood, to try to convince the filmmakers to call off their movie before Norman shows up and skewers them all. Bloch took the opportunity in writing this book to do a little skewering himself, mainly Hollywood, which he satirizes mercilessly in their at-that-time love affair with the gory slasher movie. When he'd finished the novel, he heard that Universal was getting interested in making a sequel to the late Alfred Hitchcock's movie version of Psycho, so Bloch gladly showed them his book.
    They didn't like it.
    In fact, they hated it, and instead of buying Bloch's novel for their movie, assigned a screenwriter to come up with a script for the further adventures of Norman Bates that had nothing to do with Bloch's idea, then told Bloch he should call off his plans to have the book published.
    Bloch had the book published.
    Obviously, his tussle with Tinseltown did not improve his view of their practices, so he was doubly ready now to get his book out there. So, you have the movie Psycho II, and you have the book, Psycho II.
    I prefer the movie, honestly.
    The book is a perfectly readable Bloch novel, don't get me wrong. The guy could write, and the pages in this book turn just fine. But Norman takes a backseat in the second half of the book as we get into a bit of a soap opera that could have been written by Jackie Collins had the characters been a tiny bit less crazy. The movie gives us Anthony Perkins in one of his greatest performances. Seriously. He is spot on in that movie. The book Norman doesn't have Perkins' boyish likability which makes the other side of him even scarier and sadder. Bloch's Norman in the first book was middle aged and pudgy and not particularly likable even before you met his mother. Interestingly, the Bloch Norman in the second Psycho book seems geared more towards the younger, taller, thinner Perkins, as the few descriptive details we get about him after 20+ years in the looney bin favor Perkins more than they do that other guy.
    So, the book is okay, but I prefer the story they told in the movie sequel, so I say check them both out! And I need to find the last of Robert Bloch's trilogy Psycho House. I might have it stacked up here somewhere, or that might be his later short story anthology Robert Bloch's Psychos I'm thinking of. I've got one of them or both of them. I'm not sure. I might have to go on a hunt soon to get the answer!

Justice League: "A League of His Own"   by Michael Jan Friedman  (Warner Books, 2002) Frequent Star Trek writer Friedman jumps into some superhero action with this Young Adult novel based on the recent Justice League animated series. For that series the League consisted of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern (choosing John Stewart from the scads of GLs for diversity), Hawkgirl, and J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, and in this book the Martian Manhunter takes center stage (bet that cover up there didn't give that fact away, right?) MM started out in the DC Universe in the mid-1950's as a second tier Superman knockoff, but later DC writers have worked over his backstory pretty thoroughly and now emphasize his solitude due to being the last of his race and not looking human in his natural form (which is also not green muscle guy up there either - that's a compromise to make us Earthers feel less uncomfortable around him) and now he's a more compelling, slightly melancholy figure. Here he takes center stage as Lex Luthor and his Injustice Gang are trying to get their hands on a new weapon prototype being stored at the Justice League's space station headquarters, the Watchtower. An sneak electronic assault on Metropolis sends most of the League to Superman's hometown to counter the disasters brought on by the attack, which was set up as a decoy so Luthor and his pals could ambush the Watchtower and get their hands on that weapon. J'onn J'onzz stayed behind on guard duty, and now he must face seven supervillains alone with the fate of the free world at stake.
    Friedman has done a nice job with this novel. The tone is much the same as the animated JL series, and you can hear the voice actors spouting the book's dialogue, which is just right. It's a lot like a 1970's comic book, with a light, airy tone throughout; clear cut heroes and villains, plenty of action and battles, and a refreshing lack of dark and gritty. Now, I like me some dark and gritty too, but sometimes it's nice to get into an adventure that goes the other route. Consequently, this book is recommended to anyone who enjoys a cape on their heroes now and again.

And that closes the book on this post! Til next time, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Remember when that giant fast food corporation tried to buy the entire sport of golf?

The McMasters  (Chevron Pictures, 1970)

Before the Camera:

Brock Peters  (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Burl Ives  (Uphill All the Way)
Jack Palance  (Companeros)
David Carradine  (Death Race 2000)
Nancy Kwan  (Supercock)
LQ Jones (The Beast Within)
RG Armstrong  (The Beast Within)
Alan Vint  (The Lady in Red)
John Carradine (House of Frankenstein)
Dane Clark  (Paid to Kill)

Behind the Camera:

Directed by Alf Kjellin

Produced by Dimitri De Grunwald and David Sachson

Written by Harold Jacob Smith

The late 60's and early 70's were a very interesting time in the world of cinema. After decades of being scrunched up by the very restrictive Hayes Code, the Movies had finally kicked that archaic nonsense to the curb. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was in its infancy. (Well, actually, the Hayes Code had been renamed the MPAA in the mid 40's, but it was the same old medieval puritanism until the mid 60's.) There was a vacancy in the top position there in 1963, and it sat empty for three years. Then Jack Valenti came along and revamped the whole magilla. Now, this isn't a debate on the pros and cons of Jack Valenti and the MPAA that he created and presided over for decades. But regardless of how you feel about Jack, after the Hayes Code was terminated with extreme prejudice, married couples could sleep in the same bed on screen, dying could be done with the eyes open, and endings no longer had to be happy.
    With all that under our belts, now we can turn to The McMasters. Benjamin (Peters), a former slave, returns from fighting in the Civil War to the only place he's known outside of the war: the ranch of his former master, Neal McMasters (Ives). Benji passes through town on the way there, and it becomes readily obvious that despite the war ending and slavery being abolished, he is not going to be readily accepted by most of the townspeople. It doesn't help that Benjamin chooses to make the journey wearing his Union uniform. And it isn't surprising that the one person in town most upset by this is Kolby (Palance), who coincidentally hangs around town with one arm and his Confederate uniform on.
    Trouble is going to ensue.
    Neal offers Benji half of his spread, and his last name. For a moment, it seems like the men are getting married - and it's a long moment. After a while the relationship settles back to a father-and-son dynamic, but it leaves one to wonder if the other idea was really there? Benji tries to become friends with the local Native American tribe - including White Feather (Carradine) and his sister Robin (Kwan); the Native Americans are wary, tired of being accused of being cattle thieves and treated like trash by the townspeople. That they are cattle thieves shows the shades of gray nearly all the characters have in this movie: Benji eventually starts shmoozing romantically with Robin, but unused to tenderness and kindness he lashes out and abuses her physically, mentally, and emotionally. He comes to realize what he's done and makes amends; but movie heroes didn't do things like that in the decade previous.
    Eventually Kolby's hatred sparks some of the locals into an act of repellent violence against Benji and Robin, and the three factions (the ranchers, the townspeople, and the Native Americans) face off in a deadly climactic showdown.

"I think I can calm 'em down with a little 'Holly Jolly Christmas'."

This movie always interested me after I read its capsule entry in Leonard Maltin's TV Movies book. In it, he indicates that this movie has two running times, due to there being two different endings filmed. Major spoiler here - he says in one ending Palance and his men win, and in the other the "good guys" (his words) win out. I always used to be intrigued by this as it used to be a fairly rare thing. Nowadays in the world of "Filmmaking-by-Committee" it happens all the time and there seems to be an alternate ending on two of every three DVDs released. But 40 years ago, that was strange. I always wondered why they had shot two endings. The more positive side of me hopes it was filmmakers ready to explore the tragic endings they'd been denied for decades prior to this, but unable to fully commit, they went ahead and shot a second option. The more negative side wonders if they used one ending for showings in the North, and one ending for showings in the South. I hope that's not the case, but I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility.
    And here's the really weird part - I have no idea which ending I saw! Maltin lists the running times as 89 min/97 min. He lists the endings in the review as Palance, then "good guys." The DVD I watched ran 89 minutes and change. Now, it was a bargain DVD, and those prints can be chewed up and run any old amount of time, so I wasn't sure I had the downbeat ending, but I thought I probably did. Then the film ended, and I'm not sure...a mix of the good and bad guys died...no one came out particularly happy, but there were survivors... so I don't know? And the movie has not stood the test of time - there's not that much info to be found about it on the internet, and it has apparently fallen into the public domain (or at least has copyright holders who are lax enough to let it be released on several DVD collections from several of the notorious companies who do that sort of thing). I had hoped to read about both endings (or better - see them on YouTube) but my research turned up nothing. The one review on Amazon is from a guy who worked on it in the locations department who hated the movie. *sigh*
    So in the end, it was a very grim drama, but a fairly interesting flick, with a great cast. Peters, Ives, and Palance are all just fine; Carradine and Kwan are strange choices to play Native Americans, but they're both pretty good doing it; and special kudos go to Dane Clark as a forward thinking guy in town who sticks up for Peters at a couple of key moments. Everything else about the movie - including the direction and production values - are solid and workmanlike, not spectacular, but they get the job done. If you don't mind your dramas downbeat and wearing Western clothing, this is a fairly safe bet and it can be found for $1 most places. All others need not apply.

Let's Get Out of Here ?

At around 51:05, Brock Peters reveals he's tired of carting shot-up cattle poisoners around.

Eye Candy ?

She's dressed frontier style, but no amount of dressing down can take away from Nancy Kwan's beauty. Welcome to the list, Ms. Kwan!

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "The McMasters is worth watching - and
moreso because it's got two Carradines in it!"

Thanks very much Buddha Man! Til next post you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies! 1/15/11

Who cares what picture we see?

Me, for one, and this one could be on the docket for this evening...

I have enjoyed all three of the Punisher movies, with this one taking top honors, followed by the barely released early 90's version with Dolph Lundgren, and the one in between with Thomas Jane squeaking in to third.

Til next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

All we ask is that you let us kill you our way....

Drive Thru  (Lionsgate, 2007)

Before the Camera:

Leighton Meester  (TV's Gossip Girl)
Melora Hardin  (TV's The Office)
Nicholas D'Agosto   (TV's Heroes)
Lola Glaudini  (TV's Persons Unknown)
Larry Joe Campbell  (TV's According to Jim)
Van De La Plante  (couple of TV guest spots; first movie)
Penn Badgley  (TV's Gossip Girl)
John Gilbert  (The X-Files computer game)
Sean Whalen  (TV's Unfabulous)
Morgan Spurlock  (TV's 30 Days)
as Robbie, the Hella-Burger Manager

Behind the Camera:

Directed by Brendan Cowles and Shane Kuhn

Produced by Matt Milich, Martin Wiley, Chris Sievernich, and 9 other assorted Executive, Associate, and Line Producers

Written by Brendan Cowles and Shane Kuhn

    The opening shot of this flick introduces us to four extremely obnoxious teens cruising about town. They next decide they need to stop for some chow, and pull in at the local "Hellaburger" restaurant. Although the building is dark and the parking lot empty, these dimwits notice nothing and pull up to the drive thru. The clown faced speaker perks right up, but as the order conversation goes on, whoever is behind the clown face makes some strange statements, stuff that sounds threatening. Hmmm. When challenged on this, the voice goes back to standard fast food terminology that rhymes with the earlier threats. Eventually, the two lads in the SUV decide their manhood has been challenged, and they head into the restaurant to kick some tushie.
    However, the joint seems empty, and then a figure pops up who looks like a mashup of the restaurant mascot Horny the clown and one of the members of KISS circa 1982 (ending up looking sort of like a mobile version of the clown faced speaker outside - the mask looks just like the head down to the speaker grid across the mouth) and does them both in messily. The young women out in the SUV, in the meantime, have fallen asleep (!) and are ill prepared for the clown to join them, swinging a large cleaver moments later. Cue credits.
    After a fairly annoying song performed by an onscreen girl band we learn the lead singer is our protagonist Mackenzie (Meester). She is a standard issue horror movie final girl, right down to her retained virginity which is on the table for loss with her boyfriend Fisher (D'Agosto) on the clockstroke of her 18th birthday in a few days. We meet her parents, and are happy to see that mom Marcia is played by Trudi Monk aka Melora Hardin. But then Mackenzie's friends start to meet up with that heavy metalized Horny the Clown and die in weird and gory ways - ways that for the record often have little or nothing to do with fast food, fast food restaurants, fast food mascots, or drive thrus... Mackenzie begins to think that the killer is supernatural in nature (he "appears" where and when needed to spring his attacks) and that he's somehow tied to events in her mom's life.
    Eventually, we do go back to Hellaburger for a cameo by Morgan "Sure I'll be in your anti fast food movie" Spurlock and a fairly cool kill scene that takes place in the kid's play area of the restaurant - with Horny's emergence from the ball crawl a high point of the flick. Then we move on to the home of Hellaburger founder Jack Benjamin (Gilbert) where we learn that mom Marcia was involved in the death of Jack's son Archie (De La Plante), the first person to wear the Horny the Clown mascot outfit and the first and only person to burn to death wearing it in a "cruel prank." Now, "prank gone wrong" scenes almost always hit home with me in movies like this, because it's usually a moment when any filmmaker can push an audience's sympathy buttons, if only for a moment or two and no matter how crappy the surrounding movie might be. However, when they flashback to this one it turns out the event was more stupid than cruel and not particularly pranky, which is too bad - another misstep. But I digress. Now Archie has returned in ghostly form as Horny to kill off the kids of the now grown-ups who killed him. Before you can cough "Nightmare on Elm Street!" into your fist, Horny knocks out Mackenzie and she wakes up in a Hellaburger restaurant, tied up and surrounded by the corpses of her friends, which causes us to cough "Happy Birthday to Me!" into our fists just in time for the fiery finale of the flick.

A tiny Horny was hiding in their bag of Skittles the whole time.
    I will tell anyone who listens that clowns are creepy, so I had medium high hopes for this one, also anticipating the shtick of a killer in a fast food restaurant. So, as the film wandered far afield from its title and concept after the opening 15 minutes or so, I found the movie heading toward Misfire Lane. It never fully recovered from driving down that road, but there were still some solid moments along the way. Breaking down the ingredients- on the plus side: the tongue in cheek tone; the silliness of a fast food concept of a devil clown with tiny horns - hence the name Horny - for a fast food joint known for its spicy food; the always welcome Hardin; Spurlock, genuinely amusing in his three minutes onscreen; and a couple of good gory deaths mixing practical makeup effects with not-as-successful CGI. On the downside: 1) I wasn't much on Horny's mask or spiked boots or other heavy metal trappings; 2) making a lot of the characters obnoxious (especially the quartet in the opening scene) so the viewer wants to see them die - it's okay to let me feel bad for the characters who meet their ends - if the humorous touches are funny, I'll still find them amusing even if I liked the dead character; 3) borrowing a little too liberally and literally from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Happy Birthday to Me; and most of all - 4) after the filmmakers provide a satisfying end to the supernatural killer - which is great because it allows this movie to end well and still leaves the door open for a sequel because it's so easy to bring back a supernatural killer with a minimum of fuss for a sequel - they can't let it go and first go for a tacked on last few minutes with an ill-advised and ill-explained cliffhanger, then a final scene that basically negates the ending and picks up the story again, meaning the movie stops instead of ends. Feh. (And the sequel has wrapped production) So in the end, no recommendations for this one except to Melora Hardin or Morgan Spurlock completists.

Let's Get Out of Here ?

At 51:49 Nicholas D'Agosto uses The Line to indicate he has spent enough time in the police station, and at 1:09:33 he throws it out again, this time tied to an F-Bomb for extra impact. Or not.

Eye Candy ?

The filmmakers would probably think I'd choose one of their teen-ish ladies, but no, the clear winner here is Melora Hardin, a hottie every day and twice on Sunday. Welcome to the list, Ms. Hardin!

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "Drive Thru...bup bup bup bup ba...not lovin' it!"

 As always, BM says in 10 words what I take 1000 to say...sterling work, Buddha Man! And oh yeah, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Escape from the Planet of the Buddha Man!

Buddha Man returns! And no Baby Milo!

Happy to be back.

The Tingler  (Columbia Pictures, 1959)  Vincent Price stars in his second William Castle movie, and as usual, the flick is a fun little thriller. Vinnie plays Dr. Warren Chapin, a dedicated researcher with an earnest young assistant (Darryl Hickman - Sharky's Machine), a venomous wife, and a really wild line of research - what is it that snaps peoples spines when they die of fright? Eventually, he discovers that all of the pent up fright energy in the body causes a microscopic creature he calls the Tingler that resides in everyone's spinal area to grow uncontrollably in proportion to the level of fear, and the nasty wormlike creature eventually grows large enough to use its pincers to crumple up your backbone like a matchstick.

 Man, that is one ugly necktie Vincent Price is wearing!
 The only way to escape the Tingler is to SCREAM - as that releases the energy that the creature is gowing off of and shrinks it back to miscroscopic size. This crazy bit of sci-fi is then blended into an even more eclectic plot involving the evil Mrs Chapin; a nebbishy little man who owns a movie theater with his deaf mute wife; and several scary sequences that don't make a lick of sense but are cool as heck to watch. Castle's gimmick for this flick was to have the action come to its climax in that movie theater, so he could have the film you're watching "break" and Vincent Price's voice hammer at you from the darkened theater to "Scream! Scream for your lives!" To insure you might want to go along with the idea, several seats in the theater were wired up to "tingle" the viewer's backside as though the worm monster was working on their spine! Incredible! The other really cool sequence in the black and white movie involves a bathtub full of blood - look at this shot from the scene:

Mrs. Gray was very angry that little Timmy was playing with
his lava lamp in the bathtub again.
 Is that just awesome or what? This may be less of a family flick than some of the other Castle movies, what with bathtubs full of blood, axe murderers, and a big scary worm crawling around, but it is a jammin' little flick, highly recommended to those so inclined! Check this one out!

Not so happy now.

Crazy Girls Undercover  (Monarch Home Video, 2008) I picked this up in a grocery store (!) selling off used DVDs for $2 a pop. Looking this one over, I see it's about a spy who runs a topless revue in Las Vegas and calls on his strippers to run spy missions with him. As you can see, I had to have this. Sadly, the execution is not up to the proposal. The story opens with "Damon Archer" (Clive Robertson - who seems genetically engineered to audition for James Bond - but never quite make it and instead play 007 knockoffs until he gets old enough to start playing James Bond villain knockoffs) finishing his last mission as the greatest spy/commando who ever lived. What does he do with his retirement? Skip ahead five years and he's the owner of the Crazy Girls Revue in the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas Nevada. (That is a real show, by the way - making this my first movie based on a stage show - not a play or a musical - but a stage show. Wow.) But he's thinking about coming out of retirement. If only he could assemble an elite squad of spy commandos to work for him. Say, look at all those top heavy exotic dancers totttering around on insanely high heels who are already on his payroll...
    Skip ahead another year (I started to hope the whole movie would be like this, skipping ahead 1-5 years every three minutes until the finale, which would have involved a terrorist attack on the retirement community they had all moved to at the hour mark.) Anyhoo, skip ahead another year and now the Crazy Girl ladies are seasoned operatives, able to fulfill any mission that involves skintight black jumpsuits and insanely high heels. Then, all of a sudden, a whole lot of plot kicks in, including (in no particular order) Damon grieves for his family, killed by some bad guy; his right hand woman Casey (Nikki Ziering - one of the last Barker's Beauties on The Price is Right) loves Archer from afar but totally understands he can't return her love due to grieving for his family, who were killed by some bad guy; Archer's boss (Al Sapienza - The Sopranos) tries to send him on another mission, but Archer points out he's retired - retired because he's grieving due to the fact that his family was killed by some bad guy and thus he can't return Casey's love, which forced him to retire - then he goes on the mission unsanctioned with the Crazy Girls anyway; they run into blonde honey Monica (Simona Fusco) who is sad, which matches Archer's mood because he's been grieving over his dead family who were killed by some bad guy, so they promptly form the two-backed-beast, much to Casey's consternation; and then Archer finds out the bad guy they're after turns out to have killed some operative's family...

That's how you sneak up on a motorized convoy -
When I scooped this up I really thought it looked like and hoped it would be the spiritual successor to the Andy Sidaris movies of the 80's and 90's (Hard Ticket to Hawaii, Malibu Express, Savage Beach, Do or Die, etc); completely tongue in cheek action flicks with scads of T+A, cheesy action, silly humor, and actors like Erik Estrada and Pat Morita. Ever since Andy went to that Great ABC Sports Control Booth in the sky, there haven't been many movies in that elite subgenre. So to find a new filmmaker ready to step in and cinematically scratch that itch was very exciting.
    I'm still itching.
    It turns out this movie was written by the aging producer of the real Crazy Girls revue, Norbert Aleman. And while the movie's production is not bad - with some decent action and stunts, it is the script that does the movie in. Despite every aspect of the movie pointing to it being a jaunty romp with a saucy wink to the camera on a regular basis - scenes that fade out to comic book panels; the production design, the costuming; etc; the script takes it all deadly seriously. It hits every single plot point you expect it to, breaking no new ground from any action movie made in the last thirty years, and reveals each one of those plot points as though it's never been done before. And asking these actors to play dramatic scenes about loss and love instead of dropping them repeatedly into a hot tub holding an impossibly large martini is just cruel. There's also not that much nudity, with more see through costumes in the Crazy Girl revue scenes (of which there are several) than actual bare flesh. While we're on the subject of those revue scenes - why is the audience in one of them filled with the female impersonators from the La Cage Aux Folles show, in costume? While we ponder that one, I'll wrap this one up - Crazy Girls Undercover is one highly skippable action flick that could have been a silly little gem if only they could have realized just what they were really making and who their target audience was.

Why did I return?

Kong Island  (Monarch Releasing Corporation, 1977)  Shot in 1968 as Eve the Wild Woman in Italy, this bungle in the jungle was brought to America in the wake of Dino de Laurentiis's King Kong (1976) and slapped with a wonderfully misleading title. To wit - there is no King Kong in this movie; and it does not take place on an island. Brad Harris (a longtime muscleman actor in Italian flicks about Hercules, Samson and Goliath) is one of those standard issue mercenary/thief types doublecrossed in the opening scene by partner Marc Lawrence (two time Bond cast member - Diamonds are Forever and The Man with the Golden Gun.) The first two things we notice is that Lawrence is playing a stinker as he so often did, and that much to our chagrin, he is completely dubbed here, with some generic middle aged voice covering up his golden throated mutterings. One demerit and counting. Some time later, Harris is hired to do something that involves walking for a long time through the jungle. Two demerits and counting. Along the way, the expedition is attacked by gorillas (!) bearing surgical scars (!!) and one of the women is carted off. Harris takes his time getting back to civilization, (Third and final demerit) but eventually mounts another expedition and sets out to rescue her. He eventually discovers there's a mad scientist deep in the jungle who is implanting mind control gear into gorillas with the intent to eventually do the same to every man and woman on Earth and control the world! (I don't think we have much to worry about - he's still beta testing on the apes, and the surgery takes him several hours - he's no spring chicken, so he'd never live long enough to perform the operation several billion more times...) But I digress. When Harris arrives, he is the only one surprised to find out the mad scientist is none other than... Marc Lawrence! He not only robs payroll trucks and shoots his partners, he's also a mad scientist! Wow! Then for some reason there's a lot more plot with more doublecrosses, more skullduggery, and lots more jungle stock footage thrown in, and eventually the movie ends. Whew.

Marc Lawrence wishes he'd remembered to pack his voicebox
for the trip to Italy...
This is one of those movies I marvel at - where a completely unscrupulous producer gets ahold of some junky movie, slaps a title on it that plays off some other more famous movie, then cashes in on the people who fall for the deception. (And you thought those folks over at The Asylum were the first to do this!) I just wonder what parent got dragged to this after Junior begged to see that "new King Kong movie" because he enjoyed Dino's so much; or who might have been at the local drive-in, not watching this at all if he or she was lucky... In any case, if Lawrence's voice was intact, this might have warranted a tiny recommendation because he's pretty cool, but the dub job puts the final nail in this cinematic coffin. Skip it.

See you soon, and always remember, the government of Alaska will pay you to live there.