Monday, February 20, 2012

Fool's Views (2/13 – 2/19)

Say hey, you wonderful warped wackjobs! Thanks for stopping by for yet another go-round with the Fool.

Well, wrapped up my run of A Wrinkle in Time with Milwaukee’s First Stage Theater this past weekend, and while I’m happy to be back home in the Chi-town groove, I confess I’ll be sorry to not find myself tesseracting around geodesic domes with nearly as much frequency. Due to the final stretch also including a nasty head cold in the mix, there was little to do but answer the siren call of the many DVDs hauled up north with me as I convalesced, pleased at the various “theme nights” which presented themselves (not to mention a certain excursion to the wilds of Oshkosh for another bout with the beloved House of Horrors). From bugs going boom to fistfuls of fu, from Blair gone bad to beating the streets, we hope you dig it too.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

HORROR:
Night Fright (1967)
(1st viewing) d. Sullivan, James A.
The solo feature directing credit from Larry Buchanan factory member Sullivan (production manager on Eye Creatures and Curse of the Swamp Creature, cojoling the latter’s John Agar to star) opens with a report of an innocent UFO sighting, but before long bodies are littering the landscape. The culprit: a hapless ape gone blood crazy after being exposed to cosmic rays as part of a deep space experiment. (We rarely get a good look at the “monster,” a wise decision since it’s clearly little more than a guy in a gorilla suit wearing a dinosaurized faceplate.) The shoddy production values include an array of amateur-hour performers, muddy day-for-night scenes, and an egregiously padded script with endless scenes of “teens” boogieing and bickering. At least Agar looks invested in his plight as a small-town sheriff beleaguered by taunting townies and mutilating mutations. Sullivan also has the dubious honor of serving as one of the editors on the infamous Manos: The Hands of Fate.




Slugs (1988) (2nd viewing) d. Simon, J.P.
Simon, the maestro behind the gut-busting splatter flick Pieces, delivers another heaping helping of the red sauce, this time with toxic waste-fed gastropods doing the honors. While the line readings and WTF moments are not as abundantly plentiful, there’s enough head-shaking banana boat wackiness to keep guts chuckling and gruesome sequences to keep lunches buckling. When several members of a quiet upstate NY community start turning up munchified, it’s up to public health inspector Michael Garfield (as a character named – snicker – Mike Brady) and his public works buddy Philip MacHale to save the day. The freewheeling and illogical means by which they manage this are questionable, but whenever Simon serves up the supremely slimy slithery screeching showstoppers, you probably won’t care much. Ah, Spain in the 80s, when you could have no-name no-talents doff their duds and roll around on the gore floor with about a zillion slugs, no questions asked. For the record, slugs were most definitely harmed during the making of this movie. But, hey, they’re slugs.



Ticks (aka Infested) (1993) (2nd viewing) d. Randel, Tony
Low-budget, high-entertainment offering that delivers awesome buggy goodness as promised on the marquee. Delinquent teens camping in a northern California retreat are terrorized by mutant insects created by supercharged pot plant enhancers – much scurrying and burrowing ensue. With a wealth of gooey practical effects served up by the capable team of Doug Beswick Productions and KNB EFX Group, this is a latex lover’s wet dream (heavy on the wet) with unhappy campers Seth Green, Peter Scolari, genre stalwart Clint Howard and Ami Dolenz running for their lives. Admirably directed by Hellraiser II’s Tony Randel, this remains one of Fangoria’s 101 Best Horror Films You’ve Never Seen still criminally unavailable on DVD. Set the Ticks free!




CIVILIAN:
There Will Be Blood (2007)
(2nd viewing) d. Anderson, Paul Thomas
Epic in scale and length, Anderson’s dust-choked rendering of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! rests firmly on the shoulders of acting machine Daniel Day-Lewis as a ruthless oil prospector whose thirst for power and wealth is only equaled by hatred for his fellow man. Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead) turns in a score that becomes a character all its own, one that is occasionally intrusive but never anything less than fascinating, while Robert Elswitt’s Oscar-winning cinematography is a thing of wonder, as any shot could be framed and mounted. While the unsympathetic characters take their toll over the 2.5 hour running time, there is no denying the talent on either side of the camera. Much more than simply a vehicle for Day-Lewis (whose channeling of John Huston deservedly earned him a second Best Actor Oscar), this is a work of extraordinary beauty, power and conviction. Color me waiting impatiently for Anderson’s The Master – due later this year – because for my money, he hasn’t missed yet.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001) (1st viewing) d. Wain, David
Wain, a founding member of the unhinged comedy sketch program The State, takes the feature film reins with this madcap sendup of 80s camp comedies (think Meatballs and its ilk) that died a horrible death upon initial release but has since grown a rather healthy cult following. Co-scripting with Michael Showalter (who plays the lovelorn Coop), Wain recruits several of his show’s alumni and numerous upcoming Young Hollywood types (Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Molly Shannon and Amy Poehler among them) alongside stalwarts such as Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce and Chris Meloni to populate his zany outdoors escapades. The results are consistently subversive, infinitely quotable and occasionally downright hilarious.




LINDA BLAIR’S GOT A PAIR








Born Innocent (1974)
(1st viewing) d. Wrye, Donald












Savage Streets (1984) (1st viewing) d. Steinmann, Danny









After watching our little head-spinning Regan MacNeil all grown up in Chained Heat last week, it seemed the opportune moment to dig out two other Blair pics I’ve had sitting by the wayside. The first, a TV-movie sandwiched in between her star-making Exorcist stint and being sung to by Helen Reddy in Airport 1975, is a surprisingly brutal, hard-hitting indictment of teen girl halfway houses, with real issues being raised about the System’s failure to rehabilitate or even benefit their inhabitants. Blair, it must be stated, has never been an entirely convincing actor, but she manages to go through the paces of a confused runaway child – encountering obstacle after obstacle from authority figures, family and peers until any desires to be an upstanding member of society are systematically crushed – effectively emerging on the other side a disillusioned, hardened delinquent…


…which is pretty much where we pick her up a decade later in Streets, a sleazy cheesy rapesploitation flick that posits the chubby-cheeked full-figured former Oscar-nominee as a way-too-old-for-high-school hottie sporting huge hair and a bad attitude. As the leader of a chiquita clique called the Satins, Blair is at her sneering sexpot peak, ready to lay you out with an eyeroll-inducing one-liner one minute and a full-on catfight the next. But when a gang of thugs rape her deaf/mute younger sister (a very innocent looking Linnea Quigley, especially considering her nude gravedancing gig in Return of the Living Dead was only a year away), it’s time for LB to strap on the crossbow, break out the bear traps, jump in the SUV (?) and unload some full tilt boogie on the ill-mannered bastards. Unbelievably tawdry and undeniably entertaining, Steinmann (whose next assignment, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, had Jason fans crying foul) keeps the action cooking with classroom hijinks, bouncing boobs and hiss-worthy scumbags. Idiotic in the extreme and all the more enjoyable for it; a vintage slice of 80s exploitation.




FIVE IS THE DEADLIEST NUMBER THAT YOU’LL EVER DO







Five Deadly Venoms (1978)
(1st viewing) d. Chang, Cheh














Five Fingers of Death (1972) (1st viewing) d. Jeong, Chang-hwa







I had somehow never gotten around to this pair of chop-socky classics which happily proved worthy of their reputations. By most reports, Fingers is THE film that kicked off the kung-fu craze in the States, paving the way for Bruce Lee’s Hollywood-financed vehicle Enter the Dragon and paid homage several times over in Tarantino’s Kill Bill (eyeball plucking, music cues and all). At its heart a simple story of a young man Lieh Lo’s journey into adulthood and feuding families seeking superiority through the annual martial arts tourney, the brutal beatdowns and flashy flailings are surprisingly effective, as are the filmmakers’ willingness to sacrifice just about any character to the cause. Venoms, which unfurls the tale of a quintet of martial artists – each schooled in a different animal fighting technique – seeking to off one another in a quest for hidden treasure, is a little zanier, with more mystical spells and wire-fu in play, but no less entertaining.




POWELL/PRESSBURGER TRIPLE PLAY
Red Shoes, The (1948)
(1st viewing) d. Powell, Michael/Pressburger, Emeric
Small Back Room, The (1949) (1st viewing) d. Powell, Michael/Pressburger, Emeric
Tales of Hoffmann, The (1951) (1st viewing) d. Powell, Michael/Pressburger, Emeric
Horror fans likely know Powell’s name (or at least they should) from his UK slasher granddaddy Psycho counterpart Peeping Tom, but before making the masterpiece that ostensibly destroyed his career, he was one half of a filmmaking team that turned out distinguished, commercially successful and critically lauded features of every stripe. Cases in point: the gorgeous melodrama of rising prima ballerina Moira Shearer in Red Shoes to Back Room’s claustrophobic b/w war drama about David Farrar’s wounded veteran struggles with the bottle, bureaucracy, and boobytrapped bombs to the gorgeous staging, cinematography (Freddie Francis) and production design of Jacques Offenbach’s opera Tales of Hoffmann. When you’ve got Martin Scorsese and George A. Romero in your corner, you must be doing something right (though I must confess that the final scene in Shoes is a unapologetic load of hooey, introducing a fantastical reverse deus ex machina in order to, ahem, shoehorn on an unhappy ending to mirror the original Hans Christian Andersen story).




TAKIN’ IT TO THE STREETS
Across 110th Street (1972)
(1st viewing) d. Shear, Barry
When an NYC Italian/Negro drug deal is soured by an independent third party, turmoil reins for police officials Anthony Quinn and Yaphett Kotto who are left tussling with each other’s personal racial biases as they struggle to keep the city from exploding beneath their feet. Not your average blaxploitation flick, though it is often categorized as such, with rich, complex characters and viciously brutal sequences which elicit more groans of empathy than enthusiastic cheers. Standouts include the two leads, as well as Paul Benjamin, Anthony Franciosa, Antonio Fargas, Gloria Hendry, Richard Ward. Look sharp for Burt Young in the opening sequence.

Panic in the Streets (1950) (1st viewing) d. Kazan, Elia
Fans of Steven Soderbergh’s recent infection drama Contagion should do themselves the favor of checking out Kazan’s superbly effective thriller based on similar subject matter in a smaller microcosm – in this case, New Orleans. An illegal immigrant carrying pneumonic plague sits down at the wrong card table his first night in country, unwittingly infecting everyone he comes in contact with, including hoods Jack Palance and Zero Mostel. It’s up to Richard Widmark’s determined government health official and police captain Paul Douglas to track the now-dead man’s movements before the infection spreads beyond the city’s populace and/or the newspapers catch wind of the story, sparking a mass exodus. All the performances are strong, but watching “Walter Jack Palance” in his film debut is something of a revelation, making Widmark’s presence all the more ironic considering the lead’s similar breakout in Kiss of Death only three years prior.

Side Street (1950) (1st viewing) d. Mann, Anthony
A serviceable noir programmer, with Farley Granger as an expectant father/part-time mail carrier who yields to temptation when a $35K bundle makes itself available. Unsurprisingly, the mob characters want their missing dough back, but by the time the would-be thief is ready to make amends, he’s already been flim-flammed several times over and now sits multiple degrees away from the loot. Cathy O’Donnell shares top billing as his doormat wife with a heart of gold, but Granger (never one of my faves) is too much of a wishy-washy sap to generate much empathy. Not bad, but not notable either. With Jean Hagen, James Craig, Paul Kelly and reliable character man Paul Harvey.


2012 Totals to date: 55 films, 50 1st time views, 19 horror, 1 cinema

4 comments:

  1. Programming a SLUGS/TICKS double feature is brilliant. It is too bad the promised early 80s flick SNAILS (really!) never got made.

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    1. I went back to 2007 (when I first saw SLUGS) and I had paired it with THE NEST, which was a pretty good double feature. The TICKS/SLUGS df worked quite well, although I was surprised that of the crowd we were watching it with, SLUGS was the unanimous favorite. Technically, I think TICKS is the better movie, but I can see how the goofiness inherent to JP Simon flicks might have won them over.

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  2. Replies
    1. Because you have good taste, my friend. And you taste good as well. Leastways, that's what the ticks say.

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