Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '76 - Josh Obershaw ""

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Underrated '76 - Josh Obershaw

Josh Obershaw is a graduate of University of California, Santa Cruz, majoring in Theater Arts. A writer and life-long film fan, he's currently putting his passion for movies to use as the Lead Contributor to the official website of The ScreamCast podcast. He also appears on the show keeping listeners up to date with upcoming Blu-ray releases, as well as other horror-related news. Josh also shares his love of movies on his personal blog, entitled Son of '77.

You can follow Josh on Twitter (@DoctorSplatter) and on Instagram (doctorsplatter).
I got really excited to do this particular list, because- as I mentioned in my Underrated '75 list from last year- the 1970s are my favorite decade for movies. Hands down. I will watch anything from the Seventies. Doesn't matter if it's like Star Wars or more like The Devil in Miss Jones. Any excuse to talk about 70s movies is a damn good one in my book. Also, stories of how one finds a particular picture can be just as interesting as the film itself, so I decided to add an extra bit of flair by sharing how I came to view each of the films below.

Burnt Offerings (dir. Dan Curtis)
Burnt Offerings was a title I occasionally heard thrown around among horror people. And one time by Rosie O'Donnell. I literally knew nothing about it before I first saw it as a Netflix rental. Well, except for the one fact that sold me on it: Oliver Reed. Reed and Karen Black play Ben and Marian Rolf, a couple who accept an offer from elderly siblings (played by Burgess Meridith and Eileen Hackart) to look after their old mansion- and their mysterious mother who lives in a secluded room upstairs- for the summer. Ben and Marian bring his sister, Elizabeth (Bette Davis) and their son, Davey (Lee H. Montgomery) to live with them in the old house. Everything is fun and great of course, until strange things begin to happen, and Ben and Marian start exhibiting strange behavior. He becomes more aggressive, she becomes fixated with keeping up the place and bringing meals to a old lady no one ever sees. It all builds to one crazy climax. Director Dan Curtis chooses a very bright, shiny setting with lots of soft lighting that gives the film a rather calming effect, and gives the supernatural moments a rather unnerving edge. In addition, you have a cast full of legends giving borderline-unhinged performances. Burnt Offerings is one of the weirder offerings in the haunted house genre. Those sick of the CGI-laden, jump scare-heavy modern films would be advised to check this one out.

The Enforcer (dir. James Fargo)
Dirty Harry is back in this third entry in the classic action film series. I have vague memories of seeing parts of this film as a kid, so a few years ago, on a Dirty Harry trip, I popped in an old VHS. Clint Eastwood once again plays Inspector Harry Callahan, who's usual disregard for the rules in combating punks leads him being kicked out of Homicide and moved to Personnel. But when his partner is murdered by a group of domestic terrorists, Harry is put back in action. And, in an effort to make the department look good, he's partnered up with a woman: new Inspector, Kate Moore (played by Tyne Daly). Between the iconic first film, the immensely popular Sudden Impact(You know, the one with "Go ahead, make my day!"), and The Dead Pool introducing Guns n' Roses to the world, The Enforcer, to me, gets lost in the shuffle. It's too bad. It's a tightly-paced actioner with stunning cinematography capturing the beauty of San Francisco and a blaxploitation-esque score by Jerry Fielding. More than anything, The Enforcer stands out for injecting a shot of feminism in the action genre, which is made even more special by the fact that Eastwood and Daly make an excellent on-screen duo. Inspector Moore is the best partner Dirty Harry ever had.

God Told Me To (dir. Larry Cohen)
Larry Cohen is a writer/director that I have been getting into more as of late. Especially after getting a chance to attend a reading of one of his unmade scripts (and shake the man's hand) at the (gone but never forgotten) Jumpcut Cafe in Los Angeles last year. Recently, I've watched his films It's Alive and It Lives Again for the first time on Turner Classic Movies. Also on TCM, I got to experience for the first time God Told Me To (A title I once got mixed up with Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except). The film takes place in New York City, and starts with a sniper taking out people from atop a water tower. A Catholic detective (played by Tony Lo Bianco) tries to talk the killer down, but before jumping to his death, the sniper explains, "God told me to." From there, the devout policeman gets involved in a series of random acts of violence by seemingly normal, well-adjusted people, who all confess the same thing. And from there, the film goes into very strange territory. I would rather not go any further with God Told Me To. This definitely one of those films you need to see for yourself. The visual experience and the themes found within make it an unforgettable watch. Be on the lookout for the late comedian Andy Kaufman in a cameo.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (dir. Nicholas Gessner)
I had never even heard of The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane until earlier this year, gathering Blu-ray news for The ScreamCast (Kino Lorber released the film on Blu-ray back in May). This is one of my favorite discoveries of the year. In her first lead role, Jodie Foster stars as Rynn Jacobs, a mysterious and exceptionally bright girl who lives in a house in a small seaside town. Supposedly, she shares the house with her poet father, but he's never around when people come to call. The landlady (Alexis Smith) gets increasingly suspicious, while her creepy son (played by Martin Sheen) has other intentions for Rynn. Rynn also develops a friendship with Mario, an older kid and budding magician. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a remarkable film. It's a effortless blend of drama, mystery, and horror, packed with some outstanding performances. At the age of thirteen, Foster is a dynamo in her first lead. One thing that definitely stood out for me was how the picture primarily takes place within the house. It not only gives the viewer the sense they are watching a stage play, but it also adds a greater amount of tension throughout. Highly recommended!

To the Devil... A Daughter (dir. Peter Sykes)
To the Devil... A Daughter was a total blind buy. I found the Anchor Bay DVD at my local Rite Aid for like $4. Seeing it was a 70s Satanic movie with Christopher Lee, and knowing Anchor Bay's cred at the time, I bought it without a second thought. Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley, the film stars Richard Widmark as John Verney, an occult writer who agrees to take charge of a young nun named Catherine (Nastassja Kinski) at the behest of her squirmy father (played by Denholm Elliott). The writer eventually uncovers the truth about Catherine: her church is harboring a group of Satanists led by an excommunicated priest (Christopher Lee), and the devil worshipers are preparing her to become an avatar for the demon Astaroth. It's up to Verney to rescue Catherine from the evil priest and his conspirators. To the Devil... A Daughter is probably best remembered as the final film produced by England's Hammer Studios (co-produced with Terra-Filmkunst) before they were resurrected in the 2000s. It's also famous for being the film debut of Nastassja Kinski (not to mention her controversial underage nude scene). Unlike a lot of movies that tried to cash in on the likes of Rosemary's Baby and The ExorcistTo the Devil... A Daughter's very English sensibility brings a sense of class to a highly sensationalized subject. It's a slow-burn of a flick, but it's underlying folkiness and the characters are enough to keep it engaging  Fans of the heavy metal group White Zombie will recognize the dialogue in the opening scene, which was sampled into their 1995 song, "Super-Charger Heaven".

The Town That Dreaded Sundown(dir. Charles B. Pierce)
The Town That Dreaded Sundownwas one of the most memorable VHS covers from my childhood. I used to roam the horror section of video stores near my home, completely captivated and gleefully terrified with all the box art I was looking at. It was the image of the killer in a sack mask with two black holes for eyes that gave me a really unnerving feeling, and reading that title would send extra shivers. I never did get to rent it back in the day. I wouldn't be able to see it until about four or five years ago on Turner Classic Movies. The movie didn't even see a DVD release until 2013 when Scream Factory put it out on that and Blu-ray.
Directed by Charles B. Pierce (The Legend of Boggy Creek), the film dramatizes the real-life case of the Phantom Killer, who terrorized the town of Texarkana, TX in 1946. To this day, the killer was never caught. The film stars Ben Johnson as J.D. Morales, a fictional version of the Texas Ranger who assisted the Texarkana police in trying to apprehend the Phantom Killer. Also in the film are Andrew Prine as the local Deputy and Dawn Wells (of Gilligan's Island fame) as one of the victims. The Town That Dreaded Sundown is filled with very terrifying moments of the Phantom Killer stalking various citizens of the town. And with each attack, the Killer gets more and more vicious, and the scenes get more and more mean-spirited. What balances the film out is the fact that it feels very much like a TV movie from the 70s: the look, the music score by Jamie Mendosa-Nava, and the narration by Vern Steirman throughout. There are even some odd comedic moments, mostly centered around a bumbling cop played by the director. These aspects bring levity to an otherwise dark film. You really do feel for and care about the townfolk of Texarkana. After many years of the film being nothing more than a box cover, The Town That Dreaded Sundown lived up to the legend I had of it.

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