Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Sequestro di persona (1968)
Abduction without viewer seduction
This dullish thriller utilizes the same kidnapping theme that would dominate many Italian movies (and Italian life) through at least the 70s, although later treatments tended to be more in the realm of sensational action-packed crime thrillers. This movie doesn't seem certain how seriously to take itself-there's not much action, and the Sardinian atmosphere is vivid (at least photographically), but there's not enough insight into the politics or economics that would justify a relatively non-exploitative approach.
Franco Nero plays the son of a tightfisted local landowner; his friend, son of another wealthy local landowner, is the one who is kidnapped at the beginning of the film. It's Charlotte Rampling's POV we get during that key initial scene. Yet her vacationing-Brit-girl casual girlfriend of the kidnapped man turns out to be largely superfluous to the plot, making it seem as though her inclusion was really not much more than a commercial appeal to English-speaking audiences. (Rampling being Rampling, her character also comes off as extremely glamorous but a snippy brat, so we're not all that sorry she stays on the margins.)
There are echoes here of Bertolucci's much later "Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man," particularly in some later plot revelations. But in their different ways neither film works very well. Despite its regional focus, this one feels too much like a production compromised and rendered a little characterless by the requirements of "international" casting. There's a climax of violence and desperation, but the film just hasn't worked up enough suspense for it to have that much impact. It's all a near-miss, no cheesy knock-off but not strong enough to be memorable.
Ghosts of Hanley House (1968)
Nice try, underwhelming results
Note: The current IMBD plot description "Five people are spending the night in a haunted house. Things get dicey when some of them start turning up decapitated" is only half-right--the second sentence is very inaccurate and misleading.
This is a game low-budget regional attempt to do a traditional "haunted house challenge" story a la "The Haunting," et al. But it's undone not so much by the low budget as unimaginative direction and lack of atmosphere. (Admittedly, the soft, probably TV-copied prints this movie can be seen in probably don't help.) You know the handling will be somewhat clunky right off with some poor matching of shots including day-for-night ones. Otherwise the film makes a semi-intelligent decision to keep things relatively dark (hiding production shortcomings) and avoid overt violence, but there just isn't much sense of style or idiosyncrasy to the direction to convey any real sense of threat. Too many of the "scares" are in the form of crude sound effects obviously dubbed in later, and which the adequate (for this kind of movie) actors seldom react to at all. There's so little attempt to ratchet up suspense that when "The End" comes, it's one of those times you think "Wait--that was IT?" Not because things didn't happen, but because their presentation is so flat there's no sense of having reached a story's climax. Anyway, you've certainly seen worse, and this is notable for not being particularly lurid or cheesy in an era when most low-budget horror was exactly that. But it just doesn't really come to life. Compare it to another low-budget film from just a few years later like "Let's Scare Jessica to Death," and you can see how an ability to convey an unsettled atmosphere makes all the difference.
Killing Spree (1987)
If your friends had made this, you'd be more amused
This isn't an unintentional campfest but a piece of deliberately ridiculous genre trash that's like a more amateurish version of Troma-type gore-horror sillliness-which is going pretty low-end even by the standards of such things. I somewhat enjoyed "Asbestos Felt's" over-the-top hysteria as the homicidally paranoid hero, and probably everyone else had a lot of fun making it. But once you get the gist (and you'll probably guess supposedly cheating wife Lisa's actual "secret" very early on, as I did), it's just not energetic or funny, let alone professional enough, to be more than a wiseguy neighbor's elaborate play-acting home movie with his friends as cast and crew. And I LIKE a lot of grade-Z weirdness, from "Manos" to "Bride of Frank" to whatnot. But this isn't authentically weird, nor is it an inspired-enough joke, so for me it got pretty dull pretty fast.
Head Count (2018)
Rating seems weird
Did the filmmakers tick somebody off or something? It makes no sense that this movie has such a low rating, and several dismissive user reviews. (No, I am NOT affiliated with the film.) It's very well-crafted and genuinely unpredictable. Are horror fans so boring in their expectations that they actually resent a movie that doesn't provide the usual routine "kills," or gore? This movie has what most don't: An original narrative. I didn't love the ending, but up to that point was fascinated. It's not that "scary," but it's INTERESTING, and how often can you say that about a new horror movie? Most such are "spoiler-proof," in that the plots are so predictable it really doesn't matter if someone spills the beans or not. But with this film, I wouldn't tell anyone what happens after the twenty-minute point, because it's actually surprising. If you need severed limbs or something, I guess this movie isn't for you, but I found it imaginative and impressive.
Karl May (1974)
No cowboy action here, just formal parlors and courtrooms
In looking for "Our Hitler," which I've never actually seen, I was surprised that the only thing my major-city public library system had by Syberberg is this earlier film, which is much lesser-known than "OH" or "Parsifal." There is some brief use of the toy sets, superimpositions and such that would be greatly more prominent in those much more famous (and experimental) films. But "Karl May" is by contrast a pretty straightforward costume-drama biopic, if a slow and of course very long one, as is Syberberg's wont.
The hugely popular German author of western adventures is portrayed primarily in later (roughly turn-of-the-19th-century) years, when he was already wealthy and famous. The main focus is on his persecution by those who wanted to bring him down via lawsuits and press scandals. May was indeed a bit of a slippery character: He had some early criminal history (mostly a result of extreme poverty, it seems, given such "crimes" as stealing candlesticks), plagiarized some of his works from other sources, and claimed to write about his personal adventures when he'd never been to America whatsoever, let alone ridden the Wild West with a "Red Indian" pal. But as portrayed here, he seems less a con man than a semi-delusional fabulist whose foes are mostly motivated by greed and jealousy.
In contrast to Syberberg's best-known later work, this film is naturalistically shot on period-suitable exterior and interior locations, even if its costume-drama plushness is somewhat undercut by a square aspect ratio and pedestrian cinematography. (Admittedly, this may or may not be partly the fault of the DVD I watched, whose transfer looks like it was duped from TV-or perhaps "Karl May" was produced for broadcast in the first place?) Indeed, the whole enterprise is talky, slackly paced and lacking in much tension or dramatic momentum, despite the competent performances.
If you're looking for much exploration of May's unique place in German culture and its philosophical/social/et al. connotations-as "Our Hitler" and "Parsifal" manages with different subjects-you won't find it in this rather straightforward, even unimaginative biopic, at least not until it finally staggers towards its prolonged end. If Syberberg had progressed no further than this film, he never would have gotten international attention. "Karl May" is a worthy yet dullish treatment of an interesting subject, and it doesn't take long for the viewer to realize they won't gain much more insight from its three hours than they would from reading an encyclopedia entry about May.
Well, you do get reminded that in the 19th century, many people (particularly those in positions of authority) viewed the poor as morally inferior, and saw May's rather minor failings as the inevitable result of his being born "riffraff"-rather than seeing the inspirational upside of his triumphing over incredible adversity (including nine siblings dying in infancy) to become a literary figure almost as popular as Dickens. Though it's not really spelled out that way, you could view the whole story here as an illustration of the era extreme class divisions, with the resentful "upper" class attempting to ruin a lower-caste man who had the good luck and sheer nerve to reach their own economic level, and then some.
Roll Red Roll (2018)
Strong doc about important subject
This is a very good documentary about a problem much more pervasive than most people realize. I know that in my midwestern hometown, the same thing could easily have happened when I was in high school decades ago--except then the girl almost certainly wouldn't have reported being assaulted, realizing that even if she did, the school, parents and police probably would have "hushed it up" to protect the all-important football team, and she would have most likely gotten "slut-shamed" besides.
And all the one-star reviews here? Click on the relevant users' names, and you'll find that "mysteriously," none of them ever seem to have reviewed another title on IMBD. Yeah, I guess some folk are still invested in covering up this incident, and revising the history that the documentary chronicles. Too little, too late, folks.
I don't get it
Of course, as usual the ten-star advance "user reviews" here are from people who "mysteriously" have never written an IMBD review before--i.e. studio shills. But "Booksmart" has gotten great early reviews, and several people I know who saw early screenings really did love it. So I went in fully expecting to enjoy it, and was dismayed when immediately--I mean, even before the opening title--the film was making "Funny, huh? Wasn't that funny?!?" noises despite nothing particularly funny happening. I'll give Olivia Wilde points for making a very colorful and energetic movie that might indeed convince a lot of people through sheer high spirits that it's a great comedy. But instead it felt just strenuous to me, trying too hard to cover the fact that the funny, clever, witty material wasn't actually there.
The premise is ridiculous--bookworm protagonists are horrified to discover that after all their sacrifices for the future, all the party-hearty types at their high school ALSO got into Ivy League schools. This would make sense if it took place in a wealthy community where everyone was a "legacy" student thanks for their family's donations. But the movie makes a point of singling out two characters as the only "truly rich" ones here. Those two, like every character save the two lead girls, are complete "SNL"-style caricatures. What's worse, they all also seem to be played by actors who are about a decade too old, once again apart from the two lead girls.
Even so, the premise and the casting and everything might have worked if "Booksmart" were an outright farce. But it seems to be aiming to be sorta-kinda "real," while the characters nonetheless behave like no teenagers past or present. Everything here is so over-amped and contrived for effect, yet the ingenious comedy situations and bright lines that approach might have served are nowhere to be found.
Like I said, I don't get it--it's a very lively and well-crafted movie that nonetheless felt completely phony and unfunny to be. It's not boring, but I have no idea what people who like it are responding to, beyond the fact that "'Superbad' for high school senior girls" is probably good enough for many. But I liked "Superbad" well enough, and this movie just did nothing for me. You could say it aims for a mix of "Superbad" and John Hughes, but those movies do a much better job turning recognizable teenage life into farce with some heart, and if Wilde intended something similar (I'm not sure what she intended, beyond punching across every scene as if she might never be allowed to direct again), she misses the mark. A for effort, C for derivative/uninspired content, and D for over-effortfully trying to hide that empty content. It's like a student paper with a very splashy cover but nothing original or thoughtful inside.
Rapsodia satanica (1917)
Vanity, thy name is...Satan!
This gender-switched version of "Faust" has an elderly countess selling her soul to the devil in order to regain her youth and beauty. The only condition is that she cannot fall in love. Once back in her splendor, however, she behaves recklessly and does indeed violate that contract, to the ruination of more than one man, and the inevitable fate for herself.
Lyda Borelli was briefly a leading Italian screen actress-I'm not sure why her movie career ended so soon after this film-and she has an interesting presence here. But often the elegantly staged film seems over-indebted to the Theda Bara school in both her theatrics and her character look, even if the protagonist is ultimately more a tragic figure than pure "vamp." It's a handsome movie that benefits from attractive settings both indoors and out, some lyrical climactic imagery, as well as lovely color tinting on the print I saw.
Kiss me, you eight-legged freak you
This rare "Latvian horror film" isn't really a horror film proper, but more of a grotesque fairy tale similar in tenor to "Valerie and Her Week of Wonders," albeit with more of a softcore sexploitation tilt. It's often handsome and imaginative (if variably accomplished in technical terms) in its soft-focus Gothicism, but also kinda cheesy in that much of it just seems an excuse to get the admittedly very pretty young heroine kinda-sorta-almost raped over and over in nightmarish or dreamlike circumstances.
She's a student whose priest-principal allows her to model for a Madonna statue at the request of the artist he's hired to create that work. But the painter turns out to be a leering hedonist, as well as, er, possibly some kind of spider-demon. So our heroine is forever running from variably-imaginary perils (they're mostly posited as dreams or hallucinations, until at the end they are apparently "real" enough to require the priest's physical battle with spider-man) of a mostly erotic nature, whether she's harassed by a sort of orgiastic Bosch painting come to life early on, or being ravished by a giant tarantula puppet. Sometimes she's scared, sometimes she kinda likes it--you know, the usual contradictory nonsense for this kind of enterprise, in which the constantly undressed heroine must embody the target male viewer's fantasies of both violation and lusty consent.
The director is certainly talented in the visual realm. But a major problem to "Zimeklis," one that heightens the silly side to its horny Gothicism, is its really tacky synthesizer score. It's a shame an otherwise fairly elaborately realized (if still modestly scaled) fantasy should get such rinky-dink accompaniment. The overall atmosphere of arty quasi-surreallism would be greatly enhanced by something more in the realm of Eno-type ambient sounds, Tangerine Dream, or chamber-quartet-type composition.
Dazzling, but also a little dull
This is remarkable just for going so far out on a limb in terms of feature animation--an entire movie (Hungarian yet!) of sort of Peter Max-type psychedelic visuals in almost blinding day-glo colors. If you were to watch it very stoned on a big screen, it would probably be an incredible experience. Watched sober on a smaller screen, it's basically 80 minutes of very pretty, groovy graphics that are nonetheless somewhat monotonous in impact. The style is a lot like vintage 60s/70s poster art, more about creating a striking design than providing any detailed sense of character or story. So the heroes' quest (based on Hungarian folk tales) is not very involving or exciting, even when they combat dragons--everything is tastefully (if also eye-poppingly) abstract, the protagonists are not much more expressive than stick figures. "White Mane" is a singular achievement, and I'm glad it was made. But it's easier to admire than to love.
This is the only feature directed by a man who otherwise worked primarily in TV (mostly as an assistant director), and despite some gore, it very much feels like an early 1970s television project, with the same kind of flat lighting, compositions, scoring and pacing. (It's exactly the aesthetic parodied by the recent "The Love Witch.") The script is a jumble of illogical nonsense even by horror standards-it's one of those stories that falls apart the second you ask "Why didn't our protagonist just call the police when he realized murders were being committed?"-and doesn't seem even halfway convinced by its own feeble reincarnation hocus-pocus.
John Considine does clearly enjoy camping it up as the villain, and Florence Marly behaves likewise in her briefer role. But the other cast members play it straight in a dull, square fashion, as if they were guesting on some routine network TV series. The movie seems to be halfway making fun of its own grisly silliness, but it's a testament to the pedestrian execution there's not much fun to be shared in watching it.
White Chicks (2004)
Not bad, but really worth it for Terry Crews
This is better than I expected--it looked awful, and turns out to be relatively funny, although the humor varies between absurd/inspired (like the club dance-off) and just-kinda-dumb-and-broad (the slapstick fashion show finale). But the saving grace is Terry Crews, who is pretty far down the cast list but steals the film as a star athlete who has a taste for white meat and doesn't shrink from focusing that attention on our "heroines"--no matter that they're actually black men in white female drag. He's so good I don't know why no one has built an entire comedy movie around him--I've seen him in lots of supporting roles but no leads. (I haven't seen his TV work, though of course he's done a lot.) It's taken me a long time to see this movie, but the takeaway is that I should have spent that whole time following Terry Crews' career more closely. He's a riot.
Catch My Soul (1974)
A letdown 45 years in the making
This long-thought-lost rock musical-which updates "Othello" to 1967 Southwestern US hippiedom for no obvious reason-turns out to be one of those rediscoveries you're grateful for only because you can now cross it off the bucket list. No one was enthused in 1974, and much as nostalgia and curiosity value should improve it now, it's still a limp mess. Why was actor Patrick McGoohan hired as director? His other credits in that role were all TV episodes, and he seems to have done just fine with them-but this kind of assignment (the only feature he ever directed) requires a lot of energy and style, none of which are at all in supply. Did McGoohan take it because he'd played the Iago figure in a prior "musical Othello" of sorts, the interesting early 60s British jazz drama "All Night Long"? Maybe. But apparently he drank a lot on this set, and the whole enterprise has the feel of a production without a guiding force, that never quite got its act together. Like the kind of rural hippie bonfire party/jam session that occupies a fair amount of screentime here, it's a ragged free-for-all that doesn't have much appeal to the sober viewer.
The music is unmemorable, and often thrown away by the staging, such as it is. In fact there really aren't "musical numbers" per se, as generally people just mill around while arbitrarily either singing visibly or as voiceover commentary. (There's also way too much spoken voiceover narration.) There's no choreography at all. The lyrics are weak, and lack the kind of deliberate slangy hipster verbiage that can be excused as at least partly ironic/satirical in the likes of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
In fact, "Catch My Soul" seems to really, really want to be "Jesus Christ Superstar" and/or "Godspell," sticking in a giant dose of pseudo-Biblical yakkety yak-Othello's some kind of preacher here-that further obscures Shakespeare's story, which in other circumstances should have provided a strong enough narrative arc to hang a musical on. The movie seems to presuppose familiarity with "Othello," but does absolutely nothing to milk its basic suspense and conflicts, which are further disabled by the leads having no chemistry (esp. Ritchie Havens' vague Othello and Season Hubley's mousey Desdemona).
As Iago, Lance LeGault seems the only performer here interested in or capable of delivering a real performance. Others, like the inexperienced-at-acting Tony Joe White and Havens, as well as experienced actors Hubley and Tyrrel, seem to be waiting for directorial instruction that never arrives. (That doesn't stop Tyrrel from a bit of scenery-chewing, but distinctive as she is, she needed a good director, too.) Of course there's some interest in seeing vintage rock performers like Delaney & Bonnie and Billy Joe Royal, but you'd be much better off watching any existing concert footage-despite the fact that Conrad Hall's cinematography is probably the best single factor here.
Probably the biggest disappointment about "Soul" is that it's not even a fun failure-despite all the entertaining-in-theory elements, it's just flat, neither stylish or humorous, and lacking unintentional humor, too. You can imagine editor Richard A. Harris, and later the distributors/investors, looking at the footage and saying "Jeez...how're we gonna salvage this turkey?" They couldn't-I remember the film coming out and getting widely reviewed, but it barely seems to have played anywhere. Then it was entirely forgotten before anyone realized it was a rarity due to no prints being accessible.
So, yeah, I'm glad to have seen it. But like the same year's (arguably even worse) rock musical "Son of Dracula," this is a curio that's actually kind of a drag to finally watch. More entertaining than the movie itself is the Blu-Ray's making-of extra in which two surviving major behind-the-scenes collaborators talk about all the heavy substance use, ego clashes and other factors that explain why this film didn't turn out so well.
Få meg på, for faen (2011)
This is a well-shot and well-acted film, but despite starting out very promisingly (and having a very short runtime), it runs out of steam much too soon. The mild outrageousness of the premise (being from a horny teenage girl's perspective) only goes so far, because the plot is so miniscule and underdeveloped--once our heroine is shunned at school for saying her popular crush object did something inappropriate (which he did, but publicly denies), nothing else of note happens. The deadpan, humorous view of boring rural life is likable, as are the performers. Still, there's only enough material here for a fine 20-minute short--at feature length (albeit barely), it's stretched very thin, and as a result the end result feels inconsequential. I hope the director and cast go on to bigger and better (-written) things, as they have talent, but this is like a short story printed in extra-large typeface in order to be marketed as a novel.
Missione finale (1988)
Italian exploitation in North Korea? How can this be so dull?
Despite the novelty of it being filmed in North Korea, and a luridly fantastical premise, this is a strictly routine Italian 80s action movie in the wannabe-"Rambo" mode. There's a lot of extras being machine gunned and things exploding, but the action is quite dull. It's strange, too, that given the "Rambo"-esque air, and the casting of handsome lead male actors who often appeared in these sorts of movies (and/or martial arts-based ones or "Conan" ripoffs), that the over-the-top muscle machismo factor is zilch. There's almost no mano-a-mano fighting, and nobody takes their shirt off (except briefly the male villain in a non-action scene) or even exposes some bicep in a tank top. What kinda "Rambo" ripoff IS this?!? Perhaps shooting in North Korea meant that showing too much skin (of either sex) was forbidden.
Another disappointment is that the mildly sci-fi conceit (the heroes are tasked with stopping a diabolical ttempt to create a "master race" by experimenting on kidnapped young women) is only talked about, never depicted, so hopes of any "Boys from Brazil" and/or women-in-prison type cheese go entirely unfulfilled. The female villainness is at least visually memorable: She wears so much makeup she'd seem like a drag queen even without her long blonde hair making her look weirdly like Fabio's twin sister.
Alas, even she isn't as much fun as she should be. This is the kind of movie that should be a guilty pleasure, but it's so completely forgettable and void of any eccentric, campy or humorous (intentional or otherwise) qualities that it's just kind of a slog.
Alice Goodbody (1974)
Not good, not terrible
In craftsmanship this is a cut above average for 70s softcore drive-in smut--it's technically competent, doesn't seem dirt cheap, and the performers seem like pros even if they're mostly one-note and hammy. But in tone it's very typical for the same, all on the level of your basic dirty joke. The entire "joke" here is that our wide-eyed buxom heroine blithely gets exploited for sexual favors on every step up the Hollywood ladder, which in fact she doesn't ascend at all. (There's also a slapstick running gag about why she doesn't succeed in becoming a starlet--every time she gets a scene in the movie she's been hired to, she magically attracts a falling setpiece or some other, increasingly disabling personal accident.)
When you see a movie from this period you pretty much expect that its take on the "Sexual Revolution" really isn't going to be any more enlightened than a bachelor's party at the Playboy Club. The humor level here isn't as bad as in such dirty-joke compilations as "If You Don't Stop It You'll Go Blind" that were also playing drive-ins at the time. But it's still pretty bad. All of Alice's "benefactors" are one-dimensional caricatures, probably the lamest being the one whose entire gimmick seems to be that he belches or farts (I wasn't sure which was intended) all the time.
The upside to this, apart from the film being clearly made by professionals (some amazingly amateurish stuff managed to get into drive-ins and grindhouses back then), is that Sharon Kelly gives a stubbornly good-natured performance in the title role. She's cute in a natural way (and I don't mean just the lack of silicone), as well as being as funny as the weak material allows. She makes Alice so innocently cheerful the sleaze factor is somewhat abated. The other major plus is that the movie which movie-mad waitress Alice gets to work on is a "Julius Ceasar" musical whose scenes are not staged with any parodic flair here--but the music, on the other hand, is a quite dead-on spoof of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and other entries in the then-hot "rock opera" category.
Those two things aside, this is a 70s drive-in sex comedy much like the more infamous "Chatterbox," albeit without the jaw-dropping bad taste concept which makes that movie a must-see even though it's not as much fun as you'd hope.
Could be worse
Other commenters here have compared this to "Rambo," and it did come out early in the cycle of cheap Rambo imitations. But it's at least as much like "Walking Tall," in that the upstanding ornery cop (or ex-cop in this case) moves to a small hick town and immediately runs afoul of the good-old-boy louts running amuck there. His long-lost daughter shows up uninvited, and when the bullies kill one of her friends, they spend the rest of the movie's second more "Rambo"-like half stalking father and daughter through the surrounding wilderness in order to eliminate the remaining witnesses.
This is fairly well-paced but not as much fun as you might hope. The dubbed dialogue is sort of funny-it's the usual bad Italian approximation of what Americans sound like, read by actors sporting very hokey "redneck" accents-but the film is an adequate, earnest "B" rather than luridly ridiculous and entertaining in the mode of many later "Rambo" knockoffs or 80s Italian exploitation films in general. Nor is the action or violence very memorable.
My favorite exploitation actor George Eastman aka Luigi Montefiori turns up playing the main villain's sympathetic older brother, a much more low-key role than usual for him and not a very interesting one. Michael Sopkiw, the U.S. actor who was never able to parlay his stardom in these early-80s Italian movies into an American career, is handsome (here with a big Marlboro Man 'stache) and agreeable-enough as usual.
Anyway, it's an OK time-killer but nothing special. Lamberto Bava does a decent job, but his 80s giallos and "Demon" movies are more memorable. Fans of the period will enjoy the disco-synthy score, though the fact that the film actually was shot in the U.S. (Georgia) makes it less obviously a European imitation of an American movie than most similar Italian enterprises around the same time. By the way, the irrelevant title was originally intended for a science-fiction movie that the funding fell through for. I guess some marketing materials had already been prepared, so to save costs they kept the title when the entire project was changed into this less-expensive rural action thriller.
The Garden of Allah (1936)
The Sheik of Aridity
This giant hunk of perfumed kitsch must have seemed old-fashioned even in 1936. It's more like a mush-talking version of silent Valentino "Arabic" romantic hokum than it is like the Maria Montez "exotica" epics of a few years later, which were more lively and less pretentious. (It's easy to imagine this story working better as a silent, and it probably did-although sadly it doesn't look like Rex Ingram's 1927 version has survived.)
It's funny that Dietrich went almost directly from her last Von Sternberg film to this-another movie in which the overriding concern seems to be dressing, plucking, lighting and posing her as if for glamour stills. Richard Boleslawski is no Von Sternberg, however. He made some very good films when given better material, but he can provide none of Von Sternberg's wit, irony or distinctive lunacy to this pretty, empty package. (Sadly, Boleslawski died the next year of a heart attack, aged only 47.)
Beyond the flattering photography of Dietrich and young Boyer (as well as some gorgeous silhouetted desert landscapes worthy of "The Sheltering Sky"), the major virtue in this early all-Technicolor film is the handsome color pallet, which is fairly subtle for the era. Otherwise, "Garden of Allah" is very high-end hooey, attesting to the more garish end of producer Selnick's taste, a la "Duel in the Sun." I mean, a desert-set love story between an ex-convent girl and runaway monk? With dialogue like "You come from a land of fire-and I think you are made of fire!" Plus one of those central crises made of pure hot air: The protagonists love each other like no one has ever loved anyone before (or so we're told), but must give one another up because...er, well, because that way they get to experience maximum picturesque torment and heroic sacrifice.
This sort of stuff can work despite itself if there's a smidge of conviction at hand. But "Allah" (in which all Arabic spoken is gibberish, a good metaphor for the film's "soulfulness") s all so hokey and artificially high-minded you might think it had been written by Elinor Glin. No wonder it was a giant flop.
The Legend of Hillbilly John (1972)
A pleasing curio
This little-known curio is better than I expected. I hadn't heard of the source books (Manly Wade Wellman's "Silver John" pulp fictions) before, because they were presumably mostly a Southern regional phenomenon, but now I'm very curious to check them out. The episodic progress, drawn from a couple of Wellman's stories, chronicles the folksy fantastical adventures of a wandering Appalachian troubadour, which include tangling with the Devil and a Ray Harryhausen-like winged monster. The last and least adventure has John managing to somehow free the oppressed black slaves, a "White Savior" scenario that doesn't play too well now. (It probably didn't in 1972, either).
Offbeat and filled with pleasant music, "Hillbilly John" probably had a hard time finding an audience at the time, as it was so out of step with popular taste of the era, and it's certainly been largely forgotten since. But given a cast of mostly imported Hollywood veterans (Severn Darden, Denver Pyle, Harris Yulin etc.) and a director who'd mostly toiled in network TV, it's surprisingly flavorful and "authentic" feeling within its folkloric context. (Though he worked on a lot of major series, John Newland's best-known works were probably the TV-movie thrillers "Crawlspace" and "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.") Hedges Capers, a handsome young man with a fine voice who never quite hit the bigtime as a recording artist, is appealingly natural in the title role. Sharon Henesy is a weak point as the ingenue, seeming a classic 70s example of casting "somebody's girlfriend" (rather than a talented actor)...but then all she's allowed to do is gaze adoringly at John and hope he'll quit his wanderin' ways, so it's not really her fault she seems superfluous.
Despite its low budget, "Hillbilly John" is fairly well-crafted, although its neglect over the years was reflected in the fact that the YouTube dupe I saw seemed to be from an old VHS tape, and was accordingly low-quality. The nighttime sequences (of which there are many) were very murky. Alas, obscure old indie features like this are highly unlikely to get "restored" to pristine quality, so you take what you can get. Anyway, this is hardly a forgotten classic, but it's an ambitious oddity that is quite enjoyable and merits rediscovery.
Pale blue eyes, pale "Blue" impact
This isn't as bad as its critical reputation, but it isn't very good either. In fact, it's pretty much "not enough one thing or another" in every department-an attempt at a sort of hip new antihero western that nonetheless isn't at all sufficiently committed to that path, as it's far too old-school in execution.
The score is a big, traditional, old-fashioned one (despite the odd, gratuitous sitar flourish); the whole look is very much trad Hollywood-studio western (presumably the establishment crew and resources were foisted on director Sergio Narizzano, then hot from the British New Wave hit "Georgy Girl"); the casting conventional apart from Terence Stamp. The latter may indeed be miscast to a degree-yes, his English accent carelessly slips through a lot-but at least he does provide a certain moody outsider coolness that Robert Redford (who dropped out at the last minute) wouldn't have channeled so easily.
The racial tolerance theme is "modern," yet the script chickens out by having Blue-who was raised by the Mexican bandidos who killed his Yankee parents-yearn to be "tamed" and "civilized" by the white folk who've taken him in after he's wounded, thus reinforcing all cultural stereotypes. Nor is it credible that the settlers who are suspicious of Blue would so easily accept his command later on when they're under threat. Or indeed that Blue would command forces against his "own people"-it's one thing to reject his Mexican background, another to lead a massacre of those people. Blue gets an eve-of-battle speech trying to explain his contrary psychological makeup, but it's too little, too late.
This is a handsomely photographed film with a lot of nice scenery in vivid color, and the climactic shootout is effective enough. But coming out the same year as "Butch Cassidy" and other truly revisionist westerns that embraced a fresher style and sensibility, "Blue" must have felt old-hat in 1968. And it's still a disappointing mediocrity.
Track of the Cat (1954)
A noble failure
What one critic (the NY Times?) called "the first CinemaScope wierdie" is indeed an oddity by 50s major studio standards, though it doesn't quite work even on its own terms. I've no idea what the novel was like, but presumably its Gothic frontier family melodrama worked better in literary than it does cinematic form. Clearly William Wellman was trying for something ambitious and different (partly perhaps a return to the grittiness of his pre-Code features), but the elements never really gel.
Mitchum is well-suited to his character, who goads, bullies and belittles everyone around him, but one of the off-putting things about this movie is that he's still the nominal PROTAGONIST-he's not a villain as in "Night of the Hunter" or "Cape Fear," but our principal figure. Getting about as much screentime is Tab Hunter's little brother, but it becomes rather tedious that the whole focus of HIS character is whether he's going to let himself be completely emasculated by his guilt-tripping ma and bullying oldest sibling. (Apparently Mitchum has all the testosterone this family was allowed.) It's anyone's guess why they cast Our Gang's Alfalfa (who was in his 20s at the time) as an ancient "Injun" who speaks little yet knows all, but in any case that decision only makes the role seem more a bizarre and unconvincing contrivance. He's on the far wrong end of a cast scale that divides pretty much down the middle between theatrically melodramatic turns (Bondi, Tonge, Wright) and more effective low-key, naturalistic ones (Hunter, Hopper, Lynn).
The look is striking-almost entirely "black and white in color," with stark compositions reflecting the stark rural winter setting-yet it's jarring that vivid location shooting (which Mitchum called the hardest of his career) smacks up against the obvious studio-soundstage set of the family's homestead. It's an artificial movie in ways that are interesting, yet it's actually not artificial ENOUGH to pull off this eccentrically austere (in aesthetic) yet florid (in character behaviors) enterprise on its own terms. A big, conventional, overactive orchestral score tends to work against the film's idiosyncrasies rather than supporting them. "Cat" would have probably worked better as a B&W independent feature-as admirably unusual as it is by mid-50s major studio standards, it's the stubborn residual major-studio gloss that keeps it from being as potent as it means to be. (I mean really, would an isolated 1890s Colorado ranch house be this roomy and spotless? Must all the clothes look brand new?)
The result is all a little dull and uninvolving, with too much of the rather turgid infighting on the ranch for us to get caught up in Mitchum's solo quest for the killer wildcat in the mountains. I'm glad to have finally seen it, but the truth is "Cat" was considered a pretentious misfire then, and it still is one.
Jeepers Creepers 3 (2017)
Jeepers, this one isn't very creepy
Normally with a movie like this that took so long getting and presumably had trouble securing financing, you'd expect the problem to be a restrictive budget. But actually "JC3" would have been better-and more like the earlier films-if it were smaller scaled and less costly. There's too much action here, too many characters, all unconvincing and sometimes silly.
But what's really inexplicable is that there's way too much of the Creeper, who is no longer a seldom-seen figure of mystery but one seen WAY too often, in broad daylight, moving around like a regular guy albeit in some kind of Comic Con costume. He's not scary this way. He's just some dude in a mask. Nor is the hitherto teasingly doled-out mythology at all heightened by overly graphic FX views of him in flight, or so much dwelling on the armored truck he's got that isn't just a "death wagon," it's made out of indestructible stuff and has all kinds of lethal gizmos more appropriate to a "Phantasm" movie.
Lingering on a few characters in peril, with few and frightening glimpses of the Creeper, was clearly something that worked well for the prior installments. All that gets thrown out the window here, only lessening atmosphere and suspense. Victor Salva remains a technically proficient filmmaker (at least compared to most direct-to-video-level horror directors), and there are scattered things to like, notably giving Meg Foster a major role. Having #3 bridge the narratives of #1 and #2 was at least an unexpected decision. The movie isn't good, but at least it isn't dull (something you can't say about some of those later "Phantasms"). Getting an interview with Creeper actor Jonathan Breck, who appears a pleasant guy, provides a nice (if sole) bonus feature.
Still, this is a disappointing film that goes from generally wrong-headed to just plain ridiculous at its ill-judged climax, at which point the Creeper becomes so feeble a menace he might as well be shown dancing to "The Monster Mash." It's almost as if Salva wanted to deliberately kill off his own franchise, no matter that (of course) he claims #4 is already written.
Needs a quality re-release
As far as I know, "Life and Times" is only available on old VHS tapes, where no doubt it was a pan-and-scan transfer. That is really too bad. I haven't seen it since it originally came out, when I was 13, and I doubt it would be any major revelation now--at the time it was meandering, episodic, nothing very special but a pleasant family-friendly variation on "Jeremiah Johnson," with Dan Haggerty an appealing presence in the title role.
But what I really remember about it was that while nothing else about the film was all that memorable, the wilderness photography was gorgeous. That's exactly the sort of thing you lose in decades of crappy transfers to TV and VHS without a major studio upgrading the quality of the home-format releases. (And while I have no idea who owns the rights now, they probably aren't interested in making that investment, and god knows Sunn Classics is probably looooooong gone. Particularly since none of their other films seem to have gotten DVD/Blu-Ray treatment, either.) The same year, I also loved another (somewhat better if less commercially successful), "Where the Lilies Bloom," and while you can find that on YouTube easily enough, it's also in sore need of restoration--I remember how stunning the photography of Appalachia was in 1974, and you can't tell that from the existing transfers.
Anyway, I enjoyed the original "Grizzly Adams," but won't risk revisiting it until the unlikely day that somebody puts out a letterboxed digital restoration. Because whatever the film lacked in plot or finesse, it made up for in beautiful photography of spectacular scenery, and I'd hate to see that reduced to pan-and-scan and faded colors.
The Shuttered Room (1967)
A sluggish 60s psycho-chiller
This rather slow-moving thriller, inconspicuously based on a Lovecraft story (there's nothing fantastical about it), is surprisingly a lot like the later "Straw Dogs" until it finally gets to the mild "horror" content in the last half hour. Carol Lynley and the notably over-twice-her-age Gig Young are Americans who return to the remote English village where she's inherited a (seemingly) abandoned mill, and where her parents died (mysteriously of course) when she was a child. Her vague childhood fears turn out to be grounded in the reality of a sinister presence still hiding in the "shuttered room" upstairs. But before that manifests itself, she is mostly menaced by all the leering, rapey local louts. Chief among them is Oliver Reed, who as usual in these early roles seems much more vivid than anyone else onscreen, and is so detestably sleazy one really enjoys the scene in which Young (however improbably) beats him senseless.
Fitting loosely into the "psycho chiller" category that flourished after "Psycho" and "Baby Jane," this is uneventful for too long, and David Greene's competent direction (commencing the relatively short period where he made big-screen features, before and after long stretches in TV) lacks distinguishing style and atmosphere. Flora Robson is a welcome presence as the aunt who tries to warn our protagonists off, though it's hardly an interesting role for her. Lynley, as usual, is pretty but undistinguished, and Young, as usual, is pleasant in a generic-leading-man way. The "Straw Dogs"-type sexual menace of the wife and humiliation of her husband actually continue--a lot less graphically than Peckinpah allowed, of course--right up until the rather tepid climax in which the secret about the "ghoul" is finally revealed.
The film's only real eccentricity is a score that's much closer to jazz (with occasional Indian raga flourishes) than the usual suspense fodder this material would get. That, and perhaps the fact that it takes a while to realize the movie is supposed to be set in New England, when clearly it was shot in (and most of the cast is from) "old" England.
Anyway, I waited a long time to catch up with this, and can't say it was really worth the wait. It's not bad--there are certainly cheaper and cheesier psycho-thrillers from the era--but it's not particularly memorable or scary.
Friday the 13th (2009)
It's what you'd expect, no better or worse
This is pretty much what you'd expect from producer Michael Bay and director Marcus Nispel (whose 2003 "Texas Chainsaw" revamp wasn't bad at all, but there's not much to say for his films since, including the "Conan the Barbarian" remake): It's slick, loud, has a lot of action, no interesting ideas or individual style, and is watchable but just not very good-in short, an acceptable time-waster you probably won't even remember whether you saw in a year or two. It feels more generic than some of the original "Friday" films, even though it's better produced than most were.
Here we get a brief prologue of the (restaged) first film's ending, then what seems like the very hasty dispatch of a new set of modern-day victims-but it turns out they comprise just ANOTHER prologue, and the "real" story starts twenty-odd minutes in and six weeks later. Now we've got yet more nubile young campers on the chopping block, this group slightly more differentiated by virtue of being including a black guy, an Asian guy, and a gay guy, plus the usual blonde babes and alpha male jerk rich kid who owns the deluxe country "cabin" where they're spending the weekend. Not traveling with them is the brother of a missing girl whom we know didn't make it past the first reel. We also meet a few of the local rubes, who are mean toward outsiders and thus deserve their own grisly fates. In addition, we briefly see Jason after he loses a hood and before he finds a hockey mask. He is not pretty, but it really seems a bigger deal should be made of his unmasking than this movie bothers with.
The script doesn't really replicate the first film's narrative, such as it was, but neither does it come up with any notable updates beyond the news that the woods around old Camp Crystal Lake are now full of illegal marijuana-itself a more recent horror cliche. (Like sex, you covet the weed, you're gonna die.) The deaths are violent, natch, but rather perfunctory, as if Nispel weren't all that interested-but come on, what's the point of making a "Friday the 13th" movie if you're not going to make the deaths spectacular? I guess you could say "To expand upon the mythology/backstory," but this movie doesn't make the least effort in that direction. If anything, Nispel's "Friday" de-mythologizes Jason to no obvious benefit, as we eventually see way too much of him, and have to accept the far-fetched notion that he's simply been living in the abandoned camp for nearly four decades undetected while people frequently disappear forever in the area. Yet as before, he's here, he's there, he's everywhere without ever making a noise, like the semi-supernatural Jason of yore. There's a bit of a "Texas Chainsaw" vibe to the fact that we realize Jason sometimes keeps victims alive for a while in the catacombs beneath a cabin, but no explanation whatsoever why.
This being a Michael Bay joint, there is some routine loutish humor and Hooters-level ogling. I'm pretty sure if someone actually came up with a script that exploited T&A but was actually kinda clever about it, he'd say "That's too smart for my audience." (No, you're underestimating your audience.)
This movie is well-shot and energetic with OK performances, but I'm pretty sure at some point in the near future I won't even be able to remember whether I saw it, or am simply confusing it with some other horror sequel/reboot.