Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Underrated (Erotic) Thrillers - Bryan Connolly

Bryan Connolly is one of the co-authors of one of the greatest film books in recent memory (Destroy All Movies). He works at the great Vulcan Video in Austin Texas and has a vast knowledge of cinema and a love for Jerry Lewis. He is also an avid VHS collector/advocate and can be seen prominently in the documentary ADJUST YOUR TRACKING:
http://www.adjustyourtracking.com/

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SECRET GAMES 3 (1994)
Dir: Gregory Dark 
I first watched this movie when I was fifteen. A friend had it taped off of a free run of Cinemax. This was the first erotic thriller I had ever seen and it is still my favorite. An ignored housewife ( Rochelle Swanson) spices up her weekdays by sleeping with rich men at an exclusive brothel. The film's glamorous portrayal of prostitution features a lot of scented candles and champagne drinking. Of course there is no straight humping, only the exploration of people's darkest desires. The soundtrack is some second rate version of Enigma which works because Enigma is also the second rate version of Enigma. Love those synthesized pan flutes! The sex scenes go on way too long which is good or bad, depending on your opinion. Fifteen year old me would say it was a good thing.  The erotic thrillers of Gregory Dark are all pretty great. Check out ANIMAL INSTINCTS and MIRROR IMAGES 2.

GUILTY AS SIN (1993)
Dir: Sidney Lumet 
Things go wild when a  lawyer (Rebecca De Mornay) chooses to defend an accused wife killer (Don Johnson). Lumet courtroom movies tend to be powerful, but a little dry. With a script written by Larry Cohen this one is all fun and breezy. Johnson is super charismatic and wonderfully sleazy. De Mornay is tough and sexy as always. What's great about this movie is that though there is wonderful tension between the two main characters, they never get into a sexual relationship. So many thrillers have the main female get involved with the main male, then she finds out he is a psycho, but she still can't resist him. Not this movie. It's strictly a working relationship that then escalates into a game of cat and mouse. Everyone seems to be having great time here all the way up to the ridiculous ending.




TAKE TWO (1988)
Dir: Peter Rowe 
Silly plot about long lost twins (Grant Goodeve) and inappropriate love for another man's wife. I like movies where an actor has to play twins. Especially when one of them has to be a jerk. The performer sneers and is rude and that's all it takes for me to tell the difference between asshole brother and good brother. Since this a pre-CGI movie the twins never are in the same shot. They don't even try to do bad split-screen. The real reason to watch this film is for Frank Stallone. Frank Stallone is a true man. In this movie he proves it with out a doubt during the workout montage where he jams on a saxophone over a lady exercising. Is this the sexiest image ever caught on film? I feel that both men and women will agree that the answer is YES!

ILLICIT DREAMS (1994)
Dir: Andrew Stevens 
Moira (Shannon Tweed) and Nick (Andrew Stevens) start a torrid love affair, but how can she keep it a secret from her scuzzball husband (a wonderfully scuzzy Joe Cortese). Easy. They are only sleeping with each other in their dreams. This is maybe the weirdest of all 90s erotic thrillers. It goes into David Lynch territory once the main characters acknowledge that they are having a psychic dream affair and start bringing physical items, such as house keys, into the real world. Stevens directed two other great thrillers starring both him and Tweed: NIGHT EYES 3 AND SCORNED. 


CAT CHASER (1989)
Dir: Abel Ferrara 
and
RAINBOW DRIVE (1990)
Dir: Bobby Roth 
Both movies are based on 80s crime novels (Chaser is from Elmore Leonard, Drive is from Roderick Thorp). Both movies feature wonderful underrated Peter Weller performances. We get the nice cold, cool Weller here that we all love. He is tough, but there is an intense vulnerabilty within these characters. Great supporting actors (Chaser: Charles Durning, Frederic Forrest. Drive: Jon Gries, Chris Mulkey), and good use of the environment (Chaser: Miami beaches. Drive: slimy, rich Hollywood) make these worth visiting. Weller makes love, drinks, gets confused, gets punched. Good stuff here.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Twilight Time - THE BLOB, AUDREY ROSE and THE BELIEVERS on Blu-ray

THE BLOB (1988; Chuck Russell)
To remake? Or not to remake? This seems to be a question that has haunted both film fans and studios since almost the inception of cinema. It's a somewhat tried and true formula for Hollywood to re-do an already known property as they see it as a "known" thing with a (hopefully) built-in audience that they need to perhaps market a little less. This may or may not be true but it seems less relevant in a time when the public seems to have trouble remembering films from as few as five years previous, but the studios continue on re-making and fans often continue to protest. I get the fan point of view certainly, as they see the film being remade as "sacred" on one level or another and don't wish to have their memory of that wonderful thing besmirched by this new and potentially terrible thing. I don't find myself particularly phased by remakes anymore and, if anything, I always try to look at them as a propelling a possible boost in interest in the older movie. Anyway, THE BLOB is absolutely one of my favorite horror films from the 1980s. Why it's rarely mentioned in the "great remakes" category is beyond me, but it appears to have picked up a good deal more fan love over the years. It does all the things I feel like a good remake (especially a horror remake) should do. Thankfully there was a decent amount of time between the original film starring a then-unknown young actor named Steve McQueen. That BLOB came out 30 years prior and so despite it being pretty effective for the time it was made, it left room for things to get more intense at the very least. And more intense is where this remake goes for sure. It is this "taking it up a notch" that I really love about the movie. It sits squarely in the now nearly-dead era of practical special effects and that gives it a charm all its own. The effects really stand out and are quite well done and a few of them still even make me wondered how they were done. Other things it has going for it are a clever screenplay by the great Frank Darabont and an excellent cast including the gorgeous Shawnee Smith (also the enchanting Candy Clark) and a fully mulleted Kevin Dillon. I had such a crush on Shawnee Smith after I saw this movie. I was aware of her through SUMMER SCHOOL (which was a family favorite in my house as a kid), but THE BLOB showed a me a whole nother side to here. Apparently, I wasn't the only one as James Wan, Leigh Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman have all outed themselves as having had crushes on her based on this movie and others she did in the 1980s. Though apparently she's not a huge fan of horror films or being scared, I was extremely pleased to see her show up as a regular in the SAW franchise throughout the 2000s. It always seemed to me that through this film she certainly demonstrated a beauty, charisma and star power that should have netted her greater notoriety and a more high-profile career. Folks catching her in THE BLOB for the first time via this good-looking Blu-ray will see exactly what I mean.
At the time of this writing, Screen Archives appears to still have some copies of this Blu-ray available. At last indication, there were fewer than 600 copies remaining from this 5,000 copy limited edition run. I for one was quite pleased to see how Twilight Time upped their usual pressing of 3,000 to 5,000 in anticipation of the strong response to this release. I know they took a lot of heat for their FRIGHT NIGHT Blu-ray a few years back (which they are also re-releasing in January BTW), but it is clear to me that they are a company that are not only passionate about the films they put out and their presentation, but also keeping an ear to the ground and listening to their fans/buyers for feedback. It's not an easy business to be in at the moment, as Blu-rays have lost their golden goose sheen from the point of view of the Studios, but companies like Twilight Time give me hope for the future of physical media continuing to make it into the hands of the film collectors. If you'd like to know more about the company, their releases and why they do what they do, I highly recommend checking out the recent Twilight Time episode of the Killer POV podcast:
http://geeknation.com/podcasts/killer-pov-ep-77-its-twilight-time/
In this episode, TT's Nick Redman goes into detail about them and I found it to be quite enlightening even though I've listened to several interviews with him over the years.

Special Features:
This Blu-ray has a couple really nice features on it for folks who love this movie like I do. First off, they've recorded and included a lovely commentary track with director Chuck Russell which was moderated by Horror Film aficionado Ryan Turek (who runs the venerable Shock Till You Drop website). Russell has a lot to say about the movie and Turek would seem to have been a perfect choice to help coax the most interesting stuff out of him. Russell goes through how his presentation pitch for THE BLOB remake ended up opening the door for his directing debut with New Line on NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, working with Darabont, the effects, the actors and so forth. It's a lively, informative track that certainly lived up to my expectations.
Also included is an 18 minute Friday Night Frights Q&A which was recorded at the Cinefamily repertory theater in Los Angeles. It preceded a screening of the film they put on there and with director Chuck Russell (hosted by Ryan Turek and Joshua Miller). Lots of talk of the effects and how some were done as well as some story choices.
Other supplements on the disc are an isolated score track and the original "green" and "red" theatrical trailers.
If you're interested in this movie and this Blu-ray, I must recommend you head over to Screen Archives forthwith and purchase:
http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/28099/THE-BLOB-1988-LIMIT-1-COPY-PER-CUSTOMER/

AUDREY ROSE (1977; Robert Wise)
"I don't think we're going to prove reincarnation in this picture, but I'm very open to the whole possibility of the supernatural, the paranormal, the possibility of dimensions out there." -Robert Wise
I have come to appreciate Robert Wise more and more as I've gotten older and seen more of his films. Much like one of my heroes, Howard Hawks, he moved deftly between many different genres and was able to do good work in all of them. Horror seemed to be a good spot for him though. From his early Val Lewton pictures like CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (which, like AUDREY ROSE, focuses on a little girl), and THE BODY SNATCHER he was already showing himself to be a solid force in the genre. When he made THE HAUNTING in 1963, he  showed that he had advanced even further with his horror chops. AUDREY ROSE, while one of his later and perhaps slightly minor efforts, is still absolutely worthwhile for the rare combinations of elements that Wise brings to the film.
The way AUDREY ROSE opens (after an unsettling first minute) reminds me a little of MY BODYGUARD. Both films feature folks riding bikes in a city setting with pleasant score music running underneath. I like to call it "Paddington Bear" music, but it really doesn't tie in to that character in any specific way. It's a just a cute child-like feeling that music has that begs the description somehow. And it's not that Michael Small's music for AUDREY ROSE is exactly like Dave Gruisin's for MY BODYGUARD, but they have a tonal and period similarity that got my attention. I think it was mostly because despite opening similarly, both films diverge from that music pretty quickly become two different animals entirely. The thread they have in common (at least in my oddball brain) is that both openings would seem to portray a young person and their innocence (via the score) who is about to go through smithing pretty intense. In the case of Chris Makepeace's character in MY BODYGUARD, he's about to go through a crisis with involving the head bully (Matt Dillon) at his new school. In the case of AUDREY ROSE, her crisis is something more creepy and unnerving in that the main little girl may be the reincarnation of the deceased daughter of a weird dude played by Anthony Hopkins. Reincarnation is an interesting topic and one I've given a little thought to over the years. Can't say I necessarily believe in it, but it is certainly an intriguing concept. My thoughts of it are often reduced to how it's referenced in Albert Brook's DEFENDING YOUR LIFE in the "Past Lives Pavilion" segments. Silly I know, but that comedic portrayal somehow sticks with me. Anyway, in watching this film I started to think about my own little girl and how freaked out I'd be if some strange dude started to obsess over her. In the context of the movie and the time it was made, there was apparently little the police could do during the early stages of the obsession. Buying gifts for the little girl and calling to check to see how she's doing was apparently no big deal (or not actionable) in the eyes of the authorities. My how times have changed. I mean, I haven't ever had to get a restraining order or anything, but it would seem that in our currently hyper-litigious society that such things would never be tolerated. For better or for worse we have become incredibly protective of our children. While it can be seen, as I said, as a perhaps positive shift, it makes it very difficult to make a movie like AUDREY ROSE in the same was as it was in 1977. While the film itself seems to have a certain kinship with both THE EXORCIST and perhaps also ROSEMARY'S BABY, it exists in its own creepy and yet strangely optimistic place. Director Robert Wise expressed in that above quote, exactly what the movie ultimately seems to be going for. He would prefer us dig out his "be open-minded" message amidst the horror-y movie trappings. 
I will say that the little girl in this movie (Susan Swift) is uneasily effective for a few different reason. First and foremost are her eyes. They are very wide, near-buggy and almost slightly crossed in this way that I found really unsettling. Even in the early more innocent interactions with the character, her eyes really threw me. And once she begins to shift into her more "possessed" mode, her eyes became all the more frightening. I couldn't help but imagine how freaked out I would be if my daughter suddenly changed and became this other thing, this other person. It's the kind of thing that creates immediate anxiety in me, not because I have any real fear of it happening, but because there is something just so disturbing about the idea of this little person changing on me like that. The idea that she might some day not know me in the same way rocks me to my very core and therefore makes the movie that much more affecting for me personally. AUDREY ROSE is a unique, spiritual take on the type of horror movie that was being made in the late 60s through the 70s. It speaks to a much less cynical time and yet has elements of the deep paranoia that was a big part of the films of this period. It is an intriguing mix for sure.
Special Features on this disc include an isolated score track and the theatrical trailer.

THE BELIEVERS (1987; John Schlesinger)
In describing THE BELIEVERS to my wife, we immediately spun off into a conversation about THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW as well. My wife had entangled THE BELIEVERS with that film and when I described the early scene featuring the death of one of the characters she was immediately made to think of SERPENT. It's kind of understandable in that both films came out only a year apart and both have plotlines involving voodoo and some crazy rituals. Back to that early death scene though. It's a pretty disturbing sequence and I think it made quite an impression on me when is saw the film as a youngster that I never forgot it (and clearly my wife never did either). In discussing that scene again with my wife, I was reminded how much I disliked it and found it to be a touch unbelievable at least as far as what I would have done in the same scenario. It's a pivotal death and the plot hinges on it I realize, but somehow that didn't make it any less troublesome for me. I do hate when I get nitpicky like this, but this scene is particularly resonant in that Martin Sheen's reaction is quite powerful and I know my mind is also fighting with the idea of why it happened the way it happened while I am am absolutely being heavily affected by what he's doing
. It comes down to a matter of dramatic construction for me and it is very personal as far as my aversion to it. Sometimes you'll see a movie that has a scene that feels like something of a "false note" of  sorts and sometimes those notes make it difficult to find one's footing with the story again. Moving on, I always find it curious that this film was director by the great British auteur (of sorts) John Schlesinger. With such memorable and keenly observed efforts as MIDNIGHT COWBOY, DAY OF THE LOCUST, THE MARATHON MAN and THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN. These were all lead ups to THE BELIEVERS, but they are all great films and show a portrait of a director who knows just what he is doing and works well with actors. Something is off about THE BELIEVERS and I cannot put my finger on it. This is not to say it isn't worth watching because it absolutely is. THE BELIEVERS has a great little ensemble cast that helps up its watchability for sure. Martin Sheen always seems to deliver the goods and here he is backed by the likes of Helen Shaver, Jimmy Smits, Robert Loggia and Richard Masur (who I am a pretty huge fan of). I will say that THE BELIEVERS has a lovely underlying sense of dread about it. I'm often a sucker for a palpable sense of dread in movies. It is fascinating to me that this film was made just a few years before PACIFIC HEIGHTS, which feels like some sort of paranoid extension of THE BELIEVERS or at least a compelling sister film to it. 
Special Features on this disc include an isolated score track and the theatrical trailer.

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN and MARRIED TO THE MOB

DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (1985; Susan Seidelman)
Cinema is littered with films featuring a singers and pop stars in acting roles. Most of them tend to be evidence of why said singers went into music as a career as opposed to acting. Obviously there are exceptions. Elvis had quite a run of movies and even turned in several really solid performances within his rather epic filmography. David Bowie is another one who showed he could act as well as be a music phenomenon. That said, Madonna has an acting track record that is shall we say, more unsuccessful than it is remarkable. She did however find her way into the occasional good flick though and DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN is most likely her best work. Speaking of great work, a HUGE amount of credit for DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN being as good as it is should certainly go to the film's excellent director Susan Seidelman. An NYU alum from the late 1970s, Seidelman showed promise early by garnering a student academy award nomination for her 1976 short AND YOU LOOK LIKE ONE TOO. She would go on to become one of the great and distinct female voices of independent cinema in the 1980s. Her debut feature film SMITHEREENS (1982), which depicts a young woman living in New York City on the outskirts of the city's punk scene still retains something of a cult following to this day. Seidelman really demonstrated a specific and interesting point of view with that film and carried her unique perspective and ear for dialogue into DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, which was her first studio outing. SMITHEREENS was apparently one of the first American independent films selected for competition in the Cannes film festival. It is a neat little movie and I would put it in a class with something like LADIES AND GENTLEMEN THE FABULOUS STAINS (in fact, the two would make a groovy double feature). The fact that Seidelman was coming from this independent and very personal place to the environs of a studio feature make for one of those remarkable and memorable collisions which don't happen often enough for my liking, but when they do they really stand out. DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN is a kind of zeitgeist movie which is always an interesting phenomenon. Apparently, when shooting on the film began, her now classic "Like A Virgin" album had not yet been released, but by the time it came out, the record was a sensation and Madonna was too. Some may remember DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN as "the Madonna movie" as it absolutely served as a quirky public introduction to her (along with her album). It's the kind of thing that studios love to try to plan, but most often cannot so it can a pretty unforgettable union when things line up like this. The movie and Madonna herself blasted into the cultural conversation like a rocket. She inspired clothing trends and other things based on this movie for sure. I cannot remember the chronology of when and it what order I saw Madonna's movies, but I feel like there's a chance I saw a few of the weaker ones first (WHO'S THAT GIRL, SHANGHAI SURPRISE) and that may have colored my viewpoint and tainted and or made me avoid seeing DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN for a time. The other possibility is that I saw it and it just flew right over my head as far as it being a solid movie. I am definitely getting to the age where impressions of movies from when I first saw them are quite cloudy to say the least and it is only upon revisitation that I am either reminded of those impressions or I end up creating entirely new ones. I'm not sure why, but I have somehow tied director Martha Coolidge in with Susan Seidelman now. It may have a good deal to do with my love of VALLEY GIRL and its approach to a certain "authentic" take on Los Angeles as opposed to New York City. Both those films seem to go together for me. Another NYC film that I have a deep love for is Scorsese's AFTER HOURS. My affection for this movie has grown exponentially over the past almost twenty years and I have seen it dozens of times since then. I've seen SUSAN significantly less, but now it has an automatic kinship in that it features Rosanna Arquette in the city too (as does AFTER HOURS). Some may take issue with this film being called a "classic", but I have to say that I can completely see its place and significance not only in terms of the 1980s, New York, Madonna and pop culture in general, but also because of Seidelman herself and what she means to cinema and television as a remarkably solitary and refreshing female voice. You could argue that SMITHEREENS is ground zero for her, but the more known quantity and perhaps her great introduction to us all is through this vivacious, scrappy little movie.
Special Features:
-An Audio Commentary with the film's producers plus the original and alternate endings to the movie.





Bonus:
Here is a poorly filmed, short interview clip of Seidelman at a Q&A discussing why she chose DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN:
Same Q&A, Seidelman on working with Madonna:



MARRIED TO THE MOB (1988; Jonathan Demme)
Putting out Jonathan Demme movie and a Susan Seidelman movie on the same day is a pretty cool thing to do and I have to tip my hat to Kino Lorber Studio Classics for doing so. Both Demme and Seidelman are quirky directors with definitive visions. It sometimes surprises me how successful they became when they both could have seemingly languished in indie-film obscurity for years, but thankfully ended up breaking out and making great studio films. Both Demme and Seidelman come from a place of music love and that is a sadly underappreciated and underrepresented point of view these days. With the exception of independent filmmakers and a few studio directors that collaborate with specific music supervisors, it seems that soundtracks these days are much less personal than they once were. If you look at a Demme film like say SOMETHING WILD, it is immediately apparent that there is a music fan in there somewhere. A lot of the song choices are just not the ones that would be commonly selected, even in 1986 when that film came out. The same thing goes for the soundtrack to MARRIED TO THE MOB. Here's the track listing:
1. "Jump in the River" - Sinéad O'Connor
2. "Bizarre Love Triangle" - New Order
3. "Suspicion of Love" - Chris Isaak
4. "Liar, Liar" - Debbie Harry
5. "Time Bums" - Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers
6. "Devil Does Your Dog Bite?" - Tom Tom Club
7. "Goodbye Horses" - Q. Lazzarus
8. "Queen of Voudou" - Voodooist Corporation
9. "Too Far Gone" - The Feelies
10. "You Don't Miss Your Water" - Brian Eno 

So, for me, Demme comes from this neat musical place and brings his personality into his films musically in a way that has always appealed to me. Then you have Demme's sense of humor. He's clearly an intelligent, movie-savy kind of guy and that can often result in some very enjoyable scenes. Say along the lines of this:

Now, this makes for a fun, genre-aware and pretty hilarious comedy. That's another thing Demme does well is mixing comedy and other tonal approaches together into a delicious melange of one particular and specific "Demme Movie". If you look at  SOMETHING WILD for example, few films can take you from what is basically a screwball comedy throwback type thing into a much much more intense thriller at a certain point. Some might say there's a reason these types of things don't happen too often, but I find it an enjoyable little excursion and an example of someone sort of challenging the cinematic status quo and saying, "does it always have to be exactly THIS way?". In MARRIED TO THE MOB, he takes that well worn mob movie cliche of "they keep pulling me back in" and turns it on its head by giving it a female perspective. Demme just has an energy about him that is always exhilarating and when you watch his films you can feel why they have lasted and stayed popular over the years. Even his less-known work like MELVIN AND HOWARD has had a lasting impact in that it inspired filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson who, ti could be argued, is one of the most exciting directors working today. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Scream Factory - The Vincent Price Collection Vol. II on Blu-ray

Last year, Scream Factory made a lot of our dreams come true with their fantastic Vincent Price Collection on Blu-ray. This year they've done it again and VP fans everywhere will be rejoicing. There can never be enough Vincent Price in high-definition!
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TOMB OF LIGEIA (1965; Roger Corman)
The last of Corman's Poe cycle and the one that many (including Martin Scorsese) consider the best. Oddly, I have to say that I love Vincent Price's sunglasses in this film, the ones that protect his sensitive eyes from that horrible sunlight. Price could make just about any accessory look cool, but theses shades are a signature item that stand out from this film. If you remembered nothing else from the movie you could say, "Hey, what's the one with Vincent Price and those groovy specs man?" and any cinephile worth his or her salt would immediately know what film you're talking about. Some other notable things about LIGEIA include the fact that it was written by future academy award winner Robert Towne (CHINATOWN, SHAMPOO, THE LAST DETAIL) and was the first of the Poe films to not be bound to a set for it's locations. LIGEIA was apparently a collaborative idea between Price and Corman in that they wanted to use a real location as an actual place in the film (in this case the unforgettable ruin that they film many scenes in and around).
The transfer on this film is a touch soft, and the film clearly hasn't been cleaned up in any major way which is a bit of a shame as it is absolutely among the best films that either Corman or Price ever made.
As a nice bonus, TOMB OF LIGEIA features an introduction and final words from the great Mr. Price himself. These intros and outros seem to come from a 1982 PBS (possibly from Iowa public TB) broadcast that were part of a series of several nights of Price films. He gives some nice insights in both segments and though they are clearly from a video master, they are nonetheless a perfect addition.
Other Supplements Included:
Audio Commentary By Producer/Director Roger Corman and a NEW Audio Commentary With Elizabeth Shepherd.


THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959; William Castle)
This favorably remembered Willoam Castle film is one some folks point to as being among their favorite Vincent Price roles. It's certainly a fun ride,even if not quite as gimmicky as some of Castle's other movies. In watching it this time (I think I'd seen it years and years ago after reading Castle's amazing autobiographical boom STEP RIGHT UP...) I noticed that it would seem to be a potential influencer (even if subconsciously) of some films in the 1980s. CLUE and APRIL FOOL'S day come immediately to mind and though I realize their roots lie in  things like Agatha Christie, it's hard for me to resist the idea that HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL mightn't have played a small part in the setup of both. Even something as silly as 1980's MIDNIGHT MADNESS has some small threads of Vincent Price within the "game master" character of "Leon". Anyway, I just love to draw lines from older films like this to things that were made years later wether there's and credence to it or not. I always think of the prevalence of films like this on television in the 1960s and 70s wherein they firmly cemented themselves in the minds of many a youngster (and later filmmaker) watching the Late Late Show some autumn evening. I'm reminded that I do miss that bygone era when movies on TV all the time really did drill them into the popular culture and the collective unconscious of so many people. It was a time when folks like The Marx Brothers and Vincent Price were known and loved by everyone. I miss that shared cultural consciousness and it's a tough thing to have nowadays with the immeasurable amounts of content kids have to sift through. Regardless, I like that somehow Vincent Price has continued to hang on and be recognized.
Supplements Included:
Audio Commentary By Film Historian Steve Haberman, "Vincent Price: Renaissance Man" Featurette, "The Art Of Fear" Featurette, "Working With Vincent Price" Featurette.

COMEDY OF TERRORS (1962; Jacques Tourneur)
Talk about your genre dream-teams. Here, Karloff, Lorre, & Price star in this early horror spoof about some funeral home employees who "create" business for themselves when things are a bit slow. I cannot believe I had somehow avoided seeing this film until now. Outside of that remarkable trio at the center, there's also the Jacques Tourneur factor. Tourneur is absolutely among my favorite directors and so it's ridiculous for me not to have sought out all of his stuff at this point. Between OUT OF THE PAST and his work with Val Lewton, he thoroughly proved his genius, but I had yet to see him take on a comedy.
The movie sets it's tone wonderfully and right out of the gate with a lovely bit of slapstick within the first two minutes. I sometimes love it when a movie makes a point of showing its hand almost immediately. It's as if to say, "okay, we know you might not have been convinced by this film's title as to what it is what with this cast and all, but yeah, we're going super silly here". And, like the movie itself, Vincent Price's character wastes no time establishing who he is (a total alcoholic dick). Price has certainly played his share if disreputable types, but this guy is right up there in terms of forthright and gleeful assholery. I mean, it's humorous don't get me wrong, but he really commits and goes right over the top with it immediately. Price may have had a humble, self deprecating view of his own acting, but as far as him always being just what he was supposed to be, he was a consummate pro.
Supplements Included:
Introduction And Parting Words By Vincent Price, "Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Comedy Of Terrors".


THE RAVEN (1963; Roger Corman)
THE RAVEN opens with a simple title card, followed by "Produced and directed by Roger Corman".  After that, Vincent Price reads from Poe's infamous text in voice-over while Corman attempts to set the mood with shots of waves crashing on some rocks. I can't think of too many better ways to open a movie than with Vincent Price reading Poe. If ever a voice was more perfectly designed to fit in with the way Poe wrote, it's Price's voice. What is also fitting is to open the movie with a scene of Vincent Price and a talking bird. More films should have started this way, even randomly so.
Supplements Included:
Introduction And Parting Words By Vincent Price, "Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Raven" & "Corman's Comedy Of Poe".




THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964; Ubaldo Ragona)
Before Charlton Heston in OMEGA MAN and of course Will Smith in I AM LEGEND, Vincent Price starred in this early adaptation of Richard Matheson's masterpiece of horror fiction. While I must admit that it was the Heston film that first caught my attention and ultimately drew me to the Matheson novel, I have found myself fascinated by all the filmic adaptations that were attempted. I say attempted because I don't feel like any one of them does the story proper justice. I AM LEGEND might be my favorite book of all-time so of course I hold it to a pretty high standard. That said, I actually enjoy all the adaptations quite a bit. While it is difficult to capture the book's point of view and inner monologue properly, I appreciate each of the attempts. This version does a solid job carrying off the tone of the book pretty well, and I do very much dig Vincent Price in the lead role. It's a good fit.
Supplements Included:
Audio Commentary With Authors David Del Valle And Derek Botelho and "Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Last Man On Earth".

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972; Robert Fuest)
After a seeming but ambiguous demise at the end of the first PHIBES movie , Vincent Price awakens three years following the events of that movie as this one begins. The disfigured and psychotic Phibes is on a mission to resurrect his late wife here and he needs some stolen papyrus scrolls to do so. He chases down and dispatches the thieves rather creatively. One could compare Phibes to later horror icons like Freddy Krueger in terms of his murderous creativity. In the first PHIBES film, Price's wife is played by the gorgeous cult actress Caroline Munro. In RISES AGAIN, she was replaced by an Australian model named Valli Kemp (who later had roles in ROLLERBALL and THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER). No offense to Miss Kemp, but she ain't no Caroline Munro (few gals are). Also interesting is that this film was directed by director Robert Fuest who also did British films like THE FINAL PROGRAMME and AND SOON THE DARKNESS. This movie should also be remembered as the one where Vincent Price sings "Over the Rainbow".


THE RETURN OF THE FLY (1959; Edward Bernds)
This film is a super rare case of a sequel to a color film that was made in Black & White. That is an interesting choice and perhaps part of the reason I remembered the original FLY as a B&W movie for the longest time. The plot of this sequel is a bit more convoluted than its predecessor and involves the son of the scientist from the first movie (played by actor Brett Halsey) carrying on his experiment but it also entangles industrial spies, British agents and other complications into the mix. 
Supplements Include:
Audio Commentary With Actor Brett Halsey And Film Historian David Del Valle.


Like Volume One of this collection, this Blu-ray set is a no-brainer-must-own kind of scenario for Vincent Price fans as well as horror fans in general. It's well produced with decent to solid transfers and a buttload of nice supplements. Hats off to Scream Factory on this one and here's hoping they have more like it up their sleeve down the line.
https://www.shoutfactory.com/film/film-comedy/the-vincent-price-collection-ii

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jack Webb Blogathon - THE D.I.



I am honored to be part of this JACK WEBB Blogathan, please check out the Hub for the event here:
http://wp.me/p4SU0r-6O
THE D.I. (1957; Jack Webb)
I don't know about you, but when I think of drill instructors I think of R. Lee Ermey. Clear;y though, Ermey himself must have seen this film at some point I have to think. It would seem that FULL METAL JACKET director Stanley Kubrick was a fan of the film for sure:
THE D.I. opens with a shot of a Marine placard which reads,  "Let's Be Damned Sure That No Man's Ghost Will Ever Say - "If Your Training Program Had Only Done It's Job"". Out side of the obvious erroneous use of "it's" versus "its", (which is kinda funny), this quote sets the tone/stage for a serious movie. The very first scene after that is a young soldier stepping into frame and addressing Jack Webb in the titular role. The back of Webb's head and his voice is all we get in this shot, but it is effective enough to convey his character in a matter of three or four lines. Webb has always had a specific cadence and tone of voice that are very specific and compelling. We all remember his DRAGNET voice-overs and how perfectly they worked inside of the police-procedural, investigative environment of that TV show. Webb delivers his dialogue in such a sharp, machine-gun-quick manner that it's hard not to feel how he easily commands his trainees. His no-nonsense persona is well suited to a role like THE D.I. for sure. I think it's quite interesting that Jack Webb served as lead actor and director on this film as well. This was his third feature film (he'd done a DRAGNET movie in 1954 and PETE KELLY'S BLUES in 1955) and it's well put together (and acted by him). Some of the soldier boys are a little stiff, but it almost works in the film's favor as they seem justifiably nervous. Jack Webb was apparently a pretty no-nonsense kind of guy in real life and took his work quite seriously. Seems like another reason he plays this part so well (and even unsympathetically at times).
In poking around for information about the production, I came across news of the Ribbon Creek Incident of 1956 (where a drunken Marine staff sergeant drowned six of his recruits during an outlandish exercise). Though the staff sergeant was ultimately acquitted of the manslaughter charges, it was bad press for the Marines of course. Apparently many Hollywood types approached the U.S. Marines about dramatizing the incident soon after that, but Jack Webb chose a much more pro-Marines story/film and was met with open military arms and many technical advisors to boot. Webb even plays "The Halls of Montezuma" over the credits of his movie. The film is certainly a much different movie than FULL METAL JACKET and they both have distinctly disparate takes on Marine training (though both films take place use Parris Island as a location). Like FULL METAL JACKET, THE D.I. serves as a kind of "look inside" for civilians as to how the Marine Corps prepares its soldiers for combat (though I wouldn't call FMJ a pro-Marines movie by any means). Both films have the effect of being a bit shocking and tough to watch on parts because the training is quite grueling. It's very interesting to compare what Kubrick would have you take away from his peek at the process versus Webb. Both films have somewhat similar stories in that they focus on a single platoon, which happens to have one problem recruit within. It's interesting to see how different the movies are though despite that. There's certainly a perspective shift in that THE D.I. is from Jack Webb's point of view whilst FMJ is through the eyes of the young soldiers. I have to admit that my own personal feelings about Jack Webb end up taking away from his effectiveness in the role on some small level. He's great, don't get me wrong, but somehow he isn't scary like R. Lee Ermey can be in FMJ. I feel like a Drill Instructor needs to be scary to be believable. Webb is serious and always on point with the way he speaks to his platoon, but I found myself occasionally grinning at some of the cracks he makes to them. While I also laughed a bit at some things Ermey said in FMJ, it was a laugh that was often immediately followed by a quick drawing in of my breath as I felt the tension between him and his recruits. Webb's persona and his years of being Joe Friday (and parodied as that character) certainly undercut my suspension of disbelief as I watched the film. Webb is completely believable though and I wish I didn't have my previous popular cultural attachments to interfere with what he was doing. It might just be that Ermey was a Drill Instructor in real life prior to becoming an actor and Webb wasn't (in fact he "washed out" when he enlisted in the Air Force). In writing this post, I realize I may sound like I'm bagging on Jack Webb, however that is not my intention at all. He is an actor I admire very much and his work as a director is quite solid. I was just swept away while watching the film by the fact that there are basically two truly standout Drill Instructor performances in cinema. I think because I saw FULL METAL JACKET first (and many many times) I found myself wrestling with the two portrayals and unable to help myself from comparing them. Webb comes off as ever so slightly smug in some moments whereas Ermey comes off as frightening. I think the difference might be that Ermey (as expressed in the film) feels an obligation to make sure that none of his platoon are "weak links" that might end up getting any other Marines killed due to their negligence. He's really kind of trying to terrify them into understanding that they need to take this stuff seriously. Webb does some of the same with his D.I. character, but like I said, he's just not as scary. I think it's really all about the eyes. Webb's eyes are a little dead (at least here), like those of a shark. Ermey's eyes are often wide and crazy-looking and there is a big difference there. Regardless of all this back and forth comparing, I still highly recommend that folks check out THE D.I. It makes a neat companion piece to FULL METAL JACKET and is clearly a text that Kubrick used to make his film more effective (he seems to have cribbed some of Webb's techniques for shooting the barracks at the very least). Without one we don't have the other (at least not in the same way).

Here's a rare extended trailer for THE D.I.

THE D.I. is currently available on DVD via Warner Archive:
http://goo.gl/9UIEce



Saturday, October 18, 2014

Scream Factory - SQUIRM on Blu-ray


SQUIRM (1976; Jeff Lieberman)
"Tell him about the worms."
"The worms?"
"They bite!"

Jeff Lieberman is a filmmaker I have a lot of respect and admiration for. He's only made a handful of features, but he has a very specific authorial stamp in terms of the genre films he's put out. His genre work also has some nice variety to it. From the electrically-charged killer worms on the loose in SQUIRM, the backwoods slasher antics of JUST BEFORE DAWN to the acid freakouts of BLUE SUNSHINE and the alien mind controll-y-ness of REMOTE CONTROL, he's crafted a neat little group of cult favorites. I've even yet to see his 2004 feature SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER, but I've only heard good things. One thing Lieberman always seems to mix into his movies is a fun, offbeat sense of humor without losing the thrills, scares and creeps of each particular story he undertakes. He's a low-budget director,  so that makes me think of him as independent guy who makes movies his own terms for the most part and that's one of the things I admire about him. 
SQUIRM was Lieberman's debut film and by some accounts it remains his most popular work to date. It's was even screened(as was his movie JUST BEFORE DAWN) as part of Cinefamily's amazing 'United States of Horror' midnight movies event last year:
http://www.cinefamily.org/films/the-united-states-of-horror/
I know that the programmers at Cinefamily were looking for some cool examples of regional horror and Lieberman's movies are great portraits of the areas they were filmed in. SQUIRM was filmed in Port Wentworth, Georgia in 24 days. It absolutely has that regional flavor that is often quite an enjoyable outcropping of this sort of shoestring budget cinema. Though Lieberman uses actors that aren't resoundingly experienced(and clearly some non-actors too), he directs and photographs them at a level that elevates this material above others of a similar ilk. I'm personally a huge fan of the "animals attack"/"nature strikes back" genre so this one already has a leg up in my book. It also features some early special effects work from the great Rick Baker and that can only make your movie better. He does a nice job making these worms make your skin crawl(and crawl inside your skin!). Those effects, and the assured directorial control of a cult auteur like Lieberman make it easy to see why this movie has hung on so long in the esteem of horror movie fans all over. Its well put-together, suspenseful, disgusting and funny throughout. Quality stuff.
This Scream Factory Blu-ray maintains the level of quality they've been shelling out this year in that it looks and sounds really great. One of the things I neglected to mention above is the music in this flick. It's kinda cheesy and synthy, but it just adds to the overall feeling of this very non-Hollywood production. It all sounds great here too.

Special Features:
This Scream Factory Collector's Edition has a few nice supplements:
--An Audio Commentary By Writer/Director Jeff Lieberman.
--EUREKA! – a look at where the idea for SQUIRM came from with Jeff Lieberman.
--DIGGING IN – interviews with writer/director Jeff Lieberman and actor Don Scardino.


Bonus:
Here's a cool Interview that Mick Garris did with Lieberman in 1980 for the Z-Channel. They discuss SQUIRM and BLUE SUNSHINE:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Davey Collins

Davey Collins had the same misspent childhood that many of you did: Watching strange movies via late-night/Saturday afternoon television programming or VHS. As he crawled into and back out of adolescence, he realized movies were the most important thing in his life and had taught him most of what he knew. He ditched class and went to the library to read books about film noir and westerns. He discovered some of his favorite filmmakers weren’t always the ones widely appreciated (“Where’s the Reginald Le Borg chapter?”). His first appreciation of literature came about by tracking down and reading the source material for his favorite films. He currently works in the hospitality racket and catches himself shining his ass from time to time by making allusions to old movies while mired in meetings. Lately, he’s been getting together material for a print film zine entitled “Strange Illusions” which focuses primarily on budget-starved cinema of the 1930’s-1970’s. He’s on Twitter @Davey_Wade.
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The Lonely Sex (1959)
Carl Theodor Dreyer was born about forty years too late and on the wrong continent. Things didn’t go his way and he wound up living out of his car, picking up day labor gigs where ever he could.  When he had any extra dough, he’d go to the cinema.  He only paid one admission to Summer Interlude but, when ushers didn’t clear the theater, he watched it take three laps.  He caught a program of experimental films at the Gramercy but didn’t speak with anyone else in attendance (too shy or too jittery from all-coffee-no-food).  An urge rolled in on him and nagged and nagged but kept him warm in the backseat nights.  When an opportunity presented itself to produce and direct a sex thriller, he latched on and turned over the inspired results to Joseph Brenner.
Maybe Richard Hilliard wasn’t the second coming of Dreyer set to spring forth from the low-budget exploitation scene (and he probably wasn’t living in a Buick), but one look at The Lonely Sex reveals him to be an artist of the most admirable kind:  One who secedes from the low expectation of mere quotas, pulls through and above limitation. The opening sequence is a throwaway.  A voyeur, later revealed as a principal character in the film, peers through a barred window into a stripper’s dressing room.  It’s as if Hilliard is saying “Here’s your tits, now you can leave.”  What follows is a strange, experimental work with roots growing throughVampyr, Blood of the Poet, M, PRC chillers, psychological noir, and American Avant-Garde (especially Harrington).  My personal discovery of it (via Vinegar Syndrome’s Drive-in Collection pairing with Anatomy of a Psycho) was no less revelatory than my first viewings of Dementia (Daughter of Horror),The Savage Eye, or Carnival of Souls.  
The dreary alienation Hilliard conveys in his outcast sufferer is as successful as any film which attempts such.  Even with a short running time (58 minutes), the film takes deliberate care portraying the empty existence of our maniac (though sympathetic to the point that I don’t feel like the term is appropriate…then I remember he leaves corpses in Memorial Park).  Even his changing positions on a cot in his shack---the throes of depression; the drowsy monotonous ads that play on his radio are as expressionistic as any visual.
The maniac’s counter is the aforementioned peeper from the opening.  He is the true scoundrel of the piece, relying on thin guise upheld due only to the apathy of others. Though a tenant at a boarding house for some time, he’s been granted enough disregard to explain away his carefully timed intrusion on an undressing female tenant with “I’m sorry…..I thought this was my room.”  It is he who eventually assumes the role of “angry villagers.”  The film may not be completely successful in its statement against this type of double-standard, but comes off admirable in its intention.
Hilliard is best known for associating himself with Del Tenney working on such films asHorror of Party Beach and Violent Midnight(Psychomania).  The first Psychotronic book prints a still depicting a Russian-roulette sequence from a film Hilliard did called Wild is My Love that seems to be a lost film.  I’d really like to see it (add it to my most-wanted list:  Spring Night, Summer Night aka Miss Jessica is Pregnant, and 1965’s Rat Fink…both have great trailers) to find out if it shares any qualities of The Lonely Sex.

They Drive by Night (1938) 
Obviously, let us not confuse this with the great Raoul Walsh picture from a couple of years later (although they do share several similar scenes of trucks moving across eternal night, their drivers stopping at diners for coffee and sandwiches they can barely afford).  This British production, shot at Warner’s First National Studio in Teddington (bombed hard a few years later) and points outward, is Cornell Woolrich transplanted across pond.  Its wet nights are as waterlogged and dark as if conjured from the brittle pages of Black Mask magazine itself; a copy found in the crawlspace of some repressed flat.
I first read of this film in the newsprint pages of a Sinister Cinema catalog (remember the joys of reading enthusiastic capsules in movie catalogs?) which hit just about every keyword that could possibly put a film on my little radar.  Along with the review was a disclaimer about the poor source materials.  A TV broadcast of acceptable quality has since surfaced, but the truth is that I sat on this for years wondering what it was really like.  Only recently did I catch up to it, and that Sinister review proved to be more than hucksterism.
That Woolrich familiarity…although penned by a gentleman by the name James Curtis, the picture conjures more of Woolrich than many of the adaptations actually sourced from his works.  A protagonist just released from jail falls right into a nightmare scenario:  Visiting his girlfriend, he finds her lifeless.  He responds to the situation the way many down-on-luck characters do in bleak crime tales.  The confusion, the cyclical attempt to elude detached pursuers that leads nowhere, the tough dancehall girl who believes he didn’t do it, the eccentrics who populate the night world.  All here.
British films of the thirties often get flagged for a creaky stuffiness that you will not find on display in They Drive By Night.  When compared with early American Noirs it predates (Street of Chance, I Wake up Screaming, Among the Living), it can stand alongside confidently, even favorably.  The camera dares to wander out into the rain and moves swiftly to catch pace of our protagonist.  The settings are numerous:  The prison yard, tenement apartments, pubs, numerous city blocks, muddy rural roads, dingy roadhouses, abandoned mansions, a handsome English dance-hall, the residence of a neurotic sex deviant.
And if I can only list one reason to see They Drive by Night, it’s that the above-mentioned sex deviant is portrayed by Ernest Thesiger.  If Ernest Thesiger was only on-screen to comb his hair in a mirror, that would be enough. What we get is another of his nuanced and eccentric dementos.  It’s a must-see.
If you watch old movies maybe this has happened to you:  You were looking into a particular filmmaker or performer and noticed that their output ceased somewhere in the early to mid-forties.  You get that feeling of dread as you realize that war, even generations past, is somehow still robbing the world.  The talented director of this picture, Arthur B. Woods, didn’t make it home from his service in the RAF.


The Young Captives (1959)
A very fond era in my life came when I discovered Cult Movies and Psychotronic magazines.  Sitting at the newsstands or at home lying on my twin bed under flashlight, gateways were unlocked and context was born.  Within these invaluable and sorely missed journals, juvenile delinquency films received significant coverage alongside the usual horror, science fiction, and general cult fare.  Items such as The Cool and the Crazy, High School Big Shot, Teenage Wolfpack, The Young Don’t Cry, and the like came across essential for these seeking the total “Incredibly Strange” cinema experience.  The attention given to JD pictures seems to have evaporated these days.  That’s kind of a shame; some are real winners that climb from the confines of genre (as if busting out of juvie), but nearly all are diverting.
The Young Captives fits into the sub-genre just enough to exonerate the marketing campaign of any charges of public deception. Just a tad over an hour, getting from opening credits to end-title is a quick ride.  The movie may have been less memorable if not for the talent of Irvin Kershner who was still years away from directing one of the greatest films of all time (The Flim-Flam Man).  In his hands,The Young Captives is tighter, moodier, and more inventive than what Paramount would have been willing to release anyway.       
Roughnecking nut Steven Marlo (returning from Kershner’s JD drug-shocker Stakeout on Dope Street) gives his supervisor a dirt-nap and beats trail on his motorcycle.  His bike breaks down and he hitches a ride with a pair of eloping teens.  After he figures he’s weirded them out sufficiently, he slowly moves the situation into hostage territory.  At a roadside diner he excuses himself and chats up a pretty blonde having her car serviced.  About a minute later he stuffs her corpse in the trunk.  The typical police investigation scenes are given a lift by an overall relaxed approach and the presence of the late Ed Nelson who gives everything to his with-it detective character.
Pay attention to the car antenna thrashing scene for future reference should you ever find yourself on the wrong end of one.
The Naked Road (1959)
There’s a book I’d like to get called “Ed Wood, Mad Genius:  A Critical Study of the Films” wherein it seems film journalist Rob Craig sets aside the point-and-laugh approach and places EDWJ’s work in cultural framework.  I sympathize with this approach because despite (or maybe directly due to) technical shortcomings and left-field execution, Wood’s films (and others from the same window in time---especially Mesa of Lost Women) penetrate my psyche in the same manner that, say, a Cocteau film does.  In fact, these are the type of films that bulldozed that opening into my subconscious.  This I realized one day while browsing a local Dallas video store.  The phone rang and the clerk fielded a called concerning the availability of The Brain Eaters (my favorite science fiction film of the fifties).  Not only did the caller have no luck in finding it, she/he earned a scoff from the clerk.  So badly I wanted to plead the case that I wouldn’t be in the market for Renoir films that day had it not been for abnormal masterpieces such as The Brain Eaters.  I know I’m not the only one to feel this way.
The Naked Road isn’t an Ed Wood picture, but shares similar qualities of anti-logic.  The villains of the piece (the mastermind of which comes off as a bare-pantry amalgamation of Laird Cregar and Sydney Greenstreet) provide “entertainment” for their clients.  They work in PR, you understand.  Rather than find mid-range hookers and negotiate their fee, they opt for the ease of kidnapping, forced drug-addiction, rape, and eventual murder of girls they find in vulnerable positions.  This saves a few dollars, I imagine.  The risk/reward between pandering charges and the above-mentioned atrocities never seems to have been given a weighing-out. 
First time director William Martin (who later turned out the more coherent and decent indy crime flick Jacktown) employs some very unique beats here.  Characters react belatedly, as if their every move was subject to strategic consideration; efforts such as getting up from a chair.  The camera is patient.  The other characters on-screen are patient.  I found my eyes darting between characters in these moments, in search of some reaction, or motivation or anything.  It was late at night and I wondered if I was stupid.  My attention was undivided; I was bewitched.  The dialog is sometimes spoken as if Martin had instructed them to make a thorough study of Lugosi’s Dracula cadence. The resulting inflection is so off-putting it’s difficult to imagine it as unintentional as it must have been.  This effect is so altering, that words spoken in The Naked Road cannot possibly mean the same thing they do on typed page.
On sequence sealed it.  The enforcer of this unholy ring of criminality casually drops a doped-up damsel from a high window.  When he notices that his murderous act has been witnessed by an unwilling accomplice, he feigns an overstated indifference by sway-walking past her in what may be the most exaggerated bit of expression I have ever seen an actor go for.  He gets around the corner and, CUT TO:  He’s panicking down the stairs in full sprint.  I’d like to be around for an audience reaction to this.
The Naked Road can be found in a six-pack called “Weird-Noir” which was released without much fanfare a while back from Something Weird.  If you’re reading this, it belongs on your shelf.  A wonderful package (The 7th Commandment is a real winner).
The Night God Screamed (1971)
First off, great title.  That title purports to be so horrifying that God, after having overseen plague and pestilence, war and famine, peered down on the events of the night portrayed here and let loose a shriek of terror.
The film does have at least one pretty hefty shock scene (rather early on too), but belongs to that breed of seventies thrillers that slowly handcrafts a sense of dread.  The post-Manson conservative knee-jerk scenario of batty hippie cults on the loose isn’t anything entirely novel anymore.  The Night God Screamed doesn’t have the did-you-just-see-that effect of I Drink Your Blood, but it’s the better film in all other regards.  A sincere approach to the material along with a few nice touches help to separate it from the pack, but it’s Jeanne Crain who really makes it worth rediscovering.
The first thing evident about Jeanne Crain is that she is still a stunning beauty here in the early seventies.  Perhaps she’s the oldest character I’ve ever developed a crush on. And furthermore, she’s as invested in the part as can be expected.  In that aforementioned jolt, I believed her terror in what ends up, despite the exploitative conception, as a rather heart-breaking and difficult scene to perform.   Even when walking down the sidewalk during transitional sequences, Crain is an interesting subject.  What’s nice is that she lends class to an already above-average thriller.  The film’s nearly anti-climactic downer conclusion may leave some scratching their heads, but I can’t count this among its few missteps.
The film even introduces its own boogeyman which is effectively left unexplained.  “The Atoner” is a wooden cross-bearing, hooded monk figure who arrives to distribute violent death.  It almost sends the film over into full-fledged horror.  This is all in the best spirit of the type of macabre chiller that would run on Saturday afternoon when I was too young for all this; the type of thing that cost me countless hours of sleep and likely shed years from my life.
 This is one everyone should really track down.  I’ll add the expected “It would be nice if _______ got their hands on some nice elements and released a blu-ray.”  Until then, I’ll lie awake in fear of the Atoner!


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