Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Scream Factory - TENTACLES & REPTILICUS and GHOSTHOUSE & WITCHERY onBlu-ray



TENTACLES (1977; Ovidio G. Assonitis)
The success of JAWS in 1975 led (as all movie successes do) to not only JAWS sequels, but a fair amount of JAWS-knockoffs. The main force of evil in these films took many forms. In GRIZZLY, the plot of the film is basically identical to JAWS, but the story has been transplanted from Amity Island to a National Park and the shark replaced by a killer grizzly bear. Same thing with RAZORBACK, but instead of a shark there's a giant boar. Even THE CAR (a movie about a demon-possessed automobile that runs people down) was stealing from the plot of JAWS to exist. These movies were being made all over the world. GRIZZLY and the CAR were American productions, but RAZORBACK was Australian. Italy was even getting in on the act, at least as a location for American International Pictures. 
I like to think of TENTACLES as a "vacation movie" for much of the veteran ensemble involved. I can just imagine Shelley Winters and John Huston saying, "Sure, I'll take a trip to Italy to hang out and make a movie!". TENTACLES has that similarity to the 70s disaster flicks in that it has an amazing cast whose faces could fill those little boxes at the bottom of the posters. Henry Fonda, Bo Hopkins, and Claude Akins also headline this one. They are surrounded by a sea of Italian actors and extras. There's something about Italian productions trying to fake American locations that always amuses me. It's especially adorable when the "American" scenes are juxtaposed with the music of workhorse Italian composer Stelvio Cipriani. A few notes from his score and you feel like your overseas already (and I love that). As with the slasher films of the 1980s, the JAWS Knockoffs of the late 70s (and early 80s) follow a pretty basic structural pattern. As with slashers, we typically have our "inciting incident" where a few characters we don't know meet their untimely demise. This is followed by an often protracted "discovery phase" wherein our main characters slowly come to realize that there is some kind of monster on the loose. That discovery phase is made more palatable in this movie because you've got a bunch of good actors doing their thing. I mean, I could just sit and watch Shelley Winters and John Huston have breakfast for hours. That stuff fascinates me. It is always fascinating to see great actors making their way through somewhat lesser material. It's like watching a great boxer fight way below their weight class - there's still grace there, but it's clear they could clobber if they wanted to. Anyway, TENTACLES is jolly good time and one of my favorites from the late 70s crop of knockoffs.





REPTILICUS (1961; Sidney W. Pink)
I hadn't seen this one before and it was very interesting to watch it back to back with TENTACLES. The dialogue delivery is a little stilted, but in that charming way that it could be with sci-fi films of this period. Also, the approach to monster-movie filmmaking had obviously shifted a bit between 1961 and 1977 when TENTACLES came out. REPTILICUS takes it time with the "discovery phase" of the movie wherein in scientists are analyzing bits of flesh and bone that were recovered from a drilling site. So this movie has a lot of science-talk and theorizing before we ever see a creature. In TENTACLES, cut to the chase a bit more quickly (people are getting killed by the Octopus within minutes of the films opening). REPTILICUS, because of the stiffly delivered exposition and whatnot, feels more like a movie that Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have featured on their program. I find a certain charm in the long run-up to the action in a monster flick like this. Scientists talk amongst themselves, then they have press conferences and the military becomes involved. It's a slow process, but it's kind of an inherent part of the structure of these movies. As with TENTACLES, REPTILICUS is a result of the success of another movie (in this case it was GODZILLA). Unlike GODZILLA, the monster is not a man in a suit, but rather a puppet of sorts. He shoots a neon green acid slime from his mouth which is depicted by almost cartoon-like lines coming from his maw. I watched this movie with my 6-year old daughter and she got a real kick out of it. She is currently in a phase of liking giant monster movies and I am very excited about that trend. I believe that at least some of the appeal for her in this movie was the monster being more puppet-y. I guess you just have to be a certain kind of movie fan who enjoys old cheesy special effects to dig this kind of thing, but if you are into it then it is quite charming in it's own way.





WITCHERY (1988; Fabrizio Laurenti)
Any movie that opens with a nightgown-clad, pregnant woman in the midst of some kind of desolate landscape being pursued by (what looks like) Amish farmers with sharp tools has my attention. It's a slightly campy and yet oddly terrifying scenario - perhaps because the pregnant woman is breathing heavily and genuinely running for her life. The sequence also ends with a crazy stunt so that makes the opening all the better. Enter Linda Blair. Also pregnant and having bad dreams. Through an odd turn of events, she ends up on an island with David Hasselhoff and his girlfriend and a few other folks. The island itself has a history of superstition and witchcraft about it. Things go south real quick once they all arrive.
This movie is pretty trippy in parts. While the characters are trapped on the haunted witchtrap of an island, all kinds of weirdness goes down. People are sucked into tub drains and down trash chutes in red psychedelic sequences (which resemble a red version of the opening animation from a James Bond flick). Bits of the movie itself that we are watching is shown the characters on an old projector. It's bizarre stuff. Mouths are sewn shut, people are burned alive, general mass hysteria.
Let me just digress for a second and go on a Hasselhoff tangent. You know you love the guy, but you're cheating yourself of the full "Hoff" experience if you don't check him out in some of his earlier film work. I mean, I love him in KNIGHT RIDER, BAYWATCH and even THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE, but you've not lived until you've experienced the zaniness he brings to things like REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS. While he's much more toned down in this movie, he's still a goof and very fun to watch. He and Linda Blair actually followed up this horror flick with a low-budget actioner called BAIL OUT which is a bad movie to be sure but a very very entertaining one. 

Anyway, so WITCHERY is notable in that it puts Linda Blair in the position of speaking in a supernatural voice and looking creepy. Not EXORCIST creepy mind you, this movie just gives her really teased-out frizzy hair (as if she was just electrocuted) to make her look nutty. This movie also has one heckuva a "huh?!" kinda ending - one of the best of that type that I've seen in a while.



GHOSTHOUSE (1988; Umberto Lenzi)
After watching the crazy opening of this movie, I started to wonder who was responsible for it. When the director credit rolled it all made sense. Umberto Lenzi is the man behind this one and he is no slouch in terms of making out-there crazy films. Watch a little bit of NIGHTMARE CITY (which you really should do if you haven't) and you'll have an idea of the lunacy I'm talking about.
One unique thing about this one is that it is part of that rarified and very tiny subgenre of films wherein a HAM radio plays a key role. The only other two I can think of are FREQUENCY and CITIZEN'S BAND. The HAM radio operating main dude in GHOSTHOUSE stumbles on a frightening call for help one night and uses his amazing computer skills to locate the origin of the signal (a haunted house). It's rather humorous to watch a film about characters that communicate this way in light of the ridiculousness of our communication abilities today. But that's just a small part of this movie's weirdness. I've always felt that part of the draw that Italian horror films have is their inherent sense of surrealism. Umberto Lenzi is certainly not the only Italian director to bring this kind of thing to the table. Obviously guys like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci bring their fair share of weirdness to the table in their movies too. Lenzi is a little often more batshit though. There is this disjointed nature about things that he does in his films that I find kind of delightful. In GHOSTHOUSE, there's random bits of stuff he throws in here that makes the movie an enjoyable barrel of WTF. Most of the film is set in this eerie house, which is haunted by the spirit of a little girl with a super creepy doll. Basically the setting is an excuse to have all kinds of odd and bad things happen to the characters. Each time one of them sees the little girl (who is genuinely unnerving in some scenes) it tends to lead to bad stuff. One of my favorite random things is that this doberman keeps showing up in the house at different points. Doberman's are evil right? Devil dogs? I have no idea, but it feels like that's what Umberto Lenzi thinks. I must give the movie credit for some memorable practical effects. They do some cool stuff with glass and light bulbs in making them looking like melting balloons or something. There's also a great "guy falls in a pit of acidic ooze" bit towards the end. In fact, the last 20 minutes or so is a pretty good time and filled with freaky weirdness and awkward death.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Underrated '65 - Sean Gilman

Sean is co-host of a cool a little movie podcast called The George Sanders Show. I am a big fan of it and you should check out ASAP if you haven't. I am always pleased to have a new list from Sean for sure.
http://thegeorgesandersshow.blogspot.com/
https://twitter.com/GeoSandersShow
https://twitter.com/TheEndofCinema
See his Underrated '85 list here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/04/underrated-sean-gilman.html

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I was sorry to miss out on the Underrated 1975 series, but it’s probably for the best – with only 23, I’ve seen fewer movies from that year than any other since 1930 (with the exception of 1977, from which I’ve seen a mere 20). I fare a bit better in 1965, with 31 movies seen, but really this period from the mid-60s through the late 70s is the period of film history with which I’m the least familiar. 1965 is the year we’ve chosen to focus on for our End of the Year wrap up episode of The George Sanders Show this year (we’ve previously covered 1933 and 1984), so I’m hoping to find a lot of good suggestions in this series. The following are some of the 1965 movies I’ve seen so far that seem to me to be underrated.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (Bill Melendez)
Though it is hardly underrated in any strict sense of the word, I feel no shame including this first Peanuts special on the list because while it is a beloved classic watched and rewatched by millions every holiday season (or any time of the year if, like me, your kids are obsessed with Peanuts specials), it never gets included in Best Movies lists. That is primarily, of course, because it was made for television. But screens are screens and I refuse to let that provincial dog ruin my Christmas.

2. Simon of the Desert (Luis Buñuel)
Lost in the shuffle of Buñuel’s great string of late-career classics in the 60s and early 70s, nestled amongst the blinding lights of Viridiana, The Exterminating Angel, Belle de jour and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, is this short (42 minutes) based on the life of real 5th century saint Simeon, who spent 39 years living on top of a pillar. His son Simon also takes to the pillar life and has a series of adventures and temptations and is eventually led by Satan (Sylvia Pinal) to the present day. Put it on a double bill with Gimme Shelter.

3. The War Game (Peter Watkins)
Another short and another one made for televisionthough you see it categorized more often as cinema than the Peanutsfilm. That’s probably because it didn’t actually air on the BBC, they said “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting (they did eventually air it in 1985). A docudrama imagining of what would happen in the event of a nuclear war, Watkins takes us through the mundane details of civil defense, the vast inadequacy of our institutions and structures in dealing with the fallout (literal and metaphorical) of such a disaster. The sober form of the newsreel, the public information film, cuts through the hysteria and make-believe of that paranoid era to something more purely horrifying.

4. The Naked Prey (Cornel Wilde)
Cornel Wilde went into the South African veldt to film himself as a Great White Hunter being chased down by a tribe of angry natives in this adventure film, a transitional film from Hollywood action films like Run of the Arrow, which shares a similar premise but is much more concerned with traditional storytelling devices like character, and the grittier,more focused exploitation films that would come to dominate the genre over the next decade. That’s not to say thatThe Naked Prey is lacking in social relevance, of course. The Africans are more defined and differentiated than they are in, for example, 1964’s Zulu, the film works hard not to be reduced to the ‘white man terrorized by savages’reading it could easily devolve into. But it’s best enjoyed for the purity of its adventure filmmaking: a man alone in the wilderness trying desperately to survive. It’s the best possible version of that episode where Captain Kirk has to fight the Lizard Alien alone on that desert planet and makes a laser out ofrocks.

5. Temple of the Red Lotus (Hsu Tseng-hung)
One of the first wuxia films made by the Shaw Brothers, as the studio made a conscious decision to refocus on martial arts films at the expense of the highly successful series of musicals that had been the studio’s hallmark for the previous decade. Director Hsu had been a writer and cinematographer and would go on to be a minor director in theShaws heyday, not finding nearly the success of another writer-turned-director who made his debut in 1965, ChangCheh (with The Butterfly Chalice, which I haven’t seen yet). But here he draws the assignment of adapting the oft-told story of the Red Lotus Temple, a 1928 serial adaptation of which is one of the world’s most-distressingly lost films. Jimmy Wang Yu and Lo Lieh, both making their debuts, play rivals for the daughter of a gangster family led by Tien Feng who is in the midst of a war with another gang, in the middle of which poor Wang finds himself caught. The action is too sped up, the cutting too quick, but all the rudiments of the later classics are present. Familiar faces abound among the extras, including future choreographer-directors Lau Kar-leung, Yuen Woo-ping and TongGaai in supporting roles. Musical superstar Ivy Ling Po (she starred in Li Han-hsiang’s 1963 mega-hit masterpieceThe Love Eterne) floats around the edges of the story as well, as with Cheng Pei-pei (who would also make her wuxiadebut in 1965, in The Lotus Lamp) in King Hu’s 1966 Come Drink with Me,marking the unification of the musical and martial traditions of the studio into a new and unique cinematic form.

Sons of the Good Earth (King Hu)
Another signpost of the shift in Shaw Brothers from musicals to action is this, the second film directed by King Hu, who would revolutionize the genre the next year with Come Drink with Me. This one is one of the few Hus to be set in the 20th Century, located in the midst of the Anti-Japanese War. It begins with the great star Betty Loh Ti being forced into prostitution. She's rescued by Peter Chen Ho, a local sign painter and Loh's real-life husband. The two, with the help of Chen's buddy and fellow painter and the various motley residents of a tenement house (looking forward to The House of 72 Tenants) manage to outwit the pimps who try to recapture her and everything ends in a happy celebration of togetherness and community. And then the Japanese invade and blow everything to hell. The community splinters into various factions, the women end up suffering as much if not more than the men (the film's highlight involves a minor character, a singer who sings a pointed folk song at the Japanese army and pays for it with her body as soon as someone translates it for the officers). The middle third of the film is packed with reversals and betrayals, finally splitting apart the protagonists and driving Chen into the wilderness to join the resistance and culminating in an all-out war movie with King Hu himself leading the Chinese in an invasion of the town. The standout scene comes before a battle, as Hu addresses all his rebel men while a pharmacist pulls a bullet out of his shoulder. He makes barely a sound despite the agonizing pain, so strong is his resolution to fight for his country. 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Vinegar Syndrome - CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD on Blu-ray & NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER on DVD

CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1973; Julio Salvador/Ray Danton)
This movie is a great example of the kind of thing that Michael A. Weldon might have written briefly about in the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. It's just the kind of film that would've shown up on the late late show or peddled by one of hundreds of local horror hosts across the country in the late 1970s or early 80s. It just has the perfect off-kilter feel. And there's something about having Andrew Prine (THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, AMITYVILLE II) in the lead that pulls me in. Prine has this southern drawl and a voice that reminds me slightly of Joe Don Baker's. I find that oddly comforting. So anyway, Prine is the skeptical son of an archaeologist and he finds his way out to a small island (Vampire Island) to bury his father who dies mysteriously while investigating a notorious tomb. It's one of those classic setups wherein the townsfolk all behave strangely towards the visiting outsider and he begins to discover some cautionary legends about the village. In this case the legends have to do with the tomb itself and the vampire woman that is buried within. Prine's character of course doesn't heed the warnings he's heard about opening the tomb and goes ahead and does it anyway. Terror ensues. Though the plot as I have briefly described it may sound rather run-of-the-mill, this movie has a certain ambience about it that gives it a little memorable flavor. It was supposedly shot in Turkey, near the Mediterranean and that, combined with the antiquated nature of the village gives the movie a more interesting vibe. Also, Prine's performance is somewhat relaxed (perhaps because he felt like he was kind of slumming it with this one) and that makes the whole film feel more chill than others like it. I don't mean to indicate that the film is boring necessarily, but Prine's performance combined with the film's pacing makes for a very interesting cadence. Like I said though, this is a fun late night or Sunday afternoon movie and really makes me nostalgic for a time when obscurities like this played on television with some regularity.

Vinegar Syndrome brings the U.S. Theatrical version of the film to Blu-ray, scanned and restored in 2k from a newly found 35mm negative. Transfer looks pretty solid overall for a low budget affair like this. This is an especially wonderful upgrade from the previously available PD versions of this film that had been floating around out there. And just FYI, this is one of Vyn Sin's Limited Edition Blu-rays so if you're interested, you're going to want to pick it up sooner than later.


In addition to CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD, this disc also includes a bonus feature film, HOUSE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1974), as well. This one is kind of a "mad scientist creates killer monster and he's set loose on a plantation" kind of genre movie. A solid double bill with CRYPT. The two together feel like perfect drive-in movie far of the period.

This Blu-ray (and the DVD version included as well) is all region which is great in that folks from outside the U.S. can import it and enjoy it.


NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER (1972; Joy Houck Jr.)
This is the second release from Vinegar Syndrome in conjunction with the American Genre Film Archive. Their first was the outlandish and entertaining SUPER SOUL BROTHER and I am already hooked on this line of DVDs. I'm also very curious what they will release next. Unlike SUPER SOUL BROTHER, NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER was a movie I had never heard of before. I can't say that I've seen a lot of films with Micky Dolenz in them (besides HEAD, which I love) and being a pretty big Monkees fan, I was certainly intrigued. The first thing that struck me was the title font. Very cool looking and oddly reminiscent of the font that would later be used for KNIGHT RIDER (coincidence? I think not!). When the killer first shows up in the movie, I could help but think Giallo (we get a few shots of his black gloves right away).  It's interesting though, because what begins as a slasher movie takes a turn into racially charged drama territory real quickly. Micky Dolenz plays one of the leads in the movie, but his character also has a brother. This brother is a horrible, evil racist and makes little effort to hide it. Eventually the evil sibling's evil ways leads to conflict and brother is pit against brother. The movie has several deaths, some by knife, a few by gunshot and even one by snake. What the film has very little of is actual strangling. That's not to say there aren't some decent death  scenes. There's one particular crossbow-esque contraption that is rather memorable and should have been used more often. The whole thing has a slight whodunnit aspect to it that makes it feel like a low-budget, exploitation version of CLUE or something. A CLUE that doesn't take place all in one house and is more of a family drama and so forth. And not funny like CLUE is. And no Tim Curry to explain everything. What THE NIGHT STRANGLER does have though is a a dude running around with a rifle in a guitar case who looks a hell of a lot like Harry Nilsson. This film also has a funny button/joke ending that reminded me slightly of THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE. It goes by a few other titles too like DIRTY DAN'S WOMEN, IS THE FATHER BLACK ENOUGH and THE ACE OF SPADES. All very classy names.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Underrated '65 - Sean Wicks

Sean is a good friend of mine and he runs the Cinema-Scope blog (http://cinemascope-blog.blogspot.com/) which is very much a sister blog to my own (we often do series in conjunction with each other). An all-around social media lover, he's very active on twitter (https://twitter.com/wixpix), tumblr (http://seanwicks.tumblr.com/) facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WicksFlicks), and letterboxd (http://letterboxd.com/wixpix/).

Check out his Underrated '75 list as well:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/06/underrated-sean-wicks.html
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1965 will always be remembered for  THE SOUND OF MUSIC. That movie is a much loved and timeless classic.

Of course 1965 wasn’t just Julie Andrews singing with kids and running from Nazis through the Austrian mountains, and here are my picks for some underrated films from that year that should be checked out.

36 HOURS (Directed by: George Seaton)
IMDb has 36 HOURS as a 1964 release, because it had a UK opening then, however the U.S. release date is February of 1965 and I’m going with that.

I have written about 36 HOURS in the past both for my own blog and for Rupert’s blog, however it deserves mentioning again.

Following a WW II battle, James Garner wakes up in an Allied hospital with a commander and nurse (Rod Taylor and Eva Marie Saint) that tell him the war is over. Is Garner in an Allied hospital or not? That’s the ultimate question which I won’t give away in this psychological thriller that features a fantastic score by Dimitri Tiomkin which deserves mention.

Can you get any more of an ideal American hero than James Garner? I don’t think so!

THE NAKED PREY (Directed by: Cornel Wilde)
THE NAKED PREY has a very simple premise. A group on safari offends an African tribe who captures and kills the group with the exception one (Cornel Wilde acting and directing here). They send him on the run and hunt him as prey. Stripped down to nothing except enough of a cloth to protect his privates, he endures a grueling marathon of survival as he comes across all sorts of obstacles while he tries to stay alive.

With minimal dialogue, this is an extremely suspenseful film that will keep you on the edge of your seat for the full running time.

Criterion has released this title on Disc.

THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES (Directed by: Ken Annakin)
How about a transition from a list of thrillers, to a goofy comedy so we this list will at least end on a light note.

Remember the Hanna Barbera wacky races where a collection of characters raced in different locales trying to outfox each other by any means possible? This is a live action version of that (and predates Wacky Races by 3 years) with an international air race in a series of crazy flying devices. That’s it, that’s the whole movie. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the zany antics.

1965 had two similar movies, seeing also the release of THE GREAT RACE with Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood and Jack Lemmon.

Twilight Time released this as a limited edition Blu-ray, however I believe it is now sold out.

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (Directed by Otto Preminger)
1965 seems to be a year filled with paranoia and suspicion as this is the third psychological thriller to make my list.

Carol Lynley, having just moved into a new town, drops her child off at a daycare only to find that she has mysteriously disappeared, and nobody remembers seeing her in the first place which leads to everyone thinking that  she’s just making this up. The police struggle to believe her and the daycare workers aren’t much help. Only her brother seems to be on her side.

This is one of those movies that will infuriate you even while you’re being entertained. The disbelief of the police and unhelpful nature of the day care will anger and frustrate you which makes for a very uncomfortable watching experience – but in a good way. There is a twist of course, but that I’ll leave to your discovery.

Director Otto Preminger is masterful (as always) behind the camera building up the paranoia to a point where the audience will even start to question whether Bunny actually exists.

Twilight Time recently put this film out on Blu-ray Disc in a limited edition.


REPULSION (Directed by: Roman Polanski)
I’m not sure if this is exactly underrated, but I’m mentioning it here because I love it.

In Roman Polanski’s first English-language film, it – like THE NAKED PREY – features a single person just trying to survive, but in a different way. 

Catherine Deneuve is alone in an apartment and starts to lose her mind. Experiencing all sorts of paranoid hallucinations thanks to her obsessive dislike of her sister’s boyfriend, she slowly descends into madness.

Even as Deneuve loses her mind, you feel extreme empathy for her and just pray that someone will come along before she completely loses it. The approach is very Polanski, and no matter how you feel about the director personally, it’s a masterful film that deserves to be seen.

REPULSION is available via the Criterion collection.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Underrated '65 - Steve Q

Steve Q blogs about terrible movies at http://zerostarcinema.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter at @Amy_Surplice.
He also recently did list for both the Underrated '85 and Underrated '75 series:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/04/underrated-steve-q.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/05/underrated-steve-q.html
Steve is a new Letterboxd member and can be followed here:
http://letterboxd.com/stevequick/
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Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (Norman Taurog, 1965)
I have to include this because it was the first film I ever saw; "Paint Your Wagon" was the first I saw in a theater, so my taste in film has always been questionable. This is a spy film spoof, following the James Bond/Derek Flint/Matt Helm craze, but it's also a continuation of the William Asher "Beach Party" series - "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" and "Beach Blanket Bingo," both also from 1965, share some cast members - and a Vincent Price mad scientist self-parody (which he would perfect soon in "The Abominable Dr. Phibes"). As loosely constructed as that sounds, when the comedy works it's quite enjoyable. The theme song is sung by The Supremes! I met Marianne Gaba, one of the robots and a former Playboy Playmate, in 1980; she told me (unasked) that she had a son my age.



Harlow (Alex Segal, 1965)
There were two films with this title and plot released in 1965.The other one starred Carroll Baker, who was miscast; this one had Carol Lynley, who gave one of her better performances. The film was shot in 8 days on high-res video and then transferred to kinescope, giving it an odd look.The film fails as historical biography, but it works as a drama, with a good performance by Ginger Rogers who was a last-minute substitute. This showed on television through the 1970's, but is almost impossible to find today.


Vinyl (Andy Warhol, 1965)
1965 was a big year in experimental, underground and art films. Andy Warhol directed 19 films that year, half starring Edie Sedgwick, including this one. I've seen all of them and this is the easiest to find. It's a barely recognizable take on "A Clockwork Orange," shot on one set with an immobile camera, unrehearsed, with Edie silent, flicking cigarette ashes on Gerard Malanga as he has candle wax dripped on him, after he dances to "Nowhere to Run" (twice). It's polarizing, like all Warhol.


The Defilers (R. Lee Frost, 1965)
1965 was a banner year in exploitation films, with Barry Mahon directing 15 titles, Doris Wishman directing one of her only two watchable films ("Bad Girls Go to Hell"), Russ Meyer directing three films ("Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!" and "Mudhoney" are great, "Motor Psycho" is not) and David Friedman working with H.G. Lewis on "Color Me Blood Red" and with Lee Frost on this one. Based on the John Fowles novel "The Collector," which was also made into a much better film by William Wyler in 1965, this follows two men who kidnap a woman and make her a sex slave in the basement of a warehouse. It's misogynistic, dated, and offensive, but it's also one of the best "roughies" from that brief period of grindhouse films.


Film (Alan Scneider, 1965)
Samuel Beckett's only work intended to be filmed, this 20 minute short stars Buster Keaton trying not to be seen.Keaton was also in the aforementioned "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini." Now that's what I call range!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Warner Archive - THE SUNSHINE BOYS and THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS on Blu-ray

THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975; Herbert Ross)
I never cease to marvel at watching a great actor take an abrasive, thoroughly annoying character and make them feel sympathetic in some way. A great example is Walter Matthau in this movie. Right out of the gate his character is tough to take. He is a huge grump and I'm sure it's supposed to be humorous, but I just found myself cringing. Matthau is an over the hill ex-vaudeville comedian who is basically unemployable. Richard Benjamin plays his nephew  who is constantly trying valiantly to get him work. 
There's a moment when Matthau is at home, alone in is tiny dilapidated apartment and it starts to become clear just where this guy's life is at and it's hard not to feel your emotions tipping into pity and sympathy. It's all about how Matthau plays it though. 
And when George Burns finally shows up in the movie that opens things up for more brilliance. Never before did I ever find two characters moving furniture around to be more humorous and engaging than in this film. It's all just so well timed and choreographed, but not in a high precision way. Watching these two actors do their thing is like watching moving artwork. They can't help but be as sublime in just bickering back and forth and shuffling around Matthau's apartment. I couldn't be more entertained by two guys almost starting to rehearse a comedy sketch for like 20 mins. Of course it doesn't hurt that Neil Simon wrote the words they are saying, but Matthau and Burns make them absolutely magical. I usually get slightly annoyed with stage-originated material in movie form because it often feels a little stiff and overly verbose. In this case though, there's plenty for the duo to do besides talk. The dressing room scene is a short bit of wonderful for instance. And there's a nice build up to the time we finally get to see the amusing "Doctor Sketch" that these guys are so famous for. Though the movie is really the Matthau and Burns show and all the stuff they do is fantastic, Richard Benjamin is no slouch himself and he adds quite a lot to the proceedings and the humor of it all by just struggling to wrangle both of them. I've been a big Benjamin fan for quite some time and he provides that essential final piece that helps keep the movie going.
The transfer here is good (if a bit grainy) and gives that gritty feeling of New York City in the 1970s that I love very much.

Special Features:
-An enlightening audio commentary with actor/star Richard Benjamin.
-"The Lions Roars" - a vintage MGM featurette.
-Makeup and Screen Tests for Matthau, Burns and Phil Silvers.





THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (1943; David Butler)
THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS opens with the title song being sung by the wonderful Dinah Shore (as herself). This entire movie is filled with actors playing "themselves". The Dinah Shore song is followed by a pretty hilarious scene of John Garfield ("That Bad Boy of Burbank") bullying Eddie Cantor before they go on stage. Good stuff. Soon after that Garfield even sings a song (while continuing to manhandle Cantor)! That's just for openers though as the rest of the ensemble here is beyond ridiculous. Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Humprey Bogart, Olivia de Haviland, Ann Sheridan, Joan Leslie, Edward Everett Horton, Alan Hale, Jack Carson, Hattie McDaniel and more. Spike Jones and his band (the City Slickers) even make an appearance. It's a film that is very much cut from the same cloth as something like 42ND STREET. That sort of behind-the-scenes of "putting on a show" kind of movie but with a supercharged cast.
Lots of goofy fun in this movie including Eddie Cantor playing a dual role (as not only himself but also as a Hollywood tour bus driver). There are also many lively musical sequences peppered throughout the picture. One of my favorites features Eddie Cantor auditioning a dopey song for Edward Everett Horton and S.K. Sakall who are continually trying to get up to leave as Cantor's ditty goes on and on. Cantor has a really great sense of humor about himself  in the film as a whole and I'm always pleased to see an actor go to that place. 
THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS is just one of those light and jubilant musicals that leaves you with a smile on your face.

This transfer is another of those splendid looking black and white beauties from Warner Archive. They have truly demonstrated how good b&W can look in high definition wiuth their Blu-rays.

Special Features:
There's a nice collection of things here that could easily simulate what it might have been like to spend and evening at the movies back when THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS came out:
-Classic Cartoons: "Falling Hare" (HD) and "Little Red Riding Rabbit" (HD).
-Patriotic Short: "Food and Magic" (HD)
-Musical Shorts: "Three Cheers for the Girls" and "The United States Army Band"
-Vintage Newsreel: "Hollywood Canteen Celebrates First Birthday" (Silent)

-Audio-Only Bonus: Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Radio Broadcast (9/27/1943).








Thursday, June 25, 2015

Underrated '65 - Joe Gibson

Joe Gibson is an extremely serious Cinephile living in Austin, Texas. He can be found on twitter @Karatloz and on Letterboxd (a highly recommended follow) here: http://letterboxd.com/zoltarak/.
Joe watches a lot of movies and has excellent taste.


Check him out on this episode of the My Favorite Movie Podcast (very cool show):
http://www.favoritemoviepodcast.com/#/episodes/6/good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-with-joseph-gibson/

Here's his Underrated '85 list:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/04/underrated-85-joe-gibson.html
And his Underrated '75 list as well:

http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/05/underrated-joe-gibson.html
-----------------------
1965 - 50 years ago, and it feels like yesterday! There's a good lineup of solid, underrated stuff that came out that year, and some of them I even saw recently enough to write about cogently (we'll see about that)!


I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965; William Castle)
This is a William Castle chiller with one of the very, very best thriller premises of all time: A teen girl kills a lonely Saturday by calling up random people and saying "I saw what you did, and I know who you are." Unfortunately for her, she calls a guy who happens to have just murdered his wife (in the shower, naturally). How the two manage to cross paths after that requires some good old-fashioned suspension of disbelief, but if you can't handle that what use are you anyway?


UP TO HIS EARS (1965; Philippe de Broca)
BELMONDO! One of my favorite discoveries of the last year or two has been Jean-Paul Belmondo's double life as an incredibly ambitious action star in addition to his French New Wave duties. This is one of those, a cartoon romp with stunt work so insane you'll see Belmondo in a new light forever hence.


VINYL (1965; Andy Warhol)
I wouldn't have thought of this as underrated were it not for a couple recent conversations during which I discovered that there are people who like movies who don't know this exists. Vinyl is Andy Warhol's screen version of A Clockwork Orange, years before Kubrick's much more famous cinephile catnip came out. I went in wanting to like it more than Kubrick's version just for the sake of contrarianism, but even though I couldn't quite make it there this is still a fascinating piece of work, with Warhol drawing parallels between the story's Ludovico technique and S&M sex that, uh, aren't in Kubrick's version. Great soundtrack, too.


THE MOMENT OF TRUTH (1965; Francesco Rosi)
This is a bullfighting drama starring Miguel Mateo, a real bullfighter, with some actual bullfighting footage mixed in with the slightly stilted quasi-neo-realist drama. I saw this years ago but it sticks in my mind mostly since like a lot of my fellow ignoramuses I had no idea how brutal bullfighting actually was, having only seen sanitized versions through various channels. Here you can see all the blood and danger that are really associated with the sport. Kind of messed up, if you think about it.



THE CINCINATTI KID (1965; Norman Jewison)
This is Steve McQueen's card playing movie, originally supposed to be a Sam Peckinpah joint but he got fired for trying to attach blood squibs to playing cards. Slick 60s cool, but I admit that I only saw this once years ago and the main thing I remember is Ray Charles' theme song, which still gets stuck in my head from time to time. Edward G. Robinson!


THE COLLECTOR (1965; William Wyler)
This is a kind of respectable Psycho knock-off directed by William Wyler of all people. It features Terrence Stamp as the obligatory lonely young guy who upgrades from collecting butterflies to collecting ... human beings. I love this kind of small-scale thriller that unfortunately doesn't seem to get made much anymore.


PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965; Mario Bava)
I don't know if this is underrated in a general sense, but within the filmography of Mario Bava it definitely fits the bill. Stylish in terms of cinematography, yeah, but also in terms of those completely bitching leather jumpsuits that the crew wears, black leather and collars up to their ears - equally entertaining in shimmering HD or a battered 16mm print. Some great homemade special effects too, my oft-cited favorite is the plastic window acting as a "viewscreen" between two spaceships.
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