Tuesday, April 30, 2013

#988. Bait (2012)


Directed By: Kimble Rendall

Starring: Richard Brancatisano, Xavier Samuel, Chris Betts




Tag line: "The food chain just got flipped"

Trivia: Despite only earning approximately $775,000 in its home country of Australia, the movie was an overseas success, making upwards of $20 million China alone






Bait, a 2012 Australian import, has a few things in common with another recent film, 2011’s Shark Night. Aside from the fact both were originally presented in 3D, they tell a similar story about a group of people being hunted by killer sharks. But this is where the similarities end, because while Shark Night toned down the violence in order to attract a younger audience, Bait lets the blood flow freely, and allows the occasional severed head to float into frame.

A small beachside community is ravaged by a freak tsunami, and, as a result, several people are trapped inside a flooded supermarket. But while they were lucky enough to survive the disaster, these unfortunate few have a whole new problem to contend with: a pair of enormous great white sharks, which are loose in the store and hungry for some fresh meat. Once the sharks are through gobbling up those killed by the tsunami, they turn their attention to the survivors, who are working diligently to find a way out of their dangerous predicament.

It’s a great set-up, and Bait does a fairly good job telling its story, complimenting the gory attacks with a few genuinely suspenseful moments. Along with those inside the supermarket, three people are also trapped in an adjacent parking garage, sitting patiently in their submerged vehicles waiting for help to arrive. Two of them, Kyle (Lincoln Lewis) and his girlfriend Heather (Cariba Heine), inadvertently draw the attention of a shark, causing the creature to try and break their car’s windows. Yet while the tension in Bait certainly rises whenever the sharks are on the prowl for food, it’s nothing compared to what happens when they finally catch some. In one scene, a guy falls into the water and quickly tries to climb back out. Jaimie (Phoebe Tonkin), a teenage girl trapped inside the store with her policeman father (Martin Sacks), grabs the guy's arm to help him. It’s at this point a shark attacks. Soon, Jaimie is holding nothing but a severed limb, and watching as the rest of his body slowly drifts away.

Of course, Bait does suffer from the same malady that infects a slew of recent genre films: poor CGI effects. The scene where the tsunami crashes onto the beach isn’t the least bit convincing, and some of the shark attacks result in a cloud of computer-generated blood that’s equally as unimpressive. Luckily, Bait is able to overcome these issues, weaving an intense tale of survival around an interesting concept, and doing some pretty nifty things with it in the process.








Monday, April 29, 2013

#987. Scarface (1932)


Directed By: Howard Hawks

Starring: Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley






Trivia: Al Capone was rumored to have liked the film so much that he had his own copy of it








Following the box-office success of Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, two gangster-themed films released in 1931, there was concern among state censors that the American public might begin to view criminals in a sympathetic light, or, worse still, as role models. As a result, they came down hard on Scarface, a 1932 crime movie produced by millionaire Howard Hughes, and demanded (among other things) that the additional title The Shame of a Nation be added to the film. Yet, despite their best efforts, the combined talents of star Paul Muni and director Howard Hawks transformed Scarface into the era’s most violent, and most effective, gangster film.

Based loosely on the life of Al Capone, Scarface stars Paul Muni as Tony Camonte, a hard-nosed criminal who, as the movie opens, is the right-hand man of mobster Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins). But it isn’t long before Tony makes a play for the top spot, cozying up to Lovo’s girl, Poppy (Karen Morley), and knocking off rivals like Gaffney (Boris Karloff). With the help of his close pal, Guino Rinaldo (George Raft), Tony is soon the king of New York’s criminal underworld, but with the police constantly breathing down his neck, he finds it isn’t nearly as much fun as he thought it would be.

As played by Muni, Tony is a ferocious, contemptible thug, a blunt instrument who lets his guns do the talking. Even in his personal life, Tony is reckless; the relationship he has with his kid sister, Cesca (Ann Dvorak), is borderline incestuous, and their scenes together have a sexual energy that’s downright disturbing. Yet, in spite of all this, Muni somehow makes Tony an appealing character, a guy who gets such a kick out of being a gangster that his enthusiasm spills off the screen (you can’t help but smile at the scene where he first gets his hands on a Tommy Gun, acting as excited as a kid on Christmas morning). As far as the violence is concerned, director Howard Hawks rarely shows any on-screen killings, yet presents each murder in a manner that's just as poignant. When Boris Karloff’s character, Gaffney, is gunned down in a bowling alley, we hear the shots that finish him off, but what we see is a bowling ball rolling down the lane, and a single pin toppling over, as if to signify the deed’s been done.

Much to the censors’ chagrin, Scarface not only matched the success of Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, it surpassed them, proving once and for all that cinematic gangsters were here to stay.







Sunday, April 28, 2013

#986. Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)


Directed By: Werner Herzog

Starring: Helmut Döring, Paul Glauer, Gisela Hertwig




Trivia: Werner Herzog promised the cast he would jump into a field of cactuses if they managed to pull through the movie. Eventually, he fulfilled his promise







One day, my brother and I got into a friendly argument over the films I view on a regular basis. “You watch a ton of weird-ass movies”, he said to me. I immediately took issue with this statement, and started rattling off a number of well-respected classics I count among my all-time favorites (The Godfather, Patton, Lawrence of Arabia, and so on ). He then looked me square in the eye and said “You watched a movie about German midgets running wild on the Canary Islands”.

The debate ended right there. “Yeah”, I sheepishly replied, “ I did watch that one”. I couldn’t even muster up the courage to tell him I really liked it, too.

The movie he was referring to is Even Dwarfs Started Small, director Werner Herzog’s 1970 black and white film set in a world inhabited entirely by little people. At a remote psychiatric clinic, the facility’s president (Pepe Hermine) punishes an inmate named Pepe (Gerd Gickel) for a minor infraction by tying him to a chair in his office. In an effort to free their pal, the remaining patients stage a rebellion, and march on the president’s office, demanding Pepe be released. Yet what starts as a small uprising soon devolves into total mayhem, and by the time all is said and done, some property's been destroyed, a few animals have been humiliated, and the facility’s truck lies smoldering in a ditch.

With Even Dwarfs Started Small, Herzog has taken the stance that rebellion, whether justifiable or not, can sometimes lead to lawlessness. Yet as the movie unfolds, even Herzog himself gets swept up in the chaos, completely abandoning structure and narrative in favor of pure cinematic anarchy. In one unforgettable sequence, the inmates gather around an outdoor table to eat a meal they’ve prepared, only to start flinging the food at each other instead. But the scene doesn’t end there; soon, the group is taking their frustrations out on the above-mentioned truck, which is driving, round and round in a circle, behind them… with nobody at the wheel! Having already tossed food at each other, the inmates start heaving it (along with some plates, a few glasses, the odd bottle or two, and a typewriter) at the truck as it continually rolls by.

As an added bonus, Herzog didn’t bother editing out any of the real-life insanity that slipped into Even Dwarfs Started Small from time to time, like when the actor playing Pepe, still tied to a chair, reacts with shock when the window behind him shatters and a live chicken comes crashing to the ground (the poor guy kept staring off-screen, a look of horror on his face, waiting in vain for Herzog to yell ‘Cut’). The camera also captures an argument that breaks out between two actors, when the guy playing Hombre (Helmut Doring) refuses to climb a small hill with the rest of the group (one actress calls him a coward, and he angrily tells her to kiss his ass).

Believe it or not, this is only scratching the surface; there’s still plenty of lunacy left for you to discover on your own. A smorgasbord of the strange and unusual, Even Dwarfs Started Small is, as my brother put it, a “weird-ass movie”.

And I absolutely love it!







Saturday, April 27, 2013

#985. The Road Warrior (1981)


Directed By: George Miller

Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston, Max Phipps



Tag line: "In the future, cities will become deserts, roads will become battlefields and the hope of mankind will appear as a stranger"

Trivia: The dog used in the film was obtained from a local dog pound, and was adopted by one of the camera operators when filming completed





Set in a desolate wasteland where the only rule is to kill or be killed, The Road Warrior, the second entry in the Mad Max series, distinguishes itself from its predecessor by favoring excitement over story, action over character development. And, oh, what a thrilling, intense ride it is!

The Road Warrior opens with our hero, Max, speeding along the highway in his interceptor, scouring the land for the only resource that matters anymore: gasoline. After a run-in with a ruthless gang of marauders, Max meets up with the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence), who tells him about a nearby refinery that’s still churning out fuel. Unfortunately, this facility is under constant attack from the same gang that chased Max earlier. Led by a masked behemoth known as The Humongous (Kjell Nilsson), these bandits have been trying for days to breach the wall surrounding the plant, so that they can get their hands on its precious fuel. After rescuing one of their workers, who was ambushed by Humongous’ men and left for dead, Max is permitted inside the facility, which he discovers is being run by a small community of desperate men and women, all of whom want to leave their "jobs" behind and start a new life. The question, of course, is how will they get past The Humongous and his collection of brigands? This is where Max comes in; in exchange for all the gasoline he can carry, Max agrees to help them escape, which, as he soon figures out, is easier said than done.

The Road Warrior doesn’t spend a lot of time building up its various supporting characters, or filling us in on their back story (we never learn much about those inside the refinery, or, for that matter, the Gyro Captain, who spends a good portion of the film at Max's side). This simply isn’t that kind of movie. What The Road Warrior does do (and very well, I might add) is get our pulses racing and hearts pounding with some balls-out action scenes. Along with the opening sequence, where Max is chased by some of The Humongous’ men, The Road Warrior wows us with many exhilarating moments, chief among them the grand finale, which sees Max barreling down the road in a big rig, attempting to outrun a dozen or so vehicles.

A non-stop thrill ride of a motion picture, The Road Warrior rarely slows down long enough for you to catch your breath.







Friday, April 26, 2013

#984. Basket Case (1982)


Directed By: Frank Henenlotter

Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner




Tag line: "The tenant in room 7 is very small, very twisted and very mad"

Trivia: The Bar scenes were shot in a S&M club in Manhattan that is today known as the Hellfire Club






Eight years before he helmed the bizarre Frankenhooker, Frank Henenlotter made his directorial debut with the even more bizarre Basket Case, which follows the exploits of Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck), a small-town yokel who travels to New York City with nothing but a wad of cash in his pocket and a large wicker basket. What’s in the basket, you ask? Why, it’s his Siamese twin brother, of course! The problem is, Duane’s twin, who goes by the name Belial, isn’t exactly what you’d call “normal”. In fact, he’s little more than a mute mound of flesh, with a head, two arms, and a nasty disposition. The brothers, who were separated against their will, have come to the big city to take their revenge on the doctors that performed the separation surgery.

Despite its low budget (according to Henenlotter, the film cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $35,000 to produce), Basket Case accomplishes quite a bit, both in the make-up department (Belial’s victims look convincingly torn to shreds) and, more impressively, the manner in which Belial is brought to life. He isn’t always believable; when Belial attacks, he leaps through the air towards his intended victim, an effect that looks more comical than menacing. Yet Henenlotter and his crew do manage to conjure up some remarkable moments with the little guy. In one scene, Belial flies into a rage when he realizes Duane has left him alone to go on a date with Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), a receptionist he recently met. Aided by stop-motion animation, Belial tears the hotel room apart, destroying a television and tossing a dresser drawer against the wall, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say the stop-motion was flawless, I have to admit that, for a $35,000 movie, it looked pretty damn good!

Even more amazing is how we come to accept this mutated mess as an honest-to-goodness character. There are times we feel sorry for Belial, like in the extended flashback sequence where Duane and Belial’s father (Richard Pierce) forcibly has the two of them separated, then tosses Belial into a trash bag and drops him next to a dumpster. There’s also a touching domestic scene in which the kindly aunt who raised them (Ruth Neuman) reads a book to the brothers, with Belial sitting on her lap as she does so. It’s to Henelotter’s credit that he makes us fear this globular mass, while at the same time ensuring we care about it as well. Considering the budget he had to work with, pulling off just one of these would have been impressive, but pulling both off? That’s nothing short of a miracle.







Thursday, April 25, 2013

#983. Bugsy Malone (1976)


Directed By: Alan Parker

Starring: Scott Baio, Florrie Dugger, Jodie Foster





Tag line: "Every year brings a great movie. Every decade a great movie musical!"

Trivia: When looking for Fat Sam, director Alan Parker went to a Brooklyn classroom and asked who was the naughtiest boy in class; all the class replied John Cassisi, who subsequently got the part





Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone helped get me through a difficult time. It was 1981, about a month shy of my 12th birthday, and I had to go into the hospital for minor ear surgery. Because the operation was scheduled for early morning, I had to check in the day before and stay overnight. What’s more, the hospital was a good 20 miles from home, so when visiting hours were over and my parents left for the day, I felt incredibly alone. I passed a little time re-reading one of my favorite comic books (which I still have: Batman’s Detective Comics, #476, “The Sign of the Joker”), then turned my attention to the TV hanging above my bed. After watching the latest episode of a short-lived sitcom titled Best of the West (anyone out there remember that one?), it was time for the Movie of the Week, which just happened to be Bugsy Malone, a fun, upbeat musical starring a bunch of kids (most of whom were around my age), all acting like mobsters and “shooting” each other with whipped cream. A few minutes into the film, I forgot that I was so far from home, forgot my upcoming surgery … forgot everything! At that exact moment, Bugsy Malone was just what I needed.

Set in the Roaring ‘20s, during the days of Prohibition, Bugsy Malone tells the story of… well, Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio), a down on his luck boxing promoter who falls in love with singer Blousey Brown (Florrie Dugger). Things get a bit dicey, however, when Tallulah (Jodie Foster), the girlfriend of a gangster named Fat Sam (John Cassisi), also falls for Bugsy. But there’s more to Bugsy Malone than romantic entanglements; the film features a gangland-style turf war as well, with Fat Sam, owner of the most popular Speakeasy in town, facing off against his rival, Dandy Dan (Martin Lev), who’s trying to muscle in on Sam’s territory. To gain the upper hand, Dan acquires a brand-new weapon called a splurge gun, which coats its victims with whipped cream. Out-muscled and outgunned, Sam has no choice but to turn to Bugsy Malone for help.

For what would be his first feature-length motion picture, director Alan Parker wanted to make a movie his four children would enjoy, and it was his eldest son who suggested a film starring only kids. Bugsy Malone is certainly unique in that regard; the entire cast was under the age of 17 when it was made, yet the world they inhabit is very adult-like, with Speakeasies, cars (which are powered by foot pedals, not gasoline) and gun-toting gangsters. Of course, the guns they carry fire whipped cream instead of bullets, but that only made them more awesome (after seeing this movie, I desperately wanted one of those guns). The whole picture has a whimsical feel to it, and even the musical numbers, many of which were performed by singer / songwriter Paul Williams (his voice was dubbed over that of the kids), are playful and amusing (“Fat Sam’s Grand Slam” is a real toe-tapper).

While I’ve seen bits and pieces of Bugsy Malone over the years, this was the first time I sat down and watched the entire movie, start to finish, since that night in 1981. Sure, it’s silly, and oh so strange (especially whenever Paul Williams’ voice bellows out of a young kid’s mouth), but Bugsy Malone will always be the film that saw me through a dark, lonely evening, and, as a result, will forever hold a special place in my heart.







Wednesday, April 24, 2013

#982. Death Race 2000 (1975)


Directed By: Paul Bartel

Starring: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone




Tag line: "A Cross-Country Road Wreck!"

Trivia:  The main role was originally offered to Peter Fonda, who ultimately turned it down







One of the things I like most about watching producer Roger Corman’s early films is seeing some of Hollywood’s biggest stars at the beginning of their careers. Three-time Academy Award winner Jack Nicholson was around 23 when he appeared in Corman’s 1960 production of Little Shop of Horrors, while a young Robert De Niro played one of Ma Barker’s boys in the 1970 crime film, Bloody Mama. In Death Race 2000, it was Sylvester Stallone’s turn to shine, and even though this wasn’t his first big-screen appearance (he had already been in a number of other movies, including The Lords of Flatbush), he was, at the time, a year away from his breakout role in Rocky. In Death Race 2000, he plays a slightly different kind of character, that of Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, a hyper-sensitive race car driver and one of several entertaining personalities in this film.

It’s the year 2000, and the entire world has tuned in to watch the Transcontinental Road Race, an annual sporting event in which five professional drivers speed across the United States, trying to beat each other to the finish line. But there’s more to winning than being the fastest; you also have to be ready to kill, gathering up the points awarded for each pedestrian you run down during the race. The odd-on favorite to win the Transcontinental is Mr. Frankenstein (David Carradine), a former champion and personal friend of the world’s leader, “Mr. President” (Sandy McCallum). His chief competition is Machine-Gun Joe Viterbo (Stallone), who, as announcer Junior Bruce (Don Steele) puts it, is “loved by thousands, hated by millions”. But, in this particular race, Frankenstein has more to worry about than his fellow competitors. His new navigator, Annie (Simone Griffith), is actually a member of the resistance, an underground movement determined to stop the race before any more innocent people are killed. Their plan is to kidnap Frankenstein and hold him hostage until the race is cancelled, yet as Annie soon discovers, Frankenstein has a few tricks of his own hidden up his sleeve.

Death Race 2000 is an action-packed dark comedy featuring an assortment of outrageous characters, starting with the five drivers participating in the race, each of whom has their own gimmick. Aside from Frankenstein (donning a black mask) and Machine Gun Joe (who occasionally fires his patented machine gun into a crowd of spectators), there’s Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov), driving around in a car with bull’s horns mounted on the front, and the highly Teutonic Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins), whose fans wave flags emblazoned with swastikas. Rounding out the quintet is Nero the Hero (Martin Kove), the first driver to fall victim to the resistance, which blows his car sky-high, killing both he and his navigator, Cleopatra (Leslie McRay). None of the drivers like each other very much, which leads to plenty of fireworks whenever they gather at the various rest stops along the route (in an early scene, Matilda and Calamity Jane, both topless, nearly come to blows while receiving full-body massages).

Along with its bevy of over-the-top personalities, Death Race 2000 features lots of violence, most of which is a result of the race’s points system. As mentioned above, the drivers are awarded points for every pedestrian they run down: 10 points for women, 30 for teenagers, 70 for toddlers, and a whopping 100 points for the elderly. Machine Gun Joe is the first to score, slamming into a construction worker and slicing the poor guy’s groin with the huge dagger mounted on the front of his car. Even Frankenstein gets in on the action when a group of nurses push several wheelchair-bound elderly patients into the middle of the road, hoping the popular driver will plow into them for a big score. In a humorous twist, Frankenstein swerves his car off to the side, taking out the nurses instead!

One of Roger Corman’s most popular movies, Death Race 2000 is a hilariously violent film that’s a whole lot of fun to watch.







Tuesday, April 23, 2013

#981. King Kong (1933)


Directed By: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack

Starring: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot






Tag line: "The Most Awesome Thriller Of All Time"

Trivia: Jean Harlow refused the lead part in this movie





In 1933, a teenage boy walked into Graumann’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd. to see a movie, and by the time he emerged two hours later, the course of his life had been forever altered. The movie was King Kong, and the boy was Ray Harryhausen. The fact that King Kong was responsible for stirring the imagination of the cinema’s greatest stop-motion animator, the creative mind behind such classic fantasy films as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, is enough to ensure it a place of honor in the annals of motion picture history.

Of course, the movie itself ain’t so bad, either.

Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, King Kong opens on the docks of New York harbor, from which filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) and his crew, including new leading lady Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), set sail for a remote island that will serve as the backdrop for their latest adventure picture. But shortly after the troupe arrives at their destination, Ann is kidnapped by natives and offered as a sacrifice to Kong, a giant ape that carries the poor girl off into the jungle. The ship’s first mate, Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), organizes a rescue party to save Ann, an undertaking that leads to the eventual capture of the mighty Kong. Figuring New Yorkers will pay a hefty sum to see such an unusual creature, Denham hauls Kong back to America and puts the beast on display. But things go awry when Kong breaks free of his chains and unleashes his anger on the unsuspecting citizens of New York.

Forget the mediocre performances, or the fact the movie has very little in the way of an actual story; King Kong is all about the spectacle, and, for audiences in 1933, it must have been a sight to behold. Aided by the stop-motion artistry of Willis O’Brien, Kong causes all sorts of chaos, both at home and abroad. While on the island, Kong does battle with a variety of creatures, including a Pteranodon and, most notably, a tyrannosaurus (an exciting showdown that ends with Kong breaking the prehistoric beast’s jaw). Yet this is nothing compared to what happens when the gargantuan ape hits the streets of New York, where he topples subway trains and scales the side of the Empire State Building. Chock full of memorable sequences, King Kong has earned its reputation as one of the most influential fantasy films ever made.

Yet another interesting aspect of King Kong is how its title character emerges as the most likable in the entire movie. A freak of nature who fell in love with the wrong girl, Kong was torn from his natural habitat so that he could be put on public display, and though he was clearly intended to serve as the film’s monster, it’s hard to see him as anything more than an innocent victim. Ray Harryhausen himself once said, “(Willis) O’Brien injected into a pile of rubber and metal joints far more sympathy and depth than was to be found in the real people on the screen”, and after watching King Kong, whether for the first time or the 20th, you’ll likely agree this observation is 100% spot-on.







Monday, April 22, 2013

#980. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)


Directed By: John Newland

Starring: Kim Darby, Jim Hutton, Barbara Anderson




Tag line: "Can you see them, Sally ... hiding in the shadows. They're alive, Sally. They want you to be one of them when the lights go out"

Trivia: The role of Alex Farnham was originally to be played by George Hamilton





Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a 1973 made-for-TV movie, is a disturbing little thriller, and features a trio of tiny monsters you won’t soon forget.

Sally Farnham (Kim Darby) has recently inherited a house that belonged to her late grandmother. Shortly after she and her husband, Alex (Jim Hutton), move in, Sally discovers a brick fireplace in the basement that’s been boarded up. The handyman, Mr. Harris (William Demarest), who worked for Sally’s grandmother, tells Sally that under no circumstances should the fireplace be opened (yet refuses to explain why). Despite his warnings, Sally removes the bolts from the fireplace door, and in so doing releases three goblin-like creatures, each standing no more than a foot or so tall. Neither Alex nor her best friend, Joan (Barbara Anderson), believe Sally when she tries to tell them about the little monsters, chalking her bizarre behavior up to nervous tension. Continually hounded by the new “visitors”, Sally begins to fear for her life, and is left to wonder what it is these miniature pests want from her.

While the actors definitely do their part to make Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark a memorable motion picture (especially Hunter, who perfectly conveys the confusion and, later on, the terror of a woman pushed to the brink), it’s the goblins themselves that make it entertaining. Initially, we only hear these creatures, talking in faint whispers and calling Sally by name. This alone is enough to give us the heebie-jeebies, but when we finally get a glimpse of one of the mini-monsters, the movie’s creep factor hits a whole new level. They appear continuously throughout the second half of the film, hiding behind curtains, climbing up stairs, and, in the film’s best scene, trying to attack Sally while she’s in the shower. It’s clear from the outset that these imps intend to kill Sally, which is confirmed when they try to trip her at the top of the stairs, and instead send the interior decorator (Pedro Armendáriz, Jr) plummeting to his death.

The goblins, which were played by actors in make-up, may, at the start, evoke a few laughs from younger viewers, especially those accustomed to more "high-tech" (read CGI) monsters. But after a scene or two, these creepy little buggers will have even the most jaded audience members poised at the edge of their seats.







Sunday, April 21, 2013

#979. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)


Directed By: George Stevens

Starring: Max von Sydow, Michael Anderson Jr., Charlton Heston






Trivia: Telly Savalas shaved his head bald for his role as Pontius Pilate. He kept his head shaved for the rest of his life






The Greatest Story Ever Told, George Stevens’ 1965 epic on the life of Jesus Christ, stars Max von Sydow as Jesus, a man Christians believe was the son of God. The film touches on all the key moments of Jesus’ time on earth, from his birth in a Bethlehem manger and his encounter with John the Baptist (Charlton Heston) to his teachings, including the Sermon on the Mount, and the various miracles he performed, like raising his good friend, Lazarus (Michael Tolan), from the dead. Finally, The Greatest Story Ever Told covers Jesus’ arrest, his trial at the hands of Pontius Pilate (Telly Savalas), his crucifixion, and, three days later, his resurrection.

That’s the story in a nutshell, but what’s truly great about The Greatest Story Ever Told is its gargantuan cast. In fact, the most fun you’ll have watching this movie will be trying to identify its cavalcade of stars, some in significant roles (Charlton Heston makes for a good John the Baptist), others popping on-screen for a few seconds (most notable is John Wayne as the Roman Centurion who, at the crucifixion, uttered “Truly, this man was the son of God”). The list of actors and actresses appearing in The Greatest Story Ever Told reads like a who’s-who of Hollywood in the 1960s: Jose Ferrer (as Herod Antipas), Martin Landau, Angela Lansbury, Pat Boone, Roddy McDowell, Sal Mineo, Donald Pleasance (as Satan, who else?), Sidney Poitier, and Shelley Winters (in the enviable role of “Woman who is healed”). Several cast members, aside from those listed above, went on to appear regularly on television, including Russell Johnson (aka the Professor in Gilligan’s Island), Mark Lenard (who played Spock’s father, Sarek, in a number of Star Trek episodes), and Jamie Farr (Corporal Max Klinger in the hit ‘70s sitcom, M*A*S*H), who, in the film, portrayed the apostle Thaddeus.

Unfortunately, not even the movie’s vast collection of stars can save it from the throes of mediocrity. Simply put, The Greatest Story Ever Told is extremely boring, and trudges along towards its inevitable conclusion at a snail’s pace. Many so-called dramatic scenes come up short, like the Last Supper or Jesus being tempted in the garden, and are instead tedious, with little or no effort put forth by director Stevens to make them cinematically engaging. It’s as if he felt the mere act of presenting biblical moments on film would be enough to both stir his audience’s emotions and arouse their piety. Clearly, he was wrong, and what we’re left with is a mind-numbingly pretentious movie that, quite often, buckles under the weight of its own self-importance.

The story of Jesus may be the greatest ever told, but it made for a pretty humdrum motion picture.







Saturday, April 20, 2013

#978. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)


Directed By: Nathan Juran

Starring: Allison Hayes, William Hudson, Yvette Vickers



Tag line: "See a female colossus... her mountainous torso, skyscraper limbs, giant desires!"

Trivia: Director Nathan Juran insisted on being billed as "Nathan Hertz" (Hertz was Juran's middle name), apparently because he was embarrassed by this film's low budget and poor quality





I absolutely love the poster art for 1958’s Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, which shows a scantily-clad beauty towering over a city freeway, holding a car in her left hand as she reaches down to grab another one with her right. Down below, people are running in all directions, and in the lower left corner, a truck that crashed into the giant babe’s foot lies in ruins. I’d seen this artwork long before I ever watched the movie, and based on what it showed me, I couldn’t wait to see Attack of the 50 Foot Woman!

Alas, the poster is more interesting than the film itself.

Wealthy socialite Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes) is a very unlucky lady. Aside from the fact her husband Harry (William Hudson) is having an affair with local fun girl Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers), Nancy’s also just had a run-in with a 30-foot tall extraterrestrial, and, due to her history of mental problems, when she tries telling people about it, no one believes a word she says. Hoping his wife is having another breakdown, Harry makes plans to lock Nancy away for good, thus giving him full control of her vast fortune. But following another encounter with the gargantuan alien, something strange happens to Nancy: she begins growing taller…and taller… and taller! The family physician, Dr. Cushing (Roy Gordon), has no idea what’s going on, and keeps Nancy heavily sedated until a cure can be found. Yet when Nancy, who’s now as tall as a building, finally wakes up, she decides to take her frustrations out on Harry, and there isn’t much anyone can do to stop her.

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman isn’t a total stinker; the acting is good, especially Allison Hayes as Nancy, and Yvette Vickers is very easy on the eyes. Also, the scene where Nancy drags Harry out to the desert to show him the spaceship has a fairly dramatic payoff. Sure, the special effects are hilariously weak, but that’s to be expected (the film reportedly cost just $88,000 to produce). No, the main problem I had with Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is that it took too damn long for the 50-foot woman to attack! I’m not saying she should have been crushing buildings within the first 10 minutes. I just didn’t think they’d wait until the last 10 to roll her out, and when she finally does make her appearance, the damage she causes is pretty minimal.

So, yeah, the movie was a bit of a letdown. But I still love that poster!







Friday, April 19, 2013

#977. Ethel (2012)


Directed By: Rory Kennedy

Starring: Ethel Kennedy, Rory Kennedy, Ralph Bunche





Tag line: "A private look inside a highly public life"

Trivia: While making the festival tour, this film won four separate Audience Awards






Ethel is a documentary on the life of Ethel Kennedy, wife of former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated during his campaign for the presidency in 1968. Yet even though the movie, which was directed by Ethel’s youngest daughter Rory, takes us behind the scenes of one of America’s most powerful families, it is, at its heart, a very personal film about a woman whose tenacity and perseverance guided her young family through some extremely difficult times.

While Ethel does address a number of key moments in U.S. history, including the 1960 Presidential election, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights movement, and the assassinations of both John and Robert Kennedy, it’s not a documentary about America in the turbulent ‘60s. It is the story of Ethel Kennedy, told in her own words (with the help of her surviving children, who occasionally chime in). We hear of how she and Robert Kennedy first met at a ski resort, and that, prior to their getting together, he had dated her sister, Patricia, for two years (a time Ethel now refers to as “a dark period”). Interspersed with footage of her hitting the campaign trail in 1960 and an appearance on the Jack Paar show are stories told by her children, who say Ethel Kennedy was both a devoted mother to all 11 of her offspring (as daughter Rory points out, Ethel was pregnant a grand total of 99 months, which amounts to just over 8 years of her life) and a bit out of her element when working around the house (one of her sons flat-out calls her a “bad cook”).

No movie about the Kennedy clan would be complete if it didn’t touch on the family’s political history, yet director Rory Kennedy does a fine job balancing Ethel’s public image with that of the person she knows simply as “mom”.








Thursday, April 18, 2013

#976. Eight Legged Freaks (2002)


Directed By: Ellory Elkayem

Starring: David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Terra




Tag line: "Do you hate spiders? Do you really hate spiders? Well they don't like you either"

Trivia: The original title was Arac Attack (in many European countries the film was released under that title)






A truck traveling through the small town of Prosperity, Arizona inadvertently drops a large barrel of toxic waste into a nearby river, polluting the entire area. Without realizing it, the owner of a local spider farm (Tom Noonan) feeds crickets that have been contaminated by the waste to his spiders, which, as a result, grow to an enormous size. No longer satisfied with eating bugs, the spiders break out of their cages and descend upon the unsuspecting residents of Prosperity, many of whom fall victim to the hungry creatures. Aided by her ultra-bright son, Mike (Scott Terra), and Chris McCormick (David Arquette), who recently returned to Prosperity after several years away, The town’s sheriff (Kari Wuhrer) faces off against the invading spiders, which grow bigger, and more aggressive, with each passing hour. 

Even without the above synopsis, the title alone should have clued you in on what Eight Legged Freaks was going to be about. But along with the killer spiders, the movie also gives us a trio of interesting characters, namely the determined sheriff and her two kids, Mike and Ashley (a teenage Scarlett Johansson). All three performers do a fine job in their respective roles, and we come to care about this small family as they struggle to survive the onslaught. While many of the film’s other characters are either cartoonish (Harlan, played by Doug E. Doug, hosts a local radio show where he endorses every conspiracy theory known to man) or boring (despite being the top-billed star, David Arquette is bland as Chris, and seems to be mimicking Officer Dewey, the character he portrayed in Wes Craven’s Scream series), this family at least ensures we have someone to root for. 

That said, the real stars of the movie are (not surprisingly) the spiders, most of which are brought to life by some fairly convincing CGI. Whether chasing teens on motorbikes or attacking a tanker truck as it barrels down the road, these monstrous arachnids are a force to be reckoned with throughout the film, and are the key reason why Eight Legged Freaks is a hell of a lot of fun.







Wednesday, April 17, 2013

#975. Phase IV (1974)


Directed By: Saul Bass

Starring: Michael Murphy, Nigel Davenport, Lynne Frederick




Tag line: "The Day The Earth Was Turned Into A Cemetery!"

Trivia: Saul Bass said in interviews that, during the editing process, the studio tampered with the film against his wishes






Saul Bass, an artist known primarily for his graphic designs (he created the opening title sequence for several movies, including Otto Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo), directed only one feature film during his Hollywood career: the 1974 sci-fi / horror flick, Phase IV, a movie that shows what might happen if ants decide to take over the world.

Two researchers, biologist Dr. Ernest Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) and communications expert James Lesko (Michael Murphy), are sent to the Arizona desert to investigate reports that various species of ants are becoming aggressive, and attacking the local population. Believed the result of a cosmic blast of radiation, which, by all accounts, has also increased their intelligence, the ants appear to be bonding together, working as one to lay waste to the entire area. When Dr. Hubbs provokes the ants by destroying the dirt pillars they call home, it leads to a battle of wills between man and insect, with the ants continually gaining the upper hand.

Stylistically speaking, Phase IV is a very unusual motion picture, a sci-fi/horror film with a decidedly art-house feel (think Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey combined with Kingdom of the Spiders). The movie opens with a 7-minute sequence, shot by entomologist Ken Middleham, in which we see dozens of ants in extreme close-up. From there, we’re treated to such natural splendor as a panoramic view of the desert, a beautiful sunrise, and various other shots meticulously designed by Bass, who was clearly attempting to flex his creative muscles. Yet, despite all the artistry on display, Phase IV is ultimately a film about killer bugs, and provides a few glimpses of the homicidal insects in action. Shortly after the arrival of the scientists, an elderly couple (played by Alan Gifford and Helen Horton) are forced to shoot a horse belonging to their granddaughter, Kendra (Lynne Frederick), when the animal is attacked by thousands of ants. The family then flees their home when it becomes infested with the deadly insects, only to find their truck is also overrun. There’s even a fairly disgusting scene where several ants crawl out of a hole they’ve burrowed into a dead man’s hand!

While many viewers will undoubtedly be turned off by the film's slow pace (the two main characters spend a lot of time discussing theories and inputting data into the computers at their research facility), I found Phase IV to be a fascinating motion picture, a wholly original movie that tells its story of killer ants in as artistic a manner as possible.








Tuesday, April 16, 2013

#974. Planet of the Apes (1968)


Directed By: Franklin J. Schaffner

Starring: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter




Tag line: "Somewhere in the Universe, there must be something better than man!"

Trivia: Allegedly, Jerry Goldsmith wore a gorilla mask while writing and conducting the score to "better get in touch with the movie."





In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, actor Charlton Heston appeared in a trio of science fiction films that have since become cult favorites. Yet as popular as The Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973) were (and are), neither would achieve the critical or commercial success of his first venture into the genre, 1968’s Planet of the Apes.

A deep-space mission under the command of Capt. George Taylor (Heston), which took off from earth in the 20th century, crash lands on a remote planet some 2,000 years in the future. Figuring they are there to stay, Taylor and his two subordinates, Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton), set out to explore this new world, only to find a society ruled by talking apes! During a melee with the apes, Taylor is shot in the throat. He’s then dragged off to a laboratory run by a chimpanzee researcher named Zira (Kim Hunter). Realizing Taylor is unlike most humans, who on this planet are mute and behave like primitive animals, Zira, along with her fiancé, Cornelius (Roddy McDowell), attempts to use Taylor to prove her theory of evolution, which asserts apes evolved from a lower order of man. The ruling council, headed up by Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), accuses Zira and Cornelius of heresy for suggesting apes share a common ancestry with humans. That all changes, however, when Taylor regains his strength and starts to speak, something no man on this planet has ever done before.

Planet of the Apes is among the most popular science fiction movies of all time, a picture that spawned four direct sequels, a remake (Tim Burton’s Ill-advised 2001 film of the same name) and a 21st century re-imagining (director Rupert Wyatt’s excellent 2011 flick, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) that may itself launch a brand new series of films. Planet of the Apes certainly owes a portion of its success to its shocking conclusion, easily one of the most famous surprise endings in cinematic history. Yet what truly stands out as you watch it are the apes themselves. Thanks to some incredible make-up (producer Richard Zanuck supposedly invested $50,000 prior to production to ensure the apes would look as realistic as possible) and the stellar performances of its cast (especially Hunter and McDowell), the various simian species in Planet of the Apes are convincingly brought to life.

Like The Omega Man and Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes paints a bleak picture of mankind’s future, a reaction of sorts to the turbulent era in which the films were made (rocked by civil strife and the war in Vietnam). Yet despite the obvious influences of the time period, Planet of the Apes remains as entertaining today as it ever was.







Monday, April 15, 2013

#973. The Towering Inferno (1974)


Directed By: John Guillermin

Starring: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden


Tag line: "The world's tallest building is on fire. You are there on the 135th floor... no way down... no way out"

Trivia: Faye Dunaway was often late to the set or didn't appear at all, which caused some of the other actors to become quite upset. William Holden reportedly shoved her against the wall one day and threatened her. For the next month, she had a perfect attendance record



As much as I love The Poseidon Adventure, 1974’s The Towering Inferno is easily my favorite of the ‘70s disaster films. Featuring a bevy of stars fighting for their lives inside a burning skyscraper, The Towering Inferno packs action, excitement, and a whole lot of fun into 165 minutes.

It’s opening night for San Francisco’s Glass Tower, the world’s tallest building, and on-hand to celebrate is its designer, architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman). After doing a bit of research, Roberts finds that Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain), the electrical engineer and son-in-law of the building’s owner, James Duncan (William Holden), cut corners when installing the Tower’s electrical supply, thus putting the entire structure in danger. Ignoring Roberts’ warnings of impending doom, Duncan decides to go ahead with the dedication ceremony, set to take place on the 135th floor. But when a small fire breaks out on one of the lower levels, it leads to an all-out blaze that threatens not only the Tower, but also the lives of everyone inside. With the help of Chief Michael O’Halloran (Steve McQueen) of the San Francisco Fire Department, Roberts works to save as many people as he can, a task that grows increasingly difficult when the fire spreads to the other floors.

Part of what makes The Towering Inferno the “granddaddy of disaster films” is its phenomenal cast. Along with Newman and McQueen, both of whom were big box-office draws at the time, there’s William Holden, giving a strong performance as the owner who quickly sees the error of his ways, and Faye Dunaway as Susan, the girlfriend of Paul Newman’s character who ends up trapped in the building right along with him. Other employees of the Glass Tower include Dan Bigelow (Robert Wagner), the building’s public relations chief and one of the first to be cornered by the fire (his attempt to escape the blaze is perhaps the film’s most poignant moment), and Security Officer Harry Jernigan (O.J. Simpson), who works with Roberts to get as many people to safety as he can (including young Mike Lookinland, who also played Bobby Brady in the T.V. series The Brady Bunch). As far as the guests are concerned, there are local dignitaries like Senator Parker (Robert Vaughn), as well as Harlee Claiborne (Fred Astaire), a con man trying to bilk lonely widow Lisolette Mueller (Jennifer Jones) out of some of her money. Even singer Maureen McGovern, whose tune “The Morning After” became a hit when it was featured in The Poseidon Adventure, shows up, playing herself and entertaining the guests on the 135th floor.

With a number of tense rescues and a finale that’s out of this world, The Towering Inferno set the bar high for every disaster film that followed. And in my opinion, none ever came close to it.







Sunday, April 14, 2013

#972. Chain Letter (2010)


Directed By: Deon Taylor

Starring: Madison Bauer, Nikki Reed, Brad Dourif






Tag line: "If You Don't Forward It, You Die"

Trivia: The movie bombed at the box office, losing approx. $2.5 million of its estimated $5 million budget






Chain Letter, a 2010 horror film directed by Deon Taylor, concerns a group of teens who receive a “chain e-mail”, telling them that, unless they forward the message to five people, they’re going to die. Naturally, some of them don’t take the warning very seriously, that is until one of their number, Johnny (Matt Cohen), who ignored the e-mail, is murdered by a chain-wielding psychopath in a mask (played by Michael Bailey Smith). Following the death of her best friend, Rachel (Cherilyn Wilson), who met a similarly horrific end, Jessie (Nikki Reed) turns to the police and Det. Jim Crenshaw (Keith David) for help. Can the authorities track down the killer in time to stop him, or will more innocent blood be shed?

With its tale of a masked assailant who targets teens, then finishes them off in as grisly a manner as possible, Chain Letter was clearly intended as a throwback to the slasher movies of the ‘80s, and, for the most part, it’s entertaining. The kills are fairly gruesome (one I found particularly disturbing involved gym equipment), and the fact that the stalker also has a specific weapon of choice, in this case a large metal chain, was a nice touch. What’s more, Chain Letter opens with a bang; in the very first scene, we see a young victim, her head wrapped in duct tape, lying on the floor of a garage, with each leg chained to the back of a different car. Just then, the girl’s parents enter the garage, and, not knowing their daughter is there, prepare to drive off to work. And even though the payoff for this scene isn’t shown until much later in the film, it’s a tension-filled sequence all the same.

Chain Letter definitely has its weaknesses. First, the film’s anti-technology message is anything but subtle, with the filmmakers hitting us over the head with it time and again. Also, the movie’s two “name” stars, Keith David and Brad Dourif (who plays a school teacher) are woefully underused (especially Dourif, who only appears in a couple scenes). Still, if it’s a decent modern slasher you’re after, then Chain Letter will certainly do the trick.







Saturday, April 13, 2013

#971. Trick 'r Treat (2007)


Directed By: Michael Dougherty


Starring: Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker




Tag line: "If you don't follow the rules tonight, you won't live to see tomorrow"

Trivia:  Because the film was shot primarily at night, little people had to stand in for kids in the trick or treating scenes






Halloween is the greatest time of year for horror fans, and each of us has our own “tradition” when it comes to the films we watch leading up to the big day. Personally, I like to kick October off with the classics, like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man, then close things out with two Rob Zombie movies: House of 1,000 Corpses (on Oct. 30th) and The Devil’s Rejects (on Halloween Night). Another film I’ve recently added to the holiday rotation is writer / director Michael Dougherty’s 2007 anthology, Trick ‘r Treat, a movie that celebrates Halloween while also sending a few chills running down your spine. 

It’s Halloween night in a small suburban neighborhood, and there’s something sinister in the air. A married couple (Tahmoh Penikett and Leslie Bibb) discovers what happens when you blow out the candle inside your jack-o-lantern too early, while young Charlie (Brett Kelly) has a rather messy run-in with his school’s principle, Mr. Wilkins (Dylan Baker), a man who takes Halloween very seriously. As this is going on, five kids are heading out to the quarry, where, legend has it, a school bus filled with special-needs children crashed thirty years ago, sending the unfortunate tykes to an early grave. Meanwhile, back in town, some teenage girls, including the virginal Laurie (Anna Paquin), are looking for local boys to “party” with, and a nasty shut-in named Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox), who despises Halloween and everything associated with it, is being terrorized by “Sam” (Quinn Lord), a pint-sized trick-or-treater intent on teaching the old guy a lesson he won’t soon forget. 

Usually, when it comes to anthologies, some sequences are stronger than others, yet every storyline that makes up Trick ‘r Treat is a winner. Dylan Baker is convincingly menacing as the educator hiding a dirty little secret, as is Anna Paquin, who, along with her smoking-hot pals (played by Lauren Lee Smith, Rochelle Aytes and Moneca Delain), has a surprise or two for the horny guys they’ve lured into the woods. The story involving the kids at the Quarry is perhaps the creepiest, and what starts as a Halloween prank soon turns into something much worse. The link connecting each tale is the character of “Sam”, who, along with giving Kreeg a hard time, watches over the entire town, making sure everyone follows the strict traditions of Halloween (naturally, those who don’t suffer the consequences). 

A film that also pays tribute to the myths and legends associated with the holiday, Trick ‘r Treat is an entertaining fright fest, and the perfect movie to watch during the Halloween season.










Friday, April 12, 2013

#970. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)


Directed By: Robert Rodriguez

Starring: George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel




Tag line: "One night is all that stands between them and freedom. But it's going to be a hell of a night"

Trivia: Tim Roth and Steve Buscemi were approached to play Pete Bottoms but neither could fit it into their schedules





I kinda wish I’d done things a bit differently prior to watching From Dusk Till Dawn. I wish I’d avoided the trailer, and all of the reviews that revealed important plot points. But I didn’t. I was fully aware of the movie’s big twist well before I saw it, and even though I loved the film, I couldn’t help but wonder what my reaction might have been had I not known what was coming.

Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez, From Dusk Till Dawn follows the exploits of the Gecko brothers, Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Quentin Tarantino), a pair of outlaws wanted for, among other things, armed robbery and the killing of several Texas police officers. Hoping to escape into Mexico, the brothers kidnap Jacob (Harvey Keitel), a former man of the cloth, and his two kids: Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu), who are traveling in an RV. With the promise that he and his family would be released once the brothers were safely in Mexico, Jacob drives the Geckos across the border to an all-night biker bar, where Seth has arranged to meet some old friends. Yet as they learn all too quickly, this particular saloon, situated in the middle of nowhere, is far from your average hangout.

George Clooney, who at the time he appeared in From Dusk Till Dawn was starring in the TV drama, ER, brings intensity to Seth, coupled with a firm grasp on reality, something his brother sorely lacks. As an actor, Tarantino has always been a bit hit-and-miss for me (he was appropriately over-the-top in Grindhouse, but absolutely terrible as an Australian cowboy in Django Unchained), yet as Richie Gecko, the psychopath following in his older brother’s footsteps, he delivers what I feel is one of his better performances. Of the two Geckos, his Richie is the more unhinged (he rapes and kills a bank teller they had taken hostage), and Tarantino perfectly captures the character's disturbing nature. And if you like action, From Dusk Till Dawn has plenty of it, starting with a showdown at a convenience store in which the Geckos face off against a lawman (Michael Parks) and a cashier (John Hawkes) before finally burning the place to the ground.

As for what happens when the group makes its way to the bar in Mexico, I’d rather you experience that for yourself. I will tell you the second half of From Dusk Till Dawn features a handful of recognizable performers, including Cheech Marin, Fred Williamson, Danny Trejo, and Salma Hayek, as well as a twist so extreme it will have you forgetting everything that went before it. I realize this twist has already been revealed by a slew of others (As an FYI, it’s even spoiled in the trailer below, so beware), but on the off-chance there’s someone out there who hasn’t yet seen the movie, I have no intention of ruining what I believe is an excellent surprise.

And if you're one of those who haven’t checked out From Dusk Till Dawn… what are you waiting for?







Thursday, April 11, 2013

#969. Deadly Weapons (1974)


Directed By: Doris Wishman

Starring: Chesty Morgan, Harry Reems, Richard Towers





Tag line: "Seeing is Believing! 73-32-36!"

Trivia: This is the first of two films director Doris Wishman made with Chesty Morgan, famous for her 73 inch bust






The opening shot of Doris Wishman’s 1974 film, Deadly Weapons, is of its star’s, Chesty Morgan’s, humongous bare breasts. But before any of you guys start thinking “Wow! What a great way to open a movie!”, I feel it’s only right I should warn you that Ms. Morgan’s “assets” droop down almost as far as her naval, and have bulging blue veins running their entire length. In fact, it’s safe to say that Chesty Morgan [a.k.a. Zsa Zsa, a.k.a. Liliana Silczkowska] is one of the few leading ladies you hope keeps her top on throughout the film.

No such luck, unfortunately.

Advertising exec Crystal (Morgan) is dating mobster Larry (Richard Towers). The two are very much in love, and have even discussed marriage, but when Larry attempts to blackmail his boss by stealing an incriminating address book, he’s bumped off by his former pal, Tony (adult film star Harry Reems) and a one-eyed assassin known as Mr. Hook (Mitchell Fredericks). Seeking revenge against those who murdered her fella, Crystal tracks down the killers and tries to finish them off the only way she can: by smothering them between her 73-inch breasts!

So, how good an actress is Chesty Morgan? Well, I’ll tell you: even with another actress dubbing her voice [the real Chesty has a thick Polish accent], she comes across as having zero personality. But then, Chesty wasn’t hired for her thespian abilities. No, her “talents” lay elsewhere. Sure enough, her breasts pop out at regular intervals, and every time they made an appearance, I was overcome with a sudden urge to look away. Yes, Chesty’s knockers are massive, but they’re not the least bit sexy. Of course, this didn’t stop her from walking around topless most of the movie, and director Wishman never missed an opportunity to focus the camera squarely on Ms. Morgan’s chest.

Yeah, I know: pretty much this entire review has been about Chesty Morgan’s breasts. Yet, in my defense, that’s all this movie has going for it. Sure, there’s a whole subplot concerning her gangster boyfriend, but it’s poorly handled and often comes across as just silly. No, there’s only one reason (or perhaps I should say “two”) Deadly Weapons was made, and, in my opinion, it’s not nearly good enough to justify the movie’s existence.







Wednesday, April 10, 2013

#968. Return of the Living Dead (1985)


Directed By: Dan O'Bannon

Starring: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa




Tag line: "They're Back From The Grave and Ready To Party!"

Trivia: Director Dan O'Bannon was originally supposed to play Frank and he wrote the part with himself in mind, but when James Karen came in to read for another part, O'Bannon was simply blown away and hired him on the spot




Most zom-coms (which is short for “zombie comedies”), including recent entries like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, owe a little something to Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 directorial debut, Return of the Living Dead, one of the first films to introduce comedy into the world of the Romero-style walking dead. The result is a movie that, while short on scares, will definitely give you plenty to laugh about.

Freddy (Thom Mathews) and Frank (James Karen), two hapless employees working at a medical supply warehouse, inadvertently release a lethal gas that resurrects the dead and transforms them into bloodthirsty monsters. With the help of their boss, Burt (Clu Galager), as well as Ernie (Don Calfa), who runs the morgue next door, Freddy and Frank do what they can to “clean up” their mistake before anyone finds out about it. But when the gas infects the air, then spreads by way of a rainstorm to the nearby cemetery, it awakens hundreds of corpses, all of whom now have a craving for human brains.

The laughs come early in Return of the Living Dead; when the cadaver (Terence Houlihan) that's hanging in the warehouse freezer is reanimated, Burt, Frank, and Freddy do their best to kill it, leading to a hilariously violent confrontation. Soon, others are involved in the chaos as well, including a group of Freddy’s friends, punk rockers who swing by the warehouse to check up on their pal, then go across the street and hang out at the cemetery (which is where they are when the toxic rain brings the dead back to life). Most notable among the young performers playing Freddy’s chums is future scream queen Linnea Quigley, whose character, Trash, strips down to her birthday suit early on, then spends the rest of the movie buck naked and running for her life!

Though it does have its share of creepy creatures (chief among them the “Tarman”, a zombie brought to “life” by puppeteer Allan Trautman, which roams the warehouse basement) and a violent scene or two (like the rather messy demise of a couple of paramedics, played by Drew Deighan and James Dalasandro), Return of the Living Dead clearly favors laughs over scares. Yet its standing as one of the finest horror comedies ever made is certainly well-deserved, making it a movie every horror aficionado should have in their collection.







Tuesday, April 9, 2013

#967. The Ruins (2008)


Directed By: Carter Smith

Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Jena Malone, Jonathan Tucker




Tag line: "Terror has evolved"

Trivia: Director Carter Smith had just purchased a copy of the Scott B. Smith novel and started reading it when he got the phone call offering him the film adaptation





Killer sharks. Monstrous grizzly bears. Angry birds. If there’s one thing horror films has taught us over the years, it’s that nature can’t be trusted. Whether by land, sea, or air, the natural world is filled with dangers that threaten our safety on a daily basis. And as 2008’s The Ruins points out, we can’t even trust the damn plants!

While vacationing in Mexico, four young Americans; Amy (Jena Malone), Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), Eric (Shawn Ashmore), and Stacy (Laura Ramsey), meet up with a German tourist named Mathias (Joe Anderson), whose brother, Heinrich, set off into the jungle with an archaeological expedition and hasn’t been heard from since. Guided by a hand-drawn map, the five, along with Mathias’ friend, Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas), make their way through the jungle in search of an ancient Mayan temple, which is where Heinrich and his team were headed. But when they finally reach their destination, the six are attacked by a local militia, who kill Dimitri and send the others scrambling to the top of the vine-covered temple for safety. As the militia stands guard below, the friends begin to realize there’s something strange about the surrounding vines, which move on their own accord, mimic sounds, and seem to be closing in on them.

For those of you who aren’t convinced killer vines can be scary, rest assured that The Ruins brings a bit more to the table than carnivorous plant life. Along with the tension and in-fighting that arises as the group search for a solution to their dilemma, there’s also a strong feeling of claustrophobia, which only gets stronger as the vines close in. And the discovery that the plants can duplicate certain sounds (including that of a ringing cell phone) leads to even more chaos and confusion. But the terror in The Ruins is more than psychological, as we discover when the vines start burrowing their way into a few unfortunate characters, some of whom go so far as to cut themselves in an attempt to remove the unwanted foliage (the film even features a gruesome amputation scene).

A successful combination of suspense and gore, The Ruins is a much better horror movie than its premise would have you believe.







Monday, April 8, 2013

#966. Girl on the Run (1953)


Directed By: Arthur J. Beckhard, Joseph Lee

Starring: Richard Coogan, Rosemary Pettit, Frank Albertson




Tag line: "GIRLS and GUNS... A Double-cross Backfired!"

Trivia: This film marked Steve McQueen's screen debut







Girl on the Run, a 1953 crime / mystery made on the cheap, might have slipped under my radar had it not been for one enticing bit of trivia: this movie marked the screen debut of a young actor named Steve McQueen. That’s right: future star of The Blob, The Great Escape, The Towering Inferno, and Bullittthat Steve McQueen. Granted, it’s a small role, one he’s not even credited for, but come on… we’re talking Steve McQueen here! No way I was gonna pass up a chance to see his first moments on-screen. And if Girl on the Run actually turned out to be a good movie… well, that’d be a nice bonus.

While working to expose a vice ring operating out of a traveling carnival, reporter Bill Martin (Richard Coogan) learns his editor, George Marsh, has been murdered. To make matters worse, the police consider Martin himself the prime suspect in the killing, and are currently trying to determine his whereabouts. Aided by his girlfriend, Janet (Rosemary Pettit), Martin hides out at the carnival, hoping to prove Clay Reeves (Harry Bannister), a corrupt local politician, is behind both the vice operation and his editor’s murder. With the help of a woman named Lil (Edith King), who runs the carnival’s burlesque show, Janet goes undercover posing as a dancing girl, while Martin, doing his best to dodge the cops, snoops around looking for clues.

If the above synopsis seems ordinary to you, that’s because it is. In fact, Girl on the Run has absolutely nothing going for it. Not a single exchange between any two characters is interesting, not a single moment generates any excitement whatsoever. When we’re first introduced to our leads, Martin and Janet, they’re already on the run, and hiding out in a tent on the carnival grounds. Their entire conversation is bland (Martin tries to convince Janet to forget about him and save herself, with Janet refusing to go), and from that moment on, I had zero interest in learning anything more about them.

To put it simply, this is a bad movie: the acting is terrible, the pace is lethargic, and the story has no oomph. Hell, even the twist at the end is pathetic! As for Steve McQueen, if you blink, you’ll miss him; towards the start of the movie, he can be seen in the background, trying his hand at the carnival’s hammer game (he’s talking to his date, but we can’t hear him). It’s an inauspicious debut, to say the least, and the final nail in the coffin of Girl on the Run, a film that’s a disappointment in every possible way.