Rupert Pupkin Speaks: My Film Discoveries of 2020 ""

Friday, December 4, 2020

My Film Discoveries of 2020

THE DEVIL AT YOUR HEELS (1981; Robert Fortier)
Easily one of my favorite things I discovered this year, this one came as a recommendation from my Pure Cinema Podcast Co-host Elric Kane when he brought my attention to it by picking it as one of his docs for our Pure Cinema Documentaries Episode. If I had to try to sell it to someone else, I would say it has those "quirky people" elements that we love in things like VERNON, FLORIDA and AMERICAN MOVIE, but adds this tension and intensity via the "sports" aspects it brings. It's basically the story of daredevil Ken Carter who could be called Canada's Evil Knievel. In fact, Knievel makes an appearance in the film when looking over a ramp that Ken is having constructed so he can attempt to jump a rocket car over the Saint Lawrence River. Even Knievel is dubious of this kind of stunt and is not shy about saying so. Watching Ken talk about how he came up as a stunt performer is fascinating as is his personality in general as he talks through his thoughts about this new jump. Absolutely mesmerizing documentary. On YouTube.

NUTS IN MAY (1976; Mike Leigh)
This one came to me as a direct recommendation from the great Edgar Wright who chose it as one of the films we discussed on our Pure Cinema episode with him about some of his favorite comedies:
Watching this middle class British couple (Alison Steadman and Roger Sloman) going on a camping trip to find some peace and quiet and how they are thwarted was both uncomfortable and hilariously funny. Seeing this film reminded me that as much as I am definitely a Mike Leigh fan, I need to dig into some of his early work that I had somehow missed to this point.

ALPHABET CITY (1984; Amos Poe)
As bleak as 2020 has been, it had some highlight for me for sure. One such highlight was the beginning of my friend Jonathan Hertzberg's boutique Blu-ray label Fun City Editions. Jonathan and I first bonded over a mutual love for the film books of Danny Peary and how they had informed our taste in movies. Only a few releases in (this one and I START COUNTING), Fun City Editions is already showing itself to be a very exciting label that will clearly be bringing out some underseen gems on Blu-ray for the first time. The inaugural release from Fun City was Amos Poe's 1984 film ALPHABET CITY - a neo-noir set in New York City. The film stars Vincent Spano, Kate Vernon, Michael Winslow, Jami Gertz, Zohra Lampert and more faces you'll recognize. Spano plays a drug dealer (with a very nice car) who has made the decision to get out of the business and we see how that plays our for him over one thrilling evening in the city. The noir vibes are plenty and the lighting in this film kind of blew me away (especially as it was done on a low budget). Whole sides of buildings drenched in purple, clubs and hallways blasted with red light and the generally stylized look of things make ALPHABET CITY a great watch and a welcome one on Blu-ray (the new transfer looks great). Also included are interviews with Spano himself, a director commentary and a neat video essay on the movie. Buy it here:

THE NIGHT VISITOR (1989; Rupert Hitzig)
This one came out of nowhere for me. After seeing one of my favorite Instagram accounts (Dawn of the Discs) do a review of it and recommend it, I had to track down a copy of the recent Blu-ray Release from Ronin Flix. The plot is pretty straightforward and not unfamiliar in that it is very similar to the 80s horror classic FRIGHT NIGHT, but in this case the main kid sees a murder ritual practicing satan worshipper (Allen Garfield) in the house across the way instead of a vampire. What's fun here is that the film is also quite 80s (clothes, soundtrack etc) AND the satan worshipper in question happen to be the kid's history teacher - which makes for some really awkward classroom scenes after he tries to turn the dude in to the cops and no evidence can be found. Also fun is Michael J. Pollard as Allen Garfield's assistant type character. They have some goofy scenes together that I rather enjoyed. The cast madness continues further with roles for Henry Gibson, Shannon Tweed, Elliott Gould (!) and Richard Roundtree (as a cop)! Crazy film that is both humorous and tense and generally very entertaining if you like 80s horror stuff.

A TV movie that I discovered while doing research for our Horror and Thriller TV Movies episode of Pure Cinema:
It found it's way onto my radar via Amanda Reyes' excellent book ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE?: A TV MOVIE COMPENDIUM 1964-1999 - which I highly recommend. 
OCEANVIEW PARK has a low key supernatural vibe (some weird things happen around an amusement park and a girl has nightmares where she sees the park being destroyed. There’s a creepy feeling about things - almost a FINAL DESTINATION type energy but way more subtle. I couldn't help but think of ROLLERCOASTER - one of my favorite 70s disaster movies - while watching this one and it would go well with that film as a double bill. I guess they blew up a real amusement park (which was already condemned) in the making of this movie and it definitely helps add some production value and amps up the slow building tension throughout to see rides and structures in the park get completely obliterated. Cast includes Martin Landau (in the "Murray Hamilton" role), Mike Connors, Perry Lang and Mare Winningham. A few different versions of this can be found on YouTube.

BLOOD LAKE (1987; Tim Boggs)
One of my favorite first time watches for a slasher category we had on our Horror Sampler episode of Pure Cinema. I could only choose one slasher so this didn't make the cut but I still enjoyed it in all it's shot-on-video bonkers glory. The movie opens with a random kill followed by a rocking guitar tune as a group of kids drives in their IROC pulling a boat. The fact that it is Shot on Video makes it feel in parts like midwestern family lake trip videos with a couple tense slasher scene every so often - so it’s like a hangout with this group of kids for a weekend documentary almost - but it's awkwardly scripted so that's just more weirdness to hook you. You will find yourself getting caught up in the drama of the kids on the lake waterskiing (there are some lengthy water ski sequences)  and then suddenly it flips back to slasher movie for a couple minutes. It also has "Killer Vision" sequences when the slasher is stalking and they are tinted orange which is a nice silly touch. Such an odd movie but I was oddly transfixed by it. It would double well with DONT GO IN THE WOODS. I just accidentally did this pairing and it was kind of great. On DVD from AGFA.
My friend Dan Budnik’s did “One Minute with BLOOD LAKE and ICED” on his eventually supertrain Podcast feed and it is wonderful (he goes through both films one minute at a time):

OFFERINGS (1989, Christopher Reynolds)
As I get older, I find myself more and more drawn to regional Horror films. They often could be seen as boring from the outset, but end up having much more personality via both their locations and also the casting (often local actors) and what those two elements bring together for a truly unique cinematic experience. The thing about OFFERINGS is that it is basically a hardcore HALLOWEEN ripoff set in rural Oklahoma. We get a little background on the "Michael Myers" as a kid character early on when we see his unpleasant mother cooking him some eggs while smoking a cigarette and ashing into the eggs while she does so. Overall, It’s got an odd charm in its unpolishedness - and it really is like watching a weird alternate dimension version of HALLOWEEN - if it had been done one a lower budget and shot in Oklahoma. Also interestingly - this killer doesn’t limit himself in terms of weapons... he’s also more of a sadist than Michael for sure. On Blu-ray via Kino Lorber.

THE POWER (1984; Stephen Carpenter/ Jeffrey Obrow)
From the writing and directing team that did THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD and THE KINDRED. These guys just have a way of making these low budget, interesting genre takes that should be cheesy but always end up having some effective and creepy moments. This film is a nice step up from DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD - leading up to THE KINDRED which is probably their masterpiece. It's all about the curse brought on by this small Aztec wooden idol that is picked up by a few different characters and consistently wreaks havoc on their lives. It has as a little bit of a slow build at first, but kicks in good in the last 30 mins. Available on DVD.

Surprisingly charming and fun screwball about a new reverend and his church group of women who take on the mob/gambling syndicate in their town. Has a little MIDNIGHT MADNESS vibes in that they are driving around using CB radios. Also this has a USED CARS kinda ending with a wild crazy chase and I miss this kind of thing. I also miss Disney live action films and their general use of overly elaborate comic set pieces. Sadly, not on Disney Plus, but can be found on Amazon:

THE LOVE BUTCHER (1975; Don Jones/Mikel Angel)
This one might have just hit me at the right moment, your mileage may vary. It's Kind of William Castle meets Herschell Gordon Lewis in a sense - low budget but with a gimmick (split personality), which is revealed very early making it another interesting PSYCHO riff. A little goofy and heavy on the anger at women. The main role here is played by actor James Lemp. One of his personalities is an old coke-bottle-glasses-wearing gardner and his other personality is that of an adonis lothario seducer who is also a killer. Definitely some odd NUTTY PROFESSOR vibes here. The old gardner side is abused by women he works for and then he changes into his handsome younger man (costume/makeup change) and attempts to seduce and murder those women in revenge. The tension and fun of the movie comes when, after this switcheroo succeeding many times, the seducer finds a women who doesn't go for his advances and it throws him all out of whack. James Lemp is certainly pretty committed to this dual performance even if he's more than a bit over the top in spots. Available on DVD.

Also, check out the Discoveries lists I did for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015:

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