Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Paul Corupe ""

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Paul Corupe

The creator of, Paul is also a Rue Morgue magazine columnist, editor for Spectacular Optical’s books and a contributor to Blu-ray releases from Arrow and Kino.

Paul is a longtime contributor to Rupert Pupkin Speaks and has written many lists over the years and you should read them all:
Joy Ride (1958)
While the advent of Blu-ray has helped extend the lifeline of certain types of previously maligned and forgotten genres, low budget 1950s juvenile delinquency and teen films like Edward Bernds' Joy Ride seem to be in danger of being left behind by the HD video gold rush, which has so far only promoted a handful of titles like The Beat Generation (1959), High School Confidential (1958) and The Delinquents (1957). That's too bad, because many of these efforts are tough, bleak thrillers that make a big impression despite their modest production values and brief run times. That’s certainly the case with Joy Ride, which begins when a quartet of seedy teenage punks (led by James Westmoreland) spot a cherry new T-bird in the driveway of a suburban home. Chased away by the owner Miles (Regis Toomey), they become obsessed with stealing the car for a joyride, and launch a campaign of harassment against Miles’ family—rude phone calls, garage break-ins and, eventually, an assault targeting Miles' wife in her own home. The police are helpless, leading Miles to take matters into his own hands like a proto-Paul Kersey. A veteran of Three Stooges shorts who also directed notable JD flick High School Hellcats (1958), Bernds handles the short, 60-minute effort with economy and menace, resulting in several memorable moments, including having Miles head to a malt shop hangout to question kids about who might be terrorizing his family, only to get a bum steer from one of the perpetrators that he fails to recognize. Unlike many of its peers, in which JD teens are beholden to the almighty pursuit of "kicks," the kids of Joy Ride turn out to be real sadists who smirk their way through police lineups and thrive on the frightened reaction of their prey. While less sought after as '40s noir or '80s horror titles, it would be a shame to let superior JD films like Joy Ride languish into oblivion simply because they may seem dated, or no longer financially viable.

Ticket to Heaven (1981)
Drawn from a real account of a former religious cult member who was deprogrammed and returned to his family, Ticket to Heaven is a harrowing look at the psychological manipulation employed by certain nefarious spiritual groups. Reportedly based on the real-life techniques used by the Unification Church and their followers (perhaps better known as the Moonies), this award-winning Canadian drama follows David (Nick Mancuso), a young Canadian visiting San Francisco, who attends a meeting of a religious group that won't let him leave. Instead, they aggressively indoctrinate David through baffling empowerment lectures, never-ending chanting and undernourishment until he finally gives in. On hearing that he has renounced his former life, his family and friends head down to L.A. with a professional cult deprogrammer to kidnap him and bring him back to his senses. The first half of Ticket to Heaven is painstakingly methodical in the way it depicts David being psychologically destroyed, with star Mancuso turning in a career-defining performance. The rest is no less powerful, as the deprogrammer breaks down the cult’s core beliefs in scenes that are as intense and emotionally draining for David as they are for viewers. Never released on DVD or Blu-ray, Ticket to Heaven is an unforgettable film that offers an insightful look at how the young and emotionally unfulfilled can be manipulated by charismatic figures, and the way that religious faith can amplify that.
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The Million Game (1970)
Stop me if you've heard this one before—as part of a futuristic TV game show, contestants must use all their wits to avoid a team of professional mercenaries that have been sent out to kill them. More than 25 years before this same basic plot was used in The Running Man (1987), German media satire The Million Game was first to explore this idea, as a contestant (Jörg Pleva) signs up for a chance to spend seven days on the run from a trio of armed hunters in the hopes that he will survive and be awarded one million Deutsche Marks. Unlike the mostly controlled, post-nuclear-like environment that Arnold Schwarzenegger had to navigate, the contestant in this film is on the move across West Germany and often depends on the help of other citizens to avoid detection—though some prefer to side with the hunters, and tip them off about their prey’s whereabouts. It's a clear indictment of suffering-as-entertainment but it's also gripping in its presentation of the deadly chase itself, including one memorable scene that sees the contestant pinned down in an abandoned apartment, until the TV station patches through a call from a former resident to let him know about a boarded up window that he can use to escape. It’s impressively staged, with sardonic fake TV ads and all the schmaltzy glamour you might expect, including having the host (Dieter Thomas Heck) conduct smiling interviews with the contestant's family members, those who have provided help, and even the hunters, as they discuss their strategy. A still-timely tale that, on its initial airing on German TV, had people mailing in letters asking to audition to be a contestant as though The Million Game was a real show.

The Hitter (1979) 
Seven years after his breakout role as Priest in Superfly (1972), Ron O'Neal reunites with that film's love interest, Sheila Frazier, in this forgotten blaxploitation effort that plays out like an inner city remake of the Walter Hill-Charles Bronson classic Hard Times (1975). O'Neal is at his best as Otis, an ex-boxer turned bare-knuckle brawler who is out to pick up extra cash with the help of a shady promoter (Adolph Caesar). Whereas Bronson is fairly inscrutable in Hill’s version of this story, O'Neal is much more relatable and sympathetic as his Otis quickly runs afoul of a gangster, Louisiana Slim (Bill Cobbs)—first at the pool table, and then by stealing away his girl and prized prostitute Lola (Frazier). With his new friends, Otis tours around the U.S. to take on all comers, but Otis' past with Louisiana Slim soon catches up to him and puts his street fighting skills to a real test. While it’s a bit of stretch to claim that this is a superior film to Hard Times, it's still a very good take on similar material that trades in the 1930s setting for hard-bitten Baltimore streets and a driving funk soundtrack. The fight scenes are appropriately hard-hitting and the amiable cast elevates this beyond many blaxploitation efforts of the era, despite its rarity—it has also never seen release on DVD or Blu-ray.
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Monkey Kung Fu (1979)
Not to be confused with Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979), this wildly entertaining Shaw Bros. production features some of the best acrobatic and prop kung fu fights I've yet seen. The film stars Cheng Hsiao Tung and Hau Chiu Sing as two prisoners who escape from jail. The pair discover they each possess half of wooden medallion that reveals the location of a manual that can teach them Monkey Kung Fu. Unfortunately, the evil Tung (Kuan Feng) and his Black Tiger Clan also want to obtain the secret, and seek out the ex-convicts for a series of exciting battles. The almost non-stop action kicks off with a brawl in the prison, and further amplifies things with an amazing fight in which the escaped prisoners trick a blacksmith into breaking the chain that connects their leg shackles. There’s also a notable fight in which a prostitute takes on one of the heroes, after he refuses to pay her, while they both remain seated in a bed. These highlights are interspersed with more common, but still solidly executed, scenes of a comedic fight in a restaurant (with lots of food props, naturally), a training montage and a fine two-on-one climax. It's not a particularly flashy film, but the consistently remarkable choreography and flamboyant monkey style fights makes this an unimpeachable old school classic.
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The Hounds of Notre Dame (1980)
A shockingly obscure Canadian effort from Zale Dalen, the director of certified Canadian landmark Skip Tracer (1977), Hounds of Notre Dame is an exceptional hockey drama about Catholic college teacher and mentor Father Athol Murray who, in the 1930s and '40s, made a name for himself at Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Saskatchewan as a no-nonsense hockey coach whose students often went on to professional careers. As memorably played by Thomas Peacocke, this ostensible biopic of Murray is a fascinating and sometimes humorous look at the once-famous man, from his hard-drinking, chain-smoking lifestyle and incendiary right-wing politics to his utter devotion to both God and the often troubled boys on his hockey team, the Hounds. The story is told through the eyes of Ron Fryer (David Ferry), a cocky new student who is reluctantly enlisted into the team, where he is quickly humbled by Murray and his own more disciplined peers. But things fall apart during a road game after the team gets sick and is facing a demoralizing loss, with the puckish Murray screaming “If you can’t beat the muckers, at least give them the measles!” The real test of character comes when the team, still mostly unwell, must pile into a dying old bus and return to their school in the middle of a harsh blizzard. Though intended for (and easily worthy of) theatrical showings, The Hounds of Notre Dame fell victim to the same distribution difficulties that afflicted many Canadian films of the time, which meant that this film shamefully aired only on Canadian TV, and later, HBO, with no screenings or home video releases to speak of.
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Invasion of the Vampires (1963)
Despite all the recent re-interest in horror films made across the globe, Canadian and American viewers are still largely unfamiliar with many of the hidden cinematic treasures from nearby neighbour Mexico. Sure there's Santo, and who doesn't love the Aztec Mummy, but there's a lot of films like Invasion of the Vampires that remain hidden treasures for lovers of classic horror, rubber bats and hastily constructed Gothic castle interiors. Although K. Gordon Murray reportedly had an English version of this particular effort circulating stateside, only grey market releases keep it alive today. And that's a shame, because this is one of the better Mexican horror movies I've seen. A sequel to the inferior The Bloody Vampire (1962), this installment has occultist Dr. Alvaran (Rafael Del Rio) preparing a serum of "Clamic acid" to stop Count Frankenhausen (Carlos Agostí) and his undead minions from terrorizing the locals. When I say that director Miguel Morayta lays on the atmosphere thick, I really mean it—the whole thing is shot through a haze of fog and shadowy cinematography that feels like a backlot Universal horror sequel cranked up to 11. I'll admit that the film's giant bat attack may be kind of goofy, but you can't deny the power of the notable climax where an actual invasion of reanimated vampires occurs, a scene that more than one reviewer has likened to the undead siege in Night of the Living Dead (1968). More Mexican horror, por favor.
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Rat Fink (1965)
There have been a lot of exciting "lost" movie rediscoveries in the past few years, from Private Property (1960) to Take it Out in Trade (1970) to Gone With the Pope (2010) to The Other Side of the Wind (2018). But while all those films are worth checking out, it was the less heralded Rat Fink that really made an impression on me this year—a sneering look at fame and fortune in Los Angeles. Hollywood footnote Schuyler Hayden channels his best Brando (and occasionally succeeds) as he plays an immoral wannabe rock star who is coldly fixated on achieving his dream, no matter who he has to stomp on to get there. In the process, he becomes the shame of his salt-of-the-earth farm-dwelling family and impregnates a too-young groupie, before realizing that the price he has paid for his coveted recording contract was too high. Jaw-dropping moments abound in Rat Fink, especially when he makes room for his own star to rise by burning another teen idol alive in his car, a scene that certainly lives up to the poster's promises of "shocking drama.” Helped along by the talents of famed cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, the thing just seethes with raw anger and disdain for the entertainment industry; it's basically Wild Guitar (1962) with a pernicious mean streak, and a brilliant follow-up to director James Landis' earlier cynical classic, The Sadist (1963)—in other words, right up my alley.
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Private Hell 36 (1954)
One of the great things I've found about movie logging site Letterboxd is that you can use it to really make a point of watching all those films you always meant to get around to—from rare movies you can never remember the titles of to easily forgotten works by favourite directors. Private Hell 36 definitely falls in the latter category for me—though a big fan of director Don Siegel, I never got around to a handful of his less-available works until Letterboxd's watchlist feature helped set me in the right direction. Of the titles I've since caught up on this year, the noir-ish Private Hell 36 is definitely the highlight, a tale of corruption involving a stolen suitcase full of cash. Conflicted cop Cal (Steve Cochran) wants to impress nightclub singer Lilli (Ida Lupino, who also co-wrote the script), so when a car chase results in a crash that leaves a counterfeiter dead and a wad of dough for the taking, he sees his opportunity. Pocketing the money doesn't sit well with his partner Jack (Howard Duff), who tries to find a way to give it back without getting them in trouble with their boss. It's a routine tale of the sort that looks to uncover the fine line between cops and cons, but Lupino steals most of her scenes and Seigel keeps things moving well until the explosive climax in which the film's (admittedly not-so-great) title begins to make sense. It may not be Siegel's finest hour (or rather, 80 minutes), but it's still a sight better than most movies. So thanks, Letterboxd, because otherwise I might have missed this one.
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King of Snake (1984)
OK, so you love the cut ‘n’ paste majesty of Godfrey Ho's Thunder of Gigantic Serpent (1988) and, really, who can blame you? Ho rarely did anything besides films about ninja masters named Gordon plotting against complicated drug deals, so any snippet of monster movie mayhem that he re-edited into his impressive library of VHS schlock is a welcome change of pace. Well, King of Snake, the Taiwanese children's film that Ho stole scenes from in crafting his own slithery classic, is just as mind-blowing as its later incarnation. The film starts off when a young girl, Tingting (Tracy Su Hiu-Lun), happens upon an experimental box-like device lost by the military that is intended to help increase the world's food supply. Taking it home, Tingting uses it as a home for her pet snake Mosler who, much to her surprise, begins to grow to several feet in length, to the point where she can ride him like a horse. But when some local gangsters find out about the device, they kidnap Tingting, which enrages the mighty Mosler—now skyscraper-sized—and he destroys half the city in hopes of rescuing her, largely by smashing things with his head. Crude miniature effects, energetic destruction scenes and the novelty of a snake-like Kaiju make this a lot of good, if blindingly stupid, fun. And really, what else should movies strive for?

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