Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Saturday 31 December 2011

Burl reviews Scream... and Die! (1973)

Hi, Burl here with a movie review for you! Ha ha, let’s have a little chat about British horror movies of the 1970s! There’s lots of good ones that I really enjoy, like Tower of Evil or Raw Meat or Theatre of Blood or The Wicker Man, and that’s not even counting the works of Pete Walker or Norman Warren, or the Tigon or Hammer films of the period! There was no shortage of marvelously entertaining spookshow pictures, but I have to say that Scream… and Die! is not one of them!
It was made by an Iberian director who directed a couple of his pictures in Merrie Olde England, including one from 1974 called Vampyres! Ha ha, I haven’t seen that one, but people tell me it’s pretty erotic! Having now seen this slightly earlier work, which is full of ladies wearing no clothes, I can certainly believe it! He really seems to enjoy filming ladies getting in and out of beds, judging from the number of times this occurs in Scream… and Die! Ha ha, I think there’s more of that sort of thing than there is of knife pokings or other scary stuff!
The story concerns a lantern-jawed fashion model of no especially great mental acuity, who looks a little like a cross between Gaylen Ross from Madman and lady singer Liz Phair, and who accompanies her shady, unpleasant boyfriend on a break-and-enter mission in the countryside! Ha ha, it’s a foggy night, and as dull-witted as our fashion model may be, she looks like Ludwig Van Wittgenstein next to this dim specimen! They blunder into the wrong house looking for who knows what, stumble across a pile of passports belonging to young foreign women, and happen to witness a brutal poking committed against a nude lady by an unseen gentleman in black gloves! Ha ha, it’s giallo time!
No, not jello time, ha ha, stop licking your lips, and there’s no pudding pops here! I’m talking giallo, those Italian movies about black-gloved killers which are a close and generally more stylish cousin to the slasher movie! The style spread beyond Italy of course, and this picture is one example of that, though it trades the sophisticated Milanese vibe typical of the Italian movies for a bleak and foggy Blighty grot!
Anyway, the fashion model gets away from the strange house, but her boyfriend does not, though it’s no great loss! She spends the rest of the picture fearful of the murderous mystery man, and trying to find the house where the murder happened so she can convince her friends that she’s hasn’t gone bats! Eventually the murderer proves to be exactly who we thought it was, but who we convinced ourselves it couldn’t be because that was too obvious! Ha ha!
There’s a scene in this picture that everybody talks about, and that’s the one where the mask-painting young fop makes sweet love to his middle-aged auntie! Ha ha, most of the reviews make it sound like the auntie is a withered old crone of a lady, but she’s actually quite attractive, and so the scene is not the wild, taboo-braking head-spinner that many of these namby-pambies make it out to be!
I’m usually a pretty patient fellow when it comes to movies – they don’t need to be all zip-boom-bang to entertain ol’ Burl! And while this one has a few spooky moments and little shreds of atmosphere here and there, it’s pretty muddled and boring most of the time! The pace is slow and the so-called mystery is uncompelling! It’s not a terrible movie or a complete waste of time, but it could use a little more vim and perhaps a dash of pep! I give Scream… and Die! one and a half mysterious bedroom monkeys!
Ha ha, a happy New Year to you all, and see you in 2012!

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Burl reviews The Speed Reporter! (1936)

Hi, Burl here with another dusty, creaky old B movie for you! This one is called The Speed Reporter, and it tells the story of a reporter so devoted to getting his story that he’ll face any danger at top speed and engage in almost any gymnastics you can think of to get it!
I’ll tell you this right up front: I love a good newspaper movie! This picture comes from the golden age of them, the same general era that produced The Front Page and His Girl Friday and even Citizen Kane! And even a bad newspaper movie has the power to entertain a broadsheet-minded fellow like ol’ Burl, ha ha!
I guess The Speed Reporter would qualify as a bad movie, more or less! The star of the picture, Richard Talmadge, was originally a tumbler by profession, and the movie makes a lot of room to show off his athletic skills, of that there is no doubt! But he’s got a weedy voice, of the sort we hear from Neil Sedaka in Playgirl Killer if you remember that movie; and a decided inability to deliver the roguish charm with which his poorly-written lines are meant to be laden!
But Talmadge sure can jump around! In accordance with almost every other role he played in his career, his character here is named Dick, and he works at the city desk of a big-city newspaper! His designation as a speed reporter is unmentioned but nevertheless well-earned, for the instant he hears about a possible story, he’s jumping out a window and onto the top of a passing truck in hot pursuit!
The story in this case involves a morality squad set up to police the city’s gangsters, but the squad has been set up by the gangsters themselves, with a milquetoast puppet executive installed as the head of the organization! Somehow the gangsters figure this will allow them to operate with impunity, but they’re not counting on Dick’s speed reporting!
Ha ha, Talmadge does some pretty impressive stunts, and he’ll never leave a room by the door if there’s a window closer by! And the movie is filled with these crazy, flailing fistfights between the indomitable newshound and various thugs and nogoodniks! Ha ha, the speed reporter will throw wild roundhouses, then flip his opponents over desks and chairs! Eventually the bad guys are rounded up and the speed reporter gets his scoop and a special bonus from the crusty editor so he can marry his special gal!
As I mentioned, this is not an especially good movie, but it sure manages to entertain! I’ll give it two amazing futuristic phone booths and recommend you give it a look!   

Monday 26 December 2011

Burl reviews The Christmas Martian! (1971)

A belated Merry Christmas to you all from me, Burl! Here’s a review of a movie that’s supposed to be a Christmas picture, but it’s more of a completely berserk kids’ movie that just happens to take place around Christmas!
It takes place in small-town Quebec, and in that way is similar to another picture released the very same year, Mon Oncle Antoine! That one also centers around a youngster and takes place in small-town Quebec around Christmas, but in most other ways it couldn’t be more different than The Christmas Martian! But I think the two movies would make a pretty stellar double feature, quite frankly!
It seems there is a brother and sister whose Christmas vacation has just started, and their first stop on the way home from school is the store! While they’re in there bantering with the shopkeeper, a net-faced stranger in a long raccoon coat comes in, emits bubbles like he’s Robot Monster or something, makes some funny noises and then gobbles candy like it’s going out of style! The blustery shopkeeper chases him out, and from that time on, ha ha, the townsfolk know they’ve got a Martian problem!
While the kids go out looking for a Christmas tree to cut down, the strange incidents in the town multiply! One man sees an egg flying through the town at night, and the taxi driver has an encounter with an elderly flying lady clutching an umbrella like Mary Poppins! And then, after the siblings have found their tree, they spot the green footprints of the otherworldy intruder and follow him to his craft! They meet the oddball alien, whose name is Poo Flower, and he turns out to be pretty friendly! He feeds them candy from a vacuum tube and then shows them special pictures from his home planet!
Plot similarities to E.T. pile up as we learn that the Martian’s spacecraft is damaged and he’s stuck on Earth against his will! But a little welding fixes the problem, and after a flight around the world and some further antics with his brother and sister pals, Poo Flower’s only concern is escaping the skidoo posse of Francophones that has assembled to chase him out of their town and off the planet! He evades them by use of his Red Planet trickery, and then shows up at the kids’ house dressed as Santa Claus! There’s a confusion involving the children’s father, also dressed as Claus, and the police, and arrests are made and bitter recriminations uttered! But it all ends on a bittersweet but more or less happy note as the alien takes off to rejoin his own children back on Mars!
What an odd movie this is! Words can’t really express it fully, and certainly aren’t equal to the task of describing the peculiar aura exuded by Poo Flower himself! As stated, there isn’t much of a Christmas atmosphere to this picture, but the small-town Quebec vibe is thicker than mule paste, so that makes up for it! And there are a couple of Père Noëls there at the climax of the picture, so we have that! The snowmobile posse is pretty impressive too, I must say!
So for sheer craziness, a free-for-all attitude of improvisation, kooky happenings and the sheer fact that it exists at all, I give this peculiar holiday bauble an enthusiastic two and a half well-crafted prop UFOs!

Saturday 24 December 2011

Burl reviews Blade Runner! (1982)

Hi, it’s Burl here with a review of a science-fiction classic! Ha ha, let me tell you a little story: when I was a young lad, I entered a filmmaking contest with a friend of mine! We made a little super-8 movie that was a sequel to The Birds, and our only competition was a group of older lads who’d made a sort of Jekyll and Hyde movie! There were at least five of these fellows, and they won the contest quite handily!
Well, first prize was two movie passes per entrant, and second prize was one movie pass apiece! As we were the second bananas, my friend and I got our envelope of movie passes first – and as we opened it up we realized there were ten passes in there! The first prize envelope had mistakenly been given to us! Believing that we deserved it anyway, we skedaddled! Ha ha! And then, with my ill-gotten five movie passes, I went to see Blade Runner five times in a row!
Maybe that’s a strange movie for a little kid to obsess over, but I was a strange kid I guess! Anyway, I watched the movie again just the other day to see how it stacked up now! But ha ha, I made sure to watch the director’s cut, just so there wasn’t any of that sad-sack narration which even as a youngster I had thought sounded phony and out-of-place! Aside from that and a sequence with a unicorn running around, and the disappearance of some countryside flying scenes at the end, I didn’t notice too many changes!
The story is pretty basic – it’s the future, and robots are so fantastic that you can hardly tell them from humans, until they want to grab something from a container of intemperate liquid! Then you know it! But they get pretty rowdy now and again, and special cops called Blade Runners are employed to keep these droids in line! Harrison Ford, well known from The Long Ride Home, is one of these officers, and his attitude towards contraptions has mellowed somewhat since his days as a space pirate in Star Wars!
Well, a bunch of robots go haywire and land on Earth, which is prohibited by law! No robots allowed on earth, say the signs! However, these droids just want to extend their life spans, which, thanks to the glasses nerd who invented them, is pretty stingy – only about four years! Rutger Hauer is the leader of these crazy robots, but, in a stunning twist, he might well prove to have more humanity in him than any of the so-called real people! Ha ha! Although he really does a number on that glasses nerd, it has to be said! Crick-crack-splort!
The future world they created for this movie is still stunningly realized and quite plausible! And the trick effects are still among the best ever created for a movie in ol’ Burl’s opinion! They go extremely well with the great Vangelis musical score! And I just like the look of these old school trick effects more than the fuzzy and fake digital effects they have these days! I know that makes me sound like a get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon, but that’s okay! It’s just how I feel!
I still like Blade Runner an awful lot! Not as much as I used to, maybe, because I can see now that there’s not much of a story to it, and having read the Phillip K. Dick book it was based on, I know how rich and kooky a picture it could have been! That’s neither here nor there though – it’s still a fine old classic of a motion picture, and I give it a solid three and a half Esper machines!

Sunday 18 December 2011

Burl reviews Port of Missing Girls! (1938)

Hi, Burl here with another old curio of a motion picture for you! This one is called Port of Missing Girls, and it packs a fair bit of incident and action into its brief sixty-two minute running time! This is a classic bottom-half-of-the-bill movie, and sometimes that’s just what you want!
The story begins in New York, somewhere near some stock footage of Times Square, where, at a swingin’ club called Rossi’s, the featured attraction Miss Della Mason is about to warble a tune! But mob shenanigans are afoot, and a killer sneaks into Della’s dressing room and forces her to call in her boss, and then there’s a gundown! Well, poor innocent Della is implicated in the setup, and following an olde-tyme car chase, she has to jump a freighter for parts unknown!
On the face of things she’s picked the worst ship possible to stow away on, because the ferocious captain of the vessel is none other than notorious woman-hater Josiah Storm, known to have despised ladies ever since his wife packed up their baby and left him for another man lo these twenty years! But he’s played by the great Harry Carey, and so you know he’s just an old softie underneath! The steamer makes its way to the South Seas, and, as Della and radio operator Jim fall slowly in love, the captain decides to drop her off at the Port of Missing Girls, an island or peninsular or at least isthmic community which might be Hong Kong or might be Macao or might be some totally invented place, but in any case is where the fugitive girls of the world have gathered to entertain grumpy tourists!
The house mother of this strange nightclub is Minnie, and I do have to admit, with my twenty-first century cynicism, that the place seemed more like a House of Ill Repute than it did a nightclub, and Minnie its Madam! Be that as it may, it also makes Port of Missing Girls a part of that subgenre I love so well, the International Gathering Place of Fugitive Expatriates genre! Lots of great movies touch on that, from Casablanca to The Wages of Fear to Naked Lunch, and even a hucklebuck like Soldier of Fortune uses this trope to a degree, and whatever the movie it’s always welcome as far as ol’ Burl is concerned! An extra bonus in this picture is an appearance from the sassy and gorgeous Betty Compson from The Docks of New York, who plays another missing girl named simply Chicago!
Some vague intrigue involving a white Chinese general and a dastardly Frenchman is whipped up while the ship is in port, and Della risks her newfound freedom to save Captain Storm, Jim and the rest of the boys from a legion of coolies in rice picking hats! Ha ha, the climax of the picture is an enormous popgun battle on the deck of the ship, with the screen almost completely obscured by great drifts of revolver smoke!
It’s an entertaining little movie, though it has all the strange quirks of its time! The Chinese are of course jabbering hordes, and the ship’s cook, Misery, is played as a fearful, foot-shuffling idiot by a low-rent Mantan Moreland pretender named Snowflake! He does get a few good moments in the climactic battle, hiding in a funnel and bopping coolies on the head with his frying pan! Ha ha, racial sensitivity, thy name is emphatically not Port of Missing Girls!
Otherwise it was an enjoyable little daffodil, and although it might have tried harder with the exotic South Seas atmosphere, I give it two and a half cables from Washington!     

Saturday 17 December 2011

Burl reviews Malone! (1987)

Hi, it’s Burl here with some action-drama for you! Ha ha, you know how Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey have their famous trilogy of pictures, Flesh, Trash and Heat? Well, in the 1980s, the decade when anything could happen it seemed, Burt Reynolds also completed a similar trilogy of single-word-title movies, but his were called Stick, Malone and Heat; and I own all of these fine films on stunning VHS!
I’ll get to those others eventually, but Malone is the one I thought I’d review today! Ha ha, there weren’t a whole lot of 80s action movies with overtly right-wing bad guys, but this was one of them! Usually it was drug dealers, terrorists, mobsters or the gosh-darn Commies! I’d have liked to see a lot more of these Oliver North-esque heavies, because after all, the country was crawling with them back then, and I suppose it still is now!
In Malone, Cliff Robertson plays a fascist zealot millionaire with a plan to wear khaki pants, stand before a giant American flag and bellow nonsense, and thusly Take Back America; though you’d think a guy like that would have been reasonably happy with a brain-addled fellow traveler in the White House! Ha ha, with these Koch brothers we hear about, and others like them, that’s the sort of thing I suspect might be brewing up right now all through the U.S., so in a way Malone was ahead of its time!
Ex-CIA dirty-deedsman Burt Reynolds is driving his Mustang through the Pacific Northwest when he experiences car trouble! Luckily his car chooses to die in the very valley Cliff Robertson is trying to buy up as the staging ground for his coup! But there are still some stubborn families and businesses refusing to sell their land to this gun-happy wingnut, so it’s a good thing for them that Burt happens along to help them out! The usual scenes of escalating violence occur, and before you know it Burt is pumping out shotgun blasts before a wall of flame! Metaphorically anyway, because the photo assembly seen on the VHS cover never takes place in the movie precisely as it is thereon depicted!
Burt, sporting a real wallaby on his head this time around, takes a bullet at one point, and it looks pretty serious! It goes right into his abdomen and out the back, and then he falls down the stairs and soon after is involved in a pretty serious motor vehicle accident! But a few days of rest and some good loving from Lauren Hutton is all he needs for a full recovery, and soon enough he’s out vaulting fences and climbing barns like an uninjured man half his age! Needless to say he makes short work of all the über-conservatives, and that was pretty satisfying for ol’ Burl I must say! A giant explosion closes the film, just as it should!
Ha ha, it’s never very clear exactly what Cliff Robertson’s dastardly plan involves, and I chose to take this as a commentary on the juvenile and inchoate nature of all such “Take Back America” schemes rather than as simple lazy plotting! Burt, for his part, stands aloof from the politics in this role, but he sure won’t stand for petty would-be dictators throwing their weight around a community of generally decent people! In many ways the picture reminded me of Eye of the Tiger, even though I guess it’s trying to be more like Shane or one of Clint Eastwood’s Mysterious Violent Drifter movies!
Malone is strictly cookie-cutter nonsense in a TV movie style, but it’s pretty enjoyable in its own unambitious way; and having a non-Arabic bad guy with some ideological motivation beyond simple greed qualifies it as slightly novel! Ha ha, give this picture a look and pretty soon you’ll be shouting “Malone!” along with all the supporting characters in the movie! I give Malone two burning identification cards!

Thursday 15 December 2011

Burl reviews Hot Splash! (1987)

Ha ha, time to review a crazy teen sex comedy from the 1980s that I’ll bet you’ve never heard of! The picture’s called Hot Splash, which is on the face of things a kind of disgusting and nonsensical name for a movie, but is somehow completely appropriate for this one!
It was shot in Florida, a place I’ve never been; but from all I’ve heard about it, and from the other movies I’ve seen that were made there, this could practically be a documentary about life in the Dangleberry State! There’s a venerable cinematic history in Florida: why, just consider the films of Herschel Gordon Lewis! And the fine work of William Grefé, like Sting of Death and Death Curse of Tartu! The early works of Fred Olen Ray! And the Porky’s movies, along with other fine Bob Clark pictures! And Errol Morris’ Vernon, Florida! And Miami Vice! And Blue City! And the great killer capon picture Blood Freak! And any number of nudist camp films and fun-on-the-beach pictures like Spring Break! And of course The Artist Lewis Van Dercar!
Phew, that’s a lot of pictures! But it just goes to show what a marvelous cinematic history Hot Splash had to draw upon, should it have chosen to do so! But it didn’t! It does have a sort of an attempt at a plot involving surfers and their surfer chicks, but mostly it’s one of those non-movies like California Girls or something like that – just the stringiest of narratives clinging like stray hairs to goodtime documentary footage of young people having a grand old romp on or near the beach!
Well, it seems a big surfing competition is coming up, the Sundek Challenge! There’s a group of surfer buddies, like Woody and his jerk pal Jimbo and Jimbo’s incredibly ill-treated girlfriend Jennifer, and some other non-characters! Jimbo keeps playing around on Jennifer and stealing her money, and she says things like “You don’t understand, that’s what I like about Jimbo!” Ha ha, I hate to blame the victim, but that’s one young lady who ought to rethink her romantic devotion! Thankfully by the end of the picture she does, but only after the most unsexiest nude hot tub scene ever between her and the loathsome Jimbo!
Eventually Jimbo gets kidnapped by a slapheaded gangster named T.J., whose niece becomes a part of the surfer gang, and the race is on to rescue him in time for the big surfing competition! Ha ha, if I knew a guy like Jimbo and he got kidnapped, I’d have left well enough alone! But they go get him anyway for some reason, and he arrives at the beach in a big car shaped like a shoe! I liked that car, so I'll show you a picture of it!
The actual Sundek Challenge competition, which I guess is the climax of the picture, is conducted entirely out of long-distance shots of guys surfing tiny waves while a voiceover tells us that one or another of the competitors is doing better than the other! Ha ha, I don’t like to use sarcasm in my reviews, but in this case I’ll just say ooooohhh, how very very thrilling!
This movie is pretty bad! It was made by people who have no idea how to make a movie or tell a story, and I really hated the character of Jimbo more than I can express! Hot Splash is so stinky in fact that I have to fractionate my rating system further than ever and award this misbegotten cruickshank one quarter of an enormous inflatable bottle of suntan lotion!

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Burl reviews Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher! (1943)

Hi, ha ha, hi, it’s Burl! I wanted to tell you about a movie I saw that was evidently based on a radio serial that must have been popular in the early 40s or so! I think this is the only movie they made from the series, but I think maybe it’s the only one that needed to be made!
It’s called Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher, and it starts out in a nameless town with two rival gangs creating crime havoc for each other and everyone else, sort of like in Miller’s Crossing! The newspapers declare a crime wave and proceed to have a field day, just as they always like to do in these pictures! Ha ha, when I was in school, field day was just us running around doing sports and collecting little ribbons! Mine usually said “Participant” on them, which I assume is good!
Anyway, the chief of police is none other than the master of the slow burn, Edgar Kennedy! You know the slow burn: somebody does something exasperating, and a high blood pressure individual like Chief Edgar widens his eyes and rubs his hand across his face, sighs deeply and shakes his head in disbelief, and even though it’s in black and white you can tell he’s turning red as a tomato! Then, when you know the rage has boiled up into a white-hot frenzy, he blows his top! Ha ha, that’s the slow burn!
Chief Edgar’s best lieutenant is Pat, and Pat's girlfriend is the mayor’s secretary! There’s a lot of political pressure on the cops to stop the crime wave, and that’s when we finally get the titular detective, Cosmo Jones, who turns out to be a glasses nerd who has taken detective courses by correspondence! He seems hapless and ineffectual, but when a flirtatious party girl is kidnapped, he’s clever enough to help the newly-demoted Flatfoot Pat and Chief Edgar solve the crime!
But of course even Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher would be helpless without his sidekick and good pal Eustace, played by Mantan Moreland! Of course, Mantan does the sort of shtick that is not very well received in this day and age (I think the last time we saw it is probably in Mausoleum!), but it’s pretty fascinating to watch! He does the “feets don’t fail me now” routine a couple of times, I think! He was a talented guy, and to a degree manages to use that talent to override or subvert the demeaning caricature he plays!
I guess the best way to approach this picture is as a crazy curio of yesteryear! It doesn’t really hold its own as a movie, though I will say that it mostly manages to keep the comedy and the crime drama fairly well segregated! Ha ha, and the cast, from Kennedy to Moreland to Frank Graham, the radio personality who plays Cosmo, to the rest of them, are at least competent and in some cases really good! And it also makes me wonder why nobody names their kids Cosmo any more! Ha ha, I’ll give this loony daffodil one and a half angry calls from the mayor!

Sunday 11 December 2011

Burl reviews Mountaintop Motel Massacre! (1983)

Hi, Burl here with a review of a slasher movie from just past the subgenre’s annus mirabilis, 1982! This one was made in 1983, but I don’t think it got a proper release until several years later! It’s called Mountaintop Motel Massacre, and it provides pretty much exactly that, courtesy of a scythe-wielding crazylady named Evelyn, who runs the grimy titular establishment!
I sort of like this one, because it’s got a different set-up, and ultimately a whole different vibe, than most of its ilk! We learn that Evelyn had a three year stretch in the bughouse and was released in 1981! We find out that her daughter, who’s just as bats as Mother, keeps all manner of animals as pets, and is also a part-time Satanist! Or else she’s trying to revive the spirit of her dead father by way of diabolic means, or something like that! Anyway, we’re left to connect the dots behind this family dynamic, which is fine by me!
The first victim is a harmless guinea pig, which made me sad! I don’t like it when animals get the chop in these movies, but luckily all we see in this case is a splatter of GP blood! Then Evelyn finds her daughter doing a ritual, and that sends her into a fit, at the end of which the daughter has been given an accidental poking! Well after that, it’s game on! All that’s left is for the various victims to arrive, set themselves up in the filthy, horrible cabins of the Mountaintop Motel, and wait for batty Evelyn to pop up from the bathroom trapdoors and do her thing!
The parade of choppees includes a hefty preacher who likes to suck directly from a bottle of Old Granddad every chance he gets; a self-described gentleman carpenter who was probably my favourite character; a pair of newlyweds who reminded me of the ones from Maximum Overdrive, except the bride was less annoying and wasn’t played by Lisa Simpson; two young ladies whose hopes of becoming country music stars were doomed even without the stopover at the murder motel; and a slickster city boy who pretends to be the owner of Columbia Records to woo the young warblers! Ha ha, in such situations it’s usually safer to pretend to be just a producer or perhaps a lower-level record executive, but wouldn’t you know, those ladies half-believe his story anyway!
Evelyn starts things off not with killing, but with a program of fauna-based harassment! She releases snakes, rats and roaches into the various rooms, chuckling as the guests wake up to these unsavory animal surprises! Ha ha, the carpenter gets the roaches, emerging from slumber to find himself covered in them, and where I’d have gone screaming out the door this mighty man merely brushes them off and grouses that “they oughta call this a roach motel!” Anyway, that scene literally made me squirm, and I have to say that was one brave actor!
After all that it’s hand-sickle time, and there are a few pretty gory moments, like when the newlywed bride gets the scythe through her cheeks! There’s a chopped-off hand, a slit throat, a sliced face and a poked tummy! Finally a hefty sheriff arrives and helps out, taking over from the guy who was sort of set up to be the hero but then disappears for a stretch, later reappearing to claim that he’d knocked himself out by accident! That sounds like an attempt at complex plotting or a red herring or something, but I’m pretty sure the actor had to attend a wedding or other event that kept him away from the set as they were shooting the climax, so the sheriff simply took over!
This picture was shot in Louisiana I think, and in any case has a good regional vibe to it! So it’s got that going for it, and some weird touches and a few unconventional aspects, and of course a little of the red stuff! On the debit side it’s a little slow in parts, and just plain not very good in most others! But it has a certain je ne sais quoi, and for that I’ll award this goony-bird two amazing vintage ca-trucks!  

Burl reviews The Princess Bride! (1987)

Ha ha, so we’ve come to a pretty pass, have we not my friends! Burl reviewing The Princess Bride! But why not? It’s a movie after all, and judging by the Santa on the wall in Fred Savage’s room, a Christmas one at that! And it was made in the 1980s too, which is an era I seem to keep revisiting in this blog!
I saw this one in the theatre, but, as I recall, only because it was playing at the movie theatre at the end of my street! Otherwise I probably would have ignored it in the way I ignored many of the other big 80s fantasy pictures, like Willow or The Golden Child or Labyrinth, none of which I’ve ever seen! I did see Ladyhawke though, which I seem to recall was pretty stanky!
I won’t bother relating the plot of The Princes Bride in much detail, ha ha! Pretty pretty princess, handsome suitor, quirky sidekicks and dastardly villains: that’s about it, and all framed by scenes with Peter Falk telling the story to his grandson Fred Savage! Everybody loves the bits with Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin and André the Giant, and rightly so because those parts are great! André is very huge and loveable, and we get to hear Wallace Shawn, a long way from My Dinner With André – though he probably had dinner with André the Giant every day during the shoot – sputter the line “Do you want me to send you back where you were? Unemployed in Greenland???”
It’s all competently staged by Rob Reiner and nicely shot by the late Adrian Biddle, ha ha, but it’s never what you’d call a super thrillshow! Nor, for all its chatter about true love, does it ever pluck the heartstrings the way it intends; and this has been blamed in many reviews on the performances of Cary Elwes and Robin Wright in the lead roles! I guess there’s no denying that they're a bit deficient in the chemistry department – a supposedly history-making smooch between the two of them isn’t even shown in its entirety! – but I didn’t think their performances were bad! It’s just that they were comic performances more than anything, particularly in the case of Cary Elwes! I thought he was pretty good with his little comic bits, in fact!
The sword fighting scene between him and Mandy Patinkin is also very impressive! It’s well-choreographed and performed, and I’ll bet they had to practice it quite a bit before they got it right! It’s always nice to see the results of many hours’ effort on the screen! Still, they say Cary Elwes gave one of the worst performances ever committed to the screen in Saw (which I’ve never saw, ha ha), so maybe he was just a man born out of time – he should have been there fighting alongside Errol Flynn back in the olden days of pirate movies!
The picture takes on something of a variety-show aspect in the last third, as it parades out comic stars in heavy makeup or outlandish costumes for the delectation of the viewers! Of course we see Billy Crystal and Carol Kane in old-folks slather doing Catskills shtick, and Peter Cook doing a funny bit as the Impressive Clergyman! There are a few others in there too, and they’re okay, but don’t exactly keep us engaged in the picture!
I’ll give this enjoyable, often funny but slight fantasy picture two and a half six-fingered gloves, and an extra ha ha for conducting its business with such ruthless efficiency!

Saturday 10 December 2011

Burl reviews Head of the Family! (1996)

Ha ha, Burl here to review one of those crazy oddities from the mind of Charles Band! He’s the guy who’s obsessed with tiny little toy monsters and miniature killer dolls and such curiosities as that! Ha ha, he made Puppet Master and Demonic Toys and Dollman, and of course Dollman Meets Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys!
Of course he also made Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, which I’ll have to review here someday; and his father Albert made I Bury the Living and his brother Richard wrote the music for, among others, Re-Animator, so he’s part of a real filmmaking dynasty!
And who knows, Head of the Family may be his attempt to dramatize this saga in some way! We non-Bands can never know! Anyway, Head of the Family isn’t about killer puppets or dolls with knives, but about a strange family “headed,” ha ha, by a guy with a little tiny body and a big enormous melon! They’re the Stackpool family apparently, and the big head guy is Myron, who controls his three siblings with his mind! One of them is a guy with bulgy eyes and sharp ears, another is a pretty lady and the third is Otis, an oafish strongman!
Mixed up in all this is a neo-noir plotline involving Lance, a guy who owns a store-slash-diner, who’s in love with Loretta, the nubile wife of Howard, the local tough-guy biker! Every chance they get, they sneak off to make sweet love! One night Lance happens to notice the Stackpool family up to some nefarious deeds – turns out they kidnap people for use in Myron’s brain operations, and the Stackpool manse has a whole bunch of brain-vegetables running around the basement! So naturally a little blackmail is in order to force the Stackpools to get rid of the biker!
But the two lovers soon fall into the clutches of the giant head and his family, and the whole thing climaxes with a performance of, I presume, George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, with the soldiers and cardinals enacted by the brain operation victims and Loretta in the role of the about-to-be-roasted Joan! Of course, matters are complicated further by the tiny shred of autonomy Otis has left, which refuses to see such an outrage done to a pretty lady! A housefire is the inevitable conclusion!
It’s a weird little movie, I’ll say that much! I like weird movies, so that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned – the best thing about the picture, in fact! The acting is surprisingly solid all around, and the special effects of the giant casaba man are sometimes pretty good – they use forced perspective and such Mélies-era tricks as that! I always like to see that stuff!
On the other hand, there’s not much to the movie, and it’s a talky one, greatly deficient in action! The story could use a few extra wrinkles too, and the characters some depth! There are quite a few scenes of sexual congress between Lance and Loretta, and she’s completely bum-naked when she plays the part of Joan of Arc at the end, but somehow this doesn’t liven up the movie to the degree that you’d expect! Ha ha! The weirdness, however, just about almost carries the day!
Because it tries something different and does pull off a few small coups, and because it’s slightly funny or clever in parts, and because there’s an oaf wearing a jerkin and a guy with bug eyes, I’ll award this strange curio two pork tenderloin tongues!

Friday 9 December 2011

Burl reviews Tower of London! (1939)

Hi, Burl here with a bit of history for you! I don’t think it’s what you’d call very accurate history, but it sure is exciting and scary! Ha ha, when you’ve got Boris Karloff playing a hulking, club-footed executioner named Mord, you know it’s going to be a journey into fright!
The picture’s called Tower of London, and though it gets called a horror movie a lot, and is filled with horror stars, and is directed by Rowland V. Lee, a guy best known, inasmuch as he’s known at all, for his horror movies, I’d still say it sits somewhere in the netherworld between spookshow and straight historical drama! But I guess classifying the movie isn’t  the most important thing now, is it!
It’s the story of Richard III’s cruel and heartless path to the throne of England! Ha ha, he keeps a wee dollhouse with figures representing all those between him and the crown, and every time he manages to get rid of one, he tosses their doll into the fire! As this takes him several years, I had to wonder that apparently no one, a servant dusting the room for instance, or maybe one of his wives, ever found his macabre and rather incriminating little display!
The one-by-one nature of his fatal userptions gives it a bit of a slasher move aspect too, like Prom Night or something, which is a little bit of extra fun for those of us who know that genre! And the aforementioned great cast of horror stars is yet another marvelous bonus! Ha ha, we get Basil Rathbone, well known from The Scarlet Claw and the other Holmes adventures, as Richard the Crookback, Vincent Price from Dead Heat as his ineffectual drunkard brother Clarence, Leo G. Carroll from Tarantula as a royal adviser and of course Karloff, from Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff, as the terrifying, completely fictional Mord the Dragfoot who is totally and creepily dedicated to his humpbacked master Dick the Third! The rest of the cast is pretty good too!
There’s some good gruesome stuff in this picture! There’s a head-chopping, which of course was a very popular activity of the day, and some scenes in Karloff’s torture chamber, with an iron maiden and a rack and other terrible items; and then of course there’s the scene where Clarence and Richard get into a drinking contest and of course, as we know from Shakespeare's play, Clarence ends up in a butt of his favourite Malmsey! Ha ha, how much is a butt, you might be wondering? It’s about three hogsheads! Plenty enough to drown in, anyway! Poor Clarence!
Of course Richard and Mord get their comeuppance on the battlefield, but it’s a long road of murder and torture and intrigue and deceit before then! It all looks great, with that wonderful 30s Universal gleam and some pretty lush sets! It’s a fine picture for sure, and I’d be so bold as to give it three and a half V.I.P. booths!

Monday 5 December 2011

Burl reviews Soldier of Fortune! (1955)

Hi, Burl here, talking to you in w i d e s c r e e n! That’s right, the movie I’m reviewing today was shot in Super-Cinemascope or something along that line, and I mention it because in the end the nice letterboxed cinematography by Leo Tover is pretty much the movie’s primary virtue!
It’s called Soldier of Fortune, which, because of the famous magazine of the same name, might lead you to think that this is a rugged picture filled with high adventure and the never-ending chatter of machine gun fire! There you would be sorely mistaken, though there is some gunfire in the last few minutes of the movie - more on that in a moment!
The soldier of fortune of the title is none other than Clark Gable, but, aside from an opening scene where he rides a funicular train, it seems to take forever before he shows up! The filmmakers throw in a Frenchman who sort of looks like him though, just to throw us off the scent I guess, or make us forget that Gable is supposed to be the star of this picture!
The story is set in Hong Kong, and begins with the arrival of American naïf Susan Hayward, who is searching for her missing photographer husband! She finds out pretty quickly that he’d made his way into mainland China and was immediately arrested by local authorities; how, she wonders, can she possibly rescue him from these nefarious Maoists when both American and British governments have given up? Well, that’s where Clark comes in! He’s a jolly rogue, a smuggler I believe, and the idea seems to have been to make a Harry Lime sort of a character who still manages to be the good guy! We learn, for example, that Clark’s character, Henry Lee, has not one but three adopted moppets, one of whom he is putting through school in the US!
There are scenes set in Hayward’s HK hotel, and others in a bar called Tweedie’s, and in these scenes the movie seems to be aspiring to be one of my very favourite micro-genres, the Eccentric Expat Community picture! There are lots of these, from Casablanca to The Shanghai Gesture to even something like R.W. Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore, which isn’t actually about stateless fugitives hanging around the lobby of a gone-to-seed hotel in a tropical land drinking endless Cuba Libres, but rather filmmakers doing so, and that’s by any measure close enough!
But that particular approach is as transient as anything else in this picture! The hotel lobby is soon forgotten about, and the various international misfits who pop up throughout the film – exiles from China, Portuguese flim-flam men, British police officers, rough-and-tumble Americans and the brawny French romantic, flit through the picture but only make the briefest impression even if they are a part of the movie’s climax!
The location photography, bright, colourful and exotic, is the best and only reason to see the movie! Well, Clark Gable is pretty good too, exuding his roguish charm as well as he ever did even if he’s a bit long in the tooth for the part; and there are some familiar and welcome faces in the supporting cast, like Jack "Satan's Cheerleaders" Kruschen and Mel "Attack of the Crab Monsters" Welles! And after a curiously muffled and underwhelming rescue scene (who knew the dreaded Commies were such creampuffs when it comes to securing their prisoners!), there’s a bit of gunfire excitement in the junk escape that caps off the movie!
Then finally, back on that funicular railcar, we get the answer to the question which the movie hopes will have been burning in our hearts and minds from the moment Gable steps on screen: will Susan Hayward choose the mustachioed charmer or her rather dumb husband? Ha ha, a foregone conclusion perhaps, but frankly I wasn’t too concerned either way! The wrap-up feels in fact as though it was written by someone who always wished Casablanca ended differently than it did!
I give this pretty, pleasingly exotic but strangely lifeless picture one and a half carafes of American bourbon! I was initially surprised that I’d never heard of it before, but now I think I know why! Ha ha!

Sunday 4 December 2011

Burl reviews Watchers! (1988)

Hi, Burl here, and today I’m taking a walk on the iron side! Yes, Michael "Total Recall" Ironside is in this picture, and as usual he’s playing a nasty fellow on the wrong side of the law, totally bereft of any common decency! Ha ha, he’s so good at playing those guys that I sometimes wonder if he ever regrets being born with a bald head and a hawk face! But I guess he’s made a few bucks off it, ha ha!
This picture is called Watchers, and it’s the story of a lab that suddenly blows up and of the experimental creatures which escape the conflagration! One of them is a hyper-intelligent golden retriever and the other is a hairy humanoid monster with an ape face, a jaws mouth and a taste for human eyeballs! There’s yet a third escaped creature, but to explain that one would be to give away important third-act story points! Oh okay, the third lab creation is Ironside, who’s been genetically monkeyed with to be crazy and have no conscience! But we knew that already because, Ironside!
The dog hooks up with Corey Haim, of all people, the fellow from The Lost Boys, Secret Admirer and Silver Bullet; and he might have been able to live out his doggy life free and easy from there, but for the fact that the ape creature has been trained to kill this particular hound – it’s some sort of experimental weapons system, or some bunkum and honeydew of that sort – and also that he’s being chased by the ruthless Mr. Ironside! Corey Haim dubs the dog “Furface,” and there are many scenes of the dog showing off his incredible intelligence and trying to convince Haim and his mother that danger lurks nearby!
Of course the ape creature, who is somehow able to stroll through suburban neighborhoods and high school hallways without being noticed, is, in a series of unexcitingly-filmed killing scenes, brutalizing people in the area and stealing their eyeballs! A pot-smoking hobo, a janitor, an Australian appliance repairman (if you know what I mean, ha ha!), a computer teacher, a deputy, Jason Priestly – everyone is fair game to this voracious monster! Finally Haim gets the message that he and his single mom might be in jeopardy, so he beats feet up to a cabin in the woods where he and his pops used to go hunting!
Meanwhile Michael Ironside is causing his own havoc, and when people get in his way he just kills them and plucks out their eyeballs so people will assume the monster did it! Ha ha, very clever, Ironside! It all comes to a fiery climax at the cabin, with everything taking place pretty much as you expect it will; except that in a quiet moment before the final donnybrook the dog challenges Corey Haim to a game of Scrabble; it’s left to us to decide who would have won!
This is not a good picture! It’s a real daffodil: never scary or exciting, and there’s no character to root for aside from maybe the dog, and even he’s not that sympathetic because he just gloms onto people even knowing he’s putting them in danger by doing so! But he’s still by far the most sympathetic character in the movie! The monster is pretty much a particularly vicious Bigfoot, and it’s never explained why he likes eyeballs so much!
Ahh, I hate to sound overly judgmental, but this movie’s not really worth a cruickshank! Because I like Ironside, and because the mom was a little weird, and because after all it’s a little bit Bigfooty, and you know how much I love Bigfoot, ha ha, I guess I can muster up one half of a curiously flammable video cassette for this bumkin of a picture!

Saturday 3 December 2011

Burl reviews Strange Illusion! (1945)

Hi, it’s Burl here to review another motion picture smash! I’ve always liked the movies of Edgar Ulmer – his amazing picture The Black Cat is one of my very favorite horror movies ever! And of course he made Detour and The Man From Planet X and plenty of other fine photoplays! He always puts lots of great little touches into his films that mark it clearly as the work of Edgar G. Ulmer and nobody else!
Strange Illusion, which was made the same year as the much more famous Detour, concerns a precocious young scion, Paul, returning from school to the family home only to find that his widowed mother is keeping company with an outwardly avuncular but clearly sinister smoothie by the name of Curtis! Curtis has everyone else pixilated with his city manners and greasy charm, but not Paul, who has been dreaming of this tiny-mustached pretender and is kept on high alert by prehumously mailed missives authored by his father from beyond the grave! Paul immediately suspects that this fellow and his friend Dr. Muleback might have had something to do with the death of Paul’s father!
Ha ha, does that sound familiar? That’s right, it’s the plot of Hamlet! It’s pretty great seeing Ulmer take on the Bard this way, with crazy dream sequences and a spectacular HO scale motoring accident, and all on a budget of about fifty cents too! And he’s got a great snarling chickenhawk of a bad guy in Warren William, who always did a good job in his oily-villain roles and in his spare time apparently designed and built one of the first ever RV camper vans!
The movie takes a strange turn when Paul decides that the best way to investigate and expose Curtis and Dr. Muleback is to get himself committed to Muleback’s nearby asylum! Turns out Curtis is a maniac patient of Muleback's with a taste for making love to young ladies and giving older ones a pretty stiff neck-twist! Doc Muleback’s only in it for the money though!
Well, this is a classic example of a movie that’s no darn good by any defensible standard, but that I really enjoyed anyway! Of course those Ulmer touches are manifestly great, and Warren William too, but I also liked other, less obvious aspects, like the performance of Jimmy Lydon, the fellow who plays Paul! Some might dismiss him as just another over-earnest jug-ear with a Boris Karloff lisp, but I thought he was right on the money! There's a great scene where Paul, on the phone with his girlfriend, baffles an eavesdropping Muleback by employing then-current teen vernacular! "Hey vixen, what's mixin'!" he cries! "Are you missin' my kissin'?" 
On the other hand, the climax of the picture is extremely anti-climactic and rather dull! Too bad – I was hoping it would end with a car chase! But on the other hand we do get another fabulous dream sequence, so that sort of makes up for it! I give this little-loved but moody picture three easily-shattered two-way mirrors!