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A modern classic fantasy/horror/adventure.
26 June 2012
I went in to see this knowing nothing about it, and was prepared to see another "misfire"--the typical thing one sees nowadays--a good idea only half explored or half executed. Most films I see fall very short of what I consider good and that's what I expected here.

Imagine my absolute surprise when I found that "Abe Lincoln" is 1. a nicely executed period film with great sets and costumes, 2. a wildly paced action special effects feast, 3. an effectively witty self-satirical historical rewrite and 4. a gruesomely graphic horror flick! This is basically a "10" film with a few flaws. And nowadays, that ain't bad.

The humor here is quite subtle, most of the time. This film presents what is essentially a very tall tale, suggesting to the viewer that one of America's greatest Presidents was actually also a fearsome, axe-swinging, monster-slaughtering badass. The story of how all this came to be is lovingly presented as the most serious thing in the world, despite its patent ridiculousness.

The Civil War-era story links the intended secession of the Southern states with the rise to power of vampires in those states; so vampirism becomes a metaphor for slavery and man's general inhumanity to himself. In the wrapup, evil is merely driven away temporarily, and continues to be stalked by the avenging hunters; what current human evil is today the ally of the vampires?

In the midst of what is basically an impossible and absurd story are real human emotions and a strong backbone of morality. The result is simultaneously silly and profoundly moving.

In terms of story craftsmanship, this is an impressive piece. It's an old-school "birth of the hero" story that recalls the tone of earlier Hollywood epics and historical biopics, but in this case, it also serves up gaggles of vicious monsters.

This is a film so strange that many scratch their heads, but I think it will come to be regarded as a classic of genre cinema.

Many laughs, scares, and thrilling moments. Yeah. I loved it.
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The Blob (1958)
THE BLOB.....a classic pro-society horror film. Ten Stars!
18 May 2008
THE BLOB is a great horror movie, not merely because of the vividly horrific images of its nearly unstoppable, flesh-dissolving title character, but because it features a real societal message. It is, in many ways, a "feel-good horror film." The clever storyline is helped immeasurably by solid performances from the entire cast. The two romantic leads, Steve McQueen and Aneta Corsaut, bring surprising depth and sentimentality to the proceedings. They are misunderstood but very well-meaning young people, and it's very easy to root for them.

This is a pro-society movie, and its juvenile delinquent characters cause trouble mainly out of boredom, not out of some malevolent character flaw. Steve McQueen's drag-racing rival almost appears to be an enemy early on in the proceedings, but quickly joins in McQueen's campaign to save the town from the oozing invader once he sees McQueen's seriousness. In this way, a character situation that at first appears to be cartoonish suddenly develops depth and human realism.

The authorities' initial skepticism of the kids' wild claims is proved wrong--and once the threat is acknowledged by all, all conflict within the society disappears. This unification of purpose, and the validation of the "troublemaking" teens, becomes official when Aneta Corsaut's father breaks into the school to obtain the fire extinguishers needed to freeze the Blob. On any other day, breaking into the school would be considered an act of vandalism typical of a juvenile delinquent--on this particular day, it is a necessary action performed by an adult authority figure. At this turning point, it is clear that there are no lines of division between the young and the old.

This is an unusual film in that it acknowledges the perception of a "generation gap" but suggests that it is more imaginary than real, and that given a real crisis, people will naturally band together to restore order. "The Blob" is a perfect tonic for the kind of depression that generally comes with a viewing of "Night of the Living Dead" (1968).

Much has been made of the film's cheap but innovative (and effective!) visual effects. They are undeniably clever. A lot of the gravity-defying tricks we see the Blob perform were achieved with miniature sets designed to be rotated. The camera was typically attached to the sets in a very firmly "locked down" position (the lights had to be similarly attached so that the lighting remained steady as the room was turned this way and that). These scenes were often photographed one frame at a time as the room was slowly turned--the silicone blob oozed very slowly and its action needed to be sped up. In a way, this was similar to stop motion photography, but utilizing a blob of silicone rather than an articulated puppet. Even today, the effects are startling and bizarre.

A very good film with an exploitative-sounding title, THE BLOB is a must-see.
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Enchanted (2007)
An enjoyable romp.
22 November 2007
This is really the definition of "light entertainment," and seriously, I am still smiling about it now. After getting in the way of an Evil Queen, a fairytale princess is cast into an alternate reality--the real world as we know it--and must survive there until her rescue by her Prince Charming. Hmm! From the trailer I saw, my guess was that "Enchanted" was a one-joke show, a series of gags about how fairytale magic falls on its face in the real world. That Disney has managed to squeeze at least four or five good jokes out of the idea, and mixed in a few sprinkles of profundity on top of that, is something of an achievement. As a romp, it works fairly well, and it delivered quite a lot more than I was expecting.

This is a risky film to make, and Disney gets points for having the guts to unleash this oddity on the holiday season. It's a fun film that isn't afraid to go, occasionally, in weird and startling directions.

The intersection of the two worlds--the world of faith and magic, and the world of disillusionment and hard reality--creates the expected comedic drama at first. Then the two opposing realities begin to influence and change each other in unsettling and stimulating ways that may surprise the audience. The ideas aren't fully developed, but a crucial detail was attended to at the wrap-up that satisfied me--the main characters succeed mainly because they are able to grow beyond their previous conceptions of themselves.

Along the way of telling this story, we get to see a very challenging film production featuring two distinct worlds and their accompanying designs, and the intermingling of these two worlds. It's occasionally heavy on visual effects and animated sequences, but the effects are always story-driven and never gratuitous--a surprising enough thing nowadays that it's worth taking note of. Strong film-making skills, with an old-school sensibility, are at work.

My rating gets an extra point for an audacious, overblown MGM-style singing/dancing sequence, the kind that is rarely seen in theatres nowadays. Go see it!
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I got the Catcom DVD of this and it's fun.
21 November 2007
I haven't seen this film in well over 30 years, and after quite a bit of searching I got hold of the Catcom DVD which features this film and another animated film called "Johnny the Giant Killer." (This was available on Amazon.)

I remember seeing this film on TV in the 70's, at least once; and, like "Jack and the Witch," this is a film that I saw back in the day, had vague but persistent memories of, and wanted to hunt down and see. It took QUITE A WHILE to locate this movie, as there are many other movies called "The Adventures of Sinbad." However, the Catcom DVD features this version. The DVD is made from a very murky, faded print, of course, as are many of these public domain-type releases. None of the colors are bright or distinguishable, really, and detail is hard to see, especially in the darker scenes. Still, it's more or less watchable.

It clocks in at about 75 minutes, and this is the English dub I remember from seeing it on TV. It's not the most exciting story, nor is it told in a lively way, seriously. "Sinbad's" co-director Taiji Yabushita did much better directing "Jack and the Witch" a couple of years later (there is some similarity in character designs from these two films). Still, as a warm-up, "Sinbad" is okay. More exciting because of its rarity, perhaps (it's like watching a lost episode of Kimba or Gigantor), but it's fun to watch and I'm glad there is at least one modern release of it.

A few moments do work very nicely--a treacherous whirlpool, images of wispy specters floating about a rotted shipwreck, and the famous flying electric jellyfish attack.
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Phantasm (1979)
One of the very best horror films ever! Scary and funny.
9 June 2007
The new 2007 DVD of this film features a 30-minute documentary that is excellent and covers all the major interesting points. It's nicely packaged too, the DVD case inside a color cardboard sleeve with foil accents--classy!

Don Coscarelli's "Phantasm" is a very original and startling horror film from the late 70's. A lot of horror classics were produced in the 70's, but this one in particular stands out because it is the only one that does not hearken back in some way to earlier established archetypes. All the details are more or less original, so you are not looking at a retread of the conventional Frankenstein/Dracula/Zombie stories. The main baddie is an exceptionally tall undertaker from another planet, for starters. His dwarf slaves are essentially zombies (reanimated dead people he has crushed "down to half size") but in their behavior and appearance do not really resemble zombies from other myths. This is a movie trying to be as different as possible.

Large amounts of surrealism and humor are mixed in, and the film displays a willingness to throw in very off-the-wall ideas and quirky moments. In the opening scenes, we see that spooky shenanigans are going on over at that Morningside Mortuary, including murder, appearances of strange hooded dwarf creatures, and kid-hero Mike (Michael Baldwin) riding his motorcycle around in the cemetery, apparently for kicks. After just a few minutes have elapsed, "Phantasm" is already a tapestry of weirdness, and it generally gets stranger, scarier and funnier as it goes along. The youthful hero Mike was also a big hit with youngsters when the film came out. He is an unusually energetic character who, to save his older brother and their friend Reggie from the eerie monsters, is ready to jump into the action and fight.

Not surprising that it was a big theatrical hit when it came out originally. It was totally unlike any other movie, and audiences could see clearly that this low-budget oddity was bending over backwards to deliver its roller-coaster-style entertainment.

This has been available for some years now in stereo/surround format, which sounds great and allows the viewer to better appreciate the very atmospheric musical score by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave. In addition to stereo manipulation of the sound effects, director Coscarelli also beefed up the sound effects for the famous "flying silver sphere" scene, adding stereo "whoosh" effects. I think the new additional sound effects are layered on fairly tastefully and you still get to hear the sphere's signature humming whine. The MGM release also features an "original mono soundtrack" option for purists.
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Really strange, obscure supernatural mystery flick.
16 December 2006
This is a weird movie about an archaeologist studying the culture of the ancient Hohokam Indians. She takes a (really fake looking) mummy out of a burial cave and brings it home to study it. Well, pretty soon she starts acting weird and talking to this mummy. And shortly thereafter her son becomes possessed by the spirit of the mummy. Even stranger events take place as the spirit then tries to destroy the woman's family. This is actually REALLY BORING, overall, and it will make you fall asleep the first couple of times you try to watch it. But if you keep at it, you may just make it to the end.

Ahah! What is the secret of the mummy? Is the mummy's spirit angry that it has been removed from the cave? You may not be able to ascertain what the spirit's motivation is, but if you like spooky shenanigans on a low-budget (and 70's hairstyles!) this will have a certain comforting appeal.

The way I have described the story is much clearer than the jumbled, boring way the film lays the story out. Can a boring movie really be fascinating? Well...somehow this one achieves that. Maybe this is a good movie at heart but executed in a rather awkward way. I don't know. What I do know is that I enjoyed it quite a bit, despite its dullness.

Fans of "Spider Baby" will be interested to know that a couple of music cues from that film are used in this one (including an instrumental version of the theme song).

Featuring one frightening and fairly well-done sequence showing possessed boulders and rocks rolling around by themselves and eventually attacking some people in a camper. Other scenes in the movie are merely spooky or quirky; but this one scene is actually pretty scary.

See this! It's weird and it's worth your time. You might even want one on your shelf.
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Monster House (2006)
Intense But Very Flawed Horror Movie For Kids.
31 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Monster House is funny and threatening in about equal measures, and considering its main character DJ is "growing up" and beginning to learn what the world is like beyond his front lawn, it has just enough of those creepy real-world details to give it that sting of unfairness. The warped, angry babysitter Zee and her ghoulish rock 'n' roll boyfriend are good examples of this natural human wrongness come to occupy and abuse his (basically normal and balanced) parents' household. The first two thirds works fine, mainly because it feels real.

This is a mystery story, and the explanation of whatever is at the core of any mystery story is crucial.

I enjoyed this movie a lot, you see--until they got into the explanation of "why" this was all happening. After that, the wrap-up went badly.

The whole business of a soul trapped in the house because it is traumatized and emotionally unstable was a bad idea. It introduced a lot of baggage and responsibility that was not addressed, ultimately. "Blowing the house up" gives you a big pyrotechnic conclusion but it does not free the trapped soul properly. The soul does not go through any sort of "enlightenment process" that frees it--which is really what should occur. Instead, it gets "physically" freed from the house, which basically avoids the issue.

Would have been much better if the house had just been evil. Then, if the house had been a true "bad guy" (someone evil/an evil spirit), blowing it up would have made sense.

What they used was a very poorly written ending to a film that started very nicely and delivered quite a few good scares! If you're wondering why the story begins to feel "artificial" and robotic towards the end, and if you're wondering why you've stopped really caring about the characters, this careless approach to the ending is the reason.

Considering that this is a kids' film, too, it is reasonable to say that the message that if you are a traumatized soul, your only escape is for someone to "blow you up" in a mercy-killing sort of way is VERY questionable. I'm sure this message was built into the ending by accident. But however it got woven in, I would say it's inappropriate.

Monster House is worth a look, and is very well executed in numerous ways. But don't be fooled by the rousing score and the pyrotechnics at the end--the wrap-up is no good!
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Wonderful, inventive 70's horror flick.
6 October 2006
It's got a stylish, modern title, and its opening titles are in a slick, hyper-modern font...from the opening moments, this is clearly a film for the modern mind. But it's actually a period film...and it closes with a rock music version of its theme...I guess we could call this Period Cool!

A frozen ape creature dug up in an archaeological expedition comes to life and begins killing the passengers of the Trans-Siberian Express. That may sound like sufficient material for a low-budget horror piece. But two sparring scientists on the train quickly discover that much more is going on. The enigmatic creature appears to be getting smarter with each person it kills--indeed, it appears to be draining the minds of its victims and absorbing their intelligence. There's more, much more--and you're going to have to watch the film to find out what happens.

This is one of the best horror films of the 1970's...featuring many creative ideas and a fine cast including Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas (who steals the show during his brief appearance) and Silvia Tortosa. Everyone is lots of fun, and while this film is fairly gory, it's no mere bloodbath. It requires constant attention from the viewer as the story is actually rather complex. And unlike the characters we find in most current horror films, the characters in "Horror Express" are intelligent people, and their attempts to analyze the strange science-fictional situation in which they find themselves are most engrossing. Heck, even the monster in this movie is smart.

It's strange to consider that, though it features all the trappings of a horror film, it has little of the conventional's very thinky, and so cleverly funny that the word "giddy" can be used to describe it. The cast seems to have enjoyed the opportunity to work with such an interesting story. It transcends its genre.

So much fun that the rough edges from its low budget are easy to ignore. One of the most enjoyable things Lee and Cushing did together.
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The Hearse (1980)
A lot of b-movie fun.
16 March 2006
Jane Hardy (Trish Van Devere) decides to vacation at her late aunt's country home after suffering a breakdown. She unearths and starts reading her aunt's diary, discovering that her aunt was into satanism! A handsome, mysterious stranger appears, and soon, her life begins to parallel what she's reading in the diary. Oh--and someone driving a hearse appears to be stalking her. Should she call her shrink in the city...or face the fact that events in her life have taken a supernatural turn? That's THE HEARSE--if you analyze it, it doesn't deliver big on story. It's more about the set-up than the payoff. It gives you just enough of a situation to make you nervous, and then, straight into the scares. Then it wraps up in a vague manner that doesn't answer your questions, but if you're on the film's wavelength, this really doesn't matter.

This was one of several movies I saw as a kid in the early 80's, and this particular one I came back to see a second time, dragging a friend along to share the popcorn fun. Seeing this in a theatre was amazing--imagine yourself going to see a PG-rated film in the early 80's, and watching the audience around you literally jumping out of their seats with fright, over and over again. This film actually generated one of the strongest audience reactions I've been witness to.

The film established a very unnerving vibe, and made the audience worried about the vague "evil forces" that were lurking out there in the darkness. And when the creepy hearse driver finally showed up and started doing his menacing thing, the audience was primed up and ready to scream. And scream they did.

There is also the strong feeling that the sleepy, secluded town the story takes place in is REALLY far away from everywhere else in the world, and that these strange supernatural-ish events could really happen here without too many people even noticing.

This is fun on home video, but if you ever have a chance to see it at a revival theatre (not likely but you never know!), go check it out. Maybe the days of really good popcorn budgeters are gone but this was very effective in its day. Nice musical score, too. Trish Van Devere and the whole rest of the cast are excellent. I thought Perry Lang was especially good as the local boy who takes a shine to Jane and experiences some misfortune because of it. An inexpensive, non-gory horror movie that does its job. It was worth the $2.50 and popcorn money.
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Completely Unique...Beautiful, and Nightmarish Too
11 September 2005
I saw this back when it was new, and it's strange..... At that time, it didn't seem at all remarkable, just another product of the "anything goes" 70's. At that time, it was easily dismissed--just another strange movie in a world full of strange movies.

The film made quite a different impression on me a few years later. I caught it on video around 1990, and was startled, because it became clear that NO ONE had made a film even remotely like it since. This is still the case. "Phantom of the Paradise" stands out. It's comically extreme and consistently tongue-in-cheek, but in the midst of all the laughter, the viewer's heart chips away piece by piece...DePalma baits us with humor, but the real story does its dirty work with ruthless intensity and unflinching truthfulness. There are so many ugly and disturbing moments in this "comedy" that frankly I am surprised at how dark the story is.

It's a satire of the music industry incorporating elements of both "Faust" and "Phantom of the Opera." If you are into its groove, it is watchable, exciting, and clever. It moves with lightning speed, and tells an unpleasant story--it makes you worry about where it will end up going, and then it hurtles towards a bitter ending for all its characters.

Wonderful sad fantasy with dynamite musical score and lyrics by Paul Williams. Immensely entertaining and hypnotic.
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The best Roger Moore Bond, and a lot of fun.
4 August 2005
The discarding of Blofeld at the beginning (he is humorously depicted--to the offense of many!) serves another purpose besides being just the discarding of Blofeld--it is almost as if the film is making a statement about choosing to discard cartoonish villains and goofy humor, in one move. This scene provides a convenient rug to yank out from under the audience: The film that we get is more straight serious than we might suspect, based on this introduction. So the beginning of this film really sets us up for a surprise.

Out of all the Roger Moore Bond films, this one is most reminiscent of Connery's Bond. The violence repeatedly shows a mean, hard edge, and the joking (while there) is kept to a minimum. Guess what? This film works very nicely!

There are a lot of things I liked about this one. The requisite special effects, models and stunts are there, but used to surprisingly subtle effect. The story is simple and small, and allows the film to focus on believable human character details. Carole Bouquet's vendetta-driven "Melina Havelock" is well-acted and believably serious. She's excellent.

Character actor Michael Gothard (THE DEVILS, WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS) is very memorable as gun-for-hire Locque, who has no lines of dialogue whatsoever! Gothard delivers his performance entirely through visual expression. I imagine he must have had a wonderful time with this role, easily one of his best. Roger Moore's character, generally cool and under control, nonetheless grows impatient with Locque and seems to display some genuine, heartfelt anger when he finally...well, I don't want to spoil it, so you'll have to see the movie. Suffice it to say that it is one of my favorite "the bad guy gets it" moments in just about any movie.

I also recall that when the film was new, the application of synthesizers in the music (most obvious in the title song, and more subtly applied in the score) was very cutting-edge and tasteful; there were clearly synthetic effects to be heard, but they were not poured on liberally.(Everything in moderation?) It's a little harder to notice in this day and age of synthetic everything, but the careful incorporation of obviously synthetic sounds lent extra style. (Take note of those moments involving the "Dove" pin.) It helped the film achieve a modern character, and is doubly interesting and appropriate because the action scenes do not depend primarily on high-tech gadgetry. All in all, a classy application of synthesizer. Maybe I'm going on about nothing here, but I remember noticing this quality when the film was new, and I've always liked it.

So basically, without rambling on further, this film is good, and very enjoyable.
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A pleasant surprise of a Bigfoot film! Lots of fun.
26 July 2005
The first, and as far as I know, the only Bigfoot buddy movie. Rives (John David Carson) and Pahoo (Dennis Fimple) are college students who drive their van into Louisiana hoping to find Bigfoot, and maybe some Cajun women as well. By golly, they find both, and it's a memorable trip.

Low budget horror films from the mid-70's are often many wonderful things--raw, scary, disturbing, inventive. Very seldom, however, are they warm and endearing, with characters so real that you forget you're watching a movie. But that's what you get here. This is a film of rare qualities.

The "creature" Rives and Pahoo are after is shown only fleetingly, and that's probably best. The idea that the thing is lurking in the darkness, just outside their camp, is nicely conveyed by sound effects and the actors' performances. There's a good number of scary, spooky moments. When the scares arrive, they're doubly effective because the film has taken its time building up the characters.

Dialogue will often kill a horror film, but when the talking scenes happen, I find myself listening with rapt attention. The story of a family tragedy indirectly caused by a Bigfoot sighting is upsetting, and realistically presented. And then there is the famous "Chicken!" speech, which explains why Pahoo has a deep-seated obsession with hamburgers. In addition to talking, there is also some kissin' going on when our two buddies meet a pair of girls at a local diner. Does this film feature less "horror action" than an average horror film? Arguably, this is the case. Is this a boring picture? Not at all.

Dennis Fimple ("Pahoo") was recently in "House of 1,000 Corpses," his final film role. He's just great here as one of the friendly Bigfoot hunters.

All in all, a surprising film that focuses on the people who are searching for the Bigfoot, and not on the Bigfoot itself. How does it end? Well, it's been released on VHS and DVD and isn't too hard to find. A recommended buy or rental.
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Four Rooms (1995)
Bizarre and light! You do like laughing, don't you?
26 June 2005
A few years ago I used to type up little capsule descriptions of the movies on my shelf, you know, just to have a list, and "Four Rooms" went something like: "A bellboy's first night on the job degenerates into nonstop humiliation, abuse, and torture. A comedy." Maybe I was just in the perfect mood the first time I saw this, but, really, I never had a problem with any of the episodes. I thought every one was great! The whole thing is entertaining as heck. I especially like the breezy surreal mood in the beginning (before things get really horrible).

The music hovers largely between Combustible Edison and Esquivel, seamlessly, I might add. I was not familiar with Esquivel's music at the time, and I didn't know where the older music ended and the more recent music began. The music contributes heavily to a clever time-blurring mid-60's effect. Just when was this movie made? I really don't think the film as a whole intends to make any serious points about anything. This is a gag film of setups and payoffs, featuring an endless parade of bizarre and freakish characters.

A friend I showed this to had worked in a hotel some time back and had this to say: "This movie is exactly what hotel work is like! It's not a joke!" The thought frightens me.
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I am very happy with this film.
25 April 2005
Well, I felt I got my money's worth. I have read some of the other reviews here, and they describe the film's story elements in detail, so there's no need for me to go into that territory. I would like to add some of my own colors, however. As a matter of fact, I walked out of this film smiling, and pretty well satisfied. I have seen a good bit of imported Chinese cinema, not a lot, but I know the basic product, which allowed me to sit through this feeling less shock, I think, than the people sitting around me. Had I not been so schooled, I think my reaction would've been a lot like theirs: It was really a joy to listen to these people.

For the first hour they laughed and gasped, because the gags and the action were so relentless, so over the top.

And once they were through with the first hour, and realized that they still had another hour to go, and that the pacing and intensity were not going to let up, they all fell into a stupefied, stunned, TOTAL silence. They were just flat-out overwhelmed. Absolutely dumbfounded, every one of them! So the movie finished up, and slowly they all filed out, still wordless.

I never heard one of them say a gol-darned thing past that one-hour mark.

So, yes, if, based on the trailers and the poster art, you think this is your cup of tea, by all means, do go see it, it is an entertainment.
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Wonderfully wacky 70's fun.
20 April 2005
Roger Corman once mentioned in an interview something to the effect that when he looked in on the filming of a comedy, he knew everything was all right if the cast and crew were joking and laughing and having a good time. In his experience, that energy would translate to the screen and the picture would be funny and enjoyable.

Although Corman did not produce this particular picture, "Beware! The Blob" looks to me to be exemplary of this kind of thinking. The cast was obviously enjoying the experience of making the film, and we, the audience, get the benefit. A certain sense of giddy frivolity is evident.

This movie was made by Jack Harris and Larry Hagman in the 70's--the early 70's. And by golly, it shows. Many people hate this film, and part of me wants to shout, "C'mon, guys, this is great stuff! You're watching it the wrong way!" But really, this film isn't for everyone. Not everyone likes grape jelly. Or strawberry jam. And that's...okay.

I would say this sequel to the (excellent) "The Blob" is played half-seriously, and that's why I find it so strange and refreshing. Sometimes it's a raucous farce. Sometimes it's straight horror. And oddly enough for a 70's film, it seems to know when it is being one or the other, and keeps true to whatever it is at that moment. It's not nearly as badly made as many of its detractors claim.

Watch it for the pea soup-thick 70's atmosphere. You'll feel as if you've entered another world. Watch it for the inventive low-budget special effects. A few shots look pretty nice even today. Watch it for the scene with the bald would-be victim guy in the bathtub, who throws the phone through the window when he sees the gelatinous menace oozing under his bathroom door, and who is then seen running starkers through the streets, shouting, while funny music plays. "Beware! The Blob" is extremely goofy, exciting, brightly-colored fun stuff. It is extremely representative of the era in which it was made.

Trust me: There is NO movie that entertains the way this one does. See it and treat yourself to a fun bit of film!
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Have a BLAST! with H.G. Lewis's BEST movie, probably.
30 December 2004
H. G. Lewis occupies a special place in film history; he's infamous because his blood-red gore films of the 60's and 70's were so shocking and audacious. I've enjoyed watching a few of his movies, but I have certainly not seen them all.

Nevertheless, I'd be willing to bet that "Blast-Off Girls" is one of his best-made films. I liked it a lot. Surprisingly, it features no graphic violence, and very little violence period. And surprisingly, it is driven by story and acting, both of which are fine considering the shoestring budget. I imagine there is a strong autobiographical side to this movie, because filmmaker Lewis really seems to loathe and despise the rotten, profit-grubbing main character:

Dan Conway plays "Boojie Baker," the all-too-believably sleazy band manager with big-time aspirations--he's working his way up the ladder (or so he thinks), chewing up and spitting out small rock bands; he entices his prospects with girls, and promises of "the good life," then books shows for them--but when the minimal profits roll in, he makes sure the band gets just enough of them to stick begrudgingly around. If they question his honesty, he lies and placates; if they accuse him of thievery and threaten to leave, he blackmails them. He's thoroughly detestable, and very enjoyably played by Conway.

Boojie's associates generally only tolerate him so they can go to his raucous parties (attended by the "Blast-Off" groupie girls of the title, who have basically nothing to do with the story). He doesn't really have any friends, and seems happy without them.

But Boojie's good luck runs out the day he takes on a musical group that is as naive as all the others, but possessing of a strong sense of justice. They object to his treatment of them, and plan an elaborate revenge, with the intent of screwing Boojie on a cosmic level. In classic morality-play fashion, Boojie gets his rightful desserts, although he does spin off at the end of the film (rather like Darth Vader at the end of "Star Wars"), minus one cheesy band but ready for new sleazy Boojie adventures. Don't kid yourself, the film seems to say; you might be lucky enough to send them off in some other direction, but Boojies don't go down easy!

In a twisted way, this is a charmingly optimistic film that suggests that decent people can exist in the entertainment world if they have the guts to stand their ground and oppose their oppressors. But "Blast-Off Girls" isn't really about the good guys at all; it is almost a study in Boojie-ness, a virtual diagram of the Boojies of the world, so that the viewer will be able to spot them should he or she have the misfortune to get into business relationships with them. The bands Boojie abuses wander in and out of the movie; but Boojie himself is ever-present--the sneering, evil star of this odd and fascinating picture. See it today!
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Below (2002)
Best ghost movie in quite some years
16 November 2004
This film has its share of fans, and I wanted to chime in.

I thought its visual effects were beautiful and functional throughout--this is a ghost movie, but the ghost effects are subtle, and never stoop to goofy atmospherics. Indeed, the ghost images are only a very small portion of the visual effects platter on display. Most of the wonderful miniatures and digital constructions concern themselves with the reality of the submarine and its adventures. And these numerous shots feature very little showing off--like the very best effects, they are tools to transmit the story, first and foremost. This rigid adhesion to story is visible all around, and it's very clear that cast and crew were solidly focused.

"Below" is a basic ghost mystery story (who is the ghost and what does it want), a type of film that is seldom done nowadays. A good number of these have been done over the years, certainly, and so the subject matter is familiar, but the story details/mechanics of "Below" present it all in a fresh manner. Lots of business for the actors to work with.

It's intricate, and demands attention from its viewers, and this is rewarded by what I think is a very watchable and entertaining ride, thanks in no small part to its great cast and tight direction. Yes! it's scary, possibly one of the most frightening films I've seen in years. I hesitate to call it a "horror" film, because its audience identification characters do their best to see that justice prevails, and eventually they pull the audience out of this hellish experience. This optimism gives the film a quality of fairy-tale parable. But it is certainly a white-knuckle suspense thriller.
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Simply brilliant vampire spoof, equally funny and scary.
15 November 2004
Before I get into the other stuff, I thought I would mention a subliminal element present in one of the scenes of this movie:

Von Krolock's son (Iain Quarrier) tries to attack/seduce Abronsius' assistant. In the background, we hear the sound of water dripping slowly into a basin. As the vampire draws closer, closer, and closer, the dripping water sound becomes faster, faster, and faster. (Basically the dripping sound is representing the assistant's heartbeat quickening with fear as the threat edges nearer.) It's a very subtle and well-executed gag, and I didn't even notice it until I had seen it many times.

Yes, TFVK is a spoof, but like "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," this send-up has all the trimmings--big sets, praiseworthy cast, lavish special effects. At first, it appears to be a light comedy about a couple of dimwitted, bumbling vampire hunters, but along the way, it devolves and continues to devolve, until we realize that these guys don't just fall down in funny ways--that they are, in fact, fatally inept. They're dense enough, probably, to give someone like Homer Simpson a run for his money.

The reason its fans find the film so entertaining, I think, is that it continually sets the viewer up for payoffs that never occur. It relentlessly tries NOT to satisfy the viewer. But all of this non-payoff happens in a very production-expensive way, so the final effect is that of "It's So Wrong That It's Right." It is something like being slapped lightly in the face repeatedly for two hours, and viewers who don't get that particular joke are apt to find the film highly irritating and incomprehensible. In my travels, I have found A LOT of people who don't get that particular joke. Yes, this movie has a very dull quality, but that's for a reason: These supposed "heroes" achieve very, very little of what they set out to do.

Its approach is similar in some ways to "Big Trouble In Little China," which is certainly a much more optimistic fantasy film, but one in which the main character is a loud-mouthed idiot who does very little to contribute to the film's happy ending.
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Horror with brains!
31 October 2004
This is one of those scary flicks I saw in the early 70's when I was very young (six years old, probably), and probably it was the scariest thing I saw at that time. Certainly, there was no other film like it. I really wonder what sort of attitude the filmmakers had when this was being made. Were they giggling fiendishly, thinking of all the people they would scare with these images? (Scaring people was obviously their plan.) Did they think the movie they were making was "cool"?

The action-packed climax is pretty much the last fifteen minutes of the film. The brain creatures attack the people in the house, and pretty soon, bullets are flying, axes are being swung, and brains are being sucked. In my mind, this completely, mind-blowingly over-the-top ending scene seemed to go on forever, like a seriously bad nightmare. It was so repellently real. The creatures have no eyes, and they sort of "sense" your presence electrically to zero in on you, before flying up at you and clamping themselves onto the back of your neck. The depiction of this was pretty effective, and it still surprises me how well thought-out the creature imagery was here. Surprisingly realistic.

It still works, quite well! Go see it.
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Robert Bloch doing his legendary thing.
25 October 2004
The script of this ghoulish horror anthology is Robert Bloch at his diabolical best. I only saw this recently; I've wanted to see it for quite some time, but circumstances conspired, and I had to wait for the DVD release. But it was worth it!

This film is cartoonish throughout and constantly winks at the audience, but it also has an unwavering serious side. It's very sparing on special effects (and saves most of what little there is for the last segment), and is much more dependent on its actors. From the beginning, there is an outrageous over-the-top quality that is very reassuring--it's confident that it will deliver the horror its audience wants to see. Even the funniest segment (starring John Pertwee) manages to be rather disturbing. The box says "Rated PG - For Scary Images," and I must say, the sight of a vampiric Ingrid Pitt floating magically through the air towards one of her victims is a very scary image.

One of the things I like most about this movie is the way the humor and horror COEXIST in the film. The humor doesn't "negate" the horror or turn it into a joke. The horror doesn't "spoil" the humor or make it unfunny. Both elements are able to be taken seriously. Many horror comedies, especially modern ones, can't demonstrate such deft handling of their own elements. But this one moves in a sure-footed way, and that's all Robert Bloch. It's clear to me at least that he enjoyed his work, because such clear thinking is a sign the writer is having fun.

A surprisingly effective horror film from the early 70's that still packs a punch today. I have seen the other Amicus anthology films, and they're good, but this, for some reason, is the instant favorite.
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This is very bad and very satisfying.
16 October 2004
THE MELTING MAN...a tragic victim of the space race, he perished MELTING...never comprehending the race had LONG GONE BY...!

A man (Burr DeBenning) burns his hand on the kitchen stove. But instead of screaming something a NORMAL person would scream, he shouts something that sounds like "AAAAATCH-KAH!!" This movie you've popped in...isn't a normal movie. You've just taken your first step into THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN, the famous late-70's gore film featuring Rick Baker's wonderful makeup effects. Baker was just on the edge of becoming a superstar, and did this at the same time as his famous "cantina aliens" in STAR WARS. For some strange reason, STAR WARS became a household name, and INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN did not.

It might have something to do with the fact that this movie is just mind-numbingly awful. From the opening credits ("Starring Alex Rebar as THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN"...that's really what it says!), to the chubby nurse running through a glass door, to the fisherman's head going over a waterfall and smashing graphically apart on some rocks, this film provides many, many moments of sheer incomprehensibility. "Why did they...but how come he...why are they...?" After a while, you give up wondering why and watch it as what it is--a very entertaining piece of garbage.

An astronaut returns to Earth in a melting, radioactive condition; he escapes and, his mind disintegrating as well as his body, begins a mad melting killing spree. The authorities quickly decide that the melting man must be stopped, but (probably not wanting to "cause a panic") want him captured as quietly as possible. So they send one guy with a geiger counter after him. Wow.

Storywise, surprisingly little happens during the movie. The melting guy wanders around killing people. A doctor searches for him with a geiger counter. Various characters are introduced, ask questions, and leave. Eventually the doctor catches up with the melting man, but is shot by a security guard for no reason, after he explains that he's "Dr. Ted Nelson." The melting man wanders off and finally dissolves into a big puddle of goo. The End.

It's so brainless that it somehow ends up being a lot of fun, despite a fairly downbeat ending. Supposedly, a widescreen DVD release is planned. A very special movie.
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A most shocking and excellent 70's horror film.
27 September 2004
Okay, I saw this when I was a kid in the 70's, and most people who saw this as kids at that time didn't use much of their upstairs hard drives to remember the lengthy build-up that is two thirds of this movie. The movie was ghoulishly funny in an adult way that was really beyond a tyke's comprehension, so kids tended to sit there for an hour scratching their chins, understanding only vaguely that the acting troupe performing satanic rituals on the "burial island" (or whatever it is), is doing something monstrously, horribly WRONG. What they're doing is worse than devil-worship, actually; they're being generally disrespectful in a kind of place (a cemetery) that demands respect as a first requirement. They're...asking for it.

Why these people are so bizarre is anybody's guess. Why the crazed leader of the theatre group, Alan (Alan Ormsby), has chosen this place and these activities for a night of fun is never explored. These people all simply appear to be warped. And, in the tradition of E.C. comics, transgressors are not given a chance to learn the error of their ways and repent; however silly and young and "sorry" you may be, in this universe, if you do something that the spirits of the dead strongly dislike, you will be punished--as in, you will be ripped unceremoniously apart by ghouls, and devoured. While screaming. And then the ghouls will steal your boat.

And the little kids watching this on late-night TV in the 70's seemed to understand this implicitly. It was not at all surprising what happened to this group of misguided transgressors. You may not have deeply understood the fine details of "why." But you knew SOMETHING TRULY AWFUL was going to happen to them, and that essentially, they deserved it. I remember when I watched it that before the film started, the station (Channel 9 out here in Los Angeles) would show scenes of the "good stuff" to get you jazzed, so, you knew some "zombie consequences" were coming down the pike. These people were seriously doomed. And for all its cheapness and crudity and cheesy performances, this is a very frightening and threatening flick, and no one who's seen it, I am willing to wager, has ever gone to a deserted cemetery to jokingly work Satanic rituals for the purpose of raising the dead. The rituals might actually work. And where would you be then?? Huh??? This is a feature length public service announcement to teach kids A.) not to work satanic rituals, because it's wrong, and B.) to always consider the feelings of other people, particularly dead people, because there are consequences to pissing people off--particularly dead people. As such, the film reenforced a lot of strong moral values, and did a lot of kids a lot of good, I feel.

This is a casual, home-made horror film. The goopy red blood has a little bit of peanut butter in it to make it flow better and give it some opacity. The actors are probably wearing clothes from their personal wardrobes, and those hairstyles are theirs as well. It looks like some nice sets were built (nice considering the almost nonexistent budget of this piece), but the tone is almost that of a backyard Halloween show. The participants are having fun more than anything else--college kids playing with masks and dirt and sticky stuff, just barely aware that they're making a twisted 70's morality play. This is grim, upsetting material, and irredeemably wicked and bizarre, but really somehow very enjoyable.
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Schlock (1973)
One of the funniest movies I ever saw!
25 September 2004
SCHLOCK is ridiculous, offensive, ignorant, and childish. It's also really funny, and it's now available on DVD with, yes, a great commentary track that you may have to listen to more than once; because in their enthusiastic recollections of making the film, director John Landis and special makeup artist Rick Baker reveal a surprising number of historical details.

FAMOUS MONSTERS did an article on SCHLOCK way back in 72 or 73, with nice pictures of John Landis on location, wearing the hairy Schlockthropus suit...I didn't see this issue until 1979, I think, when I ordered a back issue; but when I saw the pictures, I said to myself, "I have to see this. There's something profoundly fascinating about this!" Maybe my curiosity was aroused by the fact that Landis directed the film largely while wearing a realistic ape-man costume! This alone seemed to be proof that something strange and perhaps even unnatural was going on here.

Looking back on that time in 1979, I now realize my motivation for wanting to see the film so badly. The 70's were slipping away and I wanted to capture the "flavor" of fantasy films in the 70's. It was obvious, even before the 70's had wrapped up, that many films from this decade had a very particular style and tone--a very wild and innovative quality.

This was some years before VCRs and home video releases were really commonplace; and I still had not seen the film by the time 1983 rolled around, although I had seen a couple of clips on the Science Fiction Awards show on TV. And that had only served to confirm something that I sensed about "Schlock"--that it was unique and energetic. It just made me want to see it more. Some time in 1983 I was walking through a video store with a friend, looking at tapes to possibly rent. And there was the box. "Hey, look, 'Schlock!'" I exclaimed, figuring that we could maybe rent it. "I've seen it," my friend said with real disdain. "It's not very good." For some reason I believed the comment, and forgot all about the movie for several years.

And I think I FINALLY saw it in 1990 or something like that, after much searching; and it was under the title of "BANANA MONSTER" (I would've preferred the original title, but if a person had to change the title, "BANANA MONSTER" is as good a title as any). I don't think I ever laughed so much.

This film is STRANGE. The title monster is unpredictable. He'll be friendly and silly one moment, and straight-up murderous the next. There is a song which repeats throughout the film, called "Your Sudden Impulses." So I guess this unpredictability was the main concept for the monster. On occasion he is quite frightening, and he does kill quite a few people, for example the entire "Canyon Valley Metaphysical Bowling Society" at the opening. A stimulating and sometimes unnerving farce comedy that is not devoid of blood. Quite a lot of fun! See it any way you can.
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Like a scraggly mutant kitty!
31 August 2004
I have actually gone in here and altered and added to my original comments to make them a little less one-sided.

Did you ever have one of those mutant pets, like a cat with six toes on its front paws, or an extra ear? Well I didn't either, but you can imagine what it must be like. You'd love the thing all the more because of its flaws, because it'll never be perfect, and because it needs someone to love it. And such is my love for "The Black Hole" (1979). It is an interesting story that is rendered and explored in a mechanical manner--although visually, in terms of its set design and special effects, it is really stunning.

It's a Disney product, and like "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," it was put on the slates mainly to cash in on the space opera craze that "Star Wars" had ignited. Movies are commercial art, they exist to make money (hopefully entertaining us at the same time); and the Disney people got their best film-making talent together, assembled a dynamite cast, and cranked this out, in a very lavish and polished way, production-wise. The money is slathered all over the screen, and everything is handled in the tried-and-true Disney Studios fashion of preplanning and choreographing everything down to the tiniest of details (actors don't even PAUSE IN THE MIDDLE OF A LINE unless it was dictated, planned and rehearsed that way)...this was very near the end of Disney's run as a major producer of live-action features, and "The Black Hole" is a fitting finish. It even features cute touches, like the way the nastiest demise is saved for Anthony Perkins. If you're gonna make a slow, mechanical movie, you can at least do it with style, and they did. It is an impressive production.

In a certain way you might say I love/hate the movie. The methodical way it's constructed seems lifeless. But at the same time, it is a strange joy to see its methodical construction. It takes tremendous energy to create something so controlled. It's certainly not a film made by accident or unconsciously.

"The Black Hole," manages to be strangely trance-inducing. Once I put it on, it's hard to turn it off.
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"Let the bizarre ennui envelop you!"
8 August 2004
I had some fine memories of seeing this (heavily edited) on TV when I was a kid, so I went and got the DVD...and it's really neat to see this completely uncut. It does deliver the exploitation goods, plus there's real characters and real story.

Surprisingly well-written and well-made. If you like trash cinema, this is one of the very best, and it was made for almost nothing, but features some very serviceable performances and a nice script--in addition to the graphic violence, nudity, ritual dances and atmosphere.

Deep within the jungles of Blood Island--in the interest of science--twisted Dr. Lorca has been using chlorophyll to turn some of his patients into green-blooded mutations. The worst of these experiments has transformed into a horrible, murderous monster barely recognizable as human. It's up to civil servant John Ashley to try to save the local population from this danger. Can he destroy the dangerous experiments of Dr. Lorca?

"Mad Doctor of Blood Island" was made with total seriousness, something very rare in low budget exploitation. Characters intellectualize and debate in a civilized way rather than having screaming arguments. They wander the island depressed, questioning their lives. VERY SELDOM do horror films approach such thinky territory! And it's all done with a straight face. The entire cast is wonderful... As another reviewer suggested, "Let the bizarre ennui envelop you."

This movie is definitely not everyone's cup of tea (what movie is?), but if you like good cheap movies, I feel it is worth a look. The sequel to this one ("Beast of Blood") is entertaining, and the Chlorophyll Monster costume looks a lot better, but IMHO it's nowhere near as good as this first one.
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