Saturday, June 17, 2017

Fool's Views (5/1 - 5/31)

The rush to find good seats for Turkey Day gets more challenging every year!

Greetings, my friends!

Well, life returned to semi-normal, following the whirlwind world tour that was April. In fact, the biggest difference was that due to the femalien having a mite bit of knee surgery (nothing serious and completely planned), she was required to spend time on the couch in the evenings so that she could use her passive-motion machine to keep any scar tissue from building up. And, well, if you’re going to be spending time on the couch, you might as well be watching movies, right? As a result, I think she watched more movies this past month than she might have in the previous six, including many of those listed below and a couple more on her own! Who knows, maybe she’ll get her own blog started before long.

This past month also marked our 3rd Annual Turkey Day in May (held, as tradition dictates, in the Kryptic Konfines) with plenty of delicious homemade pizzas and terrible/terribly entertaining films enjoyed alongside my fellow bold and brain-dead pals. Among them being Hellbent for Horror's Scott Bradley, who flew all the way from San Francisco to join the festivities, thereby stealing the crown from Hidden Horror contributor Craig J. Clark for "Furthest Distance Traveled for Turkey." Believe it or not, the lovely bride was even in attendance for the first time ever - we were wondering if Hell was going to freeze over or if her head would explode, but neither occurred. Miracles never cease.

Crammed in five more Kurosawa efforts, as well as an assortment of “hey, I’ve never seen that and hey, there it is on the library shelf” (Cast Away, Muppet Treasure Island, Man of La Mancha, although the latter was also tied into my ongoing Peter O’Toole festival, which may be losing steam – we shall see.)

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



The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) d. Ovredal, Andre (USA) (2nd viewing)

Amidst a bloody crime scene investigation of an entire family slaughtered at home, the mysteriously pristine body of a young woman (Olwen Catherine Kelly) is discovered half-buried in the cellar. Facing immense media pressure for an explanation, the local badge asks his mortician friend (Brian Cox) to determine a cause of death, post-haste. With his son (Emile Hirsch) assisting, the two slowly begin to realize that there is much amiss below the surface, with strange phenomena exhibiting itself as they begin cutting open the (curiously free of rigor mortis) body, as if some supernatural force has been unleashed. The English-language debut of Norwegian director  Ovredal (TrollHunter) emerged as one of the biggest VOD crowd pleasers of late 2016, striking a magnificent balance between macabre humor and pure suspense, with plenty of grisly medical gore and great chemistry between Cox and Hirsch. Available now on Blu-ray/DVD from IFC/Shout Factory.

Starry Eyes (2014) d. Kolsch, Kevin / Widmyer, Dennis (USA) (3rd viewing)


Willard (1971) d. Mann, Daniel (USA) (3rd viewing)


(You can also read Jon's official recap HERE:)

King Dinosaur (1955) d. Gordon, Bert I. (USA) (3rd viewing)

The first foray into the joys of Mr. B.I.G's particular brand of cheese – that of giant beasts menacing weak and puny humans – and the world of rear projection would never be the same. A quartet of scientists take a (stock footage) rocket out to explore a new planet that has entered our (stock footage) solar system, one conveniently similar to Earth and with an astonishing variety of (stock footage) fauna within the small valley where they land. Soon, they find themselves at odds with oversized iguanas, caiman, insects, and so on, but none prove a bigger antagonist than resident macho man Bill Bryant; this guy treats his female co-stars so roughly one can only imagine the chilly silence during dinner breaks. Favorite line: “I brought along the atom bomb. This might be a good time to use it.”

Blood Freak (1972) d. Grinter, Brad (USA) (2nd viewing)

Muscle-bound combat veteran and avid biker Steve Hawkes (also credited as writer and producer) has a bad trip with drugs and ends up transforming into a turkey-headed killer with a thirst for human blood. Yes, you read that correctly, and it still doesn't come close to capturing the experience. That is our intrepid auteur Grinter as our uncredited cue-card reading narrator who brings things to a conclusion with the most delightfully surprising and hilarious coughing fits ever captured on celluloid.

Octaman (1971) d. Essex, Harry (USA) (2nd viewing)

One of special f/x maestro and multiple Oscar-winner Rick Baker’s early efforts and one that he’d probably like most of us to forget, which might account for its relative obscurity. (The stoy goes that he was assured that the filmmakers "wouldn't be showing the monster much." Unfortunately, the young make-up wiz became a victim of his own success and the latex gape-mouthed beast is given close-up after close-up.) It’s okay, Rick, we love your limb-swinging creation as it stumbles along attacking a crew (headed by former Sinbad Kerwin Mathews) investigating the effects of pollution and radiation on a small Mexican village.

With writer/director Harry Essex taking more than a few pages from the Creature from the Black Lagoon playbook, the (ahem) seven-legged cephalopod wonder takes a fancy to Mathews’ sexy gal pal Pier Angeli and before long is stumbling throughout the countryside trying to capture her. Clocking in at a measly 76 minutes that feels like 76 weeks, this clunker is made all the more interminable by a superfluous spelunking scene that advances the plot not one iota. Even for fans of ’50s “man in a suit” flicks, this is pretty suckery, er, sucky stuff.

Fatal Frames (1996) d. Festa, Al (Italy) (2nd viewing)

The giallo to end all giallos... and the entirety of the Italian film industry. In this epically long and drawn out vanity project, director Festa pours on all the stylish camera angles, crazy prog-rock music, steamy sex scenes, mysterious black gloved killings, color-filtered dream sequences, red herrings and marble-mouthed sex kittens to be found, but ultimately to his detriment as the 140-minute running time proves to be more gorgonzola than any mortal could consume at a single sitting. Festa’s l’amour Stephanie Stella (who also produced) steals the show through her stunning combo of glandular excess and ill-advised thesping.

Killdozer (1974) d. London, Jerry (USA) (2nd viewing)

First off, how about that title??? 70s TV-movie notable for predating 1977’s The Car in the pantheon of possessed pedal pushers, although in this case it’s not that pesky Satan behind the wheel but a kind of extraterrestrial blue light that endows the titular heavy equipment (upon making contact with a recently unearthed meteorite) with a murderous mean streak. Clint Walker, as the foreman of a construction crew assigned to create a landing strip on an isolated Pacific island, plays his role with a steel jaw and stone face, ruthlessly pushing his frantic crew (including Neville Brand, Carl Betz, and a pre-Vega$ Robert Urich) to continue their efforts while they are bumped off one by one.

In addition to its snappy title and high (if lowbrow) concept, Gil Melle’s insistent “boo-weer-boo-weer” electronic score sets teeth on edge as the biomechanical behemoth starts rockslides, levels campsites, and anticipates its human adversaries’ every move. The penultimate action set piece, pitting a steam shovel against the demonic ‘dozer, takes the silver medal to Dinosaurus! when it comes to machinery melees, but remains amusing enough. Fun in a 70s 3rd-grader kind of way, especially with Ed MacKillop and Theodore Sturgeon’s cornball dialogue greasing the wheels.

Things (1989) d. Jordan, Andrew (Canada) (3rd viewing)

Oh, man. Seriously, there are no words to describe the astonishing transcendent awfulness of this Canadian DIY Super-8/16mm feature. Absolutely one of the worst-produced films ever to see legit release, and yet, so completely ineptly terrible on every single level that you just can't stop watching. It’s as close to a waking nightmare as you can imagine, where a sort of internal illogic takes over. Inspired by Sam Raimi's Evil Dead and about a zillion other horror flicks, a couple of Canadian kooks set out to make their own no-budget cabin-in-the-woods splatterfest and their enthusiasm are matched only by their ineptitude.

Soul-shattering and logic-defying, it feels like this was made by aliens who were still trying to figure out what movies are. Why is that guy taking off his coat and putting it in the freezer? Why are those guys just talking calmly while that bloody bug is crawling out of his wife's belly? Why does it sound like everyone is dubbed twice? Why is porn star Amber Lynn playing a (clothed) TV news reporter who seems to have omniscient knowledge about the events within this little Nova Scotia house when it's happening right now and there is no one else around? Does it not bother anyone that she's clearly looking five feet offscreen to read her lines?

These and many other questions will confound your synapses for the 95 minutes it takes to realize director Jordan and lead actor Barry Gillis’ screenplay’s hazy vision, but by the end there will only be a sense of great accomplishment and the profound realization of having ventured where very few can claim to have gone. You’ve seen some THINGS.


American Movie (1999) d. Smith, Chris (USA) (2nd viewing)

Having just completed a low-budget horror film shoot up in Wisconsin (GAGS, now in post-production), it seemed like an appropriate time to revisit this marvelous documentary about one-man cinematic wrecking machine Mark Borchardt and his determined quest to complete the infamous no-budget horror short Coven (pronounced Coe-ven, as any good Packer fan knows). Misadventures and malapropisms abound, captured by director Smith who knew a good car crash when he saw it.

Cast Away (2000) d. Zemeckis, Robert (USA) (1st viewing)

Once again, I find myself underwhelmed by Tom Hanks as a dramatic actor, but he's at least tolerable here. I was surprised by the presence of a third act, which was probably my favorite part of the movie (although I still found myself wondering how it might have played in the hands of another actor). Question: the big scene where Wilson the Volleyball floats away... are we the audience supposed to have a deep emotional response to that? Because I was so distracted/amused by Hanks' caterwauling that there was no way I could actually get worked up. Ultimately, the movie comes off as an actor stunt (WATCH TOM HANKS PHYSICALLY TRANSFORM ON SCREEN), albeit a capably executed one, which was more or less what I thought it was going to be. A few surprises here and there, but too much Hollywood/Zemeckis polish to genuinely affect.

Man of La Mancha (1972) d. Hiller, Arthur (USA) (1st viewing)

Oof. Not terrible, but not good either. Neither Peter O'Toole nor Sophia Loren can sing (in fact, O'Toole doesn't even do most of his own singing, with Simon Gilbert doing the heavy lifting). It gathers steam as it goes along and I will admit to being emotionally invested by the final reel, but it's a bit of a slog getting there. I haven't ever seen the stage musical, but with the exception of "Impossible Dream," I didn't even find many of the songs all that memorable, which I found surprising considering the musical's classic standing. Hiller does throw in some fun camerawork (the windmill attack, the battle with the Enchanter, the final scene), but not enough to carry the day.

Margin Call (2011) d. Chandor, J.C. (USA) (2nd viewing)

In this thinly disguised dramatization of the 2008 Lehman Brothers scandal, Zachary Quinto’s risk analyst discovers a disaster in the making according to various complicated formulas that – to the movie’s credit – seem plausible, comprehensible and beyond our reach all at the same time. When he brings it to his superiors’ attention (an extraordinary ensemble that includes Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker, Demi Moore and Jeremy Irons), decisions are made that basically boil down to this: If you’re a spinach company and you raise a crop of poisoned spinach, do you go bankrupt or do you sell the poisoned crop, kill your neighbors, and run away with the loot? Guess which option they take. Infuriating examination of the capitalist condition, and a superb rabble-rousing discussion-starting thriller to boot.

Muppet Treasure Island (1996) d. Henson, Brian (USA) (1st viewing)

I had heard how "over the top" Tim Curry was as Long John Silver and how much fun it all was... Not so much. The jokes are (really) weak, the songs are uninspired and stall the story instead of moving it forward, and while there are a few enjoyable moments (Kermit's out-of-character-and-out-of-nowhere derring do swordsmanship being the best of the bunch), it's a far, far cry from the perfect blend of felt and flesh that is 1979’s The Muppet Movie. And Curry is positively restrained, for my money.

Valley Girl (1983) d. Coolidge, Martha (USA) (1st viewing)

My ignorance of '80s comedies keeps slowly being remedied. Finally caught up with this cable staple which features an early Nicolas Cage performance and the ever-charming "whatever happened to her" Deborah Foreman. Don't know that I was missing out on anything special, but it was entertaining for what it was. I was surprised that we didn't get the Moon Unit Zappa song, and I was equally surprised that we don't even get a real "Vallay Gurl" character. They are just regular middle-class kids dealing with teen angst and romance with boys on the other side of the tracks. And Elizabeth Daily (aka Dotty from Pee Wee's Big Adventure) also shows up, which is never a bad thing.


The Bad Sleep Well (1960) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (1st viewing)

Often chalked up as another Shakespeare adaptation a la Throne of Blood and Ran, but in reality it only utilizes elements of Hamlet instead of being a straight noir redux. Starts off a little slow and unloads tons of exposition in setting up the corrupt corporate world and its characters, but once it gets rolling, it delivers some impressive kicks to the nethers by the final reel.

Yojimbo (1961) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (2nd viewing)

Having established many of the clich├ęs of the samurai action genre several years before with Seven Samurai (1954), the wily writer/director then subverted them with this yarn about an unscrupulous ronin who wanders into a town rife with warring factions and proceeds to play them against each another for his own profit. Wildly successful, the film inspired a sequel the following year, two official remakes (Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, which made Clint Eastwood an international star, and Last Man Standing, which made Bruce Willis a few dollars richer), and a host of imitators.

Sanjuro (1962) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (1st viewing)

That said, as influential as Yojimbo turned out, I find Kurosawa’s follow-up (or prequel, depending on your interpretation), to be the more purely entertaining of the two. With Toshiro Mifune back as the wandering samurai, both the director and star are clearly having more fun, and there are two show-stopping moments of screen violence that will stay with you forever. (One an extended battle with the blade-wielding Mifune taking out an entire gang of thugs, the other a edge-of-your-seat stand-off that concludes with a instantly iconic arterial spray.)

Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) (1980) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (1st viewing)

In retrospect, it’s easy to view this samurai epic – with hundreds of extras and horses filling out the screen in period armor – as a practice run for the more satisfying Ran (even down to the fact that the two films share the same leading man in Tatsuya Nakadai, who played the main baddie in both Yojimbo and Sanjuro). But there’s no denying the cinematic achievement on display in this Palme d’or-winning tale of a petty thief, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the reigning samurai warlord, recruited to serve as the nobleman’s double. Biggest quibble: Many scenes of soldiers marching into battle, precious few legit battle scenes.

Rhapsody in August (1991) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (1st viewing)

One of his most humanistic works, the famed director’s penultimate feature follows four Japanese teenagers who stay with their grandmother one summer near Nagasaki, four-and-a-half decades after the infamous atomic bomb attack on August 9, 1945. Both a condemnation of the suffering caused by war and the inevitable fading of memory (both on an individual and global level), Kurosawa dresses his younger characters in t-shirts that celebrate U.S. pop culture while their parents worry whether their newly discovered (and rich) Japanese-American relative (and his son, played by Richard Gere) will slight them in his inheritance due to the awkward history between the two nations. Deeply contemplative and thought-provoking.

2017 Totals to date: 103 films, 83 1st time views, 46 horror, 30 cinema



  1. Calling A Fistful of Dollars an "official" remake of Yojimbo is highly inaccurate. Kurosawa sued the producers of the Leone film for plagiarizing it. "It's a very good film, but it's MY film," Kurosawa said of it, prompting Leone to glow because he said it's a very good film. Selective hearing. Kurosawa sued the makers of the Leone film twice, as it happens, because the original settlement for A Fistful of Dollars did not include rights for a sequel. So when For a Few Dollars More came out, they went back to court.

    All of this is funny to me, because Yojimbo itself is cribbed, without attribution, from Dashiel Hammett's Red Harvest, though Red Harvest may actually have fallen into the public domain by then.

    1. True enough. Probably should have called it a "literal remake" since it's decidedly unofficial.

      And Red Harvest is now on my radar, so thanks for that. I'm shamefully ignorant of a lot of Hammett - might need to remedy that.

  2. I'm glad I'm not the only person who finds Sanjuro more entertaining than Yojimbo. Nothing against the earlier film, but the sequel is just more fun.

  3. Exaactly right. I'm actually curious to revisit Leone's For a Few Dollars More to see if history repeats itself.