Movie Reviews 384 – The Birds (1963)

March 22, 2019

While I consider Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho to be his masterpiece among the many great films he directed over the years, The Birds comes in a close second place. Know as the master of the thriller genre, this is Hitch delivering pure horror and gore and if one considers those aspects alone, it is indeed superior to Psycho.

Based on a Daphne du Maurier novella of the same name, it is the story of birds suddenly congregating and then terrorizing a small coastal town close to San Francisco. Melanie (Tippi Hedren), a socialite with tabloid reputation hoping to snag local lawyer Mitch (Rod Taylor) drops in just as the attacks begin and aside from being caught in the melee has to deal with Mitch’s confrontational mother (Jessica Tandy), Annie (Suzanne Pleshette) the local schoolteacher who failed to land Mitch herself yet remains infatuated by him, and even some locals who point the finger at her as the cause of the uprising.

The impressive human cast have to share the limelight with the avians as the manner in which they were filmed in so many sequences are simply captivating. Even after all these years despite the crude special effects available at the time not only do the bird filled sequences still stands out but given that in most scenes actually birds were filmed, I’m still at a loss to how they put those scenes together. In one scene crows shown in the background slowly fill an entire playground ‘monkey bars’ as Melanie and Annie sit on a bench. There are scenes in which power lines have birds lined up side by side as far as the eye can see. And pivotal scenes include both an exterior massive attack in the town center as well as a swarming within Mitch’s house. Even a thwarted house attack is spectacular as the thousands of pecks begin to chip holes in doors and boarded windows. And then there is the famous attack scene in which Melanie gets caught in a closed room, one that rivals Psycho’s shower scene.

While the love triangle aspect and motherly concerns take a backseat in this feathered feature, they do add to the drama of the story. Veronica Cartwright plays Mitch’s little sister and aside from being responsible for Melanie meeting Mitch in the first place, provides the setup for yet another spectacular scene, the attack on the one room schoolhouse.

There are two things viewers should pay attention to while watching this film. The first is the iconic green suit that Hedren wears throughout the film designed by legendary Hollywood costumer Edith Head. Secondly there is the striking sound editing of the cacophony of bird squawks, screeches and cackles that have also become a signature of the film. The credits list Bernard Herrmann (who created the famous ‘violin screams’ in Psycho) as the ‘sound consultant’ so I have to assume he was also responsible for the bird emanations here.

I was shocked to learn that a sequel, The Bird’s II: Land’s End, was made in 1994 but all indications are that they were just winging it and that fowl offering it is nothing more than bird droppings. But do seek out The Birds if you haven’t seen it. It really soars above all other plumed pictures.

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Movie Reviews 383 – The Doctor and the Devils (1985)

March 15, 2019

The sordid true life tale of how Victorian era tomb robbers Burke and Hare provided cadavers for doctors for anatomical study is a tale that has been lensed several times over the years, one such being The Body Snatcher (1945) starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. As the story goes, the enterprising thieves got greedy and instead of simply waiting for opportunities to seize and sell the bodies of the recently deceased, they decided that it was quicker and more profitable to just knock off a few specimens earlier to meet the demand. Not only did their victims fetch an immediate return but, because they could choose healthier and younger specimens, those bodies fetched an even higher price.

The Doctor and the Devils is yet another take on the story in which a young ambitious lecturer Dr. Rock (Timothy Dalton), ever looking for quality subjects, ends up tempting poor vagrants Fallon and Broom (Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea respectively) to sate his demands. While the practice of acquiring bodies for scientific studies was permitted at the time, it was highly regulated and only certain cadavers, such as those of dead prisoners were legitimately distributed. This was not acceptable to Rock, and as he acquired more and more bodies, often dissecting them in his operating arena classroom, the number and suspect high quality began to raise eyebrows, notably that of Professor Macklin (Patrick Stewart), Rock’s superior and Rock’s very assistant, Dr. Murray (Julian Sands). It all unravels when Murray discovers that Rock’s latest acquisition is the best friend of the girl he has been trying to charm, one of the local town prostitutes (sixties model Twiggy).

The narrative of the central story works well enough but there are a number of odd and unevenly handled portions of the story that make it a bit frustrating. Rock’s wife is an anatomical artist which supposedly makes her a disrespectful woman that already casts Rock in a bad light in society. The evidence of Rock’s wrongdoings are quite clear from the very beginning yet it takes Macklin and the authorities forever to act on their suspicions. Murray’s chasing Twiggy is a significant part of the story so you can pretty much tell that this will be Rock’s downfall early on in the film. And of course Twiggy being, well Twiggy, she does have her own out of place song in this film (guess it was part of her contract) which, while lovely, is just an awkward and unnecessary mood swing that really does not fit in.

Directed by legendary Hammer director Freddie Francis, this film was actually based on a screenplay by celebrated Welsh poet Dylan Thomas who himself died under some strange circumstances.

The strength in the film come from Pryce and Rea’s performances and their characters. Just about everyone else including Dalton just slow things down to the point of being tedious until the miscreants show up again. If you can stand the unnecessary straying from the central plot it’s not that bad a film but go for The Body Snatcher if you have to choose one or the other.

 

Night Shift – Stephen King (1978)

March 10, 2019

It’s been nearly four years since I reviewed a Stephen King book (11/22/63) and this time I thought I’d go way back a take a swipe at his earliest short story collections – Night Shift – to see what I’d missed the first time around. Now I’ve often marvelled not only how good a writer he is, – despite some misgivings I had reading him in the 1970’s myself – but what amazes me more is how prolific he is when it comes to developing movie material. Now it’s only natural that a popular writer is solicited for movies as producers know that good or bad  some people will come just for the King name alone, a built-in-profit slice if you will. And I can tell you without doubt that those some producers (big and small) have created both great movies as well as, I’ll be polite and just say not-so-great ones. So no small wonder that this early collection has been rifled for cinematic adaptations over the past forty years. As I read the stories I lost count to be honest so you play the Movie Count game as you read my verse terse run down of the collection.

 

Jerusalem’s Lot

Set in the locale of King’s novel/movie Salem’s Lot this tale told through letters of correspondence and a diary describes the Lovecraftian horrors residing in the area prior to vampires making it their home.

 

Graveyard Shift

Workers in a rat infested mill are offered the opportunity to make a few extra bucks by spending their holiday break cleaning out the basement of their workplace. But things like this never go well and this one doesn’t.

 

Night Surf

A post-apocalyptic tale featuring a small group of survivors who seem to be immune to a natural borne virus having suffered through the prototype mutations virus earlier in their lives. Sometimes it sucks to be immune.

 

I Am the Doorway

The lone survivor of two astronauts that had gone to Venus brought along  something. I’ll just say that I purposefully chose the paperback cover shown as it is derived directly from this story.

 

The Mangler

The Mangler is no human bodied killer but a deity that has taken over a folding machine in an industrial laundry processing factory. But which deity? Depends on the ‘ingredients’.

 

The Boogeyman

Sometimes the Boogeyman is a figment of one’s imagination. Lester Billings was trying to convince himself that it was a real Boogeyman that had killed all three of his kids. Sometimes the Boogeyman is real.

 

Grey Matter

A father turns into beer drinking blob mass and the local corner store hangers-on investigate the entity dividing like cells. Think beer guzzling Jabba-the-Hutt long before there was a Jabba.

 

Battleground

A killer for hire meets his match: miniature plastic toy soldiers. Efficiency and ingenuity meet as the Toy Story army brigade go for the big time killer.

 

Trucks

The revolt of the machines is not in the form of robots, but sentient, murderous trucks and right now they got the occupants of a highway gas stop at their mercy. Much cooler and deadlier than Transformers.

 

Sometimes They Come Back

The recollections of a teacher’s nightmares of his kid brother getting killed come back to haunt him again. But they are very real and this time he fights back.

 

Strawberry Spring

Subtler but very creepy tale of a university campus serial killer. This is part horror and part mystery, another form that King has mastered.

 

The Ledge

A eccentric millionaire forces a man to traipse along a ledge completely around the 43rd floor of a building for love, money and life. One of the three short stories adapted in the film Cat’s Eye.

 

The Lawnmower Man

When a man lets his lawn go for a spell he calls in a lawnmower man to get the job done. But this lawnmower man is directly from Hell. Nothing like the movie which is a good thing.

 

Quitters, Inc.

You think quitting smoking is tough? When you join Quitters Inc, the withdrawal symptoms become the least of your problems. But they do guarantee you’ll quit because the alternatives are too gruesome to even contemplate.  Another segment in Cat’s Eye.

 

I Know What You Need

When Elizabeth meets Ed for the first time, he seems to have exactly what she had in mind. But his uncanny knack for knowing just what she needed could not have warned her of the deadly consequences of his gift.

 

Children of the Corn

The children in a remote rural town have killed all those over 18 and now abide He Who Walks Behind The Rows. And the arguing couple who come across the town of Gatlin are about to meet The Children. The original story that has spawned no less than 10 films (Most reviewed right here).

 

The Last Rung on the Ladder

A heartbreaking story of lives drifted apart and the loss of ultimate trust that a person will be there to set things right. Not a horror story by any means but this is certainly one of the chilliest stories in the collection.

 

The Man Who Loved Flowers

Only two pages but it presents the fasting swing from a peaceful, tranquil love filled mood to one that is the opposite of all that. Packs more than just a punch.

 

One For the Road

Another tale set on dark winter storm night down the road from Salem’s Lot. Two salty locals are forced to rescue a city slicker’s family from the evil we all know too well.

 

The Woman in the Room

A son deals with his mom slowly dying in hospital room wrestling with the thought of easing her pain quickly and forever. Sordid thoughts that millions have probably contemplated.

 

Movie Reviews 382 – Super (2010)

March 2, 2019

The year 2010 was the year Mark Millar’s graphic novel Kick-Ass was adapted to the big screen to much acclaim, a story featuring a vigilante superhero roaming the streets with a teen female sidekick. It was indeed a ‘kick-ass’ film that I’ve enjoyed watching several times. But that same year Super, a lower budget film directed by James Gunn which also featured a middle aged costumed vigilante who adopts a young girl as a sidekick was released with much less fanfare.

I’m always game for these type of movies and have had Super sitting on my shelves for some time now but did not really pay attention to what was on the cover other than noting the prominent red costumed figure. Had I noticed the cast I would have watched it a lot sooner, seeing that Rainn Wilson (of The Office fame) plays the part of the vigilante Crimson Bolt and Ellen Page is cast as his sidekick Boltie.

Frank Darbo (Wilson) is down in the dumps because his alcoholic wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) whom he long ago sobered up has left him for Jacques (Kevin Bacon) a small time neighborhood kingpin – and fried egg aficionado – who now has her hopped on booze and drugs and working in a strip club. He gets inspired to become a vigilante after seeing an episode of a christian TV show featuring The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) and experiencing his own cathartic delusional meeting with God. Before you know it he has stitched up a threadbare costume and begun roaming the streets at night armed with nothing more than a monkey wrench eagerly seeking out criminals, mostly without luck.

But his draped deeds – like bludgeoning a movie patron who dares to cut in line – start making the news and the headlines are especially noted by Libby (Page) the clerk who runs his local comic shop (LCS to us geeks). After taking a bullet from Jacques and his boys (including Michael Rooker) Frank is forced to seek refuge and reveal his true identity to Libby who is not only thrilled to learn the truth but she soon carves out her own suit and basically forces Frank to bring her along once he has recovered.

Deep down, Frank’s ultimate goal is to rescue his ex, but he not only has to put up with Boltie’s hormonal horniness which is only eclipsed by her thirst for violence, but also a cop hot on his trail (William Katt who not coincidentally played the starring role of short lived The Greatest American Hero TV series).

Using a non-linear storytelling style and some comic page inspired formatting with the occasional word or thought balloon, this moral introspection comedy tries to fit a lot into one film. You have the abundant religious undertones, the debate over vigilantism, the multi-facet relationships and all that is packaged by over-the-top quirky characters. Some of it works and some of it is a bit of a stretch but as a comedy it does deliver a lot of fun when in that mode. These are not the best performances from what I consider an all-star cast but if you just want a little fun it should fit the bill.

Super is not super by any stretch. On the Kick-Ass scale I’d call it more like a little bitch slap.

 

Movie Reviews 381 – The Mutations (1974)

February 22, 2019

I can recall the exact moment I became obsessed with the movie The Mutations (original UK title The Freakmaker). It was October 1974 when I first picked up issue 36 of the The Monster Times fresh off the corner newsstand. Within that newsprint ‘magazine’ I discovered not only a lengthy featured article and synopsis of the film, but also vivid depictions of the shocking monstrosities in this British horror. Unlike the many other movies and creatures in this and other horror magazines of the time, I knew nothing about this particular film and even more puzzling, never really heard about it again after reading that one magazine. Even in the era of cable TV and later video tape home viewing, this film was nowhere to be found which just made the desire to watch it all that greater. It was only in the digital age and the emergence of shoddy bootlegs that I could finally relish it.

The storyline is an amalgam of the prototypical mad doctor experimenting on live human victims merged with the storyline of human misfits dealing with a world that shuns them. But in this case college professor Nolter (Donald Pleasence) did not create the angst ridden, blob tumor faced Lynch (Tom Baker who is better known to Doctor Who fans (Whovians?) as the 4th and longest reigned doctor). In fact it is Lynch that abets Nolter with the promise of a cure for his condition.

Nolter lectures his students of his hypothesis that evolution will eventually hybridize man and plant life to create a superior being. But what Nolter does not tell anyone is that he isn’t content to wait a few millions year for that progression. He has taken on the task to speed up this evolutionary process in his home lab and to do so enlists the help of Lynch to round up human guinea pigs to be injected with prototype serums and isn’t even fazed when Lynch starts bringing Nolter’s own students as fodder.

The only people standing in Nolter’s way are the members of a travelling sideshow troupe who harbour Lynch, an outcast among outcasts, as they begin to suspect the full extent of Lynch’s secretive evening forays. Lynch’s only friend among the ‘freaks’ is their showrunner, the diminutive Burns (Michael Dunn). And just as Nolter believes he has finally achieved his goal – a former student turned into a human Venus Fly Trap no less – the creature escapes and in trying to warn the others raises the alarm to authorities and the suspicious elements within the sideshow.

This film was clearly an attempt to recapture the darkness of Tod Browning’s 1932 cult film classic Freaks which was the first film that daringly broached the topic of human anatomical abnormalities. This is not only evident by the original Freakmaker title and the inclusion of a travelling circus sideshow, but other factors such as borrowing the familiar “Not one of us” chant (sans the “Gooba Gabba” refrain) that has been the staple homage to Freaks in many film and TV series over the years. In this case the human menagerie includes a ‘Pretzel Man’, ‘Alligator Lady’, ‘Human Skeleton’, ‘Pop-Eye’, ‘Monkey Lady among the more usual bearded lady and kin. But equally intriguing are the many oversized, pulsating and appendaged flora in the professors own Little Shop of Horrors (Shades of Seymour!)

The presence of esteemed Pleasence aside (Baker is highly hardly noticeable as not only is his face deformed but it is kept under wraps and shadows the entire film), the producers decided to add a little more spice by taking a page from the Hammer studios cookbook and included some gratuitous shots most notably from minor Norwegian scream beauty queen Julie Ege.

These kinds of movies are as forgotten as the sideshows they relied on to draw a crowd. But as I can attest, they did have one turning heads and elicited curiosity. One can debate the exploitation of the afflictions of some of the cast but at least things had progressed even then to desist from including those incapable of deciding for themselves such as the microcephaly “pinheads” used in Freaks.

A product of the 70’s it is perhaps Ironic in that in the end the downfall of the mad scientist comes down to “those meddling kids!”, another 70’s creation.

Movie Reviews 380 – Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

February 16, 2019

I thought that viewing it on my very own birthday was a good choice for watching the 1980’s slasher Happy Birthday to Me despite not knowing which way the pendulum swung (victim or aggressor) for the celebrant. As it so happens, the answer isn’t as clear as you would think. And I sure did not know what to make of a horror movie which stars Melissa Sue Anderson, whose only notable role was that of squeaky clean kid on the virtuous Little House on the Prairie TV series, a far cry from this gorefest.

Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright (Anderson) is part of the ‘in’ college group known as the “Top Ten”, a band of rich, spoiled, vain kids who drive fancy cars and raise hell in pubs. Her father, a single parent, is overly concerned with her partying ways and the company she keeps not only for the usual reasons but also because of the hours she spends at her mom’s gravesite. Virginia’s obsession over her lost mom go hand in hand with a history of mental episodes, one that she continues to be treated for by psychiatrist (Glenn Ford).

When kids start disappearing and the rumors and finger-pointing begin the “Top Ten” are at the “Top” of the suspicion list. The audience gets to see all the gruesome manners in which victims are killed by an often veiled assailant even as the “Top Ten”’s own numbers dwindle. Meanwhile Ginny experiences episodes of memory flooding back and clearly appears to be the perpetrator killing off some of her friends.

But the name of the game here is to spot the evident red herrings – there are plenty – while Ginny questions herself and tries to sort things out. There are subtle clues at first that Ginny’s past treatment was anything but the usual until the details of the medical procedure are revealed and even then the audience has to figure out if she is really the one.

Without spoiling anything I can say that the multiple reveals at the end are not the ones expected, although closer examination does make some of them somewhat incredulous. Still this is another fine somewhat forgotten Canuxploitation film. And the “death by skewer” featured on the poster is not the only imaginative one.

Happy Birthday to Me.

Movie Reviews 379 – Black Snake Moan (2006)

February 8, 2019

I intentionally did not look up the movie synopsis on my Black Snake Moan DVD before popping it into my trusty player as the fact that the cover featured both Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson , either one alone being good enough to have me sold on a viewing. The lack of any prior knowledge regarding the plot turned out to be a blessing as this was certainly a film that surprised me. In fact, this one has a lot of surprises.

The story is centered on Lazarus (hey, already a bonus!) a weathered black man (Jackson) who has just been dumped by his wife (who has run off with his own brother to make matters worse). Living in a remote dilapidated home Lazarus wakes up one morning to find a battered and barely clothed young woman unconscious on the side of the road, just steps from his front door. Hesitant at first, he cautiously takes in Rae (Ricci) and tends to her injuries. But when she awakens she is shocked to find a lengthy heavy duty chain tied around her torso with the other end secured to a radiator.

The first surprise is that the chain is not there for what you probably think. Quite the opposite to tell the truth. Turns out that ol’ Lazarus has nothing but the best intentions. In fact, he deems himself Rae’s saviour of sorts. Another surprise is that Rae, chains and all, is a promiscuous woman. I mean really promiscuous and when she offers herself to Lazarus it isn’t even a simple ploy to escape. But Lazarus has issues to deal with besides the woman chained in his house at the moment. There is of course the brother who stole his wife. There’s Lazarus’ best friend who happens to be a preacher and is of course shocked upon learning of the captive Rae. And then there’s the pharmacist Angela who seems to have a soft spot for him, but who Lazarus must lie to in order to keep the whole “I have a woman chained up in my house” thing a secret. And then there’s the music. Yep, while not quite a musical, music plays a large part of the story. Not enough surprises? I haven’t even gotten to Rae’s dark secret regarding her mother and it’s not the fact that her boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) who has mighty serious anxiety issues has left her to join the army in hopes of overcoming his attacks.

The blues, liberal sex, biblical imagery, and booze somehow all blend in this story about a man destined to get both the girl and himself back on the right track of life. Does it even sound like a ‘feel good’ story? And yet it is. There are a few other surprises, but watch it for yourself to discover those.

January Movie Marathon – 2019 Edition

February 1, 2019

My annual tradition of cramming in (at least) 31 movie viewings during the month of January continued this year. It was a closer call getting in the required viewing (only one film over the target this time) mainly due to all that excess snow this year having me out shoveling instead of watching. Here’s a brief review of what I watched this year.

1) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) – Jimmy Stewart plays the small town lawyer hired to defend what is supposed to be an ‘open and shut’ murder case. Dealing with the evidence and facts isn’t as hard as dealing with the accused’s lovely wife. If all that wasn’t odd enough, consider that this is a comedy by director Otto Preminger.

2) Comic Book Confidential (1988) – A great documentary featuring the radical independent comic creators of the time. Lots of legendary creators (Crumb, Miller, Pekar,  Kurtzman, Eisner) with other not so familiar names. The best part is MAD’s Bill Gaines reminiscing about the pre-code EC days.

3) The Day the Fish Came Out (1967) – (see full review here)

4) Lifeboat (1944) – Only Alfred Hitchcock can get away with an entire movie set on a lifeboat adrift at sea after a Nazi U-boat attack. Of course he also manages to throw in a murder. Dazzling portrayal of the self centered journalist by Tallulah Bankhead (dahling!). It’s Hitch. It’s great.

5) Rock ‘n’ Roll Frankenstein (1999) – Greedy record producer decides he can make the greatest Rock star ever by piecing together the parts of legendary dead artists. The plot sounds a lot better than it is.

6) The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) – Will Smith plays the ‘down on his luck’ portable bone-density scanner salesman who earns a shot as a stockbroker intern, but has to live on the streets with his son in order to possibly get the job. The usual Smith goody-goody, “live your dreams” stuff.

7) Columbo: Double Exposure (1973) – Hey I’m slowly going through all the Columbo TV movies! Columbo nabs murderer Robert Culp, a motivational researcher, by using the same subliminal image video technique he learned from the perpetrator himself.

8) The Children (2008) – Not as frolicky fun as “Girls Gone Wild” but this horror is basically “Kids Gone Wild”. Lots of bad shooting choices makes one wonder where this movie is going for most of it (not in a good way) and the payoff just isn’t there at the end.

9) Lords of Dogtown (2005) – Docudrama capturing the birth of the competitive skateboarding scene on the beaches of Venice California in the mid 70’s. Don’t let the subject matter deter you if you’re not into that scene. Between all the Ollies and Halfpipes, this one packs a punch. Gnarly!

10) This Gun for Hire (1942) – One of the few Veronica Lake – Hollywood’s peek-a-boo girl – films I’ve seen. Not Film Noir at it’s finest to say the least. Lake is embroiled in a murder mystery centered on a chemical formula and WW2 traitors.

11) The Head (1959) – (see full review here)

12) Dead Poets Society (1989) – Robin Williams is the marquee star but this movie is clearly about the young boys in his class at an Ivy League seeding school who learn to “Seize the Day” against all odds. Carpe Diem!

13) 12 Days of Terror (2004) – Drama depicting the summer of 1916 New Jersey shark attacks that supposedly were and inspiration for Peter Benchley to write Jaws. Enough of a bite to watch, but it is a TV movie so keep those expectations in line.

14) Ice Station Zebra (1968) – The cold war goes frigid when a crucial satellite component ends up in the frozen Arctic and both the East and the West race towards Ice Station Zebra to recover it. The good guys can only get there by submarine but, as expected, not everyone on board are who they appear to be.

15) Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) – This fourth installment in the series of movies in which the story of household spooks activities are conveyed purely via the video feeds of home monitoring systems is the one where they ‘Jumped the Shark’. Really nothing new here despite it being something of a sequel to PA3.

16) Witness for the Prosecution (1957) – (see full review here)

17) Billy Elliot (2000) – Little Billy discovers that his interests lay not in the proud boxing tradition of his family, but in ballet, much to the chagrin of his father who is in the midst of England’s notorious coal miners strike just trying to keep the family together.

18) The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) – What is the secret of Santa Vittoria? Millions of bottles of wine. Anthony Quinn is the bumbling, reluctant mayor of the little Italian town who must hide their horde from the encroaching Nazis during WWII.

19) The Giant Behemoth (1959) – Even Britain was getting in on the Giant Monster kick of the 1950’s. While they did not use rear-projection footage of pet lizards and the stop motion animatronic was not much better.

20) 13 Going on 30 (2004) – Jennifer Garner plays the girl/woman who wakes up one day to discover that she has gone from a pubescent teen to a grown woman overnight. Honestly Tom Hanks did it better in Big in the 80’s.

21) Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster (1964) – Goofy Godzilla goodness in which Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra (larval form as the original Moth died in the previous movie) take on the new bad boy on the block King Ghidorah. In preparation for the return of Ghidorah in this year’s May release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters

22) House of Strangers (1949) – Edward G. Robinson plays the family patriarch who works all his life to build a successful local bank but his overbearing ways has taken a toll on his family, the and nearly costs his favored and most devoted son everything.

23) Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965) – This was the first of two Dr Who films made by Amicus which starred the great Peter Cushing and the world’s first chance to see Daleks in color. Who and crew take the TARDIS on its first voyage to a far future post-apocalyptic Earth where the last few remaining Daleks are still fighting the handful of humans.

24) The Bodyguard from Beijing (1994) – Your typical “feds have to bodyguard a witness to a mob murder” plot where Jet Li is the all-business master protector and Christy Chung is the beautiful, rich, overbearing damsel he has to keep alive. And of course at the end they are in love.

25) The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) – (see full review here)

26) The Jerk (1979) –  Steve Martin’s first feature film where he took his brash, daring stand-up comedy and came up with a dimwitted man on a rags-to-riches-to-rags journey to find himself. I still get a kick of him discovering his ‘special purpose’. Silly but still funny.

27) Hellboy (2004) – I hear that there will be another Hellboy movie coming out this year. But without Ron Perlman, John Hurt, or director Guillermo del Toro. No chance in Hell it’s as good as this original.

28) Born to Kill (1947) – Film Noir great Lawrence Tierney in a movie in which the title says it all. He’s a lowly con man who wants it all and doesn’t blink an eye snuffing out anyone who crosses him or just rubs him the wrong way.

29) Black Snake Moan (2006) – Odd film in which a weathered black man (Samuel Jackson) takes in a battered promiscuous young white woman (Christina Ricci) to get both her and himself back on the right track of life.  (I hope to have a full review in the coming days.)

30) Timecop (1994) – Jean Claude Van Damme at his barely comprehensible thespian best. Which isn’t a whole lot. Well at least it’s a Science Fiction time travel story which JCVD mumbles through.

31) The Right Stuff (1983) – I decided to revisit this movie about the original Mercury astronauts on the 50th anniversary of the tragic Apollo 1 fire. Great film but if you have a chance read Tom Wolfe’s book that was the source for the script

32) The Spirit of St-Louis (1957) – I started with Jimmy Stewart and it was only fitting that I ended this month long blitz with another of his films. Aside from the fact that Stewart was nearly twice the age playing Charles Lindbergh, the story of the first solo transatlantic flight remains a classic.

 

 

Movie Reviews 378 – The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971)

January 25, 2019

While not a household name, Spaniard Paul Naschy was legendary in the horror movie biz, concentrating his efforts to revitalizing the classic horrors. He will forever be best known for his take on the Werewolf trope, making no less than a dozen films portraying the benevolent werewolf Count Waldemar Daninsky. The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (original title: La Noche de Walpurgis) is one of, if not the best in that series.

As implied by the title, the story is one in which Wademar is pitted against a vampire, in this case the equally noble but decidedly evil Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy (Patty Shepard). The story begins when researcher Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) and her assistant Genevieve (Barbara Capell) take a trip to Turkey in search of the tomb of the countess. When they arrive at a small town believed to be area in which the tomb can be found they encounter Waldemar who believes he knows where to find. Unknown to the girls is the fact that the remains of the countess is also rumored to have a cross-handled dagger which happens to of great interest to Waldemar. When the trio find the tomb and open it revealing the countess’ body an accidental drop of blood is enough to revitalize the vampire releasing her from her grave prison. But the Countess must rebuild her army of slave vampires and Genevieve is her first victim. As Waldemar falls for Elvira he must sacrifice not only his newfound love, but his one chance to end his own torment in order to save everyone.

Comparable to Hammer Gothic horrors of the era with sexy women, isolated villages, and the classic monsters, this film is set in a contemporary, modern setting while retaining the doom and gloom of its British predecessors. Naschy delivers a poignant, despondent werewolf worthy of commiseration and there is enough depth to the story to keep things interesting for those few moments of horror and gore.

One of the things that should be kept in mind is the staggering number of alternate titles this movies in this series have been released both on media and cinema screens over the years. Walpurgis Night, Shadow of the Werewolf , and Werewolf Shadow are but a few titles you may find in DVD formats.

My one problem with this and other Naschy films is that the media always seems to be comprised of worn weary, barely visible film stock which has been pretty much the case for the few others I’ve (barely?) seen. Hopefully I can someday enjoy this and the other Naschy films decently restored someday as they certainly deserve better treatment.

Movie Reviews 377 – Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

January 19, 2019

Charles Laughton has always been a favorite actor of mine and I consider his portrayal of the relentless barrister in Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution as his best role.  But with such a stellar supporting cast that includes Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power and Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester director Billy Wilder was sure to have a hit on his hands the moment he said “Action!”

Returning to office from a recent hospitalization due to a heart attack scare Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) is being coddled by his torturous personal nurse (Lanchester) and doctors orders instruct him to stay away from any trying cases when he is presented with the odd situation of a lowly inventor (Power) being accused of murder. He fully intends to follow his medical orders as he tries to squirrel away cigars and booze from those hoping he represent the accused when the man’s very wife (Dietrich) gives the most lethargic and unconvincing alibi imaginable.

Now piqued, Robarts takes on the case and by picking apart the prosecution seems to sway the court with the help of some last minute ‘evidence’ . But his keen senses tell him that something wrong which turns out to be an understatement. Contrary to how courtroom dramas usually proceed, the verdict is not the end of the story but in a way the beginning.

This film clicks on many levels. The mystery is suspenseful not only from the point of view of whether the accused is really guilty – although the pendulum certainly begins to sway in one direction – but also the evident inconsistency in the wife’s lack of faith in her own husband. And in this one aspect the final revelation is as shocking as the truth to the murder allegation. More surprisingly, (well perhaps not as much given that this was directed by the great Billy Wilder ) this movie has some of the funniest, butting banter between Laughton and Lanchester regarding his health which begins with the very first scene to a surprising coup de grâce last line in the film.

There is some additional welcome comedy from an elderly cleaning lady (Una O’Connor) and other courtroom antics but the film is not all fun. The underlying story is built upon post war anti-German sentiment among the ruins of a bombed out Berlin tavern and the supposed murder is that of an charming innocent wealthy widow.

Known for it’s astonishing ending, one held in such high regard it warranted secrecy during filming (common today but extraordinary at the time) some have remarked that that secrecy may have even cost Dietrich an Oscar. While it did not win any Oscars it was heavily nominated at numerous ceremonies that year, so really something of a hidden gem for those focused on wins alone.

I was tempted to seek out Christie’s original version but apparently the source material was just a short story and this screened adaptation had a lot of it’s ‘meat’ added. Given the talents involved I suspect that the additions are what made this film so great.