Sunday, March 29, 2020

Fool's Views (3/1 – 3/15)

"Don't mind me. I'll be in here for while....."

“Beware the Ides of March.”

“He is a dreamer; let us leave him. Pass.”

The month came in like a lamb and, almost as if on cue, March 15 came crashing in like a ton of bricks (if the bricks were all radioactive and labeled “Stay the #$%*&$#@ in your house!!!!”) and the world will never be the same again. It’s strange, looking back on this period of time, going through it thinking it was just another ordinary couple weeks. Not so, said the crow.

Truth be told, my main focus was to watch a few VHS movies that my buddy Gert had ordered from a U.S. dealer and get them relayed onto him in Brussels. It seems so benign in retrospective: plugging in the VCR and adjusting the tracking accordingly to viddy a few flicks the old fashioned way, and then repackaging them to send overseas. (Here’s hoping they arrive soon, amigo!!!!) Then I banged out a few other films that I had borrowed from friends (Tim, Jason, Jon), thinking, “Okay, I’ll finish these up and then set up a time when I can return them and we can watch a bunch more together.”

And now, here we are. Advised to stay indoors and avoid contact with anyone. It’s looking like it will be at least a few more weeks of the same, and no one knows when the communal viewings will resume. It’s a strange realization. But the femalien and I are both healthy and hopeful, which is about all anyone can ask. We’ve got food and shelter and each other, and we live in a world where most communication occurs online anyway, so the world – while undeniably different – isn’t all that different. And there are movies to be watched and Fools to View them. For this, I am extremely thankful.

I wish you, Faithful Reader, the very best to you and yours during these strange days. Thank you for spending a little time here at the Doc’s office. It means a lot.

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



Ghost Dance (1980) d. Buffa, Peter (USA) (1st viewing)

A curious little horror indie from one-and-done writer/director Buffa that combines America’s 1970s fascination with all things Native American with the rising slasher boom inspired by the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th. The ancient spirit of a recently unearthed medicine man sneaks into the body of a down-on-his-luck modern day medicine man (both played by Henry Bal), who promptly starts impaling the unsuspecting white folks, especially the inner circle of anthropologist Kay Foster (Julie Amato) who dug him up.

There are enough creative kills (when you can see them – the night scenes are all pretty murky, at least until we get a freshened-up digital version) and capable performances to keep things on the rails for the big chant-around-the-campfire finale.

The Ghoul (1975) d. Francis, Freddie (UK) (1st viewing)

With recognizable genre names like Peter Cushing, John Hurt, Veronica Carlson, and Ian McCulloch in the cast and future Oscar-winner Francis behind the camera, it’s a bit surprising this offering from Tyburn doesn’t have a bigger following. Of course, that could also have something to do with the fact that it’s a dark, grotty, mean little piece of work, more Pete Walker than Hammer as far as Brit horror goes.

Set in the 1920s, a group of idle bourgeoisie decide to race their flashy new sports cars across the countryside, a contest that results in one of them crashing and the other running out of petrol in the middle of nowhere. Riding in the latter, Daphne (Carlson) is “rescued” by the skeevy Tom Rawlings (Hurt) and taken to a remote country estate where the refined Dr. Lawrence (Cushing) resides, harboring flighty nerves, a mystical housekeeper, and a dark secret in the attic. The thorny screenplay by Hammer veteran Anthony Hinds (under his “John Elder” pseudonym) delivers the requisite mystery and grand reveals, along with a number of memorable sequences (Daphne’s navigator’s fate, a patch of quicksand), some quite bold and bloody in nature. Worth a look-see.

Lugosi: The Forgotten King (1985) d. Gilman, Mark/Stuckey, Dave (USA) (1st viewing)

Superbly concise and comprehensive documentary about the man who started off life as Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasco in Romania, became a star of stage and screen in the late 1920s and early 30s, largely thanks to his iconic role as the ill-fated Count in Dracula (1931), and then struggled to regain his stature for the rest of his career. Narrated by Forrest J. Ackermann, the film covers Lugosi’s early stage triumphs in his native land and his five, count ’em, five marriages, as well as his personal and professional highs and lows, his much-discussed (and much-inflated) rivalry with Boris Karloff, and final collaborations with Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Nightkill (1980) d. Post, Ted (USA) (1st viewing)

Rich, beautiful, and unhappy trophy wife Katherine Atwell (Jaclyn Smith, in her first feature film post-Charlie’s Angels) has a few problems: Her cantankerous good ol’ boy husband (Mike Conners) has just been bumped off by her lover (James Franciscus), who has himself just been bumped off by someone claiming to be her husband. To compound matters, a private detective (Robert Mitchum) shows up on her doorstep, seemingly all-too-aware of the nefarious goings-on.

While more mystery/thriller than out-and-out horror, the final scenes are gruesome enough (in concept, at least) to merit a glance, and the ending is Capital-D Dark (although one gets the sense that some producer somewhere said, “Okay, that’s a little much,” and softened the blow at the 11th hour). The overly qualified cast (which also includes Fritz Weaver and Sybil Danning) does fine work all around, with two-fisted action director Post (Magnum Force, Good Guys Wear Black) serving up his final “notable” big-screen effort.

Not Like Us (1995) d. Payne, Dave (USA) (1st viewing)

Cranked out under the “Roger Corman Presents” DTV label in the mid 1990s, this is a perfectly harmless and occasionally impressive horror/comedy that presents the time-honored sci-fi trope of aliens in our midst; hideous beasts masquerading in human form, laying impatiently in wait to seize our planet for their very own. In this case, the ETs in question are “siblings” Janet and John Jones (Rainer Grant, Morgan Englund), two impossibly attractive blonde specimens who’ve settled into a small midwestern burg to pick off the lunkheaded locals.

In order to make screenwriter Daniella Purcell’s (who also penned Jim Wynorski’s Wasp Woman redux for Corman) plot wheels go round, malcontent urbanite Anita Clark (Joanna Pacula) befriends Janet and the two spend a lot of time commiserating about Anita’s failing marriage and Janet’s habit of bedding down with any male in town with a pulse. What the unhappy bride doesn’t realize (although she probably should) is that everyone who couples with Janet winds up a corpse hours later. While the humor is a bit forced at times, Grant is an utterly delightful comedienne whose character isn’t shy about popping her top or shedding her skin, depending on the occasion. Director Payne also directed 2005’s surprise horror hit, Reeker (and its 2008 sequel), as well as the made-for-TV Addams Family Reunion.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) d. Ovredal, Andre (USA) (1st viewing)

Based on the collections of short stories by the late great Alvin Schwartz, one immediately senses the push/pull between the darker sensibilities of Norwegian director Ovredal (Trollhunter, Autopsy of Jane Doe) and the more fanciful fantasy of producer Guillermo del Toro, with the results falling somewhere in the lukewarm middle. Things only get more complicated when you look at the fact that it was originally scripted by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (Saw IV-VII, The Collector), and then given a rewrite by The Lego Movie and Lego Ninjago team of Dan and Kevin Hageman.

Not to say that there aren’t some good things to say about the venture – the production design and the performances by the young ensemble of players are strong (if occasionally glib) – but the general sense of “meh” pervades throughout. (And, wow, Guillermo, enough with the CG ghosts. PLEASE.)


Bullet to the Head (2012) d. Hill, Walter (USA) (1st viewing)

Hit man Sylvester Stallone reluctantly teams with federal agent Sung Kang (Fast & Furious) to take on Jason Mamoa and his cronies and everything gets blown up real good. Sly was 65 when he shot this and he looks fan-frickin-tastic, even if he’s in full-on one-note tough-guy mode. Hill’s still got it, even if everyone and everything is riding on autopilot.

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962) d. Zeman, Karel (Czechoslovakia) (1st viewing)

After discovering Zeman’s Invention for Destruction (aka The Fabulous World of Jules Verne) last year, I’ve been hankering to find more of his stuff and Criterion was kind enough to requite my pleas in the form of a terrific box set (consisting of these two films plus Journey to the Beginning of Time). Utilizing mind-blowing in-camera special effects, gorgeous matte paintings, and stunning colored filters, Zeman unfolds the legendary journeys of Rudolf Erich Raspe’s famed nobleman. Even as I was watching, I found myself saying, “There’s too much to take in. Going to need to see this again. And again.” Looking forward to those viewings already.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) d. Zemeckis, Robert (USA) (1st viewing)

Zemeckis’ debut feature follows a group of Beatlemaniacs to the Big Apple, trying to catch a glimpse of the Fab Four before, during, or after their historic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. High of energy and good of heart, with terrific turns by Nancy Allen, Mark McClure, Bobby Di Cicco, Theresa Saldana, Wendie Jo Sperber, and Eddie Deezen. Oddly enough, this has been on my radar since it came out in 1978 and I only just now caught up with it!

Let My Puppets Come (1976) d. Damiano, Gerard (USA) (1st viewing)

Speaking of things that have been on my radar for a long time, I heard about this “porno with puppets” ages ago, probably while reading up on Peter Jackson’s Meet The Feebles, but it never occurred to me that I would actually get to see it someday. The unfortunate news is that while it may have preceded such like-minded efforts as Feebles and Team America World Police, it pales by comparison in terms of humor and execution. While Damiano could be forgiven for thinking, “Shit, man, I’m making a porno with puppets! What else do you want from me?” the fact remains that the jokes are lame, the sex is wildly unsexy (and unfunny), and the whole enterprise feels slapped together, especially unfortunate considering it clearly required hours and hours of behind-the-scenes sweat to pull it off. Much better as an idea than actual execution. (And yes, I realize I’m critiquing a puppet porno movie.)

The World Before Your Feet (2018) d. Workman, Jeremy (USA) (1st viewing)

Utterly captivating documentary about Matt Green, who has spent the last eight years exploring and photographing the streets of New York. Simple in concept, yet deeply complex in reality as we watch Green encounter people from all types of social strata and ethic background, all with his seemingly open mind and heart. (It also becomes very clear early on that this is perhaps a project that only a white male could embark upon.) Workman also talks to Green’s family, friends, and former relationships to give viewers a glimpse at the kind of person who might embark on such a strange and wondrous enterprise. If you’d like to check things out firsthand, visit


Borderline (1980) d. Freedman, Jerrold (USA) (1st viewing)

40 years later, this film feels as topical as ever, exploring how the rich stay rich off the backs of the illegal poor, proclaiming a passion for protecting “real” Americans from the migrant tide while happily enjoying the benefits of a no-benefit workforce. Bronson plays a beleaguered border patrol officer, trying to solve the murder of one of his own, perpetrated by the leader (Ed Harris, in an early showcase role) of an underground railroad funded by some sleazy corporate types.

Death Hunt (1981) d. Hunt, Peter (USA) (1st viewing)

Perhaps it’s because On Her Majesty’s Secret Service never got the credit it deserved at the time, but I’ve always wondered why uber-editor Hunt didn’t enjoy greater success as a director. Here, he’s telling the true tale of a Canadian Mountie (Lee Marvin) in pursuit of a fugitive (Charles Bronson) who has killed several men in self-defense and fled into the wintry climes of the Canadian Rockies, and it’s a crackerjack adventure yarn featuring fantastic location vistas, easily one of Bronson’s best. Great supporting cast of Carl Weathers, Andrew Stevens, Ed Lauter, William Sanderson, and Angie Dickinson.

Death Wish (1974) d. Winner, Michael (USA) (3rd viewing)

There’s a reason it’s a classic, because it actually starts off following novelist Brian Garfield’s tangled inner struggle between what is the right/best way for people to defend themselves in a “civilized” society. The problem comes from Winner and Bronson’s leaning into making Paul Kersey (aka the “Vigilante Killer”) into a hero instead of another form of monster (which was Garfield’s point). Still, it’s a lean, mean punch in the guts, with a terrific and layered performance by Bronson, well-matched by Vincent Gardinia as the lawman on his tail.

The Evil That Men Do (1984) d. Thompson, J. Lee (USA) (2nd viewing)

Bronson plays a hit man called in to deal with South American terrorist Dr. Mengele, er, Molloch (Joseph Maher) notorious for his all-around bad behavior. Between the torture scenes and Molloch’s various thugs getting their comeuppance, this is a very bloody and slick package, packed with action and topped off with a finale more gruesome than most horror flicks. Yes, that’s a good thing.

Love and Bullets (1979) d. Rosenberg, Stuart (USA) (1st viewing)

So-so action yarn with Bronson as a cop assigned to protect a mobster’s moll (Jill Ireland) so she can testify against her man (Rod Steiger, eating allllll the scenery as a stuttering, musical-loving goombah). Lots and lots of bad guys get killed along the way, including a couple courtesy of paper darts. (Don’t try this at home.)

Machine-Gun Kelly (1958) d. Corman, Roger (USA) (1st viewing)

Charlie’s first leading role sees him cast as the notorious gangster and his young, vibrant choices are pretty great to see, showing more range than his later, settled-in tough guy roles. He’s well matched by Susan Cabot (The Wasp Woman) as his vicious and lusty girlfriend who proves far colder and ruthless than he, as well as a fun supporting part by Morey Amsterdam (soon to become a household name on The Dick Van Dyke Show).

Rider on the Rain (1970) d. Clement, Rene (France/Italy) (1st viewing)

A moody and contemplative thriller, one that cemented Bronson’s reputation as a global box office draw. Attacked by an escaped sex maniac, Mellie (Marlene Jobert) kills her assailant in self-defense and then panics and dumps the body off a seaside cliff. The next day, the mysterious Harry Dobbs (Bronson) shows up, seeming to know all that has transpired and threatening to report Mellie to the police unless she cooperates with him in his scheme. The mystery unravels slowly and dreamlike, two aspects not usually associated with a “thriller,” but here it works. Bronson works his effortless cool to great effect, and Jobert matches him point for point with her edgy, fidgety, childlike defiance.

The Valachi Papers (1972) d. Young, Terence (France/Italy) (1st viewing)

Released the same year as The Godfather, this Dino De Laurentiis-produced feature benefited greatly in terms of box office by mafia-hungry viewers but suffered critically in comparison to Coppola’s rich and (rightfully) lauded masterpiece. In truth, it’s a strong and effective period piece, with Bronson aging believably on-camera from 25 to 60 as Joseph Valachi, the infamous mob informant for the 1963 Senate hearings. Jill Ireland has a nice role as Valachi’s paramour, and Young’s direction (his third consecutive collaboration with Bronson, after Cold Sweat and Red Sun) is swift, textured, and efficient. Favorable comparisons could be made between Bronson’s low-key, kinda-slow spin on the character and Robert De Niro’s recent turn in The Irishman, minus the computerized de-aging.

2020 Totals to Date: 87 films, 69 first time views, 28 horror, 2 cinema



  1. Happy to read you got to hook up that good ol' rusty & trusty VCR and got some worthwhile pleasantness out of discovering these four flicks. True for sure, especially in these days of hasty streamings, it now also occurs to me that this is, indeed, a quite special way to be sharing some previously unseen films in the process. Thanks for catching them over at Chi-Town and subsequently sending them flying off again, amigo. I'm all good with patience, but during these current days of confinement, I'd seriously love to see them arrive here soon too. Can't wait, yet sometimes, a man simply has to. -G.

    1. I seriously hope it shows up soon. Makes me crazy that it's just sitting in some customs office somewhere. Thanks again for the loan!