Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - Daniel Budnik ""

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Daniel Budnik

Dan Budnik's second book, '80s Action Movies On The Cheap, is available now and can be ordered from Amazon. His first book, Bleeding Skull!: A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey, is out of print but can still be found by those who look hard enough. His writing is on the Some Polish American Guy Reviews Things blog and the Bleeding Skull! website. He is host of the Eventually Supertrain and the Dan's Drive-In Double Feature podcasts, located at He is also co-host of The Made For TV Mayhem Show and part of the Podcastmania horror discussion.

See Dan's Film Discoveries from last year here:

Amazons (1984)
A 1984 TV movie about modern day Amazons in Washington D.C. Directed by Starsky. Starring Madeline Stowe and Jack Scalia. Music by Basil Poledouris. I’m in. Over at The Made For TV Mayhem Show, we did a DVD commentary for this one. That’s not why this is on here, though. I saw other TV movies this year (plenty of them) that were better than this one. The plotting is a bit off throughout. It feels like it should have been a longer film. It ends far too abruptly. But, because I watched it four times for the commentary, I really grew to appreciate and love it for all its flaws. The concept is fantastic. Scalia and Stowe make an interesting lead couple. The music is great. It has an almost-epic feel to it that a lot of TV movies achieve. And it moves along very nicely. Plus, Peter Scolari! It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But, it has enough imagination and style to make it worth watching. At least four times. 
There are a bunch of girls. They get access to a relative’s beach house. They throw a party. It’s not the most distinguished or most interesting of these sorts of T&A films. It starts off and the gals (well, and the guys too) are pretty non-descript. Things sort of meander along as the party is approaching. Then, the party starts. And, the film sustains itself wonderfully to the end of the film. All sorts of fun/ wacky party festivities occur. Characters grow or they don’t. One gal has some sort of character transformation. (But, I actually thought she was two different characters so that bit might not work so great.) There’s a lot of fooling around. And I really enjoyed it. There’s always enough going on. Always something happening. I had thought it might peter out but it doesn’t. (It reminded me of the film Lunchmeat. About 20-odd minutes in, the six main characters start to get chased around by the cannibal family. How on Earth can this sustain itself? I said aloud to no one the first time I saw it. But, it does. There’s always something happening.) The Beach Girls is super fun. It has (mostly) a very innocent and joyous vibe to it. It surprised me. I recommend it. 
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Mr. Magoo (1997)
I had ignored this film for years but I’m not 100% sure why. I’m a Leslie Nielsen fan. Pat Proft is a hilarious writer. Stanley Tong does good action/ slapstick action. It seems like a dream come true kind of movie and yet I ignored it for decades. It turns out that it’s pretty brilliant. Nielsen is great as Magoo. The film is funny. All the shenanigans (mainly big slapstick action) is well directed. But, the thing the film really gets right and that I really appreciated is simpler that all that. The film doesn’t spend a half-hour or more creating a world and then revealing the plotline. (It’s stolen jewels or something and people chasing Magoo around. I don’t fully remember and it doesn’t matter.) The script assumes that we all know who Magoo is. It very deftly and quickly creates his world. Then, it begins the shenanigans almost immediately. There’s almost no down time. It just goes. Even when it’s not funny, it’s fun to watch. I’m not saying you should stop watching The Irishman (which I know you’re only around 100 minutes into) to watch Magoo. But, maybe afterwards. Even if you don’t laugh, you will enjoy yourself. 
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Night Killer (1990) 
So, I got two tickets to a Severin triple feature at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood. The films were surprises. All upcoming releases. My wife couldn’t go in the end so I gave the second ticket to an employee to give to someone standing by. (You are very welcome, Person I Do Not Know.) And I went into the theater. The Egyptian is this huge, epic theater that I am proud to say I have watched everything from Bill Lustig’s Maniac to Gone with The Pope to Paradise, Hawaiian Style to The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra to Meatballs 2 in. They had said the show was sold out but there seemed to be quite a few empty seats. After a time, a man came out and introduced… Alex Cox. What?! Awesome. What film of his is Severin putting out? He talked about his movies, especially his latest one. This was exciting. What could they be showing? The lights went down… and Repo Man began. Hell yeah! I love Repo Man. 78 seconds later, I realized that Criterion put out Repo Man. Then, I realized that the discussion never mentioned Severin. And then, the not-sold-out theater made me realize “Dan, you’re in the wrong place.” I leapt up and ran to an employee. “Is there another theater?” “What?” “Where the Severin stuff is showing?” “Sure. Over there.” Did you all know there is a second, smaller theater within the Egyptian? I sure didn’t. And, you know what? It turns out it was sold out. I spent the triple feature tentatively sitting in a “RESERVED” seat waiting to be asked to stand/leave. Luckily, it didn’t happen. Unfortunately, I missed the opening 10 minutes of the first movie. I recognized actors. The style of the filmmaking felt familiar. It was completely screwball. When it ended, of course, it was Fragasso mixed with some Mattei. It was Night Killer. Of the three films shown that night, that’s the one that stuck with me. I own the Blu. I’ve watched it four times. It is nuts. What’s it about? Frankly, who cares? Watch it. And then remember, the Egyptian has a second theater. Don’t be an idiot, like me. (Don’t even ask about my embarrassing moment with Stephen Thrower.) 
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Screams of a Winter Night (1979)
Specifically, the 119 minute version that appeared on Code Red’s Blu-Ray. This is an anthology film about a bunch of friends (I think they’re friends) at a cabin in the woods telling scary stories. I first saw this film about 10 years ago but really didn’t know about this other version until now. It’s 27 minutes longer and contains another complete tale. My thoughts on the theatrical version is that the main characters are pretty annoying but the tales get better as they go so hang in there. In the extended version, the first tale begins around 28 minutes in. (In the 92 minute theatrical, it’s around 21 minutes.) One can’t imagine that spending more time with these characters would work in any way, shape or form. But, it kind of does. I forgot that it was an anthology film after a while and became more interested in the characters. Then, when the tales began, it was a bonus. And the extra tale (while quite short) is a nice addition to the film. Turns out a film I kind of “liked” has become one that I “really like” thanks to the extended cut. (I applaud Code Red for continuing a Screams release tradition. The original theatrical run was very limited. The VHS was very tough to find. And, the Blu was pressed in super limited quantities. I expect to see a 4K disc with a pressing of 45 copies in 2021.) 
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Smile Jenny, You’re Dead (1974)
The second of the Harry O TV movies, preceding the two full seasons of the show. I have seen both seasons of the show (Spoiler: They’re excellent.) but it wasn’t until earlier this year that I saw Jenny (along with a favorite TV movie of mine The House on Greenapple Road) for an episode of the Made For TV Mayhem Show. It’s a pretty darn good 1970s TV movie made in, I think, the Golden Age for this sort of thing. (Possibly the best time for the TV movie? The debate rages on.) Harry is asked to protect a model from a crazy guy (yes, he is played by Zalman King). David Jansen is fantastic, as always. He’s gruff, rough but charming. Yes, he does develop a romance of sorts with the model. That kind of thing happens. Plus, Zalman King is nuts. Surprise? Not really. The whole thing ends on a roof. The best place for most films to end. I do prefer the series to the two movies. But, this one is very good, regardless. 
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Them! (1954) 
Please, laugh all you want at the fact that it took me so long to see Them! (On the big screen, no less.) It’s an iconic Something Giant (That’s Not Normally Giant) Attacks Humanity movie. It’s so very 1950s, in the best way. It’s also scary, relentless and quite well made. I expected to enjoy myself, like I do during, say, Tarantula. I was surprised at how much I REALLY enjoyed myself. Bought the Blu-Ray the very next day. I’m not going to tell you any more about it. I don’t think there’s any chance that you don’t know what it’s about. In case you don’t, though, go in cold. It’s worth it.
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