Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Burl reviews La piscine! (1969)


 

Hé-ho, c’est Burl, here to review a film about the very French! Yes, I’m languorously languishing on a chaise longue on the Côte d'Azur, most of the buttons on my white cotton shirt undone, Ray-Bans in place, Gauloise between my fingers, thinking inscrutably existential thoughts! Ha ha, the scenario I’ve just described applies with some frequency to the movie I’m discussing: La piscine! 

Our setting is an estate just up the hill from the seaside, equipped with a lovely swimming pool and some spectacular views! Living here, though not themselves the owners, are a couple, Jean-Paul, played with typical handsomeness by Alain Delon from Un Flic, and Marianne, essayed in a more relatable performance by Romy Schneider from Purple Noon! They’re on vacation and have borrowed the house from acquaintances, and seem to be having a pretty romantic time of it, ha ha!

But things change when their pal Harry roars up in his peppy sports car! Harry, played by Maurice Ronet from Elevator to the Gallows, is an old friend of Jean-Paul’s, but also an ex-lover of Marianne’s, a history to which he constantly, winkingly refers! And he’s brought along his shrinking violet daughter Pénélope, played with extreme gorgeosity by Jane Birkin from the similarly sunny Evil Under the Sun! For a while this arrangement trundles along, with the quartet eating dinners, sitting around the pool, and so forth, and there’s even a brief party!

With its Mediterranean locations, beautiful people, and virtually the same cast, it strongly recalls Purple Noon, the more so when, eventually, there’s a murder! I won’t give things away, because part of the fun is the slow burn, during which you’re watching tensions and awkwardnesses ramp up slowly at first, and then quickly, and you wonder how exactly the tension is going to release! It’s not a suspense picture, nor a mystery, but both of those qualities are present, even if not in a form familiar to the fan of the detective genre!  

There is a detective, though! Paul Crauchet from Un Cercle Rouge turns up late in the picture as L'inspecteur Lévêque of Marseille, and he conducts his investigation with apparently all the craftiness of, say, Alastair Sim in Green For Danger, but with none of the results! Ha ha! There was something very realistic but also strangely laissez-faire about his police work, and I liked what that brought to the picture!

And I liked the relaxed continental pace of the movie, the wonderful décors, the contrast between its sunny look and its dim outlook, and, if I didn’t care much for the characters themselves, I appreciated what the actors brought to them! Everyone was good in their roles! When we learn that Jean-Paul has had some emotional problems in the past, and even tried his hand at suicide, Delon’s performance makes a little more sense; and the character of Harry is someone that we’ve all met in the past! And, ha ha, Birkin’s character is the most hilariously disaffected of all, despite not herself being French! Yes, as a slice of late-60s French Riviera life, the picture is nonpareil, though for some I suppose it will be too slow and uneventful! Me, I give La piscine three bottles of Johnny Walker Red!

Friday, 1 July 2022

Burl reviews Talking Walls! (1987)


 

Ha ha, it’s Burl - sheep room activated! Unfortunately, to know what that means you have to have seen Talking Walls, and you probably haven’t! That may be for the best, but I’ll be happy to tell you all you need to know about this curious picture so that you can decide for yourself!

Why is it curious? Well, first of all, it comes from a director whose previous picture, released almost a decade earlier, was a sort of gritty, downmarket On Golden Pond/Death Wish mash-up featuring Lee Strasberg and Ruth Gordon as an elderly couple trying to survive in a rapidly de-gentrifying Bronx! It was called Boardwalk, and in no way by watching it could you have predicted the coming, only nine years later, of Talking Walls!

Our alleged hero in this newer picture, Paul, is played as a real weirdo by Stephen Shellen from Gimme an ‘F’; and no wonder, because the character is indeed a big old motel-living, emotionally adolescent weirdo! He’s a sociology student trying to complete a PhD on “personal relationships” or some such bumblefuzz, and proposes to his professor, played by Barry Primus from Boxcar Bertha, that he gather his data by peeping on the various guests populating (on an hourly basis) the motel he lives at!

To this end he cuts through the motel walls and floors with a demented pervert’s energy, waving a skilsaw around and laughing maniacally as he installs his two-way mirrors and cameras! He records a parade of yolk-faced fartmongers as they play bohankie with ladies (some professionals, others not) in the various theme rooms! Yes, there’s a sheep room, and the theme in there appears to be sheep, but not erotic garter-wearing sheep as we saw in Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (but were afraid to ask)! There’s also a car room, a shoe room, and some others I can’t rightly remember!

So he observes, but is such a poor scholar and abjectly stupid person that he learns absolutely nothing, for which his professor regularly upbraids him! “But I have all the latest equipment!” whines Paul! “It’s got to tell me somethin’ about how people are feelin’!” Meanwhile, the motel guests keep up their performative erotica for the benefit of Paul’s cameras and thermographs, and the picture turns into a series of sexual skits, like If You Don't Stop It... You'll Go Blind!!! or one of those kinds of movies!

There are some familiar faces in the theme bedrooms! Sybil Danning from Howling II, Karen Leigh Hopkins from The Running Man, June Wilkinson from The Bellboy and the Playgirls, and Sally Kirkland from Hometown U.S.A. are just some of the ladies; and the fellows include Don Calfa from Return of the Living Dead, Hunter Von Leer from Halloween II, Peter Liapis from Ghoulies, Mickey Jones from Starman, and Richard Partlow from Alligator! Ha ha, it’s quite a gang!

Finally Paul tries dating a real woman, who turns out to be a Pac-Man playing French lady he finds attractive! Her name is Jeanne, and she’s played by Marie Laurin from Creature, and there’s a long montage of them kissing in picturesque places to the sounds of the worst softrock song of all time! Ha ha, bleargh! Of course the relationship goes south when he won’t let her see his place, because then she’ll know what a desperate pervert he is! The old man who owns the motel – my favourite character by a long chalk, ha ha! – counsels flowers, so Paul steals the ones the old man had just bought his wife, and books the cloud room for his anticipated bohankie! But there’s a twist ending, and it drives Paul mad and has him huffing from a big glass pipe and hallucinating a sort of music video that declares him to be on “The Losing Side of Love!”

It’s a weird movie when you get down to it! The protagonist seems so daft and damaged, and his oddball nature infects the entire picture! He videotapes everything, so much of the movie is literally from his perspective, and it's not a perspective any sensible person wants! There are unexpected intrusions of actual craft now and then, but these only make the whole thing weirder, and in any case nothing could possibly overcome the intolerable character of Paul, a petulant, whiny sociopath who wears leather pants for a scene of dramatic climax, then ends up driving the streets yelling “FIND HER! FIND HER! WHERE IS SHE!” There's more after this - ha ha, it seems to go on and on - but it all eventually wraps up in what I suppose was meant to be a happy ending!

The picture feels about eight times longer than it really is! It’s an extremely curious and off-putting thing, with only the charming old man and the weirdness to make it even worth a mention! I can’t say for sure that it was worth watching, but, as with other bizzarities like Mid-KnightRider or The Worm Eaters, once it's over you know you’ve seen something most other people never will! I give Talking Walls one recalcitrant Coke machine!

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Burl reviews Land of the Dead! (2005)


 

Urrgh, groww, gnarr, it’s Burl shuffling at you with a zombie movie to review! And not just any old zombie movie, but one from the acknowledged grandmaster, George A. Romero, who of course brought us Creepshow and many other horror entertainments! And Creepshow had zombies – three of them, to be precise – but it’s the …of the Dead series for which this beardsman is most thoroughly celebrated! The one under review today is the biggest-budgeted of them all: Land of the Dead!

I’m a very big fan of Night of the Living Dead and especially Dawn of the Dead – ha ha, a great favourite, that one! Then, when Day of the Dead came out, and played at the grandest movie theatre in town when I was but fourteen years old, I managed to sneak in to see it opening night, and even got myself one of the promotional badges they were handing out! It was a night of great triumph: the first time I successfully sneaked in to an R rated movie; and so Day of the Dead stands as a sentimental favourite and always will! And so, as you can imagine, when Land of the Dead came along twenty years later I was pretty excited to see it too!

So I rushed out to the movie theatre, and what I beheld there was this: a slick, enjoyably meaty zombie picture with a nicely Romeroesque political dimension to it – ha ha, in other words, almost exactly what I was hoping for! Still, it’s never ascended to the pantheon occupied by the first two in the series! It’s a lot more lighthearted than Day of the Dead, though, which, with all its yelling, is a movie that can really harsh your mellow! On the other hand, I quite enjoy the picture! But we’re here to talk about Land of the Dead, aren’t we! Yes, ha ha!

Our story once again begins some unspecified amount of time after the zombie apocalypse, and society in Pittsburgh is bifurcated between the regular folk, who live in dirty slums where they indulge in every vice and yet keep it together enough to provide the children with puppet shows, and the rich, who dwell in comfort, as though nothing had ever changed, in a big tower called Fiddler’s Green! This edifice is run by Kaufman, who’s played by an unusually reserved Dennis Hopper, an actor we recall from My Science Project and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2!

Pittsburgh gets its supplies by means of night raids on nearby towns that have been overrun by zombies but still have shops full of canned goods and booze! Simon Baker from Red Planet plays Riley, the good guy who designed and is in charge of the main raiding vehicle, which they call Dead Reckoning! This conveyance, an armored truck thing reminiscent of the Landmaster from Damnation Alley, can shoot fireworks, machine guns, and mortars, and becomes the central item of interest as the movie progresses!

John Leguizamo from Die Hard 2 and Collateral Damage plays Cholo, the second-in-command who first works for Kaufman, then is snubbed by him, and so in his resentment becomes compelled to steal Dead Reckoning and threaten to shell the city with it! Riley, in the company of his old buddy Charlie, a puttyface played by Robert Joy from Amityville 3-D (and looking very much like he did in the final moments of that film), and his new friend Slack, a lady played by Asia Argento from The Church, form a repo gang who intend to get it back: not for Kaufman, whom they all dislike, but to save innocent lives in the slum zone! Meanwhile the zombies are being organized, after a fashion, by zombie liberation activist Big Daddy, a gaspumping zombie played by Eugene Clark from Trial & Error! As Riley and his bunch close in on Chulo, the zombies cross the river simply by walking across it under water, and the final battle for life, freedom, and Fiddler’s Green is under way!

The movie was released in the heart of the Bush years, in the midst of the war in Iraq, and serves pretty well as a political parable in the old Romero style! Hopper’s character is the Bush analogue of course, with Fiddler’s Green and Pittsburgh in general standing in for North America; while the zombies are the foreign hordes supposedly clamoring to destroy it or at least take it over! As political parables go it’s not subtle, and it lacks the lively cleverness of Dawn, but it’s still nice to see horror movies with subtext, even if that subtext isn’t very sub! Ha ha! And is it gory? Ha ha, you bet it is, especially in the unrated edition I just watched! You get face pullings, head stompings, all manner of grue!

The picture was shot in Toronto, not Pittsburgh, so the margins are filled with familiar Canadian actors like Earl Pastko from Roadkill, Robin Ward from Flick (supplying a mellifluous voiceover extolling the bourgeois virtues of Fiddler’s Green), Heidi von Palleske from Dead Ringers, and Boyd Banks from Crash! Of course Tom Savini, whose moustache-acting we’ll recall from movies like Creepshow 2 (where his moustache is prosthetically obscured, ha ha) and Innocent Blood, turns up in zombie form as the same biker, Mr. Machete, that he played in Dawn of the Dead!

It’s an entertaining and slick picture that suffers from thin characterizations (the hero’s defining personality trait is that he’s the hero, ha ha, and a pretty bland one at that) and is narratively underbaked! It doesn’t offer all the satisfactions I might have hoped for, but it still ticks plenty of boxes, and in spite of occasional moments of profound dumnitude, I think of the picture with fondness! I give Land of the Dead two and a half skyflowers!

Friday, 24 June 2022

Burl reviews Pulse! (1988)


 

Bzzt bzzt, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m going back to the 80s horror well today, reviewing a picture that’s well-regarded by aficionados of the form! It’s one of those so-called “safe horrors” with which the decade was so generously supplied, and it’s a PG-13 joint in the bargain, with an eleven year-old hero! It all takes place on a Spielbergian suburban street, and features a premise Stephen King might have rejected as too obvious! Ha ha, the picture is called Pulse!

It begins with suburbanite Bill, played by Cliff De Young from F/X and Secret Admirer, woken in the night by a kerfuffle across the way! It seems the mean old man across the street has gone nuts and is breaking up his house! The next day Bill’s son David, essayed by wee Joey Lawrence from Summer Rental, arrives for an extended summer visit and is welcomed with open arms and a racing-themed bedroom by Bill and his new wife Ellen, a non-wicked stepmom played by Roxanne Hart from Highlander!

It takes a little while, but weird happenings start to become evident! With the parents away, David tries to watch the ballgame, but all the blobs of solder in his TV go crazy and he’s reduced to listening to the game on the radio instead! Later a gas main breaks while David is trapped in the garage, and he’s nearly suffocated! Ellen begins to believe David’s assertion that something uncanny is happening with the utilities, but Bill, a staunch realist, refuses to accept it, and his position is backed up by the tradespeople who periodically come by to check things out! These are played by the likes of Damone from Fast Times and Joe from The Annihilators, and they offer boring explanations which only further convince Ellen and David that something supernatural must be afoot!

Meanwhile the kid next door, a walking bowl cut called Stevie played by Joey’s brother Matthew Lawrence from Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, gives David the lowdown on the mean old man across the way! And a weird old duck played by Charles Tyner from Best Seller pops up with dire warnings about an evil electrical pulse that makes its way from house to house! There’s also a subplot involving a VHS tape of Starman, which I’ll confess I didn’t really understand, but all this sets the scene for a shower scalding, and then David and Bill, now at last a team, wage a final battle with the hydro, the plumbing, and the natural gas!

As I say, this is a fondly-regarded movie, but I’m not entirely sure why! It’s well produced, with nice photography, including lots of macro images of crazed solder blobs, and good physical trick effects; but things never get as creepy as they should! The provenance and motivations of the dreadful pulse are never revealed, and that’s fine; but the ambiguity is not in the service of unease the way it ought to be! It also takes a while for things to get going, and the movie feels weirdly trapped on its one street location, and not in a way that increases the feeling of peril and imprisonment!

Still, the cast is good and it’s slickly made, and there are a few moments that might have you eyeing your own utilities askance! It’s similar in many ways to Bells, though with a supernatural rather than a revenge-based explanation, and like that picture it could have used a bit more pep! I certainly didn’t hate it, though, so I give Pulse two racecar beds!

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Burl reviews Hot Bubblegum! (1981)


 

Ya-da-da-da-da-da la bamba, it’s Burl, reviewing for you some Israeli teen sex comedy! Ha ha, the teen sex comedy was not born in Israel of course – there were American pictures like The Cheerleaders that came earlier – but it could be argued that the Holy Land’s Lemon Popsicle series of films codified the genre and put it into a shape that would become all-too common through the late 70s and well into the 80s! This one, the third in the series, is called Hot Bubblegum!

Boaz Davidson, who went on from this directly to Hospital Massacre, and thence to The Last American Virgin, which is nothing more or less than a Stateside version of a Lemon Popsicle picture, was the director of this one! It starts with a bang, introducing us to the central trio of idiots: Yftach Katzur as the ratfaced Benji; Jonathan Sagall as Bobby, the allegedly handsome one; and of course Zachi Noy as Huey, or Yudale, the ducktailed slobbo! There’s also a skinny little glasses nerd called Victor, but he doesn’t figure in much as the picture wears on!

Anyway, these three, plus occasionally Victor, are up to their usual hijinks, which in this case is spying on ladies changing in a beachside structure, and of course Yudale plunges through the roof and hits the floor with a grotesque slapping sound! Then a lady pummels him with a shoe and calls him a sex maniac – not the last time this will happen to Yudale in the movie, and for good reason – and he runs and jumps into a big hole dug in the sand, which his friends immediately fill up, trapping him like the unfortunates in Creepshow! Then a little kid pees in his face, ha ha!

Back in the old VHS days, my pals and I loved these opening scenes! We thought the movie was a real piece of work, and our nickname for the main character, Benji, was “Ratatouille!” Indeed he is quite a ratboy, and it’s hard to understand why the local girls seem so intent on dating him! The slim narrative through-line of the picture is Ratatouille’s inability to decide between committing to his sweet freckleface of a girlfriend Doris, or to carry on with the gap-toothed partygal Nikki! Why either one would give him the time of day is the picture’s great mystery!

I’ll tell you, these three guys are real jerks, and everything they do is some form of sexual assault! They’re peeping toms, they spike drinks, they lie, cheat, misrepresent in their neverending quest for bohankie; and when they’re called out on all this criminal dishonesty, they get pouty and surly, or at least Ratatouille does! He’s the pettiest, jerkiest, most childish character in a movie chock full of them, and greasier than a duck’s underwear too; and his dad, the old perv, is no better! The scenes in which a pulchritudinous cousin comes to stay with the family are cringy enough to cause cramps!

I’ve seen a few other Lemon Popsicle movies, namely Baby Love, Going Steady, and the army one, Private Popsicle, but can hardly recall a thing about them! I assume they’re equally off-putting, however, and probably don’t even have the microscopically small redemptive moments we find here, like the characters getting peed on in the face, or landing painfully on concrete, or whispering "a-doobee-doo" in each other's ears! Ha ha, re-watching this one (which took three or four viewing sessions, so gruelling was the experience) did not make me eager to have another look at any of the others! Maybe the first one, Lemon Popsicle, would be interesting to see for historical purposes, but on the other hand, probably not!

It’s not surprising to find in the opening credits that the English language soundtrack was supervised by Mel Welles, who of course played Abu Habib Bibubu in Smokey Bites the Dust! The soundtrack is chock full of Welles-isms, and several of the voices, especially the father, sound like old Mel must have performed them himself! Ha ha, he sure loved to do his Old Jewish Guy voice! It’s hard to fathom how this early Cannon work could have afforded to license the wall-to-wall hits that are constantly playing in the background (it’s the best use of “La Bamba” outside of Birdy, I have to admit), but maybe they just didn’t bother with all the technicalities, like the asking and the licensing and the paying! Ha ha, that’s Golan and Globus for you, I guess!

This is one stinky movie, but for the laughs it gave my friends and I back in the 80s, I guess I have to give it some small credit! Watching it now as a grown-ass man was a painful experience, however, and I don’t recommend it to anyone! It also manages to make the act of looking at nude ladies actively unpleasant – not because there’s anything wrong with the ladies, but because of the context and the way the scenes are shot! And there’s not much of that here anyway, so nude lady enthusiasts are encouraged to look elsewhere for their fix! In the meanwhile I’m going to award Hot Bubblegum one half of a pathetic shoe mirror!

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Burl reviews Crimes of the Future! (2022)


 

By the power of Rubbermaid, it’s Burl, here to review a brand-new David Cronenberg picture! Ha ha, for a while there I thought I’d never get to type those words, as it’s been some years since his last movie, Maps to the Stars, and I thought maybe he’d hung it up for good! But no! Here’s Canada’s beloved King of Venereal Horror back at it again with what amounts to a strange little Greatest Hits piece entitled Crimes of the Future! And what a pleasure it was to head out to the mall multiplex on a hot summer’s evening with my good old dad to see it! No, you don’t get to see a new Cronenberg movie in the theatre every day, ha ha!

Of course Cronenberg has already made a movie called Crimes of the Future – it was his second mid-length effort, sort of a companion piece to, or an echo of, Stereo! But this new one is something a little different – not at all a remake, though it does share some commonalities with that earlier artwork! This new picture tells the tale of a pair of performance artists, Saul and Caprice, whose performances revolve around the curious new organs Saul’s body spontaneously produces, and the surgical removal of same!

It’s all set presumably in the future, but in this picture the future looks a lot like the grimier regions of Greece! Viggo Mortensen from The Prophecy and several other Cronenberg pictures, like A Dangerous Method, plays Saul, and his performance seems made up in equal parts of coughing, gagging, hacking, horking, and sighs! Léa Seydoux from No Time to Die and Midnight in Paris is Caprice, who, like most people in this crazy world, no longer feels pain, and regards surgical invasion as an enticing new form of sex! Ha ha!

There are lots of characters, and when they’re off-screen and being talked about by Saul and Caprice, one loses track of who’s who, I’m afraid! Kristen Stewart from Clouds of Sils Maria and Don McKellar from Roadkill play employees of one of Cronenberg’s crazy bureaucratic organizations, as seen in earlier pictures like the 1970 Crimes of the Future! There we had the Canadian Centre for Erotic Inquiry, and here it’s the National Organ Registry; and the performances by Stewart and McKellar, as their characters fall deeper under the spell of art-surgery, are each highly entertaining!

Scott Speedman from Kitchen Party plays a bereaved father who leads the local cell of an underground movement of plastic-eaters; his son, perhaps the world’s first natural-born plastic eater, meets a sticky end in the picture’s opening moments! But he plays a pretty big part in subsequent events, as does the general habit of plastic eating! The authorities, represented here by a cop with a boil on his belly, are frightened by the plastic eating, and believe that such an evolutionary step is unauthorized and inadvisable, while the plastic eaters themselves think they’re the only possible solution to a world being steadily polluted by plastics! We’ve come a long way from The Graduate, ha ha!

In part, of course, the picture is about the crimes we are committing against the future, and a warning that the future is likely to commit crimes right back! And my feeling is that Cronenberg is fully on the side of the plastic-eating “criminals” in this case, but since they don’t exist, the true underlying message of the movie from its 79 year-old director is something in the line of “Ha ha, best of luck, everybody!”

And as I say, and as every other critic says too, the picture is very much a greatest hits package! We’ve got the belly slits of Videodrome, the underground fetishists of Crash, the interior beauty pageants of Dead Ringers, the organic machines of Naked Lunch and eXistenZ, even the toxic saliva of The Fly! I didn’t consider any of this to be lazy repetition or fan service or anything like that – for me, who’s been watching Cronenberg movies since he exploded (ha ha!) into my field of vision with Scanners in the early 1980s, it was just pure comedic pleasure! I can’t say this is my favourite Cronenberg picture (Videodrome will probably always be that), but I certainly enjoyed it! Those similarly predisposed should run out and see it if they haven’t already, secure in the knowledge that I’ve given Crimes of the Future three goofy breakfast chairs!

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Burl reviews Instant Justice! (1986)


 

Bang bang, it’ Burl, here to review a little manchego-flavoured mid-80s action for you! Ha ha, here’s yet another one of those movies that appeared on video shelves in the wake of Rambo: First Blood part II – pictures like Steele Justice or Born American or The Patriot or any number of others, in which a U.S. military tough guy exacts some payback in the name of Uncle Sam, or at least in the spirit of that personage if not with his official sanction! This particular variation on the theme is called Instant Justice!

As just about every viewer points out, nested as it is within a movie over a hundred minutes long, the justice here is far from instant! It does come eventually though – sort of! Our principal justice seeker is Sgt. Youngblood, who’s stationed in Paris, and in the opening moments of the picture manages to save a jogging ambassador from a pretty amateurish assassination attempt! Then he gets a call from his sister Kim, who’s apparently a high class professional party girl in Madrid, and during the call he gets the feeling his sister is in some kind of trouble! This proves true, for by the time he gets to Madrid, Kim is dead with cuts all over her face! Yowch, time for instant justice!

Sgt. Youngblood is played by Michael Paré with an absolute minimum of expression, inflection, and what we humans call “life!” Ha ha, Paré, is even more robotic here than he was in Streets of Fire or The Philadelphia Experiment, and though he does get pretty barky with the other characters, it still seems a little synthetic, like he's expressing an emotion he's heard about but never felt! The characters on the receiving end of his abuse include a fiveheaded photographer called Jake, who was a friend of Youngblood’s sister and who gives the Sarge the rundown on the picture’s baddies! These heavies are a Raul Julia-voiced bossman called Mr. Silke, and his nattily-dressed henchman Mr. Dutch, who was the party directly responsible for Kim's demise! Jake is played by Peter Crook from Bird, and he gives off a sort of combination Peter MacNicol/John Malkovich vibe that I thought improved the picture markedly!

The authorities are no help, of course: after the gun which Youngblood’s buddy in Paris inexplicably stashed in his luggage is taken away by airport security, and Youngblood has to be rescued by local officer Major Davis, he explains his problem and yells “If you can’t help me, WHO DA HELL CAN?!?” at a recalcitrant policeman! Youngblood gets into punchfights everywhere he goes, makes impolite demands of Jake, and eventually meets enormous-haired Tawny Kitaen, whom we recall from Witchboard and Bachelor Party, playing Virginia, another party girl in the sleazy employ of Mr. Silke! Jake, Virginia, and Youngblood ultimately form a team in opposition to the evil Silke/Dutch duo, but not without a constant stream of monotonic, monosyllabic haranguing, demanding, and guilt-tripping from Youngblood along the way!

Major Davis is played by the great Charles Napier, whom we know from several Russ Meyer pictures and even more Jonathan Demme films, like Last Embrace for example! Of course he was also in Rambo, which is no doubt why they wanted him in what amounts to the Richard Crenna part in this one! And of course, in accordance with Spanish law, there’s an appearance from Luis Bar-Boo, whom we know from Conan the Barbarian and so many other Spanish-shot pictures!

It’s a medium-cheap picture, but the Spanish (and apparently Gibralteric) location work helps it out! Ha ha, for such an all-American yankee-doodler (“The boldest, brashest, All-American movie this side of basic training,” according to the VHS box copy), the movie sure has a European flavor to it – I think even the director is French! I was glad for that, though, and as someone who has actually been in a bullfighting ring with a bull, I appreciated the scene where Jake helps Youngblood evade some authorities by releasing a pack of angry bulls!

There are lots of punchfights, but the action scenes are generally pretty rote; and the ultimate fate of Mr. Dutch – he’s driven into an airplane propeller while riding the hood of a yellow Trans-Am - is conceptually interesting, but ineptly staged! It could use more pep and style (or any style, actually!), and the acting and dialogue is mostly foul! It’s altogether typical VHS fodder from the 80s, but especially dumb in parts, and so I give Instant Justice one clothed shower!

Saturday, 11 June 2022

Burl reviews Cameron's Closet! (1988)


 

Hello closeteers, it’s Burl, here to catch up on some 1980s horror I missed the first time around! Or else I may have seen it and then completely forgotten it, ha ha! At any rate, I got my hands on a VHS copy of Cameron’s Closet and recently watched it, and I’m here to tell you all about it!

It comes from the director of He Knows You’re Alone and The Supernaturals, and I suppose it represents a slight step up from those works! It’s a bit more elaborate at any rate, but not to any great effect I’m afraid! The picture opens by introducing us to Cameron, a ten year-old boy with astonishing psychic powers who’s being studied by his father and a scientist pal! Cameron can put marbles in a jar or rearrange plastic letters merely by will alone, ha ha, but evidently his talents also extend to raising evil closet demons!

This is where his dad, played by Tab Hunter from pictures like Ride the Wild Surf and The Kid From Left Field, and the researcher pal, essayed by Chuck McCann from Herbie Rides Again and Lunch Wagon – in truth a good actor, but also the poor man’s Robert Prosky – start to get worried! Soon Tab is dead, his head cut off by an errant machete, and Cameron is off to live with his mom, played by Kim Lankford from Malibu Beach! The mom has a meathead boyfriend who venerates his car above all else, and one night he gets his eyes burned out and is fired out Cameron’s bedroom window as though from a cannon, landing of course, ha ha, on his beloved car!

Well this brings Detective Talliaferro, played by Cotter Smith from The Post, in on the Cameron closet case! He’s been having waking closet nightmares, which annoys his partner Leigh McCloskey (from Inferno and Fraternity Vacation), and is being forced to attend sessions with police psychiatrist Dr. Nora Haley, played by Mel Harris from Wanted: Dead or Alive! After Talliaferro’s partner runs afoul of the demon in Cameron’s closet, the investigation is on, and after further deaths, including one by interior superboil, and a near-chopping by ceiling fan of Cameron himself, the final confrontation is on!

Ha ha, this is an American picture, but there are a lot of Italian names in the credits, and the pastaland influence is everywhere evident! Cameron himself isn’t an evil child, but there are enough glowing eyes and psychic shenanigans to recall The Visitor (though it never gets as loopy, of course, because what could), and Cameron himself is terrorized nearly as much as little Bob in The House by the Cemetery! Thanks to the competent work of later-to-be-superstar cinematographer Russell Carpenter and a generally solid set of actors (even Cameron is pretty good!), the movie rises above its budget; but it’s when the demon itself comes onto the scene that things falter! He’s a creation of Carlo Rambaldi, who brought us such lovable animatronics as E.T., but on this job I think he may have been a bit drunk! The thing looks like a big raisin with teeth, as though he brought his creature from Possession out of a long, imperfect storage and gave it a quick coat of red-brown housepaint before shoving it in front of the camera! Ha ha!

It’s narratively incoherent, frequently derivative, and often stupid, but it’s got some zest and pizazz here and there, with the eyeless meathead shooting out the window a particular highlight! The trick makeup effects range from mannequin-style (the machete decapitation) to sort of scary (a smiley zombie creature), but are pretty delightful at either extreme! It’s dumbbell horror and there’s no denying it, but I give Cameron’s Closet two refitted He-Man dolls anyway!

Friday, 20 May 2022

Burl reviews Grand Theft Auto! (1977)


 

Vroom, vroom, eerrrrkkkk! Ha ha, that’s ol’ Burl burning out with a good old-fashioned car crash picture for you! Well, we all know the story: Ron Howard, the well-known ginger who would later direct pictures like Apollo 13, was, back in 1976, only an aspiring film director, and he asked Roger Corman if he could direct a movie for Corman’s company New World Pictures! “Ha ha,” Corman told him, “you sure can, just as long as you’ll first star in an item called Eat My Dust!” Well, Howard said yes to that, and then the next thing you know he was co-writing (with his dad Rance), starring in, and directing a movie called Grand Theft Auto!

When I was maybe eight or nine I’d have told you this was my favourite movie! It was on TV regularly I guess, and I sure did love all the car crashes, ha ha! But some time during that period my family happened to be hosting a bunch of people we barely knew, who’d been displaced because of a forest fire in their little town; and one evening they proposed going to a movie, Being There, and invited me along! I was torn because Grand Theft Auto was on TV that night! But ultimately I opted for Being There, and I think that experience might have been profoundly formative: an introduction to a level of movie quality of which I’d been previously unaware!

I still appreciated Grand Theft Auto, though, and liked it again when I re-watched it the other day with my son, who's at the perfect age for Grand Theft Auto appreciation! It tells the tale of a young couple, Sam, played by the young Howard, and Paula, played by Nancy Morgan from The Nest! This doesn’t sit well with her richie-rich parents, who want her to marry a wealthy dork called Collins Hedgeworth, a role essayed by Paul Linke! He of course is well known from Moving Violation, Motel Hell, and his many appearances on CHiPs! Paula’s parents are played by Barry Cahill from The Groundstar Conspiracy, as her blowhard dad Bigby; and Elizabeth Rogers, who’d been involved in this sort of vehicular nonsense before in The Van, plays her mother!

Now one of the best moves Howard made, and probably one of the reasons I was so taken with it as an eight year-old, is that the action in this picture starts right from the get-go! There’s a short argument scene with the parents, then the girl steals her father’s Rolls Royce and it’s off to the races without a whole bunch of needless blah blah blah! I felt the same thing about that other big 1977 release, Star Wars – ha ha, I thought to myself, finally a movie that starts at the beginning! And as for Grand Theft Auto, except for a pointless argument scene between Sam and Paula late in the picture, it doesn’t let up ‘til the end!

Boy, they sure crashed a lot of cars in this picture! It’s pretty impressive on a Roger Corman budget, I must say! Paula and Sam (who spends most of the movie in the passenger seat, presumably to make it easier for him also to direct the movie) point the Rolls toward Las Vegas in a bid to secure a quickie wedding, and immediately become folk heroes thanks to the interest in their case taken by radio DJ Curly Q. Brown, played of course by The Real Don Steele, whose voice we know from his vocal appearances as Screamin’ Steve Stevens in Rock n’ Roll High School and Rockin’ Ricky Rialto in Gremlins! They’re also being chased by an ever-increasing number of people including but not limited to Paula’s parents; a bunch of private eyes or something in their employ; Collins Hedgeworth of course, and, separately, his mother (played by Mrs. Cunningham, natch); a pair of fortune-hunting mechanics; and police! Also worked in there is the requisite and always welcome Paul Bartel cameo!

It’s a pretty auspicious directorial debut, ha ha! There are crack-ups aplenty and the pace is good and quick! The story doesn’t amount to much, and the intra-lovebird conflict is highly manufactured and annoying, and Dick Miller should be in here somewhere but mysteriously isn’t; yet it’s nevertheless a breezy and entertaining little picture! And of course I feel a lot of residual affection from my prepubescent ardour for the movie, and, strangely, gratitude too, for I associate it with my viewing of Being There and subsequent entry into a wider world of movie appreciation! Grand Theft Auto, in this view, was not just something I appreciated, but something I had to overcome before becoming able to broaden my world! I still like the picture though, ha ha, and I give it three homemade lovewagons!

Saturday, 14 May 2022

Burl reviews Roadkill! (1989)


Beep beep, it’s Burl, here to bring you a road movie! Now, ha ha, road movies are a thing I like – in fact, I sort of made one myself once! And I’ve always enjoyed pictures like Wenders’s Kings of the Road and Bergman's Wild Strawberries and Capra's It Happened One Night and Reiner's The Sure Thing! Of course Canada, being so big, has made its share of road pictures, and in the proud Canadian tradition of Goin’ Down the Road, here comes Bruce McDonald’s first feature, Roadkill!

It’s a little black-and-white picture with an appealingly homemade quality! Our heroine is Ramona, played by Valerie Buhagiar from Johnny Shortwave, and she's a mild-mannered intern at a Toronto rock promotion company! Her psychotically truculent boss Roy, essayed by Gerry Quigley from eXistenZ, orders her up to northern Ontario to search out a rock band, the Children of Paradise, who’ve turned up missing in the middle of their tour! Last known location: Sudbury! Ha ha, remember Between Friends? Or Corpse Eaters? Sudbury!

An important point is that Ramona can’t drive, so she has to figure out how to get from Toronto to Sudbury, and she ends up in a cab driven by a garrulous stoner filled with tales of driving rock stars into adventures! She finds three quarters of the Children of Paradise easily, and their drummer, the sleepiest guy ever, is played by Earl Pastko from Heads; but after telling her their frontman Matthew has disappeared on a vision quest, they ditch Ramona and point their dirty van deeper into the wilderness! But Ramona will not be deterred from her quest to round them all up, and she follows, learning along the way both to drive and to assert herself!

There’s a natural episodic quality to a road movie, and Roadkill leads with its chin right into that structure! The episodes are framed around the different men Ramona meets on her journey: first the cabbie; then a documentary director played by McDonald himself, who was looking for the band but now wants to make his own movie with Ramona the star; then Russel, an aspiring serial killer played by Don McKellar from the new Cronenberg picture Crimes of the Future (but not the old Crimes of the Future!); then a wandering ice cream man who turns out to be the missing Matthew; then a smiley fifteen year-old with whom Ramona dances at a headlight party held at the local drive-in!

I won’t say what happens at the end, because it’s fairly surprising, but I will reveal that it involves Roy the perpetually shouty music promoter, and a load of blood capsules and bullet squibs! And then, ha ha, one of the film’s greatest coups: a surprise cameo appearance from none other than Joey Ramone, who plays probably the only role he could ever play, himself, just as he did in Rock n’ Roll High School! He’s got more dialogue here than he did in the Arkush picture, so those who love Joey’s mooshy newyawk speaking voice are in for a treat, ha ha!

Of course McDonald would go on to make more road pictures after this: Highway 61 and the great Hard Core Logo, and I hope to review both of those in the not-too-far-off future! It’s all superb Canadiana for those who appreciate that niche, and I recommend this loose trilogy with all possible earnestness! Roadkill is not the best of them, but it's good – it can be a bit rough around the edges, a bit precious, and I wasn’t wild about the little flattened critters, but hey, just look at the title! Can't say I wasn't warned! It’s got many a great little moment and it’s set in a world I find highly recognizable, so on the whole I enjoyed it tremendously! And I also appreciate that after the movie won an award for Most Outstanding Canadian Film at the Toronto International Film Festival, McDonald told everybody in his acceptance speech that he would spend the prize money on a big chunk of hash! Ha ha! I give Roadkill three tape decks and a good supply of dope!