Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Burl reviews Sorority House Massacre! (1986)

Hi, Burl here with a review just for you! Ha ha, I’ve always admired Roger Corman, and one of his many fantastic qualities is that he apparently went to sleep one night thinking about slasher movies and woke the next day believing that they should be written and directed by ladies! I’m not going to say he’s wrong either, particularly when the first result of this new mode of thinking was Slumber Party Massacre! Great title, great movie, and I’ll review it here sometime soon!
Well, Roger tried to capture lightning in a bottle a second time with Sorority House Massacre, another great title and another lady director! This one belongs to its own tiny subset of slasher pictures, which I’ll call the Heroines With History micro-genre! That’s where the young ladies known as Final Girls have some secret in their pasts, often unknown even to themselves, that connects with the killer or the events in the picture in some way! The Initiation is a very good example of this sort of picture; and a good way to work out how you feel about the Larded With History approach is to watch Halloween, which isn’t one of those pictures, and then Halloween II, which, strangely, is!
It’s usually a pretty blatant attempt on the part of the filmmakers to inject what they would probably call “depth” into a genre they clearly regard as inherently lacking same! Ha ha, and as a bonus we get to see their hamhanded attempts to create profound oneiric imagery, which always come off like parodies of heavy-handed film-school work such as we see in the Kevin Bacon movie The Big Picture or the Brian De Palma-produced picture The First Time! In Sorority House Massacre we get a jar of marbles falling to the floor in slow motion, a photograph of young girls which starts bleeding, a knife coming through a mirror and other such treats! Also, it should be mentioned, much of the night photography is quite blue in color, like Madman or Whodunit!
The story? Well, Beth, an orphan plagued by troubling dreams of being stalked by a t-shirt clad madman, comes to stay at a sorority house for the weekend, for reasons which escaped me! Turns out the house is, by a rather epic coincidence, the very house she lived in until, when she was five, her much older brother went bonkers and pickaxed the rest of her family to death! She, the youngest, managed to escape by hiding in the basement! She’s grown into a comely but troubled lass, and is hoping a weekend of partying with the sisters will help break her out of her funk! But of course big brother chooses this weekend to bust out of the booby hatch, and he’s soon on hand to deliver some brutal pokings to the supporting cast! Ha ha, he gets one couple while they’re making sweet love in a tee-pee so small they have to stand up inside it!
A pretty standard maniac movie, I suppose you’d call this! There are a few witty lines, but most of the picture involves the cast running around the house making really, really poor decisions! I mean not just the sort of bad calls you can excuse because the characters are panicked, or because the filmmakers need to keep the plot moving, but especially egregiously stupid moves, over and over again! And the whole thing plays out as though they were all trapped in a giant soundproof bubble: no matter how much they scream and break glass, nobody in the many nearby neighboring houses ever stirs! Ha ha, in real life, when they were shooting the picture, I’ll bet they got all sorts of noise complaints from those houses! The swearing and catcalls of the grips and electrics, the bellowing of assistant directors, and of course the shrieks and cries of the cast – filmmaking is a cacophonous business!
The biggest trouble with this movie: no Special Makeup Effects! It’s all just knives poking into stuffed shirts and a little bit of blood here and there! That’s too bad, because the rest of the picture is entertaining enough that a few trick effects and a little proper gore would have brought it up to the status of (very, very) minor classic! Oh Roger – sometimes saving a buck just isn’t worth it! I give this too-dry movie one and a half ludicrously low-security asylums! 

Sunday 27 November 2011

Burl reviews Pépé Le Moko! (1937)

Burl reporting for duty! Ha ha, it’s time to review an elderly classic, the fine, exotic French crime picture Pépé le Moko! It’s a colonial picture, which is a genre I like quite a bit – movies about consuls, for example, and especially dipsomaniacal ones, are usually fine entertainments for the likes of ol’ Burl!
But this is not a consular movie! It’s the tale of the most famous robber of Algiers, Pépé le Moko, who is beloved throughout the Casbah and is hidden within that labyrinthine quarter by its devoted denizens, who revere him because he’s the most charming and accomplished thief who ever was, and also something of a Robin Hood figure! Whenever les flics come in to arrest him, the good people of the citadel band together to baffle and misdirect them away from their debonair folk hero! This of course frustrates the cops to no end! The Shareef don’t like it, ha ha!
But of course, should Pépé dare to leave the Casbah, he’ll be nabbed by the men in blue the moment he ventures out! So while he rules the quarter and commands total respect from its inhabitants, he’s pretty much a prisoner there! Ha ha, he’s tired of being trapped in there, and tired of his beautiful gypsy-eyed girlfriend! The story follows him as he falls in love with a fancy-pants Parisienne, whom he happens across while she’s slumming one night in the Casbah, dripping with jewelry and briefly on the lam from her old frog-faced industrialist of a boyfriend!
Well, Pépé succeeds in capturing her heart, but now he must outwit the sly, patient police officer who has befriended him, and seems always able to find him just to have a chat now and then, but still amiably maintains that one day Pépé will screw up, and there he, Inspecteur Slimaine, will be, waiting with handcuffs at the ready and his fez cocked at a rakish tilt! It’s a great template for all the sympathetic cop-criminal relationships seen since in the movies, with Heat being a particularly good example!
This is the movie that made Jean Gabin a big star and led to him trying his hand at Hollywood in Moontide! And no wonder, because in the role of Pépé he’s as suave and slick as can be, but manages to display both a fundamental decency and an absolute ruthlessness at the same time, all swirled up with the chewy romantic center you’d expect to find in any Gallic master criminal! Of course the picture ends on a note of high romantic tragedy, of the sort we don’t hear played much in movies these days!  
The centerpiece of the picture is a long scene in which the local snitch, who’s managed to manipulate one of Pépé’s very closest pals into getting nabbed, is cornered by Le Moko and his gang and has to sweat it out as they get closer to the truth of his treachery! It’s a good scene, with this old grass sweating bullets and playing what he begins to realize will be his last hand of cards! I also liked the exotic atmosphere of the movie, which actually was partially shot in Algiers! The rest was shot in Parisian studios I guess, but the Casbah atmosphere is thicker than mule paste throughout!
I give this fine old classic three and a half ill-timed foghorn blasts!

Saturday 26 November 2011

Burl reviews Hide And Go Shriek! (1987)

Hullo, hullo, it’s Burl here! It’s time to review another slasher movie, and to figure out even more subdivisions within that exalted genre! Here we have Hide And Go Shriek, which came along a little later in the 1980s slasher parade, but that’s okay! This one takes place in a furniture store called Fine Furniture and as a special bonus has a little bit of the red stuff, including one fairly startling Special Makeup Effect courtesy of a young gentleman whose legal name is Screaming Mad George!
But I’m getting “ahead” of myself, ha ha! There’s a special subdivision of the slasher film that tries to be gritty and urban in its atmosphere, and I guess Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer is about as gritty as they come! American Nightmare is another one of these, and parts of Visiting Hours fit the bill as well, along with that one scene in The Burning, which is of course for the most part a summer camp picture, and a pretty good one! I have to say that the gritty urban slasher movies rank among my least favorite types of slasher pictures, because they mostly lack the fanciful elements I enjoy, and also usually at least one prostitute gets killed by the maniac; and that happens in real life enough that it’s not too entertaining to see it on screen! Those ladies of the evening have it tough enough already, it seems to me!
Hide And Go Shriek starts out like it’s going to be one of those movies, with a well-dressed mystery man savagely poking a lady of the evening the moment his sordid transaction is complete; but it very quickly and mercifully gives that up to tell the tale of eight teenagers who prepare for what they are certain will be the greatest night of their lives: a campout in a furniture department store! Ha ha, does it get any better!
Well, the teens sneak into Fine Furniture, which actually seems a very drab and boring place, and enthuse repeatedly about the stellar funtime sleepover they’re going to have in there! But of course a certain well-dressed mystery man is in there with them, and he’s evidently got a grudge against recently-graduated high schoolers! Ha ha, I suppose all of us do, but we don’t go homicidal over it! It takes forever for the killings to begin, and after they do it takes another forever for the shouty and objectionable teenagers to figure out that something’s amiss! Of course if they couldn’t figure out that a night in an outlet store wouldn’t be the most delightful night anyone ever had, they probably aren’t the swiftest boats in the fleet anyway!
The well-dressed mystery man turns out to be the jailhouse boyfriend of one of the loading dock workers, and he actually is dressed in leather and nose studs, which makes me think the well-dressed man bit at the beginning was shot and added later to get some murderousness in early! This happens a lot in movies like this, it’s true!
This picture is really quite boring and repetitive, it must be said, even though there’s an unusually generous selection of ladies’ boobs on display! The teens run around the store playing hide and seek for what seems like forever, and then run around looking for their friends for what seems like another forever, but which might be intended as a horrific parallel to the earlier carefree hide and seek! However, it comes across more as the exact same scenes played over again, this time with more shrieking! At least nobody can say the movie fails to live up to its title! The highlight of the thing is clearly Screaming Mad George’s excellent trick effect, which involves a freight elevator and the head of a screaming lady!
I did like the ending, where the whole relationship of the killer and his beloved furniture store employee ex-boyfriend is discussed in great detail at least twice! They treat it as a genuinely tender love affair that just happened to go sour, and it actually was quite touching! But since the characterizations of the people we spend most of the movie with are completely non-existent, I have to call it too little, too late! I give this hucklebuck of a picture one and a half startling trick effects even though the movie itself only contains one!

Friday 25 November 2011

Burl reviews I Bury the Living! (1958)

Hi, Burl here with a review of a spooky movie from days gone by, I Bury the Living! This one is a low-budget affair to be sure, but it’s really got something going for it – at least until the last five minutes!
The set-up is a little convoluted and strange, involving the Chamber of Commerce in a mid-sized town who take turns administering the local cemetery for some reason! And this year it’s department-store owner Bob Kraft’s turn! Well, he grouses about it, complaining that he’s got no time to manage a cemetery, but the other guys on the board tell him he’s got to accept and that it’s not too much work anyway!
Well, next thing you know Bob’s spending all his time in the freezing cold cemetery office, shivering and listening to the outrageous Scots brogue of Groundskeeper Willie, played by Theodore Bikel! His name is actually Groundskeeper Andy, not Willie, but if someone told me that he was the precise template for the beloved Simpsons character, I’d have no trouble believing it, ha ha!
The office contains a big map of the graveyard, and each plot has either white pins, for still-living people who’ve purchased but are not yet using their sites, and black pins for those already taking the big dirt nap! Of course what happens is that a distracted Bob puts black pins in where white ones should go, and the people who own those mis-pinned plots suddenly and mysteriously croak! As Bob starts to cotton on to what’s going on he begins to go a little crazy, believing himself to have an unholy power over life and death that no department store executive should possess!
For most of its running time this is a nice little mystery-shocker, and I was even thinking it might benefit from a remake, where the mysterious deaths get more of a spectacular, dare I say Final Destination-type treatment! But the plot development at the end pretty much ruins the whole thing! I don’t want to further ruin it by giving it away to you, but my disappointment was such that I don’t believe I could ruin it further! Let's just say there's some pretty stiff neck-twists involved!
Ha ha, I think I’d rather concentrate on the positive, which to be fair is most of the movie! Richard Boone plays Bob, and I really liked his performance! He seemed more or less like a real guy! I also liked the depiction of the Chamber of Commerce or business association or whatever they were! It gave a good portrait of the community to help contextualize the whole thing! And then of course there’s a spooky graveyard atmosphere to the whole thing, which is always a plus! Ha ha, this could easily have been another tale introduced by Reegor from Ring of Terror now that I think of it!
The movie was directed by Albert Band, the father of none other than the miniature monster obsessed Charles Band, whose works include the Puppet Master movies and of course Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, which I really should review here one day! But as for I Bury the Living, I’ll recommend it with some reservations! I give it two unlikely stranglers!

Sunday 20 November 2011

Burl reviews Sweater Girls! (1978)

Hi, it’s Burl! Ha ha! I’m here to review the movie Sweater Girls, which is part of a small but vital microgenre of the 1970s, which is to say movies that were pitched as being American Graffiti plus nudity! Since American Graffiti had been such a marvelous hit, and of course in the 70s bare breasts and backsides were all the rage, there were many producers who figured that combining these elements would make for a profitable drive-in entertainment! And who’s to say they were wrong? Not ol’ Burl!
There were quite a few of these productions! Slumber Party ’57 was a good one, and it featured a young Debra Winger! There was Hometown U.S.A. and of course the Lemon Popsicle movies from Israel (Going Steady, Hot Bubblegum and others); and then the genre reached some kind of zenith with Porky’s, which of course, along with Animal House, then begat the whole 80s cycle of teen and collegiate sex comedies!
But we’re here to talk Sweater Girls, a picture which documents the adventures had by a group of teens over the Fourth of July weekend in 1956! The movie opens with a newsreel of that summer’s happenings, and then we meet some of our primary characters as they smooch in a car at the drive-in! Oh, even though I wasn’t nearly born during this period, scenes like this have the power to awaken a fearsome nostalgia in me, I must admit! I guess I’d prefer to not be a person who wastes a lot of time looking backwards, but one of my facets, even on this blog, is that of historian, so I guess I come by it naturally at least!
From there, the plot sort of starts! Pete and his buddies decide to have themselves a wild time, and they make friends with Henry the glasses nerd because Henry’s dad owns a beer shop! That way they can get giant brown bottles of beer which clink together appealingly even when the boozy town cop steals them from the lads!
Meanwhile, the girls decide to form a club called the Sweater Girls! I was never sure what the point of the club was exactly, but it had something to do with maintaining chastity! They invite the town bad girl, Joella, to join the club, and she does! Then they decide to have a sleepover party at grandma’s house, where they frequently change from one colored sweater to another, revealing great voluminous white brassieres every time! Ha ha!
Of course, the lads have gotten themselves sozzled on brewskis, and they show up at grandma’s house to make mischief, but since the girls aren’t particularly resistant to their arrival, what at first seems like a set-up for a siege situation turns into a series of antics and shenanigans, some of them involving somersaulting off roofs, others involving boobs and behinds! There’s lots of tumbling into the bathtub and a few misunderstandings, and the only real fly in this ointment of paradise is the nosy, beer-swiping cop! But he gets his in the end, ha ha – literally, when his bottom is covered in paint!
The big flaw in this picture is that the lads get drunk at the beginning and pretty much stay drunk for the entire movie! That gets kind of wearisome after a while, I must say! Most people would say this is a boring movie where not much happens, and they wouldn’t be wrong, but I really enjoyed it! Little scenes like the glasses nerd and Joella excitedly admitting to one another that they prefer Adlai Stevenson over Ike make this kind of thing worthwhile for a guy like ol’ Burl! I also kind of like that this movie, uniquely in its subgenre, isn’t crammed wall-to-wall with cheaply-licensed 50s hits! No, they wrote and recorded one themselves, calling it Sweater Girls of course, and they play that one over and over throughout the picture! I give this low-budget trinket two and a half Charlene Tilton cameos!   

Saturday 19 November 2011

Burl reviews Lightning Over Water! (1980)

Hi, it’s me, Burl, and I’m back! Ha ha, for anyone who’s counting, this is my one hundredth movie review! Ha ha, it’s all so delightful!
Anyway, I’m here to review the movie Lightning Over Water, which I guess fits into the same microgenre as another movie I reviewed a while back, Voyage in Time, which followed director Andrei Tarkovsky around Italy as he prepared a new movie! This one is about director Nicholas Ray as he tries to make a new movie with his pal Wim Wenders, but the grim spectre of death gets in the way! Talk about your microgenres – I guess you’d call it the autobiographical movie director semi-documentary! There are probably some more out there, and if I come across one, I’ll be sure to review it! Or if you think of one, be sure to let me know about it! Ha ha, thanks!
Lightning Over Water starts with Wim Wenders arriving in New York to hang out with his buddy Nick, the great director of such classics as Bigger Than Life! Nick is awfully sick though, and they decide to collaborate on a movie that would essentially be about Nick and Wim trying to make this movie! Of course it’s really a movie about Nick Ray dying, and about the passions that had kept him going this long (movies; smoking), and about the little world of acolytes he’s gathered around him for the final act of his life! And in the background, Susan Ray, his wife, wears a slightly strained expression and practices a lot of yoga! This can’t have been a very easy time for her, so she’s a pretty impressive character in her own right!
She’s also proved a good steward of Nick Ray’s life and work in the years since his death, recently having seen through to release his final solo feature, We Can’t Go Home Again, which we see glimpses of in this movie! We also see a nice chunk of Ray’s Robert Mitchum picture The Lusty Men, which I’ve never seen in full! Ha ha, I think it’s time, because it looks pretty great!
Much of Lightning Over Water is Wim Wenders reflecting on Ray, on his relationship with Ray, and on his worries of how this movie they’re making is impacting Ray’s health and his own feelings toward the great director! He relates an argument he has with another acolyte, a guy named Tom, over whether they should be thinking of Nick as a father figure! Tom claims it’s natural and proper to do so, while Wim believes it would just interfere with what the relationship should actually be, and would prevent them from knowing Nick first and foremost as a person in a simple, direct and human way! I appreciate that point of view, but it’s pretty clear throughout that Wenders is caught in a pretty bad case of hero worship, which is sort of the same thing! But that would be hard to avoid with a figure as accomplished and iconic as Nick Ray!
Ray himself is the heart and soul of this movie, of course, and it’s great in that it doesn’t crowd him or ask too much of him, but still makes it clear how scared he is behind his cigare*te-smoking tough-guy façade! We also get a sense of the betrayal he still rightly feels at having been dumped by Hollywood in the early 60s for being a troublemaker and a boozehound! It’s a sad story, but the whole point of Lightning Over Water is to provide Ray a chance to go out with his head held high, and by that measure, and by most others I can think of, it’s a marvelous success! I give Lightning Over Water four hacking morning coughs!

Friday 11 November 2011

Burl reviews Murder by Contract! (1958)

Hi, Burl here to review a lone wolf hired killer movie, which is a genre I certainly like, but don’t have the great love for that some other people do! This is an older one though, and so it has some very special attributes, which I would like to tell you about now!
This is the story of Claude, played by Vince Edwards from Cellar Dweller, and how he became a hitman, and then the bulk of the movie takes us through his most difficult contract! We see Claude’s first few jobs, including a very nicely-done barbershop murder, and the next thing you know he’s a veteran cold-blooded killer-for-hire and on his way to sunny California for an extra-special task!
In California he’s aided and minded by two assistants, Marc and George, who accompany him everywhere as he gets ready to fulfill the contract! Ha ha, but what do you think he wants to do to get ready? That’s right, swim in the ocean, whack a few at the driving range, take in a movie or two, stroll around and see the sights! It drives Marc and George bananas! But he’s the stone-cold expert hit man and they’re just the mob’s bum boys, so they have to take it and like it!
Finally Claude decides to take a look at the person he’s supposed to assassinate, and it turns out to be a lady piano player! Well he’s not too happy about that, and that’s when the plan starts to fall apart and beads of sweat begin to appear on the formerly unshakeable Claude’s brow! As you might guess, this being a film noir, things pretty quickly spiral out of control from there, and all under the watchful eye of Lucien Ballard’s chrome-grey camerawork!
This is a really enjoyable picture, filled with fascinating detail, not so much of the hit man’s methods or of his philosophy, but just of the times! The two actors who play Marc and George are unfamiliar to me, but they play their frustration as high comedy and it works very effectively! They make for a good team, and you almost feel sorry for them as Claude seems to be deliberately trying to drive them nuts for no good reason!
There’s an excellent guitar score that reminded me of the zither music from The Third Man, and I’ll bet it’ll remind you of that very same thing! It works perfectly in this movie, though! And there’s a great climax that involves being in a storm drain, but I won’t ruin it for you by describing it further! I’ll just say that I think you’ll enjoy this small gem of a gangster flick, and I give it three exploding television sets!

Thursday 10 November 2011

Burl reviews Skyline! (2010)

Ah ha ha, it’s me, Burl! I thought I’d review a newer alien picture that I watched the other day! It’s called Skyline and it was made by two brothers who usually do trick effects in other people's movies! These guys apparently financed the picture themselves and shot it almost entirely in the Marina Del Rey condo that one of them lives in!
I’m sure you’re wondering “Ha ha, Burl, why would you watch a movie like that? Don’t you know it won’t be worth a cruickshank?” Well, having heard the background information on the movie, I sort of started thinking of it as a modern-day, California version of a Don Dohler backyard-Baltimore alien caper! And I wondered what something like that would be like!
Well, ha ha, it’s not too good! It seems that a group of fairly dumb people are getting together in Los Angeles for a birthday party! The party takes place in the condo, of course, and then, after we’ve gotten to know the characters enough to realize we don’t like them very much, the alien braineaters make their move! Dazzling blue lights fall from the sky and zombify anyone who dares stare into them! And then you float up into the sky and are hoovered into one of the massive spacecraft which hover over the city at what must be precisely the altitude prescribed by the FAA or someone, since that’s where all the alien spacecraft squat, from V to Independence Day to all the rest of these kinds of movies!
The movie follows these characters as they try to escape the nefarious space creatures, who have different forms and are hard to tell apart from their space buggies if you want the truth! The backyard nature of this particular picture, and the general stupidity of its characters, means that every attempt to leave the building is stymied pretty quickly, and the movie takes on a vaguely Sartrean or maybe Buñuelian aspect as the characters try again and again to exit the building, only to find themselves back in that same condo, engaging in the old Night of the Living Dead debate about whether to hole up and wait for help or make some attempt to escape! It gets tiresome pretty quickly, since if you’ve ever seen a siege picture the same argument will seem to have been raging long before the movie even began!
Eventually, after a valiantly stupid rooftop fight against the aliens, where the main fellow, the dumbest one of all, ends up punching wildly at the alien middle-school wimp-fight style, the two main characters end up in a spaceship where they discover the true reason behind the aliens’ invasion, which is in the nature of a snack run! The E.T.s reminded me of Vermicious Knids, and their antics were initially interesting since they seem more like animals than super-advanced conquerors of the universe; but the last scenes of the picture rapidly become extremely silly, and one is grateful to see it come to an end!
It’s not a total loss, though! Sure it tries much too hard and is never scary or exciting or awe-inspiring in the way it intends to be, and the effects, which are near-constant in the movie’s second half, have a weightless quality that drains them of import; but it still manages a couple of nice images, and though you think about legions of glasses nerds chained to render farms rather than a few sci-fi geeks freezing their buns off in a Baltimore backyard, that Dohler can-do spirit I love so well can still be detected faintly around the margins of this bombastic but boring butterberry of a picture! Also, the movie features a performance from the actor Robin Gammell, who’s so good in Rituals and Bells! Ha ha, I was surprised to see him! I give Skyline one single annoying girlfriend!

Monday 7 November 2011

Burl reviews Whodunit?! (1982)

Hi, ha ha, hi, it’s Burl here! Over several of my recent reviews I’ve been assembling something of a slasher movie taxonomy, and I’ll continue breaking the genre down for you now! We’ve heard about Makeup Effects movies and Non Makeup Effects Movies; we’ve heard tell that some slasher movies are very blue looking; we know that sometimes the killer is hideously deformed and sometimes not! Well, here’s another categorization for you: sometimes the identity of the killer is known from the beginning, and sometimes it’s intended as a mystery!
Whodunit?, as should be pretty evident from the title, is a slasher of the latter sort! Like Madman it's very blue in appearance (it was shot, and also produced, by Thomas Spaulding, whose most famous cinematography credit is the original 1958 The Blob, ha ha!) and features a few gruesome makeup effects! So that’s where it sits in the pantheon; but, since the odds are that you’ve never seen this rather obscure picture, you’re probably more particularly wondering 1) what it’s about, and 2) if it’s any good!
Well, it’s about a group of people gathering on an island somewhere – it reminded me of the island from The Slayer, actually – to shoot some kind of up, up with people sort of a movie, about young people putting on a big show in an uncle’s barn or something! They’re just there to rehearse actually, in preparation for the shoot! Anyway, some mysterious person starts playing the most repetitive, annoying rocknroll song ever on a little cassette player, and then this whoever-it-is kills according to the manner suggested by the lyrics of the song! Boiling, chopping, burning, sawing – all of this mayhem occurs in the dumb song, and that’s what happens to this group of silly people!
There’s a misanthropic musician, a mean, bitter girl on crutches, a fresh-faced debutante, a glasses nerd, a he-man, and many more, including the foolish movie director named Mr. Phlegm! That’s right, I should mention that the movie tries to be a bit of a comedy too, but fails pretty completely at that! There’s a bunch of novelty killing though, which always makes things more interesting than simple pokes with a knife! One fellow gets boiled in a swimming pool! Ha ha, how do you get a whole swimming pool to boil unless there are some kind of supernatural forces at work, like in This House Possessed? An unlucky lady gets a battery acid shower, and there are several pokings, an axing and a chainsawing! I think someone even gets blown up!
Then there’s a lot of running around the deserted structures on the island, and after that a twist ending! It’s not the most unexpected twist in the world, but it’s not bad either! There were long stretches when it seemed like this movie would never end, the script and acting are bad and that terrible song is annoying, but even with all that, it’s not the worst movie in the world! At least it tries, which is more than you can say for some movies of its ilk! I’m going to give it one and a half glasses nerds – the half coming after the unfortunate glasses nerd runs into the business end of an axe, ha ha!

Burl reviews Human Desire! (1954)

Ha ha, hello there! It’s Burl! Have I ever told you how much I appreciate the films of Fritz Lang? Probably! But have I told you how feverishly I enjoy the microgenre of train movies? I don’t think I have! I’ve always admired the great Runaway Train, and when I saw the fantastic John Frankenheimer movie The Train, I knew I had seen something special! Of course I really like train-set murder mysteries like Murder on the Orient Express or The Lady Vanishes, or even comedies like Silver Streak and The Darjeeling Limited, but I particularly like train movies where there’s tons of insider detail on the mechanics of running trains! The Frankenheimer picture is certainly like that!
And so is Human Desire, which you’ll be pleased to hear is a Fritz Lang train movie! In fact it’s a choo-choo noir, which is a great and natural combo, ha ha! It’s based on Émile Zola’s novel La Bête Humaine, but the story was changed around quite a bit! Instead of a psychotic woman-hating killer of ladies, the main character, played here by Glenn Ford, is now a fairly goody two-shoes Korean War veteran train engineer who becomes a typically noir-ish obsessive man-patsy weakling in the blink of an eye, and then towards the end returns to his earlier persona in another blink! Ha ha, they also remove the train crashes and multiple murders at the end, which is too bad! I’ll have to check out the Jean Renoir version to see if they stay truer to the book!
But this movie has plenty of its own virtues! It’s set mostly in and around the train yards of some unidentified small town, and begins with Glenn Ford returning from war and starting back at his old train engineer job! He stays at his old buddy’s house, where the buddy’s beautiful daughter has a crush on him! But meanwhile, Broderick Crawford, the deputy assistant yard master, has been fired from his job and gets his wife Gloria Grahame to meet with a powerful man of her acquaintance in order to get it back!
But Broderick Crawford (whom of course we know from The Vulture) is insanely jealous, and gets it into his head that his wife has had an affair with this rich man, and so, with her unwilling complicity, he pokes the guy with a knife one night on a train! Glenn Ford happens to be on this train too, smoking, and he pretty quickly falls in love with Gloria Grahame! It’s a little unbelievable how quickly it happens actually – blink and you’ll miss it! I must have blinked, in fact! As their love develops, monster-hubby Broderick becomes a meaner and more pitiful drunk, eventually losing his job once again! Glenn, pixilated by love, plots a murder, but it doesn’t quite go as planned! Of course it all ends on the train, but not in the way that I expected!
Well, as far as Fritz Lang goes, this is no M, that’s for sure! It’s not even a Big Heat, which he made a year earlier and which also starred Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame! As I’ve mentioned, the Ford-Grahame romance is kind of unbelievable, and maybe it’s that Ford just wasn’t able to radiate that cowardly pushover desperation vibe that’s so vital to noir men in this situation! You’d think if Fred MacMurray could do it anyone could, but I guess it’s just not that easy! There’s also a little bit of sloppy mise-en-scene here and there in the movie, which is very unlike our Uncle Fritz!
The main problem I think is that Lang just plain didn’t believe in this picture! He didn’t even like the title, for which I don’t blame him one bit – it should have been called That’s Railroading, which is a great line we hear from a minor character early in the film! Also, there was disagreement between Lang and his producer, Jerry Wald, over just what la bête humaine actually was! Lang thought it referred to the beast inside all humans, whereas Wald though it meant women were the human beasts! And so they try to cram the Gloria Grahame character into the typical scheming femme fatale mould when she’s actually not that at all!
No, her character gets a real raw deal in this picture! She tells a few fibs and attempts a little manipulation, but mostly is on the level and is just trying to get by! She gets stymied by nasty men at every turn and I’m sad to report that it doesn’t end very happily for her! I have to say, I don’t think it was very fair! No, not fair at all! But because I love all the train stuff and because there’s plenty of good acting – Broderick maybe overdoes the drunk act a bit, but he and Ford and especially Gloria Grahame are all very solid – I give Human Desire three deadhead trips back home!

Sunday 6 November 2011

Burl reviews Madman! (1982)

Hi, it’s Burl with another early-80s slasher movie review for you! I have to tell you, there’s a certain sort of slasher movie I always enjoy, and those are the types with the blue cinematography! That is to say that night isn’t pitch black, as it is in so many such movies (overly black more often than not, as though they weren't able to rent enough lights), but rather a bright, shiny blue! A good example of this is The Prowler; another is Sorority House Massacre, and yet a third is the somewhat rare Whodunit!
But the bluest of them all is Madman, which takes place entirely at night – no, not one second of daytime in this picture! – and gets a lot of mileage out of the almost otherworldly azure cast of the woodsy outdoors which are the domain of its lumbering, deformed antagonist, Madman Marz! It's worth noting too that under blue light, blood - at least fake blood anyway - looks practically black!
I tend to categorize this sort of movie more than they perhaps deserve, you’ll notice, and elsewhere I’ve discoursed on slasher movies with and without Special Makeup Effects (“with” being generally superior of course), but here’s another division for you: movies whose maniacs are deformed and those who are not! Putting aside the slightly nasty suggestion that terrible injury or deformation makes you automatically homicidal, I’ll say that I usually prefer the maniacs to be a little on the grotesque side! Jason, Cropsy and the big guy from The Prey all qualify! And Madman Marz, whose nose has been bitten off, whose face was cleft in twain by an axe, and who wasn’t anybody’s dream date to begin with, fits that bill as well! Ha ha, imagine a Mount Rushmore with those guys on it!
Madman takes place at a camp for special gifted children, and opens with a very effective campfire spook story telling the tale of Marz, who, legend has it, will return to stalk the woods if his name is spoken above a whisper! One especially special gifted child, Ritchie, takes the dare and shouts insults at Marz from the presumed safety of the campfire! Oh, foolish Ritchie! Soon enough the portly maniac has risen from his farmhouse lair and is preparing to generously dole out the chop!
Meanwhile a strange-looking and not entirely sympathetic counselor named T.P. engages in some hot tub shenanigans with the lady from Dawn of the Dead! But soon people begin to disappear, one by one, as the heavy hand of Marz comes down on them! Ha ha, it gets pretty spooky now and then, as when Ritchie spots Marz staring at them from a perch in the trees! It doesn’t seem likely that such a hefty, overall-clad psychopath could demonstrate such agility, but it’s still a chilling image!
The movie gets pretty bloody too, which is a point in its favor! Ha ha, at one point Marz manages a fancy decapitation simply by jumping on the hood of a truck! He’s also pretty handy with an axe, a rope or just his bare hands! And Marz is one of the more primal maniacs of the genre – he’s so filthy and horrible and murderous that he’s practically a Bigfoot or something! He certainly doesn’t dispense quips with his mayhem – all he does is produce sounds like a Wookee making sweet love to an Ewok!
I’ll give this enjoyable but very minor picture two T.P. belt buckles! It has some bad acting and some worse dialogue, but it’s about as basic a summer camp maniac movie as you can get, as primal as its maniac, and that’s some sort of achievement I guess! Ha ha!

Burl reviews Famous T & A! (1982)

Burl coming at you with a review of one of those clip movies! Ha ha, you probably remember those things – they made quite a few of them back in the 1980s, mostly of horror movies! There was Terror on Tape, Terror in the Aisles, Filmgore, The Best of Sex & Violence and It Came From Hollywood, and probably more! They would usually have host segments featuring people like Donald Pleasance or Nancy Allen or John Candy or Cameron Mitchell or John Carradine or Elvira or Cheech and Chong, and then there would be clips from various movies, sometimes organized into themes or sometimes just random!
Famous T & A, hosted solo by Sybil Danning, has its own general theme, which is the boobs and bums of semi-famous and not-so-famous ladies of the silver screen! Other than that it seems to have been organized much in the manner that Jackson Pollock organized his paint droplets! The whole thing opens with Sybil putting on some sexy golden-tin armor and waving a sword around, and then she intones some crazy, sometimes factually incorrect monologues about the beautiful ladies who have dazzled us with their pulchritude! We then get clips from movies like Tanya’s Island, Slave of the Cannibal God, Sweet Sugar and Truck Stop Women, occasionally broken up by some more sword-waving from Sybil!
A few of the clips come in the form of trailers, particularly for The Single Girls, and for Terminal Island and Sweet Sugar we actually get multiple takes of the same scene, complete with slate! They aren’t bloopers or anything like that, just different takes of the same shot! Not very enlightening, ha ha!
All in all, it’s kind of a boring cruickshank of a motion picture! The video box implies that we’ll see all sorts of now-famous people in various states of undress, and sure, we do see naked ladies, but they somehow manage to drain that experience of any prurient interest whatever! Ha ha, quite a feat! But some of the ladies listed don’t even appear in the movie, I’m pretty sure! And worst of all perhaps is the stuff they make Sybil Danning say! My gosh, it makes the end credits of Howling II seem like a exercise in dignified solemnity by comparison! The poor woman – I hope she was at least well paid!
Because I enjoyed a couple of the trailers – I have a weakness for trash-movie trailers, I have to admit! – and because they run the tail credits over a painted, clenched buttocks, I award this stultifying bore a single tit maniac!

Burl reviews Dune! (1984)

It is by Burl alone I set my review in motion! Ha ha, it's me to review a science-fiction spectacular! I guess Dune didn’t do all that well at the box office when it came out back around Christmas of 1984! Ha ha, it was no Star Wars, that’s for certain! I’m not even sure it was a Flash Gordon or a Last Starfighter! But it was and always shall be a Dune, which is to say among the strangest and most unique science fiction pictures ever made!
Ha ha, it still amazes me that David Lynch was hired to direct this mammoth project, given that he’d only made two feature films before this, and one of them was an impenetrable art movie that took him ten years to complete! But I’m glad he was! Of course, there were other attempts to make Dune before this, most famously the Alejandro Jodorowsky kick at it, which would have been crazy that’s for sure! I think Ridley Scott was going to try as well, which is less exciting; but if it had happened during his Alien / Blade Runner phase and not his Somebody To Watch Over Me period, it might have been something pretty special!
A lot of people mourn the non-existence of these versions, and Dino De Laurentiis was probably among them, ha ha, but I’m pretty happy with this Lynch one! It would have been nice if he’d been allowed to make it as long as he wanted, but it had to be 137 minutes and not a second longer, so they could fit in two shows a night! Too bad, because you can really see the forced compression in the final product!
I don’t know if there’s anyone reading this who doesn’t know the plot, but here it is in even more of a nutshell than Lynch had to put it! It’s the future, and there’s a really valuable spice that everyone wants, more precious than cardamom! You can only get it on planet Dune, and the good Atredies and the nasty Harkonnen families both want to control it! But Paul Atredies is destined to be the king of the universe no matter what the bald witches, Emperor Toulouse-Lautrec or the space slugs say, and the race of leather daddies who live in the desert and their giant pet worms have their own opinions on all these matters; and later it rains!
You can see how it would be hard to fit all that into just over two hours and make all the crazy detours you’d want to make if you were David Lynch! Ha ha, thank goodness for Transcendental Meditation! No, he wasn’t entirely successful, but he made a good fist of it, as they say, and the movie certainly looks fantastic! I love the brassy look it all has, and the supporting cast is almost too excellent, since most of them get pretty short shrift when it comes to screen time! Why hire an Oscar winner like Linda Hunt if you’re just going to have her creep fearfully into a room and then leave again? Well, I’m sure that wasn’t the plan, but that’s how it turned out!
And there’s some good creatures in here, thanks to that old rascal Carlo Rambaldi! The worms are amazing of course, and I always wondered what would happen if, as is suffered by one of the characters, you got eaten by one! And who, I wonder, would win in a fight, a sand worm or The All-Consuming Sarlacc from Return of the Jedi? Meanwhile, the space slugs who control the universe, but are really little more than glorified bus drivers, are particularly gross! But even grosser is the Baron Harkonnen, who I’m not even sure was a Carlo Rambaldi creation or not! Certainly he looks even worse than that famous piece of poo, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial!
For giving it a darn good try even if it could have been so much better, I award Dune three incredibly bushy eyebrow guys with smeared lipstick! But I do have one question: How did Toto of all rock groups get the job of doing the score, and why didn’t they do any more movie work? Ha ha, they did a pretty good job with this one!

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Burl reviews Fatal Games! (1984)

Well hello! It’s Burl here with, what else, a review for you! Ha ha, I can’t really defend this strange affection I have for early-80s slasher movies, but I’ve got a case of it for true, and it’s not going away! I don’t like them all unreservedly or anything – often they can be boring or just plain dumb! In fact, most of the time they are, but still, I have an appreciation for them that nobody can take away!
Anyway, Fatal Games is one of the more obscure of these pictures, and though the copyright date says 1984, it seems like it was made even earlier! It takes place at some kind of athletics academy where, throughout the first act, a series of characters qualify for “The Nationals,” and happy they are about it too, for The Nationals are just one step removed from a spot on the Olympic team! (Maybe that’s why this was released in 1984, to capitalize on the ’84 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles! Ha ha, very clever! I wonder if it worked!)
At any rate, somebody who is a very good javelin thrower apparently has a grudge against these Nationals qualifiees and begins spearing them and hiding their transfixed corpses in the lockers! These disappearances arouse only the mildest concern among their peers and the school’s four staff members, and in the meantime the gymnastics and copious nudity continue! Ha ha, if you ever wanted to see naked ladies, this is the movie for you! There’s lots of them in here!
The movie pretty much follows all the slasher film conventions, which is more or less a good thing! I have a little checklist of values for these things though – strictly mental – and one of the items I look for is whether or not there’s any actual gore! I’m not what you’d call a goremonger, but I think it’s part of the contract these pictures make with their audiences: there should be a little bit of the red stuff! And I don’t just mean a few drops of stage blood or a retractable knife, I mean special effects that actually have to be made and applied and filmed with some panache! Halloween, as I mentioned in the review of that excellent picture, doesn’t have any such things, but that’s a very special case! A movie like this one or Final Exam or Sorority House Massacre really skates on thin ice by ignoring that simple obligation!
You can usually tell simply by glancing at the credits and seeing if there was someone in charge of Special Makeup Effects! If not, chances are you’re getting a pretty dry picture, and I guess Fatal Games fits that bill! However, with all that said and my rant at an end, I must say that I truly enjoyed this goofy little number nonetheless! Sure, it would have been nice to have a little variation in the killings, as there are lots of possibilities when it comes to athletic equipment (you can see a picture called Graduation Day for an example of some of them – ha ha, spiked football!), but the general amusing goofiness on display here makes up for it! And the revelation of who is doing all the killing has to be seen to be believed! Though to be sure, it’s not the only time this particular motive has been tried on for size in a movie like this, but it might be the funniest such attempt!
For doggedly hitting almost all the slasher movie marks, for giving us a marvelously terrible theme song (“Take it to the limit and don’t look back now /  Take it all the way / No second chance, you’re on your own now / Winning isn’t everything / Winning is the only thing / Ha ha!”) and for providing some pretty excellent javelin murder scenes, even if they are a bit dry (couldn’t one of them have gone through someone’s head or something?), I give Fatal Games one and a half trips to The Nationals!

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Burl reviews Bad Meat! (2011)

Hi, Burl here to review a crazy new horror picture! This one is called Bad Meat, and it was apparently shot in bits and pieces over the last few years, and stitched together much in the manner of your classic Frankenstein Monster! You can really tell that it was a tinkered-with production, but I have a soft spot for those special sorts of movies which, because of whatever problems that happened to have come up, are put together by different groups of people into a unique new movie that no one could have planned or predicted, and to which no particular authorial voice can be ascribed! It’s as though the Fates themselves made the movie, ha ha!
The picture begins with a spooky sequence in a hospital room, where a totally unidentifiable bandaged mummy of a patient tells, or rather types out, his or her story of how he or she got that way! It seems there was a terrible discipline camp out in the woods somewhere that was staffed by Nazis, wrestlers and she-devils, and these meanies terrorized a group of teenagers who had been sent there by their presumably nasty parents!
Well, they’re an unpleasant enough group of councilors, and are led by a neo-Nazi played by Mark Pellegrino from Mulholland Drive, but they get even worse when the cook feeds them some spoiled meat! For whatever reason this turns them into crazed flesheaters who vomit all over, fart a lot, and chase the kids hither and yon, hoping to pop them into a stewpot next! Meanwhile the kids, who are an argumentative bunch indeed, have to learn to somehow work together to escape or vanquish the hideous flesheaters!
It all ends rather suddenly in the middle of an attack! I guess we’re to assume the nasty bunch won out in the end, leaving only a single victim alive, but so hideously injured as to be absolutely unidentifiable; and that the final horror we take home with us is the thought of that poor person trying to recuperate, just as all those poor people deformed by chimp attacks have to! At least that’s what I took away from it, and I have to admit it gave me the willies!
This movie’s sure gross! There are some gory bits of course, but worse still is all the chunder and poo that splashes around everywhere! Yuck! And the beef stew that causes all the trouble is also very disgusting, and of course so are the characters and situations! You can almost smell the terror! So on that level, which is a pretty base level indeed, the movie succeeds!
Dramatically, perhaps not so much! I guess it never really was finished, but as I said, I don’t really mind that, and am personally pretty fascinated by these pariah dog pictures! The inconclusive ending gives the whole thing a strange avant-garde aura that I suspect is better than what we’d have gotten if the movie had been completed as planned!
Still, I’m not going to give the thing a totally ringing endorsement! It’s for certain very specific tastes only, and you probably know who you are! I’ll just say that this is a bizarre, perverse and ultimately compelling exercise in filmmaking at random! I give it two exploding pillows!