Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '76 - James Curtiss ""

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Underrated '76 - James Curtiss

James Curtiss is one half of the team behind the podcast “At The Cheap Seats,” where he and his cohort Matt[REDACTED]review the movies you don't want to pay full price for. If you’re tired of paying $14 to sit in a theater with nitwits too busy to stop talking and texting long enough just to watch yet anothersequel to the prequel of the remake of the comic book, they can tell you if it’s worth waiting a month for the same marginally enjoyable experience for just $2 at your local “Dollar House.” James also ran the now defunct IHEARTSEQUELS blog, wherehe spent far too much time a) soapboxing for the much maligned entries in already over-maligned franchises; b) trying to persuade people that a lot of sequels are better than their predecessors, and c) daydreaming about sequels that were never to be. In the end, he is an optimist to a fault, always trying to find something worthwhile in what far too many others have already deemed worthless.
Listen to At the Cheap Seats on iTunes:

Also, check out his Underrated '86 list here:

Obsession – “Sometimes overwrought excess can be its own reward.” That’s Roger Ebert reviewing “Obsession,” Brian De Palma’s OTHER 1976 masterwork. You could use this reading of one De Palma film to validate the entirety of his canon. I love De Palma. I recognize that he has thematic and narrative thru-lines that run the course of his career. Let’s be honest, though; we watch De Palma films to see how he watches things. The style is the substance and “Obsession” has style to burn,with cinematography by Vilmos Szigmond ably assisted by one of Bernard Herrmann’s last great scores.

Cannonball – Speaking of excess, sometimes when you’re tasked with repeating yourself, the only way to do it is to amplify everything that made your previous work a success. Such is the case of Paul Bartel’s “Cannonball,” the follow-up to his 1975 cult classic “Death Race 2000.” Where the automotive destruction in the latter gave Bartel a platform to share “big”ideas, “Cannonball” only exists so Bartel can mount some of the greatest car-crashes ever captured on celluloid. It isn’t the loftiest station one can aspire to, but it is one of the most exciting.

Hollywood Boulevard – Like “Cannonball,” “Hollywood Boulevard” comes from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. Debut directors Allan Arkush and Joe Dante were only afforded 1/13th the budget of Bartel’s flick, but they created one of the most important and most relevant films in Corman’s history. Done on a dare in the fashion of Corman classics like “Little Shop of Horrors” the movie was built around footage from a dozen other New World Pictures, effectively creating a pseudo-meta history of the studio at the time. It is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of exploitation cinema.

Master of the Flying Guillotine – AKA, “One-Armed Boxer 2” or “The One Armed Boxer vs. the Flying Guillotine,” this film blended the classic wuxia style with a splattering of high-concept gore and exploitation to create one of the most influential kung fu films of all time. While the average Joe doesn’t know this flick, you can see and feel its influence in numerous films and VIDEO GAMES to follow. The tournament at the heart of the film (with its weird mix of fighters) is definitely a forbearer to the Mortal Kombats and Street Fighter 2s we’ve bene inundated with.

House of Mortal Sin/Schizo – I wonder if people will ever latch onto the work of Pete Walker the way they have with giallo or pinku. Maybe it’s easier to swallow slash and sleaze films if they’re not made in your native language. Or maybe it’s easier to exoticize the landscapes of Italy and Japan, and not the English milieu that Walker’s films exist in. In any case, Walker made two films in 1976; “House of Mortal Sin,” a wicked condemnation of Catholicism barely masquerading as a horror film, and “Schizo,” an attempt on Walker’s part to make a more measured and subtle psychological thriller. While he was more successful with the wicked than the subtle, both of Walker’s films are sleaze of the kind we are all fans of around here.

The Tenant – When it comes to sleaze, Roman Polanski is in a class all his own. This, the last and least known of his “Apartment Trilogy,” plays like a gender-flipped take on the cycle’s earliest entry, “Repulsion.” Polanksi plays the lead, the titular tenant who is renting an apartment in Paris after the previous lodger, a woman, threw herself out of one of the apartment’s windows. A single paragraph could barely touch on the twists and turns of this disturbing little gem, not to mention the ambiguity with which Polanski approaches it. I will say that after seeing it, you will never look at a little hole in the wall the same way ever again.

God Told Me To – Underrated is such a strange word when it comes to the topic of art, particularly when, with regards to your audience, you feel like you’re preaching to the choir. If you had asked me 15 years ago whether or not Larry Cohen’s odd blend of horror, sci-fi and police procedural was underrated, I would have said that the film barely had enough of an audience to actually be rated. Now, with the internet and boutique blu-ray labels, it’s hard to say. I still think people haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to talking about Cohen’s work, so this film, his oddest, most certainly qualifies.

Bugsy Malone – Is there a more underrated songwriter in the history of American music than Paul Williams? Again, because of the internet and nostalgia culture (not to mention the solipsistic sort of documentary filmmaking favored by the bore that directed the Williams doc “Still Alive”), more people now are talking about Williams than were, say, 15 years ago. In the end, for my money, dude deserves even more accolades than has been thrust upon him of late. In keeping with that, I’m waiting for American audiences to rediscover and fall in love with this kid’s classic at the level that the Brits have for the past two decades. The most we’ve gotten out of it is that Coca-Colalicensed the absolutely wonderful closing tune for one of theirjingles/ad campaigns.
My top 5 films of 1976:
1. Rocky
2. The Bad News Bears
3. The Outlaw Josey Wales
4. Taxi Driver
5. Network

Honorable mentions:
• Charles Bronson and J. Lee Thompson begin their run of indelible collaborations with the slick caper “St. Ives.”

• “Heart of Glass,” Werner Herzog’s least-seen film from his early days as part of the New German Romanticism movement, isn’t an easy watch, but there isn’t anything else quite like it.

• Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson star together for the first and last time in Arthur Penn’s messy but must-see western “The Missouri Breaks.”
• Jeff Bridges falls in love with Sally Field and (let’s be honest) Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Stay Hungry.”

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