Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

Movie Reviews 429 – Mildred Pierce (1945)

March 26, 2020

Film Noir fans are all too familiar with the cliché beginning of a movie in which someone is shot (often in the dark), uttering a name or phrase, and then dying in a pool of (unseen on screen) blood, leaving audiences to figure out the murderer. In the case of Mildred Pierce, the man who dies whispers “Mildred”, is indeed her husband, and we see her fleeing the beach house scene of the crime, even managing to lock in someone who arrived minutes later with the hopes to pin them to the murder. Cliché aside however, nothing is as it seems, or to be precise, nobody is really as they seem in this Noir classic.

Starring in the title role, Mildred Pierce not only revived Joan Crawford’s then flailing career but earned her an Oscar, all later to be undone with the release of her daughter’s book and the film Mommie Dearest. But that’s another story.

Playing largely as one lifelong flashback we see how doting mother Mildred separates from her first husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) after he loses his job, makes do with a job as a waitress – much to the chagrin of her vain daughter Veta (Ann Blyth) – and with the help of Wally (Jack Carson) her former husband’s business partner, slowly builds a chain of successful restaurants. Eventually falling for and marrying wealthy heir Monte (Zachary Scott), her one driving force was devotion to her daughters Kay and Veta. When Kay sadly dies at a young age, all her attention, and money, go to Veta’s happiness.

Now putting all that into context of the murder. The victim is her husband Monte, Wally is the one Mildred briefly tries to entrap to take the rap, and Bert, her first husband surprisingly and out of nowhere turns himself in and confesses. Mildred is stunned to find that she isn’t even a suspect. In trying to solve the murder mystery none of this makes sense taken at face value. But taken from a different angle, largely hinted at throughout the film as the characters are peeled back to reveal their true dispositions (hint: often the opposite of what we believe at first), in the end everything makes sense as the killer is revealed.

Crawford donning her signature epaulette shouldered dresses is remarkably solid, although I confess I thought she was even better in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. While I can’t say the script was anything stellar, the story itself and the manner in which the mystery is built up does make this a riveting film. Welcome additions include Eve Arden (better known for her sitcom Our Miss Brooks) as a feisty waitress who works up the ranks in Mildred’s enterprise and Butterfly McQueen as Mildred’s servant.

My Warner.- Turner 2005 DVD with remastered transfer also contained the documentary Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star on the flip side, which I would also heartily recommend for those wanting to learn more of this former diva. Almost as long as the movie but well worth it for details on her legendary feud with arch rival Bette Davis alone.

Movie Reviews 428 – Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

March 14, 2020

Historic Hammer studios became synonymous with horror for their prolific and highly successful Gothic films of that genre. But they also dabbled in a number of other categories – having roots in Film Noir no less – including science fiction, the most famous of those being their series of Dr. Quatermass films. Not surprisingly those films, based on the character of renowned scientist Dr. Bernard Quatermass, can fairly be called horror films with science fiction bases. Quatermass and the Pit, the third film in the series and the last one released theatrically, is considered by many – myself included – to be the best of the lot. As was the case for the previous Quatermass films (more on those later), the North American distribution removed the Quatermass name from the title, releasing it as Five Million Years to Earth.

Our story begins with a construction crew digging out a projected new subway station (or “Tube” as the locals now call it) in the heart of London. When they come across a few strange looking humanoid skeletal remains anthropologist Dr. Roney (James Donald) and his assistant Barbara (Barbara Shelley) are called in to assist with the removal and study of the specimens. With  commotion building over the controversial find due to their enlarged skulls, an on-site press conference is televised as the digging continues until workers encounter another metallic artifact.

Believing this to be some unexploded WWII ordnance (some of which still come up on occasion today) they call in the military expertise of Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) who at that very moment happened to be shooting down a pet project of Dr. Quatermass (Andrew Keir) in a ministers office. Despite Breen’s insistence that the metal is merely some old war relic the new find turns out to be impervious spaceship. As that investigation continues, Barbara and Quatermass research the history of the area which is found to have incurred sporadic outbursts of demonic visions by the residents through the ages.

A breakthrough is achieved when portions of the inner ship turns into a crystalline form and they recover three giant locust looking, decaying alien bodies. But there are no other clues other than some of those people working on or near the digs having visions and exhibiting loss of self control. Quatermass and Roney team up to use a state-of-the-art brain scanning apparatus wherein they are able to record a long ago war that was wagged on Mars. The significance of the find is shocking enough when they put all the pieces together, until they realize the sobering truth that the war is still ongoing.

While the film delivers thrills in many ways, some of the plot elements will induce head scratching unless a wide berth from any critical thinking. The special effects, while primitive and cheap, are at times impressive such as when the spaceship goes aglow with veined luminescence only to falter ineptly when showing obviously strung together ‘marching’ armies of aliens. And the high strung climax featuring mad mobs and high drama is idiotically resolved by basic electrical concept. And yet, this film manages to capture my imagination every time I watch it. The designs are daring even if they don’t live up to expectations. The grandiose meaning of the find and subsequent revelations are huge, even when they succumb to a mediocre resolution. If nothing else, you savour the best parts and thus can ignore the fragile framework.

For those who desire a greater taste of Quatermass, track down The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass 2 (respectively released as The Creeping Unknown and Enemy From Space for North American markets). Also keep in mind that these first three films were preceded by BBC serial teledramas which, while rarer, can be found on digital media. A fourth Quatermass TV film simply titled Quatermass was made in 1974, and another in 2005 but I have yet to see those, so you may want to check out other reviews first.

All based on Nigel Kneal original writing, I’d also recommend readers to seek out the published versions of the original scripts.

Movie Reviews 427 – Our Man in Havana (1959)

March 6, 2020

If you ask almost anyone today to name a film with Alec Guinness the answer will almost surely be Star Wars, which is a shame as it was a far cry from his best performances. Sir Alec Guinness’ career was well established long before he portrayed Obi Wan Kenobi in the 1977 blockbuster, the role that much to his chagrin, came to define him for future generations. Already having earned a Best Actor Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai, the multi-faceted actor also had some serious comedic chops in films like The Man in the White Suit and my favorite, Our Man in Havana.

Good hearted vacuum salesman Jim Wormold (Guinness) finds himself stuck in pre-revolution Cuba, eeking out a living and trying to keep ahead of expenses that his daughter Milly (Jo Morrow) keeps ringing up. Seeing as Milly has just acquired a fondness for horses, Jim is more than intrigued when a mysterious bowler wearing fellow brit enters his shop and suggests they meet later and for a chance to earn some dough. The bowler man is agent 59200 working for Her Majesty and he recruits Jim (now agent 59200-5) to be ‘their man in Havana’. Confused as to what his duties are really supposed to be the one thing that is clear to Jim is that he is encouraged to recruit others to work for him, preferably people well placed to report anything of significance. At the encouragement of his friend Dr. Hasselbacher (Burl Ives) begins falsifying reports and cashing in on pseudo-recruits, real people yet none knowing they are supposedly working as spies.

With horse maintenance, training and country club fees swelling Jim decides that he can really soak his new bosses by reporting that a new nuclear complex is being built on a remote part of the island. To make his case convincing Jim invents a plane pilot who supposedly discovered the compound and for good measure even draws up a bunch of fake blueprints inspired by characteristics of some of the vacuums in his shop.

But his fabrications turn out to be more successful than intended. When word gets around of this covert facility to the upper echelons – even so far as the Prime Minister’s office – headquarters decides that more resources and seasoned personnel need to be sent to aide Jim in Cuba immediately. Now not only must Jim keep his new secretary (Maureen O’Hara) and a photographer fooled, he must contend with an inquisitive Cuban captain (Ernie Kovacs) doting his daughter.

Based on a Graham Green novel, this is a fantastic black comedy highlighting the absurdities of the entire espionage establishment and its self propelling machinations. Loosely based on actual false reporting events by some operatives, the film is all the more ironic in that Castro’s post revolution regime allowed the film to be shot in Havana believing that the plot elements mocked the fallen Batista military dictatorship.

If you’re going to have a Guinness and it’s not the stout beer variety… get an Alec.You can’t go wrong.

Movie Reviews 426 – Shock Waves (1977)

February 27, 2020

As a teenager flipping channels in the wee hours looking for a ‘late-nite’ movie back in the 70’s, (not too many channels to flip through in those days mind you) my remote ‘clicker’ stopped the moment my eyes laid upon a squadron of ashen faced Nazi SS officers synchronously emerging from the still waters of a river. I knew right away that my channel flipping had come to and end for the night, such was the immediate allure to watching Shock Waves.

And up until a little over a week ago when the title appeared a horror movie buy/sell/trade forum I could not recall hearing anything about this title in all those years, but I jumped at the chance to watch it again. If finally getting the DVD in my hands wasn’t a happy enough moment imagine my surprise seeing none other than Peter Cushing and John Carradine as featured stars on the cover. While thrilled, the inclusion of Cushing in particular dumbfounded me as I consider myself fairly knowledgeable in acumen from his days at Hammer, Amicus, AIP and other studios. While odd that I could not remember seeing him in this film, it was so long ago I did not remember anything plot wise. But why had I not come across this title in features and articles discussing those studios? Why had I not in fact heard really anything about this film all those years?

The answer lay in the opening credits which indicated that this was a “Zopix” production, which as it turns out was a company created by the young producers whose only feature film was this single film. Unfortunately, this explains a lot about the quality of the production and the ultimate fate of the film.

You can almost queue the Gilligan’s Island TV show theme as a small chartered boat with a few vacationers touring islands are suddenly caught up in a storm that messes up their navigation and communications, setting them on an uncharted course. The next morning they find themselves next to a hulking, rotting WWII wreck of a ship offshore a small island. With the captain (Carradine) nowhere to be found, they shuffle off to the island only to see his dead body slink across their rowboat’s glass bottomed portal. Once on the island the only signs of civilization they find is a dilapidated and deserted hotel. Rounded up by a blaring phonograph in a hallway they can briefly see an elderly man (Cushing) above them who only warns them to leave before disappearing.

The group then sporadically spot and are attacked by zombie SS men lurking in the jungle foliage and beaches. Eventually they corner the man that turns out to be the former SS commander of The Death Core, experimental super soldiers who turned on their own creator, now haunting him along with the castaways. Their only hope is a dinghy the commander pleaded with them to escape in.

While the motley group includes young Rose (Brooke Adams), handy young crewman Keith (Luke Halpin), a pretentious man and his wife, a mangy drunken cook, and a sporty claustrophobe, overall there isn’t much for them to do other than scamper and die. What tension there is only comes when the goggled and golden haired Nazis are pouncing on them but after a while even that gets repetitive. But Carradine and scared faced Cushing have all too brief roles and are a far cry from their meatier memorable performances.

Disappointed by the film itself, I was hoping that my Blue Underground DVD (reputedly made from one of the producers personal prints as the original negatives have been lost) would contain interviews and other special features that would delve in the making of the film, but I was once again frustrated with only a brief interview Halpin interview.

Sometimes films don’t live up to one’s memories. Shock Waves is borderline satisfactory from a nostalgic point of view, the few moments with Cushing and Carradine, and of course the iconic Nazi scenes. But from a story, script, production point of view all I can say is “Ich war enttäuscht”.

Movie Reviews 425 – Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler (1972)

February 21, 2020

There is a lot going on in Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler besides the mouthful for a title.

All I knew when I picked up this DVD was that it starred Sonny Chiba which was enough for me to give it a whirl. Little did I know that not only was this not your typical Chiba fight fest, but that I would be seduced by the charms of Meiko Kaji a starlet previously unknown to me yet celebrated and well established, perhaps rivaling the Sister Street Fighter herself, Etsuko “Sue” Shihomi. As it turns out that comparison turned out to be eerily prophetic with more substance than I could have imagined. But more on that later…

I confess that I never saw the original Wandering Ginza Butterfly, but I can dispel the notion that you must see that beforehand in order to enjoy this sequel. While the plot is an offshoot from that film, the story is self contained enough to understand and there are plenty of flashback scenes to put it all into context.

Nami Higuchi (Kaji), orphaned when her father died while she was a still young girl and now a professional gambler, has been searching for her father’s killer. Coincidentally she comes to the aid of a young woman, Hanae (Tamase Mitsukawa), who was sold to a mob ruled Ginza social club for prostitution by her own debt ridden gambler of a father. As luck would have it, Nami bumps into her childhood best friend Mioko (Yukie Kagawa) who is also running a social club and gladly offers to help out and hire Hanae herself. But unknown to Nami, Mioko has taken a different path in life and is now working for a mob boss, and Hanae soon finds herself in the exact situation that Nami tried to save her from. Worse yet, this boss is the very one Nami is seeking.

As I mentioned, this is not so much a martial arts film as a more dramatic action film. The story is multi-layered with a number of interesting characters which all mesh together nicely as the story progresses. While Nami is relatively stoic (apparently a trait common in many of Kaji’s roles), Chiba, playing a stutter prone, carefree gambler (uncharacteristic of his usual intense portrayals) balances things out nicely. There are plenty of other enjoyable characters including a gambler that was tasked to cheat Nami but who ends up looking to her to be his mentor. Another is Chiba’s ever smoking partner who also tries to help out and at one point the two men, having rescued all the girls, attempt to give them etiquette lessons including how to use a bidet.

Be forewarned that the first few minutes of the film has plenty of boobs and for a moment I thought that this was going to be one of those Pinky films as this is indeed a Toei studio production, renown for that subgenre. What there is plenty of is gambling. Unfortunately I could not understand anything about the Mahjong tile game in which players also hide a tile under a mat. But it was clear who was winning, who was losing, and who was cheating (which was often the case).

Fans of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill will immediately connect with many aspects aside from the obvious Sonny “Hattori Hanzo” Chiba. Digging into Kaji’s career I was delighted to learn that she was the singer of the “The Flower of Carnage” song on the Kill Bill soundtrack (taken from another one of her films (Lady Snowblood). While the final battle is not as army sized as Uma’s Bride restaurant free for all, there are some similarities including gratuitous amounts of spurting blood, as was a late-night garden battle.

Chiba only brawls during the final battle and using subdued moves compared to his later films moves at that. This is not a film that wows audiences looking for martial arts prowess. But don’t let that deter you from watching it unless that is all you are looking for.

My Synapse Films DVD features an interview with director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi who not only directed the Wandering Ginza Butterfly films but was also the director of the Sister Street Fighter franchise and, not surprisingly, a number of Pinky films, although the latter aren’t discussed in the interview.

I will be keeping an eye out for that first Wandering Ginza Butterfly and other Meiko Kaji films to remedy tardiness and delinquency in recognizing this jewel.

Movie Reviews 424 – Ace in the Hole (1951)

February 14, 2020

ACE IN THE HOLE [US 1951] DIRECTED BY BILLY WILDER WITH KIRK DOUGLAS Date: 1951

When legendary actor Kirk Douglas passed away last week at the ripe old age of 103, most of the obituary notices made mention of his most famous titular role in Spartacus, the epic Stanley Kubrick film. While the film was a huge success, Douglas himself never really got the accolades and award recognition for it. At least for his work in front of the lens that is.

His real success and achievement with Spartacus was what he had done behind the scenes. As executive producer and having acquired the rights to the novel, Douglas openly hired blacklisted Dalton Trumbo to pen the script for the film, thus breaking tradition with the studios who adhered to the unwritten code banning those accused in the infamous HUAC proceedings during the McCarthy era Red Scare. This act is generally recognized as the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the success of the film forced the studios to formally recognize the blacklisted writers, most of whom were still working but using pseudonyms and ‘fronts’, and being underpaid for those efforts.

A prolific actor in both films and television, one of my favorite movies starring the charismatic dimple-chinned Douglas has always been Ace in the Hole (1951) in which he plays a newspaper reporter that crosses the line in order to advance his career.

Chuck Tatum (Douglas), a former high flying, big city reporter finds himself down on his luck, out of a job and out of money, even enough to pay for gas for his car. Stuck in remote Albuquerque, New Mexico and plumb out of options he basically begs the editor of the local paper for what he believes will be a short term stint until he gets back on his feet. But after a year of writing mundane news filler, he is at wits end, looking for that ‘big break’ that will get him back into the big league papers. As luck would have it on his way to yet another bland assignment (a rattlesnake hunt), a stop at a desert gasoline station brings news that the station owner, also a relic hunter, has just gotten himself stuck in a mountain passage after a cave in. Already smelling a scoop he is the first on the scene to venture the perilous cave path that leads to the half buried man. It is clear that a rescue will take time and equipment. Time, Chuck muses, that he alone will be in a position to scoop the story.

As soon as Chuck leaves the cave he begins scheming to retain his exclusive reporter status and to make sure that the world hears about the human interest story. He first coaxes the equally unscrupulous Sheriff to keep other reporters out of the cave, while peddling the story to all the major newspapers. As news quickly spreads, the mountainside erupts into a veritable roadside carnival – ferris wheel, barkers, treats, the whole zoo – for rubberneckers who want to savor every aspect of the rescue mission. But Chuck hits rock bottom (so to speak) realizing that the crew shoring up the cave will get to the man in a little over a day. Needing more time to raise his profile, he manages to redirect the rescue crew to dig a rescue hole from the top of the mountain instead of proceeding with the simpler approach.This method will take seven days, enough time for Chuck to punch in his ticket back to the majors and even, perhaps a Pulitzer Prize.

Despite initial assurances from the local doctor that the trapped man can last that long, his deteriorating health soon becomes a race against death. A race, Chuck realizes, that will have the eyes of the world clearly focused on him, but for the wrong reason.

A tale of selfishness taken to extremes, Chuck is not the only one looking out for himself. The trapped man’s peroxide blonde of a wife (Jan Sterling), on the cusp of leaving while her husband lay trapped, is lured back by the sudden flow of the cash register ringing at the station and manages to squeeze every last cent she can from the mass of visitors. Chuck even manages sway a budding young photographer down the path of glory over value.

While perhaps not up to par with some of director Billy Wilder greatest films (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, and Witness for the Prosecution being just some examples), Ace in the Hole, initially released unde the title The Big Carnival, remains a noteworthy and a riveting story.

R.I.P Kirk.

Movie Reviews 423 – Forbidden Planet (1956)

January 31, 2020

Ah, the classics! While Forbidden Planet is certainly one of the classics when it comes to 50’s Science Fiction films, the fact that it shares a number of elements from Shakepear’s The Tempest adds to its legitimacy to the term. Notably preceded by Destination Moon, Rocketship X-M and Conquest of Space as films that attempted to portray scientifically accurate depictions of future space travel, it nonetheless pushed a few boundaries forward and introduced us to  Robby, the first loveable (I liken him to a walking vintage washing machine) cinematic robot.

The story has the crew of Earth spaceship C-57D voyage to distant planet Altair IV with the aim to relieve the crew of a previous mission, only to find that the only remaining inhabitants are the evasive Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his striking daughter Altaira (Anne Francis). Morbius at first tries to convince the commander (Leslie Nielsen) that all is fine and dandy, and that they should just move. But then the encampment around the landed spaceship is breached by someone – or some thing – who managed to evade their security detail and destroy some of their equipment. Dr. Morbius soon confesses that an amazingly advanced society called the Krell long ago inhabited the planet leaving behind a vast underground city of running machines and contrivances whose functions Morbius has been trying to ascertain. Morbius himself was exposed to one of their devices that doubled his own cerebral functions. Adams explains that such a find needs to be studied by humanity but Morbius contends that mankind is not ready for this discovery and that he, and he alone, must study the treasure trove of knowledge left by the Krell. As Morbius battles with bouts of headaches, the encampment of the C-57D detect a creature visible only when it tries to make its way through the protective force field as the one that has been attacking them. The truth of what the creature represents is shocking in more ways than even Morbius could have imagined.

A film ahead of its time, Forbidden Planet presents a high brow concept using visually stunning sequences that stand up to this day. The color palette and background matte paintings by Henri Hillinck are reminiscent of Chesley Bonestell SF pulp art covers. The look and feel of most of the animated sequences and trick photography remain comparable in quality to modern CGi effects. While anyone today would swear that the acclaimed music score are feature sounds from a theremin (popular in the era), they were in fact created by specialized electronic circuitry (predating synthesizers) created and operated by Bebe and Louis Barren, and are prominently identified in the opening credits. And of course there is Robby the bubble headed robot with whirling gears, antennae, lights, grills, ribbed flex-hose arms which can only be described as a gimballed Vegas slot machine.

The film centers it story around Altaira, who having grown up with only Morbius as a guide, is innocent and naive to the ways of the world (and wearing skimpy clothing that must have been shocking in the 50’s). As the all male crew of the C-57D journeyed two years before arriving at Altair IV, most quickly ply their best pick-up lines on her. All except the commander who of course ends up being the one she falls for.

Highly recommend for Science Fiction aficionados, those who want something a little more intellectual than a simple BEM (Bug Eyed Monster) and perhaps Shakespearean scholars.

I should add that while perusing the extra features on my Warner 2010 Blu Ray release I was surprised to find that it included The Invisible Boy, a lower budget feature film that was released the next year in order to capitalize on the popularity of Robby.

January Movie Marathon – 2020 Edition

January 24, 2020

Time for my annual 31 Movies in 31 Days challenge that I’m glad to report was successful with one caveat. In past years these were January challenges where the movies had to be watched during the month alone. Suspecting that I would be a bit busier this year I cheated a bit by shifting the challenge to begin Christmas day,and gave myself 31 days from that point, so ending January 24th (today!), which also made more sense given that those interim days between Christmas and New Years are really prime relaxing viewing days. My suspicions were correct and even with the shift I just made my quota!

Unlike previous years where my movie viewing was across the gamut of genres and eras, my son and I decided to binge rewatch all the Harry Potter movies so the scale is slightly tipped in favour of those eight movies. But I think the others films preent are a nice variety regarding content and quality. In the order in which I watched them, here are my short reviews.

#1 – Dead Snow (2009) My second viewing of this Norwegian Nazi Zombie film was not as memorable as the first time I watched it at the Fantasia film fest years ago. A bunch of young adults shack up in a remote cabin for a few days of skiing the slopes when (surprise!) World War II era SS troops led by recalcitrant commandant disturb their snow bound vacation. Some fairly funny bits and I did love the Nazis popping out of the snow like Whack-a-Moles at and arcade.

#2 – The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)  As are all the Roger Corman Poe adaptations, this one is a very loose interpretation of the source material. But with Vincent Price and Barbara Steele headlining you really can’t go wrong. And damned if there really isn’t a pit and a giant human slicing pendulum in it and other interesting devices in a torture chamber.

#3 – Christmas with the Kranks (2004) Well I had to watch at least one Holiday film for this list, didn’t I? Sadly, there are a lot better than this one. Even Jamie Lee Curtis as the wife of a couple who decided to forego Christmas for a cruise couldn’t really raise my interest above “Meh.” Should have gone with other Christman movie standards like Die Hard, Gremlins, (Yes, those last two are Christmas movies!), A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life. I guess you could say this one left me Kranky.

#4 – Mommie Dearest (1981) The legacy of silver screen diva Joan Crawford is not so much her films as the events described in the tell-all book “Mommie Dearest” (adapted here) by her daughter after her death in which she revealed that her troubled childhood included beatings with coat hangers. It made headlines at the time and I can’t get it out of my mind that arch enemy Bette Davis must have loved every minute of it. Faye Dunaway nails it as Joan. (Disclaimer: No Nails were used in the beating of the children.)

#5 – Ransom (1996) Mel Gibson turns the cards on Gary Sinise, his son’s kidnapper by putting a ransom on his head rather than paying one, much to the surprise of his own wife (Rene Russo). A decent thriller although Mel is over the top at times as is the entire premise. Much better Gibson/Russo chemistry in Lethal Weapon 3 and Gibson is crazier in that one as well.

#6 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) It’s been a long time since I watched the Harry Potter series. The first movie about the boy wizard, introduces us to Hogwarts, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Snape, McGonagall, those other meddling kids (Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley), a few muggles and not to forget: Quidditch!

#7 – The Night Strangler (1973) This was the second Kolchak TV movie before the The Night Stalker TV series. (I already watched The Night Strangler  pilot movie which started it all a month earlier). l Always wanted to watch the proto-X Files series and I’m finally getting around now 47 years later.  This one has Kolchak (Darrin McGavin) being aided by an exotic dancer (Jo Ann Pflug) solve the mystery of a recurring murderer popping up every few decades since the civil war.

#8 – Harry Potter and the Secret Chamber (2002) Harry, with the help of Ron, Hermione, Dobby the elf, Moaning Myrtle (not a porn star as you would be led to believe), and a book previously owned by Voldemont himself rescue Ron’s sister from the titular chamber. And of course more Quidditch!

#9 – Halloween (2019) I was very excited to hear that there would be another Halloween reboot after the dismal last entry in Rob Zombie’s reboot. The fact that Jamie Lee Curtis was returning in her original role sealed the deal. Now I have to admit that this was not as good as I had hoped and the slow, predictable start nearly had me give up on it entirely but stick with it to the end, bear some of the sillier aspects, and it does carve out a place for itself in the Halloween pantheon. At least it’s a lot better than some of the others.

#10 – The Rock (1996) When a bunch of uber-patriot elite Marines feel slighted by their country they take over Alcatraz and threaten to launch missiles they’ve set up on the isle of the former prison. Without any accurate blueprints and layout of the compound they ask a current convict Sean Connery who is also being screwed over to help.The plot is as convincing as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but it’s Bad-Ass Connery so who cares?

#11 – Godzilla VS. Hedorah (1971) Read review here.

#12 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) Someone is out to kill Harry, Ron’s rat escapes, and there’s a werewolf. If nothing else, this was an excuse to get Gary Oldman into the storyline. And there’s a game of Quidditch against a team with the unlikely name of Hufflepuff.

#13 – The Thirteenth Floor (1999) Twists and turns galore as character’s jack-into a 1930’s virtual world with mols, cops, murder and mystery. Sure the effects are dated (even for that time) but this is all about plot and plotting and the truth is a doozy!

#14 – Red Eye (2005) Nearly the entire film takes place within the confines of an airplane as a hotel manager is coerced by a terrorist (Cillian Murphy) to make particular arrangements for a special guest.

#15 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) Not just any Quidditch but nothing less than the World Cup of Quidditch. And then a Tri-Wizard tournament! Sounds like a lot of fun except for that Voldemort dude killing folks.

#16 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) Harry Potter gets expelled from Hogwarts! Actually one of the better films in the series but (egads!) no Quidditch! Includes one of the most wasted character names in cinematic history: Nymphadora Tonks. Nuff said.

#17 – The Purge (2013) The Purge series of films set in a not too distant future America in which once a year, for 24 hours, people can kill one another to ‘purge’ pent up frustration (the thinking being that it’s somehow better in the long term). This first movie has an upper scale family being safely locked in their home until one of the kids decides to ‘save’ a stranger being hunted. But the stranger ends up being the least of their problems.

#18 – Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009) The ‘blood’ in the title must be indicative of the many fluids in the plot including love potions, poison, liquid luck, and mead. My least favorite of the series and more a setup for the ending in the next installment.

#19 – Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) Read review here.

#20 – First Strike (1996) Jackie Chan dishes out his usual “Chan-anigans” as a Hong Kong cop helping the CIA nab an arms dealer in Australia and meeting up with some Russians. I think they were going for International appeal.

#21 – The House that Dripped Blood (1971) Read review here

#22 – Dead Reckoning (1947) Humphrey Bogart has to track down his best friend and fellow former paratrooper after he ditches at a train stop just before the to are set to receive prestigious war medals in Washington. Following a byzantine set of clues (including a false name to begin with) he finds that his buddy was an accused murder on the run. But why did he suddenly go back to the scene of the crime and them seem to disappear altogether. Bogey has to rely on his buddy’s former gal (Lizbeth Scott) but can he even trust her? (prosecution witness?)

#23 – Duck Soup (1933) You can never go wrong with The Marx Brothers’ vaudevillian humour. Between Groucho’s fire-a-minute witty one liners, Harpo’s voiceless antics, and Chico’s accented haggling and scheming, who needs a plot? But if things like that are important to you, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is sworn in as the new leader of Freedonia to remedy their cash shortage, while his brothers are bumbling infiltrators sent in from a rival country hoping to start a war. I won’t mention Zeppo.

#24 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) Harry and his friends ‘jump the shark’ with this entry in the series. What began as a fun, interesting saga with great characters has transgressed into a dark, repetitive here as they set up the finale in Part 2. And not even one damn Quidditch game (although a Snitch figures prominently in the plot).

#25 – Romeo Is Bleeding (1993) A greedy cop (Gary Oldman) earns a little extra side income by tipping off the mob on informant hideout information but things start to go wrong when they take out an informant about to spill their secrets but also take a few cops with them in their assault. Not only can he not back out of their little deal, but he is now being forced to take out one of those informants on his own. But Mona (Lena Olin) is no mere informant, but a mob hitwoman who took out the previous informant and a roomful of cops. Intense, action packed, saucy and sentimental.

#26 – Forbidden Planet (1956) Read review next week here!

#27 – The Money Pit (1986) Mid-eighties rom-com where a young couple (Shelley Long and Tom Hanks) are suddenly in need of a place to stay and chance upon a mansion that needs a little work but is surprisingly within their limited means. But as all “too good to be true” parables their fortunate find ends up putting a strain on their relationship as their dream house begins to crumble before their very eyes. Corny but fun.

#28 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) I must admit that my disappointment with part one of this finale was fully redeemed with this satisfying ending. All the questions, some looming since the very beginning, are answered here although not always to fan’s hopes. Which is as is should be. My one complaint was that a lot of scenes seemed to be pilfered directly from other blockbusters including Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. How many times must we see hordes of evil creatures descending on an isolated hamlet backstopping the forces of good? How many times must we see the two most powerful characters, good vs evil, deploy mystical weapons against each other, streaming in mid air (conveniently in different colors), to determine which is stronger?

#29 – Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935) One of nearly fifty movies featuring the illustrious pulp-era Chinese sleuth (the first few being silent era films and many of the others now lost). Hard to believe that it’s been nearly 40 years since the last, loosely based on a real life Hawaiian detective of Chinese descent. Scored ten DVDs last week so I’ll be enjoying a few more. This one even has Stepin Fetchit who only adds to negative stereotypes depicted in these films. (The DVDs even include a warning lest some be offended.)

#30 – Watching the Detectives (2007) Not the Elvis Costello song but a film about a versed film buff (Cillian Murphy) who owns and runs a low key video rental store whose life gets turned around when he meets quirky Violet (Lucy Liu) who lives her life on the edge, moment by moment while playing sophisticated, agonizing pranks on him. Some pacing irritants but the characters make up for it. I must confess that I just loved all the movie references bantered between all the video store employees although the message of the film is to abandon viewing and start to live instead. Disingenuous as had I done that I wouldn’t have watched this film.

#31 – Fury (1936) This was Fritz Lang’s first American film after escaping an increasingly Nazi led Germany. Spencer Tracy is a hardworking, honest man saving every penny so that he can get married to the love of his life. But life throws him a curveball just as he has finally saved up enough and is on his way to meet his fiance when he is thrown in jail suspected of being a member of a group of kidnappers that have taken a child. As word of the capture spreads across the grapevine, the overzealous townsfolk have made up their mind and storm the jailhouse which is soon engulfed in flames. Miraculously managing to escape the inferno, the innocent man, now out for blood himself, decides to lay low as a number of the lynch mob are put on trial for his murder having established that they had the wrong man. Great suspense and pathos.

Movie Reviews 422 – The House that Dripped Blood (1970)

January 17, 2020

My love for The House that Dripped Blood began long before I saw the film. While there have been many horror films for which my adoration started from reading horror magazines as a kid, in this case it was not because of any article but rather the use of the gorier portion of movie poster (just look at it!) as part of the cover of the september 1971 issue (#86) of Famous Monsters. (Ironically not one of the countless acclaimed Basil Gogos painted covers for that magazine.)

While esteemed Hammer studios produced the bulk of the British horrors of the sixties and seventies, the smaller Amicus Productions who copied Hammer’s Bosoms and Blood formula were known for producing anthology films comprised of three or four self contained stories with a “wrapper” story that tied them all together. (Another fine anthology example being Black Sabbath).

Aside from the beautifully graphic gory poster (surprisingly actually relevant to one of the stories) this film stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee – horror royalty if there ever was – Jon Pertwee (best known as the third doctor in the Doctor Who TV series) and if that weren’t enough, scream queen Ingrid Pitt. I don’t think I would be alone in stating that in this case the house itself – with or without the blood – can be considered a character. While plain looking on the outside, the interior is full of old portraits, statuary, and beautiful ornate carvings. Just the perfect digs for a horror setting.

Famous Monsters issue #86, September 1971

Every one of the four segments in this anthology with styles range from dead serious to mildly amusing are solid stories.

In the first, a horror novelist and his wife rent the house for a short period so that he can finish his latest book. But almost as soon as they settle in the husband begins having apparitions of an ashen faced, gnarly smiling man both in and around the house. While he believes a character from the very book he is writing is the haunting entity, his wife cannot see this man. In the end, there is not one but two delicious twists to the story.

Next is the story of a recently retired stockbroker (Cushing) that buys the house hoping to relax in his golden years, reminiscing memories of some young past lover. As he strolls through the nearby town one afternoon he is enticed by a wax museum that catches his eye. Inside he is shocked when he comes across a ghastly exhibit of a woman holding a platter with a man’s severed head upon it. The troubling aspect is not the horror of the display but the fact that the woman depicted is clearly the woman whose memory he romanticizes.  When an old friend visits him they suffer the same shocking reaction to waxen woman. The woman is one they both loved at some point and both men feel compelled to return to the display. But the man is unable to convince his friend that going back can only lead to some heinous resolution. He was right on that point.

The story starring Christophe Lee has him moving into the house as a single parent to a very young girl. The live in tutor he hires for the daughter notices both his disassociation with the child and a number of strict odd rules he imposes including that she have absolutely no dolls. It turns out he had every good reason for those rules. Too bad the tutor did not know the real reasons before it was too late.

The last segment hilariously depicts Pertwee as conceited old horror actor making yet another vampire film with one of his usual vivacious co-stars (Pitt). Flouting his knowledge of horror and vampires, he purchases a cloak from an antique shop to be used in the film. Not only does the cloak have a surprise for him but so does his co-star. There one particularly clever line where Pertwee brags about his illustrious career playing Dracula while putting down “this new fellow”, clearly a comical reference to Christopher Lee who was at the time the de facto reigning Dracula at Hammer.

Cast aside, genre fans will immediately note the name in the credits of former pulp writer Robert Bloch, best known for penning the original Psycho novel, but who’s talents garnered him Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards.

While my heart will always be with Hammer when it comes to Gothic horror, films like this remind me that other studios like Amicus are good for an occasional bloody drip as well.

Movie Reviews 421 – Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)

January 10, 2020

During the midst of the Italian Spaghetti Western craze other countries started to get in on the action, so to speak. Two Mules for Sister Sarah is a Mexican production that has the odd pairing of Clint Eastwood, the predominant Goombah oater at the time, with the whimsical Shirley MacLaine best known for her comedic talents.

What brought back memories of this movie was watching Tarantino’s Django Unchained and hearing the distinct whistling of Ennio Morricone’s great “The Braying Mule” theme song from this movie (you can hear a mule bray if you listen carefully) as well as “Sister Sara’s Theme” later in the film. But the relationship to Django Unchained is actually something of a triangle as there are distinct plot elements here that were lifted right from the original Django. For starters, this movie begins with our protagonist Hogan (Eastwood) meandering in the mountains when he suddenly comes across a damsel in distress, Sara (MacLaine) about to be raped by a group of armed thugs. With precision gunslinging Hogan picks of the ravagers like a 5-7-10 bowling split and ends up being accompanied by the woman, shocked to find out that she is a nun, the rest of the film. This is not only the exact same beginning as Django but the revelation of Sara’s true identity – which I’m not going to mention here as it would spoil the movie – is also nearly identical.

Hogan is on a mission to aide Mexican revolutionaries take out a French garrison in the city of Chihuahua with a promise to get half of the gold being held there should they succeed. As it turns out, Sara has intimate knowledge of the layout and defence of that garrison. A fortuitous meeting for a pair made in heaven – well at least the nun.

While evading the French cavalry who have a particular sore to settle with Sara, the duo avoid rattlesnakes and dynamite the odd trestle bridge making their way to the city. Dealing with her constant prayers, huge silver cross that Sara brandishes to ward off evil and her feisty temperament that is conveniently flexible to catholic doctrines whenever necessary, Hogan must fight off the urge to get his hands on his lovely companion who is much more than she claims to be. The two trade barbs as Brother and Sister children, polar opposites pitting his carefree, vagabond lifestyle against her feigned abstinence and purity.

The revelation isn’t much of a surprise but both the comedy and action are more than enough to sustain this odd western. The climactic battle pulls no punches and even has a bit of gore that would make Sam Peckinpah proud. Entertaining, but make no mistake that this is not anywhere near Eastwood as his Man with No Name spaghetti best.

Call this one a spaghettini western with a bit of salsa.