Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

Movie Reviews 299 – Cronos (1993)

May 14, 2017

Director Guillermo del Toro is one of those creators who rose from the ranks of fandom, honing his craft over the years to ultimately become one of the greatest directors of horror and fantasy genre movies. With notable entries that include The Devil’s Backbone, Mimic, the Hellboy series and his magnum opus; Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro has garnered the respect of colleagues and fans alike by having a solid story foundation and then having solid characters to drive them. As auteur taking on the roles of writer, director and producer, his creations are thoughtful, imaginative, compassionate and always contain some element of horror.

And all this began with Cronos, his first feature film at the tender age of 27 which immediately caught notice and garnered accolades that gave him ever increasing leverage and budgets to do more. Fans of his other films will notice that it is also the movie that lays other foundations that will be familiar in his later career, be it professionals team ups with actor Ron Perlman, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and a penchant for insect and bugs and steampunk mechanics – before steampunk was a fad.

When elderly antique shop dealer Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi) observes that one of his shoppers has taken notice of a particular angelic statuette his curiosity is aroused. As soon as the shopper leaves he scrutinizes the figurine more closely and discovers an ornamental gold scarab-like device hidden inside. Clutching the palm sized jewelry it momentarily comes to mechanical life gripping his hand with clenching legs and extruding a scorpion like stinger that pinches him.

The momentary pain is followed by a euphoric sensation but in the following days he also notices a return to vigor and even his wife Mercedes (Margarita Isabel) notices a slightly more youthful appearance. Doting over his pride and joy, granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath), he begins regularly – sting sessions which he believes to be a fountain of youth.

But the shopper that first lead his attention to the statuette was no regular customer but in fact one of many hired scouts searching for just such a figure at the behest of one Mr. De la Guardia (Claudio Brook), a dying rich man living in a sterile room. Upon hearing of the newfound statuette De la Guardia sends his nephew Angel (Ron Perlman) to purchase it, but is dismayed to learn that not only has the device he was seeking gone, but that Gris was draining the source of its powers.

Now, not only does Jesus have to deal with Angel trying to force him to give up the device, but he also learns it’s true secret, which is not exactly the nirvana he thought he had stumbled upon.

Rife with symbolism and allegory – in case you did not pick up on the suggestive religious connotations of the character names amongst other hints – the film is both profound and suspenseful. The secret of the device built by a 16th century alchemist and it’s internal workings shown in detail are both amazing and shocking.

This movie really has everything that del Toro fans have come to love without skimping on detail despite not having the budget of his later films. Now he and Perlman can just give us one more Hellboy

Movie Reviews 298 – Destroy All Monsters (1968)

May 6, 2017

I can’t believe I’ve almost reached 300 movie reviews and have yet to pen a review of even one Godzilla movie. I’ve seen all but two or three of the more than thirty movies starring the Big G, starting with his 1954 debut in Gojira (both the Hollywood ‘politically enhanced’ version where they inserted scenes with Raymond Burr and the much more somber Japanese original) continuing all the way to last year’s Shin Godzilla.

I’ve seen him battle King Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, a smog monster, his American cousin King Kong, giant crustaceans, the pterodactyl like Rodan, lepidoptera Mothra (as adult and in his larval stage), space monsters and even metallic robot replicas of himself. Many of those foes he’s fought, twice, thrice and even more!

I’ve seen him grow from a 50 meter tall gargantuan to a monstrosity over twice that height over the span of a few movies. He’s had a son to join him in his city stomping endeavors (quite a feat considering Godzilla being a male), and then bastardized by an American version that not only had him look like a T-Rex on steroids but even had the gall to have ‘him’ be a ‘her’ to spawn yet another brood. (Still trying to forget that one).

I’ve even seen him die a few times only to magically come back to life when the creators at Toho studios decided he was ripe for a new series of movies, and a presumably to also magically create an inflow of yen for the studio coffers  His on again, off again periodic spurts – academically cited as the Shōwa (1954–1975), Heisei (1984–1995), and Millennium series (1999–2004) before this latest incarnation- have distinct qualities that not only reflect the special effects technologies available at the time, but also reflect the contemporary audiences they were aimed at.

But as a kid growing up with a black and white TV with 4 channels to chose from (two of which were in French), the opportunities to catch a Godzilla movie were rare. As much as the lure of Godzilla tugged on my conscience, I was equally intrigued by the progression of supporting cast of Kaiju creatures he battled as his legacy grew, some of whom ended up starring in their own films. So when I learn about Destroy All Monsters while reading about it in The Monster Times –  a mid seventies newspaper format monthly that sated my horror fix for 60 cents a pop – it was a dream come true. The first real monster melee and with a bunch of those I had not had the chance to see yet. His son Minilla (sometimes called Minya), Anguirus, Rodan, Mothra, Kumonga, Gorosaurus, Varan, Baragon, Manda, King Ghidorah, they were all here in one movie!

I had to wait until 1996 when the very first Fantasia film fest in Montreal included the film on it’s roster for me to finally see Destroy All Monsters in all it’s rubber suit glory for the first time.  Watching it again this week I have to confess that while living up to the hype of having the whole gang, plot wise it wasn’t quite the best.

As all these monsters had rampaged and been dealt with in previous movies, this one begins with all of them secured and living on an isolated island called “monsterland” which has controls and restraining mechanism geared for each of the behemoths. Suddenly they are all unleashed by aliens – the Kilaaks – and each monster appears over and begins tearing appart some major city in the world – France, Moscow, New York and finally Godzilla himself in Tokyo. It’s all part of a world domination plan by the Kilaaks. But in order to stop the monsters, Earth authorities first have to find where the Kilaaks are in order to destroy their controlling machine which by now also has some humans under control.

Riddled with forgettable dialogue, military officials and other world leaders seek guidance from a group of Japanese science specialists wearing Bruce Lee yellow jumpsuits. The white sequin wearing Kilaaks are finally found but in a last attempt to salvage their mission they unleash one final secret weapon. Predictably in the end the world is heroically saved at the last minute by the greatest monster of them all, Godzilla.

You can certainly do better if you’re going to watch only one or two Godzilla movies, but any real fan has to watch this one at least once in their lives.  “Skreeonk!”

Movie Reviews 297 – Won Ton Baby! (2011)

April 28, 2017

Madam Won Ton has a secret. Her idle-minded daughter Little Wing (Suzi Lorraine) who speaks only in baby-talk Chinese is not of Chinese descent at all but the result of a drug and alcohol fueled night of tomfoolery with a doped up, sweat suit wearing, Elvis impersonator who wears his flamboyant gold rimmed sunglasses to bed. In a role that only Scream Queen Debbie Rochon has the thespian acumen to make believable, Madam Won Ton, a former brothel Madam tries to keep her Chinese restaurant afloat, while drinking away her past life and her current problems.

One of those problems is the enormous growth on her pregnant  looking daughter’s abdomen as she clumsily waitresses in the restaurant, continually expressing “So solly. Me so solly.” as she drops food and drinks on the customers. When Little Wing suddenly feels pangs of pain and is brought to the hospital doctors determine that her protruding glob is a living parasitic twin which they excise and hand over to her with revulsion. Little Wing adopts her ‘brother’ as her own, oblivious to the trailing, dexterous umbilical cord and clawed hands. Sporting a shambling Elvis hairdo, the puppet like Won Ton Baby! monstrosity begins speaking within two days and starts hunting mice on the third. Then the bodies start piling up.

While Madam Won Ton charms the detective on the case (Lou Martini Jr.) her son Ben, a Jet Li wannabe, philosophically waxes Chinese ideology between hits of weed. In the meantime we get to see Baby jacking off to soft-core porn, smoke a few doobies himself and eventually having an unholy union with a drunk girl.

Undeniably twisted, this tale (co-written by “Little Wing” Lorraine) has us guessing what the baby will be like from the moment the camera zooms in on the bedside pill bottle with the “Risk of Birth Defects” warning. But no warning could be strong enough for the story that unfolds that includes scenes with “The King” in a sumo thong. It’s a poor man’s It’s Alive which includes Baby P.O.V. crawls and kills and a cameo by Leatherface himself, the late Gunnar Hansen.

Watch this one but I have to add one last warning. You don’t want to know what some of those cooks really serve as Chinese food in restaurants and the answer has nothing to do with the baby.

Movie Reviews 296 – Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

April 21, 2017

While William Shatner is an actor everyone is familiar with, his career is denoted by his role as Captain James T. Kirk and a number of TV series. Not counting any of the Star Trek movies, you’d be hard pressed to name a feature film in which he starred. For myself Kingdom of the Spiders immediately comes to mind.

Released two years after Jaws, I suspect this film was partly aiming to tap into that “natural animal gone amok” theme, immediately opening with a similar prey Point of View killing shot where we have a spider walking a beeline towards a cow and then hearing its last panicked Moo. OK, it doesn’t have quite the same dramatic effect as a Shark swimming in for a kill, but this was but one of many thinly veiled swipes from Jaws. As the troublesome taratula carnage spreads just before the town’s highly anticipated County Fair is about to begin the Sheriff wants to make sure that the nearby ranch (which we are supposed to believe is a large tourist draw) is not going to be closed down and put into quarantine. Sound familiar?

But let’s get back to The Shat in the role of Rack Hansen (how’s that for a character name) who plays a doctor ‘playing doctor’ if you get my drift. Well a veterinarian anyhow whose lotharian longings are directed towards both his brother’s widow and Diane (Tiffany Bolling) the big city arachnologist who comes to help when the local tarantulas begin grouping in the hundreds and start killing large prey including people. Rack is the one who sent in a dead calf’s blood for analysis prompting Diane to arrive with the distressing and unbelievable news that the venom found in the blood sample was hundreds of times more potent than normal tarantula bites. With Rack’s eyes are on her as much as the spiders I suspect that he too wished he had eight eyes so he could scope in more than one woman at a time. In typical Shat fashion he is literally all over the women, rolling on the ground with his sister-in-law after a horse ride in which he lassos her and then proposing Diane at every opportunity.

But the spiders are the draw of the movie and you won’t be disappointed in that regard. Numbering in the hundreds for many shots, I suspect many were fake replicas. But the close up scenes used the real buggers and I have to give credit to the cast as most of the actors had them crawling over them at some point and quite a few even handle a bunch of the eight legged crawlers in their hands.

The story sums up the reason for the invasion as DDT killing the spider’s sources of food leading them to be more aggressive and seek out new subsistence supplies. But who cares, right? We came for The Shat who gets to entertain us in a scene which he gets to overact while seemingly in his death throes. Now for real acting the movie does deliver with the roles of the rancher couple that are the initial hosts of the spiders, played by the great Woody Strode and Altovise Davis, Sammy Davis Jr’s wife, in what turned out to be her most memorable role.

As was the case for the movie Squirm, all I could get my hands on was the novelization of the movie to read.  Why was it so hard for me to watch all these bug movies? Perhaps that is why I appreciate them so much today? In any case if you do have a chance to watch this one be sure to stick around until the very last frame for a monumental matte painting shot that’ll be sure to give you the creeps.

Movie Reviews 295 – Death Wish (1974)

April 14, 2017

During the 1970’s cop dramas were well established cinema mainstays with such hits as The French Connection (1971), Serpico (1973) and The Seven-Ups (1973). The renegade cop concept was explored in Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry (1971) but it was Charles Bronson in Death Wish which exploded vigilantism in the form of citizen rebellion to the forefront.

Laying on an idyllic tropical beach, middle aged couple Paul Kersey (Bronson) and his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) are savouring the last moments of their romantic vacation.  We then cut to the stark contrast of them back in overcrowded New York city, sitting in gridlocked traffic amid incessant sirens, under the soot and smog skyline.

With Paul back at work as architect in a large firm, a trio of young punks note the home address after Joanna and their newlywed daughter leave a grocery store leaving behind an order to have their purchases delivered. Posing as the delivery boy, the thugs burst into the apartment and proceed to dole out one of the most brutal and realistic rape and beating scenes ever filmed – even eclipsing that in A Clockwork Orange.

With his wife now dead, his daughter in a catatonic shock tormented by screaming fits when touched, Paul’s life is forever changed. He takes notice of his surroundings, punctuated by violence, fear lurking in every nook and cranny, and now suspicious of every encounter. His newfound anxiety leads him to carry a coin filled sock which soon comes in handy when he is confronted by mugger. With the basic weapon he manages to repel the hood, but more importantly gains a bit of fortitude and courage.

On a business trip to Arizona his associate (Stuart Margolin) treats him to a visit to a wild west frontier amusement park where cowboy gun battles are recreated, reminding him of how old style justice was meted with a gun as much as in a courtroom. Later at a shooting range he demonstrates his crack shot marksmanship to his friend explaining his instruction by his hunter father, but also how an incident in his past has made him renounce the use of guns, going so far as to being classified as conscientious objector during the Korean war. But his associate believes otherwise gives him a surprise parting gift of a revolver just as he embarks on his way back to New York.

Conflicted but also emboldened, Paul visits Central Park late one night, baiting the muggers in the notorious fertile urban jungle. As expected he makes his first kill, and retreats back home where he vomits in shock and revulsion. But the revulsion is temporary and Paul soon adopts regular hunting forays into the night.

Piecing together crime scene evidence  the police soon figure out that they have a vigilante on their hands and lieutenant Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) leads the investigation. The news that a vigilante is running around the city makes national headline news with billboards and magazine covers marking the event and energizing the city. But the police and municipal leaders try to downplay the conspicuous guardian worrying about copycats and others taking up arms while noting that muggers themselves have taken notice with a marked decrease in crime. The question remains, is the vigilante a hero or a criminal? And what will they do with him when they do catch him?

A lot of the success of the movie was that it hit on a very real crime problem that was rampant in many large cities at the time, New York being a poster child for murders having tripled its rate in the years between 1960 and the mid 70’s. The fear exemplified by Paul was real and seeing something being done, even if only in a movie, was somehow satisfying. The philosophical questions it raises regarding the morality of vigilantism and self defense remain as relevant today as it was then.

With convincing acting and realistic, savage scenes, Death Wish still holds today as the seminal vigilante film and satisfies from the very beginning up to the memorable, final finger pointing gun and smirk on Bronson’s face. As you watch, keep you eye out for a number of future stars playing minor roles.

With three of the four sequels sitting on my DVD shelves I also watched some of them, none coming close to this film, and each stretching the concept further into mediocrity and which play out more like extended cop show episodes than feature films.

On a parting note I have just learned that Bruce Willis is set to star in a reboot directed by Eli Roth – noted for the Cabin Fever and Hostel series of horror movies -set to be released this year. Not sure what to make of that but it will still be tough to match this original.

Movie Reviews 294 – Shrooms (2007)

April 7, 2017

When prim and proper Tara (Lindsey Haun) joins a bunch of friends on a trip to Ireland her real goal was to strike a romance with a foreign friend of the gang, the Irish local Jake (Jack Huston, the latest entrant in the Huston thespian dynasty). Her friends on the other hand have a slightly more mischievous goal of having Jake, a connoisseur of the hallucinogenic fungi, host them to a wild ‘Magic” mushroom camping trip.

As Jake drives the vacationers deep into lush and damp forests of the Emerald Isle the trip is temporarily marred when their camper van runs into a wild goat only to have a pair of hillbillies gladly scamper off with the roadkill, presumably for dinner. Later while harvesting the psilocybin mushrooms Jake neglects to inform everyone in the party that they are to avoid the similar looking “Death’s Head” Shrooms as their effects go way beyond mere head trips and can lead to paralysis and even death. Unaware of this little fact Tara ingests a Death’s Head and has a near deadly convulsing episode.

As Tara recovers later that night Jake entertains the others with a campfire tale of the Legend of the Black Brothers a religious order who ran a young offenders institution in the area. Suffice to say that local legend has it that the lone surviving victim of the most sadistic of the Black Brothers is said to roam to forests. Tara begins to experience both sightings of shadowy figures while at the same time having premonitions of ill fated demises of her friends as they begin to disperse and disappear in the backwoods. Is the legend true or are Tara’s experiences all in her head?

You would think that the filmmakers would capitalize on the possibility that Tara may merely be experiencing a distorted perception of events and her surroundings as it is made clear that that is one of the effects of the mushrooms. But unfortunately this is only hinted at briefly and then discarded as the plot evolves into a ‘by the numbers’ horror in the woods suspense with the archetypal Scooby gang as fodder (jock, primadonna, stoner, outsider, etc.) Worse yet, we have little empathy for the group of snot nosed friends as they can barely tolerate and take every opportunity to backstab one another. The hillbillies do figure in the plot but only as a distraction that further complicates the viewers take on what’s really going on. What we do get is a lot of running around, glimpses and hints of some feral child or animal, and a lot of psychotropic visuals.

The film’s marketing tagline is “Get ready to be wasted” but I didn’t realize that that would include my time watching this tale from the Land of Leprechauns. This is one bad trip and you’d be better of settling for a bowl of Lucky Charms.  At least “They’re Magically Delicious!”

Movie Reviews 293 – Barbarella (1968)

April 1, 2017

It begins with a veritable gravity defying striptease, one piece of clothing after another being excised and left to float in space. The spectacle takes place on a discernibly vintage shag carpet while an exotic music score plays and the opening credits adorn the act in progress. These suggestive and sensual characteristics are all a portents of things to come in Barbarella, the movie that brought the sexual revolution of the 60’s to science fiction cinema.

Before she became a political activist, hopped around in leotards and leggings to create and dominate the entire Workout Video industry and even winning a few Oscars, Jane Fonda (or “Hanoi Jane” as she would soon be known as) delivered the starring role as space faring sex-kitten Barbarella in one of the strangest science fiction comic adaptations to hit the screen.

The mindless plot begins with the President of Earth calling on the services of Barbarella to rescue prodigious scientist Durand Durand (Milo O’Shea) from the Tau Ceti space system worried that an invention of his, the Positronic Ray, may fall into the wrong hands. Arriving in the system Barbarella crashes into an ice planet and is soon captured by kids that unleash dolls with razor teeth. “The Catchman” (Ugo Tognazzi) whose job is to trap the kids rescues her, sailing off in a Wile E. Coyote inspired, self propelled sleigh. As he brings her back to her spaceship she agrees to his request to ‘get shagged’ the old-fashioned way and not with her customary use of  exaltation-transference pills, which she surprisingly enjoys.

Before long, her ship is sucked into some subterranean core where she meets the blind, angel-winged, bronze bodied Pygar (John Phillip Law)  and with the help of Professor Ping (legendary mime artist Marcel Marceau in a speaking role) she ends up in the land of Sogo, ruled by an Evil Tyrant who is aided by a Concierge (who is really Durand Durand). It’s all quite complicated (overly so) but Barbarella is first left to die being picked by birds (an obvious homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds), meets a bumbling sex-obsessed Dildano (David Hemmings) and is eventually tortured by an excessive sex machine.

Add in blue dyed rabbits, plexiglass and bubble sets, psychedelic liquid light show backdrops, greeting of “Love” and you may begin to understand the absurdity of this movie. Fact is, aside from the visual feast comprised of kaleidoscopic sets, lavish costumes and nubile bodies, it’s really a terrible film with an atrocious, nearly incomprehensible script, gaudy score and lame attempts at comedy.

When the characters or the annoying ‘computer’ aren’t spewing technobabble we get to hear Barbarella talking to herself aloud, usually uttering cringe inducing puns as she screws her way through the galaxy. While the entire cast looks like they’ve just come from a fashion show on a Paris catwalk sporting revealing gold lamé and feathered garments, Barbarella herself has more wardrobe changes than a bride at a Vietnamese wedding.

If the point hasn’t been understood yet this movie featuring place names that include Palace of Pleasure, Labyrinth of Love, Chamber of Dreams is all about one thing: sex.

Directed by Fonda’s then husband Roger Vadim and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, the man who would later give us two budget King Kong movies, the ill fated Dune adaptation, and the similar veined Flash Gordon, this bawdy romp encapsulate the sillier aspects of the 60’s.

But it did have quite a lasting effect in other ways. The name Durand Durand was later adopted by the musical group “Duran Duran” because they used to play in a nightclub named after the movie, while the name Barbarella has itself been adopted by many a ‘gentleman’s club’ (commonly known as strip joints to the uncultured) around the world including one right here in my home city. The concept of the Excessive Machine was used by auteur Woody Allen in Sleeper where he called it the Orgasmostron,  which was the name used in the French version of this movie.

I have to confess that while I usually prefer to seek out images of original movie posters to include with my blogs in this case I opted for the magnificent Boris Vallejo painting that was used for the 1977 re-release.

Movie Reviews 292 – The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

March 25, 2017

While it is hard to pick which one of master stop motion movie creator Ray Harryhausen’s epics is the best – there are so many – The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was certainly a milestone and is representational of the great variety of fantastic creatures he animated. Like other Harryhausen movies, the plot is not what sticks in your memories as much as which particular creations were featured. In the case of the 7th Voyage, it was the cyclops (more than one actually), the shackled giant fire breathing dragon, the enormous two headed eagle chick (and one of it’s irritated parents), and probably the most memorable of all Harryhausen creations, a sabre and shield wielding, fighting skeleton.

Without any setup, Captain Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) and his devoted sailors find themselves battling a raging sea storm when they suddenly comes across a mysterious island. Sinbad is transporting princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant) to Baghdad not only to marry her, but to sooth relations between her homeland and his own. But as the crew is low on food and water their unscheduled landing is a fortuitous opportunity to replenish resources and do a little exploring.

With supplies restocked and preparing to leave, Sinbad spots a magician fleeing a giant cyclops on the beach shore. While they manage to save the magician, a lamp that he carried was lost and retrieved by the cyclops. The magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) tries to convince Sinbad to turn back to the island to get back his precious lamp but is rebuffed. Sokurah awaits his opportunity back in Baghdad and the eve before the nuptials he shrinks the princess to palm size.

With the princess’ father in a uproar and vowing vengeance to the Caliph of Baghdad, Sinbad reluctantly recruits the magician and a bunch of prisoners to join his crew for a trip back to the island to get one of the ingredients needed for the potion that can turn his princess back to normal and avert a war.

Back on the island fulfilling their quest for the ingredient – the shell from a oversized egg – Sinbad and his sailors have to deal with more cyclopse, two headed monstrosities, the gargantuan dragon, as well as the lure of a treasure trove, all while the nefarious Sokurah’s double-crosses Sinbad and the men. With the help of Barani, the genie in the lamp and a giant crossbow, Sinbad saves the princess, averts the war and live to sail another day.

The first of Harryhausen’s movies to be filmed in colour and featuring the “Dynamation” name for his miniature marvels, the film is also greatly enhanced by a memorable Bernard Herrmann (Psycho) Arabian themed score. This would be the first of three Sinbad movies Harryhausen would go on to make, although other films such as Jason and the Argonauts and his last film Clash of the Titans would also be based on mythological lore, his most imaginative subject matter. Not to disparage his earlier black and white films such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, 20 Million Miles to Earth  or Mighty Joe Young  – created under the tutelage of his mentor Willis O’BrienThe 7th Voyage of Sinbad – remains one of the favorites.

I was fortunate enough to have met him when he appeared for a special screening of Jason and the Argonauts at the Fantasia film festival in 2005. A thrill to shake the hand that crafted and gave life to all those miracles in miniature.

Movie Reviews 291 – Garden of the Dead (1972)

March 17, 2017

If you think that this movie is geared to horticulturalists seeking to prolong the lifespan of their petunias or azaleas, drop your hoe right now. Although manure does figure prominently in my assessment of the film there is a seed of low budget wholesomeness that levitates Garden of the Dead for the bottom of the barrel, but only by a fraction.

Credit DVD distributor Retromedia for including a drawing of a bombshell to create an nontraditional FBI DVD warning, but I had to question the introduction with Ohio horror host “Son of Ghoul’ who lambastes the film before egging Retromedia founder and B movie producer, director Fred Olen Ray to hurl a bowling ball through a TV set before we get to see the opening credits. This was not an option on the DVD mind you but built right into the Play command. Not sure what all that was about but whatever.

A snazzy, catchy Jazz beat gets things rolling with a bunch of prisoners hauling formaldehyde barrels around a worksite, as we cut to some of them hiding from their guards and sniffing the stuff as they plan for their not so great escape.

Clearly divided into groups that want to partake and others that want to know nothing about the impending outbreak, those determined soon make their getaway. With one of bumbling escapees taking in one last whiff of the noxious gas, he soon stumbles, alerting the guards which leads to an inevitable motor chase, the end result of which is the convicts crashing into a graveyard and having formaldehyde spill across the plots.

Within seconds hands of the living dead are bursting through the soil grabbing ankles amidst a futile shootout with the prison guards. So what do the zombies do? Why they head for the garden tools in the getaway pickup of course as they merrily chant “Destroy the living”. I only mention this since honestly it’s the only tie in to a garden that could explain the title.

The plot includes one ‘good’ prisoner named Paul who has an emotion filled visit from his lascivious lady Carol. After a few zombie battles that take out some of the neighbors and the perpetually gloved warden, those that are still alive, prisoners and guards alike, get holed up in a standoff on the prison grounds. In the end, twas beauty in the guise of Carol that killed the … zombies.

Clocking in at a merciful 58 minutes, this will never make anyone’s top ten zombie movie list. Or top twenty. But I’ve seen far worse so I’ll leave it at that.

One last thing about the Retromedia DVD. The trailer included as the only extra is for the wrong film. But the trailer that was included which was for the co-feature Grave of the Vampire actually looked more interesting than this movie.

Movie Reviews 290 – Shaft (1971)

March 12, 2017

With the highly suggestive name and title, Shaft is the movie that brought the ghetto to the big screen and along the way gave birth to the blaxploitation movie trend that continued for most of 1970’s. While the plot may be fairly light, viewers were seduced by many other factors and it’s those aspects that have made the movie and the name itself classic.

For starters, Richard Roundtree, the embodiment of John Shaft was one cool dude. Slick and trim sporting cunate sideburns and always wearing his trademark long brown leather coat, his looks cemented his ladies man status, but it was his smarts and take no guff attitude that shaped this private investigator.

The tenement buildings and their dilapidated accommodations within. The garbage strewn streets. The smoky corner bars. The rusty cars amid the Manhattan smog. All vividly portray what the Big Apple was really like in it’s darkest days. While not inviting to movie audiences in itself, it did provide realism for a new brand of action packed movie, those catering to African American audiences. But perhaps not surprisingly, those same trappings caught on with audiences across the race spectrum.

The nostalgia oozes from the moment the frames start to roll with glorious Shaft dodging full sized 70’s gas guzzlers in the streets of Harlem, all while Isaac Hayes’ theme song streams in the background. But this is no mere score. One could argue that “The theme from Shaft” is more famous than the movie itself as it pretty much delivers the same essence.

Who’s the black private dick
That’s a sex machine to all the chicks?
(Shaft!)
You’re damn right

Who is the man
That would risk his neck for his brother man?
(Shaft!)
Can ya dig it?

Who’s the cat that won’t cop out
When there’s danger all about
(Shaft!)
Right on

You see this cat Shaft is a bad mother
(Shut your mouth)
But I’m talkin’ about Shaft
(Then we can dig it)
He’s a complicated man
But no one understands him but his woman
(John Shaft)

Story wise, the pedantic plot does not stray too far from your regular cop drama. While Shaft may have his differences with NYPD Lieutenant Androzzi (Charles Cioffi), theirs is a cooperative and symbiotic relationship. But that friendship gets stressed when a bunch of mobsters start arriving from all parts of the country. Something is brewing and Androzzi wants Shaft to leverage his street savvy to get the lowdown. At just that time Shaft gets hired by a local drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped his teenage daughter. These two pieces are part of a puzzle that on the face of it appear to be a gangland turf war, but because of the particulars of those involved, can develop into citywide race war.

A few car chases, shootouts, fistfights and someone thrown out of a window, all with ample breaks for Shaft to radiate his pearly whites to the fairer sex, and you have Shaft.

Can you dig it? I can.