Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Monday 27 February 2012

Burl reviews Breathless! (1960)

Bonjour, c’est Burl ici! Ha ha, aujourd’hui je vais revué le film À bout de souffle, par le grand réalisateur Suisse-Français, Jean-Luc Godard! But no, this whole review won’t be in French! I would make too many mistakes in my grammar, I think, and would thereby annoy my French readership, if I even have a French readership!
À bout de souffle is of course known as Breathless in English, and was Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature! I’ve been a big Godard fan for a long time, and until I watched this picture again the other night, I hadn’t seen it in years! Ha ha, it’s a great picture! I knew that of course, but I had a fine time reacquainting myself with this Gallic classic and realizing just how much it managed to change the motion picture arts as we know them!
Of course this wasn’t the very first movie to take the camera off the tripod and ignore the established rules of editing and mise en scéne, but it was among the first, and certainly was among the most popular! On top of that it’s a lustily entertaining picture, a movie about movies that’s a more effective tribute to the medium than a thousand of those stultifying “Aren’t Movies Great” Oscar night montages could ever hope to be!
Maybe you’ve heard of the movie but haven’t seen it, thinking to yourself “Ha ha, it’s just another boring, impenetrable avant-garde art picture!” No way! It’s a racy and thrilling crime romance that’s of much more than historical interest to anyone who appreciates a good genre exercise! The hero, Michel Poiccard, is played by the incomparable Belmondo, and is a Bogart-worshiping small-time Parisian crook who steals a car and then, cornered, commits a casual copicide! All the flics of France are after him then, but before he can flee the country, Michel needs to do two important things: get his hands on the money that’s owed him for past thieveries, and woo his tentative, impossibly cute American girlfriend Patricia into a dedicated, Bonnie-and-Clyde state of love! Then the two of them can run to Italy, and to freedom!
I won’t repeat the encomiums so many others have lavished on this picture! Ha ha, you’ll just have to see it for yourself and invent some of your own! You’ll be captivated by Belmondo and his habit of running his thumb over his upper lip in imitation of Bogie; with Jean Seberg and her fantastic pixie cut and New York Herald-Tribune t-shirt; and with Paris itself, just for being Paris!
One last note: I’ve often wondered if there was any connection between the character Laszlo Kovacs who is so often mentioned in the film, and the real-life Hungarian cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, who shot Easy Rider, Ghostbusters and of course Butch and Sundance: The Early Days! Ha ha!
I give Breathless four enthusiastic Gauloises, and encourage you to check it out with all haste!

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Burl reviews Hospital Massacre! (1981)

Out of the corner of your eye, a flash of movement – and then suddenly by your side it’s Burl! Ha ha, I’m here to review another slasher picture for you, Hospital Massacre!
Back in 1981 there were a couple of hospital slasher movies released, Visiting Hours and Halloween II, and also a notable Valentine’s Day slasher, the renowned My Bloody Valentine! And then, as though trying to trump them all in a single stroke, along came a hospital slasher on a Valentine’s Day theme, Hospital Massacre! I’ll give you a quick sketch of where this one sits in the classification system: it’s a semi-mystery maniac picture with a touch of the Past History bit and a few splashes of actual Makeup Effects here and there! (There isn’t a credit for Special Makeup Effects per se, it should be noted, but a quick eye may spot a credit for “Makeup Master” in the closing crawl! The name beside it is Allan Apone, who also did some of the trick effects for Silent Madness and The Sword and the Sorcerer!)
Ha ha, the mayhem in this one starts on Valentine’s Day 1961 at Susan’s house! Harold, an awkward boy, loves Susan and leaves a card stating as much! But she and her little buddy laugh and stomp on the card, and this makes Harold so mad he goes instantly and untreatably insane, and hangs the little buddy from a coat hook! Ha ha, that’s the motive? Class Reunion had a more reality-based kickoff to murder than this one!
Well, almost twenty years later, Susan is going to the hospital to get the results of her tests! Wouldn’t you know it, Harold is there, wearing a surgical mask and breathing heavily! He does a little subterfuge with Susan’s X-rays, making it seem like she’s got a bellyful of worms! You’d think worms would be pretty easy to test for by simple use of the stethoscope or maybe a poo sample, but this hospital is not exactly the Mayo Clinic!
So for the whole middle part of the picture, the horror comes not from Harold’s slicing and dicing, but from Susan’s tribulations with the hospital staff! She’s also cursed with the dumbest, most ineffectual boyfriend ever! If two lady nurses, even tall ones, tried to bundle my girlfriend off down the hall as she screamed “Let go of me!,” I like to think I’d help her out! Ha ha, this guy sort of deserved to get his head cut off with a bone saw, I think, and that’s exactly what happens to him!
This is not a particularly gory picture, just to let you know! There are Special Makeup Effects, as I’ve mentioned, but they’re fairly minimal! A guy gets an acid facewash and ends up with a visage of foam! A snooty doctor gets a chop to the head and another is poked through the throat! There’s a hypodermic needle murder, which I suppose has to happen in every medical horror movie, although they always manage to simultaneously disgust and bore me somehow! Most of the killings are pretty dry, it has to be said!
More notable are the touches of weirdness with which the movie is graced, and I suppose that since this comes from the director of Hot Bubblegum and The Last American Virgin, bizarre flourishes such as the room full of squirmy bandage patients, the troika of witchy old ladies, or the scene with Harold holding up a bedsheet as he runs down the hall, are to be expected!
Well, it’s a little dry, a little boring in spots, a little sleazy here and there with the breast exams and so forth, a bit silly and a bit stupid, but Harold gets as good as he gives in the end (stabbed, splashed with flammable liquid, bopped several times with a metal pipe, lit on fire and sent over the edge of a building to plummet screaming ten stories to his death), so I give Hospital Massacre one and a half weirdo fumigators, half as many as are in the film itself! Ha ha!  

Burl reviews The Errand Boy! (1961)

Hi, Burl stumbling at you from out of the darkness! Today I thought I’d review a comedy from that exciter of the French funnybone, Jerry Lewis! This one, The Errand Boy, has particular significance to me because it bears an uncanny resemblance to a script idea titled The Clapper-Loader which I myself had thought up almost twenty years ago! Of course, Jerry still gets the credit, but I swear to biscuits that I’d not seen The Errand Boy prior to thinking up The Clapper-Loader!
Like The Clapper-Loader, The Errand Boy is about a clumsy nebbish who comes to work at a Hollywood movie studio and causes chaos! Unlike The Clapper-Loader however, The Errand Boy lacks a compelling narrative and witty, sparkling dialogue to go with the physical comedy! But not every movie can be The Clapper-Loader, and in fact not even The Clapper-Loader can be The Clapper-Loader, since I have yet to even finish the script!
But let’s concentrate on The Errand Boy! Jerry plays Morty S. Tashman (so named in tribute to Frank Tashlin I’m sure), a hapless goof who gets recruited by the Paramutual Studios to find out where money is being wasted on the lot and then report back to the Paramutual executives! The executives are all named Paramutual – it’s a family business, and I guess this is a jab at the Brothers Warner – and are led by blustery Brian Donlevy in the role of T.P. Paramutual!
This is the plot, and the spy business is forgotten about as quickly as the film can manage it! It becomes a series of self-contained gag sequences set on the film lot and often pointing out the artifice involved in filmmaking, which perhaps was novel at the time! Morty’s base is the mail room, which is presided over by a master of the slow burn, Stanley Baker! His performance was great, ha ha, and the scene where he lays down the law to Morty and the rest of the peons has a classic climax involving Morty’s jump onto the desk!
The skits are pretty hit and miss! The best ones don’t end up as you assume they will, and often take a turn into surreality! The worst ones tend to rely on verbal rather than physical or metaphysical comedy, and aren’t much better than something you’d see on a third-rate variety show or cornpone Vaudeville circuit! The presence of the character Mr. Sneak, a man literally driven insane by his own sycophancy, is a warning sign that the scene will be a little less than stellar!
Of course, Morty himself is a bit frustrating! You wonder how someone so incompetent, so dimwitted, so blissfully un-self-aware, could even get dressed in the morning much less make his way down to the studio without getting killed! But that’s always the point with these Jerry Lewis guys, who aren’t really supposed to be human beings at all; until the inevitable sensitive ending in which Jerry tries to convince you, by the sudden appearance of strings on the soundtrack and the liberal spreading of saccharine, that indeed yes, contrary to all heretofore provided evidence, this clown prince of goofballs is meant to be someone with whom we the audience are meant to empathize and even identify! Ha ha!
Well, it never really worked with me! But that aside, as a joke delivery system The Errand Boy does pretty well, and if The Clapper-Loader never gets made Jerry’s picture will stand as a pretty fair replacement! I award it two and a half enormous jars of jellybeans!

Monday 20 February 2012

Burl reviews Summer Night Fever! (1978)

Burl’s here again! Ha ha, it’ll make you HAPPY! So says the copy on the video box of Summer Night Fever, and that kind of come-on is well nigh irresistible to a fellow like ol’ Burl! So I made no attempt whatever to resist it, and the result is the review you’re reading right now!
Here’s a grand teen sex romp in the great European tradition! Like The Wild Life, this one has never made the leap from VHS to DVD, at least not in North America, and the reason is probably the presence of the dreadful and expensive hit song “Baker Street” on the soundtrack, and also the fact that one of the leads wears a Mickey Mouse shirt for the first few scenes of the movie! Ha ha, those copyright issues will get you every time, particularly where irritating softrock saxophone riffs or good old Uncle Walt’s animation corporation are concerned!
Summer Night Fever begins in Munich with two buddies, Peter and Freddy, hanging out at a groovy Teutonic disco and the next morning hopping into Freddy’s yellow convertible VW Bug to begin a summer road trip to Ibiza! Ha ha, I’m already happy! But Freddy has a sister named Vicky, a glasses nerd, whom he is being forced to take along! This bums Peter out, and for the first time but not the last he declares that “This trip is ruined!”
But Vicky, while nerdly, is pleasant enough, and the film sets to documenting their misadventures as they drive through late-70s Europe with the same five or so songs recurring in alternating scenes! Their car, every bit the lemon its appearance would suggest, gives them nothing but trouble! Peter, a goodtime ladies’ man, can’t score to save his life because all the freuleins, femmes, señioritas and niña bonitas assume that Vicky is his girlfriend! In the meanwhile, shy, myopic Freddy is going to bed with every one of the more elderly ladies in the cast! And along the way, plenty of ladies take off all their clothes!
Well, if you thought driving across the continent was fun, wait till this little group reaches the Mediterranean coast! Yes, they hit hotspots like Monte Carlo, where they tangle with an incredibly louche Eurotrash yachtsman, and St. Tropez, where Freddy has a quick affair with his math teacher! Eventually their car is stolen by a melonman and his cohorts, but that doesn’t concern our heroes overmuch since it was always breaking down and stranding them anyway! A romantic misunderstanding separates Peter and Vicky, who were becoming closer along the way, and the whole thing wraps up on the legendary partyisland of Ibiza!
Ha ha, I have to say that, despite some irritating characters and the brain-melting repetition of some very strange quasi-disco songs, some of which sound like children’s music and bear titles like “You’re A Person Of Importance,” Summer Night Fever is a terrific treasure of yesteryear! I personally would have loved to go on a trip like this at that time in history, and since I was much too young and not European, this is truly the next best thing! I have to admit that the picture lived up to the letter of its video-box boast! It’s well-paced, nicely photographed and it delivers the goods! And of course it makes you HAPPY! Ha ha! And as a bonus, I was lucky enough to find the soundtrack album on vinyl, so now I have all those crazy songs to play at top volume in my home!
I give Summer Night Fever three narrowly (and thankfully) avoided date rapes!

Sunday 19 February 2012

Burl reviews The Wild Life! (1984)

Ha ha! Ha HA! It’s Burl! I’m here to review another movie for you! This is one of those pictures that for some reason seems not to have ever been released on DVD, which perhaps means it’ll never make it to any future format either! I’m sure you can find it to watch somewhere on the Internet, but me, I’ll stick with my VHS copy, which is what I watched the other night!
I’d never actually seen this picture before, which is odd considering that I’m something of an 80s movie scholar, and am fond of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, with which this movie shares a few key elements! Both The Wild Life and Fast Times were written by Cameron Crowe before he got a little too interested in making bland pictures ol’ Burl has no interest in seeing! That happened pretty much right after Say Anything, to tell you the truth! As well, both pictures feature at least one member of the Penn family! Fast Times has Sean as the notorious, pizza-loving stoner Spicoli, and The Wild Life has Chris as a dreadful bozo named Tommy Drake, and also a brief appearance by their dad Leo Penn in the role of Tommy’s dad!
Both movies also have California locales, a general shambolic quality, and a bunch of characters who know one another but have separate stories and problems of their own! But there’s no actual narrative crossover or shared characters, so if you ever were under the impression this is some sort of Fast Times II, think again, young cowpoke!
Our characters include Eric Stoltz as Bill, a straight arrow of a fellow who has recently broken up with his girlfriend Lea Thompson and taken his first apartment at a high-life rental complex in his quest to become a single successful guy! Lea Thompson meanwhile is having a donut-shop affair with a bootblack handlebar mustache attached to a cop! Her pal Jenny Wright works at a crazy clothing store managed by Rick Moranis, whose hair and outfits here are crazier even than they were in Streets of Fire! She’s fending off both his advances and those of her sometime boyfriend, the odious wrestler Tommy! And Tommy decides to move in with Bill so that he can start a non-stop party parade! And of course we can’t forget Bill’s little brother, who is obsessed with Vietnam and practices nun-chuk-as in his room like the killer from Fear City! Ha ha!
The character of Tommy has got to be one of the more loathsome would-be charmers in movie history! I don’t know why, but I really hated him! He’s meant to be oafish but charming, clueless but big-hearted, and with his Made In California catch phrase, “It’s casual,” I suppose he’s meant to be cool and hip also! Ha ha, well, “It’s casual” made its way to the Great Dumping Ground Of Failed Catch Phrases pretty quickly, to lay beside gems like “Bau bau bau” from Surf II and “Be Scottitfitous, buddy” from Hardbodies! Tommy is just one of the most objectionable characters I’ve ever encountered in my long movie watching career! I don’t know why he rubbed me so very wrongly, but there was just something about him!
But I enjoyed the movie on the whole, since I do tend to like these laid-back, directionless teen comedies of yesteryear! I liked its loose ends, its supporting cast (Randy Quaid appears as a depressed, smack-addict Vietnam vet, and of course a Moranis appearance always brings a picture up a notch or two) and the random rock stars that showed up throughout! It’s not in the same class as Fast Times, but I rate The Wild Life a respectable two Ron Wood cameos nevertheless!

Burl reviews Killer's Kiss! (1955)

The door opens to reveal… Burl! Yes, I’m here to review another Stanley Kubrick movie, this time not a late-period movie like Full Metal Jacket, but one of his earliest productions, Killer’s Kiss! He made this one for a pittance way back when, after he’d only done a few other pictures, mostly short documentaries!
But he’d already had lots of experience behind the camera – the still camera that is, as a photographer for Look magazine! That’s probably why Killer’s Kiss looks so darn good! The fellow was just born with a good eye, I guess!
The tale is a pretty basic one! It seems there’s a boxer, Davy, who is cursed with an eternal glass chin! He fights Kid Rodriguez for the title and loses, falling to the canvas like a stumblebum! No matter how many times he shakes his head to clear it, he can never quite get his mojo back! Ha ha, in the world of the sweet science, he’s naught but a clumsy lab assistant!
But he lives in a dingy apartment with a view of the other dingy apartment across the courtyard, the tenant of which is a beautiful lady named Gloria who turns out to be a taxi dancer at a hall owned by a greasy mustachioed gangster-ish fellow, Rapallo! Well, Rapallo, who has feelings, is in love with his employee and visits her one night anxious to make l*ve! But Davy hears her screams, rushes to the rescue, and though Rapallo has gone, he manages to provide some comfort for the weepy Gloria! The next morning they put on the day, exchange tales of woe (Gloria’s involves a lot of ballet dancing) and begin very tentatively to fall in love!  
Of course love never runs smoothly in a noir caper like this, and when Gloria tries to quit her dime-a-dance career to join Davy on a trip to Oregon, Rapallo’s thugs are waiting! In a case of mistaken identity they put a fatal punching on Davey’s fight manager, and then they kidnap Gloria! Davy tracks her down and then there are some ferocious fights – brittle-chinned Davy is of course knocked out easily in the course of one of them – and a nifty rooftop chase! The grand finale is famous for taking place in a mannequin warehouse, and it ends with a gruesome transfixion and a pitiful dying scream!
Ha ha, this is a great little movie, if probably not the one Kubrick was most proud of! It would certainly make a terrific double bill with Blast of Silence, which is just as good and even grittier and rougher, but unlike Killer’s Kiss was not the start of a legendary directing career! Kubrick’s picture has got some flaws, sure, like the weak story, the narrated flashbacks that are obvious narrative bandages, the rushed and improbable denouement and the fairly obvious techniques used to cover the fact that there is no audience and no auditorium in the boxing scene; but on the other hand almost every shot has some visual treat in it!
On balance, and though I admit my opinion is coloured somewhat by the film’s pedigree and the fact that I just like looking at shots of New York in the 50s, I’m going to give this little noir three soon-to-be-neglected fish!  

Thursday 16 February 2012

Burl reviews Terror of Tiny Town! (1938)

Hi, Burl here to review a very short movie! Ha ha, it runs barely more than an hour! I’m talking of course about Terror of Tiny Town, a Western made with an all-little people cast! As you can see from the poster, it is “rated comedy,” but in fact it’s a fairly straight-ahead Western action-drama!
Of course the movie is notorious in the exploitation field, more so even than the Werner Herzog movie Even Dwarves Started Small, in which I believe the cast was not only small-sized but hypnotized! But the movie doesn’t do much with the height-deficiencies of its actors, and in fact it’s easy to forget, or at least not fixate on, the shortness of the cowpokes and just get caught up in the wainscoting-high drama!
Ha ha, it seems that there’s a goodly amount of rustlin’ going on around Tiny Town, and two ranching families are each convinced the other is behind it! Buck Lawson, who wears a brilliantly white hat and a dust-repellant ice cream suit, is the good guy, and his dad owns the ranch; Nancy Preston is the young lady newcomer to town whose uncle Tex runs another big ranch! Well, that nasty Bat Haines is behind it all, rustling the cattle and setting the two families against one another!
Buck and Nancy carry on a Romeo/Juliet relationship for a while before Bat opts to raise the stakes by shooting Tex and pinning the crime on Buck! Ha ha! But of course everything eventually gets sorted with the help of a few well-placed sticks of dynamite!
Sure, there are a few midget gags in this movie, like the comedy relief cook who is terrorized by a cunning duck, and who walks in and out of his cupboards like they were closets! And there’s a fellow who guzzles down snifters of beer as big as his head! And the midget who sings basso profundo! (There’s a lot of singing in this movie – the whole town gets to warbling at the drop of a ten-gallon hat!) And, yes, one guy does walk into a saloon by trundling under the swinging doors! But the movie isn’t really a comedy unless you’re one of those people who simply point and laugh whenever you see a little person, and if so, ha ha, you’re a jerk!
The wee folks ride and shoot and fight just fine, though they’re not very good actors! A few of the action scenes are surprisingly exciting, and at one point a penguin shows up! On the whole, this is not much different than the typical Monogram-type Westerns of the period, and if you like those, you should enjoy this one too! And if the look of the film is familiar to you, it’s because it was shot by the same cinematographer as Cosmo Jones: Crime Smasher! Ha ha, I give Terror of Tiny Town two bricks and a short refrigerator!

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Burl reviews Silent Madness! (1984)

Burl! It’s Burl! Ha ha, another slasher movie to review for you today! I know that many of my readers enjoy these pictures above all! And this one, Silent Madness, appears to be especially loved by a small but dedicated contingent of motion picture admirers!
Some of you may recollect that one of my ongoing projects on this blog is to create a proper, if loosely organized, taxonomy of these slasher pictures! Mystery killers, faceless killers, deformed killers and motive-driven killers all ought to have their own comfortable categories in which to loll and plot their mayhem; movies which use the science and art of gore should be segregated from those which for some reason refuse to do so; and good movies must be separated from bad!
Where does Silent Madness sit in all this? Ha ha, well, let’s have a closer look! The plot in its broadest outlines is fairly scrupulously recycled from Halloween, actually: we have an escaped lunatic, a dedicated mind-doctor on his trail and a group of unwary goodtime gals directly in his path! There are a few victims along the way and a sheriff who refuses to believe the threat is real! From there, however, the two movies diverge pretty completely!
It seems that a pasty-faced individual named Howard Johns is released by mistake from a New York bughouse! He makes his way without delay to the small college town where, almost twenty years before, he’d been driven haywire by a brutal spanking inflicted on him by some sorority sisters! He’s never forgotten that bum paddling, nosirree, and he’s back to inflict revenge on all the current-day sisters of Delta Pi or whatever! (Ha ha, it’s all Greek to me!)
Feisty Dr. Lady is on his trail, and she in turn is pursued by a couple of incredibly sleazy and horrible orderlies from the hospital, who have been mandated by bughouse officials to kill Howard Johns and turn the doctor into a mental vegetable! Other characters mixed up in the action include the aforementioned sheriff played by skeevy Sidney Lassick from Carrie, Alligator and The Unseen; a soap-star type newspaper editor whose heroics consist of getting bonked on the head, tied up and locked in the back of a van; and the house mother played by the great Viveca Lindfors from Creepshow! Ha ha, it’s a pretty good cast actually!
Meanwhile Howard Johns has gone murder-happy, using a variety of relatively imaginative methods for his killing! He does a head-crushing in a vice, steams someone to death, tosses an animated hatchet and inventively uses a barbell, a rope and a window at one point as well! Some of the killings are fairly (almost uncomfortably) gruesome, and there’s a bit of actual gore here and there as well, and that treat for any slasher viewer, a credit for Special Makeup Effects! Ha ha, there’s also a special appearance by that great video game of days gone by, Dragon’s Lair!
Well, I won’t say too much more about this picture, except that it was made in 3D, so there are some things tossed, pointed and otherwise aimed at the camera lens! (The light-hungry 3D process also ensures that this is the rare slasher movie which takes place entirely in the daytime!) Also worth noting is the East Coast atmosphere, so different to the discerning viewer from the California or Midwest ambiances so often found in these things! And I must say it again: Viveca Lindfors! This is far from her greatest role, but I’ve always liked her, and her presence put me in mind of a picture called Last Summer in the Hamptons which I remember enjoying at a film festival once! Maybe I’ll watch it again and review it here sometime!
Silent Madness more or less delivers what anyone watching it deliberately might hope for, and though there’s an excess of plot and it gets a little chatty here and there, I’ll still give it two sudden nailgunnings!

Sunday 12 February 2012

Burl reviews Fear City! (1984)

Hey and hah-trayah, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here with another review of a motion picture, once again plucked almost at random from my basement VHS collection! This one is an Abel Ferrara movie I’ve never seen before, and it’s called Fear City! It maybe should have been called Sleazeball City, but I guess Fear City works pretty well too! It's part of that micro-genre of movies that are partially about psycho killers but are also part of some other genre too, just like Delirium!
It’s also part of that category of movies whose raison d’etre seems to be making New York look like the most horrible, gritty, dangerous and generally unsavoury place ever! There are mainstream movies that work on this theme, like Cruising, and there are low-budget pictures that do it even more persuasively precisely because of their low budgets (Maniac and Basket Case would be good examples of these); but Fear City, with its cast of recognizable faces and reasonable budget, fits somewhere in the middle!
It seems that Tom Berenger, whom we know from such Hollywood bumkins as Someone To Watch Over Me and Last Rites, is an ex-boxer who once boxed his opponent into the grave, and so he quit pugilizing – though his flashbacks won’t let him forget the incident – and started up a stripper management business with his pal Jack Scalia! Well, wouldn’t you know it, as our story proper begins, one of those self-righteous maniacs on a morality crusade decides to clean up the streets by practicing his various martial arts techniques on random exotic dancers, at first just mutilating them with scissors and knives, but soon working his way up to brutal murders!
Since the first two victims work for the Berenger/Scalia Agency, an incredibly angry cop played by Billy Dee Williams from Number One with a Bullet decides these fellows must know something about the tragedies! Soon a mobster played by Rossano Brazzi from South Pacific gets involved for some reason; and there are lots of ladies about too, like Melanie Griffith as the exotic dancer Tom Berenger loves, and Rae Dawn Chong as the exotic dancer Melanie Griffith loves, and Janet Julian from Humongous as the exotic dancer everyone loves!
Of course we all know that even with all these characters and plot strands and flashbacks, it’s all going to come down to the killer boxer vs. the chopsocky maniac, and indeed that’s what occurs! Ha ha, the fight is pretty good, and it’s always satisfying to see one of these extreme social conservatives – and he’s a brutal murderer too, don’t forget – receive the harsh and painful pummeling they deserve!
Ha ha, Abel Ferrara is a pretty interesting director! I guess he’s best known for Bad Lieutenant and King of New York, but he’s done lots of other weird pictures as well, like his own (pretty good!) version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, just called Body Snatchers; a movie about Madonna and Harvey Kietel making love; and a movie adaptation of William Gibson’s New Rose Hotel! Fear City is one of his earlier productions, and despite running off madly in all directions plotwise, and presenting maybe too many scenes of exotic dancing, and featuring a lot more harsh, brutal violence against women than ol’ Burl is all that comfortable with, and losing its narrative thread like you would a worm in a bowl of rancid spaghetti, it’s not that bad a movie! I give it two long, wordless nun-chuck-a practices!

Friday 10 February 2012

Burl reviews Malpertuis! (1973)

Well, it’s that time again! Time for ol’ Burl to grab the cinematic bull by the horns and wrestle it into the dirt – the dirt of critical evaluation! Ha ha, over my many years of movie watching, I’ve identified more than a few micro-genres, and have built up a pretty extensive taxonomy! One category of movies I like is the Expensive Arty Horror Picture, which consists of uniquely oddball, almost experimental genre movies that break some new ground in the field! Matango is a good example, and so are movies like Horrors of Malformed Men or Lisa and the Devil or The House with the Laughing Windows or Zeder! I guess you might toss Videodrome in there as well!
Today’s movie is another picture in the great artsy horror tradition! It’s Malpertuis, which was adapted from a weird surrealistic horror book by the pseudonymous Belgian writer Jean Ray! Ha ha, the movie was made by Harry Kümel, who also made a movie about nude vampire ladies called Daughters of Darkness, and in fact has made several other pictures that you never hear about! Or maybe you do if you’re of the Benelux nations, but not so much outside of that particular socioeconomic region!
Malpertuis is also part of another micro-genre, the House Movie! These are pictures which take place mostly or entirely within the walls of a single house, and the house itself is more or less a character in the film! There are lots of haunted house movies in this micro-genre of course, like The Haunting, House, The Legend of Hell House, This House Possessed, The Evil and The Nesting, just to name a few, but there are also left-field weirdpics like Sunset Boulevard, Demon Seed, Guy Maddin’s Keyhole, and of course the Japanese insanity pepper simply called House!
Well, I guess I ought to tell you a little about Malpertuis, but I’ll keep it sketchy, because it’s one of those movies you might prefer to go in knowing only a little bit about! It seems that a pretty-boy sailor-man is on shore leave and looking for the house in which he grew up! It seems to be missing! He chases his sister and ends up in a nightclub free-for-all where he gets bopped on the head! He wakes up in Malpertuis, the house of his uncle Cassavius, who is played without even getting out of bed by Orson Welles himself! The house is filled with all sorts of other people, mostly petit bourgeoisie or resentful servants or weird hangers-on, who all seem to be waiting around for the bedridden Cassavius to croak!
There’s a strange atmosphere in the house, and an odd reluctance or inability on the part of its denizens to leave! All sorts of things happen, including gruesome murders and illicit sexual acts, and later on some much, much stranger events and revelations, some of these involving the gods of ancient Greece! By the time the young sailor discovers the secret of Malpertuis and those who dwell within its mildewed walls, the movie has mustered up an otherworldly feeling that stays with you well after the credits have rolled and the last strains of the Georges Delerue score have faded!
Many of the movie’s pleasures are visual! It was shot by Gerry Fisher, a British cinematographer whose eclectic credits include lots of Joseph Losey and Tony Richardson pictures, a bunch of late-period John Frankenheimer and Michael Ritchie works, and crazy movies like Billy Wilder’s Fedora, William Peter Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration, John Huston’s Wise Blood, and of course Wolfen and Highlander! Truly an interesting career! And, in concert with the production designer and Kümel he does a great job with Malpertuis, giving the house enough varied life and colour and flaming gas lamps to make it an expansive and multifaceted environment with personality to spare!
This is a picture well worth seeking out! There are a few different versions, and I watched the 119 minute director’s cut, which is what I recommend to you! I give it three and a half swooping eagles!

Thursday 9 February 2012

Burl reviews Carnival Rock! (1957)

Hi, Burl here with some early Roger Corman to chat about for you all! Ha ha, old Roger certainly has made his share of movies over the years, and for a producer he was an awfully prolific director too! I guess when you make a movie in three or four days, you can pack quite a few of them into a year! This particular one has a pretty bland title, so it’s better known around my house as No! Don’t Touch Me!
But though Carnival Rock isn’t one of Corman’s better-known pictures, it’s one of his more serious-minded efforts of those early days! Ha ha, it wasn’t all monsters and dragsters for that fellow! This movie was certainly intended as a drama above all else, but it was still ultimately a drive-in picture, so Corman salted it generously with the shakinest tunes of the day in an effort to keep the kids on the Southern ozoner circuit intrigued! There are numbers from David Houston, Bob Luman, The Shadows, and a groovy theme tune from The Blockbusters! The best musical interlude comes from The Platters – it’s a truly excellent slice of goodtime vocal pop, and a highlight of the movie!
But most of the movie is the story, and the story is as follows! It seems that on “the pier” – it’s never specified which pier, or where the pier is, and we never even see any remotely pier-like details, since Corman wasn’t shelling out for any location photography on this one – there is a nightclub establishment known as Christy’s! Christy, the owner, is a potato-faced Greek who, we are repeatedly told, is fifty years old! He’s desperately, passionately, completely in love with his star attraction, a lady singer named Natalie, played by Susan Cabot! He’s so be-smitten, in fact, that he’s completely neglecting his failing business, despite constant reminders from his stylish factotum Benny, a role essayed by the great, great Dick Miller, my very favourite actor!
As the business pressures on Christy get heavier, his demented refusal to face reality becomes only more determined! Benny’s complete and unexplained devotion to him (perhaps Christy saved his life in the war?) is severely tested as Christy’s hard-headedness calcifies into looniness! And Natalie, a decent lady with no attraction to the Greek, is driven further and further away! Her fiancé Stanley wins the club from Christy in a simple game of high card/low card, and in a desperate attempt to stay near his beloved, Christy takes a job as the club’s baggy-pants comic! Ha ha, saddest clown ever! Well, when Christy finally goes over the edge and starts the club on fire (it’s the lowest-budget conflagration ever committed to film!), matters come to a head, and it’s up to the decent Stanley to save both his lady love and the cracked Christy! There’s a very bittersweet conclusion after that, tinged only ever so slightly with hopefulness!
Ha ha, it’s hard to say what the drive-in crowd would have made of this one! It’s very talky, so they would have had plenty of time to make out between the musical numbers! The romantic and business travails of a homely pentagenarian would not likely have interested them overmuch! But what do I know, maybe they were riveted! In any case, I say the movie is well worth a look! The performances and script are both strong, and the moody photography by Floyd Crosby (he shot F.W. Murnau’s Tabu and such prestigious pictures as High Noon and The Old Man and the Sea, and later on all the American-International beach movies) gives it some carnival atmosphere! And you know how much ol’ Burl loves a carnival picture!
And what a cast! You’ve got the excellent Dick Miller of course, and then in the role of Stanley there’s Brian G. Hutton, better known from his later action-movie directing career! He made Where Eagles Dare and Kelly’s Heroes and The First Deadly Sin, and then the 80s moustache picture High Road to China, before apparently chucking it all to become a plumber! Ha ha, weird! And there’s Susan Cabot, whom I’ve liked in all her roles, but she had a troubled life and came to a sticky end when her dwarf son clubbed her to death with a barbell while she was sleeping one night in 1986! That’s very sad, she was talented! And you also get Bruno VeSota from Attack of the Giant Leeches, and Jonathan Haze, Seymour Krelboyne himself, in supporting roles!
Maybe I’m just a sucker for a little good music, or for a Corman stock-company cast, or for a movie that tries hard! I know I’m a sucker for any Dick Miller performance I happen to run across! At any rate, all of this means that despite its cheap talkiness, I’m going to give Carnival Rock three skinny neckties!

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Burl reviews Full Metal Jacket! (1987)

Hi, it’s Burl here, standing tall before the man! Today I want to talk about Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam movie Full Metal Jacket, which is a dilly of a picture! Kubrick had made war pictures before this, most notably Paths of Glory, and when you factor in films like Spartacus and Dr. Strangelove you get a pretty good idea of how the man felt about armed, organized human conflict! He thought it was ridiculous, ha ha!
Full Metal Jacket almost plays as a comedy at times! The bandy-legged, leather-bound drill instructor, Sgt. Hartmann, is so outrageously over the top that I think if I was one of the maggots under his tutelage, I’d have reacted to his rants like Private Pyle does, with a hard-to-conceal smirk! Ha ha, I’d have certainly received a punching or two from that beef-jerky of a DI!
Allow me to digress for a moment! Ha ha, I saw a special advance preview screening of this movie back when it was released in 1987, and I was so excited to see the movie that I got there early so I could catch the regular feature that had been double-billed with this one! This was in the days before the Internet, remember, so most everyday people had no idea the movie was coming, or what it was about, or anything! And maybe that’s why the theatre people decided that Full Metal Jacket should be paired up with none other than Ernest Goes to Camp! Ha ha, the theatre was full of families who were there to see the big-screen debut of Ernest, and who liked the idea of seeing a second mystery film for free!
You could sense the confusion from the audience as the seemingly endless shots of the recruits getting their heads shaved went on and on! They’d been primed to laugh by Ernest’s antics, so there was plenty of tittering, and more once Sgt. Hartmann started his profane bellowing! Ha ha, he was always threatening to poop on people’s necks, that crazy Sgt.! But one by one, as his threats and insults became more graphic, and the atmosphere chillier and less recognizably human, the families began to drift away! All except one devoted dad and his two eight-to-ten year olds! They stayed for the whole show, and I often wonder how he and the kids described their evening at the pictures to Mom later on!
This movie was a part of the great Vietnam Surge of the late 1980s, and initially I thought Platoon was the better movie! Platoon is hardly a bad picture, but, for me anyway, it’s become apparent that it’s more just an exercise in surface impact, and has less thematic follow-through than the Kubrick picture! There’s a generic feel to all the jungle creeping and yelling of Platoon, whereas Full Metal Jacket is and always will be its own unique thing!
A few random thoughts: The whole cast is great, but Dorian Harewood is especially good in the picture! He plays Eightball, and I thought he did a standout job! Also, that Colonel who shows up, the one who asks of his soldiers only that they obey his every command as they would the word of God, is Bruce Boa, the Waldorf Salad guy from Fawlty Towers! And whatever happened to Douglas Milsome, the cinematographer? He did a great job, and you’d think he’d have been set for a career shooting prestige pictures after this one! But the next thing you know he’s photographing killer Rumplestiltskin movies and Jean-Claude Van Damme direct-to-video cheapies! Weird!
Anyway, this is a singular picture and an extremely entertaining one! It’s brutal and funny, and even though you’re always conscious that it was shot on a backlot in England and they never went anywhere near either Parris Island or Vietnam, it has a thematic and emotional effect that bonks most other Vietnam pictures over the head! I give it four reach-arounds!

Burl reviews 8: The Mor-mon Proposition! (2010)

Burl here to review a documentary feature! This one details the machinations of the Utah Mor-mons who made it their business to interfere in the California proposition to ban gay marriage, which appeared on the ballot in November of 2008! I remember following this story and, frankly, making the assumption that the proposition wouldn’t come within a mile of passing; but I was wrong, and the lesson, I guess – and the lesson in this documentary – is not to underestimate how much organized socially conservative religious people are determined to interfere in other peoples’ lives!
So there’s an interesting and relevant story here, and with the recent judicial declaration that this proposition is unconstitutional, it’s timely once again also! So it’s pretty unfortunate that this tale is told in such a cheap, unimaginative and out-of-whack movie as this one! Let me give you an example of the movie’s approach! One of the interviewees is enumerating the elements necessary to influence a vote in a place as large as California! One, he says, is money! Cut to a shot of hands counting fake-looking bills! Two: volunteers willing to go door-to-door! Cut to a shot of someone knocking on a door! Three is something less tangible, like influence, and the filmmakers’ limited imaginations were unable to come up with a crashingly on-the-nose visual to go along with it, so they just show a shot of a building and leave it at that! Ha ha, nice try!
But I’m far from the ideal audience for this picture! It may shock you to learn this, but ol’ Burl is a fairly cosmopolitan guy! I live in a place where gay marriage has been legal for years, so I can tell you with cheerful certainty that it presents no danger to so-called “traditional” marriage or to the fabric of society! I don’t require documentaries such as this to endorse marriage for whatever consenting adults want it! I have friends who are in gay marriages and who are raising happy, well-adjusted kids, so I don’t need to be persuaded that these families are perfectly normal! The idea that anyone could think otherwise is what tends to surprise me! And I’m not in the least surprised to learn that Mor-mons were behind the big money push to influence the California vote! I thought it was common knowledge, but this movie presents it as though they’re unveiling a shocking and little-known revelation!
A gay couple whose marriage was rent asunder by these meddling Mor-mons are the default main characters, and most of their screen time is them telling us that they truly love one another and that they deserve to be allowed to marry the same as anyone else, and that it’s all about love! Since I take those things for granted, I was pretty much looking at my watch, waiting for the movie to go deeper! It could have presented all those things with some choice visuals, showing these guys at home or something, instead of having them repeat it over and over! But like I said, not much imagination at work here!
Still, I learned a few things! I’d never heard of this loathsome Senator Buttars guy before, and I could have gone through life quite happy never to have heard of him I guess, but now at least I can picture his horrible face as the proposition he so unctuously championed is undone by the very constitution he presumably would have had to swear allegiance to at some point! So maybe that made watching this thudding and ponderous doc somewhat worthwhile!
I certainly wish this had turned out better, because as I say, it’s an interesting story! Perhaps, as the story is ongoing, there is a more ferocious, more stylish and more dynamic effort yet to come! I give 8: The Mor-mon Proposition one single easily-pressured Mor-mon!  

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Burl reviews National Lampoon's Class Reunion! (1982)

Ha ha, it’s Burl here to review a comedy! Or at least a movie that supposes it’s a comedy! I’m talking about the slasher movie parody National Lampoon’s Class Reunion! I guess that’s the official title, but if I was Mr. National Lampoon, I’d maybe keep my name off the poster of this particular effort! Ha ha, stick with possessiveifying Animal House and Vacation, Mr. Lampoon, that’s my advice!
Let me tell you right up front: this movie stanks! It stanks so hard! There were a number of slasher movie parodies made around the same time as this, pictures like Student Bodies, Wacko and Pandemonium! Now I haven’t seen all those movies, but I feel pretty sure that they must certainly be better than Class Reunion! They could hardly be worse!
The movie starts out a lot like that old favourite Terror Train! At a graduation party, a hapless class dweeb is tricked into an unpleasant assignation with a supposed sure thing! But instead of a dismembered corpse as in the railroad picture, the bagheaded certainty with whom the dweeb is coupled turns out to be… well, that’s the twist! Wouldn’t want to give it away, ha ha!
Well, okay, I will: the dweeb turns out to be making sweet love to his own twin sister! By garr! No wonder that ten years later at the class reunion he shows up with a bag on his head and a mission to kill! And here is a group worth killing: you’ve got Gerrit Graham as the BMOC who masterminded the cruel prank; Stephen Furst, the flounder from Animal House, playing the gross-out king Hubert and applying whatever he learned from John Belushi to his part; Art Evans from Fright Night as a mind-stoner, which is funny because he usually seems to play a cop; and many more! The great Michael Lerner shows up as a mystery doctor, and he provides a special surprise later on!
Now, these are not untalented people! And the script for this movie was written by John Hughes, and whatever you think of his teen angst pictures, he’s usually good for a few bon mots! On top of this, behind the megaphone was the portly director Michael Miller, who, the very same year he made this bumkin of a movie, made the enjoyable Chuck Norris-vs.-Frankenpsycho picture Silent Rage! (Ha ha, I’ll try to review that one pretty soon!) So why did Class Reunion end up as such a feeble cruickshank of a movie?
Things just fall that way sometimes, I guess! There are some okay bits – Anne Ramsey, well known from Deadly Friend, plays the lunch lady, and she has a fairly hilarious kung-fu battle with the killer! And Chuck Berry provides some fine musical entertainment, but he’s apparently finished and gone before the killer begins his violence work! But the rest of it is almost aggressively unfunny, and not in a Neil Hamburger way! The filmmakers probably didn’t think that, for example, a blind crippled lady crashing into things was inherently funny, but they sure fooled themselves into thinking other people would find it funny! I liked the idea that one of the students was a vampire for some reason, but he never did anything particularly vampiric, and he had the worst attempt at a Bela Lugosi accent ever! Ha ha, I thought anyone could do Bela! Even Martin Landau from Without Warning did a pretty good Bela!
Well, this movie is the worst kind of daffodil, and I can in good conscience give it no more than one half of a girls’ convenience!

Monday 6 February 2012

Burl reviews Tower of Evil! (1972)

Ha ha! You know who it is? Burl! Yes, I’m here to review another picture for you, this one straight from the foggy shores of Blighty: one of those early-70s British pictures I was talking about in the review of Scream… and Die! It’s Tower of Evil, also known as Horror on Snape Island, and I think it’s got some other titles too! But let’s keep things simple and call it Tower of Evil!
This movie doesn’t get the recognition that it—well, I don’t want to say deserves, but that I’d expect it to have! I suppose it’s an older movie, and the mayhem and nudity are all wrapped up together in one crazy few moments of motion picture rather than being spread out to make a more memorable moviegoing experience overall!
Some fishermen arrive on foggy Snape Island, a bleak and inhospitable promontory, honeycombed with caves, upon which perches a decrepit lighthouse and be-rubbled house! Well, they start finding corpses, and the next thing you know a naked lady runs screaming at them, managing to give one of them a pretty thorough poking before catching a bop on the head from the other!
Because one of the murder weapons was an ancient Phonecian spear, some artifact historians become involved and head to the island to see what’s up! In the meantime, the naked lady has been given some clothes and is being hypnotized by a nine-light covered with multicoloured gels! The idea is to lift her out of her funk so she can explain what happened on the island!
Flashbacks to these events, which involve a bunch of British youths trying to sound American, are salted in as we follow the relic hunters to the baneful islet! The surviving fisherman, a mysterious detective and a dimwitted treasure-hunting tightpants are along for the ride! Altogether they make up as petty and nasty a bunch as you could ever hope to find, and all of them dumber than a box of dead crabs in the bargain! It quickly becomes clear even to this unleavened group that they’re not alone on old Snape Island, and soon there are corpses a-plenty littering the rocky ground! Heads and hands are cut off, faces chopped and torsos poked, and screaming victims plummet from the top of the lighthouse!
The thing about this particular group of people, and the real downside to this picture, is that they’re ready-made victims who may as well have been groomed in some behavioralist’s operant chamber to act in just exactly the way that would best guarantee a domino-like mass demise! They’ll wander off alone for no reason at all, ignore obvious danger signs, and disrobe for sexual intercourse in the middle of a desperate fight for survival! Ha ha, they’re a bunch of dim quilvontics, and no mistake!

There’s one scene that stands out for sheer stupid behaviour! Someone hears a scary noise, and the men of the group go out to investigate! “Ha ha, stay right here,” one guy tells the ladies! Of course while the fellows are out, one of the ladies gets the chop! Instead of offering abject apologies, the guy is all like, well, nothing we could have done to prevent that! And later, when another scary noise is heard, the remaining lady says “Ha ha, you’re not going to leave me alone again!” The guy responds in a tone suggesting she’s a child who’s just asked the stupidest question in the world: “Of course not! Get your coat!” Sorry buddy, but you’re the idiot here!
It’s pretty enervating! But the rest of the movie is fairly enjoyable! You might be wondering who’s doing all the killing? Well, usually in movies like this – Raw Meat, for example – the killer turns out to be a disheveled, giggling madman with a big shaggy beard, and that’s the case here! He’s got some pretty spooky scenes, I can tell you! I give Tower of Evil two and a half model lighthouses!

Saturday 4 February 2012

Burl reviews Secret Admirer! (1985)

Well, again, it’s Burl reviewing at you! And how fun it is to do it! Yes, another comedy about the hormones of young people for you today! This one is a pretty mainstream example of that marvelous genre, and what it might lack in go-for-broke teen raunchiness it makes up for with its fine cast and reasonably strong script!
This one is called Secret Admirer, and it’s got a fairly gimmicky plotline that might sort of remind you or The Earrings of Madame de… or something along that line! It seems that C. Thomas Howell is one of those young high schoolers who’s got a good female friend who is also gorgeous and has an obvious crush on him, but whom he doesn’t consider romantically attractive for some reason! Instead C. Thomas has the hup-hups for a blonde girl played by Mrs. John Travolta! It’s similar to the dynamic we see in the same year’s Teen Wolf, where “Boof” is the neglected but loving pal! Ha ha, I guess 1985 was a big year for this sort of confusion!
Well, a love letter is written and passed anonymously to C. Thomas, and when his gaggle of pals find it tucked inside his arithmetic book, they convince him that it certainly must have been written by Mrs. Travolta! Well, confusion sets in all around the neighbourhood after that, spreading to anyone – kids, parents, other parents – who accidentally discover the letter or one of its follow-ups and immediately jump to a faulty conclusion!
I won’t detail these confusions, but the movie is pretty much divided equally between the confusions of the kids and the confusions of the adults, all of whom come to believe that their partners are up to some adulterous no good! If these adults hadn’t been cast properly – Fred Ward and Dee Wallace are among them, just to give you an idea – then these parts of the movie would have been a complete waste of time! So thank goodness for lively actors!
As for the young people sections of the picture, they’re more naturally successful because that’s where the movie’s heart lies, after all, and that is the crowd the picture-makers were presumably catering to! Here again, the performances help out! C. Thomas is okay I guess, with a few good moments here and there, and his gal-pal is really good, I thought! Mrs. Travolta is fine too, and doesn’t hesitate to disrobe when the narrative arc calls for it! C. Thomas’s gang of pals are okay as well, and one of them wears businessman clothes and carries around a briefcase, which I thought was a nice touch since I seem to recall a guy in my own high school who did the same thing!
My favourite scene in the picture, actually, involves all these pals – it’s in a treehouse or something, and they’re in there drinking beer and hanging out because they’ve just finished school for the year! Ha ha, always an exciting day! There’s nothing special about the scene – it’s where they discover the letter, blah blah blah – but it’s just a pleasant bit of hanging out, and I liked it! Ha ha!
The movie looks slick and professional, which isn’t always the case with this sort of picture, and it has a score by Jan Hammer, the guy who did the Miami Vice music! There are clever bits in the script, a few likeable characters (the ostensible “bad guys,” like the apeish boyfriend of Mrs. Travolta’s character, are given little empathy-inducing soliloquies) and a highly unlikely final scene! All this equals a reasonably enjoyable, if instantly forgettable picture! I give it two and a half tumbling grandfather clocks!

Friday 3 February 2012

Burl reviews Fraternity Vacation! (1985)

It's Burl talking! I’m sure you all know and are fascinated with Stephen Geoffreys, the fellow who played Evil Ed in the original Fright Night! Ha ha, if you’ve ever seen this delightful individual, you can hardly have forgotten him! And did you know that along with his supporting part in Fright Night and his role as the handsmith in Heaven Help Us, he had a few starring roles in other pictures? Yes, it’s true, and although many of his roles were in movies not likely to get discussed here, Fraternity Vacation seems like a pretty good candidate for a review from ol’ Burl!

There’s a black and white prologue, which is pretty unusual for a movie like this! It’s a Wizard of Oz thing I guess, because it starts out in Iowa during the winter and then the bulk of the movie is in Palm Springs, and that part of course is in colour! It seems the very nerdly Wendell Tvedt, played by Stephen Geoffreys of course, is a rich pig farmer’s son, and his father, played by ALF’s dad I think, is paying not just for his trip to Palm Springs but for his prospective frat-mates Mother and Joe also! Mother and Joe are willing to tolerate Wendell because of this, but only barely! And Mother is played by none other than Tim Robbins!
Well, there are some rich guys from a rival frat in Palm Springs also, and they’re pretty rotten fellows, as rich blond frat guys always are in these pictures! Quickly a rivalry develops between Wendell’s quasi-friends and the other guys, and the main contest is who can make gentle love with a particular beautiful lady first! Wendell is a sweet-natured guy who just wants to meet a nice girl, so he has nothing to do with any of that!
The movie proceeds in episodic fashion from there, with lots of partyblasting and shenanigans enacted by a pretty interesting cast! You’ve got Stephen Geoffreys and Tim Robbins of course, but there’s also Geoffreys’ Fright Night castmate Amanda Bearse; Barbara Crampton from Re-Animator and Kathleen Kinmont from Bride of Re-Animator; Britt Ekland from Endless Night; Nita Talbot from Island Claws; ALF’s dad, who of course was the health inspector in Grumpier Old Men; and in the role of the angriest police chief ever, none other than John Vernon! Wow, ha ha!
The other notable thing in this movie is the weird fake-out with Amanda Bearse! She plays the daughter of the psychotic police chief, and she seems like a very sweet and innocent young lady, but then Wendell thinks he’s detected that she’s secretly mean, and he decries her as such in an impassioned speech which briefly brings a feeling of reality to the picture! But just as quickly something about that speech and some subtly oddball elements to Bearse’s performance conspire to make it seem like Wendell’s just managed to escape a looney-tune of the sort seen in movies like Play Misty For Me and Fatal Attraction or even Swimfan!
And by the end of the movie, united by their oppression at the hands of the maniacally belligerent Vernon, all the frat guys are friends, and all of them like Wendell! Since Animal House it’s rare to seen the Snob half of the classic opposition turn over a new leaf and become decent chaps! But it happens in this one, and that sort of leaves you with a good feeling about humanity at the end of the movie! That and all the mooning!

Ha ha, it seems like I’ve been finding good things to say about fairly dire movies lately, but I guess I’ll just continue on this positivity jag for at least one more review! I enjoyed Fraternity Vacation for much the same reasons I enjoy any of these movies in the winter: because watching them is like taking a tiny micro-vacation yourself! And the cast and occasional strange efforts to replicate actual human behaviour bring it up a couple of pegs from there! I give it two and a half exposed human buttocks!

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Burl reviews Bells! (1981)

Ring, ring! Hi, it’s Burl calling! Ha ha, did I scare you? Today I’m going to talk about the movie Bells, in which all telephone calls take on an aura of menace! If you ever missed the hearty ring of an old telephone, this is the movie for you! The sound effects department certainly didn’t skimp on that particular noise!
Bells is better known under its video title Murder By Phone, but that version is truncated by a full fifteen minutes! For the full effect you have to watch Bells, my friend! You’ll meet a dedicated environmentalist science professor played by Richard Chamberlain, whose prize student gets zapped by a subway platform payphone one night! How? Why? That’s the mystery! Chamberlain travels to Toronto to figure it out, and hooks up with his old mentor John Houseman, whom we know from The Fog and Ghost Story, and who taught him everything he ever learned about environmental activism!
But in a startling coincidence, Houseman is now working for the phone company as an environmental consultant, “behind the fence,” as he puts it! And the phone company knows something about the phone-zapping incident! Meanwhile there are further zappings, all of them a great pleasure to watch! One lady gets zapped and her Mickey Mouse phone is spattered in blood! Another fellow catches the zap while seated in his office chair, and he flies out the window and down ten stories and onto the top of a car, lounging in his chair all the while! Another lady is doing the dishes and the whole sink explodes as she flies back across the room!
So what’s the story on all this zapping? Since Chamberlain is an activist who’s hit the barricades many times in his struggle for environmental justice, and is naturally (and justifiably) suspicious of big businesses, I thought the answer would involve a corporate conspiracy, but it only does in the most minimal way! It’s kind of disappointing actually, to find that a lone maniac is behind it all, killing for mostly fairly petty reasons! The initial killing that sets off Chamberlain’s investigation was merely a test, it seems, and the fact that the victim was a student of a man whose friend is closely connected with the deadly events is a remarkable coincidence never remarked upon in the picture! Ha ha!
I like the world presented by this movie, in which there’s a great history of what used to be called ecological activism and a codified system of protest in which long-time players achieve infamy in corporate circles! Also, this movie seems to assume that of all corporate practices, those of the phone companies are the most fiendishly destructive! I also was glad to see Houseman in this picture, even though he gets a glasses-shattering zap scene of his own! And frankly there are some pretty effective suspense sequences, in which the heroine, a muralist played by Sara Botsford, is tele-stalked by the nebbishy maniac!

The zap scenes are pretty good, as I mentioned, but I thought they could have sprung for at least one exploding head! That would have been totally appropriate! But we get some exploding eyeballs and a semi-crushed head, so it could have been a lot worse! I kind of like the drab look of the movie; and the chattiness of the script, especially in the full 94 minute version, is perfect for a movie about talking on the phone!
Bells is a massively, goofily, cheerfully silly picture, there’s no doubt about it, but I still thought it was a pretty good time at the movies! I’m going to give it two and a half ominous shots of Royal Bank Plaza, which is actually a lot fewer than the movie gives itself!