Ha ha!

You certainly never know what movie he'll review next!

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Burl reviews Forever Evil! (1987)



Hi everybody, it’s Burl here with a new movie review! It’s high time I reviewed Forever Evil for you: a movie which, with its 107 minute running time (epic for a little regional low-budget horror picture) and its endless scenes of chat, well earns its title!
The tale is set in and around Houston, Texas, because that’s where the filmmakers lived! Our main character, Marc Denning, is played by Red Mitchell from The Outing and Night Game, and looks a little like Patton Oswalt mixed with Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings, with just a touch of Jack Black sprinkled in! Marc and his friends are making a weekend retreat to celebrate the completion of some new device invented by Marc and his brother, but the weekend turns sour when everyone but Marc is killed!
It’s pretty gruesome actually, because the first victim is Marc’s pregnant ladyfriend, who is found in the shower with the fetus ripped out of her! Ahh, yuck! The other pals are found with various fatal cuts and gouges, and some unseen creature with glowing red eyes seems to be prowling about! Marc gets his jeans shredded by the beast and must run around for the next fifteen minutes with hilariously shredded pants flapping around his legs! A zombie wearing a string tie appears and gets his eye gouged out, and finally Marc escapes - only to be run over by a car! Ha ha, but he survives!
In the ensuing investigation, Marc makes a new friend named Leo, who, true to his name, is a Law Enforcement Officer! He also meets a lady named Reggie, who, it transpires, is the sole survivor of an earlier, very similar massacre! And now comes the investigation, which should be the most boring part of the picture, but I love this kind of thing when it’s shot on 16mm film and acted out by competent regional players! Marc and Reggie, in the company of the skeptical Leo, discover the whole crazy thing revolves around a Lovecraftian Old God called Yog-Kothag and a local realtor who appears to be murdering people in an attempt to bring this evil demon back to life!
By now Marc has a head full of cracklin’ bran and a new look in which he wears a suit jacket, a pullover and a long black scarf, and limps around on a cane! Leo, who wears a three piece suit without a tie, declares “You’re lettin’ this Yog-Kothag thing get to you! Ha ha!” Shortly thereafter  the forces of evil first steal Leo's nice old car and then kill him, so Marc trades in his college instructor style for olive drab weekend warrior garb, grabs some popguns, and straps on his invention, which turns out to be a grappling hook that shoots out from a Batman-style wrist contraption! Ha ha, Reggie dons her khakis too, and they’re ready for anti-Yog action!
The string-tie zombie reappears, and the evil realtor admits that the zombie, at his direction, has been the one putting a poking on folks! “I’m a busy man,” he explains! “I don’t have time to go around killing people!” Ha ha! Though Marc and Reggie dole out a good deal of punishment to this cracker zombie, it proves hard to get rid of! Well, then there’s a small twist at the climax and the forever evil finally comes to an end!
Now, I can’t say this is a good movie exactly, but, like some other nominally boring regional horror pictures I could name (The Devonsville Terror comes to mind, or Fiend), it’s perfectly enjoyable if you enter into it in the proper spirit! There’s some inventiveness to the plotting, though not much, and a nice variety of spooky effects; but on the down side there’s perhaps a bit too much fetus-ripping for ol’ Burl’s taste! The trick effects involving the demon fetus are fakey enough that it’s not too bad, though! There's also a fantastic moment involving a paperweight that you will know when you see it! Altogether it’s a nicely ambitious bit of semi-amateur genre filmmaking, and I give Forever Evil two worthless old Stu-dee-bakers!

Burl reviews The Devil's Triangle! (1973)



Kchshsh, Burl transmitting! Can you read me! Ha ha, I think the odds are likely that I’ve flown through the Bermuda Triangle more than once, and yet here I am, having survived these risky journeys through the unknown, to write you a review for a late-70s goof-doc highlighting the final journeys of some who were not so lucky! Ha ha, yes, it’s The Devil’s Triangle!
The Bermuda Triangle was a big deal in the 1970s, and a filmmaker called Richard Winer obviously knew a winning gambit when he saw it: make a mid-length documentary about the phenomenon, use all sorts of stock footage, some po-faced interviews, a few re-creations, a droney theme tune by King Crimson, a briefly psychedelic flashback and an exploding model boat to tell the story - and then hire Vincent “Dead Heat” Price to narrate it all! Ha ha, Price does the job perfectly with that high-born voice, and sounds like he’s been offered a bonus for every time he can work in the words “The Devil’s Triangle!” in a tone of barely-controlled alarm!
It’s a little weird, actually: the words “Bermuda Triangle” are never uttered once in the picture! It’s as though Winer had decided to coin a new term for some reason, or else was prohibited by court order to use the established nomenclature! It feels like poor Price is being forced to talk around something that everybody already knows the name of, and I’m afraid the ruthless determination to speak only of The Devil’s Triangle undercuts one’s willingness to accept all of the movie’s propositions!
Many well-known cases are considered! Of course we get the full story of the Lost Squadron, the routine patrol flight that went out, send back a few cryptic, garbled messages, then vanished for all time, never to be seen again! There’s the more historical account of the Japanese freighter that only had time to radio “Danger like dagger now!” before never being heard from again! Some stories were unfamiliar, at least to laymen like ol’ Burl, and you can see why! For example, there’s the one about the guy and his buddy the priest who lay their cabin cruiser just a mile off Miami to look at the lights of the city, call in a complaint that there was a hole in their hull, and then aren’t there anymore by the time the Coast Guard comes to investigate! Ha ha, it’s not the most thrilling tale, that one!
In what was probably considered a big get for the documentary, Winer interviews the pilot who stayed behind while his Lost Squadron patrolmates went out into oblivion! There’s a real human story here, or the potential for one, about survivor’s guilt, obsession, and the unevenly-toothed gears of fate! But the movie engages with none of these, presenting instead a ghostly roll call in which the survivor’s name is repeated as though he’s the one who’s absent!
This bit is a waste of time (of which this brief picture has only fifty-two minutes’ worth in total), but where we do get a few frissons of creepy mystery is in some of the radio messages sent back from, apparently, the void; or the scary portraits of sailors in panic; or the home movie footage, which Price assures us is genuine, of a sailing yacht under the skipperage of a famous millionaire in the last few days before disappearing forever into uncertain geometries!
The picture gives equal consideration to all theories attempting to explain this terrifying isosceles! Could it be a gateway to another dimension, an electromagnetic anomaly, a curse of long standing, or simply a space alien kidnap zone? One thing it absolutely cannot be, the movie asserts with utter certainty, is coincidence, or anything so banal as rough weather! Ha ha, surely not!
When I was very young, I would be sent down to the neighbourhood movie house, the Park, every Saturday afternoon to see whatever was playing, and sometimes it would be something just like this! So I have a fondness for these 70s-era tabloid docs, even if they’re always clunky, frequently dull, and never very convincing! On balance, and largely because of Price, and this residual affection I have for the form, I’m going to give The Devil’s Triangle two sudden squalls!

Burl reviews Tapeheads! (1989)



Ha ha and beta tapes, it’s Burl, here to review one of the lesser-known comedies of the 1980s! Yes, it’s Tapeheads, which, while probably no one’s favourite movie, has enough charm and weirdness to make it well worth a look! And I’ll admit right here at the outset that I may be slightly biased in its favour, since it’s about two guys who decide to start up a rock video business together, and I along with a friend of mine once started up the very same sort of business! Who knows, ha ha, maybe you’ve seen some of our work!
John Cusack from Grandview U.S.A. and Tim Robbins, well known from Fraternity Vacation, star as Ivan and Josh, two lifelong chums who are dissatisfied with their lot and decide to follow their dreams! Josh is a slightly nerdy tech wizard and Ivan is the would-be sharpie with the slicked back hair and tiny moustache; and when they lose their jobs as security guards they are free to start a business called Video Aces and set up shop in a huge downtown warehouse, which they share with a cute-as-a-button multimedia artist whose father turns out to be a secretly kinky Republican senator played by the great Clu Gulager from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2!
After misadventures with a Swedish boy band and the creative triumph of an impossibly fancy chicken-and-waffle commercial, Josh and Ivan stumble into success by mixing up funeral footage for a suddenly deceased heavy metal band they’ve attempted to make a video for, which makes them look like prescient artistic geniuses! There are some plot mechanics going on in the background involving Susan Tyrrell from Night Warning and a stolen video tape with incriminating evidence of Gulager playing his bo-peep games, which is passed off to the unsuspecting Video Aces! Naturally hit men go after them, and Josh and Ivan, believing them to be a musical act called the Hit Men, make a video for the killers too! All this time our characters move toward their real dream, which is to make a video for a superannuated soul act they revere called the Swanky Modes!
Mixing the Swanky Modes into the whole thing is what really makes this movie sing, ha ha, in both a figurative and a very real sense! They’re a Sam and Dave-type duet, charmingly played by Sam Moore and Junior Walker, and Ivan and Josh’s veneration for them hits just the right note of naïve hipness! As fictional movie bands go, they’re among the best, despite the 80s production quality of their numbers! Plus there’s all sorts of other terrific music in the picture, and appearances from all sorts of L.A. music scenesters! Ha ha, you don’t get to see Stiv Bators act very often, but he’s in here!
So is Doug McClure from Humanoids from the Deep, by the way! He joins Gulager and Tyrrell in the gallery of great faces on view throughout this enjoyable trifle! Never mind that it’s not very realistic about how music videos are made! It would be pretty boring if it was, ha ha! And sure, the storytelling is sometimes lazy, and there’s an underlying clubbishness about it all! But it has some appealing dashes of weirdness, an 80s template plot, some sharp lines, and a bright 80s look from cinematographer Bojan "Pumpkinhead" Bazelli! Most importantly the love for music in this picture is real, and because I share it, I’m happy to give Tapeheads three pancakes with little squares on ‘em!

Burl reviews Shocker! (1989)



Zip zap it’s Burl, here to review a Wes Craven picture; and not, I’m sorry to say, one of his good ones! No, instead it’s Shocker, a movie that’s shocking mostly for how galactically silly it is! It’s clear that with this effort, old Wes was trying to recapture the magic of the marvelous A Nightmare on Elm Street, but he succeeded instead in recapturing the magic of Deadly Friend!
And somehow, you know, he really didn’t even do that, because though Deadly Friend is bad, it still manages to be what David Lynch calls a “neighborhood film,” and Shocker, though it be set in a neighbourhood, does not! But Shocker is still not without its own peculiar charms, like some goofy trick effects and a late-film innovation that takes the film from a wacky but still apparently serious horror picture into the realm of high-concept silly-fi!
It seems that the town is beset by a monstrous serial killer who, like the fellow in Manhunter, will invade a home and kill the entire family within! Our main character, Jonathan, a teen with a face like one of the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, has some sort of mental connection with the killer, who turns out to be a TV repairman named Horace Pinker! This fiend has committed numerous outrages, and the police are at a loss how to catch him despite the fact that, during his killings, Pinker always parks his van with PINKER’S TELEVISION REPAIR emblazoned across the side directly in front of whatever house he’s targeted!
With the teen’s help Pinker is caught, but not before killing the family Jonathan was adopted into a dozen years earlier! Yikes, another family massacre! After some ritualistic shenanigans held in his cell before a TV, Pinker gets the chair! But ha ha, he’s got something up the sleeve of his checkered boiler suit: he turns into energy and escapes into the wiring! Then he takes over the bodies of a series of people, including that of a little girl, and then her mother, and then a pick-axe waving city worker! Much is made of the novelty of a sweet-looking but  foul-mouthed six year-old bent on murder! Finally Pinker rediscovers his first love, television, and becomes some kind of program-hopping imp who can appear on the news, or in a Leave It To Beaver rerun, or anything! Then the ghost of Jonathan’s girlfriend appears, the movie achieves a sort of apotheosis of silliness, and the movie ends!
This is all pantomimed out with perfect seriousness by Peter Berg in the role of Jonathan (Berg being one of those handsome-boy actors, like John Stockwell from Christine, who decided to pack it in and become directors), Michael Murphy from Cloak & Dagger as the pathologically cynical father, and Mitch Pileggi from Return of the Living Dead 2 as the ridiculously violent killer! But their seriousness only makes it all sillier, ha ha!
I know I’ve made much of the gooftastic nature of this picture, but that really is its defining characteristic, and the occasional flashes of self-awareness mitigate this not a whit! It’s no A Nightmare on Elm Street and it isn’t even A Nightmare on Elm Street 2; and though the rain falls softly upon Wes Craven’s premature grave, I have to give Shocker just one and a half stretch-lips!

Burl reviews Summer School! (1987)



Ha ha, class is in session! Professor Burl here! Yes, here I am reviewing a movie that’s both a summer picture and a school picture! Ha ha, how can that be, you say! Well, this little balfour from 1987 happens to be called Summer School!
I hear you ask “Burl, is it really a balfour?” It’s my sorry duty to report that yes, it is! But it’s a balfour beloved by many, so we ought to give it the proper consideration and whatever dues it’s owed!
Now so far as I can tell, those who love this movie love it for one reason: Chainsaw and Dave! And though these two spend ninety-five percent of their screen time being complete jerks, they nearly redeem themselves as characters thanks to their big scene at the end!
But here I am getting ahead of myself again! Summer School tells the simple story of a layabout gym teacher played by Mark Harmon, the television doctor, who is gang pressed into teaching remedial English to a bunch of misfits over the summer! He gains a fast affection for another teacher, Kirstie Alley from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan! And the bad guy is her boyfriend, the school’s slimy vice-principal well played by Robin Thomas from Pacific Rim! Ha ha, this fellow Thomas does the 80s bad guy thing to a tee here, so I wonder why he didn’t do more of them! He could have given William Atherton and Paul Gleason both a run for their money!
Much screen time is given over to Harmon’s bright-eyed lunkhead, Freddie Shoop! He’s pretty artificial, and occasionally deeply stupid, but an appealing character nonetheless! He’s mostly a non-entity, and when one of his students, in a fit of pique, snaps “I’ve stepped in deeper puddles,” you note the accuracy of the statement! The students all get their own little stories or personality bits, like the nerd, the pregnant girl, the dreamy surfer chick, and of course the drunken, loutish, idiotic horror fans Chainsaw and Dave! It all ends with the big test, naturally, and I have to say, it was refreshingly realistic that less than half of them actually passed it!
I consider it too bad that Chainsaw and Dave are such unappealing characters, because it’s nice to have some horror movie fandom depicted in such an inessential, beachwear-coloured comedy as this! The boys do an oral report on Rick Baker, the trick-effects wizard of An American Werewolf in London; they screen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for their classmates; and in a spectacular finale they make everyone up in gruesome casualty makeups in order to scare off a substitute teacher! To add to the horror vibe, many of the actors are best known from the actual creepshows they were in, like Shawnee Smith from The Blob, Dean Cameron from Bad Dreams, Ken Olandt from Leprechaun and Kelly Jo Minter from The Lost Boys! And then there’s Gary Riley from Ruthless People, which is not a horror movie but that’s okay!
The movie comes from Carl Reiner, who of course brought us movies like All of Me and another summer picture, Summer Rental! Even though he appears early in it as the teacher who wins the lottery, his heart doesn’t seem to have been entirely in the movie, because for the most part, it’s pretty bland! Only the horror stuff enlivens it; otherwise, like Pieces, it’s exactly what you think it is! Maybe the worst thing is that Freddy Shoop lives in a beach house and there’s barely any beach house atmosphere at all! Ahh, I give Summer School one vomiting nerd!

Burl reviews Echo Park! (1985)



Welcome, friends, welcome to my neighbourhood! Yes, it’s Burl, here to review a picture that fits into a few subgenres! Ha ha, it’s called Echo Park, and, set as it is in that patch of Los Angeles by the same name, it’s one of those movies named for and defined by the neighbourhood, or district, or borough, in which their action takes place! I suppose Wicker Park, A Bronx Tale, City Island and many others would fit into this loose category!
Another subgenre into which Echo Park fits is the Eccentric Dreamer movie! UFOria is one of those pictures, and Melvin and Howard is another! The director of this movie, Robert Dornhelm, made another Eccentric Dreamer picture too, Cold Feet, starring my buddy Tom Waits! Ha ha, I’ll have to review that one sometime!
The story concentrates on three properly eccentric inhabitants of Echo Park, which back in the mid-80s was a little more downmarket than it is now, ha ha! Susan Dey, the famous TV law-lady, is the single mother who works in a bar while dreaming of being a waitress! Tom Hulce, who was in Slam Dance (a combination Eccentric Dreamer film and crime picture, also emphatically set in L.A.), is the pizza man who delivers his pies in a car shaped like a neon piece of pizza, but dreams of being a songwriter, and of entering into a romantic relationship with Dey! And Michael Bowen from The Wild Life plays the pongid bodybuilder who lives in the other part of the house, an Austrian émigré who dreams of becoming the next Arnold and who quickly does enter into a relationship with Dey!
And these three interact in various ways, surrounded by friends and employers, and go through a series of small, episodic adventures! Dey becomes a singing strip-o-grammer, ha ha, and Hulce is punched on by bikers! Dey’s son changes his name from Henry to Hank, and Bowen plays a Viking in a deodorant commercial He’s later thrown out of the German embassy for trying too hard to meet his idol, Schwarzenegger! Hulce’s boss, played by the great fartiste Timothy Carey, from Beach Blanket Bingo and The Long Ride Home, dispenses pizza-based wisdom! A Burt Reynolds lookalike wanders around! And then everyone goes to the beach!
The supporting cast features plenty of Groundlings, like John Paragon in the role of Hugo, and Cassandra Peterson from Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold! Ha ha, it’s a wonder Pee Wee doesn’t show up! Cheech Marin from Fatal Beauty makes a friendly appearance too, and gets the last word in a scene where Bowen goes nuts and can only be restrained by other bodybuilders! The saddest scene comes when Hulce, delivering pizza to a recording studio, is encouraged by the producers and musicians there to expand on one of his songs that he’s been absently singing, but he suffers nerves, and flees!
It’s a nice, enjoyable movie, with a fairly realistic indie-picture magic realism and a peculiarly 80s indie vibe! The acting is pretty good, and it looks very nice and very L.A. and very 80s, but it suffers at times from contrived situations, sitcom logic, and Bowen’s occasionally shaky Austrian accent! (Why couldn’t they find an Austrian to play the part? It was an Austrian production, after all!) It all ends somewhat inconclusively, which I like, but the version I watched included an extended ending in which the main cast all stand on top of an Austrian mountain, sniff eidelweiss and do handstands! This did not provide clarity, ha ha, but it did provide scenery! And I suppose it also satisfied the Austrian funding bodies who helped finance the picture!
Anyway, I give Echo Park two and a half bum-cakes! Ha ha! You won’t want to miss that bum-cake!

Burl reviews Live and Let Die! (1973)



Ha ha, it’s Burl, plain Burl, here to shake and stir you with a James Bond movie review! This one is Live and Let Die, which I believe was the debut of Sir Roger Moore in the superspy role; and frankly, with this one as the first, I wonder how Sir Roger lasted as long in the part as he did! How did he even get to Moonraker? The only thing longer in the part than he was, by the time he was done, was his tooth! Ha ha!
Well, maybe that’s not a very good joke! But neither is this a very good movie! I used to think kindly upon it, it being buoyed in my memory by the voodoo elements of the plot and the crude scarecrows that frightened me so much as a youth! I was and am a horror movie fellow, so those things attracted me! But they’re just not as scary now, and the movie is consequently less entertaining!
I think I’ve nailed down what it is that makes Moore my least favourite Bond: he just can’t deliver the smarmy lines without seeming smarmy himself! And I don’t necessarily think this is Moore’s fault; to the contrary, I think it might be to his credit! Maybe, being a gentleman, he just wasn’t able to inhabit that aspect (as written by the 70s-era screenwriters) of Bond’s character! This level of strutting sexism was cartoonish even then, and it would take a real true believer to sell this stuff in earnest!
Another thing: The picture’s bad guy, Yaphet “Eye of the Tiger” Kotto , at one point accuses Bond of being a poor loser, and do you know what? He is! Every time a lady gets an ERA-era zinger over on him, Bond pulls a sour face and immediately tries to reinstate his masculine superiority by some petty act of revenge! And indeed he does come across as something of a dunder-klumpen whenever things don’t go his way!
The female lead here is Domino, played by Jane Seymour from Lassiter, who reads Tarot cards and indeed seems to have some kind of supernatural power! About the best bit in the picture, cinematically speaking, is the cross-cutting between Bond’s flight to New York and Domino’s totally accurate prognostications of his visit and what it will bring! I guess it’s the only time this series ever trafficked in the uncanny, and it’s one of the few distinguishing aspects of the picture!
Another such aspect is the great gallery of distinctive black actors, like Julius Harris and Geoffrey Holder and Gloria Hendry and Earl Jolly Brown! And, ha ha, not to mention the terrific Kotto! They help the picture mightily, despite the sour tastes of colonial-era racism that occasionally intrude! And too bad that Southern-fired sheriff had to be shoehorned into the already too-long bayou boat chase, calling people “Boy-y-y-y” like some hick Angus Scrimm! And it was this same ‘baccy-spitting ultramaroon whom they decided to bring back in the next installment, The Man With the Golden Gun, even though they had a perfectly good stinger at the end of this one: Geoffrey Holder, sitting on the front of the train and laughing his uncola laugh! Ha ha! So why not bring Holder back, at least for the pre-credit sequence in the follow-up?
Well, that wasn’t what they chose to do, but at least they hired Christopher Lee and put an extra nipple on him, ha ha! Anyway, Live and Let Die gives us Bond on the trail of a heroin smuggler who’s been killing the agents previously on his trail, and who has grander plans than the usual drug lord, and uses voodoo trappings as well as murder to spook people away from getting too close! We get action in New York, some fictional Caribbean country, New Orleans, and the bayous of ‘weeziana, which is where that sheriff comes in! None of it’s terribly exciting, and though there are some okay moments here and there, and a unique, if silly, demise for the bad guy, I can give this nought but one and a half inflating leather sofas!

Burl reviews Black Mask! (1996)



Well chop my socks, it’s Burl, here to review up some all-new nonsense action! Now, I say nonsense action, but doesn’t Black Mask, the movie under review today, really fit into the Ridiculous Action category, I hear you ask? Shouldn’t it be mounted along the Via Appia with its fellows, among them the equally guilty Raw Force and Deadly Prey? Ha ha, no I say, and I say again no! While certainly ridiculous in parts, and not lacking in pep, Black Mask, for better or for worse, lacks that certain extra edge of Total Ridiculousness!
But enough of trying to categorize it! Black Mask is a Jet Li extravaganza featuring Jet as an extraordinarily bifurcated character: at once an inhumanly violent, chemically altered supersoldier unmade and re-created in a lab so as to be free of pain, empathy, and emotion of any kind, while capable of killing enemies by the dozen in a thousand different ways; and a soft-spoken, peace-loving, flower-sniffing librarian who only wants to be left alone! Ha ha! And the split between his dual natures seems to trouble him not a whit!
But his fellow supersoldiers are not so complacent! They feel the urge for revenge upon those who experimented on them, and for this they seem to blame just about everybody! So the drug lords, the cops, random doctors and nurses, and really just anyone who gets in the way are destined to become the victims of the special commando squad! Ha ha, and they come up with some pretty gruesome ways of dispatching their victims, like the heart-bomb, or the acid sprinklers!
There are also plenty of punchfights, of course, and very dynamically enacted and filmed they are too, with lots of funky moves! When I saw this picture in the theater with my friend Pellonpäa, we practically stood up and cheered: the action sequences were extremely effective, and they still hold up well today! They’re cartoonish, but not as extremely so as we find in some Hong Kong action pictures! And they get pretty gory too, which, I’ll admit, always brings an action picture up a notch or two in my esteem! Ha ha, I guess it’s the Fangoria kid in me! (I didn’t care for the gift the commandos send to the drug lord King Kao, however!)
The bulk of the story involves Jet’s character, Michael, trying to stop the evil plans of the supersoldiers and their long-haired, Lennon glasses-wearing leader! In this he’s helped by his friend, the cop with whom he plays chess, and also a lady from the library, a flibbertigibbet type who proves her mettle, but not without screeching a lot!
Well, if you like goofy high-octane action and Jet Li at his fastest and most charming, you’ll probably like this picture! I certainly feel an affection for it! You’ll forget the plot details immediately upon finishing with it, but you’ll have had a good time! I’m going to give Black Mask two and a half exploding drug lords!

Burl reviews The Lost Boys! (1987)



Ha ha and hemogobblers, it’s Burl, here to review a goofy movie about cool vampires! Yes, of course I’m talking about The Lost Boys, which many consider one of the key vampire pictures of the 1980s, alongside Fright Night, Near Dark, and to a lesser extent, Vamp!
But as silly or juvenile as those movies can occasionally be, they at least seem more or less made for adults, whereas The Lost Boys, its R rating aside, is, to me, a close cousin to The Goonies or something like that! Frankly, even back when I went to the theater to see the movie in the summer of ’87, having been primed by the exciting-looking stills in Fangoria magazine, I didn’t care much for it!
Watching it again as a putative adult, it’s still neither a good vampire movie nor an effectively scary movie, nor a terribly good movie at all! It has an entertaining, empty slickness to it though, and some good-looking photography from, of all people, Michael Chapman; and the horror end is held up somewhat by some nice makeup trick effects from Greg Cannom (who does the same vampire cheekbone and eyebone makeups he did in Vamp)! There’s even a little bit of gore, though would-be treats like the exploding head are cut away from very quickly and subsumed in showers of sparks while they’re happening! But this is one of those pictures that can be handily summed up in a single image, and that image is of an oiled-up shirtless guy playing the saxophone on a beach!
Aside from that guy, the cast has some ringers! Dianne Weist from It’s My Turn plays the single mom forced by circumstance to move herself and her two sons to the town of Santa Carla, “murder capital of the world,” where her eccentric dad, Barnard Hughes, dwells in a large folk-art cabin! Jason “Keyhole” Patric, going full mannequin, plays the older brother who first comes into conflict with, then is seduced into joining, the local vampire club! Jami Gertz is the token lady in the gang, and there’s a kid too, but the potential of a vampire kid, a bitter and ageless being in a child’s body, so compelling and horrifically realized in Near Dark, is completely ignored here! Kiefer Sutherland, playing just about the same character he did in Stand By Me: that is, a bully with pretensions to suavity, runs the club, and they like to race dirtbikes, hang from bridges, and generally fly around putting a biting on the good people of Santa Carla!
Of course the two Coreys are present and accounted for: Haim from Watchers, and Feldman from Friday the 13th part 4! Corey plays the younger brother, while Corey of course plays one of the Frog brothers, a fraternal order of pubescent Van Helsings who know the town is full of vampires and would like nothing better than to vanquish them! And then of course there’s the local video store owner, played by the famous milquetoast from Death Valley, Edward Herrmann, who sports the movie’s most hilarious 80s fashions and who may know more about the bloodsucking than he’s ready to tell!
The vampires, meanwhile, hang out in an old hotel that sunk into a crack or something, where they hang upside down and worship Jim Morrison! They’re a squirrely bunch, and one is pleased when they go down much more easily than most movie vampires do! A few squirts of holy water here, a stake in the heart there, and these frilled-shirt laddies are done like dinner! Ha ha! And there’s a death by stereo too!
When I first heard this movie was being made, I thought the title implied a rich new rethinking of the vampire legend! Ha ha, how wrong I was! It’s a fashion show as much as it is a movie: fun, if you like that sort of thing, but desperately inessential! I give The Lost Boys two garlic T-shirts, and even that feels a bit too generous!

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Burl reviews Smile! (1975)



Hey, it’s Burl here with a review of another great Michael Ritchie picture! Like The Bad News Bears, this one concentrates on, and dissects in sublime, satirical detail, one of Americaland’s favourite competitive pastimes! The picture is Smile, and the subject, ostensibly, is beauty pageants!
But like so many Ritchie films, the real subject is middle-class America! Ha ha, as the picture begins we find ourselves plunk in the middle of Santa Rosa, California, which is hosting the Young Miss America statewide finals, featuring winning girls from all across the state! The town is in a tizzy, and we follow some of the young ladies and a number of the townsfolk through a week of life’s rich pageant! Ha ha, the approach is Altmanesque, or you might say it was if the key Altman films of this sort had come out earlier; but can you imagine, this picture and Nashville were shooting at exactly the same time in the summer of ’74! So is Smile Altmanesque, or is Nashville Ritchie-esque? Ha ha, both, neither!
Our biggest star in the film is Bruce Dern, well known from Django Unchained and so many other films; but he’s not exactly the main character! Well, he’s close, but the focus is mainly on the girls, and in particular a girl called Robin, played with great appeal by Joan Prather from The Devil’s Rain! Robin is the one who can’t quite get into the pageant spirit, and for this reason she seems the most sensible and intelligent characters!
There are plenty of familiar faces among the other girls! Annette O’Toole, who has always struck me as extraordinarily beautiful, is excellent as a girl who knows a few pageant tricks; and we also have such pretty and talented lasses as Melanie Griffith from Fear City, Caroline Williams from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Maria O’Brien from Protocol, Colleen Camp from Track 29, and Denise Nickerson, Violet Beauregard herself from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory!
There are terrific performances from the townsfolk too, especially that of Barbara Feldon, Agent 99 herself, as a housewife who takes on organizational duties with an almost supernatural fervor! We also get Geoffrey Lewis from ‘Salem’s Lot as another organizer, Dennis Dugan from Night Moves as a janitor’s assistant, and three horny kids who seem like the prototypes for any number of 80s teen sex comedy gangs! Ha ha, that redheaded kid was a particular laff-riot!
Dern’s character is a local car salesman and clubman, an eternal optimist and a true believer in the pageant and its principles! There’s a scene in the middle of the picture in which Dern and his aging fratboy clubmates have a big party in the woods, in which they dress in sheets for some reason - not KKK sheets, but only just - and smash eggs on each others’ heads, and watermelons on their own! Frankly it looks like the absolute last sort of party I’d ever want to attend, and that of course is the point! The picture looks at middle class amusements and mores with the same acid eye of someone like John Cheever!
The movie is shapeless in the best 1970s way, frequently very funny, and has a nice little punchline! Ha ha, and the punchline undercuts what I was seeing as a certain naïveté or willful blindness in its attitude, so I was glad of that! Maybe it wasn’t the most realistic look at the exploitation angle of these contests, but that’s okay! Ha ha, it doesn’t have to be everything! Smile was great just as it was, and I give it three wooden feet!