Showing posts from 2017

Die Hard (1988)

And then... along came Bruce.

No, not Bruce Lee.  Unfortunately he had been gone for 15 years by the time this came out.  It would have been interesting seeing him kick the butts of a bunch of bad guys taking over the fictional Nakatomi Plaza.  Maybe in some alternative dimension.  Still, I don't think even that particular Bruce would have made Die Hard as iconic and memorable as Bruce Willis.

At the time Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris were the big three, with Jean-Claude Van Damme and and Steven Seagal interesting newcomers.  Bruce Willis, on the other hand, was the start of a television detective/romance drama called Moonlighting, which was still in production at the same time Die Hard was filming.  Some of the big names were considered for the part of John McLane, but Willis had a certain everyman quality the others lacked.

Thus, we suddenly had another big action star on our hands, along with a major franchise and, surprisingly, a beloved Christmas…

The Evil Dead (1981)

Sam Raimi has been one of my favorite directors ever since I first saw Evil Dead IINot only was he able to do quite a lot on a small budget, but his direction was unique.  I later came to find out that was what I like about many horror directors.  You occasionally had your mainstream auteurs like Alfred Hitchcock or Orson Welles, but many independent horror directors were able to develop their own style simply because to do what they wanted to do, and do it cheaply, required a bit of extra thought.

The Evil Dead was Raimi's first feature-length film, famously financed by Raimi, producer Rob Tapert and lead actor Bruce Campbell going to extreme lengths to make sure the movie got made and found an audience.  Despite freezing temperatures, dangerous filming conditions and a number of injuries, it did, and it became one of the most important horror films of the 1980s.

Friends Scotty (Richard DeManincor) and Ash (Campbell) head to a remote cabin for a weekend of relaxation.  Along w…

Breathless (1960)

With films, much like literature, we are told there are certain films that we need to watch.  Not that we'll enjoy them or get anything from them, but because of some innovation or decree of the critical powers that be.  Often they are part of some movement of some sort, and elements of the film were revolutionary at the time it was done.  We are looked down upon with scorn if some reason we are not blown away by the genius of the movie.

When I finally get around to watching these movies I am often underwhelmed.  Take Belle du jour, for instance.  A big deal was made a number of years ago when it got re-released, and it's hailed as one of Luis Buñuel's greatest films, if not his masterpiece.  When I finally watched it I thought it was surprisingly straightforward for a Buñuel film, but didn't see anything striking or amazing about it.  It's good, but Buñuel has done better. 

Jean-Luc Godard is hailed as one of the foremost innovators of French New Wave, a film mov…

The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)

Whenever any date prior to 1967 is mentioned in television shows or movies these days the topics mentioned have nothing to do with economic stability, technological advances or the general state of optimism that existed, but rather two things: the oppression of women and minorities.  If it is to be believed, our grandparents and great-grandparents were barely one step above a plantation overseer, dedicating every day of their life to making sure the world around them stayed a pure, unchallenged white.

There were major issues, and a good part of the last half of the 20th century was spent in dealing with them.  In truth, we'll probably be dealing with them for decades to come, as being awful to others that are not exactly like us seems to be programmed into humanity, largely as a leftover survival instinct from the times when someone who didn't look like you very likely did want to kill you and your family. 

What seems to be left out is that, although there were frequent setba…

Mad Max (1979)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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…

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Everything has an origin story, and the origin of the horror film largely lies with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  Yes, The Golem did come out the same year, and there were other movies that had suspense plots, and technically there is nothing supernatural that happens in Caligari.  Still, many of the elements one expects are here.

It is also no surprise that this came from Germany.  While Hollywood and Great Britain began releasing more suspense films throughout the 1920s, it was from the Weimar Republic that we got a number of the most revolutionary bits of cinema.  While Sergei Eisenstein may get accolades for editing, camera movement and a number of other innovations, and D. W. Griffith actually brought us the feature film, thematically Germany gave us the seeds of many of our popular genres. 

Francis (Friedrich Feher) sits on a park bench with another man, discussing that there are spirits all about.  A woman (Lil Dagover) walks by in a ghost-like fashion, and Francis imparts tha…

Night Train to Terror (1985)

Poor God, and poor Satan.  Maybe it was God's plan all along to get back at the devil by sticking him in a car just a little bit down a train from a horrible '80s band and a bunch of failed applicants for the Solid Gold dancers.  Or, just maybe, stumbling upon this movie and getting through to the end is a strange form of penance in itself. 

Night Train to Terror, from what I gather, is famous largely for how horrible it is.  Nominally an anthology film, it is basically three (two released, one unreleased until 1992) chewed up and regurgitated into nonsensical form.  It's the very incoherence of the movie, combined with a liberal dose of decent practical effects, that draws people to it.  It is, almost literally, watching a train wreck.

As a train barrels through the night and a bunch of people party to horribly to one of the worst bands ever to perform on Earth or elsewhere, God (Ferdy Mayne) and Satan (Tony Giorgio) sit at the back waiting for the train to crash while th…