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Columbo: Strange Bedfellows (1995)
The most notable aspect for me was the familiar faces in this episode, which include fine performances by both George Wendt and Rod Steiger, and watch for regulars John Finnegan, and the final appearance of Bruce Kirby. Wendt is the real star here, as he's just a few years removed from a memorable run on "Cheers", and he's very convincing in a murderous role here. Steiger is also in fine form as a mob boss, as he warns Columbo that he'll give him time to arrest Graham(Wendt), but if that fails, then he'll take care of matters himself and that won't be pretty. Without giving too much away, this ending plot borrows heavily from "A Case of Immunity", which is a fine episode from 1975, and I could see this conclusion coming a mile away, especially them giving the same "thumbs-up" gestures, so that drops this episode down a few pegs. As someone else said, this isn't the best Columbo film in the stable(pun intended), but it's passable, and instead of Wendt raising a glass of beer, this time he's raising a gun.
The Return of Count Yorga (1971)
3/4 good,1/4 bad
This film, while solid for the most part, reminds me of a scene from "Columbo", where one character says to the detective "an exciting meal has been ruined!". That's the way I felt about this film, and they say a poor ending can hurt a film, and I must agree here. While this may seem like a negative review, there's things that I did like, such as Robert Quarry's performance, and the creepy mansion in which he resides, with a bunch of slick dark rooms, and skinny stairs. Look for some familiar faces in a very young Craig T. Nelson, Mariette Hartley, Michael Pataki, and Rudy De Luca. On the other hand, there's Philip Frame, who plays Tommy, and he may be the worst actor I've ever seen, and I'm not surprised that he only has 1 more acting credit after this film. That kid also deserved that good smack, the little jerk. One of the most disappointing aspects for me is that Tommy doesn't get his just desserts he richly deserved, but that's all I'll spoil for you. There's more good scenes than bad scenes, but the bad ones almost defy vampire logic, and really hurt the film for me.
Prince of Darkness (1987)
Carpenter's creepy cult classic
So maybe I'm stretching "classic" a bit, but this film never got the good reviews I felt it deserved, an I'm a veteran of many things horror. The subject matter is fairly original. Did you ever hear of Satan as a green fluid held prisoner under a creepy old church? I didn't think so. Watch how Donald Pleasance overacts, but he's engaging, and makes anything he's in that more enjoyable. A few more familiar faces include Jameson Parker, who's sporting a Freddie Mercury mustache, Dennis Dun, Alice Cooper(that's right)and Victor Wong. I found this film very suspenseful with some interesting kills, and cool scenes. It's not a film that ends nicely, like many John Carpenter films, so you may feel empty after watching it, but the ride should be worth it. There are a few negative things, however, that bear mentioning, such as poor character development, as there's really no one to root for, and an awful, forced love scene that's almost as bad as the one from The Fog(1980), as it wasn't needed at all. Getting those out of the way, I still recommend this film, as I don't think Carpenter made many more good ones after this came out.
End of an era
I guess I have a soft spot, a very small one, for this forgotten film, which was directed by horror icon Robert Englund. I think it's because it came out at the end of the 80's, which is the decade I saw the majority of my horror films, as I consider myself a horror buff. I've seen it listed as either 1988 or 1989, but I don't think I've seen many more horror films since then, as the 80's wrapped up my teen years. An interesting tidbit has star Stephen Geoffreys basically become a gay porn star not long after this film came out, no pun intended. You probably won't recognize anyone else, other than perhaps Sandy Dennis, and maybe Robert Picardo. I thought the premise of the film was fairly original; you call a "horrorscope" number, and you get to speak to the Devil. There's a catch though, if you don't do what "he" says, you get a strange sounding ring on a nearby pay phone(remember them?)and bad stuff may happen to you. Buyer beware! I'll get the bad out of the way; first off, I didn't like how Hoax decided to play a cruel, but deadly joke on Suzie, considering she was very nice to him, and even tried to protect him from bullies. Her death scene was pretty lame, as far as horror standards go. Also, the way the house turned into a foamy ice inside, and the fire effects under the house, were cheesy at best. I did like the creature's make-up for the most part, although the extra large hands and feet could've been done better. I also thought the fish falling from the sky was interesting, and I haven't seen anything like it before or after this film. Mark Dark was a very cool addition, but I wish there was more background on his character. To finish this review, I'll reiterate that this has some late 80's charm to me, and was probably one of the last horror films I saw, at least from what I can recall, as the 80's gave me some really cool horror film memories, and I'll proudly include this film as well.
All in the Family: The Taxi Caper (1973)
And justice for all?
With the recent crazy world of American politics, this episode revolves around the power of the purse, which directly affects one Archie Bunker. The story has Archie robbed in his cab by a young white man, which both surprises and disappoints him, but it turns out this youngster is the son of a powerful politician. Watch for familiar faces in Robert Mandan and Michael Pataki, as they both play their respective parts convincingly. An interesting scene has Archie obviously lambasting the criminal, while Mike the liberal tells him that even criminals aren't pieces of trash, as Archie calls the thief; however, after Archie gets bribed by a smooth talking attorney to drop the charges, Mike reverts to calling Archie a hypocrite, and even criticizes the attorney for defending the politician's son. It was nice to see Mike take off his liberal cap for once, and call a spade a spade. I won't spoil the ending, but even though Archie got paid/bribed $100 to forget about the crime, his wallet is about to get "legally" hit in the police station. The most notable aspect for me was Mandan's and Pataki's appearances, but this was still a solid episode.
The frog that ate Tokyo
By this later season, this show was on a serious decline, but this is a fine gem which re-introduces Teresa(Liz Torres)as a minor character. Archie is looking to rent a room to a boarder, and somehow Teresa, who once annoyed him during a hospital stay, winds up being the one chosen to live there. In case you didn't already know, the Stivic's moved out, and the Bunker's needed the extra income. It'll obviously take Archie some time to get used to her staying, and her outspoken Puerto Rican ways; plus, he's also dealing with Marvin the mouse! This isn't the greatest episode they ever did, but it adds a slightly different tinge than what you may be used to, and I felt that Torres had a fine performance, and more than held her own. One scene I did find odd had Edith telling Archie about a movie he liked being on the tube, while Teresa's studying for her exams in the same room. I think Edith dropped the ball right there, but this is still a fine episode during the weak run of this once great series.
Grave of the Vampire (1972)
If you're trying to figure out my summary line, it's a reference to Michael Pataki's character in "Happy Days", which many may remember him by, as I do. Look for veteran character actor William Smith, who's always solid, although he probably needed slightly better material to work with in this film. I'm a fan of most 70's vampires, and while this won't be tops on my list, I still enjoyed this slightly different "bite" than what I'm used to. Pataki was solid as the main vampire, although he lacked the charm that many have playing the lead dude, but he was still convincing, and sometimes creepy, save for the silly fangs. Something that stood out to me was the mother feeding her "baby vampire" blood, although it was an odd scene to watch, but I never saw anything like it before, and I've seen tons of vampire films. The atmosphere, especially the college campus at night, worked for me; there was also a slick fog throughout the cemetery too. A few things made me scratch my head, such as the rushed love scene between James(Smith)and Anne(Lyn Peters), who just met minutes before. There was an interesting police angle early on, but after one detective gets killed, that's the end of the police hunt. Overall, this was a different type of vampire film than you may be used to, but it's worth a try.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
A bit overrated, but still decent
If you're expecting a terrific review, or expecting me to tear this film to shreds, then stop reading it right now, and go do something more worthwhile. Right off the bat, I REALLY wanted to REALLY like this film in spades, maybe because I caught a few minutes of it about 20 years ago at a friend's house, or maybe because I'm a fan of most stuff late 70's, especially the great music and cool cars. I can "almost" relate to the beer parties in the woods in my youth, mainly because my beer party heyday was around 1986, even though this film revolves around 1976. As I do in many reviews, I like to get the bad out of the way; in this case, the very bad being Wiley Wiggins(Mitch)and Christin Hinojosa(Sabrina), as I found them both boring characters, and poor actors. Check out their lack of other acting gigs to confirm my complaint about them. That's the worst of my ambivalence towards this film. I also thought it lacked a central character, as kids seemed to wander in and out of scenes for no particular reason with nothing special to do, there's barely a plot, added with mediocre character development. What saved the film from itself is the fine depiction of the beer party in the woods, which makes this film "almost good", to be kind. I was involved in the same type of parties, although less glamorous, around 1986 or so, so it touched a soft spot for me. During these scenes, we get some real teen angst, such as tension between characters Mike, Clint, Pink, Jodi, and Benny. Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold" really worked for me during these scenes, as it was my favorite song for this film. I needed a bit more drama though, and wish there were more scenes like these, but that's not the case. In closing, would I recommend this to a friend? No, I wouldn't. If, however, someone's interested in that time period, and can relate to some of the characters, then I guess it may or may not mean more to them than it did me. If I saw this film without reading the hype, then maybe I'd like it better, so perhaps my expectations were a bit high to begin with.
Columbo: Mind Over Mayhem (1974)
"You'll sleep like the dead"
To understand my above quote, you should be made aware of "Salem's Lot", a terrific vampire film starring Lew Ayres, who also just happens to be the hapless victim in this episode. The other familiar faces include Jose Ferrer, Jessica Walter, Robert Walker Jr., Lee Montgomery, Lou Wagner, and Robby the Robot! Let me get the bad out of the way first, as it sometimes plagues this great series; the particular scene in question has Dr. Nicholson(Ayres)basically warn Dr. Cahill(Ferrer)that he(Nicholson)will report Cahill's son for plagiarizing a dead man's work. Also, I thought Dr. Nicholson's wife(Walters)could've acted a bit more sad about her husband's murder, plus she didn't go out of her way to help Columbo. Now that that's out of the way, I enjoyed the different setting of a government think tank, with several computers, and even a cool robot which I mentioned already. Columbo's dog makes a few cute appearances as well, and that always adds to any episode. Even though the ending was original, and not the usual formula, I still think it was beneath Columbo to get a confession that way. Overall, it a solid story, with some fine acting, especially by Ayres and Ferrer.
Columbo: By Dawn's Early Light (1974)
For those about to rock...
Classic rock fans may understand my summary line, which is in regards to the murder weapon of choice, a cannon. The best aspect for me was the performance by Columbo veteran actor Patrick McGoohan, who portrays Col. Lyle C. Rumford perfectly. The other familiar faces include a very young Bruno Kirby, his father Bruce Kirby, an annoying Madeleine Sherwood, a mediocre Mark Wheeler, Tom Simcox, and Burr DeBenning. This is a different location than the usual boring mansion, as the entire episode is filmed at a real military academy! Columbo even volunteers to live with the cadets while he investigates the murder. Let me mention that the murder itself, while original, seems quite silly to pull off; also, is the motive really worth all the trouble? Enrollment is way down anyway, so closing the school shouldn't come as no big surprise. Regarding the "elusive cider", I find it hard to fathom that Rumford would continue to pursue this issue, since it places him at the scene of the crime, although I won't spoil anymore. Although these details are worth mentioning, and I'm a Columbo veteran myself, I still don't think they detract that much from a very solid episode.