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Strangers on a Train (1951)

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Sir Alfred Hitchcock is such an important figure in cinema that people forget that during his long career he had dry spells.  This wasn't always due to the quality of his movies, although not everything he touched was gold.  One of his failures in the late 1940s was Rope , now considered one of his best films.  By 1951 Hitchcock was feeling the pressure to produce another box office hit.  To that end he acquired the rights to the Patricia Highsmith novel Strangers on a Train and hired Raymond Chandler to write the script.  Things didn't go well with Chandler, resulting in Czenzi Ormonde writing the bulk of what we see on the screen, but his name stayed in the credits.  There was also some pressure from Warner Bros. who pushed Ruth Roman on him as the lead actress in the movie, leading to one of Hitchcock's famous patterns of abuse and harassment when he didn't get his way. Despite all this Strangers on a Train did what he and the studio hoped and brought him back in a b

Terror Train (1980)

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Writer Daniel Grodnick came up with an idea in 1979 for a horror movie.  He wondered, what if he remade Halloween , but put it on a train?  His wife thought it was a terrible idea, but the story pretty much flowed from his pen.  He found a producer that liked it and, by 1980, it was a reality. The main advantage it had was that Jamie Lee Curtis was cast in one of the main roles and, at the time, she was on her way to becoming a popular scream queen.  Terror Train was filmed in Canada at the same time as Prom Night , allowing her to work on both movies at once.  It also insured that both movies came out one after the other, again increasing her exposure.  But, just like Prom Night , there is not a whole lot memorable other than her being in it, and this time even she is not that outstanding. Doc (Hart Bochner) is the head of a fraternity of pre-med students.  He decides to pull a prank on a pledge named Kenny (Derek McKinnon) with the help of Alana (Curtis) and her best friend Mitchy (S

Graveyard Shift (1990)

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"Graveyard Shift", the short story from the collection of the same name, has long been one of my favorite Stephen King stories.  It is almost a cosmic horror story in the style of Lovecraft, building up until the ultimate horror is revealed and the protagonist realizes that the situation is beyond his understanding or control.  It is a well-done bit of claustrophobic horror and I am sure it is a nightmare for those who do not like rats. The movie version forgets the entire idea of building up the horror and, instead, it is intent on building up a reveal of the practical monster that was created by the effects crew rather than building up any real tension.  Graveyard Shift is one of the King adaptations that was done solely to ride the coattails of Pet Sematary and other recent adaptations and doesn't try to do anything with the material other than set up some creative kills using some excellent practical effects.  Stephen King himself didn't care for it, thinking it

The Night Stalker (1986)

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The 1980s was the golden age of action films in the United States.  There were some interesting ones in the 1960s and 1970s, but it was the 1980s that perfected the framework they established.  Quite popular were gritty police dramas where the lead was bound to be almost as bad as the villain, someone close to him was going to die and eventually he would have a redemption arc after battling an unstoppable or brilliant killer.   Once the pattern gets going and the money starts coming in it isn't long before everyone starts jumping on board.  Sometimes that means surprising, forgotten classics, while other times it means a movie that has been forgotten for a reason.  The Night Stalker is one of the latter.  J. J. Striker (Charles Napier) is an alcoholic police inspector in the robbery division of the Los Angeles Police Department.  He is partnered with Charlie Garrett (Robert Viharo) and is more than a little close to an ex-prostitute named Rene (Michelle Reese), who takes care of a

Angel (1983)

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Angel was always a movie I knew about but had never seen.  As a preteen there was no way I was going to ask my parents to rent this for me and, as an adult, it didn't seem the kind of thing I would want to get unless I felt like ending up on an FBI list.  Donna Wilkes, who plays the title character, was 24 when she made the movie, but try explaining that when renting something that appears to be just this side of child pornography.  The last thing I expected of Angel was for it to be a good movie.  I figured it would be sleazy, featuring lots of nudity from 30-year-old actresses playing teenagers and generally be an excuse to show lots of skin.  There is gratuitous nudity sprinkled throughout - none of it Angel - but instead of exploiting child prostitution the film somewhat explores how she gets into it and concentrates on a number of strange characters that she interacts with on regular basis who become her family.  The production values are great, the grittiness of 1980s Los Ang

Supergirl (1984)

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Long before the driving need to create cinematic universes Alexander and Ilya Salkind tried to do just that with the Superman series.  With no new movie featuring their main character on the horizon they decided to bring on another Kryptonian, Kara Zor-El, in hopes of starting a parallel series.  The hopes were also that Christopher Reeve and other actors from the main features would pop in every now and then.  Reality quickly struck.  The Salkinds had used up every bit of good grace they had with the firing of Richard Donner after Superman   and, to make things worse, Superman III was a critical and fan flop even if it did make money.  I'm sure with the way Margot Kidder was treated they didn't even bother asking her to make a cameo in this film.  They did ask Reeve and he was able to find other things to do, leaving the only person they could get to come back for this one Mark McClure, reprising his role as Jimmy Olsen.  A creepy Jimmy Olsen at that, as some questions about

Island of the Fishmen (1979)

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Italian cinema is known for a number of things.  The giallo film, strange horror movies that make little sense, spaghetti westerns and hard-boiled police procedurals are just a few.  Occasionally they try to branch out into fantasy or science fiction, but most of those turn out to be Hercules movies or entertaining disasters like Starcrash .  It is as if many of the famous Italian directors from the 1970s wanted to do that huge Hollywood blockbuster, and many of them tried, only to be hamstrung by a big dose of reality.  That seems to have happened with Sergio Martino on Island of the Fishmen , known in the U.S. as both Something Waits in the Dark and Screamers .  Although there are sci-fi and fantasy elements it seems like it was Martino's attempt to make a tribute to the old-fashioned zombie films of the 1940s, where some mad scientist was holed up in his isolated mansion outside the reach of modern society and holding a weird spell over the natives, often to the point of using &

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

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Jaws was such a phenomena that, until Star Wars came along, every cheap studio in existence spent the 1970s imitating the plot line with everything from killer dogs to grizzly bears to piranha.  Roger Corman's New World Pictures was one of those, constantly going back and churning out another watery threat.  Humanoids from the Deep just happened to be one of the most infamous. The small California coastal town of Noyo is approaching its annual Salmon Festival.  Problem is, there are not a lot of salmon, causing problems for the local fishermen.  Tensions are also high due to proposal to build a cannery in the town in order to increase employment, a move that is opposed by a local Native American man named Johnny Eagle (Anthony Pena).  His opposition doesn't sit well with Slattery (Vic Morrow), another local facing the reality of a diminished catch.  Jim Hill (Doug McClure) tries to keep the peace between his friends as he can. The town soon faces a bigger threat.  Part of the

Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

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The Return of Godzilla had been a box office success in Japan, even if its American version, Godzilla 1985 , didn't do so well in the U.S.  Immediately Toho decided they needed a sequel and, to promote it as well as get some good ideas for what to do next, they ran a national competition to write the script for the next version.  The winner was Shinichiro Kobayashi and his script for Godzilla vs. Biollante , based heavily on a script he had written, and had been used, for Ultra-Man back in 1971.   The problem is Toho was still skittish after the poor performance of Godzilla movies in the early 1970s.  The American film, King Kong Lives , which was a sequel to the 1976 remake of King Kong , was a box office failure.  Toho interpreted that as a lack of interest in giant monster films rather than the truth, which was that King Kong Lives was just a bad movie that received little interest in the U.S. as well.  Thus, Godzilla vs. Biollante was delayed until 1989 when it was rushed into

A Bucket of Blood (1959)

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The 1950s didn't have hipsters.  Instead, it had beatniks.  They were just as full of themselves as the modern hipster, but it was improvised poetry and jazz rather than indie bands and Pabst Blue Ribbon.  The beards have pretty much stayed the same, as has the condescending attitude that many have toward those, especially fellow creative types, they consider below them.  Thus, it was a scene ripe for satire, and the best movie to do it was Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood . Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is the busboy at the Yellow Door, a hip L.A. coffee shop owned by Leonard de Santis (Antony Carbone).  Walter is enamored with his fellow employee Carla (Barboura Morris) and aspires to be an artist of some type, despite receiving derision from the shop's patrons.  He buys some clay and attempts to sculpt a bust of Carla to no avail but gets an idea once he accidentally kills his landlady's cat.  He covers the body in plaster - with the knife still in it - and passes it

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

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Most people would know Little Shop of Horrors from the stage musical and subsequent movie starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene.  Long before that it was a movie directed by low-budget maven Roger Corman, who rushed it into production, got principle filming done in two days and made sure it was out in theaters early the next year.  There are several stories about why there was such a quick film schedule, but it helped already having sets that had been made for other films and a willing accomplice in screenwriter Charles Griffith.  Seymour Krelborn (Jonathan Haze) works in a skid row flower shop owned by Gravis Mushnik (Mel Welles).  After Seymour makes one mistake too many Mushnik decides to fire him over the objections of his cashier Audrey (Jackie Joseph), who has a crush on Seymour.  Desperate to keep his job so he can care for his hypochondriac mother (Myrtle Vail) he tells Mushnik of a plant he created and has named Audrey, Jr.  The plant, though interesting, isn't doing too

The Creator (2023)

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Gareth Edwards has taken his sweet time between movies.  He can afford to since he got scooped up by Disney to make Rogue One: A Star Wars Story  after the success of his own independent film, Monsters and a financially successful kickoff to Legendary's Monsterverse with Godzilla .  He was one of the few success stories as the record for independent directors going immediately into large-budget Hollywood films is not good.  Most of them have the project taken away from them at some point and the whole thing reshot and re-edited with their name left on it so that their career suffers the consequences.  It's almost as if there is an organized effort to quell independent filmmakers before they get popular. Edwards bucked this trend, although everything after Monsters had been an pre-existing property.  The Creator is the first original work of Edwards since his debut and he opted to film it similarly to how he did Monsters , which was going to locations and doing guerilla filming

The Omen (1976)

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A movie does not have to be high art to strike a chord with the public.  The Omen was an attempt by writer David Seltzer to make some money and get a nice trip to the UK.  It just so happened that because of The Exorcist the public was hungry for more movies involving demons and such, and adding a veneer of Catholicism didn't hurt either.  The Vatican's secrets are most likely of more interest to scholars than anyone else, but a religion doesn't hang on over the centuries without creating a bit of mystery.  In this case, Seltzer settled on the Revelation of St. John, the low-fantasy portion of the Bible and, instead of an hilariously named (albeit historically correct) demon named Pazuzu, with The Omen we get the son of Satan himself.  When Robert Thorne (Gregory Peck) is informed that his child has died he visits a priest at the hospital in Rome where his wife is coalescing.  He is given an offer too good to be true: a foundling, whose mother died in childbirth, was born

The Day of the Beast (1995)

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One of the whackier new age ideas of the 1990s was the "Bible Code".  Supposedly discovered by an Israeli scholar, it was supposed to be a cryptographic and mathematic code hidden within the Torah, the idea being that if it could be properly deciphered then it would lead to revelations about life, the universe and everything.  It gained quite a bit of popularity before falling out favor, both because math is not that interesting to most people, and to figure it out one needed to speak ancient Hebrew or at least have some familiarity with how the letters of their alphabet combined to work out the code.  Otherwise, it was just another prophet saying that we should trust them because they know what they're doing.  This wasn't the first time the idea of a hidden code in the Bible had come up.  Johannes Trithemius, who is referenced in The Day of the Beast , is considered the father of modern cryptography, but in the 16th century was suspected of practicing magic and pursu

Battle Beneath the Earth (1967)

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It is faint praise when, after watching a movie, the first thing I think is, "That wasn't as racist as I thought it was going to be."  Keep in mind the whole plot of this sounds like a rejected Fu Manchu movie and, of course, the main villains are British guys with horribly applied makeup.  They don't have the glasses, bucked teeth or do the "r for l" thing so much - in fact, their accents almost sound German - but it is the usual that one would expect from the time period.  It is perhaps why it is treated more like a cultural relic than one of those terrible movies played on Saturday afternoons that, despite the quality, get a pass because of good memories.  I can't even say there is that going for it, since as a kid Battle Beneath the Earth would have had me bored stiff.  Arnold Kramer (Peter Arne) is a seismologist that has a breakdown on the Las Vegas strip, claiming he can hear things tunneling under the surface.  When his sister (Sarah Brackett) a

Child's Play 3 (1991)

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After Child's Play 2 it was obvious that Universal had another franchise on its hands.  There had already been some drift in that movie from the psychotic killer Chucky was in the first to the wisecracking murderous doll he would become, but the second movie did a good job of continuing Andy's story from the original.  So good that, after its success, Universal wanted another Chucky movie out as soon as possible.  Don Mancini, who had written both of the first movies, was not expecting that and had not really given much thought on how the story would continue.  He did want to have multiple versions of Chucky, but the budget just wasn't there, so instead we have him catch up with Andy eight years later.  Thinking that the public has forgotten about the killer doll the Good Guys factory is reopened and production resumes.  Problem is when cleaning up the place some of Chucky's (Brad Dourif) blood gets into the mix, leading to his rebirth.  His first order of business, af