Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '76 - John S. Berry ""

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Underrated '76 - John S. Berry

Attempted positive guy on Twitter @JohnSBerry1 (I am not high on quantity of followers but overflowing with quality), occasional wise cracker on Gonzo Guys podcast and guy that saw Alien on HBO at way to young of an age. I still actively hunts down VHS tapes and am constantly taking notes to seek out films. It is near impossible to describe how happy I am after watching a gem of a film, often I have to go walk it off in the cool night air. Viva la cinema!
Now on: https://letterboxd.com/jawhnb74/

See Also his Underrated '86 and '86 lists:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2016/03/underrated-96-john-s-berry.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2016/06/underrated-john-berry.html
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I was born just a little before this great year of cinema, but thanks to the early days of Starz and Encore with marathon weekend sessions during the HBO and Cinemax free I have seen my fair share of movies from 76. Making this list I used it as an opportunity to try and go a little B Side deep tracks (at least to me) and knew I had some unwatched gems in house.

There are a lot of strong and unique characters coursing thru films of this era. Would you really base a movie these days around an amazing Neville Brand or Millie Perkins? Or go full steam ahead with a dark comedy with heads getting lopped off or alien/god themes? Researching 76 releases once again pounded home the point of how there are so many gems and such little time on this moving conveyor belt that we call life.

Drive-In Massacre
The past few years I have watched a few George C. Scott films and always marvel how refreshing it is too see an older conservative insurance salesman like man in the lead role. In current movies you never let them lead and if they have a decent sized role they are either sick or on their way to being sick and usually played for hack different generation humor.

These two leads are in that vein, they look like the cops I grew up with as a kid. They are chunky, in bad suits, they sigh a lot, drink a lot and wear suits from JC Penny. The tone is kind of all over the place reminiscent of The Town That Dreaded Sundown with the mix of heavy violence with random scenes of silly action and interactions with awkward teen confessions and a WTF drag undercover operation.

The other characters are kind of over the top such as the bumbling doofus who cleans the grimy drive and his angry Anton LeVey looking boss (Robert E. Pearson may be the grumpiest performance in 70s cinema).

The movie does have a drive in sticky feel and I am pretty excited to see the updated Blu-Ray that Severin is releasing later this year. The movie never gets too scary but I had a moment with the end voice over/ post script where I thought that if I had seen this as a kid the ending would have chilled me and made me keep an eye on all the people watching with me.

Mother, Jugs and Speed 
Believe it or not Bill Cosby is not the creepiest character in this very dark comedy. Nope, that dubious honor is given to Larry Hagman, good ole’ JR goes full tilt in this one.

This is one of the darkest comedies to this day I have ever seen. For every thrust of a funny moment there is then a parry of a sad and or disturbing one. What is kind of great is it is several stories in one. One of a disgraced cop trying to earn something back while falling in love, a turf war between ambulance companies and/ or a woman fighting for equal rights among a bunch of rooting pigs.

In Captain Obvious statements Harvey Keitel is complex and great in the film and makes you wonder is he a creep or saint? Raquel Welch is not just content in being possibly the most gorgeous women ever but also just projects a charming sweet nature. With all the peaks and valleys thru this you actually care about the characters and are hopeful that some of them end up happily ever after (some I repeat).

I caught this film on Starz or Encore and told my friend Laura about it at school and she mentioned it to her cooler than hell, Parliament loving, Fender bass playing Dad and he wanted to meet this kid who knew of Mother, Jugs and Speed. He could not believe anyone had seen this movie and was promoting it to other teens. Now even as an older gentleman (I hope) I would recommend this movie for its amazing mix and hell I owe it as it told me about the glory of the peanut butter hamburger.

The Witch Who Came from the Sea
Sorry to hit the same note most do when writing about this film but this may be the most misleading cover paired with title in cinema history. It would be like having a bad ass Conan cover for The Sandlot. Millie Perkins gives one of the most unhinged performances I have ever seen and she is awkward and alluring all at the same time. Oh but mainly just terrifying and it is a true vision of someone losing all grips on reality.

The film feels disorienting as hell (in a good way) due to disturbing flash back scenes, possible dreams or hallucinations by Molly. It feels similar to when you wake up from a nap and are not sure of what time it is or where you are. A good bit of the movie you are trying to figure out what actually happens or who and what is real.

The supporting cast is also pretty great in this film as well. Lonny Chapman plays Long John an old grizzled sea captain like bar owner who you can almost smell watching the movie but has a pretty damn big heart for his small community of unlucky losers. Vanessa Brown plays the voice of reality and reason (although a frantic and troubled one) sister who tries not to push Millie over the edge but does not share her idea of the good ole days.

This movie also goes into my category with Martin in that the locations almost play a character in the film. The seedy bar, sister’s shag carpeted apartment as well as Long John’s bachelor lair all show how even though you are by the beautiful ocean your world can still be very dark and bleak.

Eaten Alive
When I was a kid I used to go with my Dad and Gramps around to junkyards looking for parts they needed. Once there was this terrifying guy wearing a dirty undershirt under a metal back brace and the image has still lived with me all these years. Neville Brand in Eaten Alive puts in a performance just as terrifying and haunting. Sure he is scary when performing acts of vicious violence but what really makes me uneasy is the moments when he is by himself muttering and shuffling around the dilapidated old hotel.

This is not a great movie, but it is super entertaining. Tobe Hooper does a Argento tribute with some of the lighting and once again torments Marilyn Burns. At first I was not too into it but then I almost watched it like it was a play with a decent set, it almost feels like Hooper was doing a cover band version in a self-contained space of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The characters are all pretty dark as William Finley plays a beyond disturbed Dad and Robert Englund as Buck is a peak into his creepy greatness that was about to come.

The IMDB has this as a 1976 release but some sources have it as 1977. Arrow USA just put out a super deluxe addition Blu-Ray and I am sure the colors really pop on it. I saw this on a 2 disc and for once I went thru most of the extras which actually increased my enjoyment of the movie. The slideshow of test screening comments are hilarious and the short doc The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball make this a keeper.

Keoma
I once posted on Twitter that I think I am developing a Franco Nero problem and it was probably after seeing this amazing and unique film. I didn’t know a whole lot about the twilight Spaghetti Westerns and picked this up for a great price on a Blu-Ray double with The Grand Duel.

I went into this thinking I was about to see standard revenge western but immediately appreciated the unique situations such as a plague and what may be a witch warning and reminding Keoma of how awful things are. Nero is a tattered dusty half Indian half white man coming back home to find it in shambles and that his half-brothers have turned their back on their Pa and are helping a ruthless man “run” things.

The movie has flashbacks, slow motion spots and an odd soundtrack that often recaps all the gloom fit to sing in a Cohen like monotone. Keoma continues to be visited by The Witch and maybe she doesn’t exist, maybe only in his mind. Nero plays the troubled but do right man who is searching for something in an amazing fashion. When he rescues a pregnant woman from being quarantined and blood shed ensues he is detached but seems almost confused as to why he got involved.

This film also provided me with one of my favorite villains in Butch Shannon played in a sly manner by Orso Maria Guerrini. The film has a lot of depth to it and has a lot of side stories that are fascinating such as the down fall of George and redemption. It is a complex western and I am pretty sure I will soon be delving into the twilight Western Spaghetti data base soon.

Heart of Glass
This movie feels like being up early, the calm quiet morning on a camping trip. The air is kind of hazy and your mind is as well (hmm maybe a theme in 70s cinema?). The legend is that Werner Herzog hypnotized the entire cast for this film. They do seem to move thru the film in a ghost like manner even when creating amazing works of glass (Herzog hired real glass blowers for the film and the scenes when they create works are amazing).

The story is one of a desperate village that is in crisis when a glass maker dies taking the secret of how to make the ruby glass with him to his grave. You really get the feel of how dire a situation this is for an already struggling village and how the Baron is slowly losing his mind. During all this tension one man is the local Nostradamus predicting their inevitable doom of the village and casting spot on predictions of the world in the future.

I didn’t realize how effective the build of tension was until a ruby glass is broken and I gasped out loud more than I have at recent jump scare horror films. And to once again sound like a broken record I realized I cared about this village and wanted the happy ending which is just masterful film making.

The movie has an interesting shift at the end, throwing in almost a whole other beginning and end of a separate movie that has some of the most beautiful shots I have ever seen. You leave not knowing if this was a bleak allegory or one of triumph? I have plans to view this again and with Herzog’s commentary track as often the stories of creation and tribulations are just as unique and amazing as his films.

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