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The Loved One (1965)
Momma's Big Tub
Director Tony Richardson takes no prisoners as he lambastes the funeral business, the government, religion, ideology, and anything else held sacred by many. Richardson does this in the most comically satiric manner with subtlety, restraint at times, over-indulgence at other moments, and a unique blend of English reservedness and wit mixed with American vulgarity and frankness. I loved this film and was laughing throughout. The story starts off with a young Englishman(Robert Morse) arriving in LA with no job or prospects other than visiting his famous uncle John Gielgud - who is in the movie business. Gielgud invites the young man to stay, introduces him to the strong acting British community, and provides him with living essentials as the young man decides what to do with his life(apparently after a romantic break). We see Gielgud at work and Richardson has no problems making fun of the movie industry at all as Gielgud, a veteran of 31 years, has been reduced to helping an American hick become an Englishman - not even remotely possible. He fails, is let go, and hangs himself. At this point we have a wonderful satire about the film industry, but what follows balloons into something even more grandiose. Character actor Robert Morley insists that this man be buried at the best place possible - Whispering Glades. We then watch Morse go there and see the hyperbolic excesses of the funereal business for those who least need their services - the dead. Morse meets beautiful Anjanette Comer, a make-up artist for the dead, as well as a series of people to help bring his uncle to "peace." Richardson, taking Waugh's novel, really has a knack at steamrolling his satire here with decadent grounds, huge rooms for repose, a bureaucratic network designed only for the wealthy, white, and people of "merit." Liberace, giving a great performance, plays a man who helps Morse decide on what casket, suit, and even shoes his dead uncle will have. The film then turns into a myriad of directions from a rich reverend who has a godlike complex but only a desire to make money, the help of the government to foster this big business, and a romantic triangle like no other with Morse, Comer, and Rod Steiger as Mr. Joyboy - the chief embalmer. While the end of The Loved One does not carry the impact now that it did in 1965, the film as a whole is a witty, incredibly black comedy de farce in many ways. Richardson made a film his way with his ideals firmly planted. Yes, this film will and I am sure did offend many. It also opens one's eyes to a number of things. The acting is great with Morse doing very solid work. Comer, as I said before, is lovely. Steiger - Steiger is great! His Mr. Joyboy with effeminacy reeking, long white curls, and fastidious outfits matched with his outlandish hand gestures steals every scene he is in...EXCEPT the ones with his mother(more on that shortly). His accented dialog was a real treat to hear. "I am saving for Momma's big tub!" His mother, "every inch a queen," is in one of the most bizarre film scenes I have ever seen in any "mainstream" picture. Words fail me. See it. I shall never look at a roast pig again - or a turkey - in the same way. I could go on, but I think you get my favorable stance toward this film which is most definitely under-viewed. Jonathan Winters is superb as well in two roles. Catch Paul Williams in his first film role. Watch Milton Berele give a great cameo as a husband fighting with his wife over a bereaved loved one. What a funny scene that was too!
I'll Take the Middle Road
If this was sold at one point in time(and really there is no doubt it was), then people were seriously ripped-off. However, I too saw it courtesy of Amazon Prime and was engaged and entertained for 60 minutes about an event I did not attend but would have loved to do so. Basically, we get an inside(not very inside though) tour of the Zombie Jamboree celebrating the 25th anniversary of that film. We get John Russo's narration throughout as we see guests at the convention sell their autographs, etc... but we do get some insights into the film itself, the people who made it, its enduring legacy, and much more. I found the Q and A bit with George Romero very interesting. The same for the two scream queens. Tom Savini's walk through the Monroeville mall was also a highlight. I enjoyed the discussion of Duane Jones's import in the film too. This is not particularly well-made. Yes, there are audio(and video) inconsistencies but bear in mind it was made over twenty years ago. So much technologically has changed since then. For what it is, it is a curious, interesting supplement to not only a great film but also to the convention craze which is still going strong.
Where else can you see David Niven called a Jive Turkey?
A-List star on less-than-grand times David Niven takes his turn as the Count in this hard-to-find film(currently it can be seen on Amazon Prime). A film like this you know is going to have problems because it has more than one title that it is frequently known by. It is called Old Dracula, Old Drac, and Vampira. I probably first saw this on TV sometime in the late seventies. I liked it then. I sought it out and re-visited it over forty years later. I kind of liked it. It is a tepid, lukewarm reaction to some stuff that really has become quite out- dated. This film was made during the Blaxplotation craze of the 70's. It takes the grittiness and edge from that away, and it gives you this. I also read it came out shortly after Young Frankenstein as a means of cashing in on that film's success. Obviously, it did not work as those two films have NOTHING in common. The film clearly has a nice budget as we see posh sets and locations along with good actors for the most part. Niven looks tired in this role - he is suppose to be too - as he tries to find the right blood type to bring his wife "back-to-life." He finds it when a group of Playboy models come to spend the evening in his now- opened-for-the-public castle. Trouble is that all the blood is mixed up somehow and he does not know which model had the right blood. Why is this a problem? When his wife comes back to life she is black. He must now take her and his servant to London and find the right model in the hopes that it will turn her back to her "normal" pale self. The story truly is my biggest problem with the film. It really is somewhat offensive as well as ridiculous. Try making sense of it if you can. I moved on so as not to miss the film from that point on. The acting is good throughout though Niven, as I said previously, is lackluster. Teresa Graves as his new wife; however, gives a lively performance(and is a beauty to boot). She chews up the scenery with her scene-stealing scenes(okay, more like taking something that nobody else wanted). The models are all luscious as well. Cathie Shirriff is particularly appealing(and free in her performance as well). So is the always lovely Veronica Carlson who is somewhat wasted in her role. Linda Hayden as a voluptuous castle-wench is funny and gorgeous. The best performance for me was the deadpan one of Peter Bayliss as Dracula's manservant Maltravers. He had the funniest lines and the bit he does at the castle being the mad-servant for the guests may have been the highlight of the film. That does not bode well then for the rest of the film. Old Dracula is an okay film from an era where you could make this type of film. I know it has a lot of detractors but was watchable at least.
"Where there is Death, there is Hope"
Yep, this is one BAD movie...but as others noted...strangely likable. The really difficult step in viewing and reviewing this film is finding a copy. It had one Media video release(VHS) eons ago and has been MIA for the last two to three decades. You might find a copy on Ebay but will spend a pretty penny. How did I see it finally? THANK YOU YOUTUBE! Anyway, we have Nocturna, played with beauty and an amazing lack of skill as any kind of a thespian, by Nai Bonet. Bonet's claim to fame as a half-Vietnemese and half-French belly dancer with dalliances with acting on the side has been strangely baffling. She had really no entertainment career that would merit a project like this, though one must be impressed that she found a way to make this film(and another called Hoodlums). Unfortunately for Nai, this film and the other were box office poison - and she essentially left this arena. Let's talk about what is wrong with the film quickly and then move on to what I liked. Nai Bonet cannot act. Period. Yes, English is clearly not her first language. That is obvious the first moment you hear her speak. But more than that is her total lack of displaying any kind of emotion. It was an incredibly wooden performance. Her male co-star(really stretching that word here) was equally as bad. The story, written by Nai, also borders on sophomoric tripe. It seems a very old Dracula has no longer a means to kill on his own and so relies heavily on his granddaughter Nocturna. A disco group comes to Hotel Transylvania and Nocturna kicks up her heels with some beefcake and falls in love. She follows him to New York and starts to turn into a human because of her love. Touching, isn't it? The special effects of vampires turning into bats is nothing more than really out-dated animation. It looks soooo silly even in a silly picture like this. There is an awful lot of disco music and disco dancing. What do you expect in a vampire disco film? Okay, clearly this is not Citizen Kane or even some of the great low- budget films of the seventies. It isn't Love at First Bite either. There is virtually no violence at all in the film. At its heart is a nice story - just one not very well executed. Despite all of this, I found myself liking the film overall. Nai is beautiful for a woman in her mid-to-late thirties. She looks like she is in her 20's. We get to see much of that beautiful body too. I had absolutely no problem with that at all. We also have a scene where Nai is visiting a pimp and his bevy of beautiful vampires who also share her free performance style in this regard. Actually, it was a pretty funny scene as well. The budget was obviously not huge but the film looks very good. The opening scene is quite atmospheric. The set locations were all done quite well too. The music was not all that horrible. The Gloria Gaynor opening theme, "Love is but a heartbeat away" was rather catchy. I thought the entire opening sequence was done with great aplomb. Nai was smart enough to get some names, lesser names, but names nonetheless for her film. John Carradine plays Dracula in a rather lackluster manner but he has a few intriguing lines. Yvonne De Carlo plays a vampire in New York who boards Nocturna and gives her advice. Another lackluster performance particularly in a somewhat thankless role. Both these thespians add some credibility. The other supporting players are all rather decent as well with one HUGE plus. The performance of Brother Theodore moves this picture up from being wretched to being somewhat endearing. He lusts after Nocturna and in one scene in particular(the bathtub scene) he gives one of the oddest, perverse, and hilarious monologues I have ever seen. That VOICE uttering some of the most ridiculous dialog and yet transforming it into something more. Just watch the way he rolls his eyes. So funny and creepy! I wish he had been in the film a bit more. So, check this film out while you have the opportunity. it is not great by no means yet is ... well, let me put it this way ...I would watch it again at some point.
The Video Dead (1987)
"Just Pray It's Not drugs Dear"
Probably more famous for its video box than as a film, this direct-to-video film is not all that bad. In fact it really grew on me. Why? It is not because it is particularly good or has great action or wonderful special effects. It does have a lot of heart and a sense of humor AND despite the low budget and the cast of mostly one and dones - it is fairly well-made. An odd package is sent to a writer who opens the box, finds an old black and white TV, plugs it in...and then the only thing that plays is a zombie flick. Wait! He turns off set and it comes back on. He unplugs it and it comes back on..and he is killed by a group of undead that come from the TV set. These rogue zombies then disappear for three months until a new family moves in - and then they start killing. Why did they wait three months? Your guess is as good as mine! Apparently they were in the woods the whole time. Anyway, the new people in the house are just a teen-aged boy and his hot sister. A guy that originally bought the TV set comes along - and its zombie hunting time. Now, do not get me wrong. This is no great cinema. How about that scene with the poodle going into the woods? Or the whole bit with the kid tied in the air? Or even the ending. these zombies are MIGHTY smart! I liked the performances of several most notably Sam David McClelland as Joshua Daniels(the guy that kept calling Jeff "Kid." He was not great but genuine. The girls were all hot in that 80s hot way. Victoria Bastel as April the cute blond and Roxanna Augenson as Zoe Blair - very pretty though not always convincing. The make up really is pretty good and the TV scenes were really pretty suspenseful. For what it was - I liked it. I do want to check out the new blu ray. I watched my old Embassy tape once again. Who says video is dead?
My Vote for Best Film of 2012!
Lots of division here - actually I am very surprised. I am not going into some long review. MANY on here have done so. I loved the movie and, after seeing most of the films nominated for an Oscar in 2012, was very perplexed why this one had not even been nominated. To me, it clearly was the best. Yes, I have read The Hobbit many times. Yes, Peter Jackson changed and heavily "added" but in the end he crafted a masterpiece - and I for one longingly await the second installment. Could this have been done in two movies? Sure. But it was not. At least you are getting your money's worth with these films. The action, story, acting, special effects, music, etc.. are all top-notch. That is all I have to say now - I told you I would be brief.
The Mutations (1974)
It's a Hybrid between Frankenstein and Freaks
Well, to keep the puns going, this grows on you after awhile. Really, it does. While I had never heard of it before, I was pleasantly surprised to find this film about a British bio-engineer/professor mixed up with a carnival and who uses bodies(inexplicably) to help with his experimentation to create an animal/plant race of beings. We get a Frankenstein type film, but when you add the oddities(most REAL) from the carnival - and who create scenes eerily reminiscent of Tod Browning's Freaks - we get so much more. While undeniably cheaply made - the special effects are ridiculous as is the final "invention" of man and plant, The Mutations(I saw it under the title The Freakmaker)does have some truly jarring scenes. The carnival freaks in this movie are allowed to act - and, quite frankly, are the scariest thing in this film as they lynch Lynch(played nicely by a heavily made-up Tom Baker - make-up here is quite good too!) - a deformed man who wants to be 'normal" whilst distancing himself from his freak brethren by calling them freaks and himself normal. Needless to say things do not work out well for him. This is the subplot of the film but I found it more interesting than the story of Donald Pleasance working with plants and creating some starved half-animal half-plant creature the size of a human. Pleasence is good as he always is - but really is given little to do EXCEPT for his wonderful lecture at the beginning of the film. There we are also introduced to four students(later Brad Harris will join them)who will come to know the doctor's work firsthand. The only thing you need to know about these four is that three of them are HOT, beautiful girls: blonde Jill Haworth, sensuous Olga Anthony, and the incredibly stunning Julie Ege - we also get to see them in various states of disrobe - a MAJOR highlight. Harris is OK, but it really is the real-life "freaks" that caught my eye. Michael Dunn plays the dwarf running the carnival - and I think he gives his best performance in film. I always thought he was a pretty good actor that went beyond his stereotyped image. This unfortunately was one of his last films as he died at the age of 38. The Mutations is a solid film with many undesirable elements but does, in my opinion, scare - why? Well, that will be for you to determine.
Without Warning (1980)
Holy Flying Flapjacks!
I too remember this film from my youth. I think I saw it on HBO in the early 80s - some thirty years better. What did I remember from the original? I remembered the flying alien discs. Aside from that nothing else except Larry Storch. As I watched the credits roll recently, I kept saying "Larry Storch is in this! He is some kind of boy scout or something." Indeed, he was - and still, for me, the best thing about this movie. He has one of those humorous cameos that steals scenes as he talks about Guapo Indians trying to impress his scouts. Well, let's backtrack. The film opens with a man(Cameron Mitchell in need of some bucks and bad!)out to hunt with his, in his words, "sissy" son when both soon find these aforementioned alien discs attack. What does such an attack look like? It looks like a disc being thrown at someone then sticks its tentacles into the flesh and soon the victim dies. We then go to Storch meeting the same fate and then we get a group of teens going to the lake to have fun. Are they aware that something is not quite right at the lake? Of course they are as they have been warned both directly and indirectly - but go nonetheless. Two die and two fly. Well, the film looks and feels very cheaply made. The actors over-act madly. Martin Landau plays a Fred Dobbs(yes, it is Bogart's name in Treasure of the Sierra Madre - and yes, he is crazy too!) Landau really looks like he took an overdose of acting pills, which is good because Jack Palance must have finished the bottle! These two are so far off the chart as to turn this from any serious vehicle to something of a parody nature - though unintentional I assure you. The film is not all bad. There are some nice scenes in an abandoned house toward the end of the film. The master alien is cool looking and the final part of the film FAIRLY effective. There is also a host of character actors given little to do such as Ralph Meeker and Neville Brand. The young foursome are decent at least. But what the film has going against it is quite ponderous: dark lighting throughout, over-acting - did I mention over-acting?, a novice-like feel for the direction of the film, etc... This is a hard movie to find. I watched a horror convention DVD - it took forever just to track that down. Once I watched it I was like - okay, I saw it again. I probably won't for another 30 years again.
"I'll Find Him One, two, Three."
I had always heard of this film but never had an opportunity to see it. Once I saw it - I confess I fell in love with it. It is in the tradition of Halloween and Friday the 13th and that whole slew of slasher films that littered the movie scene in the late 70's and more aptly the early 80s. While not on a par with Halloween(few films like it are) I thought Madman was MUCH better than Friday the 13th. It is undeniably cheaply made but really does not show. The film opens with a wonderful red drawing of two clutching, gnarled hands whilst the titles play and this loud yet engrossing theme plays. We then go to a campfire where we see an older-looking camp counselor singing some bizarre ballad about people getting killed as he goes from person to person(the counselors out-number the children). Then the leader of the camp, an older guy named Max, tells this terrifying tale of Madman Marz and how he butchered his family with an axe and then was strung up by a group of people but escaped from being hanged where he now waits to do the like to any one who says his name above a whisper. Well, his name is said above a whisper and you can imagine what follows: deaths - many of them. While this is a very formulaic film, it has style and I was truly impressed. None of the actors except the lead female - Gaylen Ross who was one of the leads in Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow - has had any career(hers as an actress preceded this film actually). None of them are embarrassing - in fact I though everyone was pretty good, BUT it is the tension of the film that carries it. The Madman looks scary as we really see little of him through the film. The deaths are scary - from a guy being strung up and almost freeing himself to a girl hiding in a fridge to, my favorite, the hot girl(Harriet Bass as Stacy) taking the lyrics to "Keep truckin" a little too seriously. The film is mostly separate killings until the end when Ross realizes what is happening. The ending takes place in Madman Marz's dilapidated house. The direction by Joe Giannone and the story by Gary Sales and company really are quite entertaining and I am surprised more did not come out of their careers. They have obvious talent. The print I saw was by Anchor bay and was PRISTINE. I also enjoyed much of the director/cast/crew commentary provided.
Hunter's Blood (1986)
A Host of Character Actors
When it comes to seeing an actor's face that you know BUT may not know the name that goes with it...Hunter's Blood delivers. Hunters Sam Bottoms, Ken Swofford, Clu Gulager, Joey Travolta(I knew he was related to John but not his name), and a bunch of yelling, heehawing Arkansas rednecks like Bruce Glover(more on him later) and Bill Drago(The Untochables and Frank Nitti) and several others are just some of those FACES. Hunter's Blood, a movie which currently is only on VHS(old) and laserdisc(old) - with a GREAT cover, tells the story of five city guys going hunting deep in the Arkansas woods where a bunch of semi-civilized poachers live, eat, kill, procreate, etc... It falls into that sub-genre of horror of wilderness horror like Rituals(a great film). This is a good film as well. The direction is taut and suspenseful. The beginning is a bit slow and talky, but we get invested in the characters. I liked the five hunters. None of them were bad men really. There is even a great little talk about hunting and how it brings men closer together. The musical score is just right in keeping that suspense going - particularly as the film winds down to that inevitable climatic end. We get some great scenes like the bar scene with its tension. There is the bloody close-up of a head after having been blown off(not completely) by a shotgun. There is the battle with David and several different backwoods hillbillies. The acting was surprisingly good as was the script. Clu Gulager is at his best as is Ken Swofford. Joey Travolta is annoying - but he was playing an annoying character. God, does he do it well! Then there is Bruce Glover as One Eye....putting on his own Barnum and Bailey circus as all the acts rolled into one! Watching him bob and weave and repeat, "We're gonna get ya!"...over and over and over became quite chilling. Eye candy Kim Delaney is really unnecessarily brought along for the ride, but she does not really detract from the film. Two things other than the general quality of all involved stood out for me. One - If I were from Arkansas or anywhere near it I probably would be offended. These hillbillies are unkempt, sadistic, inbred, and cannibalistic(so it appears) as well as amorous toward members of their own gender(one guy really had the hots for Joey!). It is a stereotype of backwoods rednecks first enunciated by the city guys as they drive there and, rather shabbily I might add, interact with the locals and then later proved to be true(?) Two - I liked the twist at the end and how the movie throughout had, directly or indirectly, paid homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(there) or Deliverance or others. Hunter's Blood is a good film that deserves DVD treatment soon.