Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '78 - James Curtiss ""

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Underrated '78 - James Curtiss

James is an optimist to a fault, always trying to find something worthwhile in what others have already deemed worthless. He just wants to watch movies, talk about movies, read about movies. He’s had a podcast (AT THE CHEAP SEATS), a blog (I HEART SEQUELS) and contributed the occasional piece to Blumhouse.com, Femme Fatales, Rupert Pupkin Speaks (of course) and more. You can find James here: https://letterboxd.com/jamescurtiss/

Check out his Underrated '88 list here:

and Underrated '98 here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2018/06/underrated-98-james-curtiss.html


STRAIGHT TIME – This is still underrated, right? I don’t hear enough people talking about this flick. Even if it isn’t “underrated” enough just for 1978, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it is underrated, in so much as it should be recognized as one of the great films of the decade. Lead Dustin Hoffman purchased the rights and was supposed to direct this adaptation of Eddie Bunker’s debut novel “No Beast So Fierce”, but wound up conceding that role to his WHO IS HARRY KELLERMAN… director Ulu Grosbard. I don’t know if Hoffman or Grosbard had the stronger hand in casting, but this line-up is a motherfucker. Harry Dean Stanton, M. Emmet Walsh, Theresa Russell – they’re all killing it, but the real revelation is a super young Gary Busey, who was having the best year in ’78 with this, BIG WEDNESDAY, and his Oscar-nominated turn in THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY.
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STAY AS YOU ARE – Even when the Italians tried to make high-end smut in the 1970s, they just had to push things a little too far, narratively and ethically. Here we have a story about a May-December romance where the girl could literally be the man’s daughter. As if that wasn’t just a little too skeevy, the romantic co-lead Nastassja Kinski was only 17 at the time of filming and has gone on record as now being very upset with all of her nude scenes at the time. So, bear all of that in mind when I very hesitantly recommend this film to you. Two key things I would highlight are the performance of the incredibly gorgeous Ania Pieroni (famous first victim in TENEBRAE) as Kinski’s hyper-promiscuous bestie, and the score by Ennio Morricone, working in a mode very similar to Francis Lai’s erotic classics. Please go out of your way to find an Italian language version of the film, since the English dub makes Marcello Mastroianni sound like a dope.
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BEING TWENTY – Speaking of going out of your way to see the original Italian versions, that is really the only way you should watch this piece of low-budget exploitation from legendary Italian filmmaker Fernando Di Leo. Also known as TO BE TWENTY (which is how most American audiences can find it), the movie is about a pair of young gals (the titular 20-year-olds) who run off and try to hitchhike their way to the big city, in search of free love, drugs, and the kind of good times 20-year-old Italian gals wanted to get up to in 1978. The altered edit of this film turns it into an unessential piece of junky T&A. The original edit maintains a lot of the silly, playful sexy time, but there is a shocking turn at the end that is so very 1978 and so very exploitation of the Italian (particularly Di Leo’s) sort of the time.
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THE COMEBACK – I’ve gone on record on this site previously about my love for the low-rent sleaze and shocks of UK auteur Pete Walker. While this film, the last of his self-produced nasties, is not as tight or as rewarding in its final reveal, the journey there is filled with some wonderfully spooky and unsettling moments and set-pieces. The movie is ostensibly about an American singer named Nick Cooper (who I believe has to be a Scott Walker-proxy, even down to the songs they created for his character) who has returned to the UK to record a long-delayed album. Once he arrives, he and those close to him begin to be terrorized by someone in an evil hag costume. Honestly, this is a bit of a proto-slasher, or even a kind of kitchen sink giallo, particularly when you do get to the motive of the antagonist.
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KILLER’S MOON – There really wasn’t a huge wave of UK horror and sleaze during the 1970s; not like what was coming out of the US, Italy, Japan, etc. Pete Walker was probably the leading purveyor of the stuff, with Norman Warren (who I mention below) sort of right on his tail. Bringing up the rears, and far less prolific, was Alan Birkinshaw, who managed to squeeze out one legendary piece of putrid nastiness in the 1970s, before churning out some less-inspired adaptations of literary thrillers in the 1980s. But that one film, 1978’s KILLER MOON, might be the grimiest and most lurid of all the contemporary UK films of the era. Playing like a mash-up of TRIP WITH THE TEACHER and ALONE IN THE DARK, it’s about a bus full of schoolgirls (a choral group, to be specific) and their chaperones, taking shelter in a hotel in the middle of nowhere after their bus breaks down. Unfortunately (duh) for them and the handful of locals roaming around the sticks, four escaped mental patients, jacked out of their minds on LSD, are hallucinating their way through a shared adventure of rape and murder.
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Brief notes: As always, I like to share random thoughts, as well as briefly echo the opinions of other contributors. For what it’s worth, if this series had been written a couple years back, I think everybody would have name-checked THE DRIVER. One of my absolute favorite films of 1978 is John Milius’ BIG WEDNESDAY, a film which Brian rightfully listed in his intro piece to the series. It’s been great to see some love for Norman Warren’s TERROR, especially in light of its recent Blu-Ray release. Sticking with horror, the still-underseen giallo THE BLOODSTAINED SHADOW is also starting to find more of an audience. My man Sly delivered a solid directorial debut with PARADISE ALLEY and gave a great performance in F.I.S.T. Speaking of actor-directors, damn, Nicholson’s GOIN’ SOUTH is a hoot and must be the very first film where audiences fell in love with Mary Steenburgen. Finally, old-school, live-action Disney tends to give me the nostalgic warm-fuzzies, and no film is more apropos to that designation than THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE.
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