Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '77 - Scott Drebit ""

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Underrated '77 - Scott Drebit

Scott Drebit is Senior Columnist at Daily Dead, where he writes weekly about movies with Drive-In Dust Offs, and bi-weekly about TV with It Came from the Tube. Tri-weekly he gets his hair cut. He’s also a co-host of Corpse Club, a new weekly podcast from dailydead.com. You can find him on Twitter @phantasm2.

DAMNATION ALLEY (Dir. Jack Smight)
George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Jackie Earl Haley head cross country looking for survivors and non-nuclear air in this post-apocalyptic adventure based on Roger Zelazny’s novel. While the effects are certainly not up to Star Wars levels of inspiration, I’m a sucker for a “quest” movie and this one does just fine. The three leads do nicely, hitting the requisite demographics of Action Hero, Brooding Hunk, and Teen Idol respectively. Of special note: A sequence in a deserted Las Vegas with a whole lot of cockroaches and very little cover.
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DEMON SEED (Dir. Donald Cammell)
Hell hath no fury like a computer scorned, and in Donald Cammell’s sly techno-thriller, Proteus IV (voiced by an uncredited Robert Vaughn) is built to be sentient but soon grows tired of meaningless tasks, such as curing leukemia. Proteus wants to play God, and he has an unwilling subject in Julie Christie, who becomes imprisoned in the automated house created by her estranged scientist husband, Fritz Weaver. To say the film is odd is an understatement; but this is a Cammell, who reveled in the offbeat in his films (White of the Eye, anyone?), to a very small but appreciative audience. This mixture of Rosemary’s Baby, 2001, and an abduction thriller is his stab at commerciality, and that it still comes out weird is a testament to his unique sensibilities.
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ROLLERCOASTER (Dir. James Goldstone)
George Segal is a fairground ride safety inspector and Timothy Bottoms is the disgruntled bomber who’s got him in this amusing suspense tale from Columbo creators Richard Levinson & William Link. Bottoms is blowing up rollercoasters all over Southern California, and Segal, naturally, is the pawn in his extortion plan. Instead of creating a mystery, Levinson & Link focus on what actually makes Columbo work, and that’s strong characterization. Segal is a shlumpy everyman barely keeping his life together, and Bottoms’ concerns aren’t grandiose, but of a more intimate nature. Watching the two interact between derailments is where the fun is.
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THE VAN (Dir. Sam Grossman)
Psychotically grinning Bobby has just got himself a primo van (dubbed Straight Arrow), and he plans to score with all the ladies when he’s not scrubbing suds at the car wash run by bookie Danny DeVito. Yeah, that’s it! Welcome to Crown International, where ideas too highbrow for American International get made into motion pictures for groping teens to ignore at drive-ins across the land. And Crown kind of cornered the market on the Ta-tas and Turtle Wax flick; this, Van Nuys Blvd. and Malibu High (both 1979) were very popular with the less discerning crowd, filled with naked women, hot rods, and horny boys. What makes The Van and its ilk fascinating is they’re really sort of benign and pleasant; not necessarily funny, but amiable and probably only so because they don’t resort to mean-spiritedness to get their stories across. This is a pretty accurate time capsule of So-Cal fun in the sun, with the hit title song played again (and again) to hammer home the awesomeness of the ultimate shaggin’ wagon.
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DAY OF THE ANIMALS (Dir. William Girdler)
Anyone who knows me knows that I hold a special place in my heart for the late genre director William Girdler. Grizzly (1976) and The Manitou (1978) are my two favourite works from him; the former an insanely entertaining independent hit that is essentially Jaws on land, the latter a gonzo possession tale involving an evil Indian shaman and an outer space battle with a half-naked Susan Strasberg in a hospital bed. But I digress. In between the two, he took a run at Nature Gone Amok with this low budget winner. The depletion of the ozone has caused the animals to turn on the humans; I mean they probably would have anyway, but extra vicious never hurt a B movie’s credibility. While not as grin-inducing as Grizzly or as crazy as The Manitou, it offers solid work from holdover Christopher George and energetic attacks. But you’re really here to see Leslie Nielsen, calling everyone “hot shot” and, in a moment of cinematic triumph he fights a bear, shirtless. I miss you, Leslie. And I especially miss you, Mr. Girdler.
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