Wednesday, November 30, 2016

#2,262. Jurassic World (2015)


Directed By: Colin Trevorrow

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins



Tag line: "The park is open"

Trivia: Colin Trevorrow revealed that the first cut ran 13 minutes longer than the final film








Like a good many people, I wasn’t blown away by either of the sequels to 1993’s Jurassic Park. It’s not that I hated The Lost World (1997) or Jurassic Park III (2001); both movies featured a handful of entertaining sequences, and the effects were decent to good. But one thing those two later films failed to recreate was the sense of wonder that made Jurassic Park so damn engaging, taking instead what had been an awe-inspiring story with real moral ramifications and transforming it into a pair of straight-up action films. Released 22 years after the original (and 14 years after the most recent sequel, Jurassic Park III), director Colin Trevorrow’s awesome Jurassic World is a welcome reminder of how exciting, how frightening, and... yes... how amazing dinosaurs can be.

It’s been 2 decades since the tragedy that rocked John Hammond’s Jurassic Park, and InGen, the company he founded, has come a long way since then. For years now, thousands of people have been flocking to Jurassic World, a bigger, even better amusement park. With the new owner, Mr. Masrani (Irrfan Khan), picking up where Hammond left off, and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) overseeing the day-to-day operations, Jurassic World wows adults and kids alike with its state-of-the-art attractions and impressive dinosaurs. 

Claire’s nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), have recently arrived, and are looking forward to their stay at Jurassic World, but despite promising her sister Karen (Judy Greer) that she’d personally look after the two, Claire instead passes Zach and Grey off to her assistant Kara (Katie McGrath), who will act as their chaperone during their stay. Of course, boys being boys, they eventually ditch Zara to explore the park on their own.

Part of what’s keeping Claire busy is Jurassic World’s newest upcoming “attraction”, a genetically engineered super-dinosaur known as the Indominus Rex. Larger and meaner than any of the park’s other creatures, the Indominus Rex lives in its own paddock, and to ensure its structurally sound Mr. Masrani invites Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to inspect the pen. A former Navy man who has been training a team of Velociraptors for the military, Grady isn’t too keen on the idea of a genetically enhanced dinosaur, especially one that has spent its entire life in captivity. 

Soon after Grady voices his reservations, the Indominus Rex, as if on-cue, escapes from its pen, and when last seen was heading straight for the main park. With thousands of guests enjoying themselves in Jurassic World, and her two nephews off on their own, Claire, with the help of Grady, must work quickly to recapture the new dinosaur before it can do any further damage. But as everyone will soon discover, the Indominus Rex has a few tricks up its sleeve…

Like its predecessors, Jurassic World is filled to its breaking point with incredible special effects and exciting action sequences, but it also reintroduces that sense of awe and wonder that made the original film such a terrific experience. When Zach and Grey first arrive at the park, the overly-enthusiastic Grey runs ahead of his brother and Zara to admire the holographic displays in the main lobby and, as John Williams’ now-iconic score plays underneath, he rushes through their hotel suite and throws open the back doors, giving him a great view of the entire park (in all its glory). Along with showing us just how high-tech Jurassic World is, this scene allows the audience, for a moment anyway, to feel like a wide-eyed kid, drinking in some truly amazing things.

In addition, Jurassic World dedicates a fair portion of its time to the relationship between man and dinosaur; Claire, who spends most of her day in the main control room, had, for years, viewed the dinosaurs as nothing more than company “assets”. That all changes the moment she and Grady, while tracking the Indominus, stumble upon a wounded brontosaurus that had gotten in the humongous creature’s way. Thanks to some well-realized animatronics, this scene is both tender and heartbreaking.

Not to worry, though, because if its action you want, Jurassic World certainly has what you’re looking for. In fact, many of the dinosaurs featured in the previous sequels get in on the fun this time around as well (one of the movie’s most intense sequences involves the aviary that was a major part of Jurassic Park III), and there’s a late scene with Grady’s Raptors that you won’t want to miss. As for the effects, Jurassic World is every bit as groundbreaking as the original Jurassic Park (there are plenty of examples I can point to, but my favorite comes when Zach and Grey are enjoying themselves at a Sea-World style exhibit, and we get to see one massive underwater dinosaur).

With a box-office tally that exceeded $1.6 billion (it was the first movie in cinematic history to bring in over $500 million worldwide on its opening weekend), Jurassic World has all but guaranteed that we’ll be seeing yet another Jurassic Park sequel somewhere down the road. But thanks to this movie, I’m looking forward to what executive producer Steven Spielberg and his team will come up with next.







Tuesday, November 29, 2016

#2,261. A Brief History of Time (1991)


Directed By: Errol Morris

Starring: Stephen Hawking, Isobel Hawking, Janet Humphrey



Tag line: "Where did the universe come from? Will time ever come to an end? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

Trivia: Appearances to the contrary, all interviews were filmed on sets built for the movie







From the night it premiered in September of 1987, I have been a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and one of my all-time favorite scenes in the entire series is the opening of The Descent, part 1, an episode that aired during the show’s 6th season. In it, the android Data, played by Brent Spiner, is in the holodeck playing poker with three of history’s most impressive scientific minds: Isaac Newton (John Neville), Albert Einstein (Jim Norton), and Stephen Hawking (appearing as himself). Hawking was a fan of the series, and this brief bit of whimsy allotted him a chance to finally appear in an episode, but the more I learned about the man, the more I realized he belonged in this class of great thinkers, and his work in the field of cosmology has allowed us to understand our universe in ways that were not possible before.

Director Errol Morris’s A Brief History of Time is both a biopic about Stephen Hawking and a documentary that presents, sometimes in amazing detail, the theories he developed over the years. Born in England during World War II, Hawking was, according to his mother (interviewed here), an active child, and usually impressed the adults around him with his sharp mind and analytical skills. It was during his years at Oxford and Cambridge that he dedicated his life to researching the universe, and it was also at this time he was diagnosed with ALS, a neurological disease that would eventually render his body useless. Told in the early 1960s that he only had about 2 years to live, Hawking beat the odds and, to this day, continues to astound with his theories on such topics as black holes and dark matter.

It’s here that the movie truly excels, with Morris giving us computer graphics, testimony from Hawking’s former classmates and peers, and even a few clips from Disney’s The Black Hole, to explain how his findings have taken the field of cosmology to new heights. I’ve watched A Brief History of Time twice now, and while I can’t say I’m any closer to fully comprehending his research into black holes and the Big Bang, Hawking himself (rendered mute by his disease and speaking by way of a specialized computer program) is as witty as he is brilliant, and does his best to present these very involved subjects in a manner that everyone can understand.

There are other works out there that delve deeper into Hawking’s research (the 1997 TV miniseries Stephen Hawking’s Universe is quite fascinating), and 2014’s The Theory of Everything, in which Eddie Redmayne plays Hawking, gives us a broader understanding of his life, both personal and professional. But as a concise, entertaining look at both the man and his discoveries, A Brief History of Time is, indeed, an invaluable resource.







Monday, November 28, 2016

#2,260. Tale of Tales (2015)


Directed By: Matteo Garrone

Starring: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones



Tag line: "A feast for the imagination"

Trivia: This was director Matteo Garrone's first English-speaking film








Fairy tales, by their very nature, weave together elements of fantasy and reality in an effort to teach us something about the human condition. Director Matteo Garrone does just this with 2015’s Tale of Tales, giving us a live-action fairy tale that is, all at once, vibrant, frightening, funny, enlightening and romantic.

Set in a mythical world, Tale of Tales presents three separate stories, each focusing on a different kingdom. Unsuccessful in her attempts to bear a child, The Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek) consults an oracle, who tells her that, to become pregnant, she must eat the heart of a sea monster that has been cooked by a virgin. To please his wife, the King (John C. Reilly) battles and kills an underwater serpent, only to die himself in the process. Still, even in tragedy, the Queen’s resolve to be a mother remains strong, and, following the oracle’s advice, she orders the only virgin in her kitchen to prepare the beast’s heart. Once she devours it, the Queen does, indeed, give birth to a young boy who she names Elias. In an amazing turn of events, the virgin who cooked the heart also bears a child on the same day, and calls him Jonah. As the years pass, Elias and Jonah (played as adults by real-life brothers Christian and Jonah Lees) become the best of friends, but will the Queen let her son, who is next in line to the throne, spend all his time in the company of a commoner?

Meanwhile, in the kingdom of Strongcliff, the lecherous King (Vincent Cassel) is peering out his window one morning when he hears a maiden singing, ever so beautifully, in the streets below. Though she scampers away before he can get a good look at her, the King, now smitten, immediately visits the woman’s cottage and declares that he must have her. But this cottage is not the home of a gorgeous maiden; in fact, two elderly sisters, Dora (Hayley Carmichael) and Imma (Shirley Henderson), reside there. Anxious to be a royal consort, Dora (who was the one singing) convinces the king, without ever opening the door, to come back in a week, at which point she will allow him to kiss her finger. Dora then spends the next seven days trying everything from magic to make-up to make herself appear younger, but to no avail. And when the king returns, and asks her (again sight unseen) to visit him in his chambers later that night, Dora agrees, but insists that the room must be dark before she arrives. Will her grand ruse fool the king?

The third and final tale takes place in the kingdom of Highhills. Princess Violet (Bebe Cave) loves her father the King (Toby Jones), but he is more interested in his new pet: a small flea that he secretly keeps in his bedroom. Over time, the flea grows to an enormous size (as big as a large dog), and, unable to breath properly, dies. Meanwhile, Violet, who is now of age, requests that her father allow her to marry. Having just lost his beloved pet, the king is not ready to part with his only child as well, and, in the hopes of keeping Violet with him forever, he has the flea skinned and says he will only let her wed the man who can identify what creature the hide came from. Suitor after suitor fails the test, but to both Violet’s and the King’s horror, a dreadful ogre (Guillaume Delaunay) manages to solve the riddle. Will Violet live happily ever after with her new “husband”, or will fate intervene on her behalf?

Across the board, the cast of Tale of Tales does a fine job (I was especially impressed with both Hayley Carmichael, who plays the aged Dora; and Bebe Cave as Violet, whose hopes for a handsome husband are quickly dashed). But it’s the manner in which director Garrone brings this marvelous world to life that makes the film such a delight. By seamlessly merging fantasy with reality, Garrone accomplishes in live action what Disney had done in animated movies like Cinderella and Beauty and The Beast, and sets the tone for what’s to come in the very first sequence, with a queen who is unable to conceive (a real problem for some) and a king fighting an undersea monster (a bit of fantasy that is also one of the film’s most memorable scenes). 

All three stories in Tale of Tales are fantastical in nature, and designed to reflect such human foibles as lust (the King of Strongcliff, driven by his carnal desires, is eager to have his way with a woman he’s never met simply because he liked her singing voice); jealousy (the Queen of Longtrellis doesn’t like the fact that her son prefers a common villager over her); and selfishness (The King of Highhills doesn’t want to be left alone, and tries everything in his power to keep his beloved daughter by his side).

Some of the special effects that Garrone employs throughout Tale of Tales are clearly practical (the oversized flea, for example), and they look great. But even those moments that are CGI (such as the sea monster) are strong, convincing us that we’re watching honest-to-goodness fairy tales play out before our eyes. And while most anthologies feature one or two segments that are better that the rest, I can honestly say that I found all three stories in Tale of Tales equally as enthralling.

Tale of Tales may not be the cinema’s first live-action fairy tale (Douglas Fairbanks Sr’s Thief of Bagdad is a brilliant film, as is Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast), but it’s certainly one of the most visually striking, and while some elements may be a bit much for younger children, older kids and their parents will likely enjoy what they see.







Saturday, November 26, 2016

#2,259. The Mutilator (1984)


Directed By: Buddy Cooper, John Douglass

Starring: Matt Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock



Tag line: "Their horrifying vacation was no day at the beach!"

Trivia: The car featured in the movie was sold shortly after production wrapped... and wrecked by the new owner about three days later







"Fall Break", a catchy little tune performed by Peter Yellen and the Breakers, plays over the opening credits of this 1984 movie. In fact, Fall Break was one of the film’s original titles, and for a fair portion of its runtime the movie feels like a teen comedy / romance about three college-aged couples spending a weekend at the beach. But by the time it’s over, you will understand why the title was changed to The Mutilator!

After a brief flashback in which young Ed Jr. (Trace Cooper) accidentally shoots his mother with a shotgun, inciting the wrath of his father, Big Ed (Jack Chatham), The Mutilator jumps ahead several years, with Ed Jr. (now played by Matt Mitler) hanging out at a bar with his girlfriend Pam (Ruth Martinez) and buddies Ralph (Bill Hitchcock), Linda (Frances Raines) and Mike (Morey Lampley).

Suddenly, out of the blue, Ed receives a call from his estranged, now-alcoholic father, who asks him to drive out to the family’s beachside condo and lock it up for the winter. Having made no other plans for their fall break, the group, joined by Ralph’s girlfriend Sue (Connie Rogers), decides to turn Ed Jr’s chore into a weekend getaway. With plenty of beer in tow, the six arrive at the house, and by the looks of it will have the place, and indeed the entire beach, to themselves. But Ed’s drunken father is still lurking nearby, and hasn’t forgotten what his son did all those years ago…

At the outset, The Mutilator plays like a teen rom-com, with a gang of twentysomethings enjoying each other’s company at a beachside house. Ralph is the prankster of the group, and his antics (though sometimes tiresome) are responsible for a lot of the movie’s early laughs. In addition, there are a few cozy walks on the beach (accompanied by romantic music), and the six friends even pass the time by playing a few games (including Monopoly).

The frivolity comes to an end, however, when Mike and Linda go for a swim in a nearby pool, leading to the first of several tense scenes (the most nail-biting sequence, though, comes a short time later when a character, who moments earlier was safely tucked away in bed, searches the garage for some of his missing friends). The acting isn’t anything to write home about, yet we do become invested in these characters, and hope they’ll somehow make it out of this terrible situation alive (of course, being an ‘80s slasher, we know not all of them will).

The kill scenes are mostly impressive, with weapons that range from a chainsaw to a sharpened wooden stake (which, in my opinion, is one of the movie’s best effects, though it’s immediately followed by one of its weakest). Yet the most violent kills in The Mutilator occur in the film's final minutes, with make-up and special effects that are both very realistic and incredibly hard to watch. 

Mark Shostrom (who also worked on such horror classics as Evil Dead 2 and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) delivers Tom Savini-quality gore throughout The Mutilator, and in so doing helped make it one of the decade’s better low-budget slasher flicks.







Friday, November 25, 2016

#2,258. KIng Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)


Directed By: Ishirô Honda

Starring: Tadao Takashima, Kenji Sahara, Yû Fujiki



Tag line: "The most colossal conflict the screen has ever known!"

Trivia: There were four live octopuses used in the fight sequence with Kong and the natives, as well as a plastic model







After scoring hits with both Gojira and Godzilla Raids Again in the 1950s, Japan’s Toho Studios decided to up the ante in 1962 by having Godzilla face off against another giant monster, and who better to take on this prehistoric fire-breather than the 8th Wonder of the World himself, King Kong?

Hoping to generate publicity for the television shows that his company, Pacific Pharmaceuticals, are sponsoring, Mr. Tako (Ichirô Arishima) sends a couple of his employees, Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Kinsaburo (Yû Fujiki), to the remote island of Farou, where legend has it there lives a large creature that the natives worship as a God. Sure enough, the two men discover that Farou is home to the mighty Kong (played by Shoichi Hirose), a humongous ape that protects the locals from other indigenous monsters. Following a battle with a giant octopus, Kong drinks several large jars of berry juice (made from a special red berry found only on the island) that put him immediately to sleep. Taking advantage of the situation, Sakurai and Kinsaburo load the sleeping behemoth onto a makeshift raft and, tying it to the back of their boat, drag Kong to Japan.

But Kong isn’t the only giant creature around; while patrolling icy waters, the U.S. submarine Seahawk accidentally struck an iceberg, inside of which was Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima), in a state of suspended animation. Once released from his frozen prison, Godzilla makes a beeline for the coast of Japan, unleashing his fiery fury on several small towns before setting his sights on Tokyo. The military, under the leadership of Gen. Shinzo (Jun Tazaki), throws everything they can at Godzilla, yet are unable to stop him. But with the mighty Kong also on the loose (seems the raft couldn’t hold him once he woke up), the authorities are hopeful that the two monsters, who are natural enemies, will destroy one another before the military is forced to use its most powerful weapon: the Atom Bomb!

Unfortunately, the only cut of King Kong vs. Godzilla that I own is the U.S. one, an edited version that eliminates some of director Ishirô Honda’s original Japanese footage and inserts several awkward English-language “newsroom” scenes, in which U.N. reporter Eric Carter (Michael Keith) updates viewers on the situation in Japan while also interviewing Dr. Johnson (Harry Holcombe), a professor at the Museum of Natural History in New York, who discusses his theories on the origin of Godzilla while also offering suggestions on how to stop the two creatures. As you might expect, these added scenes are more of a distraction than anything else, taking us away from the action to give us “updates” on what we’ve already seem,

Still, there’s enough here of both Godzilla (looking more menacing than ever) and Kong (not the best ape costume ever created, but what are you gonna do?) to make even this edited version a worthwhile watch. Along with being the first time either one was shown in color, King Kong vs. Godzilla features some exciting showdowns between its title characters (their first melee is one-sided, but things get much more intense the next time they meet); and I especially enjoyed the scenes set on Farou Island, where Kong also fights an oversized octopus!

Godzilla would face a number of foes over the years (soon after this movie, Mothra vs. Godzilla was released), and while King Kong vs. Godzilla may not be the best of the bunch, it’s still plenty of fun.







Thursday, November 24, 2016

#2,257. Stalin (1992)


Directed By: Ivan Passer

Starring: Robert Duvall, Julia Ormond, Maximilian Schell



Line from this film: "I know what you say, what you do, who you screw. I know everything about you"

Trivia: To prepare for the role, Duvall watched hours of newsreels, read many books about Stalin and spoke to Russians who remembered him






In the early ‘80s, U.S. cable station HBO (short for Home Box Office) started producing their own movies, most of which premiered on the network. I remember watching Gulag, a drama / thriller starring David Keith, in 1985, while 1990 saw the release of two excellent HBO films: By Dawn’s Early Light, a highly-charged commentary on nuclear war; and El Diablo, a western comedy starring Anthony Edwards and Louis Gossett Jr that was co-written by the Horror Master himself, Mr. John Carpenter

As good as these movies were, though, they paled in comparison (for me, anyway) to 1992’s Stalin, a dramatic telling of the life and times of the infamous Soviet premier. With Robert Duvall in the lead role, and featuring an all-star supporting cast, Stalin is a tremendous piece of work, and has lost none of its power over the years.

Narrated by Stalin’s daughter Svetlana (played by Joanna Roth), Stalin takes us from the early days of the Russian Revolution, when the Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin (Maximillian Schell), overthrew the czarist government and took control of a nation devastated by the war in Europe. The son of a Georgian cobbler, Stalin (Duvall), who was named the party’s General Secretary, wasn’t as well-educated as his fellow Bolsheviks, and was often at odds with Trotsky (Daniel Massey), a man many believed would be Lenin’s successor.

But when Lenin died in the early 1920s, it was Stalin who seized control. Fearing that someone might try to replace him, Stalin, with the help of men such as Molotov (Clive Merrison) and Lavrenti Beria (Roshan Seth), systematically purged the government, exiling Trotsky to Mexico and charging old comrades like Zinoviev (Andras Balint), Kamenev (Emil Wolk), and Nicolai Bukharin (Jeroen Krabbe) with “treason”, a crime punishable by death. With the communist party decimated, the military found itself ill-equipped to deal with Hitler’s Germany, which invaded Russia and, for some time, looked as if they were going to conquer the entire country.

Along with its lead’s public life, Stalin delves into his marriage to Nadya (Julia Ormond), a party secretary who experienced first-hand just how vindictive the man she loved could be; as well as his often-tumultuous relationship with his children, from his older son Yakov (Ravil Isyanov), who he treated harshly, to his daughter Svetlana, who was every bit as stubborn as her mother. By showing us both sides of the man (public and private), Stalin paints as complete a picture of its main subject as it possibly can, while at the same time revealing how his hard-nosed tactics and restrictive policies resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of his fellow countrymen. 

Though it has an epic feel to it, Stalin is not a “big” film; for the sequences involving the Russian Revolution, director Ivan Passer utilized footage from such silent movies as Eisenstein’s October and Pudovkin’s The End of St. Petersburg, as opposed to staging his own battles. That said, the movie does recreate the time period wonderfully, and with many scenes shot inside the Kremlin, Stalin also has an air of realism that works to its advantage. In addition, the film features some outstanding performances, including Maximillian Schell as the sickly Lenin, and Julia Ormond as Nadya, Stalin’s loyal but ultimately disillusioned wife who, realizing what her husband has become, takes matters into her own hands.

And then there’s Robert Duvall, who delivers a tour-de-force performance as the historic title character and brings the man’s strength and determination, as well as his cruel nature, convincingly to life (at one point, Stalin refuses to allow his son Yakov to marry a Jewish woman. Distraught, the young man rushes into another room and tries to shoot himself. The wound is not critical, and as Nadya is kneeling next to Yakov, tending to his wounds, Stalin stands just behind and says “That idiot. He can’t even shoot straight”).

We, like everyone else, come to fear Stalin, but as we see in this movie, Stalin was himself afraid of those around him, including the so-called “educated” Bolsheviks who he believed were conspiring against him. So, for protection, he surrounded himself with dolts and criminals, men who would carry out his orders without hesitation, and were as vicious as he was. It’s tempting to say that Stalin was a complex individual, but that’s not the person on-display in this movie. What we see is nothing more than a paranoid bully and a sadistic brute, and how Duvall managed to capture all this while, at the same time, convincing us there was also greatness in the man is a miracle in and of itself.







Tuesday, November 22, 2016

#2,256. Mutant Girls Squad (2010)


Directed By: Noboru Iguchi, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Tak Sakaguchi

Starring: Asami, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Tak Sakaguchi



Line from the movie: "Nose bullets! Fire!"

Trivia: At the 2009 New York Asian Film Festival, directors Noboru Iguchi, Yoshihiro Nishimura and Tak Sakaguchi met and agreed to make a film together. This was the result






So what happens when Yoshihiro Nishimura (director of Tokyo Gore Police) and Noboru Iguchi (The Machine Girl) team up with Tak Sakaguchi (who, along with acting in films like Azumi and Godzilla: Final Wars also directed Yakuza Weapon)? Why, you get Mutant Girls Squad of course, a blood soaked blend of comedy, action and horror that’s as imaginative as it is insanely violent.

It’s been quite a 16th birthday for young Rin (Yumi Sugimoto). Aside from being bullied by her classmates, she’s experiencing a strange sensation in her arm that won’t seem to go away. Later that night, during her birthday dinner, Rin’s father (Kanji Tsuda) makes a startling confession: he’s not entirely human! He is, in fact, a mutant, and what’s more, now that she’s 16, Rin’s dormant mutant genes will soon begin to surface (which explains the unusual feeling in her arm). While she's trying to process this sudden and unexpected revelation, a group of heavily-armed Samurais, a sort of Anti-Mutant league, attack Rin and her family. Rin’s mother (Maiko Ito) is killed instantly, and her father holds off the assailants just long enough for his frightened daughter to escape.

Following a violent confrontation in the shopping district (during which she mauls several people with her newly-found mutant powers), Rin meets up with Rei (Yuko Takayama), who introduces the young girl to Kisaragi (played by director Tak Sakaguchi), the leader of a band of mutants whose goal is to wipe out the human race. With Rei as her trainer, Rin learns to control her powers, and along with fellow mutant Yoshie (Suzuka Morita), is sent into the world to eliminate their “enemies”. But the question is: will the half-human Rin carry out her mission of death, or will her compassionate nature win out in the end?

Those familiar with Tokyo Gore Police and The Machine Girl will have some idea of what to expect from Mutant Girls Squad. But even then, viewers are likely to be blown away by what this movie had to offer. Soon after her parents are killed, Rin finds herself being hunted by the vendors of a local shopping mall, who, in an effort to lure in customers, want to kill her and put her remains on display. The red stuff flows freely throughout this scene, with Rin using her mutant arm (which develops into a gnarly-looking claw) to tear apart anyone foolish enough to attack her (one punch to the back of some guy’s head ends with her hand bursting through his face). Naturally, it’s a very violent sequence, but there’s also some humor to it as well (like when Rin faces off against a chef and his wife). Filled with flying body parts and gallons upon gallons of blood, this scene sets the tone for what’s to follow, most of which is equally as insane.

Even more impressive than the violence, though, is how the movie’s three segments, each with a different director, blend together so seamlessly (Tak Sakaguchi handled the opening 1/3 of the film, with Noboru Iguchi tackling chapter two, aka “Revolution”, and Yoshihiro Nishimura in charge of the gore-fueled finale, aptly titled “Rebellion”). Though each man undoubtedly brought their own style to the table (I especially noticed this in the last segment, a lot of which reminded me of the violence in Nishamura’s Tokyo Gore Police), all three sequences work in unison to tell what proves to be a hugely entertaining story of revenge and redemption.

Personally, I love movies like Tokyo Gore Police, The Machine Girl, and Mutant Girls Squad, which challenge your gag reflex more than they do your mind. And as long as you haven’t just finished dinner, there’s a good chance you’ll like Mutant Girls Squad as much as I do.







Sunday, November 20, 2016

#2,255. The Incubus (1982)


Directed By: John Hough

Starring: John Cassavetes, John Ireland, Kerrie Keane




Tag line: "The ultimate power of evil"

Trivia: Script consultant Jeremy Hole cameos in the film as a torturer








The dictionary defines an Incubus as “a demon or evil spirit… fabled to have sexual intercourse with women during their sleep”. That’s a pretty frightening entity, and director John Hough’s 1982 film The Incubus is every bit as horrifying as the creature it’s named after.

The normally peaceful town of Galen is rocked by a terrible crime: while relaxing on the beach one evening, a young girl named Mandy (Mitch Martin) is savagely raped, and her boyfriend Roy (Matt Birman), is murdered while attempting to rescue her. Dr. Samuel Cordell (John Cassavetes), who recently moved to the area with his teenage daughter Jenny (Erin Noble), manages to save Mandy’s life, and, along with Sheriff Walden (John Ireland), tries to piece together a profile of the rapist / killer, in the hopes of finding him before he strikes again.

Unfortunately, neither the Doctor nor Sheriff Walden can prevent further attacks, and over the course of several days a number of women end up in the morgue. Newspaper reporter Laura Kincaid (Kerrie Keane), also a new arrival, does some research and discovers that similar attacks occurred in Galen decades earlier, and were never solved. This revelation causes Dr. Cordell to do a little digging of his own, and he comes to the conclusion that his daughter’s boyfriend, Tim Galen (Duncan McIntosh), who is being tormented by the same recurring nightmare, is somehow connected to these crimes. Tim’s grandmother Agatha (Helen Hughes), a descendant of the town’s founders, refuses to allow her grandson to be questioned like a common criminal, but are her actions motivated by family pride, or does she know more about this situation than she’s letting on?

From start to finish, The Incubus is a deadly serious horror film; a dark, brooding motion picture with some very startling scenes. The opening few minutes, with Mandy and Roy on the beach, kick things off in disturbing fashion, yet even this sequence pales in comparison to an attack that occurs inside a museum, where the curator (played by Denise Fergusson) is brutalized by an unseen monster. And even though it isn’t much of a mystery (we're learn who is responsible for the murders early on), the film still manages to surprise us on a number of occasions (especially in its final moments).

The Incubus is not perfect; John Cassavetes, who was so effective in Rosemary’s Baby, delivers a lackluster performance as Dr. Cordell (there are times when he seems bored with the role), and a subplot involving the good doctor’s previous marriage to a younger woman (who resembled Laura Kincaid) is more confusing than anything. As for the Incubus itself, we don't see it until late in the movie, and, to put it mildly, its look is something of a disappointment. But thanks to a series of powerful scenes, as well as a story that grows more intense by the minute, The Incubus is a horror movie that fans of the genre won’t want to miss.







Friday, November 18, 2016

#2,254. The Last American Virgin (1982)


Directed By: Boaz Davidson

Starring: Lawrence Monoson, Diane Franklin, Steve Antin



Tag line: "There's only one thing left to lose"

Trivia: An actress playing a call girl was propositioned during shooting on Hollywood Boulevard








It’s funny how your memory can play tricks on you. For years, I was under the impression that 1982’s The Last American Virgin was the raunchiest of the early ‘80s teen sex comedies. Sure, it has its share of sex, and T & A to spare, but like Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last American Virgin offers more than a bunch of horny guys and the occasional set of bare boobs.

Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, The Last American Virgin is a U.S. remake of 1978’s Lemon Popsicle, which is one of the all-time highest grossing films in Israeli history. Directed by Boaz Davidson (who also helmed the original), this version of the story follows three American teenagers: Gary (Lawrence Monoson), Rick (Steve Antin) and David (Joe Rubbo), on their never-ending quest to get laid. Rick is the ladies’ man of the group, and before long starts dating Karen (Diane Franklin), a classmate whose family recently moved to the area. The problem is that Gary fell instantly in love with Karen the moment he set eyes on her, and knows that Rick is only looking for a good time. Gary will eventually get his chance to prove his feelings for Karen, but will she return his affections?

The Last American Virgin is, indeed, raunchy; at one point, the three pals pay a visit to Carmela (Louisa Moritz), a feisty Spanish nymphomaniac who put the moves on Gary when he delivered a pizza to her earlier in the day. Before they’re rudely interrupted by Carmela’s boyfriend Paco (Roberto Rodriguez), a few of the guys manage to go all the way with her. In addition, the movie uses humor to tackle such hot-button topics as prostitution and STDs (a nighttime encounter with a loudmouthed hooker named Ruby, played by Nancy Brock, leaves the boys with more than good memories).

But The Last American Virgin is also effective at portraying unrequited love (Gary falls hard for Karen, and it tears him up to see his friend with her), and there’s a sequence involving teen pregnancy and abortion that actually goes a step further than a similar one found in in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (this movie’s operation scene has just as much nudity, if not more, as anything that came before it). And if you grew up in the ‘80s (like me), you’re gonna love the soundtrack, which features tunes by The Cars, Devo, Journey, and REO Speedwagon (among others).

As seen in the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, Messrs. Golan and Globus unleashed quite a bit of trash on the American public throughout the 1980s. The Last American Virgin may look like trash on paper, but it is one of their best efforts, and presents the teenage experience better than many of the like-minded movies that followed it.







Thursday, November 17, 2016

#2,253. Medium Cool (1969)


Directed By: Haskell Wexler

Starring: Robert Forster, Verna Bloom, Peter Bonerz




Tag line: "Dateline: Chicago August '68"

Trivia: The movie was originally rated "X", but re-rated "R" after an appeal








During my first year in college, I took a class on mass media, and part of the course required students to work on several video presentations, some assigned by the teacher, others for outside sources (the art department, student government, etc). Early in the semester, before we were placed on any projects, our instructor related a story about a shoot he had been a part of a year or two earlier, which featured an interview with a teenager who was dying of cancer. After answering one particular question, the teen, who our instructor said had remained composed throughout, betrayed his emotions ever so slightly, and a single tear ran down the boy’s cheek.

As you can imagine, the classroom fell silent, but it didn’t remain so for long once the instructor told us how he reacted to this emotionally charged moment.

I thought to myself”, he said, “what a great shot!

I remember a few of us gasped at what we felt was an insensitive comment (considering the circumstances). The instructor picked up on this, and backpedaled a bit, but added a few minutes later that it’s the cameraman’s job (especially in a news environment, which is what the course was geared towards) to point, shoot, and not get personally involved.

I was reminded of this as I watched the opening sequence of writer / director Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool. In it, the lead character, John Cassellis (Robert Forster), a cameraman for a Chicago TV news station, rushes towards a car accident that just occurred. With him is the sound man, Gus (Peter Bonerz), and the two take their time setting up one shot after another around the wreckage. We eventually notice that there are still people inside the vehicle, and we can hear a woman moaning in pain. Once their work is complete, John tells Gus to call the accident in, and have them send an ambulance right away.

I couldn’t help but wonder how my old instructor might have reacted to that scene.

The callous nature of the news media is but one of many themes and ideas explored throughout Medium Cool, a motion picture filmed on the streets of Chicago in 1968 that culminates with the riots at that year’s Democratic National Convention. It is an energetic, sometimes explosive, and always fascinating look at America during one of its most troubled periods, and Wexler, who was also an award-winning cinematographer, had his camera on-hand to capture it all.

Life is good for John Cassellis. Along with his exciting job, which affords him the opportunity to travel to different parts of the country (at one point, he and Gus are sent to Washington to cover Bobby Kennedy’s funeral), he’s also dating Ruth (Marianna Hill), a beautiful nurse who seems to be head-over-heels in love with him. But America is changing fast, and John, who occasionally goes out on his own to cover a story, is trying to keep up with it. Right around the time his relationship with Ruth deteriorates, he meets Eileen (Verna Bloom), a single mother from West Virginia who lives in a poor section of Chicago with her son Harold (Harold Blankenship). In addition, John is fired by his station’s manager (who thinks he’s a loose cannon, and therefore too risky to employ). In need of a job, he agrees to work for a documentary crew that’s shooting the Democratic National Convention, an event that is going to be much more chaotic than anyone imagined.

Inspired by the European style of filmmaking (especially the French New Wave), Medium Cool feels like a documentary, and, in many instances, that’s exactly what it is. Early on, Wexler and company film a training exercise carried out by the Illinois National Guard, who are practicing crowd control for the upcoming convention; and later on, when John drives into the ghetto to interview Frank Baker (Sid McCoy), an African-American taxi driver who returned $10,000 in cash that was left in his cab, he’s stopped by several militant blacks, who, towards the end of the sequence, talk directly into the camera, telling the world what’s on their minds. This real-life approach even extended to the cast: Harold Blankenship, who plays Eileen’s son Harold, was not an actor, but an actual kid from the Chicago slums hand-picked by Wexler.

The height of realism, though, comes during the riots that occurred while the Democratic National Convention was in progress. Wexler and his team were smack dab in the middle of it when all hell broke loose (a cop tosses a smoke grenade directly at Haskell Wexler, who continued filming as long as he could). Wexler balances footage of the riots with scenes set inside the convention (as police and national guardsmen are battling the protesters, the song “Happy Days are Here Again” is playing on the convention floor), as if to demonstrate the deep divide that existed in America at that time. Medium Cool has more than its share of dramatic moments, but nothing compares to the electricity of its final scenes.

A movie every bit as hectic as the period in which it was made, Medium Cool has something to say about a good many things, including racism, violence, poverty, women’s rights, and the media in general. It is more than a motion picture covering a tumultuous episode in American history; it’s a time capsule of a difficult era, and one of the finest movies to emerge from the latter half of the 1960s.







Wednesday, November 16, 2016

#2,252. Satan's Blade (1984)


Directed By: L. Scott Castillo Jr.

Starring: Tom Bongiorno, Stephanie Leigh Steel, Thomas Cue



Tag line: "It Took Over 100 Years ... But the Blade Got Even"

Trivia: L. Scott Castillo Jr. had to add two additional murders and another topless scene in order to get this film picked up for release







A 1984 slasher directed by L. Scott Castillo, Jr., Satan’s Blade is something that no movie, let alone a horror film, should be: it’s boring as hell!

To be fair, there is a bit of excitement at the beginning: a daring daylight bank robbery is pulled off by two women (Meg Greene and Mary Seamen) who shoot a pair of tellers before making their getaway. The lady thieves get their comeuppance, though, later that night when a knife-wielding maniac surprises them at their mountain resort hideaway. From there, Satan’s Blade introduces The main characters. First, we have two couples: Al (Thomas Cue) and Lil (Janeen Lowe), who are tagging along with Tony (Tom Bongiorno) and his wife Lisa (Elisa R. Malinovitz). Tony, a fledgling lawyer, has just passed the bar, and to celebrate the four decided to take a trip to the mountains. In the room right next door to them are five beauties, including Sue (Ramona Andrada), who is haunted by the death of her father; and Stephanie (Stephanie Leigh Steel), a pretty brunette who develops a crush on Tony.

Unfortunately, their timing stinks. The resort is still reeling from the murder of the two bank robbers (Sue, Stephanie and their friends are in the very room where the tragedy occurred), and, according to the cryptic old lady at the reception desk (Carrol Cotion), the recent killings were likely the work of a demented woodsman who, after being driven from his home years earlier, prayed to the mountain Gods for help, only to have his prayers answered by an evil spirit. Per the old crone, this demon gave the woodsman a weapon forged in hell, then told him to kill with it (don’t get too excited: it looks like an ordinary knife).

Naturally, the new guests laugh off the old woman’s warning, which (to no one’s surprise but theirs) proves to be a very costly mistake.

As mentioned above, Satan’s Blade gets off to a strong start (the robbery, as well as the subsequent scene at the resort, definitely piqued my interest). But then the movie shifts into low gear for a good 45 minutes to develop its characters (Tony and Lisa are having marital problems, and Sue has a nightmare about the killer that’s actually quite prophetic). The problem is that the acting is so mediocre, the dialogue so trite, and the production values so low (I saw the boom mic pop into view at least four times) that these character-driven scenes feel like they stretch on forever. The movie does eventually get down to business, but by then I was so bored that I just wanted it to be over.

Toss in some unimpressive kills (there’s blood… just not that much of it), as well as a twist ending that’s kinda frustrating, and you have a slasher that’s more likely to cure your insomnia than excite your senses.







Tuesday, November 15, 2016

#2,251. The Deadly Bees (1966)


Directed By: Freddie Francis

Starring: Suzanna Leigh, Frank Finlay, Guy Doleman



Tag line: "Hives of horror! - Excited by the smell of fear, they inflict their fatal stings!"

Trivia: The male leads were written for Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff







Killer bee movies were all the rage in the 1970s, from Irwin Allen’s 1978 big-budget spectacular The Swarm to the underrated Made-for-TV film The Savage Bees. Released by the UK’s Amicus Studios, 1967’s The Deadly Bees pre-dated those other movies by a decade, and while the special effects aren’t anything to write home about, the film itself has a few strong scenes, as well as one very peculiar performance by Frank Finlay, that make it worth your while.

After collapsing on-stage during a live television performance, pop singer Vicki Robbins (Suzanna Leigh) is ordered by her doctor to take a two-week vacation. So, she heads to the normally docile resort of Seagull Island, where she rents a room in a cottage owned by Ralph Hargrove (Guy Doleman) and his wife Mary (Catherine Finn). Though her hosts spend most of their time bickering with one another, Vicki is determined to take it easy, and get the rest and relaxation she so desperately needs.

During a walk in the country, Vicki stumbles upon a small house owned by H.W. Manfred (Frank Finlay). As it turns out, Mr. Hargrove and Mr. Manfred share the same hobby: beekeeping. In fact, they’ve become rivals, and, as Manfred tells Vicki, Hargrove has been “experimenting” with his bees in an effort to create a new, more aggressive breed. The singer learns for herself just how aggressive these insects are when a swarm of killer bees sweeps across the island, killing the Hargrove’s family dog before setting its sights on the human population. To prevent further deaths, Manfred asks Vicki to help him gather information on Hargrove’s breeding techniques, which can then be turned over to the authorities. But is Hargrove to blame for the recent outbreak of violence, or is the guilty party someone else entirely?

Directed by Freddie Francis, The Deadly Bees features an all-star British cast; aside from those listed above, Hammer regular Michael Ripper has a small but effective role as a barkeeper; and keep an eye out for Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones, who appears briefly at the beginning (as a member of the band that plays just before Vicki Robbins takes the stage). As for the leads, Suzanna Leigh is perfectly believable as a burned-out pop star, as are Guy Doleman and Catherine Finn as a married couple who’ve grown tired of living together. But it’s Frank Finlay who steals the show, playing Manfred as an ever-so-polite gentleman who likes to drink tea and brag about his bees. You can’t help but like the guy, even if he does give off a creepy vibe (he’s just a little too proud of his hive).

As for the bees themselves, the “swarming” effect that director Francis employed wasn’t particularly good (footage of actual bees was superimposed over the actors and the landscape, and as a result, the insects look as if they’re attacking the camera, and nowhere else). That said, there’s one death that’s absolutely brutal (thanks in large part to a few close-ups of real bees, many of which were in the process of stinging someone), and a later sequence where Vicki finds herself trapped in her room is truly nail-biting.

When it comes to killer bee movies, the bar hasn’t exactly been set high: The Swarm is no classic, and even though it has some sentimental value for me, The Savage Bees is far from a perfect film. So when I say that The Deadly Bees is one of the better movies of this ilk that I’ve seen, it’s certainly not high praise. But it is the truth, and I have no problem whatsoever recommending this picture to others.







Monday, November 14, 2016

#2,250. Fire in the Sky (1993)


Directed By: Robert Lieberman

Starring: D.B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, Craig Sheffer



Tag line: "Alien abduction. November 5, 1975. White Mountains, Northeastern Arizona. Based on the true story"

Trivia: It was because of his performance in this film that Robert Patrick was cast in the 8th season of The X-Files






Going back as far as 1957, there have been reports of alien abductions, with seemingly normal people claiming that they were kidnapped by “otherworldly” creatures and subjected to a series of experiments. Naturally, such stories are difficult to swallow; if I ever encounter someone who says they were taken aboard a mother ship and “probed” by aliens, I’d probably have a hard time believing them, and might even think they’ve lost their mind. It’s not an uncommon reaction, seeing as most members of the scientific community dismiss the possibility that abductions actually occur, chalking them up to fantasy, temporary insanity, etc.

But are these people truly crazy? Dr. John Mack, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard University, released a report in 1992 saying that, of the 60 abduction cases he researched, none of those he interviewed showed any signs of mental illness. What’s more, the “abductees” came from all walks of life: secretaries, students, housewives, etc. Most told similar stories, and were convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that their experiences were 100% genuine.

Inspired by real events, 1993’s Fire in the Sky is a dramatized account of what happened to Travis Walton (played here by D.B. Sweeney), a laborer from the town of Snowflake, Arizona, who vanished without a trace one November evening in 1975. Part of a 6-man logging crew, Travis and his co-workers, including his best friend Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick); fellow Snowflake residents David Whitlock (Peter Berg), Greg Hayes (Henry Thomas) and Bobby Cogdill (Bradley Gregg); and newcomer Allan Dallis (Craig Sheffer), had finished clearing some trees in an area of the White Mountains, and were on their way home when they spotted a bright red light in a clearing up ahead. 

At first, they assumed it was a fire, but what they found instead was a UFO, hovering just above the ground. While Mike and the others were trying to figure out what it was, a curious Travis got out of the truck to investigate, and a moment or two later was hit with a beam of light (emanating from the UFO) that threw him backwards about ten feet. Believing he was dead, Mike sped off, only to return a short time later to look for his best friend. But there was no trace of Travis, nor any evidence that a UFO had even been there.

Once back in Snowflake, Mike, Bobby, and the rest told Sheriff Blake Davis (Noble Willingham) about the incident, and, feeling it was a bit more than he could handle, the sheriff called in noted investigator Lt. Frank Watters (James Garner) to assist him. After hearing the whole story, Watters was convinced the group was not only lying, but covering up a possible murder. Before long, the entire town, including Mike’s wife Katie (Kathleen Wilhoite) and his sister Dana (Georgia Emelin), who was engaged to Travis, began to have their doubts as well, and wanted the remaining five to take a lie detector test to see if they were, in fact, telling the truth.

Then, a few days later, Travis resurfaced in the nearby village of Heber, naked and in a state of shock…

Based on the book “The Walton Experience” by Travis Walton himself, Fire in the Sky works on a number of different levels. For one, it’s an effective mystery, leaving us to wonder what really happened on the mountain that November night (the abduction sequence is presented as part of a flashback, shown while Mike is talking to Lt. Watters, and because of this we, like everyone else, think it might be a cover story to hide the truth). In addition, the movie offers an intriguing glimpse into small-town life, and how circumstances can cause people who’ve known each other for years to turn against one another: almost everyone in Snowflake believes Travis was the victim of foul play. Travis’s brother Dan (Scott MacDonald) even goes so far as to threaten Mike if he doesn’t come clean.

But the best scenes in Fire in the Sky are towards the end, when Travis finally reappears. As with the rest of the movie, we eventually see what happened to Travis (via flashbacks) during his absence, and without going into too much detail, it’s positively horrifying. I found Fire in the Sky fascinating for most of its running time, but these final sequences had me on the edge of my seat.

Whether Travis Walton was abducted by aliens or not, I cannot say. But I’ll tell you this: his story, truth or fiction, translated very well to the screen.







Sunday, November 13, 2016

#2,249. Backbeat (1994)


Directed By: Iain Softley

Starring: Stephen Dorff, Sheryl Lee, Ian Hart



Tag line: "5 guys, 4 legends, 3 lovers, 2 friends, 1 band"

Trivia: According to director Iain Softley, he knew that Stephen Dorff and Sheryl Lee would be perfect for their roles as soon as he met them







In the early days of the 1960s, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, otherwise known as The Beatles, were honing their craft in the dingy bars and small venues of Hamburg, Germany. The group was a little different back then. For starters, the drummer was Pete Best, who would eventually be replaced by Ringo Starr. Also, the band had a 5th member: Stu Sutcliffe, a good friend of John Lennon’s, playing bass guitar. By his own admission, Stu wasn’t much of a bass player, but he was one hell of an artist, and even today his paintings and sketches are admired by collectors and enthusiasts the world over.

Directed by Ian Softley, 1994’s Backbeat puts the focus squarely on Stu Sutcliffe and the love affair that developed between him and German photographer Astrid Kirchherr. But even with Stu and Astrid front and center, it’s the Beatles themselves who end up stealing the show.

After selling one of his paintings, Stu Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff), accompanied by his best pal John Lennon (Ian Hart), walks into a Liverpool music shop and buys a bass guitar. He intends to accompany John and the other members of his rock group, namely Paul McCartney (Gary Bakewell), George Harrison (Chris O’Neill), and Pete Best (Scot Williams), to Hamburg, Germany, where they’ll be the house band for a back alley strip club. For Stu, playing rock and roll in a foreign country is a bit of fun, but for John, it’s deadly serious; he believes the group, which adopts the name “The Beatles”, is destined for greatness, and he’s determined to do whatever it takes to make his way to the top. Though they like Stu, Paul and the others aren’t impressed with his musical abilities, and feel he’s dragging the band down, but John says, in no uncertain terms, that if Stu is forced out, he’ll quit as well.

It’s around this time that the group is introduced to Astrid Kirchherr (Sheryl Lee), who stops by the club one evening with her boyfriend Klaus (Kai Kiesinger). From the moment their eyes meet, sparks fly between Stu and Astrid, and the two become inseparable. This causes some friction between Stu and John, who wants his friend to take the music more seriously. But Stu had other plans, and, with Astrid by his side, he enrolls in a prestigious Hamburg art school. Unfortunately, fate, in the form of a previous injury, would rear its ugly head, resulting in a tragedy that none of them saw coming.

Along with its high-energy musical numbers, which feature covers of such early rock classics as Long Tall Sally, Please Mr. Postman and Twist & Shout, Backbeat has a hell of a cast. Dorff is extremely likable as Stu, the laid-back rocker who gives it all up for love, while Sheryl Lee is both restrained and incredibly effective as the spiritually-minded Astrid (the chemistry between the two is remarkable, and makes their character’s love affair all the more poignant as a result).

Even more impressive than the leads, though, are the actors who portray the Beatles, starting with Ian Hart, who captures the intensity, the complexity, and even the humor of John Lennon (his intros to the band’s live performances are often quite funny). Physically, Gary Bakewell is a dead ringer for Paul McCartney, and delivers a turn that has us believing we’re actually watching the legendary rocker in his teen years, while Chris O’Neill is appropriately naive as the underage Harrison (when German authorities discovered he was only 17, they kicked George and the rest of the band out of the country). Even Scot Williams, as the oft-forgotten Pete Best, has a few memorable moments.

At its heart, Backbeat is about Stu and Astrid, and the majority of the film’s screen time is dedicated to their story. But as this movie ultimately proves, nobody can upstage the Beatles.







Saturday, November 12, 2016

#2,248. The Nail Gun Massacre (1985)


Directed By: Bill Leslie, Terry Lofton

Starring: Rocky Patterson, Ron Queen, Beau Leland




Tag line: "A very penetrating story!"

Trivia: When the actress who was originally hired to play the store clerk didn't show up for the shoot, director Terry Lofton got his grandmother--the real clerk at the store where they were shooting--to take the role






The movie opens with a rape: a group of construction workers drag a poor woman behind the house they’re building and have their way with her (for those who are prudish, don’t worry: the girl’s clothes remain on throughout the attack). 

The film then cuts to a scene set sometime in the near future, in which one of the construction guys, Larry Johnson (Jerry Nelson), is getting ready for work while his wife (Sebrina Lawless) hangs the wash out to dry. Just then, a mysterious figure dressed in camouflage and wearing a biker’s helmet pops into view. The wife doesn’t notice as this strange individual sidesteps her and makes a beeline towards the house. Once inside, the figure, armed with a nail gun, opens fire on Larry, hitting him in (among other places) the forehead. As Larry lies dying on the floor, his killer says, mocking his pain, “Aren’t the worst headaches right between the eyes?

Cut to the credits, which play out not with a musical score behind them, but a creepy, echo-laced laugh, which we assume is the killer’s. These initial sequences are absolutely gripping, and get 1985’s The Nail Gun Massacre off to a great start.

Where it goes from that point on, though, is another matter.

Yes, an unknown killer, wielding a nail gun, is stalking the good citizens of a small Texas community, slaughtering constructions workers, their girlfriends, and even people just passing through. The local sheriff (Ron Queen) is baffled, as is the town’s doctor (Rocky Patterson). Together, the two try to determine who this masked psychopath might be, all the while collecting the bodies that continue to pile up. Can the killer be stopped, or will he finish off everyone in town before he’s through?

In the final scheme of things, The Nail Gun Massacre is not a good movie. There are a few things it gets right, like the killer (aside from his or her penchant for inappropriately witty one-liners, he or she is pretty damn menacing) and the weapon of choice (the nail gun does a number on each and every victim). I even liked how they had the killer drive around in a yellow hearse, and the kills themselves, though not incredibly graphic, are just gory enough. Also, the film’s low-budget feel matches the material perfectly, giving it a grainy, almost dirty look (which works to its advantage). Oh.. and there’s lots of nudity, including one very pretty girl who, during her entire scene, never stops to put her top back on.

Unfortunately, The Nail Gun Massacre has its share of problems as well, starting with the acting (which is bad all around) and extending out to the dialogue (While inspecting the remains of the latest victim, who had been nailed to the street, the sheriff talks with the truck driver that found him, who says that if isn’t a scene out of a horror movie, “it’s one hell of a biker’s revenge”. “We don’t have bikers in this county”, the sheriff replies, “only law-abiding citizens”. Never mind the fact he’s standing over the body of the 5th murder victim in two days!). 

In addition, The Nail Gun Massacre doesn’t even try to develop a cohesive story. Instead, it introduces one new character after another, then immediately turns its killer loose on them. And aside from the taut, well-paced opening, each and every scene runs on a bit too long (sometimes a moment or two, other times as much as a couple of minutes). Worst of all, though, is the sound quality, which is dreadful throughout (one particular sequence, set at a roadside restaurant, is barely audible thanks to all the traffic that’s speeding by).

If creative kills and some bare boobs are all you require from a low-budget ‘80s slasher film, then The Nail Gun Massacre will not disappoint. As for everyone else: you’ve been warned!







Friday, November 11, 2016

#2,247. Candy Stripe Nurses (1974)


Directed By: Alan Holleb

Starring: Candice Rialson, Robin Mattson, María Rojo




Tag line: "Playing doctor was never like this!"

Trivia: Joe Dante edited the original theatrical trailer









Having recently watched Night Call Nurses, the third of Roger Corman’s “nurse” series, I figured I’d follow it up with the 4th entry, 1974’s Candy Stripe Nurses, not because I was expecting anything different (which is a good thing, seeing as the basic structure of both movies is about the same), but because the later film featured the lovely Candice Rialson. With her at the top of the cast list, I was hoping that Candy Stripe Nurses might, at the very least, be a bit more entertaining than the previous movie.

And it turns out I was right!

Three high school students go to work as candy stripe nurses at Oakwood hospital. While filling in for the receptionist at the facility’s sex clinic, the beautiful Sandy (Rialson) meets the doctor’s newest patient, rock star Owen Boles (Kendrew Lascelles), whose sexual energy is apparently at an all-time low. Anxious to score with a famous musician, Sandy takes a personal interest in the rocker, and will stop at nothing to cure him of his woes.

After a run-in with one of her teachers, teenage delinquent Marisa (Maria Rojo) is forced by her principle to “volunteer” as a candy striper, and while at the hospital tends to the wounds of Carlos (Roger Cruz), who was shot during a gas station robbery. Believed to be part of the gang that pulled off the crime, Carlos will be arrested the moment he recovers. But after convincing Marisa that he was framed, the feisty nurse sets out to prove he is innocent.

Diane (Robin Mattson) is an over-achiever, a straight-A student who wants to be a doctor, and believes her experience as a candy stripe nurse will benefit her in the long run. During her tenure at the hospital, she falls in love with star basketball player Cliff Gallagher (Rod Haase), who has been using speed to keep him going at game time. Diane does what she can to help Cliff get over his addiction, but with the playoffs on the line, there are those who’d prefer that she mind her own business.

After seeing her (all of her, in fact) in Hollywood Boulevard, I was hoping Candice Rialson would be just as funny in this movie, and even though it took a while for her story to get going, the actress generates laughs each time she encounters Owen Boles (especially during their final scene together). As with Hollywood Boulevard, Ms. Rialson isn’t shy about taking her clothes off, and does so quite often throughout Candy Stripe Nurses. But as she proves here, there’s more to her than a pretty face and a great body. 

Equal to her in every way is Robin Mattson, who is both smart and sexy as Diane. The scenes in which she’s tagging along with Dr. Wilson (Don Keefer) as he makes his rounds are among the film’s most entertaining (she offers her unsolicited opinion on every patient, driving the doctor to despair). As for Maria Roja, she does a passable job as the tough-as-nails Marisa, but even though her individual story is exciting at times, it lacks the charm and appeal of the film’s other tales.

Bottom line: Candy Stripe Nurses is a standard nurse exploitation flick, with just as much nudity, and as many improbable situations, as Night Call Nurses. But thanks to Rialson (and Mattson), what would have been an otherwise run-of-the-mill motion picture was more fun than it had any right being.