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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Scott Drebit

Scott Drebit is Senior Columnist at Daily Dead, a co-host of the Corpse Club podcast, and a horribly lapsed Catholic. He’ll eat all of your brown M & M’s if you’ll let him.

Hey everyone! Another year, another 38 cents in the bank. How you been? Let’s look at some pickle ticklers from 2018, first time watches for me that will definitely reward repeat viewings.

THE REDEEMER (1978; directed by Constantine S. Gochis)
AKA The Redeemer: Son of Satan! and Class Reunion Massacre, this is a weird, prescient little number that mixes the discombobulating trauma of Tourist Trap and Phantasm (both ’79) with the disguise-a-thon of Terror Train (1980) before any of those were born. (The Redeemer was filmed in ’76 but released later.) A messy proposition to be sure, but director Gochis fills the film with terrific set pieces and engaging performances from the entire cast; this is much better than its bottom of the drive-in billing would indicate.

DEMENTIA 13 (1963; directed by Francis Ford Coppola)
Leave it to Roger Corman to hand $22,000 left over from a different film to up and coming talent (and soft-core veteran) Francis Ford Coppola to helm another Psycho knockoff so prevalent in the day. Balking at the budget, Coppola raised another $22,000 on his own and ended up creating the missing link between Hitchcock and Bava; a smart, taut thriller with a lot of axe action and gothic perfume filling the country estate air. There’s already a lot of confidence from Francis on display in Dementia 13.

PHASE IV (1974; directed by Saul Bass)
What do you get when you mix high minded, sci-fi eco-horror with a dash of When Animals Attack? Well, you end up with Phase IV, legendary title designer (Psycho, West Side Story) Saul Bass’ one and only full length narrative feature; and an odder debut/swansong you will never find. A quiet unease fills this tale of ants becoming a worldwide collective, and a group of scientists who try to stop them. Leans heavier towards the philosophical than visceral, yet still manages several creepy moments. If you can, track down the original ending for a proper ‘70s nihilistic send off.

GREAT WHITE (1981; directed by Enzo G. Castellari)
AKA The Last Shark, this supremely entertaining ride was yanked from theatres after a month, as Universal felt that if anyone had the right to rip off their beloved Jaws franchise, it should be them. Seriously though, Great White owes so much to Spielberg’s classic and its immediate sequel that I’m surprised it took Universal that long to act; Vic Morrow is the MVP as the Quint stand-in with the most egregious Scottish brogue this side of Groundskeeper Willie, and twice as funny. Great White is nothing but one glorious set piece after another; see it now.

THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960; directed by Terence Fisher)
This was peak Hammer Time, coming off major world wide successes with their Frankenstein and Dracula takes; audiences were much less receptive to this spin on the Robert Louis Stevenson novella, probably because it features a lot less of the luridness so prevalent in the aforementioned titles. What The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll does offer, however, is a fascinating look at the duality of man; not only through the titular character (and his malevolent alter-ego, Mr. Hyde), but through those around him as well. Potent at every turn, with magnificent performances by Paul Massie and crackerjack direction from Fisher.

Unfortunately, I didn’t venture into older films this year other than horror; life happens when you’re busy making plans, as a dead bug used to say. Thanks again to Brian for always keeping the theatre lights on, and I wish everyone a prosperous and happy 2019.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Michele Eggen

Michele Eggen started writing about horror films in 2010 on her blog, The Girl Who Loves Horror. She now contributes her writing to the sites Wicked Horror and Ghastly Grinning in between trying to cram as many movies into her brain as she can. Twitter: @micheleneggen Letterboxd:

Check Out Michele's Discoveries from last year here:
This year was pretty amazing for my movie-watching. I managed to work in dozens of amazing first-time watches across all genres and time periods. I could have easily listed 20 or 30 films here, but these ten are very representative of the stuff I really enjoy, and could always use more love. I can only hope that 2019 is just as successful a year for me as 2018 was!

A beautiful thing happened when I watched SANTA SANGRE one lazy Sunday afternoon. The oddness of the movie revealed itself almost right away, but I was into it. About 20 minutes in, I remember thinking, “Damn, I really like this.” As I kept watching, its hold on me got stronger and stronger, and I knew before it was even over that I was completely in love. SANTA SANGRE has a real poetic beauty to it, mixed in with the gruesome and macabre, that makes it unlike anything I have ever seen before. It had been a while since a movie has so entranced and fascinated me like this one did that I almost don’t want to watch it again, for fear that the magic won’t be there anymore (though I’m sure I will eventually). Hands down, this was my favorite movie I watched all year.

ANGUISH (1987)
I have to thank the Shock Waves podcast crew for talking about ANGUISH earlier this year, otherwise I might never have discovered its brilliance. The less you know about this movie going in, the better, because the experience of watching it is so stressful, yet so intoxicating. You might think you know what kind of movie you’re watching when it first starts, but there is an amazing turn that happens about 20 minutes in that I know will completely hook you. ANGUISH is a wonderfully layered, meta, genius film of which I loved every second.

Gangster/crime films are kinda my favorite thing ever. If they’re based on true people or events? Fuggedaboutit, I’m sold. I found DILLINGER through Arrow Video just a couple months ago and I couldn’t believe nobody had ever put it on my radar before! The cast for this movie is absolutely bananas - Warren Oates, Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Dreyfuss, Geoffrey Lewis, Ben Johnson, etc - and they all kill it in their roles. Stanton is especially a joy with his deliveries of the repeated line “Things just ain’t working out for me today.” DILLINGER is surprisingly graphic at times, and there is maybe one character thing that I didn’t like so much, but overall it’s a pretty amazing crime film that is now one of my new favorites.

Another Arrow discovery, THE LOVE OF A WOMAN is a surprising early feminist film from the 50s about female independence. Micheline Presle is a young doctor named Marie who moves to a small island town to take over after the old doctor has retired. It’s a simply told tale, but complex in regards to all of what Marie is faced with - earning the respect of the town and having to prove herself; happy to have found love in her new home, but conflicted with going forward with it because of how important her career is to her. The movie doesn’t really push anything on you, it’s just so interesting to watch a plot like this from this time period and have it be told well.

THE HAND (1981)
This is an Oliver Stone-directed movie starring Michael Caine as a comic book illustrator who gets his hand amputated in an accident, and then said hand comes back to kill the people that piss him off. I mean, I don’t think I need to say more than that, but I will. Caine completely sells the silliness of the movie with his slow descent into crazy town while dealing with his evil hand. His character is not really a good person at all so you’re not sympathetic toward him - you just want to see the crazy hand business, and the movie delivers that amazingly. A great bonkers recommendation if you haven’t checked it out yet.

I’ve been watching a lot more spaghetti westerns of late and I looooove them. DJANGO, PREPARE A COFFIN stars Terence Hill in the titular role, and he is a straight-up badass. The plot centers on Django getting revenge for the murder of his wife five years earlier, but I really liked the tweaking they did to this plot. While working as the local hangman, Django gathers up his revenge posse by only pretending to hang those he knows are innocent of their crimes. The fight scenes and gun battles include some very cool and unique stunts, and there is a spectacular final showdown.

My Letterboxd review for BLIND FURY simply says “Pure joy”, and that’s exactly what this movie is. Rutger Hauer is a blind swordsman traveling with a kid to Nevada to save his old army buddy (the kid’s father) from a crime syndicate. The movie is cheesy and ridiculous in the best possible way; its 90-minute runtime flys by with nary a boring second to be found. Hauer plays his character Nick Parker with a wonderful sense of humor, and his relationship with young Billy is itself often hilarious, yet endearing. The action is about as amazing as you’d expect with Hauer and his swordplay (he slices a guy’s EYEBROWS off with his katana) and it only gets better as the movie goes on. I’ll say it again: PURE JOY.

This popped up in my Amazon Prime suggestions and based purely on the title and cast, I was in. Mickey Rourke is a biker cleverly named Harley Davidson and his BFF is cowboy Don Johnson, or Marlboro Man. These two have great chemistry together and are clearly having fun in this gloriously offbeat 90s buddy action movie (another of my favorite things). It’s also a movie that sort of lives in its own reality, as it seems normal enough on the surface, but there are definitely some weird things (like the character names) thrown in there. It’s basically just full-on macho fun and I had a great time with it.

What an absolute delight. I had a smile on my face for practically the entirety of THEY ALL LAUGHED, thoroughly enjoying the quick-witted dialogue, John Ritter’s clumsiness, and the all-around enthusiasm of the entire cast. This is a comedy with heart and spirit, though not without its moments of sadness. Scene-stealing Colleen Camp as Christy has an amazing energy about her, and her and Ritter’s characters are a great contrast to the brilliant subtlety of Ben Gazzara and Audrey Hepburn. I’m still catching up on Peter Bogdanovich’s work, but this is pretty high up on the list of favorites already.

RIO BRAVO (1959)
And to end the list, I’ll give you something totally obvious. I love westerns with all my heart, yet I had not seen the stone-cold classic that is RIO BRAVO until about two months ago. I loved the plot, I absolutely ADORED Dean Martin, and I’m just so happy to have this movie in my life now that I had to include it here.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Marc Edward Heuck

Marc Edward Heuck runs the wonderful blog, The Projector Has Been Drinking which gets a high recommend from me. He has also been a regular contributor for the New Beverly as well:
Marc's been with this series since it started in 2010, so please check out his other lists as he always brings the good stuff and his list are always greatly appreciated:
It was a difficult year for this correspondent in general, and especially so for the ideal consumption of older movies. Two theatres went dark (thankfully, one has returned to the light), and while other local venues did their best to pick up the slack, my personal life went dark as well, and I could not support these efforts as vigorously as I would have liked. Nonetheless, I got out to some great screenings, and that shady friend of mine The Internet helped me out as ably as possible. So against the odds, I have a stimulating list of first-time viewings for this misbegotten year.

The late Richard Jeni once opined that nobody ever watched an adult film and uttered, “Gee, I didn’t expect it to end that way.” But there were quite a few moments where I had that reaction while watching this otherwise forgotten New Jersey-filmed softcore drama, directed (and likely written uncredited) by used car salesman Curt Ledger. Its premise – an 18 year old girl reflects back on the tragic decline of her swinger parents as she herself is caught up in a similar pattern of sexual recklessness – suggests a Doris Wishman-style morality play is forthcoming, reveling in rough unpleasant perversions under the pretense of condemning them. Yet the film really appears to care about its lead character and try to tell a compelling story about her rather than put her through degradation for the raincoat crowd. There’s just as much Sirk as there is Sarno in this execution. And Alisha Fontaine is convincing as a sullen, badly-taught teen who still has a glimmer of hope left for her. Fontaine would go on to appear in other drive-in films about troubled libertinous women (TEENAGE TRAMP, FRENCH QUARTER) and give elevated performances exceeding the expectations of the subject matter and the audience; her CV is worth revisiting.

Many of you have seen an extremely reduced and thematically different version of this movie, as one of the uncredited segments of the wacko horror omnibus NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR. Thankfully, Vinegar Syndrome provided the original full-length version (for now, surviving only from 1” tape) on their Blu/DVD combo release of TRAIN, and frankly it’s a wilder ride than anything God and Satan had to offer on their train. It’s ostensibly based on a book by GOD’S LITTLE ACRE author Erskine Caldwell, which reportedly reads like a darker further adventures of Francy from my preceding film pick, but the film retains only the girl’s name and instead goes off on a free jazz odyssey of its own that is best not synopsized but discovered blindly. And the glue that holds together this bizarre and often inappropriate hodgepodge of white-knighting, psychologically induced gender dysphoria, suicide gamesmanship, and who knows what else from the reported reshoots, is the fearless acting of one-and-done actress Merideth Haze. No matter what kind of outrageous plot complication or character quirk is demanded from her, she runs that emotional gauntlet with vitality. Whether her journey (and the men who obsess over her) can be believed, she believes in it, and sells it. As BirthMoviesDeath writer Jacob Knight suggested, “It could all be a comment on how women are possessed and controlled by men, until they're not even sure who they truly are anymore, but that might be giving the picture a lot more subtextual credit than it actually earns.” But I’ll give it that benefit, because I was that captivated by Haze’s work.

Jack Wild was one of my favorite shag-haired '70s tweener dreamboats, and as such I was chuffed to catch up with his very assured and natural leading role in David Hemmings' affable (and mostly based in truth) childhood drama, playing the eldest of 14 kids living in squalor in early '70s London and trying to keep his siblings together amidst severe hardship. {A ruefully appropriate movie to watch when I've only got $21 in my checkbook and $12 credit, but I digress} Stories like these can get cloying but everyone found the right balance of irritating grit and cute charm on this one. And I don't recall if it made it into Alonso Duralde’s thorough Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas book, but it's got a very sweet ragged holiday moment, with a mist-inducing payoff. I would like to see some theatre somewhere do a Jack Wild retrospective, because for a while, he had a great string of movies...OLIVER, PUFNSTUF, MELODY, FLIGHT OF THE would be nice to see him remembered for those again instead of the sad, sordid decline of his adulthood.
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Never released in America (at least not to the best of my knowledge), this is the other poignant ‘70s-era country-singer-in-decline drama directed-by-a-Canadian that not enough people have seen. While it’s hard to not feel the shadow of Daryl Duke’s PAYDAY lingering over the proceedings, Paul Lynch captures a beautifully weary landscape for his troubadours to travel, and Donnelly Rhodes holds his own as a cowboy singer who’s been given too much slack on his rope for too long; folks who knew him only from “SOAP” or “BATTLESTAR GALACTICA” are in for a good surprise. But really, the warm presence of Nancy Belle Fuller as his conflicted protegee is the hook in this tune; the movie is just as much about her fateful choices as his. Don’t know if there will ever be a really proper physical or streaming edition of this available in the near future, but I suppose that’s all the more reason to start singing that song here.

In 1984, there was a girl-fronted teen movie that everybody saw, and then there was this girl-fronted teen movie too few saw, including, to my embarrassment, myself, until this past year. The debut film by Marisa Silver, daughter of the terrific director Joan Micklin Silver, is a quiet little treasure, a well-observed chronicle of a summer between two New York City tweeners whose lives have rarely extended beyond a few city blocks, but who fatefully cross the street and meet each other and discover a little more of the big world. It’s not the year that changes everything for these girls, but it starts the process, and that’s just as important. Sarah Boyd and Rainbow Harvest are wonderful to watch, and it’s a kick to see a youngish Danny Aiello and a wee Alyssa Milano as well. There are certain movies about teens that always find their way to the next generation, and then there are the ones that need a nudge. So I strongly suggest if you’re a parent, you nudge this to your kids, and even better, to yourself too.
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THE FITS (2015)
I generally don’t put any films too recent on these lists because I figure if I missed them in their proper year of release but still fall within the decade, I can talk them up on social media, maybe even put them on a retrospective list in 2010. But I was very sad when I didn’t get to see this in 2015, because it was one of my most anticipated films that year, and when I caught up to it this year, it lived up to my expectations. And much like my second-favorite new release of this year, Josephine Decker’s MADELINE’S MADELINE with Helena Howard, it’s a thrilling debut film by a female filmmaker (Anna Rose Holmer), offers up a dynamite showcase by its lead actress (Royalty Hightower), and posits trenchant commentary and open questions on the addictive and trancendent possibilities that artistic expression offers to a vulnerable personality. Heck, they were both released by Oscilloscope Laboratories as well. Plus, this film showed me my hometown of Cincinnati in a way I’ve never seen it depicted on film before.
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Ingmar Bergman marked his 100th birthday in 2018. His body of work is still a huge blind spot in my film education that’s taken me a long to rectify because, well, you have to meet a movie at the right time, and you have to be in a proper mindset to take on one of the most intense and challenging auteurs of a generation. But there was one Saturday morning when I was ready, and thus richly rewarded. It’s a simple story – how the thrill of youthful love and rebellion can fade really quickly and lead to an even darker sadness than one started out with – and it definitely sets a tone for the complex emotional tales that would follow in his resume, so in effect this helped restart my journey with the master. It’s still going to take me a while to get caught up though. But that also means a lot more great movies to discover.
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Some movies are so beautiful they spur me to talk about them with potent terminology to encourage others to seek them out. And then there’s the kind of beauty that Julie Dash achieves here that leaves me so damned inchoate that if I tried to talk about it I would sound like an idiot and do it a disservice. You shouldn’t need me to tell you how great this movie is, and I’m not the right messenger anyway. I’m just a man late to the party who has become an awestruck admirer – which is what I firmly believe you will be after you watch it.
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GOYOKIN (1969)
To use Gorilla Monsoon vernacular, I literally got my guts sliced up from watching Hideo Gosha's samurai epic. What a damned gorgeous confluence of color, staging, drama, and action! There are familiar themes in play that you’ve surely seen in other period action tales – honor, service, corruption, shame, redemption – but I’ve rarely seen them with the sweep and pageantry that’s at work here. Kozu Okazaki’s cinematography, the first use of anamorphic Panavision in Japan, yields museum-level compositions to savor and luxuriate in. It’s been out of circulation for a long while; it’s overdue for Criterion-level reissue.
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And come one, what am I going to say of any originality about Terrence Malick’s gold standard classic? I do have one thing, actually. For all the praise that Linda Manz rightfully gets for her debut role...which was followed by THE WANDERERS and OUT OF THE BLUE as one of the strongest one-two-three TKOs for a young actor in the ‘70s...if and when you watch this, pay particular attention to her scenes with Jackie Shultis as the friend she makes on her heartland odyssey. Their chemistry is outstanding. Shultis is another girl that delivers an unforgettable one-and-done performance that leaves me to wonder why there weren’t more, and desperate to know where she went and what turns her life took after appearing in this masterpiece. Seriously, I’ve tried the google on her, the trail is ice cold. Wherever she is, whoever knows and loves her, I hope they’re all taking pride in her small, glorious moments in the American film canon.
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Ever since I first discovered the world of “psychotronic” movies in high school, and started being allowed to write about them to the general public in college, Timothy Carey’s passion project has been a Holy Grail for me. Even though his family has offered home made copies for mail-order, and Turner Classic Movies has managed to air it a few times, I’ve held out to see it big, with people, and experience a singular movie in a pluralistic setting. And thanks to the TCM Festival this past April, I got my wish, and I trekked out at midnight with a small but hardcore crowd to Hollywood to do it right. Even with over 55 years distance from its original release, lots of people in the audience were not ready for what they saw. And there was still plenty to discuss afterwards. Has it become easier to lull the public under the spell of a megalomaniac? Do some atheists actually just want to be God themselves? Was Frank Zappa the World’s Greatest Jerk for throwing Carey under the bus after scoring his movie? I have been told that the Carey family have been working on a proper restoration, with assistance from AMPAS and Scorsese’s The Film Foundation, and I pray it comes soon, because waiting for God (or God Hilliard if you will) is a most vexing task.
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