Category Archives: 30Hz Cinema

The 30Hz movie-related ramblings

31 Days of Horror: 2015

Last year I called out to the masses, urging them to join me on a cleansing 31-Day Horror Shame-a-thon. As many horror movies as you can watch in one month — the catch? They all had to be shamers, movies you regret not having seen at this point in your moviewatching career. I had one taker. (Thanks, Kerry!) Well, this year, I’m done with with the safety-in-numbers thing. This time, see, I’m going it alone (alone except for everyone else out there doing their own lists… like Jaime Burchardt, who does this for super serious). All the horror and rigors of a brutal moviewatching regimen without a specific support group, plus, you know… life and stuff that just happens in between horror movies. And when you’ve got a 3yo and a 6yo that “life and stuff” part puts a major damper on the final total.

I’ll again follow the Cinema Shame method. I’ll create a list of 31 never-before-seen horror flicks (broadly defined as anything horror or containing elements associated with horror movies) and watch as many as I can manage over the course of the October month. I won’t watch all of them. After all, this list is a tentative guide, some self-cajoling. I watch some, go off the rails for others, and watch a few impromptu selections on TCM. I’ll attempt to view at least one from every decade 1920’s through the present. Last year, I viewed 27 — my all time documented* high. (*I’m sure I obliterated that total during my high school days. Comparing moviewatching prolificity at 37 years of age (with two kids and a wife that doesn’t watch horror movies) vs. 16 years of age (with, maybe, some homework in Photography class and a daily golf practice schedule) is like comparing the kid on your Little League team that handcuffed himself to the dugout fence to Mickey Mantle.

After each flick, I’ll toss up a mini review that may or may not contain any actual insight alongside a Hz Record rating. All that said, let’s commence the 31 Days of Horror.

First up. The list of Shame. For this list, in addition to egregious and overdue Shames (hello again, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Wicker Man!), I’ll focus on the movies I’ve owned but never watched (blind buys, specifically, but also those that have just been forgotten over time).

2015 31 Days of Horror

Other #31DaysOfHorror participants!

@echidnabot – Prowler Needs a Jump

@jaimeburchardt – That Jaime

@reyes – Watch It Twice!


 

Past #31DaysOfHorror Shame-a-thons: 2013 | 2014 | 2015 Part 1 | 2015 Part 2

listofshame

  1. Cat and the Canary (1927)
  2. Island of Lost Souls (1932)
  3. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
  4. La Momia Azteca (1957)
  5. Scream of Fear! (1961)
  6. The Innocents (1961)
  7. Burn Witch Burn (1962)
  8. Kwaidan (1964)
  9. Nightmare Castle (1965)
  10. The Living Corpse (Pakistani Dracula! – 1967)
  11. The Living Skeleton (or another from When Horror Came to Shichoku Eclipse Set, 1968)
  12. Koroneku (1968)
  13. Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
  14. Amuck! (1972)
  15. Night of the Devils (1972)
  16. A Candle for the Devil (1973)
  17. The Wicker Man (1973)
  18. Sugar Hill (1974)
  19. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, on 2014 and 2015 Shame lists)
  20. Alucarda (1977)
  21. Nosferatu (1979)
  22. Without Warning (1980)
  23. Scanners (1981)
  24. The Boogens (1981)
  25. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)
  26. Fright Night (1985)
  27. Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985)
  28. Killer Party (1986)
  29. Inugami (2001)
  30. Romasanta (2004)
  31. A Girl Walks Home At Night (2014)

Off the menu:

  1. Frogs
  2. Beyond the Black Rainbow
  3. Comedy of Terror
  4. MST3K – It Lives By Night
  5. The Beast With Five Fingers
  6. Corruption

(Hz ratings out of 5 Hz)

#1. 9/30 – Frogs (1972, dir. George McCowan)

Frogs-3

There’s a brilliant simplicity about movies like Frogs or Alligator or Piranha. You’re offered people that deserve to be eaten by Frogs/Alligators/Piranhas and then, wait for it, they get eaten by Frogs/Alligators/Piranhas. There’s nothing especially unnerving about Frogs (except Sam Elliott disarmingly sans mustache)it’s just a fun nature-gone-evil flick with a lot of closeups of — get this — frogs! Also, a horror movie fest isn’t a horror movie fest without Ray Milland (I’m sure that’s a saying) so I’m glad I got that requirement out of the way early. Also yes, I started early because I need all the days I can pack into one month to make this happen.

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#2. 9/30 – Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010, dir. Panos Cosmatos)

beyondtheblack

Watched this for our #Bond_age_Choice feature the other night without knowing what I’d signed up for. Hey, so, good to know… this is what happens when Carl Theodor Dreyer sodomizes David Cronenberg. Though this isn’t outright horror this one will leave you unsettled for days. Truth be told, I have not yet recovered from the scene pictured above. I’ve still got the heebeejeebees. Cosmatos scrubbed this movie free of dialogue. Abstract imagery and use of washed-out color palettes foster an unsettling, creeping subtext that ultimately manifests as a riff on the slasher or giallo genres.

Greg McCambley summed this movie up best:

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#3. 10/2 – Alucarda (1977, dir. Juan Lopez Moctezuma)  alucarda 31DaysOfHorror

Justine arrives at a creepy convent where she immediately befriends the even creepier Alucarda who tells her, almost immediately, that she’s going to “love her to death.” And based on her delivery you’re quite sure there’s no Shakespearean orgasm metaphor mixed into that statement. After a quick flash of light and a jump cut, both girls are buck naked and flanking Mr. Scary Goat Man. Before you know it that crazy Alucarda has unleashed some satanic demon that dabbles in vampirism. There’s even an interesting footnote to the nudity and satanic rituals that suggests satanism was the natural counter-reaction to the innate brutality of the Catholic church. How strict enforcement of the Catholic doctrines (by the clerical male hierarchy) transforms innocent girls into fearful women rather than encouraging proper religious hope and spirituality. 

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#4. 10/3 – Island of Lost Souls (1932, dir. Erle C. Kenton)

 

Island of Lost Souls - 31 Days of Horror

After enduring the wife’s pick of Hot Pursuit on Friday night, I got back on the wagon Saturday night. Though she won’t willingly watch anything from the horror genre, she will get sucked into an older movie if it happens to show up on the television and she’s already on the couch and the effort to go upstairs to watch something on the DVR proves too daunting. I figured I could win her over with this little ditty. And by “ditty” I mean subtle and often unnerving slice of pre-code horror that happens to last something shy of 80 minutes. Having just watched the Lost Souls documentary about the making of the Brando/Kilmer 1990’s Moreau I was itching to finally give this Criterion a spin. Really the best thing that could be said about our leading man, Richard Arlen, is that he had fine posture. Charles Laughton binds this movie together with a tense portrayal of Moreau as a misguided, moralistic Dr. Frankenstein-type God complex. Despite recognizing the film’s duly earned status as a classic, I couldn’t help but rattle of a few lines of “Jump Around” every time a character mentioned the “House of Pain” or respond to “We are men!” with “We are DEVO!” I’m so mature. Terrific minor turns from Bela Lugosi and “the Panther Woman” (as she is billed in the credits), Kathleen Burke, help erase the harm caused by milquetoast leading man syndrome.

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#5. 10/3 – Comedy of Terrors (1963, dir. Jacques Tourneur)

 

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…words coming soon…  

#6. 10/4 – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945, dir. Albert Lewin)

 

the picture of dorian gray

It took me a few days to process this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I felt like the film required a bit more attention perhaps than an MST3K riff on The Bat People. First, let’s get some scattered observations out of the way. 1. Every movie should feature George Sanders. Also dialogue by Oscar Wilde in the mouth of George Sanders. 2. There’s a reason Hurd Hatfield had a minimal and very scattered Hollywood career. After a handful of starring gigs, Hatfield drifted off into a career in television. He’s suitable here (if my memory of the novel serves) because he satisfies Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, but he’s unable to carry the film on his own — a very strong supporting cast props him up (meanwhile acting circles around him). Angela Lansbury, George Sanders, Donna Reed and Peter Lawford among them. 3. Harry Stradling, Sr. was a goddamn genius. The man worked for Hitchcock, Ray, Kazan, Mankiewicz, etc. Clearly, he knew what he was doing. This 1945 adaptation of Dorian Gray succeeds admirably in translating the gothic elements of Wilde’s novel to the screen and creating constant tension beneath the placid exterior events. As Dorian slips further into vanity and depravity (his specific actions barely even mentioned), director Albert Lewin manages the tone of the film accordingly. While the actual disfigurement of the portrait is presented in ghastly neon coloration and far less affecting than the novel’s ability to terrorize the mind’s eye, the film’s brilliant cinematography makes up the difference. The fear and tension are derived naturally from the terrors of time, fate and mortality. Dorian Gray’s plight is the human condition, not the supernatural, menacing portrait or Dorian’s vanity. There is in fact no villain present; there is only our own fears and regrets conveyed through Dorian and the visual majesty of light and shadow.

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#7. 10/5 – MST3K: It Lives By Night (aka The Bat People, 1974, Jerry Jameson)

 

it lives by night - mst3k

“GAH! The bats are causing me to not know how to stop a car!” I’ve made it a practice to watch at least one MST3K horror movie riff each 31 Days of Horror. If it wasn’t a documented practice before, it is now. Scanning the 30+ sets along the shelf, I recognized I’d never seen this experiment. Bob’s your uncle. Dude gets bitten by a bat then becomes a bloodsucking bat. The riffs here from Mike and the bots weren’t hugely memorable, always a problem when the movie at hand is more boring-bad than bad-bad. The good jokes happened while anthropomorphizing bats during stock footage, comparing the leading actress to Mary Tyler Moore and mocking the letchy, mustachioed detective. A well-placed Rikki-tikki-tavi joke may have been the golden riff.  

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#8. 10/6 – Amuck (1972, dir. Silvio Amadio)

 

amuck 31 days of horror

Holy. Smokes. Seven minutes into Amuck, the viewer’s treated to a slow-mo, wholly gratuitous scene of sapphic excess between Barbara Bouchet and Rosalba Neri. I don’t care if you’re man, woman, child (not that I’m testing this theory, mind you), plant or animal, you’d be impressed. Perhaps for different reasons. Perhaps for all the reasons. Visceral, theoretical, whatever your pleasure. The overt purpose and confidence by Amadio to render the scene in slow motion (and so early in the film) took me by surprise. I don’t know why, exactly, considering that the giallo genre has two general statements of purpose: #1. Suspense #2. Cast amazingly, legendarily beautiful women and worship them appropriately. and Amuck duly satisfies on both counts. That the film is not more widely known and that Amadio failed to forge a decent career in the genre puzzles me. Released on a mismatched “Spaghetti Cinema” double-feature from Code Red (with Super Stooges & the Wonder Women), the print used on the DVD has not been restored and occasionally becomes jumpy and/or speckled and/or faded. More love and restoration has been given to gialli half as good as Amuck. Someone, anyone, take Amuck and make it whole again.

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#9. 10/9 – Sugar Hill (1974, dir. Paul Maslansky)

sugar hill 31 days of horror Low-budget blaxploitation voodoo zombie flick. Marki Bey’s an on-screen force, rocking the deep-v jumpsuit,  dishing one-liners and unleashing hordes of zombies in the name of cold, calculated revenge. B-grade Baron Samedi doesn’t really dampen the proceedings, though I couldn’t help but imagine how much better the movie would have been with Geoffrey Holder (who, of course, played Baron Samedi in Live and Let Die). One tweet probably summarized my experience with Sugar Hill:  

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#10. 10/11 – The Beast With Five Fingers (1946, dir. Robert Florey)

the beast with five fingers

DVR’d this on Turner Classic Movies even though I’d already seen it a couple years ago… on TCM. Here’s the catch. I’d swapped this one in my brain with Mad Love, another film starring Peter Lorre that has to do with murderous hands gone wild. The difference between the two is that in Mad Love the murderous (knife throwing!) hands are still attached to someone whereas in The Beast With Five Fingers the murderous, detached hand goes rogue. Two minutes into the film I’d recognized my faulty memory. Happy accident, I suppose. The Beast is great entertainment because this movie about a (permit the repetition here, for effect) murderous, detached hand of a dead concert pianist is played completely straight. Peter Lorre gets to play a man haunted by said murderous, detached hand and make all sorts of fantastic faces while being stalked by the hand. If you haven’t stopped reading this to go watch The Beast With Five Fingers, you must have already seen it. In which case, you already know the joy of movies featuring a murderous, detached hand that also moonlights on the piano during the middle of the night. Maybe it’s not a 4-star flick, but it’s definitely worth 4 Hz in my book. Watch with friends. Take turns making Peter Lorre faces.

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#11. 10/12 – Corruption (1968, dir. Robert Hartford-Davis)

corruption 1968

Corruption owes its continued notoriety to being partly an indictment of the 1960’s fashion scene. There’s mod fashions and swinging parties and Peter Cushing robbing the cradle… and it is these era-specific eccentricities that elevate Corruption above your standard mad scientist frivolity.

Vanity. Superficiality. Youth. These two themes provide the backbone. Peter Cushing supplies the crazy eyes and reluctant homicides. His wife (Sue Lloyd) goes full Lady Macbeth after a photography flood lamp topples on her (oops), badly burning her face. Cushing’s surgeon has found a way to rehabilitate scarred tissue, except he needs fresh adrenal glands, don’t you know, to keep the skin from turning back into pizza. The wife drives his madness, but Cushing’s obsession with the looks of his young wife underlies something beyond his wife’s vanity. Cushing’s doctor (at least 30 years her senior) becomes obsessed with preserving her visage. As if having the beautiful, young model/wife also proves his own virility in this fast-paced glamorous world that has since passed this stodgy old curmudgeon by.

Together the pair become horrible monsters, inside and out. Not an especially *fun* flick — but one that resonates due to the embedded social commentary.

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#12. 10/13 – The Living Skeleton (1968, dir. Hiroshi Matsuno)

the living skeleton

The star of The Living Skeleton (one of the four features in the When Horror Came to Shochiku Criterion set) has to be the overcooked photography. High contrast with moody, soft focus. It’s a whole heap of atmosphere coupled with  absolutely hilarious cheapy effects. Bats on wires. Superimposed bat shadows. Floating underwater skeletons that look like knockoff Day of the Dead tchotchkes from a roadside attraction in Indiana. Miniature boats plucked from cereal boxes. Skeleton is part ghost story, part crime thriller and part mad scientist movie. It’s everything you could possibly need… or it’s a bit much all at once. Probably depends on your mood. Still, it’s pretty clear that John Carpenter likely saw this before prepping The Fog. And despite the comical effects that occasionally pull you out of the film’s spell, The Living Skeleton resonates because of the cinematography and the performance of Kikko Matsuoka. Or maybe it’s just her eyes. Either way, this one’s a keeper.  If only George Lucas could go back and maybe touch up those skeletons a bit for a Special Edition release.

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#13. 10/14 – Nightmare Castle (1965, dir. Mario Caiano, Jack Hill)

nightmare castle

I’ve been plagued by enjoyment without hyperbolic enthusiasm this October. A lot of the movies I’d built up in my head as the next great addition to my movie-watching resume have been good or very good, but just haven’t sent me over the moon. (On the flipside I haven’t really seen any stinkers to inspire a good honest rampage.) And you’re reading this and you’re thinking that clearly Nightmare Castle finally granted me this OMFG, YEAH! moment. But alas. It’s just the movie that hammered home this notion. I had Barbara Steele expectations, you see. Many of Steele’s flicks have warmed my cockles in the past. (Black Sunday! Castle of Blood!) I’d owned a bargain basement version of the Nightmare Castle DVD for at least a decade without ever fully watching it. I popped it in once, but the experience was like watching a film through Vaseline. So there it sat… until Severin Films stepped up with this exquisite Blu-ray edition. I tossed the original DVD in the donation pile and happily purchased a replacement.

Like most of Steele’s films, Nightmare Castle falls squarely into the gothic category of horror films. Think Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. The tone feels more like a British production than an Italian and could easily be considered a precursor to the kind of mad doctor situation that plays out a couple years later in Corruption. The doctor sets a trap for his wife and her lover. After catching them in the coital act, he tortures and eventually kills them. He then marries the dead wife’s sister to finagle the inheritance and, wouldn’t you know it, the deceased come back to haunt the castle. Or are they just visions in the sister’s corrupted brain? It’s a solid premise that never fully pays off because the viewer probably never finds the outcome in doubt. The ending reminded a bit too much of Elvira and Tor Johnson stomping around the foggy swamp in Plan 9 from Outer Space.

So Nightmare wasn’t the overlooked masterpiece for which I’d hoped. The transfer looks amazing, and the special features (full presentations of Castle of Blood and Terror Creatures from Beyond the Grave included) make this an essential purchase for fans of the genre.

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.…carry on to Part 2…. REVENGE OF THE SHAME….

TCM Discoveries Blogathon: Slither (1973)

 TCM Discoveries Blogathon – Slither (1973)

(Thanks to Nitrate Diva for the tremendous blogathon idea and apologies for forgetting to post my bl-g on time!)

Slither TCM Blogathon

For many moviegoers the discovery of a new favorite movie makes for an immediate, impromptu holiday-type celebration. How often can one admit a new viewing into the hallowed halls of all-time favorites – those 100 or so movies that give us the most pleasure in this crazy, mixed-up world. I’ve even documented that list on Letterboxd.com for sharing and comparing. (Go on… share yours, too!) The pursuit of that next underseen or underrated gem consumes us and drives us to watch more and odder movies. We read Underrated lists on rupertpupkinspeaks.com and share buzz on Twitter, forever adding to our rapidly growing and now unwieldy watchlists. We haphazardly scan the TCM listings for an oddity from a favorite star or a plot summary that hints at greater or perhaps at least more unusual things. DVRs clogged up with dozens of hopeful causes to celebrate if we can only watch them before they get deleted by the pending episodes of Blacklist that we also probably won’t watch, but DVR anyway because James Spader.

I dare you not to DVR my show.
I dare you not to DVR my show.

For decades now, Turner Classic Movies has been a tireless source of old standards (someone at TCM sure loves Now, Voyager) alongside a spare selection of late night oddities, flicks that are rarely or not at all available on home video. I don’t know what I’d do without the fine individuals in my Twitter timeline that make a point to mention when something fantastic pops up on the Turner Classic Movie schedule. So it happened when Slither aired earlier this year. I wish I could thank those responsible parties that tweeted notices about the James Caan/Peter Boyle “road-trip” movie. Sadly, however, their good deeds have been lost to the Twitter tide. I’d not once heard about the film (or director Howard Zieff at the time). I’d later learn that Zieff directed childhood favorites Private Benjamin (1980) and The Dream Team (1989) starring Michael Keaton, not to mention My Girl and My Girl 2. But I’ve no inclination to dwell on Howard Zieff’s forays into melodrama in this particular conversation. (Though how great is Anna Chlumsky on Veep?)

Slither belongs to that group of films that “could only have been made in the 1970s.” And the more of these supposed “lesser” films I watch, the more I learn that the decade begat a cynical, anomalous genre of comedy unlike anything before or since. Aimless, pedantic and boasting the forward progress of a cat chasing its tail, Slither left an indelible impression not just because it’s funny as hell, but because it completely undermines the fundamentals of traditional narrative.

James Caan Slither

A bumbling thief Dick Kanipsia (Caan) gets out of prison on parole. Though he aims to “go straight,” he goes to visit his friend Harry, a friend he knows is likely up to no good. While there, some villainous goons shoot up Harry’s house. With Harry’s dying words, he tells Dick to go find Barry Fenaka. Fenaka can tell him where to find a whole mess of cash. Dick flees and hitches a ride with free spirit/nut jub/borderline sociopath Kitty (the always welcome Sally Kellerman). As Kitty’s natural tendencies toward batshit crazy start to leak out, Caan ducks out the back door (literally) and catches a passing bus. Only when Dick finds Feneka (part-time bandleader at the VFW) does the story gain a measure of clarity. Many years ago Harry and Feneka embezzled money and then paid a guy to stash it for them until the heat disappeared. By this point in the story, it’s clear that no one involved is a criminal mastermind… or really very bright at all. Dick, Barry and Barry’s wife hop in an RV and set off in pursuit of the man named Holdebrook, the man with the key to their cash and happily ever after. Eventually Kitty catches up to Dick (she’s been tracking him, of course) and a creepy black van (maybe vans?) stalks the brain trust as they continue their march toward certain fortune.

James Caan and Sally Kellerman Slither

It’s also an uneven machine that runs in three to four gears at once. It opens with violence, devolves into a lazy, comic chase and concludes on a note of existential serenity. At the time of the film’s release, Zieff was best known as the creator of Alka Seltzer (“Mamma mia! That’s a spicy meatball!”), Polaroid and Volkswagen commercials. His strength at self-contained 30-second spots carries over into this, his feature film debut. (In 1969 he sold his advertising company to Columbia Pictures in order to pursue filmmaking.) Slither‘s staccato orchestration feels like episodic quandaries all heading toward a predetermined fate. There’s an unpredictable rise and fall that keeps the viewer invested. Meanwhile Slither never wastes time explaining the gaps between. Zieff would rather move along down the road, searching for the next natural pratfall or comic caper. As a result we’re gifted a Peter Boyle MC’d event at veteran’s hall, a Bingo night gone wrong, a state-of-the-art camper demonstration, a shoot-out that obliterates a vegetable stand, and a cop giving Sally Kellerman a lecture about driving barefoot.

If you’ve seen enough of these types of films from the 1970’s, you’ll know that no one walks away from this movie happy. Slither never bothers to wrap the narrative up in a tidy little bow. In fact, Slither seems to revel in keeping the audience at a curiously callous distance. All of the characters are gregarious but unsavory in the most civil fashion. It ends as a meditation on how people can’t escape their nature. James Caan, the perpetual screw up, despite his best intentions, will only succeed at screwing up again and again. (True to form, I, perpetually five minutes late to every appointment, have posted this bl-gathon entry three days tardy. I have legitimate excuses, honestly. They’re 3 years old and 6 years old and they’re causing my brain to atrophy, one dogged day at a time.)

Slither 1973

What’s easy to overlook is the actual craft of the film. Photographed by the late, great László Kovács (Ghostbusters, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces), Slither, in any other decade, would have been a tossaway comedy, if it’d even been made at all. A goofy, road chase movie photographed by one of the great cinematographers of the 60’s and 70’s? That’s weird. Can you imagine Roger Deakins or Janusz Kaminski shooting Due Date?

After finding myself deliriously entertained by Slither, I’ve sought out other bleak comedies from the 1970’s. The obscure Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins starring Alan Arkin (and Sally Kellerman again) as an alcoholic driving instructor, for example, which also aired on TCM. If not for Turner Classic Movies, I wouldn’t have found either of these rare cinematic treats that have become part of the network’s extended definition of classic films. While I know this has been a taboo topic – the expanding “classic” umbrella of TCM – I welcome the opportunity to view worthwhile films from any generation.

Nothing Lasts Forever - 1984

In my opinion choosing the unreleased Nothing Last Forever (1984) to air as part of the TCM Underground schedule was one of the most important programming choices of the year. Just as “Oldies FM” progresses to include the likes of David Bowie and Queen, the definition of classic film must also expand. Without that extra decade of classic status bestowed upon the 70’s and 80’s, I wouldn’t have likely seen Slither nor would TCM have renewed the buzz around a 30-year-old film left to perish a death of anonymity. Where’s the justice in this world when a truly interesting film featuring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Zach Galligan, Eddie Fisher and Imogene Coca remains anonymous and unwatched? Who else is out there on that wall to make sure that doesn’t happen? We as enraged, hyperbolic viewers can only do so much. Here’s to hoping that TMC continues to air quirky, fascinating and oddball films like Slither and Nothing Lasts Forever even if they don’t fall under proper “classic” status. While I do enjoy a good Bette Davis flick (…speaking of which I wonder when Now, Voyager will run again… oh good… it airs on September 30th at 10pm ET. I was worried.) like anyone else, I also love the opportunity to discover something new, something different, something that might just become a new classic if we give it a chance.

TCM Discoveries Blogathon

 

Underrated 1975

Underrated 1975

originally published on rupertpupkinspeaks.com

underrated 1975

Jaws. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Nashville. Dog Day Afternoon. Rocky Horror Picture Show. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Barry Lyndon. Also consider the quality of the B-pictures and exploitation flicks also released in 1975. Rollerball. Death Race 2000. A Boy and His Dog. Argento’s Deep Red. Just a massive list of amazing films, a banner year for fans of cinema. As I was scouring the list of films from 1975 I found it rather difficult to assemble a list of movies that weren’t highly regarded by some faction or another. Would another vote for Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze as a guilty pleasure really matter in the grand scheme of things? Rather than stare at this list any longer I settled down in front of my own DVD shelves, checking dates, searching for some 1975 gems without the aid of some arbitrary movie site’s rankings to help me decide which films were underseen or undervalued. I found about 12 that fit the bill. I whittled that list down to these following five… plus some bonus picks all the way down at the end because I just can’t help myself.

 

Rancho Deluxe (dir. by Frank Perry)

I don’t know what they shot this steer with, but they blew a hole in him big enough that you can throw a cat through.

Rancho Deluxe has all the makings of a cult film without any of the ballyhoo. This is the decadence of the traditional cinematic Western. Why doesn’t Rancho Deluxe get its due hyperbolic praise? Perhaps the film lacks a specific genre. It’s part teen comedy, part satire, part Western dystopia viewed through the sepia-colored nostalgia that still romanticizes the ideologies of the Old West.

Through the perspective of two young Montana misfits (Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston), Rancho Deluxe views the West as a comedy of overidentified ways and means. The cattle farmers and ranchers living high on the hog from merely “showing bulls” and reveling in their pre-existing wealth (without actually doing any farming). So bored that they’re hunting petty cattle rustlers because they’ve got no other way to fill their days. The youth growing up in this modern frontier without education or potential employment torment the cattle barons “for sport.” There’s a brothel scene, pot smoking, very un-PC bits of dialogue (Mexican Overdrive = neutral), the old steer in the motel room gag, and a conversation filmed only in the reflection on the glass of a Pong video game machine.

In addition to the cracking dialogue and clever cinematography, Rancho Deluxe boasts sweeping Big Sky landscapes. The clear testament to this film’s underratedness: the dark and muddy DVD is now only available via a BOD service through Amazon and there seems to be no hope for a Blu-ray. This movie begs for some tender loving restoration and a high-definition presentation. Those mountain ranges should really pop when they’re not smeared with the Vaseline tears of forgotten cinema.

The impressive ensemble of character actors includes Clifton James (the infamous Sheriff J.W. Pepper in the James Bond films Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun), Slim Pickens, Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Bright, and Elizabeth Ashley among other familiar faces. Even Jimmy Buffett and Warren Oates stop by for a brief bar band performance.

When the film strays from the central hijinks of rustlers vs. cattle barons, the melodrama briefly taxes the film’s forward progress, but that’s hardly enough to saddle Rancho Deluxe for long. Roger Ebert hated Rancho Deluxe. Reading his review, I can’t help but think he, like many other contemporary critics, missed the point of the film. Maybe Rancho Deluxe was a little too jokey at times to see clearly the depth and sly wickedness, but it’s precisely that blend of contrasting humor and melancholy that sets it apart.

 

Zorro (dir. Duccio Tessari)

I’m not quite sure when I first saw Duccio Tessari’s 1975 version of Zorro starring Alain Delon. I do know a few things for certain: I was pretty young. Was it on TV? Did my parents have a VHS? I went on a fact-finding mission. They don’t remember this film at all. Nonetheless, I’m quite convinced this my first version of Zorro and my first Alain Delon film. These facts led to some interesting realizations over the course of my ongoing cinematic education.

Upon first watching Le Cercle Rouge: “Is that Zorro?”

Upon first watching Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro: “This movie takes itself far too seriously.”

The average human with even a moderate cinematic IQ would have questioned what the hell Alain Delon was doing playing Zorro and most likely considered the reincarnation of Zorro in the 1990s to be a broad melange of genre tropes that boasted no greater aspirations that being really good at selling popcorn. In other words, not especially serious at all. That’s how much 1975’s Zorro warped my perception of the character.

Tessari’s Zorro remains an odd duck in the masked hero’s lineage, which began all the way back with Douglas Fairbanks in 1920’s The Mark of Zorro. It seems as though Tessari set out to make a similarly thrilling adventure film. Swash is buckled, and women are wooed and rescued, but somewhere along the way, Tessari ended up making a kitschy, foppish, joke of a movie.

Zorro is not a prime example of filmmaking prowess. On a number of occasions Tessari had to insert bizarre, unplanned jump cuts. I can only assume he had to make up for poor coverage or horrendous dubbing. He also often shoots through foregrounded objects that obscure the actors. (Did he have no better options in post?) Add into the mix a series of mickey-moused pratfalls, a mute sidekick who communicates with bizarre squeaks and gesticulations, and a bumbling antagonist less fearsome than your average unmasked Scooby Doo villain. In case you missed where I was going here, this is undoubtedly a plug for Awesomeful cinema. While Martin Campbell’s 1998 Mask of Zorro managed to entertain with a wide birth but without much filmmaking derring-do, Tessari and Delon have created such a confounding mess that I can’t help but enjoy myself. Without irony even.

Fans of Alain Delon, thespian, will marvel at how he found himself in such a film (and clearly having a grand time of it all). He leaps from rooftop to rooftop and dispatches legions of inept soldiers with a flick of his wrist. Even more fun was had prancing around as his alter ego, the grandly bewigged and positively fabulous governor.

Then there’s that theme song. Composed by Oliver Onions, aka Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, “Zorro Is Back” enjoyed some more modern notoriety in Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket. The tune is a jarring, out-of-place/out-of-time slice of contemporary (and repetitive!) puffery that cannot really be contextualized outside the whole bizarre enterprise that is 1975’s Zorro. I can’t recommend Zorro to everyone, but if you read all of that and remain intrigued, maybe you can be a fan of bonkers Zorro too.

 

Smile (dir. Michael Ritchie)

While Michael Ritchie’s Smile might be well regarded, it’s definitely underseen. This gem deserves to be mentioned not only in the great comedies of the decade but also among the great comedies of all time. As a satire of the beauty pageant industry, Smile resists the temptation to point and laugh at the witless contestants and instead turns the lens on the America that fosters such an absurd display of prancing, preening and pretension.

While more recent attempts to update the genre such as Drop Dead Gorgeous and Miss Congeniality have focused largely on the bad behavior or vapidity of the contestants and their families, Smile allows the female contestants to be real, three-dimensional characters with dreams (although misdirected). The bite of the satire therefore comes from the malicious and deviant characters that host the pageant competition, aka everyone. A trademark of 1970’s cinema was the willingness to indict the viewer in the conspiracy. Smile performed this feat so deftly that the viewer is left laughing while feeling this measure of guilt.

Bruce Dern, as he tends to do, turns in a pitch-perfect performance alongside Barbara Feldon and Michael Kidd as contest coordinators. Melanie Griffith makes one of her earliest big-screen appearances as a Young American Miss contestant. Screenwriter Jerry Belson had his hand in seemingly every major television series of the 1960’s including The Lucy Show, I Spy, The Dick Van Dyke Show and later the Odd Couple and The Tracey Ullman Show. Though his film resume doesn’t nearly compare (unless you count Smokey and the Bandit II), Smile remains the one brilliant cinematic feather in his cap.

 

Hustle (dir. Robert Aldrich)

I couldn’t submit an Underrated list to Rupert Pupkin Speaks without a Burt Reynolds flick now could I? (I even had a choice between Hustle and At Long Last Love!) Robert Aldrich’s 1975 neo-noir is antithetical to our idea of a Burt Reynolds movie… and as a result perversely entertaining. Contrary to its title, Hustle proceeds at an almost languid pace, focusing on character and motivation as Burt skirts and evades our expectations.

Co-starring Catherine Deneuve as a high-class prostitute (and as hot and steamy as ever), one might expect the pairing of the sultry French actress and Burt Reynolds’ American everyman to be an oil-and-vinegar situation. The result of this coupling, on the other hand, is a low and slow smolder. Burt Reynolds plays a cop (of course) investigating a dead girl washed up on the beach. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: “The old dead-girl-on-the-beach routine again?” It’s not the facts that make Hustle worth watching – it’s the way it all unfolds, oozing with cynicism and modern malaise that still resonates. We didn’t leave that malaise behind with the plaid slacks of the 1970’s. This is a flawed character struggling towards resolution in a world that would rather thwart even the most righteous.

Frank De Vol’s (4-time Academy Award nominee) excellent score pairs well the offbeat rhythms, and a sublime list of supporting actors rounds out the cast. Familiar faces include Ben Johnson, Paul Winfield (always a solid supporting player), Eileen Brennan, Eddie Albert and Ernest Borgnine. Daisy Duke (Catherine Bach) even shows up briefly as a porn star. Her appearance left me stammering “It’s… it’s… it’s…” without being able to procure either “Daisy Duke” or “Catherine Bach” from the scattered neurological filing system. Robert Englund and Fred Willard even show up for bit parts. Their names I remembered.

The Reynolds/Aldrich pairings in Hustle and The Longest Yard brought out Burt’s most nuanced performances. The only exception might have been Boorman’s Deliverance. The takeaway here is that the right director could get gold from Burt Reynolds, one of our most underrated but still overexposed movie stars. While it’s true that Burt had a “schtick” (by which I’m admittedly also terribly entertained), he often reached beyond expectations and crafted terrific and now overlooked performances. These expectations, I believe, helped facilitate his late career decline into offensively bland comedies. We’ll always have his films from the 1970’s – we just need to appreciate them more. Kino has started to give Burt’s film the treatment they deserve, but we need to do more. We need Hustle on Blu-ray. At the very least because visions of 1970’s Catherine Deneuve should never be marred by poor picture quality.

 

Dogpound Shuffle (dir. Jeffrey Bloom)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Fagin and Hutch walk into a bar… Hutch starts playing the harmonica and Fagin begins a soft shoe/tap routine. Okay, so that wasn’t funny, certainly no punchline – merely the premise of this good-hearted dramedy about Steps (Ron Moody, Fagin in Carol Reed’s Oliver!) and Pritt (David Soul, pre-Detective Hutchinson in Starsky and Hutch) busking with a harmonica and fancy footwork in order to rescue Steps’ much beloved mutt from the dog pound. As it turns out, Moody first made a name for himself in vaudeville doing a very similar act. Consequently the tap/harmonica routines amply entertain despite their off-the-cuff simplicity.

Dogpound Shuffle, a Canadian-produced TV movie, is an old-fashioned forgotten man story. Steps, once a successful performer, now lives on the streets. He places no specific blame for his career trajectory. But we can infer that the world decided his specific set of skills was no longer necessary, and consequently he pretty much blames everyone for the cultural degradation.When animal control picks his dog up, the jaded and angry Steps finds himself without the $30 in fees to spring his pooch. When he sees Pritt (a drifter and aspiring boxer) playing the harmonica, he ropes the younger gentleman into a busking scheme. After a few minor successes and an aborted show in an upper class cocktail lounge, they’re offered a gig as entertainment at a millionaire’s birthday party. Pritt must figure out how to use an amplifier. Steps must resist the temptation to swindle a pair of shoes. Or must he? Would the upper crust even notice? Wouldn’t they want their entertainer to wear classy shoes? To look the part?Writer/director Jeffrey Bloom had a short film career before going on to a slightly more prolific career in TV movies, culminating in the 1987 adaptation of Flowers in the Attic. By 1991 Bloom dropped off the planet, which seems a shame. I hate to toss out the term “sweet” as a reason to see a movie because “sweet” without substance is merely saccharine. In Dogpound Shuffle, that “sweet” is undermined perfectly by Moody’s crotchety, world-wise forgotten man and a late narrative twist that temps Steps’ worst tendencies. Laced throughout the film there’s also a commentary about the societal safeguards put in place to restrict social mobility and feed Steps’ simmering rage.Scorpion released the now out-of-print DVD of Dogpound in 2011. I actually learned about this movie through Scorpion’s OOP announcement last year. I picked up a used copy and found myself charmed by this low-budget family-friendly ditty about a man trying to bust his dog out of the clink. Pick up a copy before they disappear; there’s no telling when or where you’d be able to see this film again.

Bonus Picks:

 

Day of the Locust (dir. John Schlesinger) – as a huge fan of Nathanael West’s source material, I didn’t initially care for the film version. But then it grew on me. Different… but the same. I dig it now and wish it would get a new release to top that old OOP Paramount DVD.

Bite the Bullet (dir. Richard Brooks) – a Twilight Time release with little fanfare. Like Rancho Deluxe, Bite the Bullet re-examines the Western myth, but with decidedly different conclusions. I bought it blind because of the cast. Gene Hackman. James Coburn. Candice Bergen. Ben Johnson. Jan-Michael Vincent. That should be enough to sell you.

At Long Last Love (dir. Peter Bogdanovich) – There’s considerable charm in Peter Bogdanovich’s tone-deaf musical starring Burt Reynolds, Cybil Shepherd, Madeline Kahn and Eileen Brennan. The recent Blu-ray release should garner the film some redemptive reassessment. I find it an absolute joy of a screwball comedy/musical despite the voice talent that, well, really isn’t all that talented.

The Kino Lorber Studio Classics Sale on Amazon

As you may or may not know from having read this bl-g, I’m a media junkie. I am also a huge proponent of physical media and supporting the continued release of DVDs and Blu-rays. As my sentiments about digital music have shifted (necessary evil) not so have my feelings about digital movies (not unless I have to). If I *can* own the best possible presentation of a film on physical media I will. I also invest in Blu-rays from certain select companies as a way of supporting their endeavors during “the twilight of physical media.” I put that phrase in quotations not because I’ve heard that specific phrase necessarily, only hundreds of others just like it predicting the end of physical media. Everyone likes to question the continued ownership of DVDs and Blu-rays. They take up space. They collect dust. They take time to organize and maintain. I stand behind the fact that a library of books, movies or music means something. It’s a place of solace. It’s a representation of your tastes and personality. Digital files are bits and bytes. They’re not real. Though all of this will disappear eventually (just like all of us, the physical consumers of said media), digital files will only reside somewhere up there in the Cloud or the Interwebs. What happens when that company or that storage device disappears? What’s left?

My labored point here is this: if you want to see the continued distribution of obscure and lesser and interesting catalog titles, we’ve got to support these releases when they happen. Despite Blu-rays becoming an increasingly niche market, studios and distributors have offered a wider variety of releases. Some of the prices have increased accordingly (see Twilight Time’s release model, for example), but lest we forget how much DVDs once cost us. Genre titles, specifically, have experienced a sort of resurgence because fans are looking for the next great oddball or discovery and they’re willing to pay the premium. Fewer units sold means these distributors must charge a slightly higher price. Check out the catalogs from distributors like Code Red, Mondo Macabro, Vinegar Syndrome, Scorpion, Arrow Video, Cohen, Twilight Time, Olive and Kino Lorber Studio Classics… just to name a few. Many of these companies are doing yeoman’s work restoring films that have no business being restored. But that’s why we love them. And why we should support their efforts.

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One of these companies, Kino Lorber, has joined forces with Amazon to offer an amazing sale on a large portion of their catalog (all discs in the sale are $10-$16). Kino rescues old catalog titles from obscurity. While there are dozens of titles available through this sale, I’ll list a few of my recommendations in the hopes of encouraging you to pick up a title or two and provide some new support for the Kino line. I’ll link some below, but ultimately I’ll get tired of linking and just list some favorites. Kay? Kay. There are plenty of worthy flicks in this line. Go beyond the ones I’ve mentioned. This is meant as just a sampling.

 

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For 80’s Nostalgists:

Modern Girls (if you long for the days when Daphne Zuniga and Virginia Madsen were stone cold foxes)

Running Scared (Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines in an action comedy that only the 80’s could produce)

Miracle Mile (Goose gets real in this pre-apocalyptic (?) thriller)

Cherry 2000 (Melanie Griffith’s best 90-minutes this side of Working Girl)

Desperately Seeking Susan (The hair, like, oh my god, the hair.)

 

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Grab Bag Sleeper Picks:

Rush (Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s underrated thriller/crime flick about drug officers getting sucked into the drug culture)

Prime Cut (Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman deal in sausage and sex.)

The Satan Bug (Solid sci-fi thriller about nasty, rampaging germs.)

Cops & Robbers (Underseen cop comedy that I discovered via the lists at www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com.)

Real Men (James Belushi as a C.I.A. agent teams up with John Ritter, professional dad, to avert a global crisis! Obviously!)

Bank Shot (George C. Scott steals a mobile home/bank. It’s ridiculous and pretty funny.)

Foxes (Adriane Lyne’s teen drama – with 1980 Jodie Foster! – dotted with killer tunes and rampant substance abuse.)

Busting (Eliot Gould and Robert Blake go after a badass crime boss in 1974 L.A.)

Sabata (First of two Lee Van Cleef Sabata Westerns.)

Across 110th Street (More than just the slick Bobby Womack soul anthem.)

Cotton Comes to Harlem (Loose cannon cops Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson take on charismatic black nationalist leader Reverend Deke O’Malley.)

Unforgettable (Nobody saw this slick 1996 thriller starring Ray Liotta and Linda Fiorentino but that won’t stop me from plugging the hell out of it.)

Malice (Alec Baldwin and Bill Pullman chewing scenery. Nicole Kidman loving the camera. Better than you remember.)

Truck Turner (Isaac Hayes is a football star turned bounty hunter tracking a pimp in L.A. How can you not want to see this?)

 

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Pure Classics/Essentials:

The Long Goodbye

Marty

The Children’s Hour

Run Silent Run Deep

The Party

They Call Me Mr. Tibbs

Topkapi

The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming

 

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Cocaine Noir Musts: (my two Cocaine Noir write-ups feature all of these… Part 1, Part 2)

52 Pick-Up

Slam Dance

F/X

 

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Horror/Sci-Fi Flicks:

Black Sabbath

House of 1000 Dolls

The Oblong Box

Deranged

Madhouse

The Crimson Cult

The Quatermass Experiment

Tales of Terror

 

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Because of #Bond_age_ (Bond/Spy related):

The Offence (Sean Connery teams with Sidney Lumet)

Harry In Your Pocket (great James Coburn pickpocket comedy)

Meteor (oddball Connery doomsday, with Natalie Wood, Martin Landau and Karl Malden)

Woman of Straw (tight thriller featuring a young Sean Connery and Gina Lollobrigida)

Great Train Robbery (some call this lazy, but I enjoy the Connery and Donald Sutherland tag team)

Billion Dollar Brain (the third Harry Palmer spy flick starring Michael Caine)

 

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Because Burt Reynolds is a stone-cold entertainment machine:

Malone

White Lightning

Gator

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30Hz Underrated 1985

Underrated 1985

(originally appeared on Rupert Pupkin Speaks)

Tuff Turf New Avengers

I spend all this time and money amassing a media collection of impressive size, quality and breadth but when I sit down to watch one of these “important” or “artistic” films I display proudly, I inevitably just toss in another disc from a $5 compilation of 12 movies from the 1980’s. I’ll blame coming of movie-watching age in the 1980’s. The neon titles, the synth-laden scores, the frivolous use of gratuitous nudity and bloody squibs. The movies of the 1980’s were childish and fun, but also often pulpy and expressive in ways that grew directly out of (and rebelled against) the experimentation in the 1970’s. 1985 sat in the middle of that marvelous decade. From that year of plenty emerged Back to the Future, Ran, Brazil, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Real Genius, Fletch, and Clue among many others. These are films that contributed heartily to my early cinematic education. And they continue to impress and entertain me today. And while none of the following films became as formative as those aforementioned titles, they recall that youthful exuberance during a time when I was just beginning to learn how much cinema was out there to discover — be it good, bad or awesomeful. I’m looking at you, Burt Reynolds.

 

Tuff Turf

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“Don’t let them fool you, it’s the 80s, size does matter… I mean not in bed, we’re all the same size in bed.”

Connecticut country club teen, Morgan (James Spader), moves to L.A. to escape uncertain troubles only to become embroiled in a brutal pissing contest with West Side Story-style flunkie/perpetual senior Nick. Local rock ‘n roll punk (Robert Downey, Jr.) acts as Morgan’s Virgil, helping him navigate L.A.’s moral turpitude. The twist here is that Spader’s outsider isn’t clueless; he’s been through this before and merely underestimates the unlimited supply at Nick’s jerk store. Despite the beatings and bicycle homicide, Morgan falls in love with Nick’s girl, Frankie (the crimped, punky and effervescent Kim Richards before becoming a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills), and faces the timeless teenage dilemma: go after the girl or save himself the hassle. And all this is set to killer 80’s jams.

Tuff Turf isn’t a musical, but it suffers from musical envy. One gets the impression that director Fritz Kiersch has aspirations of combining West Side Story with Footloose.  Sometimes he pulls it off. Downey’s new wave/punk band rocks a warehouse dance party. The band, in fact, is the Jim Carroll Band. One might recall Carroll as the author of the 1978 autobiography The Basketball Diaries. Later on Morgan and co. crash a country club with a positively groovy house band. During a set break Spader sidles up to the piano and does some pitchy crooning (his singing voice was laughably dubbed). At one point Spader even stands outside Frankie’s apartment with a little radio, predating Lloyd Dobler by four years.

Eventually the movie takes a predictably earnest turn as Morgan’s extracurriculars encroach upon his family life and he must settle the score with Nick once and for all. You can watch this final third and groan or you can embrace the thrill of badass James Spader and awesomeful dialogue like “I don’t think you can hold onto anything until you let it go.” If nothing else, embrace the fact that this is a movie that would never get made anymore – a silly R-rated teen drama with sex, language, and absurd amounts of violence. Now that I mention it, I have no idea for whom this movie was actually made. 1980’s nostalgists, apparently. Also, I need to find this soundtrack on vinyl. Immediately.

Sidenote: As it turns out, Tuff Turf also predicts Avengers: Age of Ultron. Early in the film, Spader and Downey stand next to a wall with “THE NEW AVENGERS” graffiti scrawled plainly behind them. Neat, right?

 

Stick

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“What’s a boomerang that doesn’t come back? It’s a Stick!”

Burt Reynolds made some bad movies in the 1980s. Hell, Burt Reynolds made some bad movies throughout his entire career, and we love him for it. Well, I love him for it anyway. I can’t speak for everyone else. 1985’s Stick ranks among the movies considered Burt’s worst of the worst.  I had to sample a few of the “Top” lists on the Interwebs in order to find out just how little regard the general populace holds for Stick. One list put it at number 48. 48! Right next to The Crew.

It’s true that Stick should be better than it is. A script by Elmore Leonard based on a book by Elmore Leonard. A supporting cast featuring George Segal, Candice Bergen and Charles Durning in a orange fright-house wig. Where could Stick go wrong? This might confuse you, but the answer to that last question might just be Burt Reynolds. With his career in a tailspin, Burt was so anxious to spoon feed this surefire hit to the masses that he opted to direct and star in it. So miscast is Burt Reynolds in the role of Stick that after only five minutes, you’ll be off searching IMDB to figure out what numskull cast Burt Reynolds in this film. Trick question. Burt Reynolds cast Burt Reynolds in Stick. Elmore Leonard called this character “Dustbowl farmer turned hobo.” Burt plays stick smarter and much more worldly than he has any reason to be. Stick shouldn’t be a star turn. Can you imagine Burt Reynolds as a Dustbowl farmer?

Reynolds also plays the role straight, without some of the trademark smirk and smarm we’ve come to associate with him. Instead, Burt gives his supporting cast carte blanche to chew scenery and give Stick life. George Segal and Charles Durning are especially snappy as a cigar-chomping dimwit financier and a nefarious baddy with a cast of henchmen and caterpillar eyebrows. Richard Lawson plays another one of George Segal’s help staff and his interracial tête-à-tête with Stick recalls Argyle and John McClane in Die Hard – only more cynical.

Stick makes good use of its gaudy setting in south Florida. There are lots of sweaty humans, swamps, leathery faces, palm trees, scorpions, a synthy score and a chase sequence through a Jai Lai stadium. If we’re playing Miami Bingo, we’re all winners.

Some of the movie’s reputation stems from the behind the scenes troubles. Burt’s face betrays the health problems he had as a result of an accident on City Heat when he was hit in the face with a metal chair. His liquid diet caused him to lose 30 pounds. He was also reportedly addicted to painkillers. After filming concluded, Universal demanded not insignificant reshoots that included the beginning and ending. These reshoots led to Elmore Leonard disowning the film after release.  These studio recuts excised Annie Potts from the final cut even after she had a credit on the teaser poster. Nobody cuts Annie Potts and gets away with it.

Despite all this, Burt pulls an entertaining film out of his magic bag of tricks. It might be corny and pulpy in the wrong places, intermittently offensive, and occasionall ill-humored but goshdarnit, Stick plays… if your expectations are reasonably kept in check.

Also, from the “Hell yeah, 1985” files: Anne Murray sings an end-credits theme song over Burt and Candice Bergen talking on wired car phones… until they finally meet up and embrace in a freeze frame.

 

Water

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“Nevermind the pineapple, old sport. Wrap your lips around this.”

Michael Caine first appears in Water in a gaudy Hawaiian print shirt and Dodgers baseball cap, smoking a joint, enjoying the fruits of his homegrown labor. Despite the hundreds, nay, thousands of characters Michael Caine has portrayed in his long career, this entrance remains his finest. Baxter may be his crowning achievement in cinema.

Water contains some pseudo-political sub-plot about British colonialism and big business, but that’s just mashed in to justify making a movie about a forgotten British colony in the Caribbean. Caine runs the island on auto-pilot. His colonial rule is opposed by a local militia (really just Billy Connoly calling himself the Cascara Liberation Front) that sings protest songs, but otherwise doesn’t speak. (“Is that a political posture of speech impediment?”) Rastafarian Jimmie Walker runs the local radio station and pre-dates Robin Williams’ weather reports in Good Morning, Vietnam when he forecasts the Cascaran weather. “IT’S HOOOOOT!”

Conflict arises when the homeland politicos opt to cut off funding to the already impoverished island, and an American drilling company discovers a huge source of natural mineral water. Baxter’s idyllic, pot-smoking, wife-ignoring existence becomes threatened when Cascara becomes the center of everyone’s attention.

Like many great comedies, Water becomes unhinged when narrative gets in the way of good gags… like the fundraising concert spoofing George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh featuring the likes of Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in the Singing Rebels’ Band… or the gestures that accompany the Cascaran national anthem, which mime the various swimming strokes to honor the fact that the island’s inhabitants are descended from shipwreck survivors. If a comedy is measured by the glorious details, Water deserves legions of adoring fans and a much better DVD release that the VHS-dubbed disaster that currently exists.

 

Restless Natives

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Ronnie: “You see the point is that we’re smarter than they are. “
Will: “I keep getting these funny wee warts on my fingers.”

A light-hearted Scottish flick about bored, broke Scotsmen who start robbing tour buses for something to do and inadvertently become local heroes and celebrities (behind their wolf man and clown masks, anyway). It’s part lighter-hearted Bill Forsyth, part Full Monty, part something else that I can’t quite place… but I’ll get there with enough time to ponder.

…still pondering…

Anyway, don’t think too hard about how Japanese motorcycle manufacturers or local news can track down and capitalize on the infamous Robin Hood/Rob Roy-bus thieves while the local police can’t catch up to them. Like, don’t let it enter your mind, because you’ll start to question things and when you start questioning and thinking you’ll miss out on the tremendous fun to be had with Restless Natives.

Oh and while I’m still pondering, it’s notable that Ned Beatty shows up for a bit. That’s right. THE Ned Beatty.
The lead actors (Joe Mullaney and Vincent Friell) prove to be affable enough and lend some necessary complexity to their characters. The script moves along briskly and efficiently, but it’s the spirit of the film that’ll draw you in. The memorable cinematography of the Scottish hills and moors, the care given to a relatively minor picture, the soundtrack by the Scottish rock outfit Big Country.

Restless Natives is a movie that makes you feel good about movies, the joy of watching an underseen gem, no ironic enjoyment required. Director Michael Hoffman would go on to bigger but not necessarily better Hollywood projects like One Fine Day and Soapdish before scaling back to direct the excellent Game 6. Save this one for a rainy day in need of some levity. In a fair world, this movie might have been revered on a level reserved for Ferris Bueller, but the movie’s appeal never traveled outside Scotland, where it was a local box office success.

 

The Shmenges: The Last Polka

“The military needed jars. In the summer of 1945 all glass jars in the country were seized, crippling vaudeville in Leutonia.”

This SCTV-produced mockumentary aired on HBO in 1985 and featured characters introduced on the Second City TV sketch comedy program.

Leutonian-born Yosh (John Candy) and Stan (Eugene Levy) are the Shmenges, the biggest polka act in the history of the world. SCTV regulars appear in abundance. Dave Thomas narrates. Rick Moranis plays lounge/polka singer Linsk Minyk. (Minyk and his amazing facial hair deliver a memorable rendition of “Touch Me” by the Doors.) Catherine O’Hara, Robin Duke and Catherine’s sister Mary Margaret appear as one of the many Shmenge collaborators, The Lemon Twins. (The extramarital scandal between the three Lemon sisters and the Shmenges catapults their act to the top of the polka charts.)

It would be easy to liken The Last Polka (a loose parody of The Band’s The Last Waltz) to a polka-cized version of This Is Spinal Tap. The main difference might be that The Last Polka doesn’t try as hard to be funny. Polka, on its own, is just natural comedy; John Candy and Eugene Levy do less mugging than one might expect (and certainly less than Rick Moranis in his pint-sized role) for a polka-based comedy. The mockumentary works best when it’s played completely straight, like when Yosh and Stan take a mid-concert break during a Tuba solo. Romantic close-up on the labored tuba player’s face as he struggles to survive the “break.”

The music’s genuine in The Last Polka, and the laughs are placed there on the stage for you to appreciate. Or not. I certainly found myself watching the entire 55-minutes of The Shmenges: The Last Polka with a huge smile on my face. The joy culminates in a Shmenge tribute to Michael Jackson complete with a Polka version of “Beat It.”
The Last Polka has never been released on DVD, and the VHS is becoming a little difficult to find. Lucky for us all, an enterprising soul has put the comedy on Youtube, thus preserving, at least temporarily, the Shmenges’ legacy.

 

Transylvania 6-5000

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“Master, I’ve had enough aggravation for one day.”

Here’s a tip: Lifeforce/Transylvania 6-5000 double feature. Truly. There’s a certain symbiosis in the Lifeforce and Transylvania 6-5000 pairing. Not only do the two films share the same 1985 release year but also wacked notions of what vampires can be if we forget the Dracula kind for a moment. Of course there’s a far cry from space vampires to Geena Davis… but somehow Geena Davis still takes the prize for oddness.

Critics ripped this movie to bits and, well, it has a certain infamous reputation. Reputations be damned. If the movie features Jeff Goldblum, Michael Richards, Geena Davis, and Carol Kane it’s worth watching… on some level. Of course it’s dumb. Of course, many of the jokes try too damn hard. But this was the 80’s when movies knew how to have a 5 IQ and still reward with creative ineptitude and brilliant character actors just doing pratfalls. Carol Kane just being Carol Kane. Ed Begley, Jr. in a starring role! Jeff Goldblumage off the charts.

Instead of attempting to explain why this movie is worth watching or why it doesn’t exactly deserve it’s reputation — I’m not sure there’s a legitimate argument other than joie de vivre! — I’ll just make this movie another entry in the “Why I Love the 1980’s” coffee table book, which I’m quite sure will convince you all that the 80’s were, like, ohmygod, the best decade ever for amazingly fun bad movies.

 

Honorable Mention 5-Pack:

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins
Trouble in Mind
The Man with One Red Shoe
Secret Admirer
Mr. Vampire