Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Monday 31 October 2011

Burl reviews Halloween! (1978)

Ha ha, it’s Burl here to review a seasonal classic! It’s hard to imagine the landscape of cinema without this movie in it – it’s so basic and primal, it feels like this was the movie that had to be made before any more complex horror pictures could be attempted! Of course that’s not how it works, and glad I am of that, but still and all I do mean that as a complement to this fantastic low-budget horror phenomenon!
I don’t need to tell you the plot, do I? Ha ha, babysitters are stalked by a masked madman! Yes, that’s it! Mr. Michael Myers puts on his unpainted William Shatner mask, gets himself a kitchen knife and starts poking away! He puts a poking on his very own sister in the movie’s opening moments, and you’ve got to feel sorry for her because after all, her boyfriend just gave her the quickest rogering known to man, or should I say to woman, ha ha!
I’ll tell you, when it comes to movies like this – and there were an awful lot of them in the years following this one, let me assure you! – I always enjoy the part before the killings, where the characters are just hanging out and doing their thing! And these babysitters are a pretty likeable bunch, real classic 70s gals! It’s great that a couple of obviously popular girls hang out with a donkey girlscout like Jamie Lee Curtis! Ha ha, and John Carpenter sure was lucky to find her too, because who else could have pulled off saying “Well kiddo, I thought you outgrew superstition” to herself! Very few!
I like to think that if I was in high school with Laurie Strode, I would have taken her out on a date, not like that Ben Tramer! He obviously didn’t know a good thing when he saw it, and anyway, didn’t he get totaled in Halloween II? I think he did, ha ha! So I could have been the one if only I’d been there! And another thing, isn’t Annie a peach? She was great, even if she was the kind of girl who would babysit for the sort of people who do their laundry in a shed! And then the way she got stuck in the window was maybe not so believable, but it was pretty cute! She’s such a laid back gal, and she does funny jokes as well, like when she says “I have a place for that,” or, about her cynical cop of a father, “He shouts, too!”
Of course what everyone remembers from the movie is the scenes of Michael attacking Laurie in the house, and those are pretty darn good! I’ve seen this movie so many times I can’t even remember what my reaction was the first time I saw it, but I like to think I was right in there appreciating the suspense! The scenes where Michael’s white mask just melts out of the darkness are creepy no matter how many times you see them, though!
A lot of people give this movie some guff because it’s not very gory! Well, the sequel made up for that a little bit, and anyway, I never missed the gore, not really! Sure, a little bit of tomato paste and some Special Makeup Effects might have been nice, but when you get the great performances, the nice photography and the fine direction, what more do you want, really! Mr. Donald Pleasance, who once essayed the role of Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, was excellent as the grump of a doctor who wanted to keep Michael locked away forever and always!
Anyway, these are a pretty scattershot bunch of observations, because after all everyone else has reviewed this movie too, but it’s always fun to watch and to think about, which I do just about every Halloween! I don’t even mind that it was shot in Los Angeles in the summer instead of Illinois in the fall, because they do get some dried leaves and denuded trees in there, and there’s only occasionally a palm tree or bit of California architecture lurking in the deep background! I award this marvelous horror picture four post-coital beers served up by glasses guys in sheets! Ha ha!

Burl reviews The Haunting! (1963)

Ha ha, hi, it’s Burl here, reviewing another movie for my blog, and whoever reviews here, reviews alone! Ha ha, even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to review! But for now, let’s have a look at the original film version of The Haunting!
Of course it was based on Ms. Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, which is a corker! Naturally it made for a spooky movie, and thank goodness the making of it was taken up by someone with at least a passing acquaintance with the films of Val Lewton, which is to say the director Robert Wise! Of course, Wise had more than a passing acquaintance with Lewton’s works, having directed one and a half of them, but I’d still like to see the film Jacques Tourneur would have made of it! That’s a bit churlish of me to say, since Wise did a fine job, but it’s still fun to speculate!
The Haunting is a classic haunted house movie, perhaps the template for the particular strain of them that I especially love! I really appreciate those movies where an investigative team is assembled which includes a heady admixture of psychics, skeptics and scientists, and where there’s a scene in which everybody sips port in the parlor as they listen to the unsavory history of the house they’re investigating! And after that, it’s on! Boogety-boogety of all sorts is unleashed!
There are other movies in this vein, including The Legend of Hell House and The Evil, and of course a reportedly misbegotten remake of The Haunting which I’ve never seen; but of them all this might be the one to beat! The main character, Eleanor, is perhaps too pathetic by about half, but Julie Harris makes it work! The rest of the acting is strong also, even that of noted oddball Russ "Blood Screams" Tamblyn! And the design of the house is about as spooky as it gets!
Eleanor becomes convinced that the house wants her to stay, and that she’d be happiest if she did indeed stay, as she has nowhere else in particular to go; and of course a variation on that is exactly what happens in the end! The head scientist and instigator of the whole experiment is played by Richard Johnson, and it’s hard to see what his actual investigative plan was intended to be, besides inviting some particularly sensitive people to the house and seeing what happens! It would be nice to read his post-experiment paper on the subject, ha ha!
I’ve heard the remake is simply dreadful, but I’ll tell you one thing I think might have been improved, and that’s the sound design! It’s purely a technical thing: all the times in the older movie when the unearthly thumping comes up and down the hallway, the characters have to tell us where it’s supposed to be! Aiieee, it’s at the top of the door! Ahhh, land o’ Goshen, it’s on the other side of the hallway! Things like that! Whereas modern cinematic sound mixing techniques would allow us to hear it for ourselves, and let the characters be frightened in a more realistically nonverbal fashion!
Of course I haven’t seen the new one, so I don’t know if they took advantage of that! And even if they did, I’ll bet the old one is still far and away the better version! I give the original Robert Wise production of The Haunting three and a half desperately creepy housekeepers!

Sunday 30 October 2011

Burl reviews Island of Lost Souls! (1932)

Ha ha, am I not Burl? I am, and I’m here to review the first screen version of H.G. Welles The Island of Dr. Moreau, which was titled Island of Lost Souls for some reason! I’ve seen this one a few times, but it just gets better and better, and just the other day I saw the new DVD version that was recently released, and that was the best of all!
The story is pretty well known, I would think! A castaway ends up on Dr. Moreau’s mysterious South Seas island, where it transpires that he’s been using weird science to transform animals into human simulacra! Some of his beastpeople, like Lota the Panther Woman, are more successful than others, and some of them have Hungarian accents for some reason! Ha ha, that would be the Sayer of the Law, played by Bela Lugosi sporting the greatest beard ever filmed!
Moreau is played by Charles Laughton, who wears the second-greatest whiskers of all time! They’re shaped like an anchor, and perfectly suit Laughton’s great, haughty moon face! The whip-cracking Laughton is simply perfect in his part as the oily and sadistic but undeniably genius sawer of bones! He can be a real hambone, though I really enjoy his performances in that mode; but here, at least until the last few minutes of the picture, he plays everything pretty well down, to great and chilling effect!
Ha ha, they really play up his sadism in this version! The doctor seems not to have even heard of anesthetic, and so his surgeries are conducted without its benefit; but of course it would probably be a lot easier and more pleasant for him if his subjects weren’t squirming around and bellowing in pain! I guess he’s dedicated not just to the speeding-up of the evolutionary process, which is his stated goal as a scientist, but also to the delivery of pain! No wonder he’s nicknamed his operating theatre The House of Pain!
This is a top-notch picture, and I’d put it up there with other creepy pre-Code horror classics like Freaks and The Black Cat, two pictures I’m just wild about! The climax, with the beastpeople on a vengeful rampage, recalls that of Freaks quite a bit, though it lacks that extra frisson you get from watching actual deformed people slithering through the mud with castra*ion knives clutched between their teeth! But it’s safe to say that Moreau comes to an appropriately sticky end!
The movie looks great, the acting is flavorful across the board and the makeup on the animal fellows is absolutely as good as it gets! Why, this is an excellent picture! I give Island of Lost Souls four drunken seacaptains and urge you to see this remarkable and horrific movie!

Saturday 29 October 2011

Burl reviews A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge! (1985)

Hi, it’s Burl talking to you once again, and happy to be doing it! I’m here to take a look at another installment in a famous horror movie series, which is to say the Freddy Krueger pictures! This is the second of them, and most people you ask will tell you it’s the worst of the bunch!

Well, I’m not sure about that, but it’s probably the weirdest, and that in itself has value! Ha ha, they also say it’s the most homosexual of them all, and I guess that’s probably correct! Some people seem to think this is a bad thing, but I think there are surely enough gay horror movie lovers out there that it’s only right and proper that this constituency be recognized much better than they have been! Ha ha, probably all the horror franchises should have at least one overtly queer episode just to be fair about things! The Leprechaun one would be a particular gem, I’m sure!
The main character in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 is Jesse, who has the double misfortune of having moved into Nancy’s house from the first picture, and having an unsympathetic dad played by the great Clu Gulager! We’re introduced to Jesse in a schoolbus sequence at the beginning of the movie, which we can immediately tell is a nightmare because in his own subconscious mind, Jesse is apparently a cringing geek!
When Jesse wakes up from this dream, and whenever he wakes up from any dream, and just at random moments throughout the movie, he lets out a piercing, girlish scream that seems dubbed in from one of Fay Wray’s more hysterical scenes! It seems that Freddy is trying to possess Jesse into committing his murders for him; left unexplained is why Freddy (who is referred to in this movie simply as Fred) wants to do the murders at all! In the first picture he had some fairly specific revenge in mind; in this one his mayhem is pretty random, despite the movie’s subtitle!
Everything in this movie is just slightly off, which you might think is because the filmmakers were so clever as to give their entire production an unreal, dreamlike atmosphere, but is actually because the script is simply nonsense! Freddy makes a parakeet explode in flames! Why? He attacks a pool party, revealing himself in an apparently corporeal form to dozens of people! How come? He is apparently able to be defeated by the love of a young Meryl Streep lookalike! Qhé?!?!
I also wonder how Robert Downey Jr.’s pal from Weird Science, once again playing a bullying sportsjock, becomes Jesse’s good friend all of a sudden! I guess it’s because they’re both subjected to the homoerotic attentions of Mr. Kuato, their coach! (And speaking of Mr. Kuato, there’s one shot in this movie where Freddy looks for all the world like that psychic homunculus of sci-fi fame!)
I realize logic is not what you look for in a movie like this, but consistency, along with excitement and scariness, would be nice! But ha ha, we get none of that! However, we do get the aforementioned Meryl Streep lookalike, who was pretty good in her role and reminded me not only of a young Meryl Streep, but of the female lead from The Outing! Ha ha, it would have been nice to get to know both those gals back in the day!
Anyway, some of the weirdness in this picture is enjoyable, like the exploding parakeet and the fact that Clu Gulager thinks it exploded because it was fed cheap birdseed! I give this sophomore stumble in the Freddy Krueger saga one and a half piercing shrieks!   

Friday 28 October 2011

Burl reviews Moontide! (1942)

Hi, Burl here to do a review of a classic dramamovie which I’d never heard of before watching it! It’s Moontide, and it was Jean Gabin’s first foray into Hollywood after so much success in France! But he left France because of, you know, Nazis, and this was the story that caught his eye!
It was directed by a guy named Archie Mayo, but it turns out that it was supposed to be directed by Fritz Lang, and in fact old Fritz was at the helm for a couple of weeks before deciding that the combined forces of Gabin and Darryl Zanuck, which were arrayed against him, were too much! He folded his jodhpurs, packed away his pince-nez and off he traipsed! Ha ha, if I’d known Lang had even a small part in the making of this picture, I’d have checked it out long ago!
Well, it’s very Lang, I must say, and it also reminds me quite a bit of one of Josef Von Sternberg’s waterfront melodramas, particularly Docks of New York! Ha ha, I really love those pictures, so when I heard that Moontide took place in a seedy Southern California harbor town, I was sold!
Gabin plays Bobo, the violence-prone dockworker who lives the gypsy lifestyle, weighted down only by his sinister connection to the almost-as-hefty Tiny, an annoying hanger-on played by famed character actor Thomas Mitchell! Bobo likes to drink, and he likes to drink a lot, and a particularly heroic night of consumption leads to what I feel safe in calling the finest Surrealist-inspired drunken montage in film history! Ha ha, they got Salvador Dali himself in to design it, and even though his ideas proved either too disturbing or simply unworkable, a lot of the old brushman’s spirit made it into the sequence!
Turns out an old guy got a pretty stiff neck-twist sometime during Bobo’s binge, large swaths of which he can’t remember too clearly! Did Bobo do the murder? With his mangle-strength hands and hair-trigger temper, he’s certainly capable of it! But the question is less than burning for most of the picture, since Bobo gets a job and a home on a bait barge and coincidentally meets up with a hangdog hash-slinger played by Ida Lupino; and all this makes him think maybe it’s time to settle down!
So Bobo and Ida slowly fall in love and make the bait barge a home, and meanwhile gather a group of fellow waterfronters around them, like the guys who own the barge, a sawbones yachtsman, a bartender and a philosophical night watchman played by Claude Raines! But Tiny is always there in the background threatening to cause trouble, and finally, once Bobo and Ida get married, causing quite a little bit of it!
Seedy waterfront movies, motley-family pictures and proto-noirs are all favorite micro-genres of mine, and this movie is all of those things! Naturally, I enjoyed it quite a bit! It’s also one of those movies where the source material has been so obviously watered down for the morals of the day that the bowdlerization is entertaining in itself! Clearly Ida is meant to be an ex-prostitute, but she gets referred to as a waitress as though “waitress” is simply another word for hooker! There’s a fade to black that screams “rape!” more disturbingly than an actual depiction of the act might have done! And so on!
I give Moontide three fancy-pants drinks and recommend you give it a shot!

Thursday 27 October 2011

Burl reviews Garden of the Dead! (1972)

Hi, it’s Burl shambling towards you with his arms outstretched! Ha ha, I’ve often wondered to myself why there weren’t more zombie movies after 1968, when Night of the Living Dead became the most profitable independent picture ever made at that time! You’d think anyone with a camera, a few feet of film and some buddies willing to slap on blue makeup and stumble around in the night would be cranking out some kind of …of the Dead movie! Ha ha, I sure would have been!
Well, not everybody was asleep at the switch! In 1972, a macabre tale of formaldehyde-huffing prisoners who get killed in an escape attempt and then seek revenge as zombies came along, and it was called Garden of the Dead! I guess their garden was the graveyard in which they’d been shallowly buried, or else maybe the title refers to the fact that they carry rakes and hoes with which to commit their mayhem! Anyway, there’s no actual garden, but that’s okay!
The action takes place at a formaldehyde farm staffed by prisoners and run by a fairly mean warden! The guards aren’t that bad though – they allow Johnson, the nice-guy prisoner, to step outside the incredibly flimsy fence to hug his best gal, Mrs. Johnson, who comes to visit him every day but usually has to talk to her beau from thirty feet away! But after the big escape, in which Johnson gets knifed by the way, the warden and the guards ruthlessly hunt the formaldehyde-addicted felons down and blast them into cranberry jelly and drumsticks as they plead for their lives!
Because of all that formaldehyde they’ve huffed I guess, the boys don’t stay down for long! I didn’t know about formaldehyde’s reanimating properties, and you’d think there would be a lot more reports of hoodoo if that were the case, with schoolchildren being chased out of their biology classes by zombie frogs and the like! So the dead prisoners gather up some gardening tools, bellow their war cry “We must destroy the living!” and they’re on their way!
It’s a siege situation for the rest of the picture, with the camp under attack! Warden, guards, the remaining prisoners, anyone is fair game for these old boys! Except for Mrs. Johnson, whom the zombies would like to make their formaldehyde bride! It turns out that the zombies have only two weaknesses: bright light, which reduces them to Play-Doh form, and close-range shotgun blasts! But still, they’re pretty quick with those rakes and pick axes!
You know, this isn’t a very well-liked little movie by most, I'm sad to report! It’s barely an hour long, and there’s not a lot of time spent on character development and stuff like that – most of the screen time is devoted to the shots of the prisoners, pre- and post-mortem, huffing and drinking and wallowing in their beloved formaldehyde! Boy, they must stink pretty bad! I didn’t even know that formaldehyde could get you high!

But there are a few effective scenes, and lots of the old-fashioned foggy graveyard stuff that always plays well with a guy like ol’ Burl! I wish they’d put a bit more energy into the siege and tried to bring it up to Night of the Living Dead intensity levels, but no such luck! There’s one pretty neat scene where the survivors are creeping along towards a safe place, trying to stay within the beam of a prison searchlight as the growling zombies reach in from the darkness around them! And the generator keeps failing, ha ha! So this is a minor league Halloween treat, and I’ll give it two blue-skinned mustachioed goofs!

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Burl reviews Halloween III: Season of the Witch! (1982)

Hi, Burl here to review the most loathed of all the Halloween movies, which is to say number three, the one with no Michael Myers! But it’s not loathed by me, and I find it a lot more entertaining than some of the other later entries! For example, there was one involving some sort of reality show that I found nearly unwatchable! Ha ha, I can’t even remember the title of that one!
But Halloween III discombobulated everyone by having nothing to do with Halloweens I and II, and considering that Michael Myers, the masked knife-maniac from the earlier pictures, had been blown to flinders in a hospital conflagration, it seems an understandable move on the part of the filmmakers! They thought it made more sense to brand the title and, in essence, the holiday along with it, at least as it pertained to horror movies; and then the idea would be to make a different Halloween-themed movie every year!
I actually think that’s a pretty good idea, but Joe Moviewatcher evidently did not! I went to see Halloween III when it came out (very excitedly, though I was on the young side for such a film), but I must have been among the few! Anyway, you’d think with the combined star power of Tom Atkins (from The Fog) and Dan O’Herlihy (from Fail-Safe) there’d be an enthusiastic audience for such a photoplay, but it was just not the case! Perhaps when word got around of the incredibly annoying commercial jingle heard repeatedly throughout the film, the constituency that normally would have flocked to it got scared off! Ha ha, ya bunch of wimps!
The story is simplicity itself! A man comes running down the street holding on to a pumpkin mask, and then later in the hospital a strange businessman pops out the man’s eyes and then pulls his face up! This leads to an investigation on the part of a local doctor's moustache and the dead man’s curly-haired daughter, and together they discover the nefarious toy company, staffed largely by robots as it turns out, which is the headquarters of a warlock named Colonel Cochrane! I don’t know in which army Cochrane achieved the rank of Colonel, but their recruiting standards are very lax!
Anyway, the Colonel has a plan: blast the skulls of America’s children into fishsticks by selling them rubber masks equipped with laser beams, which will be set off Halloween night by some unholy combination of the aforementioned jingle and the rocks of Stonehenge! His witchery, his weird science and his robot army are pitted against Tom Atkins’ moustache, and we all know that in such a contest there can be only one victor!
Ha ha, this movie is the goofiest thing ever, but I feel a great deal of affection for it! I love the grotesque makeup effects, like the lady who gets accidentally blasted in the face! I love that snakes and bugs are somehow generated when the lasers go off! Ha ha, poor Little Buddy! I like Tom Atkins’ heroics! And it’s great that the Colonel’s plan is so odd and insane and pointlessly sadistic and, as far as we can tell from the sudden cut to black at the end, successful!
It could have been a better movie, I’ll grant you that! If John Carpenter had directed it in full Prince of Darkness mode and made it a little more dynamic, suspenseful and scary, we might have a full-on Halloween classic on our hands! Instead we have more of a curio, a thing some will take to their hearts and most will hate or just dismiss, like those hard, sticky orange-wrapped candies that used to fill the bottom of your bag at the end of a long night of trick or treating! Hey, I liked those candies! I give Halloween III two and a half pulled-off bum heads and all the arterial spray that goes with it!

Saturday 22 October 2011

Burl reviews Ring of Terror! (1962)

Hel-lo, it’s Burl! Let me take you on a stroll down Graveyard Lane! Ha ha, no, I haven’t turned into a horror host; I’m just quoting Reegor, the cadaverous, string-tie-wearing cemetery caretaker we meet in the opening moments of Ring of Terror, as he searched for his housecat Puma! Reegor prowls the tombstones calling for Puma for about the first half of the seventy-two minute picture, or so it seems, anyway! Puma! Puma! Puma? Don’t be afraid, Puma! Come to Reegor! Pu-ma!
Ha ha! Eventually Reegor finds Puma sitting pretty near the grave of Lewis Moffitt! “Ah ha ha!” Reegor says! “I remember him!” And then the screen goes all wavy, and we’re treated to the story of how Lewis Moffitt met his presumably sticky end! It does for all the world seem like the beginning of an anthology picture with a particularly weak wraparound, as though after Lewis Moffitt’s tale, Reegor’s housecat will go missing again and turn up washing himself on the grave of some other poor sucker with a story; and then it would happen once or twice more before some pithy wrap-up from Reegor! But no, Lewis Moffitt is the only guy we’re going to hear about this go round! Maybe they just ran out of money, or maybe this is an omnibus picture after all, but they decided to make it a single-story omnibus! Ha ha, a bungalow picture, we could call it! Or maybe they assumed Reegor would be such a wildly popular character that this would be the start of a series of anecdotal horror pictures in which he is the recurring character! Or maybe the housecat died before they could shoot any more of his segments, who knows!
So what is this amazing Lewis Moffitt story anyway? Well, it’s hard to imagine Reegor going into as much detail about it in his telling as the movie does in its dramatization; but, in short, it seems that Lewis Moffitt is a dedicated medical student whose apparent lack of fear is disturbing and off-putting to everyone from his girlfriend to his fellow freshmen, to the seniors who are planning the big pledge party and its attendant tradition of uproarious prank assignments! Nobody can understand why Lewis Moffitt isn’t afraid of snakes or dead bodies or peer disapproval! And meanwhile, a goofy chubby couple are trotted out at regular intervals to be made fun of through various unimaginative fat jokes: like, for example, wow, do they ever like eating hot dogs!
Eventually, by way of fraternity shenanigans, Lewis Moffitt’s fear-related Achilles heel is discovered! And the experience which the brothers set up for him is so dreadfully scary that it kills him stone dead! Ha ha! We know from the beginning that he dies, so don’t worry, I’m not ruining anything for you!
The story does become much more interesting, I must say, if you imagine Reegor droning on about the specifics of it, telling the hefty-people jokes and the mundane details of dormitory life or Lewis Moffitt’s relationship with his plain-Jane girlfriend and all the other irrelevant things that happen! It's fun to wonder how, for example, he describes the adventures of the glasses nerd who gets dressed up as Cupid but has nothing to do with the main thread of the story? Ha ha, we can’t know for sure, but if we are to believe this is all a story Reegor is telling us, then I guess he must be relating it some way or another!
Anyway, this is a simple story padded out to an unbelievable degree, but it has all sorts of marvelous aspects, such as the energetic depiction of mid-50s campus life! It makes you feel you were in school at that time yourself, hanging out with your best gal at the cafeteria and listening to the groovy tunes of the Campus Cool Cats, the least-engaged party band ever to grace the silver screen!
It’s a drab, cheap little stinker of a movie, but still surprisingly watchable! I believe it was made fun of on the robot show, so some may prefer to check out that version! Here’s an interesting fact about it: the guy who plays Lewis Moffitt, George Mather, was also the cinematographer of Holy Wednesday! Ha ha, how’s that for an odd connection? I give Ring of Terror one and a half elusive bicolor housecats!   

Thursday 20 October 2011

Burl reviews Last Rites! (1988)

Finally it’s Burl! Ha ha, I’m here to review a movie that has a pretty sour reputation, and that’s the thriller picture Last Rites! When I think of this movie, which is never, I think about it as one of those bland big-budget bombs that helped send MGM into a deep pit of debt in the late 80s! Spellbinder is another one of those, and Masquerade, and Taffin and Memories of Me! Not exactly a gallery of winners there, ha ha!
I’ve never been all that interested in priest dramas, I have to confess – I’m not what you’d call a churchgoing fellow, so that might have something to do with it! Or the fact that crises of faith and wrestling with vows of chastity are not things I can connect with directly or in any meaningful way! But no matter – there are plenty of good priest movies! That Alfred Hitchcock one, I Confess, was pretty good, even if it wasn’t one of his very best! And of course there’s The Night of the Iguana, which is sort of a priest movie, even though I used to think it was about a giant iguana!
I guess I’d better get around to reviewing Last Rites! Well, it seems Tom Berenger from Someone To Watch Over Me plays Father Michael, who runs a giant New York church with only the dad from Sixteen Candles to help him! (That is to say, Paul Dooley from Strange Brew!) There’s a popgun murder of a guy who’s just been making sweet love, and the murderess turns out to be Father Michael’s sister, and she’s a mob queen, second only in the Family to their father, Don Something-Or-Other! Meanwhile, the lady who was also engaged in the sweet lovemaking, a Mexican exotic dancer, escapes and goes to seek sanctuary with, of all the padres in all the world, Father Michael! What happens then? You guessed it: priestgasm!
This is a fairly slick production, I suppose, directed with TV blandness by a TV director, but at least photographed attractively by David Watkin, the crazy man who shot one of the most audaciously good-looking movies ever made, Catch-22! But the script! My gosh, it’s like it was written on a series of napkins over a long liquid lunch, and then half the napkins were lost on the drunken stumble home! Ha ha, what was the relationship between the cop and the murdered man? Why so many intimations of incest between Father Michael and his batty sis? (She, incidentally, is played by the mom from Deadly Friend!) Why does everybody end up in Mexico, and who are some of these random guys who show up every now and again? They can’t all be from Sicily! And what about that crazy arbitrary twist? Up is down, down is up! Ha ha!
Anyway, it’s a bit of a mess, as you can probably tell! The exotic Mexican dancer is played by Daphne Zuniga from The Initiation, and she has, as near as I can tell, the worst Spanish accent since Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil, and I don’t think he was even trying to do one in that movie! Also I’m pretty sure the last shot was supposed to give you flashbacks to the last scene in The Godfather, but you probably don’t even have to ask if it succeeds! Ha ha! Altogether this picture is a real daffodil, and I can’t say I recommend it unless you like goofy, slightly seamy big-budget misfires! I award this dreadful movie one half of a perplexing denouement!

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Burl reviews Dead Space! (1991)

Well, you know what – it’s Burl! This time I’m reviewing a movie called Dead Space, which, if you can believe it, is a remake of another movie I’ve already reviewed, Forbidden World, made only nine years previously! I can just hear the question uppermost in your minds: “Ha ha, Burl, how could they possibly improve on Forbidden World?”
Well, turns out they can’t! You probably remember the plot: a space troubleshooter gets a distress call from a distant space lab, and drops in to offer whatever space help he can! It turns out the scientists have created a life form which is intended to cure some kind of space disease, but it pops out of its incubator, kills a crew member and proceeds to stalk the base, getting larger and larger and munching on people whenever it can!
You can see this is just the same plot as Forbidden World, and of course as Alien too, but that’s beside the point when we’re talking Roger Corman pictures, which we certainly are! What made Forbidden World so memorable was that it very energetically brought what we in the movie appreciation business call The Goods! The goods for a movie like this are approximately as follows: great monsters, plenty of blood and gore, lots of naked ladies, a few witty lines and some exciting action! Good old FW has most of these ingredients, while Dead Space has practically none!
Sure, it has a monster, which starts out looking like a little sponge and ends up like something you might see hanging off the wall in a two-bit carnival funhouse! It’s pretty inert throughout, and lacks even the minimal personality found in the earlier Corman monsters, such as the randy maggot from Galaxy of Terror! This monster just seems kind of sad, even though he was made by Gabe Bartalos, famous for creating the dancing leprechaun in those Leprechaun movies, and everyone loves that guy! Also, I did like it when the monster busted in through walls like the Kool-Ade Man! And there’s a naked lady in this picture too, but it’s a dream sequence where the space troubleshooter, played by the Beastmaster himself, has a dream about making sweet love! And then there’s one pretty good scene near the end where a fellow’s head is pulled right off!
I do have to mention the Beastmaster’s robot companion, Tinpan, who has a hydraulic chin! Tinpan manages to have a bit of a C3-PO-ish prickliness about him, and he’s got that great chin, but below the neck he just looks like a guy in regular human clothes – not the most convincing droid I’ve ever seen! But he's good compared to most of the rest of the cast, with an exception being Bryan Cranston, who plays the head of the lab! No, I don't think it's a meth lab, but you know, now I'm not quite so sure! Ha ha, maybe it was! Anyway, he's okay in the movie! I kind of preferred his correlative in Forbidden World, who was played by the mad scientist from Repo Man! Ha ha, that's the guy who should have his own TV program about mind drugs!
But mostly it’s a dull and boring cruickshank about people wandering up and down space hallways, occasionally shooting their guns at a rubber crab! I have to say that the title is well earned! Tinpan’s okay, but I in the end I give this rather misbegotten picture one single blue Spandex workout suit!

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Burl reviews The Amazing Mr. X! (1948)

Hi, Burl talking at you! Ha ha, it’s time to review a marvelous discovery, the 1948 fake mystic picture The Amazing Mr. X! It’s part of a long line of phony spiritualist pictures, which is a particularly touching subgenre as they tend to be very popular during and for a few years after a major world war! This is because there are at such times an awful lot of bereaved people desperate to contact loved ones who have died far away, and no shortage of charlatans willing to take advantage of their pain!
Christine, the protagonist of this picture – well, sort of – isn’t a war widow, but as the story opens her husband has been dead two years, ever since he drove his car off a cliff! Christine is a very rich lady, and she has a younger sister and a foursquare suitor who’s just popped the question! However, this is when she starts hearing mysterious voices on the beach, and runs into local medium and all-around mystic Alexis, played by that dashing foreigner Turhan Bey! After that, with the help of Turhan, her life tumbles into confusion as she falls into a web of fake spiritualism and, later, a twist that’s shocking even to the suave séancer! Ha ha, I won’t reveal the twist here, but it’s a good one!
This has just got to be Turhan Bey’s finest hour! He’s so smooth in this picture you could spread him on toast, and even when he does a little thing like take a cigarette from a case, he does it with such panache that you wonder why he didn’t achieve Valentino-like heights of romantic superstardom! Well, it could still happen – Turhan still walks among us, and there may well be some enterprising director out there with a great role for this underappreciated thespian!
This is a pretty enjoyable movie, just dripping with the greatest post-war SoCal atmosphere you ever saw! It’s got a bit of a noir feel – after all, it was photographed by the great John Alton, ha ha! – and in many instances, such as the terrifying sequence when Christine’s wedding dress comes to life and chases her around the room, it’s a full-on horror picture! The greatest of all though is getting a look into the crazy tricks employed by the phony medium, whose house is rigged for all sorts of ghostly surprises!
Just as Phantom of the Rue Morgue featured a zoologist-psychologist, so this movie gives us a great professional mash-up: the magician-detective, played in this case by a real magician, the Ricky Jay of his time I guess, who performs some very impressive sleight-of-hand in his pursuit of the fake fakir! And the guy who plays – well, I’d better not reveal who he plays, but it’s a character who shows up about two-thirds of the way through the movie – but that guy is just about the best bad-guy actor I’ve ever seen! It sure raises some questions about the judgment of our main character though; but then again so does almost everything else in the movie, mainly how quickly and completely she falls for the spiritualist’s bafflegab!
That would probably be my main criticism, along with the number of loose threads left at the very sudden end of the movie! But that’s a very minor complaint, dwarfed by the titanic virtues offered by this electrifying motion picture experience!
Ha ha, I know I’m all over the place with this movie review (and I haven’t even mentioned the amazing trained crow or the incredible tumbling-down-the-cliff scene!), but the upshot is that you should track it down and check it out if you can! Ha ha, congrats to Bernard Vorhaus, the director, with whom I was previously unfamiliar but whose other movies I will now be looking avidly for you can bet! You’ll really enjoy The Amazing Mr. X, I predict, and for every person who follows my advice to watch it, a new Turhan Bey fan will surely be born! I give this moody and marvelous picture three and a half futuristic security cameras that turn into paintings with the mere swipe of a finger! 

Monday 17 October 2011

Burl reviews This House Possessed! (1981)

Hi, Burl here! I don’t know what it is about made-for-TV horror movies, but they sure are weird sometimes! The Horror at 37,000 Feet was strange enough, but get a load of This House Possessed! Ha ha, I saw this one when I was a wee sprout, and I remember being very impressed by it to be sure, but boy is it an odd one!
Parker Stevenson stars as a feather-haired softrocker who collapses in the middle of one of his most popular and stool-softening numbers! Why does he collapse? Well, somehow a haunted house miles away has contrived a plan to reunite itself with its beloved little-girl mistress from years ago; and somehow the house has decided that the now-grown girl will fall in love with Parker Stevenson if given a chance; and somehow it has caused Parker Stevenson to pitch his fainting fit by remote control; and somehow it ensures that Parker Stevenson recuperates in the very hospital, on the very ward, where the now-grown girl works as a nurse! Phew, ha ha!
If you can swallow that series of horse pills, here’s another whopper for you! It seems the evil abode can watch anyone it wants on television at any time no matter where they are! Ha ha, for all you know that house might be watching you on TV the next time you’re astride the toilet! Think about that one for a moment!
Well, the house’s plan works perfectly, and the next thing you know Parker Stevenson has hired the nurse as his private caregiver and they’ve moved into the ultra-modern haunted house! It has an extensive security camera system, which seems quite redundant in light of the special TV powers already mentioned, and it also has a high security fence and shatterproof windows! Ha ha, I wonder if all that will cause trouble for our softrocker later on!
Eventually the house starts acting up! Whenever someone gets close to its secrets, such as a nosy librarian or Parker’s manager, Slim Pickens, the demonic dwelling simply engineers a gruesome demise! Ha ha, things get pretty bloody for TV, I can tell you! Slim Pickens, who I could barely believe was in this movie at all, let along playing the cowboy-hatted manager of a limpsy-stricken softrocker, gets impaled by flying glass! The librarian is crushed and burned by the front gates! A goggle-eyed bag lady is parboiled in the swimming pool! Yikes, that’s got to smart!
Even if you just annoy the house slightly you’re in for an unpleasant surprise! A teenage couple attempt to make sweet love on the grounds and are chased away by a spraying garden hose! A nasty lady tries to steal Parker away and gets a shower full of blood for her trouble! (I’d have thought the house would want to encourage this relationship so that it could have the nurse all to itself, but what do I know about the motivations of a house?) And a police officer investigating the mystery is himself annoyed when he tries to pin down the genre of music Parker Stevenson trades in! “Ha ha, not exactly rock,” Parker says, and I’m inclined to agree with him!
I do have to admit that the movie was not quite the masterpiece of terror and bizarre shock that I remembered from my youth! And boy oh boy, are those soft rock songs horrible! Ha ha, “Sensitive Burl's Not!” I guess! Nevertheless, it’s a weird and eventful enough motion picture that I enjoyed it thoroughly! I also thought Lisa Eilbacher, in the role of the nurse, did a pretty good job! I give it two pulsating fireplaces!

Also: you can read more about this curious motion picture here!

Sunday 16 October 2011

Burl reviews Hour of the Wolf! (1968)

It’s good to see you! Yes, it’s Burl here to review another picture, this one from the beret-clad Swedish master himself, Ingmar Bergman! Ha ha, I love a good Bergman picture, and while Hour of the Wolf is not one of his more generally beloved works, it’s a favorite of mine! Reason? It’s like Hammer Studios called up the old boy and asked for his take on one of their old spooky castle pictures! Anyway, if that had happened, this is probably what you’d get – a Bergmanesque study in human isolation and self-obsession that evolves into a full-throated horror movie complete with creatures and gushing blood!
The movie takes place on some lonely Frisian island with a good view of the sea! We meet Alma Borg, the pregnant young wife of a missing painter named Johann Borg, who of course are played by Liv Ulmann and Max Von Sydow respectively! We get the whole story on what happened from Alma and from Johann’s crazy diaries! It seems that early in the summer Johann’s muse deserted him; but for an artist as driven as him something has to take its place! He's open to whatever might come along, no matter how unpleasant, no matter how personal and self-manufactured and guilt-fueled! He begins to be tormented by demons who come in the disguise of annoying petit bourgeoisie and who might as well have been parachuted in whole from a Bunuel movie!
The demons, it seems, occupy a castle on the other side of the island! One of them is a spooky old woman who, we’re told, must never take off her hat because her face will come along with it! (We later see this hideous image in action!) Another looks like Bela Lugosi, complete with widow’s peak! Still another is something of a fish-man! There’s a little kid demon who wears a Speedo and attacks the painter while he’s sitting by the sea! And then there’s a rather sexy demoness from his past! Ha ha, ring-a-ding-ding!
Well, the demons invite the Borgs over to their castle for a terrifying rumbustification! By this time Alma can see them, even though they’re a construction of, or at least specially sent for the tormenting of, Johann’s fractured psyche! It all winds up with some pretty freaky imagery, of the sort you might find on a videotape in The Ring or something like that, and of course culminates with Johann’s mysterious disappearance!
Of course, canny moviegoers know that Johann has not disappeared at all! He simply moved to New York, changed his name to Frederick and became a character in Hannah and Her Sisters! Ha ha! But that knowledge doesn’t mitigate the dread Bergman manages to cook up in this beautifully-shot production! Of course the great Sven Nykvist was behind the camera, and the high-contrast black and white photography is a wonder to behold!
This movie came along just after Bergman reinvented the artsy psychodrama with Persona, and I think it was pretty perplexing to audiences of the day, who considered it a step back or at the very least a lateral move! But I think (with the benefit of the larger view) that taking on the grammar of horror itself constitutes a worthwhile experiment! I wish ol’ Ingmar had made more of them, actually, The Serpent’s Egg notwithstanding! I give Hour of the Wolf three and a half lascivious grannies!

Saturday 15 October 2011

Burl reviews In the Line of Fire! (1993)

Hi, it’s Burl here to review what must be one of the finer Hollywood thrillers of the 1990s! What else would you put on that list, I wonder? Probably pictures like The Fugitive, Speed and Heat! Anyway, In the Line of Fire is your basic Tinseltown pulse-pounder, I guess, but it’s an efficient thrill machine as these things go!
There’s not that much to say about it, though! The plot involves a Secret Service agent, played by that great old wooden pole carving Clint Eastwood, well known from his appearance in Tarantula, who is filled with guilt at having not adequately protected President Kennedy in Dealey Plaza on that fateful day! But he gets another shot at protecting a President, this one fictional, when cool, calculating psychopath and aspiring Czolgosz John Malkovich shows up and chooses Clint to be his special pre-assassination confidante!
For a guy in need of redemption, this is a gift from the heavens, or at least from Aisle 7 of the Hollywood Contrivances Warehouse! But that’s all right – there’s a long and storied history of the cop/killer cat-and-mouse game in Hollywood films, and this one probably got the go-ahead after the success of Silence of the Lambs, as the relationship between Malkovich and Eastwood is superficially similar to that between Hannibal Lecter and that lady!
Anyway, there are some amusing detours for Malkovich along the way, which reminded me a bit of The Day of the Jackal! A bank teller lady gets a pretty stiff neck twist when she inadvertently discovers that Malkovich does not hail from the Twin Cities area! Her roommate also gets the twist! And some duck hunters fall “afoul” of Malkovich, ha ha, when they see him practicing with his little plastic pop gun!
Meanwhile, Clint is investigating Malkovich’s doings while trying his best to keep an eye on the President! There’s a fellow agent with whom he would like to make l*ve, a lady, and I was sure she was going to end up as a Damsel In Distress, but even though she didn’t really have any other function besides The Sharp-Tongued Woman Who Is Just As Good As Any Man, I was glad to see at least that she didn’t have to be saved by Clint! (Whatever happened to that Rene Russo anyway?)
This was directed by Wolfgang Peterson, who did that fine U-boat picture Das Boot! His Hollywood movies are a lot blander (Enemy Mine was pretty weird, sure, but can anyone even remember what happened in Shattered?), but this one at least tries to be a bit adult about things, and to present itself as a shiny and sharp-creased product! And it does! Malkovich is pretty good in the film too, and he puts on a lot of different disguises, so it’s got that going for it! I award this efficient motion picture product two putty noses!

Burl reviews Midnight in Paris! (2011)

Hi, ha ha, it’s Burl to review one of the newer Woody pictures! I’m talking about Midnight in Paris, and that’s a film I was pretty interested in seeing – so much so that, as part of my self-imposed summer reading program, to prepare for seeing the picture, I read not only A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway but The Best Times by John Dos Passos! And of course I’d already read Luis Bunuel’s My Last Sigh (one of the greatest film director autobiographies ever, in ol’ Burl’s opinion!) and other relevant texts as well!
These were excellent preparations as it turned out! I had a great sense of the lay of the land in 1920s Paris, where much of the picture takes place, and an idea of what Hemingway, Bunuel, Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds and other such personages might have been up to when Owen Wilson’s wide-eyed geek wasn’t communing with them before Woody Allen’s camera! On the other hand, though, my interest in the period meant that I sort of wished Owen Wilson would just go back where he came from and we could stay in this magical gilded time to hang out for a bit, maybe by watching The Moderns instead!
Well, that’s as may be! The plot is that Owen Wilson is visiting Paris with his horrible fiancée and her horrible parents, and they chance to run into a pair of her horrible friends as well, and all of this is just so horrible that Owen Wilson, playing a successful Hollywood screenwriter with novelistic aspirations, conjures up an old Peugeot which spirits him back to olden days! And of course, as is the case whenever anyone goes back in time, he immediately meets the most famous and accomplished people of the period!
But has he really gone back in time, or is this just some elaborate psychological bid to flee an intolerable present and embrace a period he knows little about but romanticizes out of all proportion? Ha ha, the great thing is that, as Bill Murray tells us in Meatballs, It Just Doesn’t Matter!
It’s a little unfortunate that Owen Wilson’s character is such a successful screenwriter! I know he’s meant to demonstrate that it doesn’t matter how comfortably successful you are if you don’t feel you’re doing the right thing with your life, but I think he would have been a more interesting guy if he’d been, say, a short-order cook who was in Paris for the first time only by grace of the in-laws-to-be that he hates!
There are other flaws with this motion picture: some over-facile jokes and references; a too-stammery-by-half Wilson; a general feeling of inconsequentiality; but on the whole it’s a really enjoyable will-o-the-wisp of a picture! There’s some fantastic music, a few fine cameo performances from the likes of Kathy Bates, perfectly cast as Gertrude Stein, and Adrien Brody as the sort of Dali who used to teach painting on SCTV; and of course there are many lovely views of Paris, which Allen treats in the opening moments with almost as much reverence as he gives Manhattan in the movie of the same name!
Also, that French lady who sells the Cole Porter 78s may be a stock character mouthing unlikely badinage, but she’s really gorgeous! Allen, you know how to pick ‘em! I give this frolicsome trifle a solid two and a half missing detectives!

Burl reviews Fiend! (1980)

Oh-ho, there you are! It’s Burl! Ha ha, you know, sometimes I’m just perfectly in the mood for one of these backyard regional horror productions, and occasionally when I’m in such a mood, just the right backyard regional horror production is there for me to watch! I saw The Devonsville Terror on just such a lucky day, and it happened again recently with Don Dohler’s Fiend!
Fiend, which very much has the feel of a movie made in a cul-de-sac, was apparently Dohler’s attempt to create a new sort of legendary creature to stand among the classics such as Dracula and Frankenstein Monster! Accoring to Dohler’s home-baked mythology, a Fiend is more or less a cross between the two: an ancient parasitic force, possibly from space, reanimates a hulking corpse to shamble around in and suck the lifeforce from his friends and neighbors through the act of strangulation, or on occasion a pretty stiff neck-twist instead!
The Fiend, in its aerosol form, is flying around the bedroom communities outside Baltimore at the beginning of the picture, and it floats gently over a graveyard and settles into the corpse with the biggest moustache it can find: Mr. Longfellow! Mr. Longfellow rises from his grave, glowing an angry rotoscoped red, and proceeds to strangle a young lady relaxing in the boneyard with her boyfriend! Then he goes off and buys a house! Ha ha, what with I wonder, dirt? The next thing you know, he’s established a small music academy and set up some red lamps in his basement for the purpose of conducting private violin lessons and guzzling Hochtaler! Ha ha, the red lampshades are a pretty nice visual echo of the crimson glow which covers Mr. Longfellow every time he does a strangulation!
Well, next-door neighbor Gary doesn’t like any of this one bit, from the constant violin playing to the uppity undead attitude! He’s got a rival moustache of his own, but it isn’t quite as big as Mr. Longfellow’s if you know what I mean! In fact, whenever Mr. Longfellow is angry or put out, which is frequently, his moustache seems to grow! Eventually it comes down to a titanic moustache-vs.-moustache battle royale, and the cul-de-sac will never be the same!
Ha ha, I first read about Fiend many years ago in an issue of Famous Monsters which also had articles on The Boogey Man, Maniac and several other gruesome productions! Forry’s enthusiastic, pun-filled coverage somehow made Fiend out to be the most dynamic, frightening and gory of the lot, though, and while that turns out to not quite be true (in keeping with Dohler’s old-fashioned aspirations, there’s no gore to speak of in the picture, and it’s only frightening to those with a dreadful fear of facial hair), it does have a certain je ne sais quoi!
It also has some pretty fair acting! Don Leifert, playing Mr. Longfellow, makes a pretty good toffee nose (literally once the oatmeal makeup kicks in!), and the King of Baltimore, George Stover, is on hand to play a cringing lickspittle! Most of all, this movie’s virtues radiate from its can-do attitude and off-season atmosphere! While Mr. Longfellow and the Fiend which animates him may not have entered the monster pantheon, Dohler’s own animating spirit hovers gently over this production like a glowing red space bug! I give Fiend two solid mouth-caterpillars, complete with a droopy lower lip!

Friday 14 October 2011

Burl reviews Autumn Born! (1979)

Hi, Burl here with a sexual obscurity to review for you! This movie’s called Autumn Born, and it features the late Dorothy Stratten as a spoiled heiress named Tara who wants only to shop for clothing and disco dance at Bogart’s, but is kidnapped and enrolled against her will in a school of sexy discipline!
Tara’s actually a pretty unpleasant person at the beginning of the picture, but Dorothy Stratten manages to give her a sort of innocence that makes you want to root for her anyway! It helps that everyone else in the film, from Tara’s gross Uncle Grant who engineers the kidnapping so that Tara can never get her hands on the family company, to Veronica, the headmistress of the discipline school, to the pair of disciplinarians who torment the heiress for most of the running time, are even worse!
The only decent character is Monica, a.k.a. Eyebrows, who works at the shop where Tara buys her clothes! She cuts Tara a break when the evil uncle cuts off her credit, and allows the orphaned heiress to leave the store with $1900.00 worth of smockery! Tara says “You’re a really nice person!” and takes Eyebrows disco dancing at Bogart's, where a guy in a silver suit who looks like John Waters crossed with a nerd demonstrates his moves! But that’s also where the evil bearded Phillippe and his nasty, sadistic lady companion show up to spirit Tara away to Punishment Mansion! Eyebrows does some sleuthing around about the disappearance, but this hirsute Nancy Drew eventually comes to a sticky end at the hands of El Beardo! That subplot really made me sad, because while she was no great shakes as a detective, Eyebrows was still a really nice person!
Tara’s torment comes in many forms: whippings, beatings, sleep deprivation, weird sounds and music, rape, unfortunately, and a small toy mouse which is given to her as a friend and then cruelly smashed before her eyes by the beardo! It’s a pretty depressing and seedy series of events actually, though at least the rape is not really shown for more than a moment! I really don’t like those type of scenes very much I have to say, so the inartful fade to black was a real relief!
The ending is depressing too! I won’t go into it unless somebody asks in the comments below, but there’s at least a bit of a twist which involves the punishment of Uncle Grant! Ha ha, that guy deserves it! It’s when you think of what happened to poor Dorothy Stratten in real life that the movie achieves a whole new level of grotesque horror! But I’d rather concentrate on the positive, which is that the movie also contains some evidence that if she’d had a chance, she could have become a fine actor!
What I did like about the movie was how weird it often was! The toy mouse scenes were strange enough, and the silver-suited disco-dancing nerd, and the oddball bell-jar acting styles from just about all of the cast, but then there are some other crazy touches, such as the fact that the bearded guy’s voice pops up as narration every now and again, even though he’s a decidedly secondary character!
But it’s mostly pretty bad, and like I say, somewhat depressing! Ha ha! For the weirdnesses, though, and the fact that, again, Dorothy Stratten had quite a bit of potential as an actor if you ask me (and of course was mighty pretty!), I give this rare motion picture one brutal spanking!

Thursday 13 October 2011

Burl reviews My Dinner With Andre! (1981)

Hi, Burl here to review cinema’s preeminent gabfest, My Dinner With Andre! Of course, everyone knows the plot of this one: Wally, a squat and balding playwright, meets up with his old friend Andre, a former theatre director, for an evening of quail and conversation at a tony New York eatery! Then they have coffee and go home!
It reminds me of a similar movie, My Breakfast With Blassie, which took place on the other side of the country, but was in many respects virtually the same picture! However, this one came first, and of the “My [Meal] With…” projects, it’s undeniably the best! That’s probably because it was put together by not just the two diners, Wallace Shawn (whom we know so well from The Princess Bride) and Andre Gregory, but a director I really admire, Louis Malle! One of these days soon I’m going to have to catch up with Malle’s Vanya on 42nd Street, which I understand has many similarities to this enjoyable picture!
I saw My Dinner With Andre years ago when I was but a callow youth, and enjoyed it, but watching it again recently was quite a different experience now that I’m a little further along in life! It’s not that I understood it more than before, but I could connect a little better with some of its themes, notably the difficulties in achieving some true communication with another person, and the way modern life – all the more so now than in 1981 – seems to conspire to keep us in a sort of zombified dream state!
I’d forgotten how freighted the relationship between Wally and Andre was! I remembered them simply as close friends, but had forgotten they’d been estranged by Andre’s self-removal from the theatre world and his subsequent strange behavior! I was surprised at Wally’s opening narration where he describes how nervous he is to be seeing his friend again, and how he’d rather be doing almost anything else!
And I had also forgotten (well, actually never realized) that this is basically a Troma film! Ha ha! Lloyd Kaufman was the production manager, and Troma facilities were used in the making of the picture! It’s certainly a bit of an anomaly in their catalogue! But it has some of the same grimy 16mm photography and, at the beginning, some familiarly decrepit SoHo locations as we see in many Troma quasi-classics!
I really enjoyed the picture this time around, and found it had a comforting, lulling effect that was really pleasant, even when the two men are disagreeing or failing to connect! Even though Andre is clearly in pain and Wally is too, at least by the end they each can recognize that the other doesn’t really understand him, and that is better than being stuck in the dream fog of daily life! I was never in total agreement with either fellow, but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the movie!
I give this noteworthy motion picture three fiercely blinking waiters!

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Burl reviews Rocktober Blood! (1984)

Hi, Burl here to review a rockmaniac movie called Rocktober Blood! Ha ha, I realize it doesn’t seem like that title makes a whole lot of sense, but in fact the movie is indeed set in October, and it does involve rock! Also there’s some blood, so I guess it is the perfect title after all!

The movie opens with an old-fashioned recording studio massacre, as Billy, an unpleasant heavy-metal star of dubious skills, apparently goes bunyip and starts hacking up his associates! His bandmates, his recording engineer, everyone gets the chop! He almost finishes off his sometime girlfriend/backup singer too, but his little cutting project is interrupted just in time!
Two years later, Billy has been executed for his crimes and the backup singer has used his terrible songs to become a star in her own right! But presently it seems as if Billy has donned a Halloween mask and returned from the grave! The backup singer goes to relax at the lake with some of the ladyfriends of her entourage, but soon the trees are talking to her and Billy seems to be lurking in every shadow!
This is the sort of movie where somebody says “Ha ha, get the Lear jet ready, we’re flyin’ her to the lake!” and then it cuts right to the lake, where the never-seen Lear jet has supposedly deposited her! Ha ha, okay fellows, we believe you had a jet, but the demands of narrative economy merely prevented you from showing it in action!
That’s kind of a churlish thing to say, so my apologies! I well understand the difficulties in stretching a small budget, believe me! But even a small budget doesn’t preclude a little style, a little bit of directorial panache, and “style” in this film is limited to the near-constant use of a four-point star filter! Ha ha, that does get a little tiresome after a while!
The very bad rock music also becomes a little enervating! Believe me, Burl likes to rock, but not to this hairspray nonsense! Well, that’s just the way it is with these heavy-metal horror pictures – the music in Rock n’ Roll Nightmare, Black Roses and Terror On Tour is no better! And here I am being churlish again – I should just be impressed that such low-budget movies are able to muster any original rock music at all!
Anyway, there’s more hacking and slashing and hot-tubbing and aerobics and plenty of rocking and rolling, and there’s a twist ending I won’t reveal except to say that it involves a previously unmentioned twin brother! And I also have to mention that the rockmaniac in this movie is the most supremely punchable guy I’ve seen in any movie in a long time!
This is an extremely bad movie, but for its laffs and its hot-tubbing, I give it one single ape-skull mask!

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Burl reviews The Phantom of the Rue Morgue! (1954)

Hi lads and ladies, it’s your friend Burl! I thought I’d review yet another movie featuring a murderous ape, because I really am pretty fond of those sorts of pictures! Ha ha, hope you’re not tired of them!

So listen, who’s the last person you’d expect to be playing the mad scientist role in a killer ape movie from the 1950s? Probably Marlon Brando! Well, it’s not him in Phantom of the Rue Morgue, but it is the next least likely candidate, Karl Malden! Karl plays a combination zoologist/psychiatrist, which is a professional mash-up we don’t see enough of these days! He’s also a die-hard romantic, deeply in love with his young colleague’s fiancée! And he has access to a killer ape! Ach, that’s a recipe for trouble!

There’s a series of brutal ape murders up and down the Rue Morgue, and much of the picture deals with Police Inspector Bonnard’s confusion at who could possibly be responsible! Neighbors can hear crazy jabbering in what they take to be a foreign tongue, and a man in a nightcap is violently defenestrated, but nobody can catch the maniacal killer! Suspicion soon falls upon the young scientist Paul Dupin, but as much as he protests his innocence, the murders continue and the evidence piles upon him like horse blankets!

Well, eventually things sort themselves out, with the proper human varmints getting their comeuppance, and, as always, the poor ape taking a tumble! I always feel a bit sad for these unlucky simians! Ever since King Kong, or even before that actually, they’ve been handed a pretty raw deal!

Phantom of the Rue Morgue, which of course is a descendant of Edgar Allen Poe’s famous killer ape story, has also been served up a raw deal over the years if you ask ol’ Burl! You can’t find a single positive review of this lush-looking caper, and for my money it’s actually a pretty decent film! There are some fine scenes involving acrobats and other carnival folk, which, in combination with the Parisian setting, give it the feel of a lost chapter out of Children of Paradise! The movie looks great, and the sets are manifique! I think it must have been shot in 3D, like Gorilla At Large, because an awful lot of things get tossed towards the camera!

For all its virtues and for the fact that every single male character (and some of the female ones, ha ha!) has a French-style pencil moustache, I give Phantom of the Rue Morgue two and a half ape-shaped holes in the skylight!

Burl reviews Dr. Renault's Secret! (1942)

Hello to all my pals! It’s Burl here with a review for you! Sure, it’s another ape movie, like Gorilla At Large or White Pongo, but this one has a bit of a twist to it! Read on, MacDuff, and I’ll explain! Ha ha, but first, be warned! In reviewing Dr. Renault’s Secret, I’ll be revealing Dr. Renault’s secret, and it’s not merely that he doesn’t even own a Renault! It’s hard to talk about the movie without revealing the secret, so I’m a-gonna do it!

It seems that an American doctor has arrived in France to marry Dr. Renault’s niece! All very nice, or so it seems! But the bridge is washed out, and the young fellow must pass the night at a local inn, along with a few other characters! There’s Renault’s hulking gardener, played by Mike Mazurki; another American who happens to be an obnoxious drunk; and finally there’s Noel, a slab-faced fellow of few words, who turns out to be Renault’s manservant!

Well, soon enough there’s a murder! And the next day, after Noel drives the doctor to Renault’s chateau, there’s another killing, this time of a local hound! And then, as Bastille day approaches, a few other people get some pretty stiff neck-twists, or else are completely defenestrated by person or persons unknown! Actually it’s not all that unknown, since we do see Noel perpetrate some of these killings – but not all of them!

So here’s the big secret the doctor’s been keeping: Noel is in fact not a human at all, but a shaved ape who’s been taught to talk! We see a photo album of his journey from fierce-but-happy jungle ape to dour, morning-coated manservant! There are some hilarious mid-transformation pictures of the ape swathed in bandages and looking pretty grumpy about it all! And who can blame him! Dr. Renault has apparently perpetrated this weird science in order to prove some crazy theories of his, and it turns out that he’s not the avuncular figure he first appeared to be, but a whip-cracking martinet! The whole thing ends more or less in classic monster-movie style at the top of an old grist mill, but the monster isn’t necessarily who you thought it would be!

There are a few great things about this movie! One is that the director apparently saw Citizen Kane and liked it well enough to try replicating some of the shots! There are lots of low-angle close-ups of shadowed faces, and some deep focus of the sort we know and love from that movie! Ha ha, I love that kind of thing!

The other great thing is the cast, specifically George Zucco as Renault and J. Carroll Naish as Noel! Both of these guys are associated with cheap, schlocky horror movies, but they’re really good actors, and especially so here! Naish’s performance as the love-besotted Noel is highly sympathetic and rather heart-rending! I give Dr. Renault’s Secret three defenestrations!

Burl reviews Scarecrows! (1988)

Hi, Burl here to review a movie in a subgenre which I should theoretically love, but which for the most part has never thrilled me like it ought! I’m talking about scarecrow movies of course, which have been spooky to me in a more or less academic way ever since I saw that chilling TV movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow as a wee lad! Ever since then I’ve thought that scarecrows have an awful lot of terrifying potential!

Given that, it might seem little strange that I didn’t bother seeing Scarecrows until recently! But in my neck of the woods the only version available was the severely edited cut, with all the gruesome scarecrow mayhem removed! Ha ha, why bother, I thought! One day I’ll get the chance to see it uncut! And that turned out to be absolutely true!

I’d always heard it was a scary movie, and I’ll give it this: it’s scarier than any given episode of the TV show Scarecrow and Mrs. King! And you know, since that’s dam*ing it with some pretty faint praise, I’ll go a step further: it has some nice cornfield atmosphere (despite being shot in Florida!), some pretty interesting gore and a few fairly effective sequences!

The story is a simple one! Some robbers are flying away from their successful if violently concluded heist (unseen, as in Reservoir Dogs) when they experience a betrayal at the hands of an Australian! He parachutes out with the booty, and it’s up to the rest of the bandits, along with their father-daughter pilot hostages, to follow him down into the old cornfield to reclaim the millions! However, they’re not counting on – and you know, no one ever counts on – killer scarecrows!

The scarecrows’ larger agenda is a little obscure, but it involves pulling out people’s guts! They’ll also poke at you a bit with farm implements! The stuffies are apparently three farmer fellows who used to live in the abandoned stilt house which the robbers find in the middle of the field, but, aside from some hints of pagan worship having taken place there at one time, how and why these particular hayseeds became scarecrow men is not revealed! Ha ha, and why are they so darn vicious? We never find out!

But it hardly matters! What matters in this movie is how their viciousness manifests itself, and, thanks to makeup man Norman Cabrera, who was probably extremely overworked on this show, things get pretty bloody! And also, further praise to Mr. Cabrera, the scarecrows look great! The movie itself looks pretty good too, thanks to cinematography from Peter Deming, who also shot great movies like Evil Dead II and Lost Highway!

It’s not as scary or as good as I’d been led to believe, but altogether this is a pretty decent bit of late-80s horror! I’d put it on or at least near the level of Pumpkinhead, which I’ll review here soon! (I’m going to try to review all the autumnal horror movies I can through this month, ha ha!) I give Scarecrows two bloody dollar bills!