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The final entry in Hammer's Dracula series, and the last pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
22 August 2004
'The Satanic Rites Of Dracula' was the last entry in Hammer's Dracula series which began with the terrific 'Dracula' (aka 'Horror Of Dracula') in 1958. It's supposedly a direct sequel to 'Dracula A.D. 1972', which for me was not only the weakest in the series, but possible the worst Hammer movie I've ever seen. I say "supposedly" because even though once again Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing's grandson Larimer, and his own granddaughter Jessica is featured (with Joanna Lumley replacing Stephanie Beacham), there's no explanation for Dracula's resurrection or any reference to the earlier movie. 'Satanic Rites...' is a definite improvement on '... 1972' though, which was the first Hammer Dracula movie set in the present day. Director Alan Gibson and writer Don Houghton seemed unsure of themselves in the previous film, not knowing whether to play it straight or as pure camp. This movie is more successful on that score and takes a new Bond-like direction which might have breathed new life into the series if given the chance. Christopher Lee was apparently fed up with playing Dracula by this stage, which is a shame as he's always great to watch, and arguably as good as Lugosi in the role. Lee unfortunately has very little screen time in this movie but really makes the most of what he's given, especially his few scenes with Cushing. Michael Coles (who had a bit part in 'Dracula A.D. 1972) and William Franklyn ('Quatermass 2') are reasonably effective heroes, Scotland Yard men investigating a secret cult of Satanists led by a mysterious recluse D.D. Denham (guess who), but Cushing steals the show, as does David Lynch regular Freddie Jones who plays an unbalanced scientist. Joanna Lumley, just two years from playing Purdey in 'The New Avengers', looks delicious but doesn't get to do all that much. Too bad there was more Lumley and Cushing (and Lee) and less Coles and Franklyn. As to the climax which many people seem to hate, well I won't spoil it, but I thought it was effective enough. If you're unfamiliar with Hammer's Dracula series I suggest you stick with the two best 'Dracula' and 'Dracula: Prince Of Darkness'. Unless like me you're mad for the Cushing and Lee team you can give 'The Satanic Rites Of Dracula' a miss. As an alternative I instead highly recommend the non-Hammer 'Horror Express'. Too bad that wasn't their final screen pairing not this!
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Fast Company (1979)
Little more than an interesting curio for fans of Cronenberg and/or 70s exploitation movies.
19 August 2004
A sentence with the words "David Cronenberg" and "car racing movie" isn't exactly something you hear every day, but yes, Cronenberg did in fact make one in the late 70s in between his horror classics 'Rabid' and 'The Brood'. Very few people outside of Canada have seen 'Fast Company', and as Cronenberg is my favourite contemporary director I've been intrigued about it for years. Now that Blue Underground have released a restored version on DVD we can all finally get to see it. Now I'd love to be able to say that's it's some kind of lost masterpiece and essential viewing for Cronenberg buffs, but to be honest it's just an enjoyable b-grade racing movie, the kind of flick AIP would have released without a blink of an eye. I seriously doubt that anyone who watched it not knowing who directed it would be able to guess that Cronenberg was involved. He himself regards it as an important movie in his career, as it was another step in his learning how to make "real" movies, and because he also met several key future collaborators. That historical interest aside it's by far the most "normal" and therefore least interesting movie he's made to date. The movie is helped immeasurably by having b-grade legends William Smith ('Run, Angel, Run', 'Invasion Of The Bee Girls', 'Boss N*gger', 'The Ultimate Warrior') and John Saxon ('Planet Of Blood', 'Enter The Dragon', 'Black Christmas', 'Cannibal Apocalypse') as leads. Smith plays Lonnie Johnson a racer under pressure from his sponsors, who are represented by the back stabbing Saxon. The two work well together and by the looks of the short interview included on the DVD seem like great buddies. The late Claudia Jennings (her final role) plays Smith's love interest Sammy, and Nicholas Campbell, who subsequently acted in Cronenberg's 'The Brood', 'The Dead Zone' and 'Naked Lunch', plays his cocky protege Billy "The Kid" Brocker. The main problem with the movie apart from the awful sub-Springsteen "rawk" score, is a dull script. With a bit more work the movie really could have been something special , but as it stands 'Fast Company' is little more than an interesting curio for fans of Cronenberg and/or 70s exploitation movies.
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Cockfighter (1974)
One of the most extraordinary movies of the 1970s, and further proof that Monte Hellman is one of the most underrated directors of all time.
16 August 2004
Being a major fan of American movies of the 1970s 'Cockfighter' has been like a Holy Grail for me for as long as I can remember. When I finally got a hold of a copy I'm happy to say it more than lived up to my expectations. I think it's one of the most extraordinary movies of the decade, and further proof that Monte Hellman is one of the most underrated directors of all time. Hellman, like many other film makers, got his first big break working for Roger Corman, directing 'Beast From Haunted Cave' in the 1950s. He then went on to work on Corman's 'The Terror' alongside Coppola and Jack Hill, and edited the biker classic 'The Wild Angels'. Hellman never became a Hollywood legend like Coppola, or a much loved exploitation cult hero like Jack Hill, and has always had difficulties getting his movies made. Why, I really don't know, just watch 'The Shooting', 'Two-Lane Blacktop' and 'Cockfighter' back to back and tell me that he isn't a major talent. After going their separate ways for some time Corman and Hellman reunited for 'Cockfighter'. Apparently Corman hated the ending and the movie is supposedly one of the very few that lost him money, but I think it's an amazing achievement. The controversial bird fighting sequences are very brutal and very beautiful. Animal lovers will abhor the movie for this reason. The morality of filming them is very problematic, even Hellman admits he was disgusted doing it. Aside from that can of worms 'Cockfighter' features a superb performance from Warren Oates, one of his very best ever, so if you are an Oates fan you MUST try and see this movie! Hellman and Oates worked on four movies altogether, and the supporting cast also includes Harry Dean Stanton and Millie Perkins, who had three Hellman movies apiece, and Laurie Bird who co-starred in 'Two-Lane Blacktop'. On top of that you have some strong performances by a whole bunch of character actors like Warren Finnerty ('Cool Hand Luke'), Ed Begley Jr, Steve Railsback (in one of my favourite scenes) and - one of the biggest surprises - Troy Donahue, who has a memorable cameo as Oates alcoholic brother. Richard B. Shull is great as Oates' partner, as is Patricia Pearcy who plays his love interest. Even Charles Willeford who wrote both the movie script and the original novel it was based on has a great bit as a fight official. 'Cockfighter's explicit fight sequences will repel most people but if you persevere you'll witness some brilliant acting, especially from Warren Oates. 'Cockfighter' has immediately rocketed into my all time favourite movies list.
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One of Franco's better movies. Not as great as 'Vampyros Lesbos' or 'Eugenie De Sade', but if you get the chance to see this film, don't hesitate.
9 August 2004
Jess Franco regarded the late Soledad Miranda as his muse and was devastated by her tragic death in 1970. The two made a handful of extraordinary movies released in 1970-71 with Miranda billed as "Susann Korda", including the legendary 'Vampyros Lesbos', arguably Franco's finest achievement. I've seen four of the Franco/Miranda collaborations to date, the others being 'Eugenie De Sade', which is almost as great as 'Vampyros Lesbos', and 'The Devil Came From Akasava', a campy (but entertaining) potboiler. 'She Killed In Ecstasy' is definitely better than 'Akasava', but not quite as impressive as the other two. I'm not exactly sure, but I get the impression that some of them were shot simultaneously. They share the same visual style, groovy music, and similar casts. Miranda plays the wife of a scientist (Fred Williams) who suicides after his experimental research is rejected by the medical establishment. She gets her revenge by seducing and murdering the four committee members involved with the decision one by one. They are played by Franco regulars Howard Vernon and Paul Muller, 'Vampyros Lesbos' co-star Ewa Stromberg and Franco himself. The cast also includes Horst Tappert who was in 'Akasava' playing a policeman. I've seen something like twenty Jess Franco movies to date, which is only a fraction of his 180+ output, but it's enough to know that I'm hooked. I find it to be difficult to be objective about his work, as even his lesser movies contain bits of genius. He is a frustratingly uneven director, capable of making astonishing movies when he really tries, but too often content to release seemingly rushed and unfinished films. 'She Killed In Ecstasy' is probably not the best place to start if you are a Franco neophyte, but I'd certainly rate it among his better films, and the utterly beautiful Soledad Miranda is always mesmerizing to look at. Newcomers are still recommended to start with 'Vampyros Lesbos', but if you get the chance to see this film, don't hesitate.
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Jeff Goldblum's character in 'Into The Night' suffers from insomnia, but if you do, just try sitting through this waste of time and talent.
2 August 2004
'Into The Night' is John Landis' attempt at a Hitchcockian comedy thriller, and for me he falls flat on his face. Scorsese's 'After Hours' and Demme's 'Something Wild' are two similar quirky movies from the same period which feature an unlikely hero taking an out of character walk on the wild side, and they are much more interesting and entertaining. But that's no real surprise, Scorsese and Demme are talented directors, and Landis is a hack who makes pretty lousy movies. Jeff Goldblum is always watchable, and Michelle Pfeiffer is a peach, but their sheer likability and star appeal aren't enough to save the viewer from restlessness. The comic touches aren't all that amusing, and the thriller aspects of the story aren't very suspenseful. All that's left is a meandering shaggy dog story that ultimately goes nowhere. Landis' usual stunt casting means that we get to see a knife fight between David Bowie and rockabilly legend Carl Perkins, and countless cameos by his director buddies (David Cronenberg, Roger Vadim, Paul Bartel, Don Siegel,etc.etc.). Landis himself plays a supposedly funny bad guy and gives himself plenty of screen time, yet wastes great actors like Richard Farnsworth, Vera Miles, Clu Gulager and Irene Papas in thankless supporting roles. Jeff Goldblum's character suffers from insomnia, but if you do, just try sitting through this waste of time and talent. I guarantee you'll be nodding off way before the (anti)climax!
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'Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein' is one of the most enjoyable entries in the utterly bizarre Santo series.
1 August 2004
'Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein' is one of the most enjoyable entries in the utterly bizarre Santo series. For those who don't know Santo is a Mexican silver masked wrestler cum crime fighter. He and his long time pal Blue Demon (Alejandro Cruz) are recruited by the local police to help in a perplexing investigation into a series of unusual murders. The evil genius behind them is none other than Dr. Frankenstein's grandson Irwin (Jorge Russek). The cigar chewing Irwin is experimenting with brain transplants and plans on creating a private army of radio controlled zombies and barks things like "We're beginning to lack fluid. Raise the charge of the transistors in the cerebellum to the max" and "They are wondering what I want to accomplish? If they knew they would pee their pants!". Santo and Blue Demon's bacteriologist lady friend Alicia (Sasha Montenegro) is kidnapped by Frankenstein's cronies in an attempt to resurrect his dead wife... or something like that. Believe me, it all makes some kind of sense when you're watching it. As usual in Santo movies there are a few wrestling matches, one of which is against Golem, an African zombie giant enslaved by Frankenstein who fights under the secret identity Mortis (with a mask - naturally!). My favourite bit in the movie apart from the Golem/Mortis scenes is a flash of a newspaper headline - "FOUR POLICEMEN TORN TO PIECES BY A STRANGE INDIVIDUAL. ONE OF THEM LIVED LONG ENOUGH TO EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED". The Santo movies are pure entertainment, and if you haven't seen any, you're really missing out on something special!
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One of the best in the Zatoichi series.
27 July 2004
'Zatoichi At The Fire Festival' was the 21st entry in the popular martial arts series that starred Shintaro Katsu as the blind swordsman Zatoichi. This time around Zatoichi (who moonlights as a masseur) is present at a geisha auction. Later that night he rescues one of the sold women but she is unexpectedly murdered by a mysterious swordsman. We soon learn that he was the dead woman's husband and that he plans on killing Zatoichi because he believes that his wife slept with him. To complicate things further Zatoichi also makes an enemy of the local boss (a common occurrence in this series!), a blind man known as "the Prince Of Darkness" (played by Masayuki Mori who co-starred in Kurosawa's samurai classic 'Rashomon'), becomes a sort of mentor to a young, effeminate wanna-be pimp Umeji (played by Peter, who later appeared in Kurosawa's 'Ran'), and also falls in love with the beautiful Okiyo (Reiko Ohara). Whew! I'm a relative newcomer to these movies but I'm really loving them. Zatoichi is a fascinating character, shy and funny, but a killing machine when need be. This is one of the best in the series, and the standout scenes are a hilarious attempted seduction of Zatoichi by Umeji, and a killer nude fight sequence in a bathhouse. If Beat Takeshi's recent (excellent) 'Zatoichi' has whetted your appetite try some of the Katsu originals. They are immensely entertaining, and I'll bet twenty bucks that Tarantino is a BIG fan.
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Spun (2002)
A re-edit and some more effort put into the script could have greatly improved 'Spun'. As it is it's an uneven but enjoyable experience.
26 July 2004
'Spun' is a mixed bag, it has both good and bad scenes and performances. Ultimately I was unsatisfied, but it has enough going for it to make it worth watching. I had two main problems with it. The first was stylistically. Akerlund uses Aronofsky's 'Requiem For A Dream' closeups/fast cuts over and over again until you're ready to scream "enough already!". Not only is this hijacking unoriginal and repetitive, it wasn't even that great a device in the first place. Despite 'Spun' owing a huge visual debt to 'Requiem For A Dream' I preferred it - flaws and all - because it lacks Aronofsky's simplistic ant-drugs propaganda. 'Spun' just shows some f*cked up people doing f*cked up things and allows the audience to make its own judgements. Basically this isn't a message movie, it's strictly played for laughs. Now I don't mind that in itself, but what I found grating was the lack of consistency in the tone. Most of the movie is very black comedy ala 'Drugstore Cowboy, 'Trainspotting', 'Jesus' Son', but every now and again there's silly cartoonish slapstick scenes and it just doesn't work for me. The real low points are the TV cops played by Peter Stomare and Alexis Arquette and the ridiculous animated interludes. The best things about 'Spun' are the performances by Jason Schwartzman (Ross), Brittany Murphy (Nikki), John Leguizamo (Spider Mike), and especially, Mickey Rourke ("The Cook"). Once again Rourke shines in a so-so movie (see also 'Once Upon A Time In Mexico'). We even get to see him briefly reunite with his 'The Pope Of Greenwich Village' co-star Eric Roberts, though sadly it's only one scene, and Roberts is given very little to do. (Mena Suvari is also wasted in the movie - no pun intended!) So, there you have it. If you're looking for characters with depth and any insight into meth addicts you'll be disappointed, but if you're looking for a few laughs you'll be entertained for the most part. A re-edit and some more effort put into the script could have greatly improved 'Spun'. As it is it's an uneven but enjoyable experience.
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Another entertaining entry in the long running Zatoichi series.
26 July 2004
'Zatoichi In Desperation' was the 24th movie in the long running and very popular martial arts series starring Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi the blind master swordsman and masseur. Zatoichi, for those that don't know is a ronin (a wandering samurai), very quiet and unassuming with a wry sense of humour, but an absolute killing machine when crossed! In this episode he encounters an old woman while crossing a bridge, and after a brief conversation with her, she tragically falls to her death. Upset, Zatoichi sets off to a nearby town to look for the woman's daughter Nishikigi to break the news to her. He eventually finds her working as a geisha and learns she only needs to pay a debt of fifty ryo to buy her freedom. Zatoichi becomes obsessed with raising the money and in doing so ignores the hardships experienced by the local fisherman caused by the local evil boss Mangoro. But when Mangoro kidnaps Nishikigi everything comes to a head in a brutal climax, and Zatoichi must save her and his own life. I can't claim to be any kind of Zatoichi expert, but he's a most intriguing character, and Katsu plays the role masterfully. I highly recommend 'Zatoichi In Desperation'.
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The Stuff (1985)
'The Stuff' isn't Larry Cohen's best work, but it's still a lot of fun.
26 July 2004
Larry Cohen was one of the most inspired and inventive writer/directors of the 1970s/80s, frequently coming up with b-grade gems on skimpy budgets. 'The Stuff' isn't his best work (I'd say that was 'Gold Told Me To', closely followed by 'Q The Winged Serpent'), but it's still a lot of fun. It's a very silly but entertaining movie about a mysterious new desert ("The Stuff") which comes out of nowhere and takes America by storm. Michael Moriarty, who was absolutely terrific in 'Q', plays "Mo'" Rutherford, an industrial espionage expert who is hired to investigate The Stuff. Along the way he hooks up with a PR person (Andrea Marcovicci, 'The Hand'), a suspicious little kid (Scott Bloom), and 'Chocolate Chip Charlie' (Garrett Morris) whose business has been destroyed by The Stuff. There's also an amusing performance from Paul Sorvino as a nutty Right Wing militia leader, and a few surprise cameos in the TV ads for The Stuff. This is the kind of movie that collapses after any kind of scrutiny, but if you enter into the spirit of things it's a hoot. Moriarty is always a fascinating actor to watch, and Cohen keeps the movie interesting right up until the final frame.
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Au Pair Girls (1972)
Pretty average English 70s sexploitation comedy, which is worth watching for the utterly gorgeous Gabrielle Drake if nothing else.
21 July 2004
'Au Pair Girls' is a cheesy "naughty" sexploitation comedy from the early 70s. During this period before hard core porn was readily available these kinds of movies were very popular in England. They mixed unsophisticated slapstick comedy, Benny Hill-like double entendres and lots of naked babes. Thirty years later they are enjoyable as kitsch but have little else going for them. 'Au Pair Girls' story concerns the misadventures of four beautiful girls sent to England to work as (yes, you guessed it!) Au Pair girls. They are Randi (Gabrielle Drake), Astrid (Anita Sector), Nan (Me Me Lay) and Christa (Nancie Wait). Randi ends up losing her clothes in a barn after the son of her employer (Richard O' Sullivan from the popular 70s sit-com 'Man About The House) gives her a lift and his car breaks down in the country. Astrid, a nutty Swedish girl obsessed with colour TV, gets picked up by a Sheik (Ferdy Mayne) while on a date at a casino. Nan is hired by Lady Tryke (Rosalie Crutchley) to be a companion for their socially inept but musically gifted son (Julian Barnes), who quickly falls in love with her. Christa is taken to a club by her employers liberated daughter Carole (Lyn Yeldham) and is seduced by a rock singer Ricky Strange (Steve Patterson). People raised on British sit-coms of the 60s and 70s will notice several familiar faces in the supporting cast, most notably John Le Mesurier ('Dad's Army'), who plays Richard O'Sullivan's Dad, and Trevor Bannister ('Are You Being Served?'), who plays his photographer pal. Of the four girls Gabrielle Drake, sister of legendary folk singer Nick Drake, and a cult figure in her own right from appearing as the purple wigged Lt.Gaye Ellis in the series 'UFO', is the most beautiful and shows some genuine flair for comedy. I've had a crush on her for many, many years and her full frontal nude scenes are reason enough to watch this movie! I didn't recognize the actresses who played Astrid or Christa, but Me Me Lay went on to become a cult figure from her appearances in the cannibal movies 'Man From Deep River', 'The Last Cannibal World' and 'Eaten Alive' as well as co-starring in Lars Von Trier's 'The Element Of Crime'! Another interesting thing about 'Au Pair Girls' is that it was directed and co-written by none other than Val Guest, the man behind the early Hammer classics 'The Quatermass Xperiment' (aka 'The Creeping Unknown'), 'Quatermass 2' and 'The Abominable Snowman'. I must admit that the involvement of Val Guest and Me Me Lay aside, the main attraction here is the utterly gorgeous Gabrielle Drake. Apart from that it's pretty average.
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Jail Bait (1954)
Ed Wood's enjoyably bad attempt at Film Noir on a shoestring budget.
18 July 2004
'Jail Bait', directed by the legendary Ed Wood, is an enjoyably bad attempt at Film Noir on a shoestring budget. The cast includes Lyle Talbot, Dolores Fuller and Timothy Farrell from Wood's classic 'Glen Or Glenda', as well as a very early appearance by Steve Reeves. Talbot once again plays a kindly cop, but this time Farrell is on the other side of the law, the nasty Vic Brady. Brady has corrupted Fuller's brother Don (Clancy Malone) the middle class son of a world renowned plastic surgeon Dr. Boris Gregor (Herbert Rawlinson). We first see Don being bailed out by his sister Marilyn (Dolores Fuller) after being caught carrying an unlicensed firearm. Despite his sister's concern and a stern lecture from Ins. Johns (Talbot), he continues to associate with small time crook Vic Brady. A robbery gone wrong results in the death of a Night Watchman. Don's conscience gets the better of him and he intends to give himself up, but Brady has other ideas... ideas which involve Dr. Gregor's skills as a plastic surgeon. The combination of Wood's trademark lousy dialogue and the stilted performances of the actors (especially Malone and Fuller) with Farrell's hammy Vic Brady and the nutty denouement make 'Jail Bait' a lot of fun to watch.
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Targets (1968)
'Targets' is a great example of inventive b-grade film making.
16 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
(possible spoilers)



I'm fascinated with b-movies, especially when film makers faced with low budgets, time restrictions and other pressures manage to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. 'Targets' is a great example of this. Peter Bogdanovich was an actor and writer but (like many people) got his big movie break from b-grade legend Roger Corman. Corman hired Bogdanovich to work on his biker cult classic 'The Wild Angels' as his assistant, but he was allowed to help with the writing and editing and impressed Corman enough to offer him a movie of his own. The conditions were he had to use Boris Karloff for only two days (initially) and also incorporate footage from Corman's 'The Terror'! Out of this and with very little money Bogdanovich inventively came up with one of the most interesting thrillers of the late 60s (with some uncredited script advice from his pal Sam Fuller). Karloff basically plays himself, Byron Orlok, an aging horror actor who feels he is no longer relevant in a world faced with modern horrors such as urban violence. Bogdanovich also plays a character much like himself, Sammy Michaels, an up and coming young director, who is supposed to direct Orlok's next picture. He assures Orlok that the project will be something special, but Karloff is tired and wants out of the movie business. This plot is inter-cut with a look at a seemingly clean cut All American Boy Bobby Thompson (Tim O'Kelly), who leads a banal suburban life. One morning he unexpectedly murders his wife and mother, then starts randomly shooting strangers on the highway. The Bobby Thompson character was inspired by the real life mass murderer Charles Whitman, and O'Kelly is very believable in the role. Bogdanovich is an obvious talent, and this is very impressive for a debut feature. He deftly switched between the Orlok and Thompson stories, and gets superb performances out of both the veteran Karloff and newcomer O'Kelly. 'Targets' is suspenseful and provocative, and shows what can be achieved with very little time and money if someone has ideas and willpower. This movie launched Bogdanovich's Hollywood career, starting him on the road to his 70s success. Unfortunately it still remains relatively obscure. I highly recommend 'Targets' to anyone interested in b-grade movies of the 60s or 70s.
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Is this REALLY a Jess Franco movie?! Easily the least interesting movie I've watched that he was involved with.
12 July 2004
'Oasis Of The Zombies' divides horror fans. Some regard it as a low budget gem, others as one of the most boring zombie movies ever made. Before I watched it I thought I was going to be in for a Nazi zombie movie in the tradition of 'Shock Waves' (which I highly recommend), but the packaging was misleading, there are no Nazi zombies and it's more of an adventure movie than a horror one. The zombies when they eventually turn up look pretty creepy, but the rest of the movie is very dull. It's hard to believe Jess Franco directed it. I understand that this was just hack work for him, but there are none of his usual eccentricities and minimal nudity and gore. I'm not sure if I'd include it as a "real" Jess Franco movie but if I did I'd say it was easily the least interesting movie I've watched that he was involved with. Horror fans looking for some obscure Eurozombie kicks are advised to watch 'The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue' instead, and if you are a Jess Franco novice PLEASE don't judge him by this lame effort, check out 'Succubus', 'Eugenie De Sade', 'Vampyros Lesbos'. Those show Franco at his most imaginative and original, not 'Oasis Of The Zombies'. Hell, I even enjoyed 'Killer Barbys' more and that's really saying something!
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An extremely underrated psycho-thriller directed by a pre-fame Robert Altman.
12 July 2004
'That Cold Day In The Park' is an extremely underrated psycho-thriller directed by a pre-fame Robert Altman. Sandy Dennis (who Altman would eventually reunite with on 'Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean' in the early 80s) plays Frances Austen, a repressed thirty-something woman who is trapped in a boring bourgeois life after the death of her mother. She becomes fascinated by the sight of a young man (Michael Burns) who sits in the park getting soaked in the rain. After her guests leave she invites him into her home to get warmed up, and after discovering that he is mute an odd relationship develops between them. We soon find out that he he has the power of speech, but she is none the wiser, and his silence allows her to open up a little. After that things get well, complicated. I don't want to spoil what follows but it's fascinating to watch the events unfold, and Dennis' performance is terrific. Sadly she passed away in the early 1990s, Sean Penn's terrific 'The Indian Runner' being her last movie. I know nothing about Michael Burns, but he is also very good, and the supporting cast includes small but important roles from Altman regular Michael Murphy and cult actress Luana Anders ('Dementia 13', 'Easy Rider', 'Greaser's Palace'). 'That Cold Day In The Park' has been neglected for far too long. It's an excellent movie which I highly recommend.
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One of the most extraordinary movies ever made. I cannot recommend 'The Seventh Seal' highly enough.
12 July 2004
'The Seventh Seal' is universally regarded as a masterpiece. It's one of those classics like 'Citizen Kane', 'Rear Window' or 'The Godfather' that has subtlety entered popular culture, so even if you haven't actually seen it you recognize references to it in other movies, TV, magazines and everyday conversation. The thing is like the aforementioned and 'Rashomon' and 'Sunset Blvd' it isn't regarded as a masterpiece for nothing, it really is one. I think anybody who loves movies will be totally knocked out by 'The Seventh Seal'. It's still one of the most extraordinary movies ever made. Visually it's stunning, the acting is first rate, and the end result is mesmerizing. Once seen never forgotten is a cliche, but it's the perfect description for this amazing film. Max von Sydow brilliantly plays Antonius Block, a knight returning from the Crusades who challenges Death (Bengt Ekerot) to a chess match. He is accompanied on his journey home by his cynical squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand). Jons is my favourite character in the movie, and as good as von Sydow is Bjornstrand's performance is even better. I also was very taken by the traveling actors who become part of Block's entourage, Jof (Nils Poppe) and his wife Mia (Bibi Andersson), and confess to developing quite a crush on Mia. I cannot recommend 'The Seventh Seal' highly enough. Don't be put off by Bergman's highbrow reputation, this is a movie that can be appreciated by anybody, especially by old school horror fans. While it isn't strictly a horror movie itself anyone who admires the James Whale and Val Lewton classics of the 1930s and 1940s will find much to enjoy here.
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Soledad Miranda's face and presence are hypnotic, and when combined with the ultra groovy score, man, that's all you need to know!
10 July 2004
I've seen close to twenty Jess Franco movies now and my all time favourites are 'Eugenie De Sade' and 'Vampyros Lesbos', both of which starred the stunningly beautiful Soledad Miranda. Miranda acted in both movies using the pseudonym Susann Korda and died tragically in 1970 before 'Vampyros Lesbos' was released. 'The Devil Came From Akasava' is another Franco movie from this period, and while it isn't as good as the aforementioned it's still highly recommended viewing if you're a Franco fan. It's based on an Edgar Wallace thriller and the plot concerns a missing scientist, Professor Forrester (Angel Menendez) who has allegedly discovered The Philosopher's Stone, that is, a mysterious radioactive mineral which can turn objects into gold. Miranda plays Jane Morgan, a British Secret Service agent who is sent to Akasava posing as an exotic dancer. When she tries to uncover the whereabouts of Forrester and his discovery she finds herself embroiled in a confusing situation where nobody is what they appear to be. The plot isn't what makes this movie so bewitching. It's very Bond lite, and similar territory to Franco's earlier 'Sadisterotica'. What makes 'The Devil Came From Akasava' a pleasure to watch is Soledad Miranda's beauty. Her face and presence are hypnotic and when combined with the ultra groovy score (chock full of fuzz guitar, electric sitar, harpsichord,etc.), man, that's all you need to know! Miranda steals every scene she's in, but the supporting cast includes Ewa Stromberg, who co-starred in 'Vampyros Lesbos', Fred Williams, Horst Tappert, Franco regulars Paul Muller and Howard Vernon, and Franco himself as Tino Celli. I can't say that this is Franco's best movie, but it's as entertaining as all hell, and a pretty good introduction to his amazing output (180+ movies!).
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Rebecca (1940)
If you want to be totally enthralled for two hours just watch 'Rebecca'!
8 July 2004
Hitchcock felt 'Rebecca', his first Hollywood film, was a compromise, but as a viewer I just can't fault it. It's a masterpiece in my opinion, full of suspense, mystery and brooding atmosphere. It's also one of the most romantic movies I've ever seen. I've watched it several times over the years, and even now that I know all the plot twists and turns (quite shocking on your first viewing), it never fails to hook me in. One of the reasons it really works is the flawless casting. I'm not much of an Olivier fan but he's superb as de Winter, with just the right mixture of charm and coldness. And Joan Fontaine is just perfect as de Winter's new bride. I can't spot an unconvincing moment in her performance and can't imagine any other actress in the role. Hitchcock subsequently used her in 'Suspicion' with Cary Grant. She was also excellent in that but 'Rebecca' is a much stronger movie. The supporting cast also includes some brilliant performances, especially Judith Anderson ('Laura') as the extremely creepy Mrs. Danvers, George Sanders who plays Rebecca's slimy cousin, and Nigel Bruce in a typical role as de Winter's bumbling brother-in-law Major Lacy. Sanders subsequently worked again with Hitchcock in 'Foreign Correspondent', and Bruce played Cary Grant's lovable pal "Beaky" in 'Suspicion'. I sometimes think that Hitchcock's 1940s movies are overlooked by many because they are regarded as being too "old fashioned", but for me movies like 'Suspicion', 'Saboteur', 'Lifeboat' and 'Spellbound' are some of the most entertaining movies Hitchcock ever made, and 'Rebecca' is the best of the lot. If you want to be totally enthralled for two hours just watch 'Rebecca'!
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If Wes Craven had retired after the double punch of 'The Last House On The Left' and 'The Hills Have Eyes' he would be a horror legend. Unfortunately he didn't.
6 July 2004
Wes Craven's 'The Last House On The Left' is a horror milestone. It's a very crude and uneven movie, but still for me a very powerful one. It contains some scenes that are still extremely intense and disturbing, and that have rarely if ever been surpassed in subsequent horror movies. I don't known if Craven is embarrassed by it or what, but he seems to have distanced himself from it in his subsequent career. He went on to make several movies that were much more commercially successful, but were a lot tamer and much more viewer friendly. 'The Hills Have Eyes' is almost a transitional movie, the beginning of the slow journey from "old" Craven to "new" Craven. Compared to 'Last House...' it's a walk in the park, but alongside say the 'Scream' trilogy it looks the Manson family's home movies! Craven was still working with a very low budget compared to the mainstream, but for him it was a big step forward from 'Last House...' the results are not as shocking and confronting but it's a lot more consistent and technically more efficient, so I can understand why some horror buffs regard this as his best movie. Personally I find it difficult to choose between the two. The story concerns a family on a road trip looking for a silver mine they have acquired. There's Dad (Russ Grieve) a retired cop, Mom (Virginia Vincent), and three kids - Brenda (Susan Lanier), Bobby (Robert Houston) and Lynne (Dee Wallace). Also along for the ride is Lynne's husband Doug (Martin Speer) and their baby. Despite warnings from a local old coot (John Steadman) they stray from the main road and soon find themselves stranded in the desert. Little do they know that Jupiter (James Whitworth) and his cannibalistic clan, which includes sons Mars (Lance Gordon) and Pluto (Michael Berryman) have sniffed them out and are miiiighty hungry! Craven manages to create a lot of tension in this movie, the "normal" family are realistic and convincing, especially when things begin to fall apart, and Jupiter, Mars and Pluto are three fantastic baddies. Michael Berryman really capitalizes on his naturally odd looks (the results of multiple birth defects), and steals every scene he's in. Of all the cast Dee Wallace went on to the highest profile career ('The Howling', 'Critters', 'E.T.' etc.), but this movie made Berryman into a horror icon. James Whitworth is also terrific, and Lance Gordon gets THE line of the movie ("Baby's fat. You're fat... fat and juicy."), but Berryman outshines them both in the same way that Krug (David Hess) dominates his gang in 'Last House...' I like this movie a lot. I don't think it's as impressive as 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' or 'Dawn Of The Dead', but it still deserves a place among the best of 1970s American horror, and should be watched by anyone with an interest in the genre. If Craven had retired after the double punch of 'The Last House On The Left' and 'The Hills Have Eyes' he would be a horror legend. Unfortunately he didn't, and went on to be involved in some very lame movies (especially the sequel to this which should be AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS!) This decision has obviously proved to be very financially rewarding for him, but it is one that will forever divide horror movie fans.
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If your appetite for samurai movies has been whetted by Takeshi's 'Zatoichi' or Tarantino's 'Kill Bill: Vol. 1' and 'Vol. 2', don't just stick with the Kurosawa classics, try the original Zatoichi movies.
6 July 2004
'Zatoichi The Outlaw' was I think the sixteenth(!) entry in this long running action series, regarded by many as the most entertaining and consistent one of its type. The films generally shared a similar plot device - the wandering blind masseuse Zatoichi (played by Shintaro Katsu, incidentally the brother of Tomisaburo Wakayama star of the cult Lone Wolf And Cub series) enters a village being tormented by local baddies and kicks their asses, but the series managed to explore many variations of this basic theme (which is also pretty similar to Kurosawa's classic 'Yojimbo', and yes, Zatoichi did eventually "meet" Yojimbo in case you're wondering!). Katsu is perfect in the role which he really made his own. Beat Takeshi I admit was very cool as Zatoichi in his recent reworking of the character, but I'm sure even he would concede that Katsu IS Zatoichi. 'Zatoichi The Outlaw' has an interesting Leftist sub-text, and includes an intriguing character who attempts to organize the local peasants into a co-operative. If your appetite for samurai movies has been whetted by Takeshi's 'Zatoichi' or Tarantino's 'Kill Bill: Vol. 1' and 'Vol. 2', don't just stick with the Kurosawa classics, try the original Zatoichi movies. They are well made, well acted and filled with excitement and interest. I haven't seen enough of them to rate 'Zatoichi The Outlaw' overall, but it's a very entertaining film and I recommend it.
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A poor script lets this one down. I was much more entertained by the extras and commentary on the DVD than the movie itself!
5 July 2004
Man, I really wanted to like this movie! I think Robert Rodriguez is a swell guy, talented, funny, cool, and very inventive. I absolutely LOVE 'El Mariachi' and 'From Dusk Til Dawn'. I wasn't all that impressed with 'Desperado', so the prospect of a sequel didn't exactly thrill me, but I kept an open mind before watching this, and seeing the likes of Johnny Depp and especially Willem Dafoe and Mickey Rourke in the supporting cast got me interested. But, I must be honest, the movie just doesn't work. Rodriguez is extremely enthusiastic about the High Definition digital video technology he used, but it seems like in the rush to get the movie made, something was forgotten - a good script. The script is very poor. The characters are almost cartoons, the dialogue isn't memorable, and for a movie with such a fast pace I actually got bored by the two thirds mark. Sure there are a few outstanding action sequences, and I can't deny that it LOOKS great, but that just isn't enough for me I'm afraid. It looks like it was a lot of fun for Rodriguez and his impressive cast (which includes Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo and Cheech Marin, all from 'Desperado', as well as Ruben Blades and Eva Mendes) to make but that isn't conveyed to the viewer. In fact I was much more entertained by the extras and commentary on the DVD than the movie itself! I hope there isn't another movie in this series as each one has been worse than the last. If you haven't seen 'El Mariachi', one of the greatest low budget movies of all time, do so immediately, but if you are thinking about watching 'Once Upon A Time In Mexico' I strongly suggest you give it a miss. Try 'Roadracers' or even 'The Faculty' instead. They may not be masterpieces but they are MUCH better than this severely flawed movie.
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Another underrated Jess Franco movie. Confusing, but Klaus Kinski is terrific as the Ripper (a.k.a. Dr. Orloff).
5 July 2004
I'm a Jess Franco fan but even I will admit that he is a frustratingly uneven director. Franco is a very intelligent guy (a child music prodigy, a student at the Sorbonne, worked with Orson Welles on 'Chimes At Midnight'), but he has been way too prolific for his own good. Almost always working with very small budgets, his movies often appear to be rushed and in some ways, unfinished. On the other hand most of us having been watching lousy prints via video, often censored and generally badly dubbed, so we haven't really been getting to see his work as he originally intended it. 'Jack The Ripper' is a case in point: it has now been digitally restored and looks fabulous, and watching it in German with subtitles, instead of a silly dubbed version, makes you appreciate it a great deal more. Ripper fans will no doubt be extremely puzzled by this movie as it has virtually nothing to do with the facts of the case, but Franco fans are sure to be entertained. The movie was filmed in Zurich instead of London and while aesthetically it doesn't entirely convince, and the whole approach is sometimes quite confusing (just who exactly is the woman in the greenhouse who talks about "pretty dolls" and dumps the bodies??), you very quickly get used to it. Klaus Kinski, in his fourth and last collaboration with Franco, plays the Ripper, and he is absolutely terrific. The bigger a fan of Kinski you are the more you will enjoy this movie. His character is named Orloff, which is not really that much of a surprise, and really this has a lot more in common with Franco's 'The Awful Dr Orloff' (1962) than any other Ripper movie I've ever seen. In Franco's world the Ripper is a well loved doctor who helps the poor of London while simultaneously leading a double life. Tormented by hallucinations of his dead mother, a prostitute, he viciously slaughters streetwalkers, chops them up and dumps their body parts in the Thames. Andreas Mannkopf plays Inspector Selby (why Selby and not Abberline? who knows...), the policeman on the trail of the Ripper, and his estranged girlfriend Cynthia (Josephine Chaplin), a dancer, uses herself as Ripper bait. Franco's wife and frequent star Lina Romay has a memorable cameo as a Ripper victim, and Hans Gaugler plays a blind man whose heightened senses prove to be invaluable help to Selby in discovering the Ripper. 'Jack The Ripper' is quite different from most of Franco's best known movies ('Vampyros Lesbos', 'Succubus', 'Eugenie De Sade'), but the more I see of his astonishing 180+ output, the more I think that he's an extremely underrated film maker who has covered a lot more territory than he is given credit for. Swiss producer Erwin C. Dietrich collaborated with Franco on fifteen(!) movies between 1975 and 1977 and has plans to re-release them all on DVD restored and uncut. I'm sure that if he does this then Franco's reputation will continue to grow.
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Without a doubt THE most underrated Hammer movie! I wholeheartedly recommend 'Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter' to every horror fan.
5 July 2004
I'm a big Hammer fan and have been wanting to see 'Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter' for a long, long time. Now finally I own it on DVD and after watching it four times I think it could very well be my favourite from the studio. It's definitely without a doubt THE most underrated Hammer movie. It did poorly at the box office but it now has one of the most enthusiastic cult followings of any Hammer film. Quentin Tarantino is reportedly a big fan of this movie and seeing how it inventively draws upon several genres (e.g. Westerns) it's really no surprise. Hammer's long running Dracula franchise was running out of steam by the early 70s, and they were looking for a new series. Enter Brian Clemens of 'The Avengers' fame, who had previously written 'Dr. Jekyll And Sister Hyde' for the studio. He came up with some innovative ideas and he thought that this would be the first of many movies to feature the Captain Kronos character. Sadly it wasn't to be, and attempts to spin off a TV series also fell through. Watching it thirty years later I just can't understand why! Anyway, German actor Horst Janson plays Captain Kronos, the enigmatic, sword wielding, dope smoking action hero, and John Cater ('The Abominable Dr. Phibes') is his hunchback assistant Professor Grost. These are two fantastic characters, and I would love to have seen further adventures by them! Horror buffs will also get a kick out of the rest of the cast. The gorgeous Caroline Munro ('Maniac') is a gypsy girl who falls for Kronos, John Carson ('The Plague Of The Zombies') is Kronos' old doctor buddy, Shane Briant ('Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell') is a local young gentleman, and Wanda Ventham (Colonel Virginia Lake in the cult series 'UFO') plays Briant's invalid mother Lady Durward. On top of that there's a fantastic cameo by Ian Hendry ('Repulsion', 'Theatre Of Blood'). Hendry had been one of the original stars of 'The Avengers' playing John Steed's first partner in the little seen early episodes. A hard drinker, his career eventually suffered because of his vices, but he is terrific confronting Kronos in one of the best scenes of the movie. I really find it hard to fault this film. I think it's a forgotten horror classic, and why anyone would even bother contemplating watching the likes of 'Blade' or 'Van Helsing' when 'Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter' is sitting on the shelf waiting to be rediscovered is beyond me! I wholeheartedly recommend this movie to every horror fan. I can't see how any fan of the genre couldn't help but love this unfairly overlooked Hammer gem!
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Agitator (2001)
'Agitator' may not be as amazing as Miike's three 2001 classics, but it's still a very good movie, solidly directed and well acted.
1 July 2004
Takashi Miike's reputation as one of the most exciting and innovative directors in the world continues to grow as more of his work becomes available outside Japan on DVD. 2001 was without a doubt a watershed year for him, seeing the release of 'Visitor Q', 'Ichi The Killer' and 'The Happiness Of The Katakuris'. Each one of them was very different in style and content but each in its own way was astonishing. To think that one man could make all three in the same year blows your mind, but when you see he also made OTHERS, well I'm almost speechless... 'Agitator' is one of those other 2001 projects, and (of course) it's nothing like the aforementioned. Viewers who love say 'Fudoh: The New Generation' or 'Ichi The Killer' might find 'Agitator' a bit too slow and conventional, but those who are familiar with any of his moody Shinjuku Triad Society trilogy ('Shinjuku Triad Society', 'Rainy Dog', 'Ley Lines') will feel right at home. The movie is a bit of an epic, dealing with power struggles among crime families after one of their leaders dies, and strongly features themes of loyalty and betrayal. This is familiar Miike territory, but 'Agitator' doesn't include any of surreal interludes or zany ultra-violence of some of his more notorious work, so newcomers should perhaps look elsewhere for a first taste (I suggest 'Fudoh: The New Generation'). However, if like me you are hooked, and are dying to watch any Miike movie you can get your hands on, you won't be disappointed. It may not be as amazing as his three 2001 classics, but it's still a very good movie, solidly directed and well acted.
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The Chase (1966)
Brando is terrific in this forgotten Arthur Penn movie.
22 June 2004
I was interested to watch 'The Chase' for three reasons. First Brando. Brando is regarded by most movie fans as one of the greatest actors of all time, but people usually only mention a handful of his films - 'A Street Car Named Desire', 'On The Waterfront', 'The Godfather', 'Last Tango In Paris' and 'Apocalypse Now'. Without a doubt they are all fine movies but what about his equally worthy performances in his lesser known films (e.g. 'One-Eyed Jacks', and 'Burn!')? Secondly, Arthur Penn. An extremely underrated director in my opinion, especially for his almost forgotten 'Mickey One' and 'Night Moves'. Thirdly, the first rate supporting cast which includes Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, E.G. Marshall, James Fox, Jane Fonda, Angie Dickinson and Clifton James. Apparently there were lots of behind the scenes problems with this movie, but despite a few flaws it's definitely worth watching. The sexual and racial themes were pretty daring for the mid-60s, and while I can see what some people are saying about its "soap" feel, it's quite compelling. Brando plays a small town farmer turned sheriff who is despised by many of his contemporaries because they think he is the puppet of the local millionaire Val Rogers (Marshall). Rogers' son Jake (Fox) is having an affair with a local woman (Fonda) who is married to a convict Bubba Reeves (Redford). Bubba escapes from prison and an innocent bystander is killed by his fellow escapee. Bubba initially plans on heading to Mexico, but he desperately returns to his home town for help, not realizing that he is being hunted as a murderer. News of his escape causes tensions to explode in the town, with catastrophic results for everyone. Brando is terrific throughout, and reason enough to watch this, but Fonda is surprisingly good, Robert Duvall is memorable as a cuckold, and character actor Clifton James ('Cool Hand Luke', 'Live And Let Die', 'The Last Detail') almost steals the movie as a hot headed drunken redneck. 'The Chase' may not be as great as it could have been, but I still think it deserves more attention than it gets. Brando fans shouldn't overlook this one!
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