Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

Movie Reviews 439 – The Whip and the Body (1963)

June 26, 2020

I’ve been inordinately busy the last while and had to severely curtail my usual movie viewing habits to just one or two films a week so I decided to treat myself to the equivalent of a “sure thing”, a viewing of a Mario Bava film I have never seen before.

La Frusta e il Corpo has a few surprises, the first being the many alternate English titles it was released under. Mainly found as The Whip and the Body you can also find it as “The Whip and the Flesh”, “Night is the Phantom”, and, most bizarrely, titled simply as “What”. One smaller surprise is the appearance of star Christopher Lee, or should I say not his inclusion but his hairstyle. I’ve never seen him with a plain, side part cut and I actually had to take a double, even triple, take before I was satisfied it was really him I was seeing. But fans of Lee will be delighted to learn that his role is satisfyingly evil and right at home as he plays the part of Victorian era pariah in this multi-layered, dysfunctional family horror drama.

The emphasis on romance, spurned, feigned, hidden, and even violent, is evident with the seductive score from the very first few notes. Kurt (Lee), the outcast son of a elderly Count, returns to the family’s seaside castle to reclaim the entitlements he lost when he was disowned by his father. As it so happens one of the things he lost was the love of Nevenka (Daliah Lavi) recently wed to Kurt’s straight laced brother Christian (Tony Kendall).

Kurt meets up with Nevenka on the beach below the castle cliff and tries to seduce and rekindle her love for him. In doing so he viciously whips the sadomasochistic loving Nevenka as the surf crashes and her screams fade into the night. Despised and unwelcome by all, Kurt becomes the focal suspect when Nevenka fails to return that night. Not only is Kurt a scoundrel, but the very reason he was turned away in the first place was his role in the suicide death of the daughter of the Count’s servant. That girl’s memory is enshrined in a glass case containing a solitary rose and the dagger she used to commit her final deed.

Nevenka is found the following day on the beach, still alive but shaken and that night the very same dagger is used by someone to kill Kurt in his darkened room. The suspects include nearly everybody from Kurt’s dying father, his jealous brother, the servant mother of the girl who killed herself and even his brother’s mistress, his cousin Katia. But apparitions of Kurt and the fact that the dagger used to kill him inexplicably was the one encased point to a supernatural influence at play and even suspicions that Kurt is one of the ‘un-dead’.

While this is clearly a lurid tale with Bava’s signature kaleidoscopic color palette to match, the sexuality is rather surprisingly tame, relying on hints and suggestive dialogue. The films straddles being a Gothic horror and a whodunit mystery with just enough to satisfy both audiences. Many elements such as the seemingly incessant howling winds, slowly turning door handles, muddy boot prints and a swivelling fireplace work well for either genre. All in all, another solid Bava oeuvre.

My DVD from VCI Entertainment features a restored, uncut European version that includes the infamous beach scene (often censored), but oddly retains Bava’s directorial credit listed as pseudonym John M. Old and has opening credits that are a mix of English and Italian. Another peculiarity I’ve never seen before for such a short feature, a mere 88 minutes, is the film being needlessly segmented as Part One and Part Two. I’m sure there is a story behind all these weird aspects of this cut, but sadly the only Special Feature on the DVD was a commentary track by a critic and no separate interviews or featurettes.

Movie Reviews 438 – The Andromeda Strain (1971)

June 13, 2020

The Andromeda Strain is one of those films that I can watch over and over again, and as it seemed it was on TV at least once a year back in the 2 channels only days, that was exactly what I did. Based on Michael Crichton’s first novel, this was also his first hit which ushered him in as the Hollywood science-writer wunderkind at the top of his game coming out with Westworld (as a screen play) and The Terminal Man in quick succession.

The film begins with a brief docu-drama preamble listing some pseudo-facts of scientists probing space for dust particles for study, but also also with a hint to biological-warfare research. With that as an introduction we then see two obvious government types spying on a very remote New Mexico town (population: 68) from afar. They are searching for a lost satellite when they notice that buzzards hovering over the town before they eventually venture in. Their last moments are recorded as dying screams over the radio.

This sets in motion Project Wildfire, a feared for and meticulously planned project to deal with the improbable but possible introduction of microscopic alien life on Earth. The brainchild of Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill), he and a preselected chosen team of scientists are summarily rounded up and hauled to the secret Wildfire facility tucked away in the Nevada desert. There they are challenged to both find the particle and decipher the alien physiology as the clock ticks with the worry that it will spread across the globe before it can be contained.

The group consists of a feisty microbiologist (Kate Reid), a grandfatherly pathologist (David Wayne), and Dr. Hall (James Olson) a last minute backup replacement medical doctor who ends up being one of the most important given his marital status. For safety reasons, WIldfire is equipped with a failsafe nuclear bomb that is set to go off in the event of a contamination leak and based on the ‘odd man hypothesis’ should that alarm sound, only Dr. Hall has the capability to defuse the bomb.

If the tension among them solving the problem at hand weren’t enough, undisclosed medical issues, simple mechanical failures, communications disruptions, the cliché requisite decision needed by the president, and of course that bomb ready to blow ratchet the drama. More perplexing are the clues they have to work with, two surprising, yet seemingly complete opposite survivors found in the town. One is a newborn crying baby and the other is a semi-crazed old man. Both should be dead given the circumstance and yet the fact that they are alive prove that there is a solution to containing the organism.

This is a great techno-thriller that stands the test of time not only due to the realistic approach applied to science but by the all too real threat it presents. The production values spared no expense in creating a contemporary, yet highly advanced scientific complex that remains impressive watching it today. Moreover, most of the gadgetry and props are utilized within the plot and are not just added to impress us. The scientist undergo an admirably detailed, lengthy, multi-phase decontamination process as they descend through the complex, each successive lower level being biologically cleaner than the one above it. There are plenty of robotic remote manipulators, full body glove boxes, realistic successive video zoom magnifications, and some dazzling moving  three dimensional images of the life form. If it weren’t for the ancient teleprompter scrolls, teletypes and stencilled door markings.you’d hardly know this was a fifty year old film.

One thing that does belie it’s age is a number of shocking animal testing scenes with rats and rhesus monkeys. While many appear to die gruesome agonizing deaths, it seems that while they were really exposed to gases that knocked them out cold during filming, they did survive those scenes. Not for the squeamish for sure, but once again it does enhance the realism of the entire film.

The film plays with the notion that the entire ordeal was a byproduct of a military research operation into potential biological warfare weaponry and for added drama has a bit of a cop-out, open ended final scene. But the all too real scenario depicted, especially given this current pandemic, raises the spectre of a worse fate lest we not be prepared. One has to wonder if there really is a Wildfire lab somewhere out there. I hope so.

Movie Reviews 437 – The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

June 4, 2020

We’ve been living in a political dark period for some time now. The growing presence of Internet social networking sites has transformed them into powerful political influence conduits that are not only vulnerable, but being actively exploited not only by political parties, but also foreign powers which are even a greater threat.

While some of the younger people may believe that this is a new phenomena that has come about because of online social networking, the manipulation of a voting public has been around since there have been politicians. Newspapers going back hundreds of years have been empires built and manipulated by controlling owners, often brazenly favoring candidates, parties or ideological stripes. When Television came along, it proved an even more powerful tool given the inherent audio and video capabilities.

One of the first presidential campaigns in which it is acknowledged television was a deciding factor was the John F. Kennedy win over Nixon in 1961. Charisma aside, even makeup and lighting during the televised debate proved to present remarkable differences between the men. Ironically president Kennedy plays a part in this review of The Manchurian Candidate, a classic thriller that hinges on the then nascent Cold War.

Former Korean War prisoner Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) returns home to a hero’s welcome orchestrated by his mother Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) who stages the event as a photo opportunity for her husband, Senator Iselin (James Gregory) who is running for president. Shaw, despising his manipulative mother and buffoon step-father is being bestowed a congressional Medal of Honor, hailed for reputedly escaping his captors and single handedly saving a number of his battle comrades.

The only problem is that none of what he remembers actually happened. While he and the others have clouded recollections of the official story, they have lingering nightmares of an entirely different scenario. In their dreams they are seated onstage listening to a speech on horticulture delivered to a women’s auxiliary club. But those very memories waver and at times the women are actually Communist henchmen, and even worse, a brainwashed Shaw obediently chokes a fellow serviceman when asked. That dead serviceman is one who supposedly was killed in action.

These conflicting memories have a greater impact on Shaw’s former commanding officer, Maj. Marco (Frank Sinatra) who never got along with the loutish Shaw, and yet when asked what he thinks about him uncontrollably replies in a trancelike state “Raymond Shaw is the bravest, kindest, warmest most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.” Marco’s persistence in flagging the authorities that something is wrong finally pays off, but while convinced Shaw has been brainwashed by the enemy, the purpose for his release and supposed mission remain unknown. That is until Marco figures out the psychological trigger, the appearance of the Queen of Hearts in a card deck, which makes Shaw submissive to following instructions.

This is an edge-of-your-seat thriller with remarkable performances by the entire cast, but particularly by Lansbury as the ice-cold calculating pivotal figure. The unloved Shaw whose only redeeming quality is seeing his mother for what she is, has a brief tinge of humanity restored when he falls for the daughter (Leslie Parrish) of his step-father’s political nemesis (John McGiver), but even that interlude falls victim to his mother’s interference. The entire relationship is as interesting as the political intrigue and there are some not so subtle hints of an incestuous relationship. Less enjoyable is a shoehorned in love interest for Sinatra with Janet Leigh that just falls flat.

Front and center of course is the political maneuvering. While some may find the idea of simple brainwashing a bit much, as a plot element it remains effective even if only symbolically. The sequences in which the filming interleaves the old ladies transforming into a communist audience is mesmerizing. If the ending were not good enough after we find out what the endgame Shaw was being driven into, there is an added twist to make it all the better.

There was a longstanding myth that this film was pulled from theatres after JFK’s assasination due to the eerily similar aspects in the film but that has largely been dispelled over the years. What is true is that it was not promoted or marketed for a number of years following the incident and fell into obscurity for a long time until a revival in the late 80’s after which it gained praise and established itself as a classic film.

Richard Condon’s novel on which the film was based or perhaps the film itself seems to have been the inspiration for the episode The Hundred Days of the Dragon from the original Outer Limits television show. Shortly after this release director John Frankenheimer went on to helm 7 days in May which also shares elements of this story.  My MGM special edition DVD also had a nice featurette by fellow director William Friedkin as well as interviews with Frankenheimer, Sinatra and Screenplay writer George Axlerod.

I have to admit that while I have watched this film several times before, I find it all the more chilling in this political climate we find ourselves today. Foreign political interference is hardly even concealed and the effects of having a weak candidate in a position of power is all too evident.

We were warned.

Movie Reviews 436 – Graduation Day (1981)

May 29, 2020

If you were to believe the cover of my DVD (not the poster shown here) then Vanna White, the letter flipping goddess of night time game show Wheel of Fortune, was the star of the film Graduation Day. In actual fact, she barely makes opening credits, being literally the last person listed, which should prepare you for the fact that her role – if you can even call it that – is one of those ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ ones. And true to form, I did miss her while watching, but more because she was so young compared to how she later looked on the show. So right out of the gate, the expected, yet clearly misguided marketing had me wondering what I was in for.

My next surprise was to see that this was a Troma production. While the name of schlockmeister producer-director extraordinaire Lloyd Kaufman was nowhere to be found, the good folks at Troma are the ones who gave us such low brow classics as The Toxic Avenger, Father’s Day and Tales from the Crapper among the dozens of other B-film delights. Now I’m not averse to watching Troma movies, on the contrary, I believe that everyone should indulge in their brand of mindless entertainment on occasion, but I just wasn’t expecting that here.

You don’t have to be a genius to infer from the title that this film is probably about a bunch of school kids that will be ceremoniously killed off, and such turns out to be exactly the case. And for all the other flags encountered in those first few minutes, I must say that I had little hope for the rest, but I trudged on.

The film begins with a group of girls running in some high school race at track meet as they are cheered on by a grandstand of students and coaches. When one girl suddenly falters mid-stride suffering from some medical emergency and then dying right on the spot, she inadvertently sets in motion a serial killer among the student body. Taking a page from the Giallos that preceded it, the film then employs a black gloved killer point of view, stopwatch in hand, for the mounting pile of teen bodies, each death being ceremonially X’ed off from a team photo.

Included in the range of suspects is the runner’s elder sister (Patch Mackenzie), a knockout military officer who comes back home to pick up her graduation award and armed with many questions even before the spree begins. Then there is her stepfather who seems more interested in any insurance proceeds. Is it the overbearing coach (Christopher George) whose drive for athletic supremacy may not only have led to the girl’s death, but also resulted in his firing? And what’s up with the sleazy, lounge lizard, toupee wearing music teacher? The principal with the switchblade collection? The spineless cranky cop? The mystery is spiced up by a string of crude, sometimes laughable, yet still fun, student demises, mostly with some sort of sport or sport equipment involved.

I have to admit that the nostalgia factor for myself was not merely tied into the fact that this was an 80’s slasher, but the entire look and feel of the school and students brought back memories of my own high school (Go JFK!), right down to the green and yellow school colors of the skin tight gym shorts and tees. Throw in retro oversized radio headphones, roller skates, a peach colored suit, and last but not least, scream queen Linnea Quigley and I was sold. While the reveal was far from a surprise (some of the kills give it away) it does end with a nice Psycho-esque ending.

So what is my rating for this movie? I’d like Vanna to reveal the letter B please!

Movie Reviews 435 – M (1931)

May 22, 2020

German expressionist director Fritz Lang will forever be remembered as the man who brought us the silent science fiction classic Metropolis. But sometimes lost in the accolades are the many other remarkable films he gave us, one such being the singular letter titled M.

Starring future Film Noir star Peter Lorre (mister Cairo of The Maltese Falcon fame), M captures a city nearly paralyzed by the spree of a child murderer, the repercussions of which not only touches the routines of the common citizen but also the darker side of humanity. With a police force incapable of making any headway in the case, fears escalate and fingers are pointed for any act that seems out of place, even innocent ones that happen to put adults in contact with any child.

The increased vigilance from both the police and everyday civilians have an unintended but beneficial upshot: the sudden decrease in common crime. As the months drag on the hoodlum gangs feel the pinch and find themselves effectively out of business. But what can they do? The solution is to put their own manpower to do what the authorities seem incapable of doing, and that is to find this elusive child killer themselves.

Lorre plays the guilty party in this tale of vigilantism turned on its head. What begins as an intriguing mystery transforms into social commentary as two criminal elements, the child killer and the gangs who take him on, collide. Which is the greater evil? Lorre, the calculating perpetrator becomes the pitiful troubled soul forced to endure a mock trial, but given the judicial tools and exigencies he would have in a real trial. His prosecutors lay out their argument for punishment as would a bona fide judge and jury. However farcical, the proceedings and consequences are undeniably real. At the core is the argument of insanity pleas and the moral dilemma they present to victims. Lorre is sincere as he pleads the agony of his curse, his inability to control it, and how he himself is haunted by the ghosts of mothers. The final argument that “Nothing will bring the children back” is left to his court, and ours, to decide.

As are many films that emerged from post World War I Germany this film has all the innovative, stunning, avant-garde cinematography first developed by Lang and his colleagues. The German soundtrack just adds to the atmosphere. If you were wondering about that title, the letter is indeed relevant at one point in the story, but I will leave that for viewers to savour.

One of the most interesting features on the Criterion DVD set is an interview of the headstrong Lang, eyesight failing and wearing an eyepatch, recorded just before his passing by Exorcist director William Friedkin. There is also a segment that discusses how the film was edited over the years, some scenes reshot for different languages (Lorre speaking fluently French for that language’s release) and supposedly still missing footage.

Befitting the title, this one gets an “A” regardless of whichever version you come across.

Movie Reviews 434 – Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)

May 15, 2020

To say that there is some violence in Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is like saying Jackie Chan knows a bit about martial arts, an understatement if there ever was one. Based on a Japanese manga and two subsequent animes. I’ve had this DVD for sitting on my shelves for years, but I was always under the impression that this was a ‘straight up’ martial arts film. An error on my part perpetuated by the fact that it had no discernible actor credits, and for that reason it regrettably languished in my pile until this week. The fact that this was something out of the ordinary escaped me as I frankly never noticed the somewhat obscure details on the cover hinting of weirdness, but to be fair the artwork on my DVD (not the poster shown here) looks more like a traditional combat film.

Once the movie begins however, all notions of ‘regular’ fly out the window. Set in the ‘future’ year of 2001 where penal institutions are corporately run (ironically semi-prescient I realize), Ricky (Siu-Wong Fan) is just arriving at a prison to the usual taunts and mistreatment by his new captors. But rather than taking it in stride he immediately lets it be known that he will not be messed with, whether it be at the hands of the corrupt guards or any of the jailbird gangs.

With the warden currently away on vacation the prison is under the command of gluttonous “Cyclops Dan” (Mei Sheng Fan) who has one removable bad eye (containing breath mints) and a double clawed prosthetic hand. From his food filled office with a sizeable collection of pornography videocassettes he directs the three prisoner cell block gang leaders, and more importantly, the illicit drugs they produce within the penitentiary walls.

Through a series of heartwarming flashbacks we learn how Ricky ended up in prison and how those events loosely tie into the gang members he ends up brawling in there. But as bad as it is at first, it is nothing compared to the battle that ensues once the warden himself returns to the prison and learns of this new superhuman prisoner who has destroyed his sideline narcotic operation.

As corny as the action sequences are, Siu-Wong Fan’s physique is impressive. While he is no Bruce Lee by any stretch, he does have the washboard abs and notable upper bulk to carry the part. But the comparisons end there as the fights are poorly staged, relying solely on the outrageousness and the resulting spurting fountains of blood for entertainment value.

It’s non-stop nails to the (obviously rubber) faces, fists through abdomens, exploding heads, popping eyes (I lost count), zapping electrical charges, dismembered limbs, and flying slabs of styrofoam concrete. You get the picture. There is a fleeting semblance of a plot and a hockey backstory explaining Ricky’s superhuman strength, but this is mostly one battle or torture scene to the next. Basically Ricky and the righteous inmates who cheer for him against the warden, Cyclops Dan and the three gang leaders, each of which has a notable combat specialty and who look like discotheque escapees. As an added bonus, all the dubbed dialogue is delivered in 70’s jive talk. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but it makes the film just that much more outrageous.

In a nutshell, Riki-Oh is an onslaught of over-the-top fight sequences featuring some of the most blatantly cheesy special effects and doused in gallons of corn syrup blood that will have you grinning more than cringing.

I was hoping that my Media Asia Group DVD would have some extra features with more information on the film itself but it only contained some trailers. The good news was that those trailers for the films (Heroes Shed No Tears, Last Hurrah for Chivalry, Duel to the Death, and Magnificent Butcher in case you were interested) were awesome, each more mind blowing than the last.

 

Movie Reviews 433 – King Kong (1976)

May 8, 2020

You know the story. A ship in search of some precious resource journeys to a supposedly secret mid-ocean island, perpetually shrouded by fog. When the crew make landfall they are surprised to not only find a race of wild natives, but the natives have enclosed their village within a towering fence and sing and dance praises to simian deity. The inhabitants are captivated by the young blonde and fair skinned woman who, through some odd circumstances, arrives with the ship’s entourage. The natives kidnap the woman, tie her spread eagled to an offering altar outside the perimeter of their enclosed village, and await the mighty beast King Kong. But Kong takes a shining to the beauty. In attempting to rescue her, the ship’s contingent capture the mighty Kong, and with visions of fortunes, bring him to the Big Apple, to show their miraculous find to the world. But Kong makes his escape, and with the girl in hand makes his way to the top of the Empire State building, only to plummet to his doom.

The original 1933 King Kong created a stir at the time of it’s release largely because of the then revolutionary stop motion cinematography by Willis O’Brien and has remained a cult favorite ever since. It wasn’t until 1976 that King Kong finally got a remake by none other than the flamboyant Italian Dino De laurentiis. The producer, known to be somewhat of a sensationalist with movies like Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik, also produced a vast number of mainstream movies after starting his career with Fellini films. Never shying away from thinking “Big” this King Kong would be different while still adhering to the conventional story.

Most notably this film substituted the then newly opened World Trade Center twin towers as substitutes for the Empire State building, a fact prominently featured in the magnificent John Berkley porter art – despite the highly exaggerated proportions added for appeal. When it came to production and the depiction of Kong himself, the big question was of course which type of technology would bring the gargantuan ape to life. Costuming and practical effects had come a long way since the original and so for the vast majority of the shots a costume developed by Rick Baker and Carlo Rimbaldi was used with Baker himself donning the suit despite not being pleased with the final product. While the evident man-in-a-suit is certainly a detraction at times, they compensated with a number of clever superimposed live action foregrounds and backgrounds and innovative angles. Some animatronics were used such as the mandatory ‘giant hand’ gripping our shrieking heroine (Jessica Lange in her first film gig), and even some embedded within the suit to better articulate facial gestures.

In this remake, made at the tail end of the 70’s energy crisis, the original mission of the ship is a search for a hidden oil reserve by a corporate climber (Charles Grodin) working for the Petrox corporation. Desperately needing a boost to his boardroom ambitions, he relies on a geologist’s (René Auberjonois) satellite research of the island whose very existence only recently came to light. Their plans are thwarted by Jack, a stowaway paleontologist (Jeff Bridges, unshaven here and nearly as scruffy as Kong) who is convinced that some huge animal is living on the island. The damsel-in-distress, a wannabe movie starlet, arrives via a mid-ocean drifting dinghy and immediately takes a shine to Jack to complete the eventual interspecies love triangle.

This film is a bit of hodgepodge in that while we do get the thrills of seeing a decent (but sometimes flawed) Kong, you really do have to put your brain aside to enjoy it and even then there are moments you just can’t help groaning. There is so much of an attempt to focus on Lange’s beauty that we have to accept that she arrives wearing a spotless, pristine black evening dress after being adrift for who knows how long. Her on-ship wardrobe thereafter is supposedly cobbled up from sewn sailor threads, but inexplicably that ends up being a pair of skimpy, snug denim hot pants. Kong’s handling of her includes an exhale breath blow dry after her taking a waterfall shower (think wet T-shirt contest) and literally stripping her at one point. Making matters worse is her ditsy horoscope revelations that include her “Crossing water and meeting the biggest person in my life”. So sexual is her presence in the film that she even has a silly line about how she was saved by Deep Throat. (Dig into the history of pornography to understand that one kids. Skip the Watergate references.)

On the positive side this was a successful showcase for the World Trade Center, now of course ingrained in all of us after the events of 9/11. Watching the ads for this film back then was the first time I became personally aware of the towers as I must have missed news of the plans to change the Manhattan skyline with them earlier. I love how the film cleverly integrated them by having Kong associate the towers with the two restraining poles of the sacrificial altar back on the island. On my visits to the towers in years before 9/11 I would always think of King Kong while standing on the observatory floors.

One last comment on this King Kong is that when the beast comes to his eventual demise, it is presented in a very shocking and bloody end. Given the fate of those towers it stands as a startlingly prescient moment.

Movie Reviews 432 – Evil bong (2006)

May 1, 2020

I’m a huge fan of B-movie producer, director and writer Charles Band and the many films he created with his mini-empire of companies, the most notable being Full Moon Features.  For those who aren’t familiar with his low budget movies – over 300 films and still going strong – he has a tendency to revisit titles that gain traction, creating such series’ as Subspecies, Trancers, Demonic Toys, and my favorite by far, the many Puppet Master films (the first six films in the series I reviewed here and here).

Now with Evil Bong I had no idea what I was in for other than what the title offered and as it was in one of those multiple film horror boxes (8 films on two disks, half being Band films) I did not even have a decent cover photo to rely on. But the title pretty much says it and as the title credits rolled to the tune of a Rasta-like score, the cast of unknowns ended with none other than the godfather of ganja himself, Tommy Chong so I knew I was in for a good, if not high, time.

A pointdexterish dweeb answering an ad to share an apartment ends up living with three airheads: a surfer dude, a jock, and disinherited wealthy washout. When one of the doobie boys comes across an ad in High Times magazine for a vintage, reputedly haunted bong he responds to the ad while dismissing the seller’s unusual warning. When said bong arrives it is an intricately decorative piece with a nondescript inlaid female face, but the boys are more interested in lighting her up than heeding any caution.

The surfer dude is the first to succumb to the bong’s trance, fiendishly smoking the skunk until his essence is spirited away to some mystical dimension strip joint! But the gals there give him more than a show and he soon succumbs to them, his body dying in real life back in the pad. As the other boys try to hide the body, they too soon fall prey to the bong’s life sucking aura, as the bong begins developing facial features and world domination ambitions. Their only hope lies with a stoner former owner of the bong (Chong) to destroy it.

While not as imbued with a more intricate plot as is found in most earlier Band productions, it nevertheless does contain some of his staples, notably some animatronic puppetry and buxom babes. As one can imagine there are plenty of corny dopey scenes (aside from the actual dope) including a variety of ‘killer’ bikini tops in the dreamlike strip joint that are used as the coup-de-grace killing of the victims.

While the film is funny at times I will be honest and say that given the subject matter, which I felt would provide plenty of fodder for laughs, I felt it wasn’t as imaginative as I had hoped. Chong is well Chong, but minor roles by talents Bill Mosely and Phil Fondacaro are wasted here.

I was in a good enough mood to watch the entire end credits which surprisingly contained a trailer for the sequel Evil Bong 2: King Bong which honestly looked more interesting. And like so many other Band films, Evil Bong has developed into an entire series, eight to be exact (at least so far) if you count the Gingerbread Man Vs. Evil Bong crossover. Enough to satiate any craving and give you the munchies.

Movie Reviews 431 – The Invisible Man (1933)

April 23, 2020

Even with the limited availability to horror entertainment I had as a kid (in the form of a few comics, some hand-me-down Famous Monsters magazines, newspapers and two black and white TV channels), aside from Godzilla or King Kong, the monsters that gave me prepubescent hard-ons were undoubtedly the Universal studio monsters. But even among those classics there were the top triumvirate of stars, Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman, and then there were what I consider the second tier in The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And last, but certainly not least there was The Invisible Man.

I’m not quite sure why The Invisible Man always got the short end of the stick when it came to popularity but I would assume that part of the reason was that it becomes a lot trickier trying to market something that you can’t even see. And that’s a shame because it does have a lot going for it.

Claude Rains is no Karloff or Lugosi when it comes to horror film repertoire, but as a mainstream actor his credentials are unquestionable being four time Oscar nominee of many classic films. Oddly enough he was cast here in this starring role, his first American film, solely for his voice, and as you listen to him in the film, you can understand why. Directed by Frankenstein director James Whale, The film was based on the HG Wells novel, but because Wells was unhappy with his adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau (filmed as The Island of Lost Souls) he was able to secure control over the script so it is fairly faithful to the source.

The central special effects, not merely makeup and prosthetics, which features a live and moving actor with seemingly invisible portions of his exposed body, required intricate filming techniques and is still remarkably effective today. No shortcuts are taken either as we not only witness articles of clothing coming on and off, but also the removal of rolls of bandages covering his head when not fully invisible. Of course there are also a few gimmick shots like a self propelled bicycle and others.

The mostly serious dramatic approach to the plot has a few well placed and timed comical sequences (shrieks really) highlighted by booze nipping character actress Una O’Connor and some Keystone Cops bungling. The plot, simple enough, is about a scientist who achieves a breakthrough in his research to develop an invisibility agent, but with the unfortunate side effect that it slowly turns him mad (a recurring theme that will remain prevalent in the sequels) and soon has him dreaming of world domination while at the same time seeking a cure to regain opacity – at least at first. His descent into insanity is peppered with maniacal laughs and by the end devolves into power crazed monologues.

My DVD box set from the Universal Monsters Legacy set included the four sequels including The Invisible Man Returns starring Vincent Price in the title role, but who much like Rains in the original we only get a glimpse of him at the very end. The third instalment takes quite a turn in more than one way. The Invisible Woman not only opted for a different perspective in gender, but went out for all comedy in a Three Stooges manner. I’m not kidding as Shemp Howard, the sometime Stooge when the original Curly died, has a minor role in this one. As a comedy you could do worse but it’s too jarring a change to really fit in with the series. It took World War II and patriotism to bring out The Invisible Agent in which the original Invisible man’s grandson disrobes to help the allies’ effort. This marked a return to a serious (if cliché) plot of Nazi maneuvering to get the invisibility serum and Peter Lorre as a Japanese foil. The last of the original series was The Invisible Man’s Revenge, easily the most inferior of the series, presenting a psychotic man who has been wronged by friends and seeking revenge with invisibility bestowed by a scientist. The only redeemable character is the scientist played by John Carradine. This box set also included Now You See Him, a great documentary on the making of the film, somewhat explaining how some of the effects were achieved, as well as some discussion on the sequels.

This film is a horror classic that, counter to the implication of the title, offers a lot more than the eye can see. Well worth a watch.

Movie Reviews 430 – The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976)

April 9, 2020

Is this pandemic isolation getting you down? Things can be worse you know, even from an isolation point of view. Consider the people who have the Severe Combined Immunodeficiency genetic disorder. Immortalized on Seinfeld in the hilarious “The Bubble Boy” episode, this was not the first time the disorder was featured on television. That credit indirectly goes to another television comedy show.

Soon after the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter hit the airwaves it made a stars out of the dysfunctional students in inner the city high school class featured in the series. The studio execs at host network ABC singled out John Travolta in particular for greater stardom, and he was soon cast in the starring role of the made-for-television movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.

The story is about Tod (Travolta) a boy born into a family with a genetic predisposition to the disorder, his fate being determined pre-birth and confirming his parents worst fears. After living a few years in isolation in a hospital, his parents (played by “Brady Bunch” dad Robert Reed and Diana Hyland) research and convince his doctor (Ralph Bellamy) that with an elaborate similar setup he can be brought into their home. But with all the provisions and barriers, the boy grows up shielded and distant from anything normal and becomes a news and media sensation for his every move.

As a teenager Tod is relatively intelligent and well learned, developing an interest in space exploration and sciences. He spies frequently on his next door neighbour Gina (Glynnis O’Connor) one of the few kids he grew up with however infrequent and distant they interacted with one another. The urge to break out of his shell (as well as hormonal calls) soon embitters Tod until he gets the bright idea to attend school via a remote TV monitor and camera system (naturally being placed in Gina’s class) eventually even attending in person using a space-like self contained environment suit.

Of course he falls for Gina who isn’t exactly as enamoured by the idea and worse, goes along with some friends mocking Tod and his condition. With promises that there may eventually be a cure for his condition or that he may slowly develop an immune system on his own, Tod has to make some tough decisions.

As television movies go, you can certainly do worse than this but it does have some cringe worthy dialog and corny scenes, the pinnacle being when Tod is introduced to lunar astronaut Buzz Aldrin. I found it particularly funny that even at that young age and at the very beginning of his career there was already a scene in which the later Saturday Night Fever star was cutting some nifty dance moves despite being solo.

Adding to the 70’s vintage video is a theme song by prolific and acclaimed singer, songwriter and actor Paul Williams and even a brief appearance by “Throw Momma from the Train”’s Anne Ramsey. And speaking of Mommas, offscreen loverboy Travolta had a real life tryst with Hyland (that’s right, the woman playing his mom, not his love interest), reputedly having her die from cancer in his arms just a little over a year later.

Unfortunately my DVD contained such a lousy source or transfer that it was almost like looking through a bubble myself. And for the record, there is no scene in which The Bubble Boy plays Trivial Pursuit so we’ll never know if “The Moops” is the correct answer to  “Who invaded Spain in the eighth century?”