Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fool's Views (11/1 – 11/11)

Howdy troops!

Wow. Well, no surprise that I was a little burned out after the 31-day sprint that was the October Challenge; also no surprise that the content of the past couple weeks leaned in the civilian direction. Still, we managed to get a couple worthy fright flicks into the mix as well as embarking on the 7th Annual Turkey Hunt, where one tries to consume as many low-grade stinkers as possible over the course of November. (Films need to have an IMDb rating of 4.4 or lower to qualify, but as you’ll see, entertainment mileage is not necessarily proportionate.)

So, dive in! We’ve got all three Carradine brothers (David, Keith, Robert) and a triple-shot of Police frontman Sting in the mix, accompanied by another heaping helping of Danny Peary’s Cult Movies selections. As always, feel free to throw in your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



Brimstone & Treacle (1982) (2nd viewing) d. Loncraine, Richard (UK)

With his career as a musical superstar firmly in place, relative screen newbie Sting was tapped to shoulder his third of this black comedy three-hander with venerable veteran screen talents Denholm Elliot and Joan Plowright. Turns out he’s more than up to the task, playing a playfully sinister sociopath who insinuates himself into the elder couple’s lives under the pretense of being their infirm daughter’s unrequited paramour. As the story unfolds, the question as to the interloper’s true identity becomes ever cloudier, with director Loncraine throwing marvelously ambiguous – both in style and substance – curve balls our way. While it never goes quite as dark as perhaps should and the final unresolved question mark mars any truly satisfactory conclusion, there is much to admire in the plot’s quirky rhythms and universally sterling performances.

Dead Weight (2012) (6th viewing) d. Pata, John/Bartlett, Adam (USA)

Its festival run in full swing, now seemed a perfectly appropriate time to bust out everyone’s favorite post-apocalyptic love story for my Crucible castmates. The 2012 laurel leaves have been abundant, as have the various festival awards. To wit: Best Editing (Elvira’s Horror Hunt), Best Feature, Cinematography and Screenplay (Madison Horror Film Festival), Juror Award (Central Wisconsin Film Festival), and nominations for Best Feature and Actor at the New Orleans Horror Film Festival. They like us, they really like us…


Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959) (2nd viewing) d. Kowalski, Bernard L. (USA) (IMDb rating 3.1)

From producer Gene Corman (brother Roger exec-produced) comes this steamy tale of oversized bloodsucking annelids terrorizing the local swamp rat population, with a dash of moonshine, adultery, and suicide tossed in for good measure.

Shabbily directed by Bernard L. Kowlaski, this is vintage grade-Z schlock, highlighted by Attack of the 50-Foot Woman’s inimitable homewrecker Yvette Vickers. Hotter than any cat on a hot tin roof, Vickers oozes trampy sex appeal as an adulterous baby-doll wife, fanning the flames of tubby husband Bruno VeSota’s jealous rage. For the ladies, well-chiseled Ken Clark frequently answers the door shirtless and models his sculpted frame in swimming trunks and scuba gear. His heroic game warden looks carved out of stone, aptly consistent with his thespian efforts.

As for the laughably cheap creatures themselves (their gigantism accounted for in a throwaway reference to Cape Canaveral’s radioactive fallout), watching the unfortunate actors lurch about within their shiny black banana-shaped costumes is as hilarious as it is sad. Still, the subterranean scenes of the leeches feeding upon their stored victims do manage a perverse creepiness, as do the drained bodies floating eerily to the surface. Screenplay by frequent Corman scribe/character actor Leo Gordon.

Beast of Yucca Flats, The (1961) (3rd viewing) d. Francis, Coleman (USA) (IMDb rating 1.7)

Tor Johnson, the ex-wrestler who attained everlasting infamy in several Ed Wood features, is the nominal “star” of this hilariously misguided cinematic achievement. “Noted scientist” Johnson is ambushed while carrying atomic secrets during a meet-up and chased onto an atomic testing ground. (Oh, sweet irony.) Before you can say Big Bang Boom, the hulking bald-headed brainiac is transformed into a hulking bald-headed maniac with a radiation-scarred visage and a pronounced hindrance in communication skills. Helpless women are kidnapped, kids are chased with sticks and a cuddly bunny bounces in for the greatest closing shot on celluloid.

To cut costs, writer/director Francis elected to shoot without sound and watching his actors’ heads endlessly trimmed out of frame or turning their backs to camera during “dialogue” sequences is a constant source of amusement. But this epic turkey’s true magic lies in its hypnotically poetic non-sequitars espoused by an anonymous offscreen narrator (Francis, naturally). This jaw-dropping, mind-blowing cavalcade of drivel includes such unforgettable gems as “Flag on the moon…how did it get there?” “A man runs. Someone shoots at him.” “Nothing bothers some people…not even flying saucers.” “Touch a button. Things happen.” and my personal favorite, “Boys from the city, not yet caught in the wheels of progress, feed soda pop to the hungry pigs.”

A trashy landmark that must be experienced firsthand to be believed.

Majorettes, The (1987) (1st viewing) d. Hinzman, Bill (USA) (IMDb rating 4.0)

A real dud from producer/screenwriter John Russo (riding his Night of the Living Dead cred for all it’s worth) based on his novel. It’s your basic low budget slasher with not-terrible blood effects and frequent flashes of female flesh for the first hour, replete with terrible acting and dialogue. Then Russo and Hinzman kill off their lead and the last 30 minutes become a terribly choreographed action revenge tale with motorbikes, gunplay and explosions. Oh, there’s also a subplot about an old granny, her nefarious caretaker and an inheritance that keeps trying to shoehorn itself into the mix. Even less fun than it sounds.


Clue (1985)
(2nd viewing) d. Lynn, Jonathan (USA)
Spirited all-star casting enlivens the crazy Whodunit-in-the-Old-Dark-House proceedings, based on the classic board game. A game-changer for standout Tim Curry, shaking off his Frank-N-Furter shackles, but the rest of the ensemble (Martin Mull, Madeline Kahn, Michael McKean, Lesley Anne Warren, Eileen Brennan, Christopher Lloyd and Colleen Camp) are equally entertaining.

Grey, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Carnahan, Joe (USA)
Yet another programmer with Liam Neeson as an aging badass, this time having to rally a group of Alaskan plane wreck survivors against the elements and some gutbustingly nonrealistic wolf pack behavior. A movie trapped between two concepts, missing both the serious existential exploration of the meaning of living bullseye and the pulpy action one, stranding us right in the murky middle with the frightened band of misfits.

Passenger, The (1975) (1st viewing) d. Antonioni, Michelangelo (Italy)
Jack Nicholson is a war correspondent in the Sahara who trade identities with a mysterious dead man in the other hotel room; predictably, shenanigans ensue. An action movie without a lot of action, this is the kind of film that could only have been made in the 1970s, with long sequences of dialogue-free contemplations of landscape and humankind. Similar to quiet thrillers such as The Conversation and The Parallax View.


Emperor of the North (1973) (4th viewing) Aldrich, Robert (USA)
Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine reteam with Dirty Dozen director Robert Aldrich is this Depression-era yarn about a battle of wills between Borgnine’s sadistic locomotive conductor and Marvin’s wily hobo who vows to be the first to ride “the Shack.” Terrific two-fisted character piece, with able assistance from Keith Carradine as a brash newcomer who seeks to ally with Marvin in order to share in the glory.

Bound for Glory (1976) (1st viewing) d. Ashby, Hal (USA)
David Carradine stars as activist/folk singer Woody Guthrie; for those only familiar with the actor’s stoic B-movie action persona, the warmth and humor on display is something of a revelation. Abandoning wife Melinda Dillion and family in Texas, the tunesmith makes his way to California (via thumb and boxcar) where he encounters both the bad-guy fruit orchard bosses and union-promoting radio personality Ronny Cox who looks to organize the poverty-stricken workers. Thoroughly engaging in spite of its two hour-plus runtime.


Dune (1984) (3rd viewing) d. Lynch, David (USA)
Seeing Sting in Brimstone and Treacle prompted this latest revisit of the notoriously expensive bomb. Having genuinely enjoyed its unique array of characters, art direction, concept, etc. upon first seeing it in the cinema, imagine my surprise when I walked out to find that it was one of the most critically reviled films of the year and later the decade. I’ve seen it two times since and have never found it less than captivating, nor have I ever been confused by the screen action (an oft-levied complaint). Frank Herbert purists be damned, I like it.

Quadrophenia (1979) (1st viewing) d. Roddam, Franc (UK)
In approaching this big screen adaptation of The Who’s terrific less-conceptual concept album, I was anticipating a full-on midnight movie rock opera explosion along the lines of Ken Russell’s Tommy (especially knowing it featured Sting in his big screen debut). Such is not the case, as it's a much more straightforward "angry young disaffected youth" picture, more sociopolitical than psychedelic. Worth watching, but not at all what I was expecting.


Massacre at Central High (1976) (1st viewing) d. Daalder, Rene (USA)
Amazing exploitation flick about new student Derrell Maury butting heads with the tyrannical cool kids at school (headed by former pal Andrew Stevens). When they take their bullying too far, Maury starts offing them one by one in unexpectedly vivid fashion (unexpected because until the bloodshed, the thing plays like an afterschool special). The violent excess (and frequent nudity) is what takes it to another level, especially in the third act where the formerly bullied (including Robert Carradine) become the bullies themselves.

American Friend, The (1977) (1st viewing) d. Wenders, Wim (Germany)
Wicked little thriller based on Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novel, with Dennis Hopper as the amoral sociopath and Bruno Ganz as the mark he boondoggles into committing murder. Moody and dark, with suspense sequences that defy categorization.

Wanderers, The (1979) (1st viewing) d. Kaufman, Philip (USA)
Slice o’ life 50s drama, with Ken Wahl as the leader of the titular high school gang who rumble for fun, chase skirts, play football and live complicated if relatively PG-rated lives. Solid period soundtrack, with a host of familiar faces, including Karen Allen and Tony Ganios (“Meat” in Porky’s). Bizarro fantasy sequences featuring a rival gang seemingly spawned from the netherworld will definitely raise eyebrows; whether they pass your crazycakes meter is a matter of personal taste.

2012 Totals to date: 548 films, 482 1st time views, 331 horror, 159 cinema


  1. You actually got in four of Peary's Cult Movies with Quadrophenia. And all four of your selections are definitely winners. Incidentally, if you've never seen Ripley's Game with John Malkovich, you should check it out as it adapts the same novel as The American Friend.

    1. Haven't seen RIPLEY'S GAME yet, didn't realize it was the same story. Still worth seeing, eh?

      Yeah, I was torn as to where to include QUADROPHENIA in the listings, but opted for the Sting two-step. I liked Peary's write-ups for most of the above (although I haven't checked out his WANDERERS essay yet). To be honest, I would have included TOMMY rather than QUADROPHENIA - I find the former much more interesting and "cult." Can't picture people crowding the midnight movie scene to watch the latter. Then again, I'm not British nor an Anglophile.