Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Thrillers - Daniel Budnik ""

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Daniel Budnik

Daniel R. Budnik is currently at work on a film-related book that involves watching a lot more cockfighting than he's used to. He is co-author of Bleeding Skull!: A 1980's Trash-Horror Odyssey.
I was a little unsure what the definition of “thriller” was when I sat down to write this list. My immediate thoughts were Hitchcock and “erotic.” I didn’t think putting Hitchcock films in this list would work. And I simply haven’t seen enough erotic thrillers to know if one is more underrated than the other. So, I looked up some definitions. After thinking about it a bit, Wikipedia and I came up with: “A movie that is a thriller has, as its main purpose, the constant accumulation of suspense and tension throughout.” (Or words to that effect.) It’s not a genre,per se. A film can be a thriller by the story it tells (say a James Bond film like You Only Live Twice with its accumulated world-threatening peril) or through the way the story is told (North by Northwest is a great thriller that is one inch away from being out-and-out comedy). That gave me a lot of movies to pick from. I decided on five, plus a couple of Honorable Mentions. I tried not to be too perverse with my choices but I wanted to cast a wide net.

Blow Out (1981): Probably the least underrated film on here.I’m always surprised at how many people I know who love filmt hat haven’t seen this one. John Travolta is at his best here. Nancy Allen is more charming than a fuzzy kitten. John Lithgow is at his most insane. And, Brian De Palma tells one hell of a good story in his own special way. People still harp on the fact that this film has a bit of Blow Up and a bit of Hitchcock in it. So what? Almost every film made has bits of other people’s films in them. Blow Out is too good of a film to be dismissed because its antecedents are showing. It’s suspenseful. It’s exciting. It’s odd. It’s great filmmaking. If you like this, you’ll pretty much like every one of his films fromSisters to Body Double. (Note: I am not a fan of Scarface and I’ve never seen The UntouchablesSnake Eyes rules!)

The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008): My wife and I saw this opening weekend. It came out during Summer Blockbuster season. The movie is set during the height of winter with a non-FBI Mulder & Scully appearing in it. The mix of all that snow and the fact that our leads no longer have guns with them made this the quietest Summer Film I’ve ever seen. It’s intriguing. It’s disturbing. It’s so great to see the characters back. And it’s so low-key. My wife and I loved it. Apparently, it just pissed everyone else off. Well, sorry to say, everyone else, you’re wrong. Maybe watched at home this intimate film will please more people. If you want the Summer Blockbuster version ofThe X-Files, watch the first movie. I applaud the bravery involved in making I Want To Believe the way they did. Luckily, it’s a good movie too.

BJ & The Bear “The Foundlings” (1978) – B.J. Mackay, ex-Vietnam POW, and his chimp, Bear, travel around in a big rig owned by B.J. They deliver loads across the country, listen to 8-tracks (mainly country rock mixed with some yacht rock) and they keep getting into adventures. “The Foundlings” is the 2-hour TV movie that preceded the actual show, which ran for three seasons from February 1979 to the summer of 1981. The show itself is often promoted as “comedy.” I’m not sure about that. Some episodes are wackier than others. But, some are quite serious. This pilot film has light moments but the premise is dead serious. As the movie goes along, it becomes more and more intense and thrilling. Until, the viewer reaches the last half-hour, which is one big chase. The premise is this: Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins) of Orly County runs a home for young foundlings. One night, the orphaned youngsters escape and end up in the back of B.J.’s rig. Lobo wants them back. But, there is a twist: these foundlings are not children. They are young women who are, although it is never said outright, being bred for some sort of sex slavery. The premise is soft pedaled but that’s what it is. (After this episode, Lobo would become less of a wolf and more “hilarious.”) A series of crooked cops chaseB.J. and these young women all over the countryside. If they’re caught, B.J. is (presumably) in jail for a very long time and the girls--  well, thoughts of that aren’t pleasant. And yet, the whole thing is passed off as a Good Time car chase TV show. This is asgreat as BJ & The Bear gets. And, yes, that last sentence has some irony in it but not as much as you might think.

League of Gentleman’s Apocalypse (2005) – The League of Gentlemen was a sort of-sketch show that aired on the BBC for 3 series in the early 2000s. The show is set in a Northern town in England called Royston Vasey and it is very dark comedy.Apocalypse is the film that follows the series. And it begins asVasey is facing, literal, apocalypse. Balls of fire from the sky are tearing the town apart. It’s only a matter of time before the town is laid waste. That’s because the four creators (and stars) of the show are going on to other ventures and leaving the League behindRoyston Vasey is vanishing from the collective consciousness. So, in order to convince their creators to keep thevillage alive, three inhabitants of the imploding/exploding townenter our world to try to change things. I think comedy thrillers are my favorite. This is one that I don’t think has been watched enough. There is a possibility that you need to watch the show before watching the movie. (Maybe only a few episodes to catch the tone of the whole thing.) Or maybe not? I don’t know. I do know that the film is funny, weird as hell, very tense as it draws towards its conclusion and includes one of my favorite characters of all time: Tom Tit (and, no, I do not meanTransmission of Matter through Interstitial Time).

Overlords of the UFO (1976) Yes, this is a pseudo-documentary from the 1970s about UFOs. It has a very entertaining, pompous on-screen narrator. It has a lot of information that seems made-up or spurious. It goes off on several long tangents that seem to belong in other movies (the “Space Voyage From Ummo” section, for example). However, the film does something that made me place it firmly in the “thriller” category. Around 5 minutes in, the narrator announces that there will be a surprise ending to the movie.  He knows the secret behind why UFOs (or “The UFO,” as he calls it) have been coming to Earth for thousands of years. He will tell us at the end of the movie. Now, I’m not going to ruin anything for you but--  that’s thrilling! This man knows what has been going on with extra-terrestrials for centuries and he’s going to tell us.That is exciting! I’ll sit through whatever you got to get that answer. And, the film piles on fact after photo after interview after Uri Geller to get us to the end. Granted, if you don’t like this sort of pseudo-documentary, you’ll be asleep within 5 minutes. If you do like this sort of thing, stay tuned!

Honorable Mentions:
Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot (1975) – A group of Bigfoot hunters head deep into the Pacific Northwest to find Bigfoot in this fake documentary from the height of the Bigfoot Years in America. I love Bigfoot. You love Bigfoot. And, the tension of “What will they find?” may be a bit languorous in this film but it’s always there. Tune in. Stay hairy.

My Dinner With Andre (1981) – You remember how I mentioned trying not to be too perverse in my choices. That’s why this ended up in the Honorable Mentions. The film is two guys, eating dinner and talking.  That’s the movie. And the initial thought is: surely, this can’t be sustained for an entire movie. So, you sit down to watch and get caught up in the conversation between the two men. But, the whole time, in the back of your head you wait for the film to fall apart. The premise is too simplistic, this cannot be entertaining throughout.But, it is. The filmmakers pull it off. If that’s not a thriller, I don’t know what is.


Hal said...

This list is greatness. My Dinner with Andre, with the reasons for inclusion, would be reason enough to say so, but you found a way to include the BJ and the Bear Telefilm. And Sheriff Lobo when he was truly a man of menace. Both BJ and its spinoff need to be out on DVD by now. Great job.

I haven't seen Sasquatch since the year of release, but I'd love to catch up with it as an adult.

George White said...

Yes, the League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse due to tax shelters relating to budget was done mostly in Ireland rather than Derbyshire as the TV SHOW, and they filmed in my local church and at my local chip shop. And my classmate Charlotte played Steve Pemberton's daughter.

Daniel B? said...


Thank you kindly for your comment. And, thank you also for introducing me to the magic land of Quincy through your blog. Klugman Ahoy!!

BJ & The Bear forever!