Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '76 - Terek Puckett ""

Friday, September 2, 2016

Underrated '76 - Terek Puckett

Terek Puckett is a freelance film writer and the creator/operator of THE BRIEF MACABRE-a website dedicated to showcasing the best live-action horror short films available online:

He is a former contributor to Taste of Cinema and PopOptiq/Sound on Sight:

1976 is home to some personal favorites like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man. Following is an alphabetical look at some less-discussed gems from that year:
The Eagle Has Landed (John Sturges, 1976)
This was the final film by Sturges, director of Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) and The Great Escape (1963).

An adaptation of the Jack Higgins novel, The Eagle Has Landed is anchored by an underrated Michael Caine performance as a German commander leading a group of soldiers in an attempt to kidnap Winston Churchill and turn the tide of World War II.

One of most interesting aspects of the film is the anti-SS stance of Caine’s character and the dangerous position he puts himself and his men into early in the film when he attempts to save the life of a Jewish girl.

A late entry in the cycle of military and Western “men on a mission” films of the 1960s & 1970s that includes Sturges’ ownsequel-spawning The Magnificent Seven (1960) and Ice Station Zebra (1968) along with J. Lee Thompson’s The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen (1967), this appropriately downbeat film deserves inclusion in any must-see list of films in that subgenre alongside other frequently overlooked entries like Andre De Toth’s Play Dirty (1969)-also starring Michael Caine-and Paul Wendkos’ highly underrated Western Cannon for Cordoba (1970) with George Peppard.

The Eagle Has Landed also stars Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, Jenny Agutter, Donald Pleasence and Anthony Quayle.

Gator (Burt Reynolds, 1976)
Reynolds returns to star and also takes the director’s chair for this sequel to Joseph Sargent’s hit 1973 crime film White Lightning. Both films were written by William W. Norton, a screenwriter best known to genre fans for Steve Carver’s Big Bad Mama (1974) and William Girdler’s Day of the Animals(1977).

In this film Reynold’s ex-con character Gator McCluskey is put on a collision course with a childhood friend who is now a notorious criminal.

What makes Gator a must-see is Jerry Reed as Southern crime boss Bama McCall. Reed’s performance is not only severely underrated, his character is one of the great villains of 1970s cinema.

His “take of be taken” speech should be taught in screen acting classes everywhere.

Grizzly (William Girdler, 1976)
Unfairly dismissed by some as a disposable Jaws knock-off, Grizzly is actually one of the most entertaining Revolt of Nature films in the subgenre boom that followed Steven Spielberg’s 1975 mega-hit.

Veteran actors Christopher George, Richard Jaeckel and Andrew Prine provide real on-screen chemistry with their excellent performances as the trio trying to stop the titular bear’s deadly rampage in a state park.

Standout sequences include a suspenseful and very well-directed bear attack scene at the beginning of the film and a later attempt by Jaeckel’s bear expert character to draw the ursine terror out into the open by dragging a dear carcass behind his horse.

Director Girdler makes the most of Grizzly’s modest budget and followed this box-office hit with another classic Revolt of Nature film Day of the Animals in 1977and the goofy but incredibly entertaining supernatural horror film The Manitou in 1978 before his untimely death at the age of 30.

The House with Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati, 1976)
If you are just starting your exploration into the giallo subgenre or Italian horror cinema in general, The House with Laughing Windows may not be the best place to start but it is still a must-see.

The film follows a painter hired to restore a fresco in an old church who starts to delve into the grim history of the disturbing work and the man who originally painted it.

The film’s slow-burn pace may be off-putting to some viewersbut The House with Laughing Windows is highly atmospheric, genuinely creepy and has a stunning ending.

Director Avati also made the horror film Revenge of the Dead(aka Zeder, 1983) which delivers a unique take on the zombie subgenre.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (Blake Edwards, 1976)
The best of the Peter Sellers Inspector Clouseau series, this entry pits the bumbling police detective against his now insane rival Inspector Dreyfus.

The sequence featuring Clouseau wreaking havoc as he tours a home and interrogates the household staff is a comedy cinema classic but the most underrated aspect of the film is the performance of Herbert Lom as the mad villain Dreyfus.

The always solid Lom delivers one of the best performances of his long career in this film and at times exhibits superior comic timing on the level of Bob Hope. Lom’s acting here should have netted him an Academy Award nomination of Best Supporting Actor.

Robin and Marian (Richard Lester, 1976)
Lester, director of the great The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), teams with screenwriter James Goldman to create the darkest take on the Robin Hood character ever committed to film.

Sean Connery stars as an aging Robin fated to enter into a final confrontation with his nemesis The Sheriff of Nottinghamplayed by Robert Shaw.

Featuring outstanding performances by Connery, Shaw, Audrey Hepburn, Nicol Williamson and Richard Harris, Robin and Marian ends with a brutal, highly realistic fight between Robin and the Sheriff followed by a stunning final scene.

What Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight is to Batman, Lester’s Robin and Marian is to Robin Hood.

Shadow of the Hawk (George McCowan, 1976)
A frequently overlooked gem of 1970s horror cinema, Shadow of the Hawk stars Chief Dan George and Jan-Michael Vincent as a Native American shaman and his grandson who are pitted against a powerful sorcerer.

The film’s highlights include a great sequence wherein the aging shaman uses his magical skills to cause a pursuing car to crash into an invisible barrier.

While not achieving the deliriously entertaining heights of William Girdler’s Native American sorcery classic The Manitou(1978), McCowan’s Shadow of the Hawk avoids the occasional unintentional comedy of Girdler’s film and is deserving of a wider audience.

Two-Minute Warning (Larry Peerce, 1976)
From the golden era of the suspense thriller and the disaster film comes this underappreciated film starring Charlton Heston and John Cassavetes as a police captain and a SWAT commander trying to stop a sniper attack at a football game.

John Frankenheimer’s Thomas Harris adaptation Black Sunday(1977) may be the better film but director Peerce crafts a solid piece of cinema in the same vein on a clearly lower budget with Two-Minute Warning.

Avoid the notoriously re-edited TV version of this film at all costs.

The screenplay by Edward Hume is based on a book by George LaFountaine. LaFountaine’s novel Flashpoint was adapted into William Tannen’s criminally overlooked and underrated suspense thriller of the same name in 1984.

Who Can Kill A Child? (Narciso Ibanez Serrador, 1976)
Ignore the completely unnecessary prologue that comes off as an attempt to apologize for the film you are about to watch becauseWho Can Kill A Child (aka Island of the Damned) is a 1970s horror classic from Spain that stands as one of the very best “killer kids” films of all time along with Tom Shankland’sunderrated The Children (2009).

Written by director Serrador based on the Juan Jose Plans novelEl Juego De Los Ninos, Who Can Kill A Child tells the story of a vacationing British couple who discovers the horrific reason why the island town they are in has a strange lack of adults.

Grim and uncompromising, the film suggests that whatever is causing the island’s children to turn deadly is spreading and even starts to affect the unborn child being carried by the wife of the story’s protagonist.

Serrador had previously directed the less memorable horror film The House That Screamed (aka La Residencia, 1970).

Yet another victim of the pernicious genre film remake culture we’ve found ourselves in for many years now, Who Can Kill AChild was unwisely and ineffectively remade as Makinov’sCome Out and Play in 2012.

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