Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Monday, 21 June 2021

Burl reviews Friday the 13th part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan! (1989)


 

Chay, pah, blaah, it’s Burl, here to review the final Friday! Ha ha, and by that I mean I’ve finally watched the one Friday the 13th movie I’ve been neglecting all these years! Last summer I caught up with Friday the 13th part 7: The New Blood, which I hadn’t seen before; this year, after stumbling across a DVD that was too cheap to resist, I finally had no more excuses and spent 100 minutes of my life (the longest running time of any Friday the 13th movie, by the way) watching Friday the 13th part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan, the Jason picture that boasts the most outrageously false subtitle since part 4! 

Oh, these dumb movies! I love them and I hate them and I somehow find I can’t quit them, but installments like this have me coming pretty close! It opens on a small cabin cruiser floating in Crystal Lake, on board which are two dimbulbs who drag their anchor in such a way as to hook on an electrical cable and thereby resuscitate Jason, who’s been reposed on the lakebed ever since the psychic girl’s dad dragged him down! It’s a pretty silly way to bring the unsightly maniac back, but then, ha ha, what wouldn’t have been?

We then move to what will be our major setting, subtitle be damned: a big greasy cruise ship captained by Warren Munson from Executive Decision, carrying the graduating class of Crystal Lake High to New York for a glamorous weekend! Jason climbs on board, and, after lying low for a while, begins taking out the boat passengers in his patented one-by-one style! But before that, and woven in throughout, is a bunch of junior league soap opera stuff straight out of the 90210, ha ha!

Peter Mark Richman, a mean-faced TV actor who was also in Naked Gun 2½, plays the perpetually angry chaperone Mr. McCullogh, who bares his teeth like the chainsaw brand for which he is named and never misses an opportunity to act like a total jerk! He’s also the guardian of Rennie, the final girl; her boyfriend, Sean, is the son of the captain, and is a disappointment to the old man thanks to his lack of interest in or aptitude for ship captaining himself; and there's a mean girl who hopes to seduce McCullogh in exchange for good grades, and her friend, and a few other bonfivés!

Other characters include second chaperone Mrs. Van Deusen, played by Barbara Bingham from Splitz; a doom-crying deckhand played by Alex Diakun from Malone; and student-slash-porkbellies played by such Canadians as Gordon Currie, later the vampire from Blood & Donuts, and Saffron Henderson, who impersonated Geena Davis in The Fly II! And later, when the so-called New York location is finally gained, we espy big tall Ken Kirzinger, who gets tossed around by Jason, but would later himself play the leather-skinned killer in Freddy vs. Jason!

Well, most of these people catch the chop or some variation on it from our man Jason, and one word of mild praise I’ll give this movie is that the killings are nearly as plentiful and as varying in method as they are in Friday the 13th part V: A New Beginning! But the killings are also the problem, for far and away my biggest complaint about this terrible film is how poorly directed it is! Ha ha, there’s no suspense or spookiness and not a single affright to be had at any point throughout its overlong running time! Other people will point to the script or the performances, or the terrible non-Manfredini score, or the fact that it takes forever to get to Manhattan and when they do, aside from one brief scene in Times Square and a stock shot of the Statue of Liberty, it’s Vancouver; but I say the utter lack of filmmaking acumen is the picture’s cardinal sin!

It’s slick looking, with nice lighting from cinematographer Bryan England, and Paramount clearly spent more coin on the picture than was their habit with these things, but none of this can overcome the bone-deep terribleness on display, with all the tension of an oversized novelty bra! Wet firecracker scare scenes follow one after another and graffiti on the subway informs us that “Quayton Lives!,” until finally there’s an apotheotic finale for Jason that tries for 2001: A Space Odyssey but ends up more Invasion From Inner Earth! Ha ha! I give Friday the 13th part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan one half of an “Irish cop” with a heavily Canadian accent!

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Burl reviews Scala! (1990)


 

Taking your ticket, it’s Burl, here with a review of a movie not about movies, but about a movie theatre! I suppose that means it is about movies, ha ha, because a big old movie palace is still and always will be the best place to see one, and this movie is about just such a place! The movie palace in question is London’s late and much-lamented Scala Cinema, and the movie about it is simply called Scala!

Now, I’m no Londoner (ha ha, no, I’m not even British!), but I’ve spent plenty of time in that fine city, and when I was there for a spell in the late 1980s I discovered the Scala! And what a discovery it was! I recall seeing triple bills like Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Daughters of Darkness and Edge of Sanity, the one with Anthony Perkins! Or, on a different occasion, a De Palma triple-header of Blow Out, Body Double and Dressed to Kill! I saw Videodrome, Un Zoo la Nuit, Danger Diabolik, Barbarella, a trucker’s double-header of Wages of Fear and They Drive By Night, David Mamet’s House of Games and Things Change, and more! Every day the program changed and so every day there were more glorious movies to see, all of them projected on 35mm film, or at least high-quality 16mm, on a big ratty old screen! Oh, ha ha, it was the purest heaven to a fellow like ol’ Burl!

I remember it was a bit scary to go there, which was part of the appeal! You’d take the tube to King’s Cross, emerge into the rat’s nest of streets surrounding that station, and see, as in a vision, a white edifice rising like a massif down the way! Mods, rockers, punks, cinéastes, skids, students, seedcakes, sketchy people of all description with heads full of high fructose skunkfire, would gather to see the show, and none of them wanted any trouble so far as I could see! You could get some food, a beer or glass of wine if you liked, and the seat you settled into would be your own little campsite for the evening! Of course, as is noted by several interviewees in this thirty-minute documentary portrait of the place, the whole cinema rumbled with each passing tube train and the sound system was not exactly double-Dolby; but again, ha ha, all of this only added to the charm!

The movie about the Scala is not nearly so exciting as the actual place was, however! It’s mostly a parade of talking heads, with very little footage of the cinema itself, though I suppose there’s only so much mileage to be had from such B-roll imagery! More pep and wit in the editing would have gone a long mile, though, and if they could have managed some footage of a screening in progress, that might have been nice! There are some clips from at least three movies though: Evil Dead, Glen or Glenda and Mona Lisa, which are cut in for little or no reason!

I suppose these were available because their UK distributor, or producer in the case of Mona Lisa, was Palace Pictures, owned in part by Stephen Wooley, who was also a major player in the Scala and provides many interesting remarks in the doc! Also interviewed are a number of other Scala employees, including Jane Giles, who later made a book about the fabled movie palace! There’s also a great gallery of London eccentrics, including an old chap who offers tribute to his favourite cinema in the form of doggerel; an old lady who likes car chases and other action antics, but not so much “bedroom scenes;” the actor Ralph Brown from Alien 3 and Stoker, who does a bit in the voice of his character Danny from the marvelous Withnail & I; and a soft-spoken, utterly sincere gent whose film obsession is total!

The movie is a bit reminiscent of Out of Print, the tribute to the New Beverly Cinema in L.A., but is only about a third the length! This subject could have supported a feature too, but not necessarily in the style we get here - it would have to be much sharper and more energetic, I think! Still, a nice little portrait of a place close to my heart, and I was glad to discover it on the YouTube! I give Scala two soiled seats! 


Monday, 14 June 2021

Burl reviews Rock 'n' Roll High School! (1979)


 

Hey ho, let’s go, it’s Burl Ramone here with another movie review for you! Yes, it’s that paean to rock n’ roll and to some of their high priests, those leather-jacket lotharios the Ramones! Of course the movie is Rock 'n’ Roll High School, and it’s always been funny to me that, after being conceived originally as something called “Disco High,” before it was pointed out that a school could not be blown up to disco music, and then cycling through rock bands as diverse as Devo and Van Halen, the picture ended up with the Ramones as their superstar all-time teen idol crush objects! Ha ha, I’m a tremendous Ramones fan, but the idea of them as objects of starry-eyed devotion is amusing indeed!

P.J. Soles from Halloween plays the marvelously-named Riff Randall, the top Ramones fan at Vince Lombardi High! Concurrent with the building excitement for the big Ramones show the entire school wants to attend is the appointment of a new principal at Vince Lombardi, a tight-bunned autocrat called Miss Togar, played by that singular talent Mary Woronov from Cannonball! With her two Katzenjammerish hall monitors, she institutes a reign of terror; meanwhile, Riff waits in line for three whole days and buys Ramones tickets for the entire student body! Meanwhile again, there’s a romance triangle: a gormless sweater-jock played by Vincent Van Patten from Hell Night sets his cap at Riff (who only has eyes for Joey Ramone of course), while Riff’s friend, a sweet nerd played by Dey Young from The Running Man and The Serpent and the Rainbow, sets hers, for some reason, at Van Patten! It falls to boy’s room entrepreneur Eaglebauer, played by Clint Howard from Ticks and Apollo 13 as a good-natured cross between Milo Minderbinder and Sgt. Bilko, to try and put things aright!

Paul Bartel from Piranha is Mr. McGree, a rather stuffy music teacher who is yet open-minded enough to give the New York good-time rock combo a chance, and once he attends their concert, he’s shouting Gabba Gabba Hey along with everyone else! Ha ha, he doesn’t even mind when Joey calls him “Mr. McGloob!” He’s a very likeable fellow, I must say! The Ramones concert sequence is highly reminiscent of the concert stuff in Get Crazy, which makes sense since they were both directed by goodtime music lover and ex-Fillmore East usher Allan Arkush! (Ha ha, a trivia for you: by the end of the shoot, Arkush became too sleepy to continue, so Joe Dante had to direct the last day or so!)

When Miss Togar pushes Riff Randall and the rest of the student body too far, they take control of Vince Lombardi High and rename it Rock 'n’ Roll High School! The fantastic and much-beloved Dick Miller, known from from Armed Response and Explorers and many dozens more, is called in to help keep the peace, and truth be told his character doesn’t do much except stand around and call the Ramones ugly! But it’s great to have Miller there, so ha ha, I’m not complaining! It all ends with a tremendous explosion which, like much of the rest of the picture, belies the measly $300,000 they spent on it!

The movie is chock full o’ delights: a great cast, the hilariously bad acting from the Ramones, a marvelously sincere embrace of the anti-authoritarian spirit of rock n’ roll, and a boogie van called the Warlock! Dey Young is pretty, but her crush on the dweeby square played by Van Patten is mystifying! Ha ha, oh well - different strokes, I guess, and anyway by the end, like many a teen Romeo before him, Van Patten is singing “Sweet Mr. Sansregret” at the top of his lungs! It’s altogether a fun time at the pictures, and I give Rock 'n’ Roll High School three placards reading “Gabby Hayes!” Ha ha!

Friday, 11 June 2021

Burl reviews Slumber Party '57! (1976)




 

With a golly gee and a hey daddy-o, it’s Burl, here with another one of those flashback teen sex comedies that came out in the wake of American Graffiti! The form reached its apotheosis with Porky’s, and maybe its height of classiness, relatively speaking, with Mischief, but it was the first knock-offs, the ones from the 70s like Hometown U.S.A., that really give the impression of desperate coattail riding with a T&A twist! Ha ha, and another of these cras-cren-bons, perhaps the greatest of them in fact, is the skinfest known as Slumber Party ’57! 

It hasn’t got a story so much as it has a carelessly geomantic structure! After the first of the requisite easily-licensed 50s hits (or 60s hits; the picture is unconcerned with strict fidelity to its period), we meet five young ladies, apparently high school students but clearly in their early to mid 20s! Ha ha! Debra Winger from Black Widow is one of them (an appearance that has long since dropped off the bottom of her resumé); Noelle North, who also showed up in the superficially similar Sweater Girls, is another; Rainbeaux Smith from The Pom Pom Girls, Massacre at Central High, and Parasite, is still another, and there are yet more played by actresses I failed to recognize! Their boyfriends being away for a weekend football trip, the ladies decide to hold the titular party, and, once they’ve had a nude pool frolic, proceed to each tell the story of how she lost her virginity!

 

The bulk of the movie is these stories, told one by one in flashback, and set to more easily-licensed doo-wah hits, which are always played in their entirety to justify the cost! There’s a Daisy Mae type who tells the tale of her deflowering at the hands of the local moonshiner, a Li’l Abner who manages a roll in the hay somewhere between his still blowing up and being chased by revenooers! Noelle North next tells her story: she’s in her room reading Lolita while her parents hold a party downstairs; one of the guests, played by Will Hutchins from The Horror at 37,000 Feet, blunders in and stammers his way to a seduction! But this goes sour when North’s burly dad, in a frightening appearance from Bill Thurman, the sheriff in Creature From Black Lake, bursts in and puts his daughter over his knee for a good llarrupin’! The girls all agree that they secretly enjoy such treatment from their fathers, urgh!

Between their stories the girls leave the mansion they’re slumber partying in to grab a bite to eat at the local drive-in ask-n’-wait, where they meet an out-of-control hophead played by Rafael Campos from Astro Zombies and soon find themselves in a street race with him! Ha ha, can’t make a movie like this without a street race! After the final boringly gymnogynous tale is told, and they’re all revealed to be spurious anyway, the girls must deal first with a cat burglar played by Larry Gelman from Dreamscape (who might as well have been voted “Least Likely To Ever Portray A Cat Burglar" at his acting school), and then with a cop played by Joe E. Ross, who says “Ooh, ooh!” a lot just as he did in Car 54, Where Are You, and is clearly delighted when he’s surrounded by nubile girls and Debra Winger starts kissing him! Ha ha, Debra Winger and Joe E. Ross: truly a thespian summit for the ages! 

The movie leans right in to its exploitation angle, with few opportunities for nudity ignored and several more invented! The young ladies come off well, though - several give good, spirited performances and are at a consistently higher level than the movie they’re in! Which, all things considered, is a bad movie! The script is unspeakable, the direction pretty foursquare, and it’s filled with anachronisms, like the drive-in screening of Cauldron of Blood, which wasn’t even shot until 1967! Ha ha, and I wonder if Debra Winger wants to forget about this movie more for the nudity or for the Joe E. Ross scene! I give Slumber Party ’57 one giggling hillbilly!

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Burl reviews Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown! (1977)

 


Good grief, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review an animated picture: one of the few I actually saw in the theatre! Growing up I had a neighbourhood theatre, what Variety used to call a “nabe” before all the nabes closed down! That's a very sad loss to me, and I expect it is to you too! Anyway, I used to go down to my nabe every wek and see whatever was playing, and if it wasn’t some weird Sunn Classics pseudodocumentary, or a genuine motion picture like The Bad News Bears or The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, it was a children’s animation just like today’s picture, Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown!

I remember enjoying it at the time, ha ha, but then I was just a wee tyke and my critical faculties had not yet been fully honed! I’ve watched it again several times over the past five years or so because my son had fallen under the Peanuts spell and so I went and hunted down a VHS copy of it! The Peanuts spell is a perfectly healthy spell so far as I’m concerned, and it was a pleasure to watch the movie again when I initially found the VHS, and an undiminished pleasure to watch it once more the other day!

We were at a wilderness cabin for the screening, and it was a very hot and summery evening, and these are the second most ideal circumstances under which to see this picture, the first most, naturally, being to see it at the nabe when you’re six years old! Ha ha! But however you watch it, the movie remains the story of the Peanuts gang, or selected members thereof, attending a summer camp and engaging in a raft race through an endless variety of landscapes such as you find described in books like Blood Meridian!

Charlie Brown proves himself a blockhead right from the opening moments, after the credits and their bad-but-catchy theme song that is, when he fails to step back on the bus after a rest stop and must travel the rest of the way riding pillion on Snoopy’s chopper, in constant screaming terror for his life! Once there, a group of camp bullies take Charlie Brown to task straight away for his round head, his bizarre name (?), and his pathetically evident need to prove himself! Only Linus cracking his blanket like a whip rescues the hydrocephalic hero from his trouble!

After some camp gags and a few competitive activities which the bullies win by rank underhandedness, the race is under way! Our hero gang divide themselves by gender: Charlie Brown, Linus, Franklin, and Schroeder in one boat; Lucy, Sally, Peppermint Patty and Marcie in another; and of course Snoopy and Woodstock participate in the race too, using their own jury-rigged watercraft! The bullies have a powerboat equipped with radar and sonar and all manner of technology, and they, along with their spike-collared cat, engage in never-ending shenanigans in their monomaniacal effort to win!

Ha ha, I always thought the Peanuts gang were supposed to be six or seven years old, but this race, which takes multiple days and shunts them through an array of biospheres and climates, landscapes of desolation and abundance, through blasting sites, fishing villages, and over waterfalls, would test the mettle of the most cunning raftsman! On top of these hardships, the gang must not only contend with the bullies and their fiendish plots, but Peppermint Patty’s deluded, fascistic idea of how democracy works, and how it must be constantly applied by secret ballot to every decision made by the group!

The movie’s own politics are equally confused, as, after a series of highly annoying episodes in which Patty’s balloting madness results in, for example, the boys being forced to sleep outside in a (highly incongruous) snowstorm, some cohesion is only reached when she appoints Charlie Brown as Supreme Leader, singularly responsible for all decision-making! And while this doesn’t lead to triumph in the race, it at least helps prevent the bullies from winning, so there’s some semblance of a happy ending; at least, as much of one as a depressive like Charles M. Schultz could manage!

It’s a nice-looking picture, adhering to the patented simplicity of the Peanuts world, but mustering a bountiful supply of landscape and flora to spruce it up; and of course it wins points for using real children as the kids’ voices! One big debit, though, is the treatment of poor Franklin, who is given virtually nothing to say or do! I’ve always liked Franklin, so would that it were otherwise - and, I mean, just look at that poster! He doesn't even get his own little name-box! Shameful, says I! I give Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown two and a half corned willies!

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Burl reviews Crunch! (1979)

 


43, 27, 62, hut hut hut, it’s Burl, here to review an old-fashioned teen sex comedy which features plenty of football! Ha ha, this is a picture that sits right at the junction between the 1970s cheerleader pictures like The Pom Pom Girls and the 1980s antecedents like Porky’s! It’s perhaps best known under the ludicrous title The Kinky Coaches and the Pom Pom Pussycats, and also gets called Heartbreak High for no particular reason, but the title it was made under, which was also the title of the version I saw, is simply Crunch!

I guess that title refers to the clashing of football lines, because there’s quite a bit of that particular sport in this picture! The funny thing is, despite being a study of two rival schools for whom football glory means everything, which is a state of mind we associate uniquely with the United States, and indeed being explicitly set in the States, though the specific state or town is left unnamed, this is in fact a Canadian picture! It therefore has a strangely ersatz quality, a feeling of community playacting, and in no scene is this more apparent than late in the movie when the football teams are supposed to be singing the Star Spangled Banner and it’s obvious that nobody on screen knows the words! Ha ha!

Inasmuch as there exists a narrative, it concerns the football rivalry between the City High Moose (no doubt a typical American team name, ha ha!) and the Johnson High Eagles! The Moose are coached by a deep-voiced hard case called Bulldog, played by John Vernon from Sweet Movie and Curtains and Fraternity Vacation, who has a pathological attachment to a pair of long johns he feels he must wear for his team to win! Coaching the Eagles is the considerably more easy-going Arnoldi, essayed by Robert Forster from Alligator, The Banker, and The Descendants! Meanwhile a sportscaster played by Norman Fell from Bullitt, The Graduate, and Catch-22 prowls around trying to get interviews with the coaches about the big upcoming game!

We get to know some of the students on both of the teams, and none of them are particularly likeable! The Eagles’ star quarterback and general BMOC is Gary Leonard, played by Kimberly McKeever from Scanners and Visiting Hours, and he’s one of those possessive, inconstant boyfriends, who tries to get his girlfriend to forget about her causes and just play bohankie with him! His Moose counterpart and personal rival is Plitt, played by Thom Haverstock from Hog Wild and Terror Train, an oily creep who pretends to care about causes in a bid to make sweet love to Gary’s girlfriend! Anthony Sherwood from City on Fire and Wild Thing is in there, and there’s a gross guy called Pigger who snorts and oinks a lot, and sits down so hard on a cream pie that the entire Eagles team is covered in futz!

There are pranks and inter-team one-upmanships, and the Eagles successfully steal Coach Bulldog’s precious long johns! There’s a crazy sports-themed sex scene involving Forster going practically crazy with lust, and a game of strip-poker held in a boogie van that simultaneously recalls many moments in the Crown International filmography while predicting others in the rush of 80s teen sex comedies to come! In the middle of it all there’s a rather sweet-natured scene in which Forster and Vernon, evidently upholding a longstanding tradition, share a pre-game drink and wish each other good luck on the gridiron! 

It’s all pretty lackluster, though! Fell gives a grimly un-Roperish performance as the sportscaster, which leads one to wonder why he’s there at all! The direction is artless and the humour pretty muted, and the climactic football game seems to go on forever! Ha ha, football’s a pretty boring game to watch on screen, I always find - even the game in M*A*S*H gets a little tedious! I won’t say I didn’t enjoy parts of Crunch, because I did; but in the end, I can’t give it more than one unicycle-riding chicken!

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Burl reviews Conspiracy Theory! (1997)

 


Hi there and hello, it’s Burl! Now, I’ll say this right off the bat: the movie I’m reviewing for you today is Conspiracy Theory, and the whole entire review could simply read “Ha ha! This is a terrible movie!” and that would be the end of it! But I feel I’d be betraying the Reviewer’s Code of Ethics if I did that! Mind you, I’ve done it before, in another persona as a paid movie reviewer, but now that I’m Burl, I’m really going to try to maintain some kind of standards here!

The fact remains that Conspiracy Theory is a terrible movie! I had some hopes for it back when I first saw it in 1997 - I can’t recall if I reviewed it then, but I’m pretty sure I saw it at some kind of preview screening, so I probably did! I do remember thinking it was a pretty sour fardel, and I think my hopes for it came from the fact that Richard Donner was still at that time considered a pretty solid action director, thanks to the Lethal Weapon pictures (even though each one was poorer than the last, ha ha!), and of course the picture was written by Brian Helgeland, who’d written A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master!

Plus the whole idea of a suspense/action picture revolving around conspiracy theories sounded like it had real possibilities, much as the idea of a horror movie based on urban legends sounded good! But, like Urban Legend, Conspiracy Theory doesn’t do much more than pay lip service to its titular phenomenon and then go its own way!

Mel Gibson from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome plays a cabbie with a head full of skunkfire who jabbers endlessly to his passengers about this nutty theory or that one; meanwhile, he stalks and bothers Alice Sutton, a pretty woman who works in the Justice Department and who is played by Julia Roberts from Mystic Pizza and Ocean’s Eleven! He publishes a conspiracy newsletter with a circulation of five, and apparently one of the theories he’s published is real, and so a rogue government psychologist played by Patrick Stewart from Dune and Lifeforce kidnaps him to find out what he knows! But Gibson puts a nose-biting on him, and then the chase is on!

The chase stays on for the rest of the picture, but not in a way that offers blazing excitement to the viewer! Oh sure, Donner is a foursquare professional and knows very well what he’s doing, and so the picture is made with slick Hollywood aplomb! But all that aplomb is in the service of a movie that's little more than a sort of stalker fantasy-apologia!

There are a few appealing performances in the picture! Cylk Cozart, who played another federal agent in In the Line of Fire, is a personable FBI agent who keeps getting clonked on the head; Terry Alexander from Day of the Dead and The Horror Show is in there too, not doing his Jamaican accent; and of course we have Julia Roberts, who is not without her natural charms, but is cruising on autopilot here, as though she alone recognizes the true worth of the material! The central performance here is Gibson’s, and while I think we can all agree it’s highly annoying, it is uncontestably a performance, a skillful assemblage of jerks and pops and clicks housed in the skinsuit of a man with a head full of cracklin' bran topped by a black woolen toque! Of course, based on what we now know of Gibson, one must ask whether this was a performance or a rehearsal! Ha ha!

In conclusion, I can only say that Conspiracy Theory is a noisy, vacant thriller with some pizazz and wit, but not enough to offset the overlength, the irritating energy it radiates, and the vacuum at its core! I give the picture one wheelchair poking!

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Burl reviews Evil Dead II! (1987)



Hi, groovy friends, and happy June - it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review an old favourite, a movie as comfy and familiar as an old worn hoodie! It’s Evil Dead II, and for me it was a story of triumph, because in my neck of the woods, an R rating meant no one under 18 allowed in, whether with a parent or not! The trade-off was that movies were not often rated R, but when Evil Dead II showed up in my town, it did carry that restrictive rating! It played a huge, venerable old downtown moviehouse, just about the best venue possible, and so on opening night I showed up, aged maybe sixteen but determined not to be stopped! By sheer persuasive force of will, I and my friends all got in, employing the same deep, commanding growl as the teen wolf in Teen Wolf (which, by the way, I was once forced to see instead of Return of the Living Dead because I did not yet know the trick Teen Wolf was about to teach me), and entered the cinema to find a big crowd just as pumped as we were to see it!

I’ve gone and immersed myself in nostalgia now, and I’m rambling; but the point is that seeing Evil Dead II on a huge screen on opening night with a large responsive crowd can be, and was, a formative experience for a young man! And I’ll admit this without hesitation: my review of it will probably not entirely be able to escape that cherished memory!

Of course it’s one of those half-remakes, half-sequels, as was the case with Phantasm II: intended equally to please fans of the original Evil Dead as well as people who’ve barely heard of it! Those of us who’d seen the first one knew the story of Ash and his friends and their holiday weekend at the old cabin in the woods, and the Book of the Dead and its demon-bothering passages! At the beginning of the new one Ash arrives at the cabin again, this time with just his girlfriend, and some audiences were confused as to how he could be stupid enough to return to the same cabin and play the same tape recording all over again! Ha ha!

But of course even Ash isn’t that dumb - it’s just a retelling of a similar story with the same character! Ash awakens the demons by playing the old professor’s tape recordings, his girlfriend is possessed, then he is, and he flies through the forest and bangs into trees, and later there’s a remarkable comedio-horror scene involving his hand! New characters arrive, a hideous bloblike basement dweller plagues them all, and many Three Stooges gags are cleverly retooled in shock-horror settings! Ash’s hand causes many problems, as does an overalls-clad hillbilly; but eventually a vortex is opened in the fabric of time-space and by the end of the movie we are left with the setup for the third film in the series, Army of Darkness!

You’ll notice I haven’t said much about the plot, and that’s because everyone knows the plot, and anyway there is no plot! Ha ha! It’s all about the gags and the trick effects (which are plentiful and impressive) and Sam Raimi’s living camera, which prowls around and spins and pushes in aggressively at just the right moments, and the performance of Bruce Campbell as the punishment-absorbing Ash! Ha ha, you can tell that Campbell himself absorbed no small amount of punishment in the shooting of this picture, and that just makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable! Sorry, Bruce! Hopefully he had it easier in later pictures like Maniac Cop, The Hudsucker Proxy, Escape From L.A., and Congo!

I find it all highly entertaining, and I think I always will! Evil Dead II may come off to some as just an exercise in trick effects and camera style and silly gaggery, and I can’t call that position unreasonable, but to me that’s a formula for success, at least in this specific case! Ha ha, I’m as fond as can be of Evil Dead II and I give it three and a half work sheds!

Friday, 28 May 2021

Burl reviews Jet Pilot! (1957)

 


Up up and away, it’s Burl, here to review aeronautical derring-do! Ha ha, we’re all familiar with the Duke, which is to say John Wayne, and his many horse operas, from Randy Rides Alone to Rio Bravo! But in today’s picture he’s bestride a different sort of saddle: the pilot’s seat of the latest in jet fighter technology! The picture in question is titled, with admirable prosy, Jet Pilot!  

The Duke stars as Jim Shannon, one of the Air Force’s top wingsmen! When a pretty pilot called Anna, played by Janet Leigh from Halloween H20 and The Fog, drops into the Alaskan air base run by General Jay C. Flippen (an actor we may recall from Thunder Bay) and requests political sanctuary, Shannon is enlisted to keep her company! They fly around together and of course fall in love! Ha ha, but is she truly sweet Anna, wholeheartedly wanting to defect, or is she the duplicitous Olga, sent in order to lure the lovestruck Duke back to Mother Russia?

The answer, it turns out, is “both!” But there’s a lot of back and forth along the way, and plans within plans, and chumps made on both sides! Ha ha, Anna and Shannon even get married, and you know what that means - blanket hornpipe! Considering the political leanings of both the Duke and of Howard Hughes, who produced, or anyway “presents” the picture, we can be pretty sure from the start which side will prevail! In the meantime, some fun is made of Anna’s socialist values, as when she notes that a hotel suite is far too large for just two people, so invites a number of other, including Paul Fix from Night of the Lepus, to bunk with them!

Ha ha, the picture was released in 1957, but a little research taught me that it was shot in 1950, so that all the cutting-edge technology it wanted to show off had long passed its sell-by date! At this remove of course that doesn’t matter much, and so we’re left with a whole heck of a lot of excellent flying footage, with the pilots doing little rollover tricks, and voiceover radio chat between “A for Anna” and “S for Shannon!” But the aeronauts seem to fly everywhere all the time, and it eventually gets tiresome!

When the Duke follows his bride back to Russia, he finds Hans Conried from Summer Stock, The Monster that Challenged the World and The Twonky running the show, and that Anna has reverted to her more Soviet persona, Olga! She flips back and forth between these identities, even seeming to change her hair colour sometimes, and I found it as confusing as the Duke did! Leigh’s character is as split as that of her later co-star in Psycho, ha ha, and when she starts casually murdering people at the end, by tricking them into pulling ejection seat handles at inopportune moments for example, she seems more a narrative instrument than a character at all!

A funny thing about Jet Pilot is that it was directed, nominally at any rate, by Josef Von Sternberg! Ha ha! It really doesn’t seem like his sort of picture, and the picture itself doesn’t seem much like it was directed by von Sternberg! Still and all, that’s a pretty interesting fact! Hughes was the real auteur here, I suppose! But the overlapping part of a Hughes/von Sternberg Venn diagram is eroticism, and somehow this is a strangely sexy movie! Leigh looks great in her flight suit; she loses her harem pants at one point and is almost spotted trouserless by a marching band; and after their marriage, there are several references to the notion that Leigh and Wayne are doing nothing besides bohankie all the day long! It starts right from the beginning, as the Duke observes Leigh warming her bum at a stove and musing “This might be some new form of Russian propaganda!”

 

 

The flying scenes are impressive, but too long and too numerous; the geopolitics are childish and binary of course; and the characters are little more than blank figures moved around the landscape like quoits! It’s entertaining in its 1950s way, but seems more an interesting relic than a piece of cinema! But if you like watching jets fly around, this is the motion picture for you! I give Jet Pilot one and a half barrel rolls!

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Burl reviews Marked for Death! (1990)


 

With a hapkido hello, it’s Burl, here to review midbudget action! I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Steven Seagal Three Word Title series, inaugurated by Above the Law in 1989 and maintained through to the year 1991 by equally dopey movies like Hard to Kill, Out for Justice, and today’s picture, Marked for Death!

Now, as you might guess, I don’t hold Seagal in terribly high regard, either as an action hero or as a person, based on what I’ve heard! But of course it’s not always the best idea to form an opinion based on rumour and innuendo! Such rumour and innuendo as there is insists that he’s a big blowhard who treats people terribly and plays up some kind of mob connections! Ha ha, I don’t know how much of that is true, but the personal qualities it implies are clearly detectable in his screen presence!

Marked for Death opens with Seagal’s character, John Hatcher, in Mexico, running down good old Danny Trejo of Con Air fame, shooting up a drugs den, and acting like even more of a jerk than he usually does, even to his putative partners! It turns out that at least some of this jerkiness is part of the performance, as we next see Hatcher in a confessional, telling the priest he doesn’t want to be such a knob any more! Ha ha, then he quits his job with the DEA, though his boss, played by good old Peter Jason from Prince of Darkness, doesn’t want to hear about it!

Next the ponytailed ex-cop heads for his home territory of Chicago, where he visits his sister and her family and hooks up with his longtime buddy Max, played by good old Keith David from They Live! He finds, to his dismay, that the old neighbourhood has been taken over by Jamaican drugs gangs, or “posses,” and Max is already prepared to take them on! A dread mon called Screwface, played by Basil Wallace from Return of the Living Dead III, is behind it all, and is much feared in the drugs gang community for his brutality and his voo-doo!

Seagal struts around looking ridiculous in dumb clothes he designed, or anyway chose, and speaking dumb words that he wrote, or claimed to, and wearing just the dumb expression you’d expect from, say, a caveman being shown a flashy card trick! In most of his movies, thanks to the crushing insecurity he feels every day, Seagal’s slapfight style involves mainly him delivering beatings on people and twisting limbs here and there, while never so much as feeling the brush of his opponent’s fingertips ‘pon his cheek! Here he at least gets a few bonks, and finds himself in a couple of sticky situations, as when the drugs gang crushes his beautiful Mustang with him inside, then tosses a Molotov cocktail in with him, or when they tie him down and prepare to sacrifice him to Damballa or someone similar!

Other characters include Joanna Pacula from Gorky Park and Black Ice, playing some kind of ill-defined expert who gets a crush on the kung-fu blockhead and is completely forgotten about by the end of the movie; and Tom Wright, the hitchhiker from Creepshow 2, playing a Jamaican cop on the hunt for Screwface so the movie can claim not to simply be a 90 minute anti-Jamaica slur! Other attempts to ward off criticisms the filmmakers clearly expected include a small speech about the tough lives led by the underclasses of Kingston, a little note at the tail end of the credits reading “The posse phenomenon is estimated to be a fraction of one percent of the Jamaican population and should not detract from their country or the contributions Jamaicans have made to this country,” and a cameo appearance by Jimmy Cliff of Club Paradise fame! But it all still seems a little bit mean!

It’s a pretty poor show, but it has a few pleasures! Seagal and his awful outfits have camp value of course, and the action is sometimes okay, sometimes ho-hum, but there are Special Makeup Effects, which I always like to see in an action movie! Ha ha, some of them, like a fake head for an eye-gouging scene, are a bit ropey, but that somehow makes them even better! Lots of early-90s action pictures seem coughed in from the 80s, and this, with its Reefer Madness-like sophistication about drugs and its hero who forswears violence only to renege immediately his loved ones are threatened, is certainly one of them!

It’s full of Jamaican accents and patois that are as phony as the bad guy’s blue eyes, and while it might be one of Seagal’s goriest movies (there’s a hand chopped off, a head chopped off, the requisite broken limbs and of course the eye gouge), it’s also one of his stupidest, and that’s really saying something! I give Marked for Death one inscrutable hand signal!