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Comin' at Ya! (1981)
6/10
Spaghetti Western 3D-sploitation with brutal, sadistic... beauty?
24 August 2019
At a wedding ceremony near the Southwest border a man is wounded (Tony Anthony) and his bride kidnapped (Victoria Abril). He heals-up and goes after the sadistic slaver brothers (Gene Quintano & Ricardo Palacios), their small army and the myriad women they abducted.

The title "Comin' at Ya!" (1981) could refer to the slavers coming at the couple to cause havoc or to the protagonist coming after the slavers to save his bride, but it definitely refers to the 3D overkill wherein various objects are constantly thrust at the screen: beans, bats, spears, flaming arrows, etc. even a baby's bottom. It was the first major release with 3D effects in 17 years and, being successful at the box office, paved the way for other 3D flicks of the early 80s. Even without 3D glasses, as long as you have a relatively large widescreen TV the movie still entertains on this level.

Tarantino obviously ripped-off the plot of "Comin' at Ya!" for his "Kill Bill" (2003). The style & content are reminiscent of Leone's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (1966), but has better cinematography, superior colors, more action and doesn't overstay its welcome. Unfortunately, like all Leone-styled Spaghetti Westerns, the characters are either caricatures (the slaver brothers) or cardboard thin (the hero & his wife), which makes 'em uninteresting. There's barely any dialogue with no verbiage at all until almost the 13-minute mark.

Some people call "Comin' at Ya!" garbage, obviously because of the sadistic brutalities and horrific components (e.g. the rat attack), but there's an undeniable artistic genius to the filmmaking. For its DVD release (2016), the digital transfer was subjected to CGI alterations. The most obvious of these was the changing of some shots to B&W with one or two elements of color within the shot. I thought this improved the film.

The film runs 1 hour, 28 minutes, and was shot in Desierto de Tabernas, Almería, Andalucía, Spain.

GRADE: B-
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6/10
Serious take on the masked Western hero with a glimmer of fun
23 August 2019
The lone survivor of an ambush of a Texas Ranger patrol (Klinton Spilsbury) is rescued by his childhood AmerIndian friend, Tonto (Michael Horse). He becomes the Lone Ranger and, along with Tonto, they go after the traitor & outlaw gang that orchestrated the massacre. Christopher Lloyd plays the villain, Matt Clark the crooked sheriff, Juanin Clay the beautiful lady and Jason Robards President Grant.

"The Legend of the Lone Ranger" (1981) is the first cinematic depiction of this Western hero, not counting the movies strewn together from the TV series (1949-1957) featuring Clayton Moore in the titular role. It's similar to "Mackenna's Gold" (1969) mixed with "The Comancheros" (1961) and its unacknowledged remake "Rio Conchos" (1964). All of these Westerns have a similar comic book tone, Southwest setting and a plot revolving around a veteran Civil War megalomaniac.

The difference is that "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" adds the masked Western hero angle, akin to the later "The Mask of Zorro" (1998), but this doesn't even occur until two minutes shy of the hour mark. From there, whenever the masked avenger shows up along with the corresponding "William Tell Overture" and "Hi, ho, Silver, Away!" it spurs chuckles. But, disregarding that, this is a standard comic book Western with a respectful, serious take on the legend.

This was lead actor Spilsbury's lone venture into cinema after only two small TV gigs. He looks the part and has the charisma, but the script doesn't give his character enough dimension and his voice was dubbed with James Keach's deeper vox. His fellow actors in the movie said this was unnecessary since there was nothing wrong with Spilsbury's voice (obviously the producers just wanted a deeper vox). Meanwhile, it's nice to see winsome Juanin Clay again (who had a significant role in the Buck Rogers episode "Vegas in Space" two years earlier), but not enough is done with her.

Unfortunately, bad publicity resulting from the studio's ill-advised lawsuit with Clayton Moore over his wearing the mask in public appearances tarnished the film's premiere. This combined with the recent box office bomb of "Heaven's Gate" (1980) and the general public disinterest in Westerns at the time doomed the movie. But, if you appreciate any of those Westerns noted above, it's worth a look even though the Johnny Depp version is all-around more entertaining (2013).

The film runs 1 hour, 38 minutes, and was shot Arizona (Monument Valley), New Mexico (Bonanza Creek Ranch and Eaves Movie Ranch in Santa Fe, Cook Ranch in Galisteo, Abiquiu), Southern Cal (Bronson Canyon Vasquez Rocks) and Utah (Moab, Monument Valley).

GRADE: B-
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6/10
Quaint town-bound Western soap opera with Randolph Scott
22 August 2019
Two ex-Confederates (Randolph Scott & Noah Beery Jr.) arrive in the town of Sundown on the wedding day of the town boss (John Carroll), whom the leader of the two (Scott) blames for someone's death years earlier. Andrew Duggan plays the crooked sheriff.

"Decision at Sundown" (1957) has the typical Western tropes: bold stranger, his amiable sidekick, the tyrannical town boss, his crooked sheriff, their hired guns, the good girl, the bad girl, and the quaint town setting filled with the typical characters (the barber, the doctor, the minister, etc.). All of these are routine for traditional Westerns.

What sets "Decision at Sundown" apart are the interesting nuances of the protagonist and antagonist. The villain is the standard town kingpin with his bought sheriff & gunmen that overwhelm the town folk. The hero is the stock laconic outsider who rides in on a duty of vengeance.

The modification is the character of the hero and villain. Bart Allison (Scott) is noble on the surface, but he's a curious and flawed protagonist. He lacks insight to his wife's character. What happens to her while Bart is fighting the war is revealing and begs the question: What kind of husband was he? His legalism might attract respect superficially, but repel those closer.

Tate Kimbrough (Carroll) is the ruthless town boss, but he has undeniable charisma and is a lady's man. He has an open relationship with a courtesan, Ruby (Valerie French), while intending to wed the good girl, Lucy (Karen Steele). Moreover, he obviously has no qualms about having affairs with married ladies. Nevertheless, he's likable, level-headed and robust. He loves and understands the fairer sex. He's honest with them concerning his questionable morals, yet his charisma draws them regardless. The respectable Lucy concedes that she pursued him. It's not hard seeing Errol Flynn or Clark Gable in this gig.

These distinguishing elements make "Decision at Sundown" worthwhile, but they don't remove the fact that it's a town-bound Western soap opera that lacks the mesmerizing style of "Rio Bravo" (1959).

The film runs 1 hour, 17 minutes, and was shot at Agoura, California.

GRADE: C+/B-
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5/10
Indie flick starts shaky with contrived teen attitudes, but improves and is moving
22 August 2019
A single woman (Madelyn Deutch) moves in with her aunt in Paris, Tennessee, to teach history at the local school where her students are so problematic she's tempted to quit. The class is forced to meet at a KOA office due to flooding problems at the school wherein Ms. Hoog decides to send the kids on treasure hunts to learn about local history. But this stirs the ire of the biddies on the school board. Linc Hand is on hand as her potential beau.

"Painted Horses" (2017) is one of those super low-budget movies by indie filmmakers who want to take advantage of their beloved local region, like "The Legend of Tillamook's Gold" (2006) and "Falcon Song" (2014). The production quality of these flicks isn't quite up to the standards of TV movies, which doesn't mean they have no worth. You just have to be braced for a movie of this caliber.

These indies usually run anywhere from $50,000-$150,000, give or take, depending on how much was spent on cast, lodging, catering, travel and so forth. "Another Kind" (2013) was made for $120,000 and is a superb example of how a professional-class film can be made for this kind of micro-budget. Even spare-change flicks, like "A Bothered Conscience," which only cost $2300, can be effective if the filmmaker & crew are talented enough and make use of their resources efficiently.

So how does "Painted Horses" stack up? The classroom scenes in the first half hour are weak and seriously tempted me to tune out. The kids with attitudes lay it on too thick and come off contrived and unconvincing. Yet "The Breakfast Club" (1985) had the same problem and it was a blockbuster, so this can be forgiven. Thankfully, the movie improves in the second half as the teacher gets to know the students and they turn out to be human beings. A little bit o' "Dead Poets Society" (1989) is naturally included in the mix.

There's no problem with the main actors, that is, Deutch, Hand, Deana Carter (Aunt Nora) and Tommy Cresswell (the principal); they all heartily rise to the challenge and give it their best. There are predictable elements but, nevertheless, I found the ending heartwarming.

The film runs 1 hour, 31 minutes, and was shot in Paris, Tennessee.

GRADE: C
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Labor Day (2013)
8/10
Menaced by a fugitive or relishing a Godsend in New Hampshire?
21 August 2019
A depressed single woman (Kate Winslet) from New Hampshire is compelled to give a questionable man a ride (Josh Brolin) and allows him to briefly recuperate at her verging-on-rundown house where she lives with her son who's almost 13 (Gattlin Griffith). How will their Labor Day weekend go? James Van Der Beek has a small role as a cop.

"Labor Day" (2013) is a superb adult-oriented drama with an understated sense of possible menace mixed with a little romance. There are elements of "A Perfect World" (1993), "The Bridges of Madison County" (1995), "Macho Callahan" (1970) and "The Place Beyond the Pines" (2012).

This is a spiritual movie about the tragedies and blisses of the human experience. Masculinity is portrayed in a positive way for a change while not neglecting to illustrate its potential drawbacks. Winslet is excellent in her role; she gets more beautiful as she ages. Meanwhile the stunning Maika Monroe has a peripheral role.

The film runs 1 hour, 51 minutes, and was shot mostly in Massachusetts (e.g. Shelburne Falls), as well as Salem, New Hampshire.

GRADE: A-
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6/10
Serious 60's 'B' Western chronicling Dracula's visit to the Southwest
20 August 2019
The diabolic Count (John Carradine) travels to the Southwest in the late 1800s and masquerades as the uncle of a beautiful girl that the vampire wants to make his wife (Melinda Casey). But her beau, Billy the Kid (Chuck Courtney), gains increasing evidence of the true identity of her "uncle."

The mere title "Billy the Kid Versus Dracula" (1966) spurs giggles, which isn't helped by the cheesy looking bat in the opening scene, not to mention the hokey credits. If you can get past these drawbacks, the movie's well done for a 'B' Western: It has an interesting story & characters and a quality cast that takes the material seriously.

The concept isn't that laughable when you consider that Bram Stoker's book debuted in 1897 and the fact that vampires are immortal unless destroyed. Since Dracula visited England in the novel, far from his native Transylvania, why not the American Southwest at some point? It also helps to understand both Dracula and Billy the Kid as cultural archetypes, mythical figures that can manifest in an infinite number of interpretations and reinterpretations. Just as there are many ways to play Robin Hood or James Bond, so there are myriad ways to depict Billy the Kid or Dracula. They can be whatever the creators want them to be.

Someone pointed out the seeming contradiction of bullets not hurting Dracula while a gun to the face does. On the surface this seems like an inconsistency, yet it can be explained if you read between the lines: Dr. Henrietta Hull in the flick explains that vampires are "undead" and sorta like ghosts that can morph into bats or manifest seemingly out of nowhere (which is illustrated several times in the movie). But they have to 'solidify' to function in the natural realm wherein people are able to touch them, like Betty (Melinda Casey). So, when the gun is thrown at the vampire he was caught off guard and evidently failed to de-solidify in time.

Another possibility is that the vampire is vulnerable to silver and Billy's gun was silver-plated. But, if vampires are weakened by silver, why did the Count set up operations in a silver mine? Because it had been defunct for years and any remaining silver would be deep within the earth far away from where Drac would conduct his diabolic ceremony. He needed the mine for this unholy ritual because it was located in the bowels of the earth, completely cutting him off from the weakening power of the sun, as well as unwanted interruptions from potential interlopers.

Speaking of the sun, in Bram Stoker's novel Dracula COULD operate during daylight hours, but it wasn't preferable and direct exposure to the sun severely weakened his supernatural powers, yet it couldn't kill him.

The film runs 1 hour, 13 minutes, and was shot at Ray Corrigan Ranch, Simi Valley, California, with studio work done in Hollywood.

GRADE: B-
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7/10
Moving account of the last days of Bill Doolin's gang and the teen girls who joined 'em
19 August 2019
Two teen girls (Amanda Plummer & Diane Lane) hook up with the Doolin-Dalton Gang in 1890's Oklahoma Territory, but Bill Doolin (Burt Lancaster) is tired and the gang's heyday is behind them. Meanwhile Marshal Tilghman (Rod Steiger) is intent on putting the kibosh on the wild bunch. Scott Glenn and John Savage are on hand as members of the gang.

"Cattle Annie and Little Britches" (1981) is similar in tone to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) and, like that film, was based on the real-life account, albeit loosely. "Young Guns" (1988) and "Young Guns II" (1990) did the same with the Billy the Kid story. The film starts off like "Bad Company" (1972) mixed with the fun spirit of "Butch Cassidy," but becomes weightier as it moves along with some pretty moving moments.

Plummer was 23 during filming while Lane was only 15. The former is utterly convincing as the sassy Annie and Savage is notable as her taciturn quasi-beau. The superb folk songs by Sahn Berti & Tom Slocum are stirring and sometimes profound. It's an inexplicably obscure Western, hardly promoted and barely released. I guess studios were gun shy after the devastating failure of "Heaven's Gate" (1980).

The film runs 1 hours, 37 minutes, and was shot in Durango, Mexico, about 1200 miles southeast of the real-life events.

GRADE: B
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6/10
Grim early 70's Western with Oliver Reed, Gene Hackman and Candice Bergen
18 August 2019
In the Southwest, an outlaw gang led by Frank Calder (Oliver Reed) kidnaps a school teacher (Candice Bergen) so he can learn how to read. Unfortunately for them, she's the wife of a sadistic wealthy rancher (Gene Hackman) and he's coming with his personal posse to hunt 'em down with high-powered rifles. Mitchell Ryan, Simon Oakland and L.Q. Jones are also on hand.

"The Hunting Party" (1971) treads similar terrain of two earlier Westerns: "Bandolero!" (1968) and "Macho Callahan" (1970). There are also elements of the later "The Train Robbers" (1973). But "The Hunting Party" is the least of these, although it's not far off. It's worth catching just to see Reed star in a Western (he's essentially the British version of Brando), not to mention the potent sequence between Frank (Reed), Doc (Ryan) and Melissa (Bergen) in the last act. The grim climax is memorable as well.

There's a lot of Peckinpah-styled violence. One effective scene involves someone getting shot in the face with a shotgun. There are also a couple of rough adult-oriented sequences. The problem is, the characters are too shallow to care much when their lives are eventually threatened. There's loads of quality emoting by the actors, but not enough character-defining moments, which was expertly done in "Bandolero!"

Speaking of which, the issue of Stockholm syndrome rears its head. This condition occurs when a strong emotional link develops between captor and captive wherein the former intermittently abuses the other in one way or another, whether beatings, threats, intimidation or harassment. Melissa gets to know Frank & Doc and slowly discovers that they're not outright evil. They're basically goodhearted people trapped in a tough lifestyle.

The film runs 1 hour, 51 minutes, and was shot in Spain (Almeria and Granada, with interior stuff done in Madrid).

GRADE: B-
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The Claim (2000)
8/10
The beginning and end of a boom town in the Sierra Nevadas
17 August 2019
During the California gold rush of 1849 a desperate man establishes a boom town in the Sierra Nevadas. Eighteen years later his abandoned wife & daughter (Nastassja Kinski & Sarah Polley) ride into town and turn his life (Peter Mullan) upside down. Milla Jovovich plays his singing saloon babe while Wes Bentley is on hand as a surveyor for the railroad that's coming through.

"The Claim" (2000) is a top-of-the-line Western that inexplicably fell through the cracks when it was released. It has similarities to "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (1971), but with more interesting characters, a more compelling story and spectacular locations, not to mention less focus on a house of ill repute.

If you appreciate grim, realistic Westerns like "The Great Silence" (1968), "Bad Company" (1972), "The Missouri Breaks" (1976), "Heaven's Gate" (1980), "Unforgiven" (1992) and "North Star" (1996), you'll like this one. It's as good or, in most cases, better. I should add that it's not all grim; there are glimmerings of light.

The film runs 2 hours and was shot at Fortress Mountain, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, with the train sequences filmed in Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Colorado.

GRADE: A-/B+
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6/10
Dreary, realistic Western about a brothel in a remote town in the Great Northwest
16 August 2019
A gambling businessman (Warren Beatty) rides into a secluded town near Puget Sound, Washington, and starts a house of ill repute with a professional madam (Julie Christie). When he arrogantly refuses the offers of a major corporation to buy him out, they send grim men to take care of the situation.

Being a Robert Altman picture, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (1971) isn't your typical Western, although the gunfight in the third act is reminiscent of "High Noon" (1952). The topic is unsavory, reveling in the ugly side of life and the Old West. On top of that, the first half is tediously mundane with an overuse of Leonard Cohen's monotone folk ditties ("The Stranger Song", "Sisters of Mercy" and "Winter Lady"), although they fit the mood.

There are glimmerings of light, however, and the town set is convincing, half-built for the movie. The unexciting opening sets the stage for a powerful second half. Hugh Millais as the hulking Butler is quietly menacing. There's an unforgettable scene with Keith Carradine and Hans at a rope bridge (the latter's name may not be Hans, but it looks like it).

At the end of the day, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is professionally made and timeless (it's barely aged at all). Whether or not you like it is a matter of taste. I have mixed feelings, but its positive points make it worthwhile. It's vastly superior to Altman's dreadful "Buffalo Bill and the Indians" (1976). At least he takes chances, even if they're not always completely successful.

The film runs 2 hours and was shot in the Vancouver area, British Columbia: West Vancouver (Presbyterian Church), Squamish (Bearpaw) & Howe Sound.

GRADE: B-
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7/10
Weighty, morose period drama with complex characters and Daniel Day-Lewis
15 August 2019
In the early 20th century, an industrious prospector in Southern California, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), becomes a shrewd oil magnate, whose journey is paralleled with a dubious Pentecostal pastor of a remote church, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano).

"There Will Be Blood" (2007) is a one-of-a-kind period drama with Western elements. It's arty and the furthest thing from a conventional blockbuster. You have to be in the mode for a deep, slow-moving, epic flick like this in order to appreciate it. The contemporaneous "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and "No Country for Old Men" are good comparisons.

Whilst the story and main characters are simple on the surface, they go deep and there are many gems to mine: What good is success if you have no one to love and enjoy it with? Is Daniel a sociopath or a quality individual who acquires sociopathic tendencies because his choices put him on the road of madness? Was Eli a "false prophet"? If so, was he always a con or did he become one?

Why is Eli paralleled with Daniel? Does Daniel have the capacity for genuine love? Does he mean what he ultimately says to HW or are they words born from a sense of betrayal? Would a sane person rashly resort to murder? Is there a positive protagonist in the movie? If so, who and why? If not, why not?

The film runs 2 hours, 38 minutes, and was shot in Southern Cal and Texas (Shafter & Marfa); and Lakewood, Washington (Thornewood Castle).

GRADE: B
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7/10
A radical Left-winger falls in love with a more conservative WASP on the verge of WW2 and post-war
14 August 2019
A disparate couple meets in college in 1937, New York, and then reignite after the war. Katie (Barbra Streisand) is an uber-Liberal while Hubbell (Robert Redford) is more levelheaded about politics. He becomes a writer in Hollywood during the blacklist investigations of the late 40s wherein Katie's activism threatens his social life and career. The story closes in 1957.

"The Way We Were" (1973) is a classic drama/romance, much acclaimed in its day. The vibe is similar to "Love Story" (1970) but this has superior characters and a more interesting setting.

It's interesting to see how loony Liberals existed way back then in the 30s-40s. The movie works because it wisely makes Katie three-dimensional. Sure, she's a typical INtolerant, obnoxious Leftie, but she also has a human side, a warm and humble side. Meanwhile Redford is at the top of his game here. Streisand incidentally developed a crush on Redford during shooting, but didn't share her feelings. He feigned ignorance and used Barbra's infatuation for the benefit of the movie.

There has been some confusion about the last act. Pay attention to what Hubbell says. What happens has nothing to do with Carol Ann and everything to do with the obvious.

The film runs 1 hour, 58 minutes, and was shot in Union College in Schenectady, New York; Ballston Spa in upstate New York; New York City; Malibu; and nearby Union Station in Los Angeles. The peripheral cast includes Bradford Dillman, Lois Chiles and James Woods.

GRADE: B
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7/10
Pretty good bear attack flick with James Marsden, Thomas Jane and Piper Perabo
13 August 2019
Several people coalesce in a region of Alaska called the Grizzly Maze where a rogue bear is on the loose: A local man recently released from prison (James Marsden), his ex-girlfriend (Michaela McManus), his estranged deputy brother (Thomas Jane), the deputy's photographer wife (Piper Perabo), a half-crazy hunter (Billy Bob Thornton), a compromised sheriff (Scott Glenn) and an AmerIndian poacher (Adam Beach).

"Into the Grizzly Maze" (2015) is a bear attack movie and, more generally, a wilderness adventure/thriller. When it comes to these types of films "The Edge" (1997) reigns supreme, as does the brooding "Hold the Dark" (2018), although the latter has no bear (actually "The Edge" is only partially a bear attack movie, as it goes much deeper than that, like "Hold the Dark"). While nowhere near as effective as "The Edge" and "Hold the Dark," "Into the Grizzly Maze" is about on par with the Indie "Backcountry" (2014) in all-around entertainment; and it's superior to the prosaic "Grizzly" (1976).

Where "Into the Grizzly Maze" excels is the locations and awesome cinematography. This might be the best-looking forest flick ever made. The cast is exceptional too. In these areas it's superior to all the above movies with the possible exception of "The Edge" where it's at least on par. The conflict-habituated relationship of the brothers (Marsden and Jane) is amusing and it's nice to see Piper Perabo again, who was about 38 during shooting and looking better than ever, top to bottom. Meanwhile McManus has a stunning face and mesmerizing eyes.

The film runs 1 hour, 34 minutes, and was shot in the Vancouver area, British Columbia, and Big Bear, California (the bar scene).

GRADE: B/B-
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6/10
What if animals went batty and attacked humans?
12 August 2019
Animals at high altitudes go crazy in the Sierra Nevada Mountains due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation, the result of depletion of the ozone layer. A dozen hikers regrettably get dropped off up there by helicopter just before the quarantine is announced. The backpackers are played by the likes of Christopher George (the guide), Leslie Nielsen (a boorish exec), Lynda Day George (an anchorwoman), Richard Jaeckel (a professor) and Michael Ansara (an AmerIndian guide).

"Day of the Animals" (1977) is a nature-strikes-back flick cut from the same cloth as "The Birds" (1963), "Frogs" (1972) and "Grizzly" (1976). It was made by the director of the latter, William Girdler, who died at the age of 30 in early 1979 while scouting locations for his next film in the Philippines when his helicopter hit electrical lines.

Although "Day" is superior to "Grizzly," it's not on the level of "The Birds." The characters are dull except for those played by Nielsen, Ansara and George. It doesn't help that Girdler doesn't know how to photograph women, although he had the resources: blonde Susan Backlinie (Mandy) and brunette Kathleen Bracken (Beth).

The first half is relatively tedious, but things pick up for the second and the animals are wonderful (hawks, vultures, cougars, snakes, rats and a bear). Speaking of the bear, Nielsen's mad showdown with a bruin is a highlight, although the idea was lifted from the end of "Sands of the Kalahari" (1965).

The film runs 1 hour, 37 minutes, and was shot in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Long Barn, California, about 25 miles northwest of Yosemite National Park.

GRADE: B-
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Alligator (1979)
6/10
A monstrous crocogator attacks a resort on Sri Lanka in this Italo rip-off of "Jaws"
11 August 2019
An entrepreneur (Mel Ferrer) introduces his new exotic resort off the coast of south-central Asia to a photographer and employee (Claudio Cassinelli & Barbara Bach). When the 'god' of the remote river is angered by the intrusion he manifests as a giant alligator and starts killing people, including Natives. Naturally, the local tribe rises up to get rid of the tourists.

"The Great Alligator" (1979) is an Italian production, also known as "The Great Alligator River," "The Big Alligator River" or merely "Alligator." It's an Italo knock-off of "Jaws" (1975) and its immediate copies "Piranha" (1978) and "Grizzly" (1976), albeit with a huge crocogator and a south-central Asian setting. It lacks the finesse of "Jaws" and the amusement of "Piranha," but it has more pizazz than the bland "Grizzly." The eccentric score is a highlight, mixing 70's prog rock, tribal percussions and disco.

Lory Del Santo as Jane is notable as one of the partying tourists; she is featured in two superb shots from behind (you'll know when you see 'em). There's also an amusing precocious girl with her mother who's ready to par-tay. Just don't look for any semblance of political correctness (which is a good thing).

The movie runs 1 hour, 29 minutes, and was shot in Sri Lanka.

GRADE: B-/C+
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6/10
How a beautiful woman affects men
10 August 2019
An attractive, but otherwise normal and decent teen girl (Alicia Silverstone), takes a short-notice babysitting gig in the Los Angeles area. She unknowingly stirs the fantasies of the middle-aged husband of the house (J.T. Walsh), the preadolescent boy, her current boyfriend (Jeremy London) and his wannabe Fonzie frenemy (Nicky Katt).

Alicia Silverstone was a hot item in the 90s, but the direct-to-video "The Babysitter" (1995) fell through the cracks. It's not great like "Clueless" (1995) or "The Crush" (1993), but it's still a worthy 90's Silverstone drama/comedy with romance/thriller elements in the same league as "True Crime" (1995) and "Excess Baggage" (1997).

As suggested above, the movie's about how males of all ages react to a nubile female who's not completely aware of her effect on males and therefore is indifferent to it. The story is helped by the fact that she's a genuinely decent, ordinary girl unaware of all the raging male hormones she is unwittingly arousing.

"The Babysitter" successfully conveys the intangible world of fantasy that goes on in people's mind, and not just guys (albeit mostly guys). This is a force that each individual is responsible to monitor and control. If foolishly left unchecked it can result in negative consequences.

The film runs 1 hour, 29 minutes, and was shot in Pasadena & Ventura, California. Additional cast members include Lee Garlington, George Segal and Lois Chiles.

GRADE: B-
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The Believers (1987)
6/10
Unpleasant big city crime drama with Martin Sheen that morphs into sorcery-oriented horror
9 August 2019
A widowed therapist (Martin Sheen) moves back to New York City to find himself assisting the NYPD in a series of slayings linked to a Caribbean Voodoo-like cult. Things get worse when he discovers they want his son for a human sacrifice. Helen Shaver plays his landlord and possible romantic interest.

"The Believers" (1987) is an adult-oriented crime drama that gets increasingly horrific. The plot and tone are akin to "Wolfen" (1991), albeit with the brujería cult replacing the super-wolves. It's leagues superior to the similar "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (1988).

The diabolic angle makes for some ugliness (e.g. death due to electric shock, suicides, grisly sacrifices, snakes and creepy arachnids), but there are rays of light as well. Sheen is outstanding as the protagonist while Shaver offers her wares to the table. The shocking spider sequence was later ripped off by "Urban Legends: Bloody Mary" (2005).

The movie runs 1 hour, 44 minutes, and was shot in New York City & Toronto.

GRADE: B-
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5/10
An idyllic house (mansion) is not necessarily a home
8 August 2019
An orphaned teen girl (Jordan Hinson) & her little brother start a new life in remote Simi Valley, Ca, with their adoptive parents (Angie Harmon & Joel Gretsch), a seemingly-ideal couple who tragically lost their son a year earlier. Jason London is on hand as the kid's acting-godfather.

"Glass House: The Good Mother" (2006) naturally has a similar plot to the first film, but the kids are a little younger here and, as the title implies, the mother is now the key adversary. Being a direct-to-video release it lacks the budget of the first film with Leelee Sobieski and Stellan Skarsgård (2001) and therefore lacks the theatrical pizazz thereof, having a Lifetime movie vibe.

As with that first movie, the awesome mansion itself is a highlight, located just a dozen miles north of the Glass manor used in the previous flick (in real-life). Unlike the first film, however, the actors are all no-names. Yet they rise to the challenge, especially Harmon as the increasingly not-good mother and Hinson as the formidable girl, who essentially becomes the "final girl" à la slasher flicks.

Not that this is a horror movie, but there is that element. It's more realistic than the conventional slasher, which typically involve some eye-rolling psycho wearing a mask and brandishing a machete, etc. Here, the diabolic individual is more every-day and perfectly harmless on the surface, which somehow makes it more chilling.

The flick effectively addresses the mental illness factitious disorder imposed on another (FDIA), aka Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP). These types of psychos actually exist, unfortunately.

The film runs 1 hour, 34 minutes, and was shot in Simi Valley, Ca, with some stuff done in Hollywood.

GRADE: C
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6/10
Sad drama with Leelee Sobieski and Stellan Skarsgård switches to thriller
7 August 2019
A suddenly orphaned teen girl (Leelee Sobieski) & her little brother start a new life in Malibu with their guardians (Stellan Skarsgård & Diane Lane), who might not be the caring friends of their parents they seem to be. Bruce Dern is on hand as a lawyer.

"The Glass House" (2001) starts as a melancholic drama with the general plot, setting and tone of "Poison Ivy" (1992), but without the lethal Lolita angle. It eventually morphs into a suspense/thriller à la "Enough" (2002), just don't expect Leelee to change into Rambo, like J-Lo.

Sobieski as protagonist Ruby is one-dimensionally sullen, which fits the situation, but it gives a lifeless vibe to the proceedings. Things pick up in the second half though. Some critics claim the last act is predictable, but it's really not, excepting the fact that two people ultimately square off (which is obvious from the beginning). I'd cite examples but don't want to give away spoilers.

The film runs 1 hour, 46 minutes, and was shot in Malibu & that general area of Los Angeles.

GRADE: B-
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5/10
Moving ending, but dull protagonist and meh mystery about life & death
6 August 2019
A tragedy drastically changes the lives of four Chicago college students when one of them dies.

"Soul Survivors" (2001) is a haunting mystery/drama with horror/thriller elements. It has the tone & setting of "Urban Legend" (1998), but without the slasher aspect. It's also reminiscent in some ways of "An American Werewolf in Paris" (1997), albeit obviously omitting the lycanthropes.

The production values are top-notch for the genre and era, but I found Melissa Sagemiller uninteresting as the protagonist. However, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, Eliza (No Booty) Dushku and Angela Featherstone are all interesting.

The problem is that the story isn't compelling enough, although the climax is revelatory and moving. Speaking of which, the movie's a mystery concerning life & death issues. It brings to mind a cult film from the early 60s, but I can't say its name because I don't want to give anything away. While "Soul Survivors" recalls that flick, it's different enough to stand on its own. So even if you go in knowing it shares plot elements with that particular film it won't ruin your viewing experience.

The movie runs 1 hour, 24 minutes, and was shot in the Chicago area, including Evanston and the corresponding Northwestern University.

GRADE: C
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Final Exam (1981)
6/10
The first college campus slasher
5 August 2019
A select number of youths at a college campus in North Carolina prepare to take their finals, but a mysterious killer is loose on campus who wants it to be their final exam.

"Final Exam" (1981) is the first slasher to take place at a college campus, not counting "Black Christmas" (1974), which focused on a sorority house. It beat two other campus slashers to the theater by a few months: "Night School" and "The Prowler." The Euro-slasher "Pieces" debuted the next year. These flicks paved the way for college slashers of the future, such as the "Urban Legends" trilogy (1998, 2000 & 2005).

Some people don't like "Final Exam" because it focuses on mundane University drama for most of its first hour before the killer finally attacks. But I didn't mind this as it helped you to get to know the characters, which consist of the usual types: the smart virginal girl, the nerd, the bully jock, the hot babe who knows it and uses it to her advantage, the dumb blonde who's obsessed with love, the pathetic pledge and the born leader.

Another criticism is that the killer doesn't have a mask and is without personality or motivation. But the lack of disguise makes the movie more realistic since a cumbersome mask wouldn't be practical for an effective killer. Also, if you pay attention, one of the themes of the picture is the psycho killer that appears out of nowhere and seemingly slays at random, like the real-life Texas Tower Sniper at the University of Texas in Austin on August 1, 1966. Last weekend there were two massacres in El Paso and Dayton. How do you prepare for such an attack and how do you improve your chances of survival and victory if there is one? "Final Exam" addresses such issues.

"Final Exam" cost $374,000 in 1981 and therefore comes off as a TV movie, albeit with overt murders, some gore and a little nudity.

The film runs 1 hour, 29 minutes, and was shot at Isothermal Community College, just south of Spindale, North Carolina.

GRADE: B-
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The Slayer (1982)
7/10
Undeservedly obscure atmospheric coastal horror
5 August 2019
Two couples in their 30s take a vacation to a secluded isle off the coast when a storm hits and people mysteriously start dying one-by-one. Kay, a troubled artist (Sarah Kendall), says she sees everything in her nightmares before it happens.

I suppose "The Slayer" (1982), aka "Nightmare Island," could be classified as a slasher flick, but it's more accurately a mystery-horror with haunting remote island ambiance, sort of like "The Shuttered Room" (1967), but mixed with elements of moody coastal horror, such as "The Fog" (1980). "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" (1998) took the stormy island setting to forge a more conventional slasher.

The filmmaking is top-notch for the time period, including the superb score. Carol Kottenbrook as Brooke is a highlight, lookin' good in tight jeans. Kendall shows her acting chops as the haunted protagonist. Meanwhile the titular character is diabolically hideous, but you barely get to see him. Yet there's a twist and, even then, the movie's an enigma wrapped in a riddle.

The film runs 1 hour, 29 minutes, and was shot on Tybee Island, Georgia, and nearby Savannah.

GRADE: B
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Madman (1981)
4/10
Pedestrian Grade B knockoff of "Friday the 13th"
4 August 2019
It's the end of the season at a youth camp on the remote end of Long Island and a legendary mad backwoodsman appears on the final night to pick off the counselors. Gaylen Ross (as Alexis Dubin) from "Dawn of the Dead" (1978) appears as one of the protagonists.

Seeing "Madman" (1981) makes you realize the excellence of "Friday the 13th" (1980). It has the same basic setting and plot with a promising opening that borrows from "The Fog" (1980), not to mention a crazy ax-wielding killer that recalls "The Shining" (1980). But it never rises above a flat experience, although it has some nice nocturnal camp mood.

The fact that everything takes place within a few hours on the same night doesn't help because there are no daytime scenes; and so the story's just too one-dimensional for a movie that runs almost an hour and a half. Some dull scenes unnecessarily drag on and could've been cut in half. Another negatory is that the director/writer has no eye for capturing women on film; and I'm not talking about nudity or sleaze.

Still, if you favor the "Friday the 13th" flicks and don't mind a subpar copy, "Madman" should fill the bill, although that's about it. At least the titular character's make-up is well done. He's sort of like Bigfoot if he were human and liked axes.

The movie runs 1 hour, 28 minutes, and was shot entirely at Fish Cove Inn, Southampton, Long Island, New York.

GRADE: C/C-
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Heaven's Gate (1980)
7/10
Cimino's epic Western about the Johnson County War, unjustly lambasted by critics
4 August 2019
With the government's blessing, cattle barons in Wyoming circa 1890 hire an army of mercenaries to kill claimed rustlers who, in many cases, are innocent settlers. A marshal born into wealth (Kris Kristofferson) sides with the poor immigrants in Johnson County; in his spare time he romances a French madam (Isabelle Huppert) who's also pursued by a top enforcer of the stockmen (Christopher Walken).

"Heaven's Gate" (1980) is Michael Cimino's notorious adult-oriented Western that brought down a studio. Cimino's style is arty with a focus on mundane realism, similar to Francis Ford Coppola. I'm not a fan of Cimino's previous film, the overrated "The Deer Hunter" (1978), because of the tedious opening hour and the disagreeable focus on Russian Roulette, although I love his Tarantino-like "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" (1974). Cimino wisely doesn't allow the Harvard graduation sequence that opens "Heaven's Gate" to go on forever like the wedding in "Deer Hunter," not to mention it has aesthetic merit.

There are two versions of the film: The premiere New York City cut runs 3 hours, 39 minutes while the edited version that hit theaters five months later is a little over an hour shorter (roughly 2.5 hours). Critics complain that the story makes no sense, but it's actually really simple with only a handful of main characters. I was never confused about what was happening and I viewed the shorter version. The locations and photography are top-of-the-line. Whether or not you appreciate the story will depend on if you favor Cimino's arty, mature and realistic style. In any case, everything leads to an action-packed climax.

When the movie was released there was a critical feeding frenzy, but much of the criticisms are disingenuous as critics conveniently jumped on the hate wagon. For instance, there's the complaint that this is an ugly film due to an industrial pall, including dust and smoke. Actually, the visuals are awesome despite any dust, smoke or fog. Roger Ebert complained that a character in a burning cabin who is convinced that he's going to die writes a note and signs his full name before breaking out and getting shot, but the real-life person in question kept a journal of his besieging and, in fact, signed it off before dying. Ebert also whined about a gunman breaking into a house and shooting three men who are raping a woman and yet she is unscathed. Actually the guy in question is a marshal by profession and therefore highly skilled at gunmanship. So what's the problem? Yet another criticism is that the antagonists could've easily gotten to the attackers utilizing the armored wagon made of logs by going around or behind, but the settlers would've easily shot 'em down if they unwisely did this seeing as how they would've been out in the open. Aduh.

The film was shot in Montana (Kalispell, Glacier National Park, Blackfeet Indian Reservation, etc.) with the Casper, Wyoming, sequence shot in Wallace, Idaho, and the Harvard segment filmed (obviously) in England.

GRADE: B/B-
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7/10
The Stepford Teens, sort of
2 August 2019
When a Chicago family moves to an island in the Puget Sound, Washington, Steve (James Marsden) encounters the usual cliques at his new high school, but there's something odd about the Blue Ribbon Club, a circle of high-achieving students who get a pass from the police when they screw-up. Nick Stahl plays Steve's new friend, Katie Holmes a potential girlfriend and Katharine Isabelle his sister. Bruce Greenwood is on hand as a dubious school psychologist.

The set-up of "Disturbing Behavior" (1998) is similar to the same in "Twilight" (2008), but there are no vampires and werewolves. I won't say more about the plot, except that it includes elements of Dr. Frankenstein and "The Stepford Wives" (1975). This isn't really giving much away as the movie telegraphs everything from the get-go and so is kind of predictable.

Yet the Great Northwest locations are spectacular, the cast is good, particularly Marsden and Stahl, and the story is compelling enough. It's just laden by a been-there, done-that vibe. Still, it's way superior to the similar "The Faculty" (1998), not to mention more serious. It's also arguably better than comparable flicks from the time period, like "Scream" (1996), "I Know What You Did Last Summer" (1997), "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" (1998), "Urban Legend" (1998), "Jawbreaker" (1999) and "Final Destination" (2000). "Bad Girls from Valley High" is on par (which was shot in 1999, but not released until 2005).

The original length was 115 minutes, about 32 minutes longer than the released version, but producers found it too long and so cut out scenes that supposedly helped the movie to make more sense. Personally, I didn't feel the movie was hard to grasp and never felt lost. But the last act needed more finesse because it does seem awkward and rushed; for instance, the mental hospital sequence flashes by so quickly you might miss it if you blink.

The film runs 1 hour, 23 minutes, and was shot in the Vancouver area, British Columbia, including Bowen Island.

GRADE: B
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