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1. Infra-Man (1975; Shan Hua) -- If you don’t like Infra-Man, you must hate fun. Some flicks exist to entertain, and this one does it in spades. Unlike many modern superhero movies that fumble for profundity, Infra-Man isn’t afraid to embrace its goofy side, as our cyborg hero goes toe to toe with the 10 million year old demon Princess Dragon Mom and her rubber monster henchmen. Who will prevail? Do you even have to ask? One of the refreshing things about Infra-Man is how quickly it throws the audience into the action, without wasting a lot of time on the titular’s character’s origins. There’s no time for a brooding protagonist, or a Christopher Nolan-style deconstructionist meditation on the nature of revenge. Popcorn didn’t have a reason to exist before this movie.
2. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975; Peter Weir) -- Okay, I’ve cheated a bit by including this title on my list, since it’s not exactly underrated. Although Picnic at Hanging Rock received its fair share of accolades from critics over the years, it’s not particularly well known by casual film fans. Don’t let its arthouse cred deter you from checking it out, though. Set in turn-of-the- 20 Century Victoria, Australia, the events are chronicled in a pseudo-historical fashion, maintaining the illusion this is a factual account. The students (minus one) from an exclusive girls’ boarding school set off on an afternoon Valentine’s Day outing to the nearby reserve known as Hanging Rock. Not content to soak in the sun and eat cake, four of the girls decide to wander off and explore the mysterious formation of rocks. Only one returns, and when their governess attempts to locate the missing girls, she ends up missing as well. Picnic at Hanging Rock’s contemplative, measured pace is actually an asset. So much of what happens is internalized by the characters, leaving their experiences and motives open to speculation. Director Peter Weir and writer Cliff Green (working from a novel by Joan Lindsay) don’t offer answers, only more questions.
3. Black Magic (aka: Jiang Tou) (1975; Ho Meng-Hua) -- An entertaining mixture of sorcery, revenge and sleaze from the prolific Shaw Brothers that lives up to its name. When a wealthy socialite catches her husband with another woman, she hires a witch doctor to kill the lovers. So begins a cycle of spells and counter-spells, as a ne’er do well employs a shaman to win the new widow’s affections and fortune. She in turn has designs on one of her young employees, and hires the same witch doctor to meddle with his marital plans. The sorcery flies left and right, as we try to guess who will be left standing. With a title like Black Magic, I expected good, trashy fun, and I wasn’t disappointed.
4. The Day of the Locust (1975; John Schlesinger) – It’s a bit ironic that The Day of the Locust is the only film on this list I haven’t previously covered on my blog, since it’s one of the titles that indirectly prompted its inception. I first watched this in college more than a couple of decades ago, and it never lost its impact. Using the Nathanael West novel as a template, director John Schlesinger and screenwriter Waldo Salt focus on the misfits, failures and also-rans, told amidst the backdrop of Hollywood’s golden age. The impressive cast includes William Atherton (Walter Peck from Ghostbusters), Karen Black as a wannabe starlet and Donald Sutherland as the pathetic accountant Homer Simpson (no, not that Homer Simpson). Be sure to watch for a cameo by William Castle as a big-shot director. The Day of the Locust is a brilliant, sobering and difficult film to watch at times, but never less than a mesmerizing portrait of the dark side of Hollywood.