Reviews

28 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Mala Noche (1986)
He who fools with the bull gets the horn!
8 February 2000
In the summary, the word "fools" should more accurately be another English word with four letters, but I doubt whether the regulations for this site will permit that. That is the subtitle for this movie and it does tell one side of the story. Another side involves the randomness of life in Portland, a city that's more like an overgrown small town with a big seamy underbelly and lots of folks eking out an existence on the margins. This movie shows with subtly limned images and snatches of wry, realistic dialogue just how vast and differentiated the landscape of "the margins" is in this town. And maybe, too, in that weird district of the Twilight Zone known as America.

Twilight is a state of mind that provides the true setting for this story that seems to be a fragment of a greater whole, but nevertheless has its own peculiar beauty. The black and white photography is stunning and seductive, and perfect for the film noir desperation (occasionally melodramatic but never posturing) with which these characters seem to run their lives. The director uses chiaroscuro, the play of light and shadow over the faces and bodies of his players, to hint at people's emotions or to suggest the cluelessness with which they get through the day. Despite the sense of general confusion, there are poignant and powerful emotions that surface here, thanks to the skillfully nuanced photography and the expressiveness of the actors.

The casting is perfect, but among the actors only Tim Streeter really seems to give a coherently thought-through performance. Streeter, to judge from his performance here, is an actor of brilliance and considerable sensitivity--it's sad that his only other credit is a 1987 appearance on 21 Jump Street. A lot of the shots in the movie are composed with great inventiveness, but the visual beauty that results never feels arty or contrived, mainly because of the gritty realities that encompass the characters' lives and passions.

Certain scenes in this movie made me think of images that surface in the songs of indie bard Elliott Smith, whose music was used in Gus van Sant's much glitzier mainstream movie, Good Will Hunting. Images of lonely people smoking late nights away over cheap beers in loud bars, waiting for their sense of woundedness to dull sufficiently so that they can go back out on the street and face some semblance of life again. The use of music is yet another element that gives Mala Noche a distinctive flavor--the music credits cover several screens at the end of the movie--as one would expect with a director who is also a composer and musician in his own right.

Poetic, frail, fragmentary and haunting, this is one of those movies where, even if you never quite get the story, certain images from it will nevertheless linger a long time in your memory after you have seen it.
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The Witches (1966)
Witch me a skin for dancing in ... quick, where's that athame?
16 December 1999
The Witches, which is much better known in America by its US release title The Devil's Own, is one of those legendary films made great because the supporting actress completely upstages the star. (Think Grayson Hall in Night of the Iguana, or Sylvia Miles in Midnight Cowboy.) In her autobiography, Miss Joan Fontaine, who had acquired the film rights to the novel years before, complains at length about the "primitive" working conditions at Hammer studios, the small size of her dressing room, the awful food and the unprofessional British actors she had to lower herself in working with. We all know that the real bee in her bonnet was that a movie she had basically designed as a vehicle for HER talents ended up being taken over by Miss Kay Walsh, a superb dancer and talented actress who had had an extensive career in films and theatre (check out her IMDB listing--you'll be impressed). Luckily Fontaine was (to her credit) too much of a pro herself to let her dissatisfaction show on screen. She turns in a credible performance as a woman teacher attempting to recover from a traumatic encounter with witch doctors in Africa by taking a slow, quiet gig in an apparently sleepy, quaint olde English village. Well, guess who rules the roost in this town? As the title clues you in, it's none other than ... the Witches!!!

As boss witch supreme Stephanie Bax, a character one of the reviewers of the time described as a "lesbian-like writer," Kay Walsh dominates the action from the moment she appears. Of all the various witch films of the Sixties, this one probably has the most realistic atmosphere and the most plausible plot. The traditional opposition between village wise women (capably embodied here by Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Granny Riggs--be sure to keep an eye out for her stogie-chomping aristo witch in 1967's The Devil Rides Out) and the kind of ceremonial magician played by Miss Walsh is portrayed quite matter-of-factly in the script. The kind of witchcraft practiced both by the Walsh and the Ffrangcon-Davies characters is a pretty accurate portrayal of practices actually current in Sixties England, for instance in the circles around Robert Cochrane and other figures who were gaining a lot of media attention in those days. The campy elan of Miss Walsh's dances as High Priestess (one wonders how they dealt with all the hot wax that must have flown off the lit candles in that antler-crown of hers) is very London West End on one level, yet also seems a poetic evocation of a learned ceremonial magician taking over a traditional village circle for her own corrupt ends on another level. Excellent work by Miss Walsh and the choreographer.

Also worthy of mention is the appearance of Martin Stephens, who made memorable such earlier Sixties fantasy films as The Innocents and Village of the Damned (in which he had the unenviable task of acting opposite George Sanders--who hated children!). Martin retired from films shortly after appearing in the Witches. Among the others, Alec McCowen turns in a brilliant little gem of a performance as Kay Walsh's traumatized brother.

For all its excellence, Hammer historians give second place for this film to Don Sharp's 1964 outing, Witchcraft. Let's hope somebody hurries up and releases that one on home video soon!
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Unexpectedly Artistic and Imaginative Shocker
15 December 1999
My memories of seeing "The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism" as it was called on US local television in the mid Seventies date back a quarter of a century. I well remember the first time I saw the movie. I wasn't expecting anything at all special, certainly nothing as gripping and fascinating as this. The movie has a real feeling of something you would read about in a crumbling old manuscript in a deserted, dusty library. Lee is terrific as always and has a tremendous presence, even though he is only on screen for brief periods. Lex Barker is surprisingly effective as the hero, and Karin Dor is beautiful and elegant as always, as the heroine. The sets really steal the movie, though--inspired by the weird paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, they give a sense of ancient evil, laced with a perverted sort of fanciful whimsy, to the scenes in the castle.
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A Palace of Pleasure for Bad Movie Buffs Everywhere
13 December 1999
This (like Satan in High Heels, Myra Breckinridge, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) is one of those unknown delights produced by the Fab, Mod, Decadent Decade of the Sixties. The child of twisted, tacky sleazemeister Harry Allan Towers (sort of the UK's answer to Russ Meyers--somebody really ought to do a book on Towers--his collaboration with Spanish schlock artist Jesus Franco alone is worth some sort of award for the pinnacle of filmic tackiness), this movie has very little to do with the original novels by Fu Manchu's father, Sax Rohmer. The novels are well worth seeking out--try any online auction site. The best of them is probably The Return of Sumuru and it's pretty easy to get hold of. The original novels were rife with racist attitudes left over from the bygone era of British imperialism, with some new Cold War hysteria and anti-feminist paranoia thrown in for good measure. Sumuru, who was really the heroine, spent most of the novels lolling around nude on mink rugs smoking endless cigarettes or stalking around in high heels sipping liqueur and pondering how ugliness was the root of all that was wrong with the modern world. Rohmer came from an era when homosexuality simply wasn't mentioned so some of the lesbian implications of Sumuru's paradise were glossed over with almost unbelievable naivete. Trust Harry Allan Towers not to let THAT moxie slip past his capable paws. He even includes Klaus Kinski as a gay man marked for death by Sumuru--perhaps because he couldn't be seduced by any of her agents (though I'm sure he would have LOVED to have helped her with her wardrobe, had she given him a chance).

As Sumuru, Shirley Eaton chews up the scenery with tremendous eclat, and gets fantastic dramatic mileage out of that cigarette holder. Check out her new autobiography for some behind the scenes anecdotes about the filming of the two movies (and the true story of how Towers shamelessly grabbed footage from the Rio film and inserted it in the Blood of Fu Manchu without Shirley's knowledge). Frankie Avalon, George Nader and Wilfred Hyde-White are all ridiculous as Sumuru's opponents, which is exactly as it should be. Of Sumuru's agents, my favorite would have to be Helga, as incarnated by the zaftig Maria Rohm (a regular of various Towers productions--I think she was his girlfriend).

It is truly tragic that this movie is ONLY available as an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Something this sublimely awful deserves to be savored in pristine form. Picket YOUR video store today, and demand Sumuru movies now!
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Beefcake (1998)
Put This in Your Posing Pouch and SPIN
3 November 1999
Funny, brave, humane and concise, this movie starts with a sharply different landscape and source material than Thom Fitzgerald's earlier minor masterpiece, The Hanging Garden, but shares with that film a propensity for spotting touches of authentic humanness in the most unlikely places. The flashes of wit range from sheer serendipity (I was startled to hear myself asking my companion, "Who IS that old queen?" when Jack LaLanne appeared, rabbiting on about Muscle Beach) to carefully scripted exchanges in the courtroom scenes. The latter really are a tour de force--think Ed Wood meets Perry Mason--and newcomer Jack Griffin Mazeika turns in a boffo performance as the sly, but vulnerable young Red. Also worthy of praise are Daniel MacIvor as Bob Mizer and the amazing Carroll Godsman as his mother Delilah. Godsman turns what could have been a campy send-up (think Carol Burnett Show) into a remarkably poignant characterization. One weakness of the film is that the script doesn't give her and MacIvor an aftermath scene in the wake of the brilliant courtroom sequence--in fact the ending of the film is a bit on the spotty side, perhaps due to lack of material.

I thought the interview footage was fairly cleverly integrated into the framework of the narrative. I was fascinated to see Joe D'Allessandro looking like an older guy you'd see washing his Caddy in his driveway in your neighborhood. He actually looked fairly healthy which in itself is an amazing achievement.

The credits do end things on an upbeat note. I can't wait to see where Fitzgerald goes with his next project!
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The hard life of Mikey Douglas--an early chapter
22 October 1999
This is a very early Michael (or as he was popularly known then, Mikey) Douglas vehicle. He plays a disillusioned college professor of the late Sixties (there seem to have been so many of them scurrying about in those days!) who drops out of his successful, stressful life in the big city to go in a search for his roots in a not-so-idyllic midwestern small town. The story plods along, showing his courtship of a rather status-proud Junior Miss type whose Mom (wonderfully etched by Louise Latham) is the town hairdresser, and his adventures in serious male bonding with Joe Don Baker and other flannel clad logger types. Grayson Hall has an excellent cameo role as his aunt, and gets to administer a deft put-down of Douglas' masculine vanity towards the end. In some ways the last 30 seconds is the best part of the movie. Overall not at all a bad effort. To quote Maggie Smith in a movie that is much more suitable to this writer's temperament, "For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing that they like." I did make liberal use of the fast forward button in viewing "Adam at Six A. M."
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Robin Hood (1984–1986)
Herne is alive, and magic is afoot!
18 October 1999
This series has a truly mythic feeling to it. Michael Praed and Judi Trott in particular are wonderful as Robin and Marion, but all the actors are superb. Ray Winstone has gone on to win laurels for his work in independent British cinema, and his brilliance is fully evident here. Nickolas Grace is splendidly unpleasant as the Sheriff, and Robert Addie is deliciously foul-tempered as Sir Guy, coolly sexy in his period Norman armor. An aspect that lures me back to keep watching is the dramatization of Herne and the imaginative attempt to guess at what life in a pagan enclave, in a land dominated by a colonial Christian power, would have been like.

The one element that I personally find jarring is the Clannad soundtrack. I do enjoy the music on its own but would have preferred something along the lines of David Munrow's Music of the Crusades album which was recorded in the early Seventies and could have been used for this series.
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Zardoz (1974)
Visionary, Aleatory, Surreal in its Beauty
22 September 1999
When I saw this film during its initial release as a teenager, I didn't understand a lot of it, but found it fascinating nevertheless. About ten years later I saw it as an adult and though the script was more dodgy than I recalled the films beauty and mysterious power seemed even more stunning than at first glance.

See this if you enjoy films that employ allegory, subtle twists of characterization, postmodern literary games (the Wizard of Oz bits are really quite clever), and thoughtful performances by an excellent British cast (I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Charlotte Rampling--she is marvelous in it, and looks superb bare-breasted astride that horse!). If you are into something that's about action, explosions and FX, you'd do better to go with something along the lines of Starship Bloopers.
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Gargoyles (1972 TV Movie)
Gargoyle of the week
23 June 1999
The original airing of this film on ABC's Movie of the Week program in the early 70s is a happy childhood memory for me. Definitely a period piece. It was made as a pilot for a series that was never optioned by the network. The movie is distinguished by some witty performances by the actors in the supporting roles. My favorite is Grayson Hall as lush on the make Mrs. Parks. Grayson is always a lot of fun to watch and she clearly had a blast with this role. Her son Matt helped paint ping pong balls which were used in making the gargoyle costumes.
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Dark Shadows (1966–1971)
A legend never dies!
22 June 1999
To its fans, Dark Shadows was and remains the best fantasy television series ever produced for an American network. Its status as the best resulted from the chance interaction of a team of brilliant actors, writers, directors and producers who together made magic every afternoon at 4 pm out of what were often very unpromising materials. As the comment from a new teenaged viewer on this page shows, the show's appeal continues to draw in a new audience 30 years after its original broadcast.

Barnabas Collins, the pivotal character of the "vulnerable vampire," has become a part of postmodern folklore. The influence of Barnabas as a character and a concept has been widely seen, from Anne Rice's vampire novels to such recent cult series as Forever Knight and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The central drama of Dark Shadows--a doctor in unrequited love with her vampire patient, whom she was trying to cure--was intriguingly reprised in the Canadian series Forever Knight, with Geraint Wyn-Davies and Catherine Disher taking on the roles originally played by Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall.

Dark Shadows boasted perhaps the most impressive cast (in terms of sheer ability) ever assembled for an American daytime series. Actress Joan Bennett who played the matriarch provided a link with the world of film noir and Forties Gothic cinema upon which the style and mood of the series so clearly played. Jonathan Frid, Thayer David, the extraordinary Grayson Hall (probably the first instance of an Oscar nominated thesp taking a role in a soap opera), Nancy Barrett, Louis Edmonds, and John Karlen, all of whom had distinguished themselves both on and off Broadway, routinely turned in sterling performances with a minimum of rehearsal time. The show's initial realism gave way after a year or so to the "Dark Shadows school of acting"--a highly theatrical, dramatically stylised manner of putting the mood of a scene across with stunning effect. Among the newcomers who shone most strongly were Lara Parker (who enacted another variant of vindictive unrequited love as the witch Angelique), Alexandra Moltke as perennially clueless governess Victoria Winters, Don Briscoe as doomed werewolf Chris Jennings, and David Selby as roguish cousin Quentin Collins. One striking feature of the production was the use of multiple time periods and, ultimately, parallel time streams which allowed the actors to portray a wide variety of roles (Nancy Barrett and Thayer David each ended up playing some half a dozen sharply differentiated characters).

The New York production setting favored the occasional introduction of such veteran character actors as Anita Bolster, Cavada Humphrey, Abe Vigoda, and others in cameo spots. Young actors just starting out such as Harvey Keitel, David Groh, Kate Jackson, Virginia Vestoff, and Marsha Mason found brief or steady work on the series. Vestoff did a tour de force as the ruthless Samantha Collins at the same time (1970) as she was performing nightly in the hit musical 1776.

Derided by some, misunderstood by many, beloved by its legions of fans, Dark Shadows will never die!
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Blake's 7 (1978–1981)
Not of this earth!
21 June 1999
This has to be one of the best--perhaps THE best science fiction serials ever produced. It is a true serial in that the story goes, stage by stage, through a complete, novelistic sequence. Even though the fourth season was not planned when they finished up the 3rd (originally designed as the finale), the ideas, themes, and characterizations continued as a logical (if sometimes twisted) culmination of the history that had preceded it. Blake's 7 inspired what is undoubtedly the finest American sci fi series ever--Babylon 5, which in some ways surpassed B7, certainly in terms of quality effects and production values. If you look carefully, I believe you can spot a ship closely resembling the Scorpio in some of the battle formations in Season 4 of B5.

My personal favorite performer on Blake's 7 was the extraordinary Jacqueline Pearce--surely one of the most gifted actresses of our day. In one way it is a shame that she will always be remembered for his work on this series, but, from another perspective, her creation of Servalan has a truly legendary quality, larger than life and yet intensely human. Jackie imbued Servalan with a wit, grace, and elegance that made her absolute evil all the more intriguing. Paul Darrow as Avon provided the perfect complement to Servalan's infamy. Coldly self-aggrandizing and exquisitely poised in his own right, Darrow's performance is often tinged with streaks of frighteningly believable psychosis, especially during the memorable final season.

If this series had had a wider airing in the US, it would have attracted a massive cult following over here. Grab this on tape if you can find it!
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Lots of teeth, lots of blood
15 June 1999
Warning: Spoilers
I had been a hardcore fan of Dark Shadows for two years when this movie was released in 1968. I recall coming into the theatre and hearing somebody say to a friend, "So what did you think of it?" and receiving the reply, "Lots of teeth, lots of blood." Sadly, that pretty much sums up this picture's appeal. There is some atmospheric photography of Lyndhurst, the Gothic mansion in Tarrytown, NY that stands in for the original Collinwood (a mansion in Newport, RI, currently being used as a boys' dormitory--the first time I visited the house I was jarred by the sounds of a Metallica record blaring out of one of the windows).

As was the case with the sequel Night of Dark Shadows, the final release print of this movie was substantially cut down from Director Dan Curtis' submission to MGM. Unfortunately all the scenes sliced from the original print basically established the characters and their motivations. The bare bones (or should that be fangs) of the story survives intact. If you know nothing about the mystique or the legend of Dark Shadows, this will be an enjoyable, reasonably stylish horror film in the manner of the late Sixties, with some realism but hardly the splatter-gore factor that hit horror movies after the huge success of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the early 70s.

The ensemble cast works very well, given that all of these people had been working together for three or four years at this point. Outstanding are Jonathan Frid's enigmatically menacing vampire Barnabas Collins--the pain and vulnerability Frid emotes with his eyes at certain sequences is really quite striking; Grayson Hall's superb portrayal of medico-on-the-verge Dr. Julia Hoffman (Barbara Steele, who reprised the role in a 1990 remake, complained that Grayson was "excruciatingly good" in the part), and excellent character actor Thayer David's surprisingly complex portrayal of Professor T. Eliot Stokes. Nancy Barrett as doomed heiress Carolyn Stoddard is a beautiful, fragile, Gothic presence. Emmy winner John Karlen (who went on to appear in another cult vampire film, Daughters of Darkness, a couple months later in Belgium this year) makes Willie Loomis one of the best roles of his career. Joan Bennett is patrician and unforgettable in what amounts to a cameo appearance as the family matriarch.
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Flowers of evil, mists of Angelique
7 June 1999
Perhaps few fans would agree, but I actually find this a more satisfying film than the predecessor, House of Dark Shadows. The script is more interesting--even with all the cuts (depending upon which version of the original script you consult, something like an hour of the final cut running time was excised, and MGM only gave Sam Hall and Dan Curtis one working day to make the cuts). There is still more character development in this film than in House of Dark Shadows. The cast is excellent, with a great chemistry, thanks to the fact that they had all worked together for several years on Dark Shadows as an ensemble before they made this film. Standouts include the young David Selby in the dual role as Quentin and Charles, Lara Parker as the evil Angelique, and John Karlen and Nancy Barrett in minimal roles as the young couple in the cottage. Grayson Hall is, as always, in a league of her own as Carlotta Drake, the Mrs Danvers-like housekeeper. With her elegant wardrobe and sinister glances, Grayson gives this film an alluring atmosphere of lingering evil waiting to pounce upon the bored and feckless yuppies who stumble into her web. Thayer David makes a great deal out of the small role of Reverend Strack. James Storm is pretty much wasted in the role of Gerard. Diana Millay, Clarice Blackburn, and Christopher Pennock have memorable little cameos. The score by Robert Cobert features the beautiful love theme (originally titled "Joanna" and used in the final season of Dark Shadows) which lends an air of wistful romance to the otherwise flat onscreen relationship between Selby and Kate Jackson.

Too bad the harried writer and producer didn't manage to film in the climactic seance sequence; in the theatrical trailer to the film, included on the laser disc version, you can see a couple of brief moments from this.
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Welcome to Our World of Darkness!
7 June 1999
An underrated slice of late Sixties horror/psychedelia. It was filmed in 1968 and reminded me somewhat of The Dunwich Horror which was made around the same time and similarly attempted to update Lovecraft with setpieces inspired by the drug culture and the Summer of Love. The difference with the Crimson Cult is that it was filmed in England with a stellar cast who can actually act, unlike poor fish-out-of-water Miss Sandra Dee in Dunwich. It is a treat to see Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee trading pleasantries in their scenes. Michael Gough extracts the maximum from his small role as a pitifully unhinged factotum. Barbara Steele exudes a grandly Gothic malevolence in her scenes as Lavinia. She is probably the single most memorable presence in the film and whatever power it possesses is largely thanks to her. (Great costume, too!) The dungeon sequences are probably the best though my favorite moment in the film occurs when the innocent young man asks Karloff's sinister professor "What do you collect?" and with a friendly grin Karloff replies, "Instruments of torture!" Marvelous moment.

This movie is ridiculously difficult to find. After years of searching I located a bootlegged videotape which is in terrible condition--grainy and the colors which should be vividly over-the-top are quite washed out. Also the print lacks the original score which was quite nifty as I recall from seeing it on American television in the early 70s. There is supposed to be a laser disc version from the early 90s. It would be great if a patron who owns this would do a review of that.
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Oscar Time!
7 June 1999
One of the great landmarks in the history of American cinema. This is one of those movies that tells it like it is, takes it on the chin, and really shows some SPARKLE. Oh yeah, the wigs and gowns are fab, too, especially that sequined poison-green trapeze minidress Patty Duke is too trashed to get into towards the end.

There is a kind of sublime awfulness about the performances that elevates every sentence in the screenplay to some scriptural stratum of indelible elegance. Lines like "Gee, honey, that ole witch oughta be boiled in oil," "You're not the BREADWINNAH either," and "SPARKLE, Neely, SPARKLE" ring with poetic resonance in one's mind long after viewing the film. Especially when you find yourself compulsively watching it over and over and over again...

The montage sequences are unbelievably powerful. Forget Medium Cool, you haven't experienced the true tacky splendor of the Sixties till you've seen Barbara Parkins' Gillian Girl Commercial. Get the soundtrack and use the jingle composed by master artiste Andre Previn on your answering machine. Why, all your friends will be ringing the phone off the hook just to have a listen.

As Superstar Helen Lawson, Susan Hayward is head and shoulderpads above the rest of the cast, especially when she's attempting to lipsynch her way through "I'll plant my own tree" while dodging the giant translucent fake Calder mobile (probably built by Monsanto) that's slowly revolving around her. The symbolic-castration wig-in-the-loo sequence has to be seen to be believed. "I'll go out the way I came in" admirably sums up the sentiments of everyone connected with this movie after it was released. See Patty Duke's autobiography for some anecdotes about the filming.

This movie pretty much destroyed Director Mark Robson's career, but it made pots and pots of money for the studio, and was still playing drive in theatres around the country years after its release. And curiously enough, many women I have known now in their fifties and sixties felt drawn to this film, felt that it spoke to them (if not for them) in a way nothing else up till that time had done.
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You'll Laugh till You Cry
7 June 1999
Hysterical! This is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. In fact the first time I watched it I had to turn off the VCR after half an hour and go lie down because I ached all over from being unable to stop laughing. The last thing that had that effect on me was Carol Burnett's version of "Sunnyset Boulevard" on the early 70s. Like Burnett, or Monty Python, Director Russ Meyer and lead Actress Tura Satana have a true flair for absurd overstatement, though in their case it is carried out with a naive innocence that makes this movie stratospherically trashy camp.

To quote another of the characters in the film: "It's a gas!"

Tura Satana is now a grandmother. Read the interview with her in the 1997 issue of Bust magazine. Her unique talents were never again so magically showcased as in this incredible film.
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She (1935)
Reigning through Terror is So Much More Fun!
7 June 1999
I have very happy memories of this movie, which I finally saw in a revival house in New York City in the early Nineties, after many years of its unavailability due to the Hammer remake. This much more idiosyncratic version from the Thirties owes a lot of its atmosphere and stylish elan to the extraordinary Bauhaus-inspired sets, the Max Steiner score, and Helen Gahagan's majestically mannered performance as She Who MUST Be Obeyed. It's a film very much of its time yet there is also a timeless, haunting quality to certain sequences. It has very little to do with Rider Haggard's novel (which is a great favorite of mine) but once I realized this was going to be a different story altogether I didn't care.

The theatre that showed this was packed for a mid afternoon screening, and the audience reacted with tremendous enthusiasm to this classic film. If you have a taste for such great 1930s epics as King Kong, Gunga Din, and King Solomon's Mines, you will enjoy it as well. The 1965 version with Ursula Andress, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee is fun as well but has even less to do with the themes of Haggard's original novel. It does however have a more up to date feel for those who care about glossy production values.
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Mod mod mod mod mod mod mod Modesty!
4 June 1999
A delicious phantasmagoria of feathers, frolics, fashion, false eyelashes, frivolity, fol-de-rol, foppish frothiness and all that was mod and mad in that giddy year, nineteen-sixty-six. Monica Vitti is nothing like the comic book character created by Peter O'Donnell and Jim Holdaway--the original stories have been reprinted and are worth checking out. In his memoirs Terence Stamp recalled that Vitti was so clumsy it was hard for her to get through even simple stunts. The film is in reality a paean to style and to the triumph of presentation over substance which was a lot of what Sixties fashions were about. Vitti's wigs pretty much steal the show--Dirk Bogarde, in blond toupee as evil mastermind Gabriel, and Rosella Falk as Mrs Fothergill (a sort of sadistic Emma Peel) clean up on what's left. The music is a lot of fun--indeed fun is the operative word here. Serious squares can keep their dull movie critic vibes out!
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Some Day My Polly Magoo Will Go-Go
25 May 1999
Too bad this European cult film of the Sixties, written and directed by an American whose photo documentary reportage on New York, Rome, and Tokyo is legendary, is all but impossible to track down here in North America. After years of fruitless searching I finally attended two screenings at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1997. The main draw in this film for me was Grayson Hall, who portrays Miss Maxwell, Editor of Vogue magazine--a character so closely based on Director William Klein's former boss Diana Vreeland, it's amazing Vreeland didn't sue for libel. Grayson Hall was flown over specially from America to do this. Try to get the original French language version--she spoke French and her accent, and delivery, are priceless. (She referred to the experience acerbically as "Hell, honey!") The film's eponymous star Dorothy MacGowan was chosen at random from a crowd shot of Beatles girls welcoming the Fab Four at a New York airport. MacGowan stands at the center of a wildly gyrating scenario that satirizes pretty much everything in mid Sixties French society that is or isn't nailed down--politics, fashion, the media, the idealization of rural life and French traditions--taking frequent detours into fantasy sequences and even including some animated segments that must have helped inspire the animated interludes in the original Monty Python series. The score by Michel Legrand has some brilliant moments, particularly during the opening sequence featuring sheet metal fabricated fashions; the rest of the film never quite lives up to the promise of this inaugural tour de force.

Still, as a time capsule of Sixties effulgence, it's well worth tracking down. Let's hope somebody "rediscovers" it and brings it out on video, pronto! With the original letterbox ratio, bien sur.
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Dr. Phibes rhymes with vibes!
24 May 1999
In 1970 this film had its New York premiere at the Museum of Modern Art. Though anything but a museum piece, it is interesting that its status as a highly "artful" film was recognized even at a time when horror films were generally regarded as the bargain basement of genre cinema production. It now stands as a masterpiece of early Postmodern sensibility. It can be enjoyed, as other patrons on this site have observed, straightforwardly as a tale of vengeance, sadism, and romantic tragedy. The original novel by William Goldstein was widely distributed in paperback at the time of the film's release, and is worth reading after you see the movie. Goldstein's original conception of Dr. Phibes as a charred remnant of human suffering coldly and ruthlessly carrying out his divinely ordained scheme of vengeance does come through at moments in the film, thanks to the flashes of humanism in Vincent Price's brilliant acting. Equally good are Joseph Cotten, Peter Jeffrey, John Cater (whose role as the perennially clueless inspector was enlarged in the sequel) and deserving of special marks, Virginia North as Phibes' mute amanuensis and muse, Vulnavia. The score by Basil Kichin and the exquisite Deco/Bauhaus sets by Brian Eatwell (done with inimitable British style on a shoestring) have a lot to do with how beautiful this film looks and sounds, as does the cinematography and the role of the neglected genius Robert Fuest at the helm.

This film inspired a whole cycle of revenge thrillers in the early Seventies, many of them starring Vincent Price. Probably the best one after the original was 1973's Theatre of Blood, thanks to his support from Diana Rigg and a whole roster of the great and good in British theatre, among them Coral Browne, who was to become his wife after they worked together on this film.

In 1973 plans for a third Phibes film (featuring the good Doctor's encounter with Hitler) were scrapped because of the star's dissatisfaction with studio-dictated cuts to the sequel. These had necessitated last-minute redubbing of certain sequences to have the film make any sense at all.
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Dr. Phibes Fiercely Rules with Superb Style and Suave Savoir-Faire
18 May 1999
Some feel that this sequel to 1970's The Abominable Dr. Phibes surpassed the original film with its all-out camp elan, wild-and-woolly murder sequences (it's hard to imagine anything more skin-crawlingly gruesome than the Scorpion Throne sequence in this film), exquisite Deco Egyptienne sets and scenery-chewing performances by such stellar talents as Hugh Griffith, Terry-Thomas (a priceless cameo), Beryl Reid and Peter Jeffrey. Robert Quarry has probably his best role ever as the perfidious Biederbeck, and Valli Kemp makes a fetchingly arch replacement in the role of Vulnavia originated by Virginia North (Kemp's Vulnavia is more in the vein of Maxfield Parrish, while North was arctically Deco). But it's Vincent Price--"how ironic and how clever!"--who rules this bizarre, darkly comic universe of murders and ancient Egyptian occult wisdom. The score by John Gale is also worthy of considerable praise--one of the great horror scores of the latter 20th Century. When is the CD coming out?

I've seen this movie about 7 times, and every time I always notice some little quip or detail that escaped me on first viewing. For trivia buffs, a third film was planned, which was due to bring Phibes face to face with Hitler. Vincent Price was so incensed at the chopping of the original running time of Rises Again that he refused to have anything to do with the third project, so it was abandoned. Director Robert Fuest worked on the Linda Thorson season of the Avengers (the Takeover episode shows some of the Phibes style), and went on to produce a stylish send-up of one of Michael Moorcock's future-sex fantasias.
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Understated horror in classic style, with fine performances
17 May 1999
This difficult-to-find gem (my copy is a bootleg--sorry about that) sorts oddly with the kind of trash Hammer studios was churning out in the early 70s--Lust for a Vampire and that sort of thing. The production seemed to be under a curse of its own--Peter Cushing was involved for the first two days of shooting but then had to leave due to his wife's death; director Seth Holt had nearly finished the film and then died of a heart attack. The final film, finished by Hammer producer Michael Carreras, was described as barely coherent in magazine reviews of the time, but makes perfect sense to this viewer. It's in the style of Don't Look Now, Rosemary's Baby, or Night of Dark Shadows--a story of the supernatural slowly seeping into a modern day setting, with fine character performances, especially from Andrew Keir, James Villiers and Rosalie Crutchley. Leading lady Valerie Leon was dubbed--not sure by whom, but the voice is effective.

This is an unusual tale for those who like subtly constructed stories with a focus upon character and atmosphere. The occasional schlock element doesn't really detract at all from the sinister thrall of the film's design.
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Total Eclipse (1995)
Brilliantly filmed evocation of a great destructive love affair
13 May 1999
Christopher Hampton's original play upon which he based his screenplay was a major scandal of the London theatre scene in the late Sixties. The Nineties update, brought to the big screen with considerable grace and visual splendor thanks to director Agnieszka Holland, proved to be one of the great dark horses of film history. Most of the US critics displayed their abysmal ignorance of literature, history and psychology in their reviews of this film. Since they did not realize just how dark the personalities involved and how very complex the actual historical facts were, they trashed this film and it closed after a few weeks in most cities. I still routinely see reviews from the likes of Leonard Maltin that describe this film as a "bomb." It should be seen only by those with a taste for unusual stories that do not attempt to prettify the past. The performances were vividly believable, especially David Thewlis as Verlaine and the actress who played Rimbaud's sister. I thought di Caprio's performance was marvelous though not entirely free of anachronisms (it reminded me of Diane Keaton's performance in Reds in this regard). Holland's cinematography captures every nuance of di Caprio's remarkable physical beauty which helps make the "cursed" romance between the two men plausible. I thought the ending was beautifully accomplished--it brought the story to a lovely resolution which unfortunately probably eluded the principle people involved in real life.
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A funny romantic comedy intertwined with darker themes
26 April 1999
This 1997 film had to wait two years for a distributor, but still has a fresh, bold, fun feel to it. Writer/director P. J. Castellaneta offers a quirky mix of typically LA characters who flail through their lives dazed and confused about romance, commitment, and the meaning of life, but still manage to care for one another and cope with the various crises of life in the latest "low, dishonest decade" in the twentieth century's banner hit parade. Standouts amongst the ensemble cast are Mitchell Anderson as Vincey, Jennifer Tilly as unofficial den mother Tara, and Lori Petty who manages to put flesh and bones on the cartoon-like character of Robin. There are a number of choice cameos, including two great appearances by Susan Tyrell and Paul Winfield (unforgettable as "Auntie Mahalia"). The one thing that irritated me about this film was that yet again we get treated to grainy vid-screen meditations by the characters upon their feelings. This seemed a particular cop-out in what should have been one of Jennifer Tilly's strongest scenes towards the end of the film. Drama school teachers should ban any mention or use of video cameras in screenplays submitted by their students for at least the next decade.
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A must see! A warm, funny, sweet bit of social satire
20 April 1999
Rose Troche's first film since Go Fish deserves to be a winner but is evidently having difficulty finding a US distributor. The halt and lame who call the shots in the entertainment industry may find it difficult to understand just how extraordinarily good this wry little film about Londoners behaving as if they're living and loving in Southern California really is. A boffo ensemble cast includes brilliant work by Tom Hollander, Kevin McKidd, Julie Graham, and James Purefoy, with fun and frolicsome supportive roles by Hugo Weaving (as a predatory estate agent), Simon Callow and Harriet Walter (who enjoys a cult following thanks to her brilliant work ten years ago in the BBC Lord Peter Wimsey series). Jennifer Ehle gets to show a different side of her abilities in a beautifully done part as a hip, sensitive Nineties gal, complete with bleached blonde hair and eyebrows. Somehow she escaped appearing in the film's hilarious five minute send-up of Pride and Prejudice (worth seeing for this alone). This has to be one of the funniest films of the year. Run, don't walk if you hear of a screening near you.
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