Sunday, August 18, 2019

Fool's Views (7/1 – 7/31)


Light up the barbeque pit, folks!

Summer is a-comin’ in
Loudly sing Cuckoo
Grows the seed and blows the mead
And springs the wood anew.
Sing Cuckoo!

Howdy, folks! Well, summer is technically on its way out, but it’s never a bad time to throw a little Wicker Man into the mix. And what a summer it’s been! In addition to the ongoing self-defense workshops through IMPACT Chicago and Lincoln Square Athletic Club, I took a quick trip to my home stomping grounds of Colorado to visit family, help out with chores, learn way too much about Bonanza (my mom’s latest YouTube obsession is watching old episodes and fawning over Pernell Roberts), and play around with not one but two litters of Golden Retriever puppies. Never a dull moment, I tell ya.

Also, time for a little plug. My friend Jon Kitley’s new book, Discover the Horror, just hit bookshelves last month. It’s a fantastic autobiographical journey, detailing how he first tumbled into his appreciation for the genre and how he’s essentially devoted every spare moment to it, from his award-winning column in HorrorHound magazine to hundreds of conventions spanning coast-to-coast to his home base of Kitley’s Krypt, one of (if not THE) longest-running independent horror websites out there. Anyone with a passing interest in the genre – and I’m guessing that means you, since you’re reading this right now – will relate to the passions and obsessions expressed therein. Order a copy today, either via Amazon or from Jon himself at one of his many live appearances (which you can keep track of HERE).

All right! On with the program! It was another full month, with all manner of mini-festivals and themes (our ongoing 007 journey, a quartet of Hammer horror, Boris and Bela, Italian slicing and dicing, a trio of Richard Lester flicks, and a double dose of Keanu). Something for everyone, as they say….

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

Enjoy!

HORROR:


The Devil Frame (2019) d. Sepulveda, Rob (USA) (1st viewing)

Handsome, lustrous-locked photographer (August Lysy) attempts to stave off his gambling debts with a little help from the voodoo gods, with predictably dodgy results. Chicago writer/director Sepulveda does his best to create sinister atmosphere on a budget, conjuring a number of intriguing visuals and philosophical conceits, with a game cast willing to bare themselves emotionally and physically. There are times where conventional camera set-ups and wobbly line readings diminish the desired impact (Ron Fitzgerald’s occult book shop owner lacks the gravitas to be a worthy adversary for the powers of darkness), and Sepulveda relies on the tried-and-true allure of female nudity perhaps more than necessary in this day and age (if the ladies are going to shuck it, we probably ought to see a little pickle as well, just saying), but kudos to Kat Blackburn (who is quite good throughout) and Genivre Vine (who is also quite good with less to do) for doing their part. In all, it’s a capable if flawed indie genre effort that might have benefited from a more ambitious visual approach and a tighter script. Eager to see what else the creators have up their robed sleeves.





Fascism on a Thread – The Strange Story of Nazisploitation Cinema (2019) d. Holwill, Naomi (USA) (1st viewing)

If you find yourself – as I did a few years back – scanning the BFCC Video Nasties list and wondering to yourself, “What is this Nazisploitation business? Why does such a subgenre even exist? Who the hell watches this stuff? What the hell is going on?????”, you would do well to check out Naomi Holwill’s terrific feature-length documentary featuring interviews with stars Dyanne Thorne (Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS) and Malissa Longo (Elsa: Fraulein SS), filmmakers Sergio Garrone, Mario Caiano, Rino Di Silvestro, Liliana Cavani, Bruno Mattei, and authors Kim Newman, John Martin, Russ Hunter, Anthony Page, Mikel J. Koven, and others. Amidst scores of clips from a multitude of efforts ranging from art-house to grindhouse, the bevy of talking heads provides ample context for the outrageous rise and expedient fall of this strange combo of sex, torture, and goose-stepping violence, as well as a list of “essential” titles for the curious and adventurous to seek out. Included on Severin Films’ new BR release of The Beast in Heat and well worth your time.





The Giant Claw (1957) d. Sears, Fred F. (USA) (4th viewing)

While this has been a longtime fave in our house, this was the first time we had the opportunity to see it on the big screen! Hats off to the Music Box Theatre and Jon Kitley for their brilliant programming, held in conjunction with the Discover the Horror book launch a couple weeks back. Full movie review is below in the link, and DTH is available now on Amazon (or better yet, have your favorite bookseller order it in for you. That way, everybody wins!)

***CLICK HERE FOR FULL MOVIE REVIEW***





Hereditary (2018) d. Aster, Ari (USA) (3rd viewing)

Introduced this one to the femalien as we were prepping to go see Aster's Midsommar… which, predictably enough, we still have not gotten around to seeing. (WHY DOES IT COST $30 TO SEE A FRIGGIN’ MOVIE NOWADAYS??? J’PROTESTE!!!) I still dug it on my third time around, her first, although she made a fine point about how looooooong Aster holds his characters’ reaction shots to something before actually getting around to showing the audience what it is that said characters are reacting to. It works well as a means of building up tension and suspense, but it’s also a delicate tool that could be overused (and was, in her opinion). All that said, the emotional content still holds and the batshit wall-crawling finale still packs the intended punch. We also had a long discussion as to whether Collette’s character choosing to work in miniatures was simply a uniquely visual cinematic motif or whether it actually had some deeper meaning. Jury is still out on that one.





This Island Earth (1955) d. Newman, Joseph F. (USA) (3rd viewing)

***CLICK HERE FOR FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW***





The Leopard Man (1943) d. Tourneur, Jacques (USA) (3rd viewing)

***CLICK HERE FOR FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW***





Night of the Creeps (1986) d. Dekker, Fred (USA) (3rd viewing)

***CLICK HERE FOR FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW***





Silent Hill (2006) d. Gans, Christophe (France/Canada/Japan/USA) (2nd viewing)

***CLICK HERE FOR FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW***




WHEN THE YELLOW RUNS RED:
GIALLO OR SLASHER?



The New York Ripper (1982) d. Fulci, Lucio (Italy) (3rd viewing)

***CLICK HERE FOR FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW***





Tenebrae (1982) d. Argento, Dario (Italy) (3rd viewing)

***CLICK HERE FOR FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW***




BELA AND BORIS AT UNIVERSAL:



The Invisible Ray (1936) d. Hillyer, Lambert (USA) (2nd viewing)

Reclusive and rejected scientist Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) invites several doubting contemporaries, including Dr. Benet (Bela Lugosi), to his secluded Carpathian laboratory to show off his latest discovery, The Andromeda Ray, which allows individuals to see into the past while revealing the source (Africa) of a mysterious and powerful element. Dubbed Radium X, the marvelous discovery has the ability to heal nearly every medical ailment when processed correctly; unprocessed, it turns the irradiated subject into an instrument of death for anyone he touches. The glowing effects by John P. Fulton (The Invisible Man) are a highlight, and the two stars give solid performances, as do the actresses playing the two females in Rukh’s life: his young and conflicted wife (Frances Drake) and doting blind mother (Violet Kemble Cooper). Enjoyable fare for classic genre fans.



Black Friday (1940) d. Lubin, Arthur (USA) (2nd viewing)

After his effete and intellectual professor friend (Stanley Ridges) is struck by a car, cavalier surgeon Dr. Sovac (Boris Karloff) drops his brain into the body of a recently deceased gangster (also Ridges), leaving the two consciousnesses struggling for dominance, with the revived hoodlum looking for payback against his double-crossing associates (led by Bela Lugosi). Karloff is his usual debonair, focused self in what could be seen as a dry run for his series of Columbia mad scientist programmers to come, but it’s really Ridges’ show, who does a terrific job playing two distinctly different personas. (Thanks to Jack Pierce’s makeup efforts, I honestly didn’t realize it was the same actor playing both parts at first!) Lugosi does his best playing against type as a mobster thug, but it’s an uncomfortable fit. (Lugosi was originally slated to play Sovac with Karloff in the dual role, but a last-minute switcheroo – reportedly initiated by Karloff – relegated him to the supporting gangster part.) More entertaining than its lackluster reputation might indicate, it’s still a far cry from the duo’s glory days.

Both films are available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory as part of their Universal Horror Collection: Volume 1 (along with The Black Cat and The Raven) and can be ordered HERE:

https://www.shoutfactory.com/product/the-boris-karloff-bela-lugosi-collection?product_id=7039




HAMMER HORROR:


Lust for a Vampire (1971) d. Sangster, Jimmy (UK) (3rd viewing)

***CLICK HERE FOR FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW***





Quatermass 2 (1957) d. Guest, Val (UK) (2nd viewing)

***CLICK HERE FOR FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW***





Quatermass and the Pit (1967) d. Baker, Roy Ward (UK) (3rd viewing)

***CLICK HERE FOR FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW***





The Reptile (1966) d. Gilling, John (UK) (3rd viewing)

***CLICK HERE FOR FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW***




CIVILIAN:


The Princess Bride (1987) d. Reiner, Rob (USA) (5th viewing)

"My father was slaughtered by a six-fingered man. He was a great sword-maker, my father. When the six-fingered man appeared and requested a special sword, my father took the job. He slaved a year before it was done. The six-fingered man returned and demanded it, but at one-tenth his promised price. My father refused. Without a word, the six-fingered man slashed him through the heart. I loved my father. So naturally, I challenged his murderer to a duel. I failed. The six-fingered man left me alive, but he gave me these. (strokes scars on cheeks) I was eleven years old. And when I was strong enough, I dedicated my life to the study of fencing. So the next time we meet, I will not fail. I will go up to the six-fingered man and say, 'Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.' "





Catwoman (2004) d. Pitof (USA) (1st viewing)

I’m not sure why or how blood brother John Pata and I decided that we should watch Halle Berry’s much-derided superhero outing, but it had been a running joke for years before we actually sat down to experience it in the flesh. (As it turned out, we ended up, quite unintentionally, watching it on the 15th anniversary of its release.) If you were hoping for some curveball celebration of a lost gem, you’d best look elsewhere because this thing is a stinker from start to finish. Even Berry (who has had my heart since The Last Boy Scout) bedecked in a revealing leather outfit can’t save it, mostly because she looks awkward and uncomfortable even as she’s trying to sell the presumed sex appeal. Sorry, Halle, but strutting with your hips thrust three feet out in front of you is not enticing, it’s just weird. But it’s more than that – her performance is stiff and mannered whether she’s feigning cute and clumsy or lithe and libidinous.

And oh my stars the horrible computer-generated effects. And the ridiculous resurrectionist felines storyline. And Alex Borstein’s crushingly annoying officemate. And that goddam basketball game with Benjamin Bratt. And my precious Sharon Stone, so very, very far from her Basic Instinct glory days (and even from her Action Jackson/Above the Law 1988 verge-of-glory days, or even her “let’s not talk about that Wes Craven movie Deadly Blessing that I did back in 1981 even though AC kind of likes it” days). Sigh. $100 million could have gone to so many other places.





Randy Writes a Novel (2018) d. Warrington, Anthony (Australia) (2nd viewing)

In fact, case in point, here we have a Australian muppet stand-up comedian whose collective production costs probably number in the triple digits at best and whose entertainment value is probably 100 million times that of Catwoman. Pata had never seen or heard of Randy Feltface, but 71 minutes later, he was as big a fan as the Lady Fair and I were when we discovered him back in April. I’m not usually a big fan of posting YouTube links, since I would much rather the artist receive the funds, so I’m going to provide directions to Randy’s home site, knowing full well that you’ll probably find said YouTube link along the way. http://randywritesanovel.com/meet-randy/ and https://www.feltface.com/.




RICHARD LESTER TRIPLE FEATURE:


The Bed-Sitting Room (1969) d. Lester, Richard (UK) (1st viewing)

Bizarre and cracked art-house anti-comedy from the creators of The Goon Show about a post-apocalyptic Britain populated by garbage and garbage humans. Hardly a crowd-pleaser, but intriguing nonetheless.





Finders Keepers (1984) d. Lester, Richard (UK/USA) (1st viewing)

Ensemble comedy more frantic than funny, but with a stellar cast swinging for the fences it’s hard not to be entertained. I’ll never understand why Caddyshack’s Michael O’Keefe didn’t become a major star (granted, he’s been working steadily, so good on him) since he shows the safe effortless charm here, playing a former women’s roller derby coach who crosses paths with a con man (Ed Lauter) and an unhappy wife (Pamela Stephenson) who have just bilked her moneybags husband with a fake kidnapping scheme. With the money traveling cross country in a coffin via train, the stage is set for all manner of chicanery, and everyone (Beverly D’Angelo, Louis Gossett, Jr., Brian Dennehy, Jack Riley, a young Jim Carrey in his second big screen role, and David Wayne as the world’s oldest train conductor) gets their moment in the sun.





A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) d. Lester, Richard (UK/USA) (2nd viewing)

Stellar adaptation of the Broadway hit, with several cast members reprising their stage roles including Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford. Michael Crawford, as the young lover Hero, astounds with any number of jaw-dropping stunts while Phil Silvers performs brilliantly without his trademark glasses and Buster Keaton tenders his final onscreen performance. The chariot race sequence alone is worth the price of admission, but there’s so much more to be enjoyed. Oddly enough, I had watched this before without it having made much of an impression. Not the case this time.




TWO KEANUS FOR YOUSE:


John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) d. Stahelski, Chad (USA) (1st viewing)

Keanu Reeves in his element, elevated by a clever script, a fine supporting cast, and about 400,000,000 bullets.





The Lake House (2006) d. Agresti, Alejandro (USA) (1st viewing)

Keanu Reeves out of his element, saved by a clever script, a fine supporting cast, and Sandra Bullock at her Miss Lonelyhearts best.




BREAKING BONDS:


Thunderball (1965) d. Young, Terence (UK) (2nd viewing)

Hot off the rip-roaring smash of Goldfinger, the fourth Bond film in as many years sees SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) hijacking two nukes from a jet fighter and squirreling them away in an ingeniously camouflaged (cough, cough) ship on the ocean floor. Largo then proceeds to ransom said missiles from NATO for the princely sum of ONE MEEEEEELION DOLLARS, the first of many plot points that Mike Myers and the Austin Powers crew would spoof three decades later. (See also, the cutthroats row sitting at table with Blofeld’s hand on the switch.)

The gorgeous Domino (former Miss France Claudine Auger) is a more complex Bond Lady than usual, under Largo’s thumb but eager to make her escape, and Luciana Palluzzi fetchingly snarls and smirks her way through the role of assassin Fiona Volpe. The visual effects that earned the film its Oscar statuette are perhaps less impressive today, especially since the color-coordinated underwater skirmish isn’t really THAT exciting. Rik Van Nutter plays the third incarnation of Bond’s CIA counterpart Felix Leiter, and Martine Beswick becomes the second actress to appear in two 007 films as different characters (scrappy Gypsy girl Zora in From Russia With Love, fellow agent Paula Caplan here), following Nadja Regin's turns as "Kerim's Girl" in FRWL and the beautiful would-be assassin Bonita in Goldfinger.





You Only Live Twice (1967) d. Gilbert, Lewis (UK) (2nd viewing)

With a plotline about kidnapping rival superpowers’ space rockets, a villain’s secret hideout inside a volcano, the first ninjas seen onscreen in a major motion picture, and the At Last reveal of Blofeld’s face after three films of hands, feet, and white kitty cats, this was clearly an attempt to take the series to the next level of outrageousness. Unfortunately, entertaining as it might be at times, it’s saddled with some roaringly sexist material and, if not blatantly racist, at least culturally tone-deaf views of the Japanese population. (Did you know you can pass as Japanese if you slant your eyelids and wear a black Moe Fine wig? It’s true.)

Also, while taking nothing away from Donald Pleasance as an actor, he’s more toothless than ruthless as the world’s #1 supercriminal, and his henchwoman Helga Brandt (Karin Dor) passes up the chance to simply complete her assignment with a knife to the throat and instead takes Bond up into an airplane and then parachutes out LEAVING BOND ALONE TO MAKE HIS ESCAPE. If anyone deserved to be fed to the piranhas, it’s her. On the other side of the fence, our heroic Bond ladies (Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama) are caught in the see-saw of saving Bond and then clinging to his manly shoulders whilst making their escape. However, the climactic showdown is a high-water mark for the franchise, with scores of ninjas rappelling in from the volcano lip with flames and explosions dancing in counterpoint.





On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) d. Hunt, Peter (UK) (2nd viewing)

With Sean Connery leaving the role that made him an international superstar, the race was on for producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to find a new Bond. The answer came in the form of male model/commercial actor George Lazenby who won the part by borrowing one of Connery’s cast-off suits and bloodying a stuntman’s nose during his fight audition. (Funny, that’s the kind of thing in my experience that helps one NOT win the role… but I digress.) While decidedly not the same animal as his predecessor, Lazenby is actually quite a passable 007, as different as any other performer who has donned the Walther PPK, and he is well-served by longtime franchise editor Hunt finally finding his way into the director’s chair.

The overblown foley effects notwithstanding (tires screeching on sand, gents? Really?), this is a vibrant and enjoyable collection of plot points that brings Bond to Blofeld’s (Telly Savalas, inarguably the most menacing incarnation) Swiss mountaintop lair where he seeks to foil a biological warfare plot to be carried out by hypnotized allergy patients, all of which happen to be supermodels. I mean, come on. That’s good stuff. The ski stunts, as well as one henchman's extremely looooooooong fall, are utterly fantastic. This is also the One Where Bond Gets Married, and with Diana Rigg as the bride, who’s going to complain, especially when she matches him beat for beat? (Let’s not forget, it’s her at the wheel of the memorable ice rink car chase.) Of course, we can’t have our favorite secret agent being tied down, so it’s also the one with The Most Emotional Impact come the closing credits.

The film’s biggest fault – if it is one – is that Connery is not playing Bond, but within this given set of circumstances, I find it hard to picture our callow Scotch lad emotionally vulnerable enough to entertain the notion much less pop the question. It would have been interesting to see where Lazenby would have taken the role had he been allowed to grow into it. I mean, his 007 reads Playboy while on a safecracking assignment and gooses Moneypenny in the office, so anything can happen!





Diamonds Are Forever (1971) d. Hamilton, Guy (UK) (2nd viewing)

Connery came back into the fold in exchange for a then-record $1.25 million payday ($1 million of which he used to set up a Scottish educational charity) and financing of two additional movies of his choosing, but it never really feels like his heart is in this one because, well, it wasn’t. Goldfinger director Hamilton was wooed back as well, but there’s little of the style and flash that made that installment so fun, feeling instead like a slightly grittier episode of a Vegas cop TV show. Jill St. John is teeth-gratingly annoying as clothing-shy diamond smuggler Tiffany Case, working in league with Blofeld (Charles Gray, dry and droll as can be) to create a giant laser beam that will then be auctioned off to the highest bidder looking to achieve world domination.

The most memorable elements are equally the most bizarre, including the moon buggy carjacking from the set of an astronaut training center (where the students act as though they are in zero gravity even when they aren’t), the curious relationship between hitmen Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover, i.e. Crispin’s dad) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith), the reclusive Howard Hughes billionaire played by “Big Bad John” recording artist and sausage king Jimmy Dean, our gymnastic assassins Bambi (Lola Larson) and Thumper (Trina Parks), and the “wait, WHAT” plot point of using a regular old audiocassette tape to power the grand Doomsday device. (Oh, and let’s not forget the scene where Bond tips a car up on two wheels to squeeze through a narrow alley passageway… and then somehow comes out the other side on THE OTHER TWO WHEELS. I mean, that’s a whopper, continuity folks.)


2019 Totals to Date: 269 films, 129 1st time views, 148 horror, 26 cinema


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