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840 reviews in total 
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Bluebeard (1944)
Soporific drama masquerading as a horror movie, 2 August 2015

Released in 1944, "Bluebeard" stars John Carradine as a puppeteer in Paris who, apparently, kills young women on the side.

This is one of the dullest 'horror' movies I have ever seen. It took me three nights to try to watch it and I still had 20 minutes to go. I fell asleep on all three attempts and don't plan on finishing it anytime soon. I always finish movies with few exceptions and this is one of those exceptions. It's just too dull to finish!

The leading lady is a babe (Jean Parker), Caradine is charismatic and the puppet sequences are well done, even amazing, but these are the only positives that come to mind. This movie spends more time wrapped around the investigation of a painting, clothing for puppets, and droll dialogue than anything interesting.

"Bluebeard" was shot in B&W and is old as dirt, but this wouldn't matter if the story were actually entertaining. There are a lot of ancient movies that stand up to this day because they're great, like "King Kong" (1933), "Tarzan and His Mate" (1934) and "The Wizard of Oz" (1934). Needless to say, "Bluebeard" doesn't rank with them.

The movie runs 72 minutes.


Quality Superhero team flick, actually better than the first one, 2 August 2015

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" (2015) is a quality superhero team movie. The first movie (2012) was so over-hyped that it was almost impossible NOT to be let down a little. It started good, but the set-up went on & on and wasn't overly absorbing, plus way too much time was spent on the SHIELD heli-carrier, which created a somewhat one-dimensional vibe; lastly, although Loki was a worthy villain, his army of Chitauri were stereotypically ee-vil, faceless villains who were basically just canon-fodder for the Avengers.

I like this one better because the "origin" element is out of the way and the setting isn't one-dimensional. There are numerous locations (England, Seoul, Bangladesh, South Africa and Italy), and additional characters like Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Ultron (voiced by James Spader) makes a worthy villain and the over-the-top action sequences are balanced out by quality character bits, like the Black Widow/Hulk/Banner relationship. Furthermore, the third act delivers with the requisite earth-threatening crisis.

When I heard Olsen was going to play Scarlet Witch a couple of years ago I was disappointed because she definitely didn't have the curves to pull-off a woman like Scarlet Witch, but she obviously gained weight for the role and looks great. She has a striking face and is quite a convincing actress. Taylor-Johnson is fine as Quicksilver, but I can't help wondering why they didn't use Evan Peters, who played the character in 2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past."

There are so many quality superhero movies at this point that a new one is pretty much just more of the same. So "Avengers 2" creates a bit of a "been-there-done-that" vibe, but it's well done for what it is. What makes me grant it a fairly high rating, besides the positives already noted, are a couple of moving parts, the subplot about Thor's hammer and the revelation of another character in the third act that I wasn't expecting, which elicits a "Wow" reaction if you're familiar with the comic and even more so when you observe the tie-in to the aforementioned hammer.

Lastly, there's a lot to take in with "Avengers 2," which makes it worthy of repeat viewings.

The film runs 141 minutes.


Haunting early 1960's movie, like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, 23 July 2015

Released in 1962, "Carnival of Souls" stars Candace Hilligoss as a young woman who survives a vehicle accident in Lawrence, Kansas, and then is troubled by a specter (director Herk Harvey) and other strange occurrences as she moves to the Great Salt Lake area for a gig as a church organist.

This is an eerie, moody cult flick, but not scary at all. It's similar in vibe to 1961's "Night Tide" with Dennis Hopper. The creepiest part is the girl's lecherous neighbor in Utah (Sidney Berger). Besides the haunting ambiance, what I like best about it is the portrayal of two intersecting dimensions: Someone in the spiritual dimension can't be seen or (for the most part) heard in the physical realm. While it's overrated and predictable, it's still an interesting ghostly period piece.

Shot in B&W, the movie runs 84 minutes and was shot in Lawrence, Kansas and Magna, Great Salt Lake & Salt Lake City, Utah.


Lame haunted house movie highlighted by the stunning Carol Ohmart, 22 July 2015

Released in 1959, "House on Haunted Hill" stars Vincent Price as the host of a "party" at a mansion where several people are invited (e.g. Richard Long and Elisha Cook Jr.) and offered $10,000 to stay the night. Ghostly and spooky things start happening. Will they make it out alive?

Some old horror movies stand the test of time, like 1953's "House of Wax," even though they're extremely dated, but "House on Haunted Hill" isn't one of 'em. This is just a bad movie. It has one or two effective scares, but that's about it. Thankfully, there are some positives: Price is his entertaining self, Long is a quality protagonist and Carol Ohmart is palpably sultry, but there are way too many lame elements, like parts of the dialogue and the overall script. But there's more:

The corny floating heads; the overacting and over-screaming (mostly by Carolyn Craig); the fact that the house (actually a veritable castle) only has one door; and the ridiculous skeleton at the end that was shorter than Annabelle and was supposed to be the remains of Price's towering character. Then there's the obvious questions the story provokes: Since the guests were only there for the night why not just stay in one room together and wait it out, making sure you're not sitting under a dubious chandelier? What was the purpose of the well of acid in the cellar? How did they possibly pull off Annabelle appearing outside Nora's window? How about the rope encircling Nora's feet and then going back out? Why didn't Nora simply step away from the rope? I could go on and on.

Still, it's worth watching for the few positives and to roll your eyes at the rest.

Shot in B&W, the movie runs 75 minutes and was shot Ennis-Brown House, Los Feliz, Los Angeles, California.


Night Tide (1961)
The haunting sea on the coast of Southern California, 21 July 2015

Released in 1961, "Night Tide" stars Dennis Hopper as a sailor in Venice, California, who falls for a mysterious raven-haired beauty who poses as a mermaid at the local carnival (Linda Lawson). Gavin Muir plays the old sea salt guardian of the young woman, Marjorie Cameron a shadowy older woman and Luana Anders the daughter of the carousel owner (Tom Dillon). Marjorie Eaton is also on hand as a fortune teller.

This is an atmospheric mystery tale in the manner of 1962's "Carnival of Souls" and not conventional horror. It's interesting to see Hopper so young, normal and courteous in his pre-hippie days (as opposed to his later weirdo roles in movies like "Blue Velvet" and "River's Edge," both from 1986). The movie's slow haunting and entertaining as a period piece where you get to see beatniks partying on the beach and other intriguing things. If you like carnival-oriented movies you should definitely check this out. Just be aware that the ending leaves everything open to interpretation (explored below).

Shot in B&W, the movie runs 86 minutes and was shot in Venice, Santa Monica and Malibu, California.


COMMENTARY ***SPOILER ALERT*** (Don't read further unless you've seen the movie)

According to the literal interpretation, the mysterious old woman was likely hired by the captain to pester Mora to convince her she is a 'sea-person' so she will stay with him; the reason Mora tries to Kill Hopper's character at the end is that she THINKS she's a killer. She didn't kill her other two suitors, but became convinced she did via the captain's brainwashing. It was the jealous captain who killed them.

In the figurative interpretation Hopper is a lonely sailor who meets an older sailor, also lonely. The young sailor is looking at his future self. Mora is the savage beauty of nature, symbolic of the sea itself. Like the oceans, she is unforgiving, but both sailors love her. When she kills she is above judgment, like the ocean itself, and you can't judge her.

Then there's the question of how Mora died. The captain only confesses to the murders of Mora's suitors because he was in love with Mora and his jealousy drove him to kill the young rivals for her affection. So how did Mora die? Since the young sailor (Hopper) took the only boat and left her in the open sea she must've drowned. However, it's left open how the captain retrieved Mora's body. Either her body washed ashore and he found her or he was tailing the couple when they went diving and he went to find Mora after Hopper's character left the scene and found her dead body. The other possibility is that the captain killed her when he found her alive, but why would he do that if he loved her? Unless it was because he felt she was cheating on him.

The other literal interpretation, of course, is that Mora really was a mermaid and the old woman was a sea person as well but, if this is true, how did Mora die in the water when the young sailor left her in the ocean since a sea person wouldn't drown? Unless the captain thought he was going to lose Mora forever to the sea people and so he killed her after the sailor left.

Backwoods (2008) (TV)
Derivative killer redneck horror/thriller, 21 July 2015

Released to TV in 2008, "Backwoods" stars Haylie Duff and Ryan Merriman as employees of a video game company in Los Angeles partaking in paint ball games on a company retreat. They're mistaken for Federal agents by a Waco-like religious cult who apprehend young women to impregnate. Havoc ensues. Craig Zimmerman plays the company leader and Deborah Van Valkenburgh the matriarch of the cult. Mimi Michaels and Willow Geer are on hand as female eye candy. There are many others; too numerous to cite.

The movie plays like a mishmash of "Wrong Turn" (2003), "Hostel" (2005) and similar movies, but is limited by its TV budget and constraints. Amazingly, production-wise it's on par with "Wrong Turn" (which wasn't anything great to begin with, but it was at least passably good) and, as a result, has better women, locations and music, but a weaker script and blasé filmmaking. To be more specific about the positives: The opening & closing metalized song is excellent; the cast is good, highlighted by Willow's curvy beauty and Duff's striking features; and, like I said, the wilderness locations are great. Unfortunately, the movie often plays in a routine and not-thought-out way. For instance, would the cult advertise the entrance to their secret underground compound with can't-miss-them concrete entrances and air vents? Wouldn't they more likely make these features blend-in with the environment? Would a guy impaled by several wooden spikes be able to shoot a rifle at the hip as accurately as shown? Also, the ending leaves one element up in the air and reflects an all-around absence of imagination. Still, if you like the redneck slasher genre there are enough positives here to make it worth checking out. Just bear in mind that when the most imperative question about a movie is "Who's the hot redhead at the beginning?" it's not a good sign.

The movie runs 85 minutes and it looks like it was shot in wilderness areas in greater Los Angeles (but I can't confirm it).


Moderately entertaining, but no meat on the bones, 20 July 2015

Released in 1975, "Race with the Devil" stars Peter Fonda, Lara Parker, Warren Oates and Loretta Swit as two couples harassed in their RV by a group of Satanists in central Texas after accidentally witnessing a sacrificial murder.

This is a decent horror/thriller with quite a bit of action, mostly of the car-chase variety, but it's held back by its lack of depth and routine style. There's a secret group of Satanists in central Texas and they seem to be everywhere and COULD be anyone, even the sheriff and his deputies, but this is the extent of the film's depth. In one sense there's nothing wrong with this approach because there are serious Satanists out there and some of them have been known to engage in human sacrifice; Adolfo Constanzo's Mexican cult in the late 80s is a good example (for which the 2007 movie "Borderland" is loosely based). Satanists and human sacrifice have been around for centuries. So it's a great story idea, but it's necessary to add meat to the bones, so to speak, to maintain the viewer's interest. If the filmmakers can't do this then they have to make up for it with exceptional thrills. While there are thrills in "Race with the Devil" they're rather pedestrian and on the level of the average 70's TV movie. Speaking of which, more than anything else "Race with the Devil" comes across as a prosaic made-for-TV movie. Still, it's worth catching (or owning) if you like the stars and the subgenre, just don't expect anything exceptional.

The movie runs 88 minutes and was shot in areas West of San Antonio, Texas.


Inscrutable, existential early 70's car-chase flick, 19 July 2015

Released in 1971, "Vanishing Point" stars Barry Newman as Kowalski, a pill-popping former racer and police officer, who bets that he can deliver a supercharged car from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours. The police in four states try to apprehend him as a DJ (Cleavon Little) supports him on the airwaves. Dean Jagger plays a geezer Kowalski runs into in the desert.

This is a cult flick about the adventures of a rebel without a cause. While it has similarities to 1969's "Easy Rider," it's not as compelling and the subtext isn't as good (see my review of "Easy Rider").

The story is a big middle finger to what was called "the establishment" at a time when the Vietnam War was making a wreck of America's social cohesion. Kowalski was part of that establishment when he was a cop, but became disillusioned after he exposed corruption and was punished for it, but heralded by the counterculture. Kowalski had seen the underbelly of the "pig" and didn't want to be part of it. At the beginning he drives off the road and you see him looking at some derelict vehicles. He increasingly realizes HE is a derelict on the side of the road with nowhere to go. What better next stop than oblivion? The climax is his *beep* off moment to go out on HIS terms. Three years later "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry" sorta ripped it off. While that movie lacks the interesting (and ambiguous) subtext of "Vanishing Point," it's a more compelling watch. Despite the many car chases, "Vanishing Point" is surreal and even languid, embellished by a listless score (e.g the opening) and acid rock tracks throughout; while I don't like the former, most of the latter tracks are good and fit the ambiance of the movie.

Then there's the naked blond on the motorcycle sequence. Someone incredulously asked: "How could he possibly turn down a sexy naked blonde? What's his problem?!" I guess sexiness is in the eye of the beholder because I didn't find her all that sexy. Sure, she has a pretty face, but her body is nearly as un-curvy as a 12 year-old girl. But some guys prefer thinner women and that's cool; to each his own. In addition, Kowalski was still grieving over his true love. Moreover, the naked blond didn't play the game of seduction, which takes time and imagination. Instead she prematurely throws her entire hand on the table and it simply doesn't turn Kowalski on. Lastly, despite it being the "free love" era (1970), Kowalski was much older (and arguably nobler) than the average hippie; as such, he didn't feel it proper to take advantage of the mate of the guy who was selflessly helping him (at least not without his clear permission).

The movie runs 99 minutes and was shot in Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Arizona.


COMMENTARY ON THE MEANING ***SPOILER ALERT*** (Don't read further unless you've seen the movie)

In an interview Barry Newman very seriously explained Kowalski's actions at the end: "He thought he could make it through; and that was the reason for the smile just prior to the impact." I don't question this since the actor himself would have more insights about the movie than the viewer, but even his answer is ambiguous. It could mean (and probably does) that Kowalski thought he could make it through to the other side, i.e. leave the physical plane for the spiritual one and the (possible) freedom thereof. After all, he sees "the light" between the blades of the bulldozers while approaching. Keep in mind that Kowalski was hopped up on a lot of drugs. As such, he doesn't commit suicide in the sense he wants to die, but rather kills himself in the accident because he BELIEVES he'll make it through; physically or spiritually, it doesn't matter. He believed.

Dumbaxx kids on the run with guns, 18 July 2015

Released to TV in 1992, "Bonnie and Clyde: The True Story" stars Tracey Needham and Dana Ashbrook in the titular roles chronicling the criminal exploits of the duo and their equally simpleton associates from 1930-1934. Their crime spree comprised the last two years before their sudden executions. Billy Morrissette plays Clyde's main accomplice W.D. Jones while Michael Bowen & Michelle Joyner play Buck & Blanche, Clyde's brother and sister-in-law. Betty Buckley and Louanne Stephens are also on hand as the mothers of the duo with Doug Savant as the sheriff who tracks 'em down.

While this version is more accurate than the 1967 film with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, it lacks the gloss and style of that more popular rendition. Furthermore, it still deviates from the facts in some ways. Characters and events are combined due to the short runtime. For instance, W. D. Jones and Henry Methvin are combined into the character played by Morrissette, W.D., obviously to limit the size of the gang to five for dramatic purposes. While the way Bonnie and Clyde are portrayed in this version is more appropriate than the glamor of Beatty and Dunaway, particularly their ages, the actors are still way too tall for the parts. Bonnie was barely 5' feet tall and Clyde was only 5'6". In the movie Bonnie (Needham) is 5'11" and Clyde (Ashbrook) is 6'. In addition, Clyde walked with a limp because he needlessly cut off his big toe in prison and seriously injured the other one to get out of hard labor. I say needless because he was released early a mere week later. The fact that Barrow was willing to mutilate his body to avoid labor (or to be transferred to another facility, whatever the case) shows how desperate, impulsive and dimwitted he was as a person. Also, Bonnie never fully recovered from her severe leg wounds after being trapped in a burning vehicle. She either had to be carried or walked with a limp until her death.

Speaking of which, this version scores points for depicting important events that were conspicuously omitted from the 1967 movie, such as the stoo-pid accident that resulted in Bonnie's injury and the brutal shooting of two law enforcement officers by Clyde and W.D. at a dance in Oklahoma. Many other events are accurate, like the ending of Bonnie's relationship with her husband, Roy Thornton, whom she actually never officially divorced; the initial meeting of Bonnie and Clyde in 1930 at Clarence Clay's house and the sparks thereof; Clyde's victimization in prison (where he used a lead pipe to crush the skull of his molester, which was Clyde's first killing, albeit justified); and the execution of Bonnie & Clyde and the aftermath.

With a historical TV movie like this, I ask myself: Does the script and the actors bring me into the world of the characters? While the film starts out slow to establish the main players, the answer is a resounding yes. Although Needham and Clyde are way too tall for the roles and Needham in particular lacks the semi-sinister look of Bonnie, they deliver the goods. Not to mention, Billy Morrissette's outstanding performance as W.D., who was merely 16 during the crime spree.

The movie runs 93 minutes and was shot entirely in Texas.


One of the best 70's car-chase flicks, 17 July 2015

Released in 1974, "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry" stars Susan George and Peter Fonda in the eponymous roles. Larry is a wannabe racer and Mary a promiscuous hippie chick he picks up in a town where Larry and his mechanic, Deke (Adam Roarke), rob a grocery store (where Roddy McDowall plays the manager in a glorified cameo). The chase is on as the police (led by Vic Morrow) try to apprehend the speed trio in the Big Valley of California.

This is actually one of the best 70's car-chase flicks. It plays like a mishmash of 1967's "Bonnie and Clyde" and 1971's "Vanishing Point." It's almost as good as the former and more compelling than the latter. Larry and Deke only turn to thuggery because of their desperation for money, but that doesn't negate that the first act establishes them as criminal scum, which naturally makes it hard to root for them. The fact that you sorta start hoping they get away is testimony to the quality of the screenplay and actors. While Susan George has a cute face, her body is too thin and un-curvy for my tastes. The fact that she plays an amiable skank doesn't help. Nevertheless, the social dynamics of the trio are interesting.

Leonard Maltin in his movie guide gave the film a positive review, but criticized the ending because it was too "downbeat." Actually it ends the way it had to, emblematic of sudden hellish perdition. Enough said.

The movie runs 93 minutes and was shot in areas West of Stockton, California.


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