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Mad Max (1979)

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Australia has a bit of a reputation as a rough-and-tumble desert full of snakes, spiders, serial killers and psychotic bikers.  It's a place where men are men, beer is - well, the exact opposite of whatever Foster's is.  It's a place so tough that the only protection you have from the roving gangs is black-leather wearing police in their souped-up muscle cars.

Of course, other than spiders and snakes (and, unfortunately, the serial killers), none of this is true.  In fact, the movies that pushed this stereotype were a rather recent development, as Australia's version of the Hayes Code was stricter than that in the U.S., and it lasted all the way until the early 1970s.  It was so strict, in fact, that there was practically no local film industry.  This changed when Australia adopted something from the U.S. - the "R", or Restricted, rating.

While this coincided with the birth of serious Australian cinema (often referred to as the Australian New Wave) in the la…

Original Gangstas (1996)

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Gary, Indiana.  It was a steel town, and it still is.  United Steel still has their factory there, although it, like the city, is a ghost of its former self.  My grandfather lived and worked there as one of the many Europeans that settled down to work in the steel industry.  My mother and her brothers were born there. 

This was the 1930s and 1940s.  Like many cities that depended on a major industry for their life blood, once the world began to change the town did as well.  Gary fell into ruin and decay as most of the population left.  It increasingly became a symbol of blight and crime in the United States.  Former NFL player and famous blaxploitation actor Fred Williamson is one of the many celebrities (the entire Jackson musical clan, for instance) that came from Gary.  It's no surprise that when he got the chance he decided to make a tribute to the movies that made him famous he also decided to feature his home city and return to Larry Cohen, who directed him in such '70s…

Valley of the Dragons (1961)

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This movie is practically the KLF of movies.

Not familiar with the KLF?  They were Bill Drummond and James Cauty, and are often given credit with creating the trance genre of electronic dance music.  Originally called the Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu (or the JAMMs, for short), they originally gained notoriety after being sued by ABBA for using unlicensed samples on their first album.  Though they continued their rebellious stance (KLF stands for Kopyright Liberation Front), they eventually learned to pay for their samples and eventually evolved their sound, their vital first singles were using samples to create their sound in a more blatant fashion that P-Diddy.

At least the KLF created something worthwhile.  What we have here is another prehistoric adventure with close-ups of lizards standing in for dinosaurs.  To add insult to injury, they couldn't even use their own lizard close-ups.

It's 1881 in Algeria, and Frenchman Hector Servadac (Cesare Danova) and Irishman Michael De…

Addams Family Values (1993)

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I still believe that of all the attempts to adapt television shows to the big screen, outside of science fiction, the only one I can think of that's been truly successful was the two Addams Family movies.  I think that is because the original show used subversive humor to satirize society at the time it was made, and because of being framed in a "spooky" manner it got away with much more than I would expect from a television show that started at the same time the Beatles were becoming popular in the United States.  Instead of doing some sort of ironic take on the show, director Barry Sonnenfeld wisely just updated it to the '90s and let things play out.

It does help that the Addams Family themselves always happily existed as outsiders, with much of the humor coming from their confrontations with "normal" people and their general misunderstanding of how the world works.  Other adaptations like The Brady Bunch and The Beverly Hillbillies, while occasionally …

Nothing But the Night (1973)

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As Hammer was beginning to wind down, the budgets becoming less and less and the movies often being sad shadows of what they were in their heyday, Christopher Lee decided to use his name and his success to start producing his own movies.  Charlemagne Pictures Ltd. would of course have the benefit of having Lee as an actor, and it also had Peter Cushing in its first movie as well.  It was an easy transition for Hammer fans.

In the end, despite planning a trilogy of movies based on John Blackburn novels, Nothing But the Night was the only film produced by Charlemagne Films.  It seemed that working in film production took so much time that he found himself turning down acting roles, something that he rarely did even if he did constantly complain about the roles he was given.

A number of trustees for the Van Traylen Orphanage keep turning up dead, including founder Helen Van Traylen (Beatrice Kane).  All the killings have the appearance of possible homicide, but they also seem to fit the…

The Penalty (1920)

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Normally when referencing Lon Chaney we are talking about Junior, who had a much longer career than his father did.  It was the original Lon Chaney, however, that pioneered makeup effects and techniques in film.  It didn't hurt that he was quite an actor.

Lon Chaney died in 1930, on the cusp of relaying his fame into talking films.  As makeup techniques advanced it would have been interesting to see what he would have done, far beyond the Universal monster canon that was popular at the time.  In fact, Lon Chaney films were treated as events, largely to see what he would do next.  One of the earliest in this line was The Penalty.

The up and coming Dr. Ferris (Charles Clary) is treating a child who has been run over by a wagon.  Thinking it is the right thing to do, he amputates the child's legs, but ignores the contusion on the back of his head as that is beyond his skill.  Dr. Ferris's father double checks everything and realizes that the legs did not need to be amputated…

Evil Dead II (1987)

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I always loved horror and science fiction films.  I did watch some cartoons, but I remember growing out of them earlier than most kids.  Scooby Doo was fine, but Godzilla is what I really looked forward to on a Saturday morning.  I was aware more of the stars of the films like most people, which meant when it came to Star Wars I cared more about Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill than I did about George Lucas. 

I did not see Evil Dead II when it first came out.  I read about it from the guy who first started getting me into b-movies: Joe Bob Briggs.  As can be expected he loved it, but what really piqued my interest was seeing scenes from it on a Siskel and Ebert special going over their guilty pleasures.  Happily, 1988 or 1989 was one of those years my parents could actually afford cable, so I finally got to see it.  Things changed forever.

I will get to Bruce Campbell's performance, but the fact is Evil Dead II shows what a truly talented director can do with a film when he has comp…