Allan Mott was once accused of being a narcissistic gothlesbian by a disgruntled Amazon reviewer. That pretty much sums up his writing career (which includes 12 and 1/2 books and frequent contributions to such sites asxoJane, xoJaneUK, The Good Men Project, Canuxploitation, Bookgasm and Flick Attack,). His most personal writing can be found at VanityFear.com, where he uses the subject of B-Movies to mostly talk about boobs and stuff. Tweet him on the Twitter at @HouseofGlib.
Truth be told, I didn’t “discover” any of these films. I just finally caught up with them this year and enjoyed them enough to regret that I hadn’t done so that much sooner.
L’ultimo treno della notte (Aldo Lado, 1975) aka Night Train Murders
Watching the excellent documentary/trailer showcase VideoNasties for a second time was what compelled me to order the Blu-ray of this Italian remake/rip-off of Wes Craven’sThe Last House on the Left, his own infamous remake/rip-off of Ingmar Bergman’s Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring). Truthfully I wasn’t that surprised to find that I preferred it to Craven’s film, since my exposure to similar Euro-exploitation indicated it would a possess a certain amount of style that Last House famously lacks. What did surprise me was how much more powerful I found it, largely based on the strength of Ennio Morricone’s score, which begins with “A Flower’s All You Need”—a song that has stayed with me ever since.
More American Graffiti (B.W.L. Norton, 1979)
This past August I began writing a monthly column for a local digital magazine called the pulp press in which I take a look at forgotten and/or failed sequels to famous and important films. When I chose to write about More American Graffiti, I had no idea that I was about to see a film whose bleak reputation (it currently has a 5.2 rating onIMDb) bore no resemblance to what actually appeared onscreen. What I found instead was a moving, darkly comic film that I found infinitely more optimistic than the original, despite it’s ending with the exact same epilogues. It’s the rare sequel that proves how inadequate these glimpses into a person’s life can be in telling their whole story—they provide only a small snapshot, not the totality of an entire lifetime.
Death Spa (Michael Fischa, 1989)
Far from being a perfect horror movie, Death Spa is instead just a really fun one, encapsulating the decade that spawned it right down to its bones. Part slasher/part ghost story/partfadsploitation, it’s the kind of film that would have been impossible to love when it was originally released, but is now equally difficult to hate 26 years later. While not as consistently hilarious as Killer Workout (aka Aerobi-cide), it’s definitely made with 1000% more style and professionalism, which counts for something too.
The Swimmer (Frank Perry/Sidney Pollack, 1968)
A lot of people have caught up with this adaptation of John Cheever’s short story in the past couple of years and I am happy to have been one of them. Beautifully shot and filled with great performances, the film plays like a long dramatic episode of The Twilight Zone, in which the truth of what happened to Burt Lancaster’s titular character is slowly revealed until the final despairing curtain is lifted. The rare cinematic fable that seems completely true to life without feeling the need to hide its dramatic inventions, it’s a great film that deserves the attention it has been getting.
Curtains (Richard Ciupka, 1983)
By all rights this low-budget Canadian tax shelter slashereffort shouldn’t work. The production was highly troubled (creative differences between the filmmakers) and the film itself is cobbled together with sections that were shot over a year apart (with the producer, Peter J. Simpson taking over for the original director). Despite this, though, the end result is one of the most genuinely entertaining and thrilling examples of its kind, a lost classic that has finally gotten the treatment it deserves via the recently released Synapse Blu-ray. Filled with the kind of cast that will have you repeatedly going to the IMDb to find out what other films they made, it gets far more right than it does wrong, which makes the end result all the more special—proof of how the end result is so often more a matter of fate than design.
The Internecine Project (Ken Hughes, 1974)
Saddled with what may be the worst title in the history of the thriller genre, this forgotten James Coburn vehicle still manages to leave a great impression thanks to an inventive early screenplay by Barry Levinson (not the one you know) and Jonathan Lynn (definitely the one behind My CousinVinny). Coburn plays a successful big-time muckity-muck whose machinations are leading him to an important government advisory appointment. But before he gets the job, global string-puller Keenan Wynn tells him he has to liquidate all of the people whose efforts allowed him to reach this goal, since they all possess secrets that could ruin him in the future. To this end, Coburn devises a scheme that would have them kill each other off without his own hands getting dirty. As the film’s anti-hero, Coburn does a great job, even though a significant portion of the film requires he do nothing but wait by the phone as his plan is set in motion. Capped by a great “just-desserts” twist ending, this British production comes highly recommended.
The Carey Treatment (Blake Edwards, 1972)
Another Coburn vehicle, this one finds him taking the role of a doctor who has just become the pathologist at a Boston hospital. There he becomes embroiled in a mystery when the Chief of Staff’s daughter dies after an illegal abortion performed by his friend (James Hong in the exceptional case of an Asian character in an Edwards’ film who isn’t a blatant and comic stereotype). Based on an early novel by Michael Crichton, this is one of the few pre-Roe vs. Wade films to tackle this subject matter in such a direct fashion. That said, the film never becomes preachy and instead works as a compelling mystery/thriller with a great lead character who deserved to appear in more than just one movie.
Design for Living (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933)
Lubitsch’s production of a popular Noel Coward play (featuring a screenplay by Ben Hecht) is a film so light, glorious and timeless that it feels like it was made yesterday and not 82 years ago. Frederic March and Gary Cooper star as a playwright and artist whose fortunes rise and fall because of their mutual attraction to Miriam Hopkins, a inspirational dynamo who cannot choose between them. No director has ever been better suited for this material than Lubitsch and though this effort isn’t as well known as some of his other films, it is definitely not to be missed.