Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Friday 30 March 2012

Burl reviews A Bucket of Blood! (1995)

Hi, it’s Burl here to review the remake of one of my favourite movies of all time, Roger Corman’s 1959 classic A Bucket of Blood! This remake, which generally goes by the same title but is also known with admirable prosy as The Death Artist, is not, I must frankly say up front, quite a match for its inspiration!
That’s the case despite the fact that they’ve almost used Charles Griffith’s original script word for word! They’ve added a few more mock performance pieces, such as might be found in a movie like Cellar Dweller or Head of the Family, but otherwise there’s not been much deviation from the Corman picture! That’s sensible as far as it goes – ha ha, why mess with success! But success is messed with in other ways, ways I will enumerate for you shortly!
For those of you who don’t know the story, canonical though it is, the action takes place at a beatnik café, here called the Jabberjaw instead of the Yellow Door, at which a slow-witted busboy named Walter Paisley labours unhappily, watching all the artists around him stewing in their pretentions, wishing desperately that he too was a creative soul! His desperation leads, as it inevitably must, to murder! Ha ha!
Well, it’s kind of odd that this picture was remade at all, since it contains no monsters and only a few murders! But remade it was, with great fidelity as I’ve mentioned! Anthony Michael Hall, famous for having gone Out of Bounds and doing some Weird Science, steps into Dick Miller’s very sizeable Walter Paisley loafers, and comes up wanting! It’s a tough job setting yourself up for comparison with the man Corman himself once called “The best actor in Hollywood,” and I guess Hall’s willingness to do so shows just how desperate his career straits were at the time! After all, it had been almost a decade since Out of Bounds!
Despite overplaying both Walter’s pathetic self-pity and his murderous aggression, Hall is not too bad in the role! Justine Bateman’s take on Carla, however, is a little weird! She chooses to do some kind of Eastern European accent and wear art-doyenne glasses, which pointlessly changes her character from the girl-next-door she was in the original! That’s why Walter fell for her in the 1959 version after all: she was the only island of apparent normality in that sea of jaundiced pretension; but in the remake she’s just another fauxhemian!
Some of the actors in the remake are good (ha ha, Will Farrell is great as a background hanger-onner, and David Cross has a few marvelous moments in the role of The Bearded Sycophant; and can you believe it, Shadoe Stevens more or less pulls off the role of poet Maxwell Brock), but none of them are as good as the Corman company players in the original! There are more naked ladies in this new one though, that’s for sure, and it does pull off a sort of quirky out-of-time comfortableness that’s within shouting distance at least of the Corman/Miller classic! I give the remake of A Bucket of Blood two bottles of Yugoslavian white wine!

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Burl reviews Fists of Blood! (1987)

Hullo, hullo, it’s Burl here to review some Australian action! Ha ha, in the land down under, is it true that roundhouse kicks are delivered counter-clockwise? Fists of Blood is the movie that might have the answer to that question for you!
Just as I did, you’ll probably figure out pretty quickly that this movie, the original title of which is Strike of the Panther, is in fact a sequel, because as with some other sequels, like Silent Night, Deadly Night part 2 for example, long reams of footage from the first installment (Day of the Panther in this case) is used to kick off the story and get untutored viewers such as myself up to speed! In fact we seem to see pretty much all of Day of the Panther compressed into fifteen minutes or so, and it leaves you feeling that you could pretty happily go the rest of your life never bothering with the full-length version!
Ha ha, Fists of Blood ought to come in a fifteen-minute version too, now that I think about it! Like Deadly Prey, it’s an example of Ridiculous Action, although at a few points it clearly knows it! A potato-faced muscleman plays the irresistible Jason Blade, who, his mentor’s incessant voiceover tells us, is all things good, and is trained in the mysterious martial arts! But the nefarious Baxter, Jason Blade’s archest enemy, busts out of the Australian prison he’s in and hatches a scheme involving an army of hockey-masked ninjas, Jason Blade’s girlfriend (whom he loves but can’t commit to, natch), a bundle of dynamite and the old abandoned power plant!
Ha ha, this is a real daffodil, this one is! The potato face (every woman's dream?) is pretty much free of anything so burdensome as a personality, and the action scenes are staged with only minimal excitement! There are a few laffs here and there – note spelling, please! – none of which, or perhaps one of which, are intentional, and there’s also a great deal of aerobic dancing! There’s a pretty good scene where Jason Blade’s mentor, despite his years of training in the mysterious martial arts, is door-hammered by someone in a passing car and has to help Jason out psychically from his hospital bed thereafter!
But it’s mainly just silly, and the silliness is not robust or full-bodied enough to satisfy the way something like Raw Force manages to! And there’s an unfortunate dearth of Cameron Mitchell in this picture too, it ought to be noted! I give Fists of Blood one chicken suit and an extra helping of potatoes! 

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Burl reviews The Supernaturals! (1985)

It’s Burl marching in, hurrah, hurrah! Yes, I’m here to review what I used to think was supposed to be a zombie movie, and now I’m not so sure! It was sure promoted as one, but the truth is there aren’t many more zombies in it than you could fit in the photobooth at the Monroeville Mall!
It starts during the Civil War, with a nasty Union officer forcing supposed Confederate partisans, including a young boy, to walk across a mine field! Almost everybody gets blown up except the kid, but he turns magical and creates a display of low-budget optical effects which dazzles everyone! Then it’s the present day and a corps of weekend warriors led by the salty Nichelle Nichols troupe into the mangrove on maneuvers! But, ha ha, they’re the same regiment as the long-ago bluejackets who perpetrated the opening massacre! So: zombies!
But not for a while! First there’s plenty of speed-running and wandering about the not-very-swampy swamp, and arguing, and Nichelle Nichols sounding off like the D.I. from Full Metal Jacket! Then they find a few booby traps and subterranean passages, and eventually guns start blasting away at them from the trees! Finally, after a scene in which one obnoxious recruit attempts to make sweet love to another, we get some shambling zomboid creatures dressed in rags and clutching muzzle loaders! Ha ha, there are even one or two mild gore scenes, and it’s the lack of serious tomato paste that really segregates this picture from the zombie genre! (One review I read, possibly Dr. Cyclops’s review in Fangoria, noted that the probable reason they didn’t have Nichelle Nichols get disemboweled is that it would have taken too long!)
This is really one of those in-betweeners: a movie that’s not awful in the way that so many pictures are, and even has a few things here and there to recommend it (a pretty shot, a personable character, a good trick effect), but is really such a bland bowl of paste that no more than a day or two after watching it, you could easily be tricked into watching it again, having forgotten that you ever did so in the first place! The premise is not bad, and it’s okay with ol’ Burl that it’s not just another zombie movie, but it could have used a little more of just about everything, and a little less trudging through what is clearly California and not Louisiana! Southern Comfort meets Dawn of the Dead this is not!
I’m going to give The Supernaturals one and a half pretty lady recruits, and by garr it should count itself lucky to get that much!

Burl reviews Explorers! (1985)

Hi, Burl here to take YOU on a journey to… outer space! Ha ha, Joe Dante seems to have made a real specialty out of directing big-budget Hollywood mainstream movies that somehow still mostly managed to completely dodge the popular mindset as much as the most abstruse art film! He managed this with all sorts of pictures: Innerspace, The ‘Burbs, Matinee, Gremlins 2, Small Soldiers and even Looney Tunes: Back In Action!
Explorers, for its part, sailed past the cultural zeitgeist like a bubble-enclosed Tilt-A-Whirl car hurtling past the moon, and flopped like a fried fish on its summer 1985 release! It’s a great idea for a young persons’ adventure film though, which is probably why I was captivated by it back when I was a young person! I saw it more than once in the theatre, but I guess there weren’t many others like me that year!
Here we find three young lads: a sci-fi loving everyman played by Ethan Hawke, a genius glasses nerd essayed by the late River Phoenix, and the afterward-unknown Jason Presson as a tough-façaded poorboy with mechanical and construction skills! These fellows are caught up in science madness when Hawke’s crazy computer-generated dreams prove to be instructions on interstellar flight radioed in directly to his brain by aliens! The dreamed-up schematics render it possible for Phoenix to generate a flying soap bubble which they can ride around in! Presson constructs a ship out of an old Tilt-A-Whirl car, a garbage can and some other stuff, and they’re off, with esteemed character actor Dick "Rock All Night" Miller staring up at them in awe!
I have to say, as much as I’ve always enjoyed this unusual picture, even back in 1985 I felt somewhat let down by the picture’s final act! The characters themselves are meant to be underwhelmed by what they find out in the nether reaches of the universe, so I guess it makes sense; but by the time they leave the spacecraft and their new alien friends, they’ve made some sort of emotional connection with their situation that the audience just doesn’t share! The special effects are pretty good in a 1985 way, the sets by Hitchcock veteran Robert Boyle are spectacular, and Rob Bottin’s alien suits are sophisticated silliness! And the upshot of it all, which is that the aliens have learned about Earth exclusively through TV broadcasts and therefore believe humans to be violent cretins while they themselves communicate in moronic catchphrases, is an undeniably salient point, if facile even for a young person’s movie!
But the first two thirds of the picture, in which the three young leads all acquit themselves well – and Jason Presson might be the best of these young actors actually, with the subtlest and most complex characterization – and in which we learn that Dick Miller once had these dreams beamed to him as well, makes up for the inadequacies of the space sequences! It’s full of great bits, like the drive-in Starcrash parody, James Cromwell searching for ze bug bomb, or anything involving Dick Miller! And Jerry Goldsmith’s score is grand, one of his best of the '80s! (I wish the songs used in the picture lived up to it – the kids name their spaceship after a Springsteen song, "Thunder Road," but we hear nothing of Boss quality on the soundtrack!)
Ha ha, I’m going to give Explorers three and a half phone calls to Gordon, mostly just for existing! And for Dick Miller too, of course! Ha ha!

Monday 26 March 2012

Burl reviews Eternal Love! (1929)

Shhhhh! It’s Burl, here to review a silent movie for you! I really enjoy a good silent picture, and often think I should watch more of them! I haven’t seen that one that came out relatively recently, The Artist, though it seems like the silent aspect might be a bit of a gimmick more than anything! I’ve never seen Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie either, which circumstance I really must remedy one of these days!
The silent movie I’m talking about today is called Eternal Love, and it’s an early picture by Ernst Lubitsch! And yes, before you ask, it has his touch, more so I’d say than his later-period Heaven Can Wait, which was delightful but a bit more ponderous than one hopes for from this brilliant cinematician!
Eternal Love is a mountain picture, and that’s a genre for which I feel a perpetual fascination! From the works of Dr. Arnold Fanck to Leni Riefenstal’s The Blue Light all the way up to Guy Maddin’s Careful, the mountain picture has proven itself to be as packed with delights as a Taverner’s tin is full of fruit drops! Drama, pathos, romantic love: it all seems much magnified in the thin air of the upper altitudes!
In Eternal Love, the hawk-nosed Mr. John Barrymore plays Marcus, a mountain hunter in an early 19th Century Swiss alpenvillage! He’s in love with the beautiful Ciglia; meanwhile, a wild mountain girl (there’s one of these in every mountain picture, it seems!) named Pia is in love with him! And an upright fellow named Lorenz Gruber is in love with Ciglia! Well, this romantic quadrangle is spun into dissaray when the demon drink gets involved one night after a town dance is held to celebrate the departure of the filthy French! Marcus’s hands get a little too busy, and the next thing you know his bedroom’s been invaded! Ha ha, it all goes south from there, with wedding bells a-ringing, but for the wrong sets of people!
A fearsome alpenstorm sets up the final conflict, as is so frequently the case in mountain pictures! Pia thinks Marcus is lost in the storm, and knocks on every door of the village trying, absurdly prematurely, to raise a search party! She ends up at Lorenz Gruber’s house, and he sees by Ciglia’s reaction to the suggestion that Marcus may be lost that his wife is still in love with this rugged mountaineer! Marcus ambles out of the storm safe as a linebacker, and Lorenz Gruber offers him money to leave the town forever! But Marcus, unhappy in his marriage to Pia – and prone to upending the dinner table every now and then – isn’t going to budge! This sets up the climactic events, which involve an absolutely stunning shot of an avalanche, and is altogether one of the most emotionally devastating endings I’ve seen in a movie for some time!
The narrative is pretty compelling, and the acting only occasionally lapses into the big-eyed gesticulating silent melodramas are known for; but it must be said that Eternal Love’s primary virtues are pictorial! It was shot in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, and there are no end of breathtaking shots and sequences! There are great camera movements to remind us of how free the camera was in the days before microphones hidden in planters, and just plain marvelous direction! I give Eternal Love, which must have been one of the last silent pictures made (and was goat-glanded with a few sound effects here and there, actually) three and a half grimacing gargoyle masks!

Burl reviews Super! (2010)

Hi, Burl here to review one of those movies about regular people who decide they want to be superheroes! Ha ha, there was a little spate of these movies a couple of years back, sort of like when there were all those body-switch movies in the 80s, or the time they made two Truman Capote movies at the same time!
Well, Super is the grittier, lower-budget version of this story, sort of like 18 Again was the scrappy underdog of the body-switch pictures! A sullen, hefty fellow plays a short-order cook whose ex-junkie wife runs off with Kevin Bacon! This gets him pretty mad, and despite not caring much about superheroes, he decides to become one! He makes a red suit and names himself The Crimson Bolt, the man with the pipe wrench hand! And he has a little pal, Boltie, a teen lady who is a comic book nerd girl, but who turns out to be more or less psychotic! Ha ha!
The movie tries pretty hard to be realistic, I guess, but it’s still a film about a guy in a costume fighting a lowlife meanie criminal drugs dealer! Although maybe that’s not such a stretch – the other day in the paper I saw a picture of a SWAT team at work, and one of them was carrying a sort of shield that I swear to biscuits had batwing edges on it! But where it gets not so realistic is in its main character’s ability to shrug off gunshot wounds with little more than a grimace! Even if the bullet “just goes right through,” as the Bolt affirms his have done, and even if you manage to avoid sepsis or gangrene, you’re still not going to be able to movie around with much speed or agility for quite a little while, much less mount a climactic assault on a bad guy’s ranch-style home!
But its surfeit or lack of realism, whatever the case, is the movie’s problem, not mine! I thought it was generally not bad, with some witty dialogue, a hilarious Jesus-centric TV show parody,  a few affecting moments, some fairly spectacular violence here and there (achieved using special makeup effects, ha ha!) and an overall scrappiness that kept me intrigued! It wasn’t as enjoyable as the director’s previous work, Slither, but that’s okay! There was still an opportunity for Slither veterans Gregg Henry (an underrated actor!) and Michael Rooker to deliver fine performances before suffering blood-soaked gunshot death scenes!
I guess I’ll give Super two and a half gruesome half-faces!

Friday 23 March 2012

Burl reviews Von Ryan's Express! (1965)

Burl reporting for duty! Ha ha, yes, I’m here to review a war movie, though I guess a specification ought to be made before we go any further: it’s more an adventure story with the war – World War II, that is – as a backdrop! That seems to me an important distinction, even if movies purporting to recreate some actual wartime event are usually as full of fake heroics and jumped-up drama as the totally fictional adventure stories!
Well, there’s a taste of reality in Von Ryan’s Express anyway, since the first part of it deals with a POW camp in occupied Italy, and the novel on which the movie’s based was by a guy who actually spent a lot of time in just such a camp! The story begins as Yankee flier Colonel Frank Sinatra is shot down and imprisoned in the camp, which is mostly filled with Tommies who’ve been there for years and are constantly trying to escape! It’s of course their duty to do so, as we know from The Great Escape! But Sinatra is certain that liberation is near, and his determination to play nice with his captors and wait it out earns him the Teutonic prefix Von! Major Trevor Howard spends most of the picture pretty disgusted with Sinatra’s approach!
Well, Sinatra makes his mistakes, of that you can be sure! But there’s a bust out and a fairly quick recapture, and the whole prison camp of men end up in boxcars on a train bound for Germany! That’s a place none of them are in a particular hurry to visit, at least not as prisoners! So they commandeer the thing, and it becomes the express train of the title!
I’m a lover of microgenres as you know, and there are maybe just enough WWII train movies to form one! Of course the other big taco in this category is John Frankenheimer’s The Train, a movie that came out a year before this one and which I unabashedly am wild about! That’s the one where Burt Lancaster plays a Free French partisan whose day job is yardmaster of a Paris railyard! He gets persuaded to stop a Nazi train full of stolen art, and the movie becomes a great action/suspense tale with actual speeding locomotives smashing into one another in titanic crashes of steaming, screeching metal! It’s amazing, and Frankenheimer’s trains have a heavy, monumental tactility the one in Von Ryan’s Express sadly lacks!
But it’s a pretty enjoyable yarn nonetheless! Sinatra is pretty decent, and of course Wolfgang Priess is in there as a Nazi, same as he was in The Train! There are a few lapses in logic here and there (how did they unhook the flaming boxcars and reattach the coach car in such a short time?), but Mark Robson, who started his career making excellent Val Lewton pictures like The 7th Victim and ended it with another train movie, the crazy Avalanche Express, does a pretty decent job with the suspense scenes! I give this movie two and a half formations of completely naked men!

Sunday 18 March 2012

Burl reviews Time Walker! (1982)

It’s Burl shuffling down the hall at you, and… Boo! Ha ha, surely by now you know how much I love a good microgenre! Well, one I’m very fond of is horror movies set on college campuses! Even when that profile fits a bad movie (and to be frank almost all of the movies in this microgenre are pretty awful - ha ha, look at Primal Rage or Fatal Games!), the scenario gives me a sort of warm and comfy feeling somewhere deep inside!
Time Walker is by no means a good movie, let me just say that right off the bat! It starts out in Ancient Egypt, where Egyptology professor Ben Murphy enters King Tut’s tomb and discovers a mummy no one ever knew was there! Well, the next thing you know the professor is back on his California campus with the mummy and showing it off to all his students! Ha ha, one of the students is his girlfriend, which I thought was against the rules!
Well, due to the machinations of one particularly thick-headed student, the mummy gets blasted repeatedly with X-rays, and as we all know this will wake a mummy up! He goes shambling around the campus grabbing at anyone who has one of his precious jewels which the dunderheaded student stole, and if he touches you that’s it, because you’ll get the dreaded face-eating mold on you!
The big twist, which I think is given away on the movie’s poster, is that this isn’t your garden-variety mummy at all but a space alien who somehow got himself trapped on Earth in ancient Egypt, accidentally killed young Tut with his spores, and then I guess went into some kind of hibernation and was mummified! He sheds his bandages at the end to reveal an alien countenance that most closely resembles a mass-production Halloween mask! The jewels were part of some sort of transportation system, and at the very end, as the mummy is preparing to leave the Earth in a swirl of early-80s optical effects, Professor Ben turns suddenly from an Egyptologist into Richard Dreyfuss from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and goes willingly along with him! The last shot is of a bunch of confused onlookers, including angry dean James Karen from Return of the Living Dead, all scratching their heads! Ha ha, the end!
Well, this is like The Dark I guess, in that for most of the movie you think it’s one type of monster, and then at the end it’s an alien! But at least with this one I think he was meant to be an alien all along! It’s sort of disappointing that he’s not a regular mummy, because I’d have liked to see a genuine low-budget 1980s mummy movie! This is as close as we’ll get though, I suppose! I like the mummy bits and the fact that it takes place on a college campus, and that it has a costume party near the end (always a plus!) and I thought the professor’s student/girlfriend was quite pretty! And also, even though it’s rated PG, it has a lady with no shirt on! Ha ha, I saw this one in the theatre way, way back, and I’ll bet I was pretty impressed at the time! I give Time Walker one and a half extra doses of radiation!

Thursday 15 March 2012

Burl reviews The Dark! (1979)

It’s Bur-r-r-r-rl here to review a scary movie! Or at least a movie that tries to be scary! I’d imagine that of all the people who watched it, it was the scariest to the original screenwriter when he saw what it ultimately became!
Back when I used to read James Herbert books, I thought The Dark was an adaptation of his novel of the same name! It turned out not to be, though, and not by a long shot! But I did end up reading the novelization of this picture before ever seeing the movie, and the funny thing is that the novelization has almost as little to do with the final cinematic product as Herbert’s book, or Moby Dick or Ulysses for that matter!
Well, all I can do is review the movie itself, so here goes! It seems there’s a monster of some kind on the loose in Los Angeles, a mad mutilator who roars and lunges out of the darkness, usually in the vicinity of a menacing blind man! The first victim turns out to be the daughter of William "Rolling Thunder" Devane, a pugnacious horror novelist who some years back had run afoul of Inspector Richard "Starman" Jaeckel, who is now investigating the case of the towering madman!
Well, just as an elderly psychic lady on a yacht predicts, the killings continue! But it turns out that the madman has laser eyes, and moreover, as midget newsie Angelo "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" Rossito cries out from his streetcorner, “Mangler’s a zombie! Mangler’s a zombie!” (That was Rossito’s day job when he wasn’t acting, by the way – he really did run a newsstand, and the one we see in The Dark was likely the actual one!)
Anyway, once we find out that the killer is as likely to blast you with animated eyebeams as rip your head from your shoulders, all bets are off! News anchoratrix Cathy Lee Crosby uses her second-generation feminism to persuade boss Keenan "Piranha" Wynn to let her finally do some real journalism and cover this important story! Finally the killer is revealed to be some sort of bluejean-wearing alien, and he really doesn’t like cops! Ha ha, he blasts about a hundred of them in the loopy climax!
Ha ha, this is a true cruickshank of a picture and no mistake! It started out with Eaten Alive director Tobe Hooper at the helm, but he got canned as he so often did in those days, and they got the guy who made Kingdom of the Spiders to come in and take over! And then at some point, perhaps just shortly after the opening weekend of Alien, they decided to change the killer from an escaped maniac zombie to an escaped maniac zombie alien with laser eyes and denim slacks!
It’s got a pretty good cast though, and some of the performances are not too bad! It reminds me a bit of an urban version of Without Warning, which came out around the same time I think! It’s a living daffodil, this movie, but I’m in a generous mood and I’m going to give it two flying officers of the law!

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Burl reviews Simon of the Desert! (1965)

¡Ha ha! Esta Burl! I’m here to review a movie from one of my all time favourite directors, the great Luis Buñuel! Now I don’t mean he’s one of my favourites because of the movies he’s made, though of course those are all pretty great! But he’s also just one of my favourite directors just simply as a human being! No, I didn’t know him personally or anything, but after I read his fabulous autobiography, My Last Sigh, I just realized that here, truly, is an excellent guy that I’d like to have known!
Aside from his early pictures with Dali, Simon of the Desert is probably one of his shortest movies! It’s about forty-five minutes, but considering it’s the story of a guy who stands on the top of a pole, that’s about as long as you’d want it to be! In any case, it seems pretty much the perfect length!
Simon is one of these holier-than-thou types, and for six and a half years he’s lived on the top of a column in the middle of the Mexican wilderness to show his devotion to the Lord! As the movie begins, a local rich man has just bought Simon a new column, taller and with more intricate carvings about the capital! The grumpy anchorite has no sooner settled himself atop this new aerie than he must deal with none other than the Devil, who has taken the form of a beautiful lady and tries tempting him down from the column!
He also converses with the local shepherd dwarf, and with a priest who gets possessed and tries to out him as a high-living fraud! He performs a miracle on a handless fellow who proves to be a complete ingrate once Simon has mumbled some prayer and the fellow grows new hands! The bearded ascetic tries to increase the devotional ante by standing on one foot, but he is still assailed by demonic visions; and eventually, in a crackerjack ending, he finds himself having drinks with the Devil in a goodtime rock-n-roll club filled with groovy gyrating hepcats! Ha ha, this may be hell, but at least they have a good band!
It’s a good, solid anti-clerical piece all around, and must have been a bit of a shocker to the devout! There’s some unexpected nudity as well! Ha ha, and the movie looks great too, with great monochrome photography from Gabriel Figueroa, Mexico’s premiere cinematographer! I give the excellent Simon of the Desert three and a half bearded ladies!

Sunday 11 March 2012

Burl reviews Truck Stop Women! (1974)

Hi, Burl here with a rootin’ tootin’ truckin’ and shootin’ movie, also featuring plenty of ladies! Ha ha, I’m talkin’ about Truck Stop Women! It’s one of the movies people cite when they’re making the case that some Playboy centerfolds, in this case Claudia Jennings, whom we know from Fast Company, can turn out to be good actors! And as far as Miss Jennings goes, I’m not going to say they’re wrong!
Ha ha, Truck Stop Women is part of a great microgenre I call Cracker Shakespeare! That refers to a movie with a deliberately down-market setting, a tawdry tone and a rough-hewn cast of characters which nevertheless trades in just the sorts of themes (family, loyalty, betrayal) and narrative progressions (everybody betrays everybody and then most of them die) which were the stock in trade of that famed playwright of yore, at least in his more overbaked tragedies!
Lots of Russ Meyer movies fit into this category, and plenty of Roger Corman productions too, and so, you can bet, does Truck Stop Women! It’s set at and around a New Mexico truck stop where Anna, the flame-haired XYL matriarch, runs a bordello for the concrete cowboys who pass by! Queen of the lot lizards is Anna's daughter Rose, played by Claudia Jennings; and beyond the red light activities the truck stop has going on, the ladies, the younger ones anyway, use their wiles to waylay truckers and steal their rigs for repainting and resale! They’re helped out by a couple of amiable good old boys, one of whom is played by Pahoo himself from Creature From Black Lake, the great Dennis Fimple!
The plot hinges on an attempted Mafia takeover of the truck stop, but the ladies aren’t having any of it! There’s vehicular mayhem and popgun shooting galore, and every second scene or so a lady takes off her clothes! The main bad guys are two very hateful syndicate goons, but there are ancillary bad guys as well, including a traitor who gets his in an amazing scene in which he is crushed to death by moo-cows in the back of a cattle truck! And of course there’s the family betrayals and the bodies piling up like cordwood by the end!
It’s really quite grim! But the tragedy is leavened by random scenes of ladies disrobing, the hayseed antics of Pahoo and his pal, and the fine series of trucker songs that pepper the soundtrack! In fact the whole movie stops dead to accommodate a musical tribute to trucks, sung from the truck’s point of view in fact, which is accompanied by shots of eighteen wheelers driving, drivers smiling and waving, other people waving back and so on! And there’s also an encomium to that theretofore unsung hero, the cattle truck driver, which is of course called, ha ha, “Bullshippers!"
It’s a pretty good show! It’s got all the exploitation elements down pat, but offers an unexpectedly rich slice of family drama as well! And Claudia Jennings has a very definite character arc, and while she’s not quite Meryl Streep, she does pretty well with it! I call this a cinematic treat, and I award it three sleeper cabs and only wish that B.J. and the Bear had stopped by this truck stop at some point in the picture! I’m sure a ruckus would have ensued! Ha ha!

Saturday 10 March 2012

Burl reviews The Strange World of Planet X! (1957)

Ahh ha ha, Burl here again! Have I ever told you how terrified I would be if giant insects were real? I can hardly think of a worse way to go, which I why I always get a pretty good shudder from a big bug movie! This picture, The Strange World of Planet X, which is maybe better known as Cosmic Monsters, appears at first glance to be just such a photoplay! Well, not so fast, as you’ll soon see!
The Strange World of Planet X actually more closely resembles a feebler version of X the Unknown  or an even feebler version of a Quatermass picture than it does big-bug classics like Them or Tarantula! Like X the Unknown it takes place largely in a U.K. laboratory staffed by Brits and one lone middle-aged American, in this case Forrest Tucker from The Crawling Eye and The Abominable Snowman! The lab is working on some sort of weird science that turns metal into cookies when they accidentally open up a hole in the ionosphere!
Ha ha, after that, a very long time after that it seems, we get some big bug attacks, including one in which a poor guy’s face is eaten off! Ha ha, who knew these old British sci-fi movies were so gory! But before the bug action we get lots and lots and lots and lots of chatting scenes about science, and also some hilarious sexism and other such verbal elements! But after a while you think to yourself “Ha ha! This is all well and good, but I thought I was watching a giant bug movie!”
As the movie moves along, new characters come out of the woodwork at regular intervals, including some other scientists, an army guy or two and a friendly space alien in the tradition of The Day The Earth Stood Still! But eventually there’s a big-ish spider seen in the woods, and some centipedes and I think some doodlebugs also! But none of it is as creepy as it should be, even to a guy like me who is, as I mentioned, terrified of big bugs!
Sometime soon maybe I’ll get to reviewing those other two Forrest Tucker British sci-fi horror pictures, because both of them are much better than this one! But The Strange World of Planet X, or Cosmic Monsters if you prefer, is not without its small pleasures, especially if you have a love of pseudo-scientific bafflegab! I give it one and a half all-purpose ray guns!  

Thursday 8 March 2012

Burl reviews Cellar Dweller! (1987)

The cellar door flies open suddenly, and standing there is Burl! Ha ha, don’t be scared readers, I mean you no harm! I’m just here to review another scary picture from that wonderful, terrible decade, the 80s!
This one is firmly in line with other monster-suit pictures of the era, movies like Rawhead Rex and Pumpkinhead! With its single location, small cast and clearly limited budget, it’s kind of like a little cousin to those movies! Ha ha, I like monster-suit pictures, I do admit! Nothing wrong with dressing a tall guy in a suit and having him roar a bit and wave his arms and bop people on the head for ninety minutes, no sir!
Cellar Dweller doesn’t manage ninety minutes of it though! I think it’s about seventy-five, and that’s including the typical long, slow Empire Pictures opening credits, just like we see in From Beyond and Re-Animator and The Dungeonmaster and other Charles Band productions of the 80s! It has a fairly crackerjack opening sequence, though: it’s the 1950s, and Jeffrey Combs from Re-Animator, always a welcome presence, is a comic book artist working alone in his basement studio! He accidentally conjures up a demon and a victim for the demon just by drawing them, and then, in his efforts to banish the demon back to the two-dimensional world from which it sprang, somehow manages to immolate himself in the fakest fire since Carnival Rock! Ha ha!
Well, the next thing you know it’s the present, or at least 1987, and Combs’s house has become an artists’ residence, lorded over by its director, beauty queen and ex-Munster Yvonne DeCarlo! The people who made this picture don’t seem to know any artists or have ever been near a real artists’ residence though, but that’s okay! This one is more like a bughouse, with a motley and multi-disciplinary group of creative sorts following their muses but who may as well be weaving baskets! Among them is a hard-boiled detective novelist played by Vince Edwards, Claude himself from Murder By Contract! Of course there’s a performance artist (we can’t have a movie like this without some fake performance art, which someone ought to collect for a real installation piece of their own!) and a finger-painter, and finally our heroine, the comic artist lady who is flabbergasted to unearth her idol Jeffrey Combs’s old studio and his hocus pocus artifacts!
Well, the movie is half over before the monster shows up again, but when he does he starts a-killin' right away, scratching and biting and knocking off heads! His violence is somewhat at odds with his strangely kind face, which makes him look a bit like Harry the Henderson’s brother! But he keeps up his spree until our comic artist believes she’s figured out how to dispatch him; but this leads to the entire rest of the cast being consumed by more extremely fake flames! Ha ha! There are a few other fake-out endings beyond that, as I recall!
Well, just as Class Reunion seemed to be trying its level best to be anything at all but funny, Cellar Dweller appears to be spending most of its energies on not being scary! The monster is shown in all his glory right off the bat, and shot very unimaginatively! But the director, John Buechler, who is also the trick effects man – that’s his day job – has made the monster look a little bit like himself, which he often seems to do with his creatures, and so maybe he didn’t want it to ever be too horrific lest he be thought horrific himself! Anyway, it’s got its moments, and some interesting cast members (future schlock Hollywood comedy director Brian Robbins is in there as the finger painter) and a bit of the old tomato paste and stretchy-skin, so I give Cellar Dweller one and a half bottles of “White Off!”

Monday 5 March 2012

Burl reviews Melody in Love! (1978)

Ha ha, this is Burl speaking to you from “under the volcano!” Some readers may recollect my recent review of Summer Night Fever and recall how thoroughly I enjoyed it! Inspired, excited and emboldened by that viewing experience, I reached for a similar-looking European sex romp of the 1970s, Melody in Love!
Well ha ha, although I can’t claim it made me feel as HAPPY as Summer Night Fever did, I will say that Melody in Love is one of the more bizarre movies I’ve ever reviewed here on my blog, and if you scan your way down the list of titles I’ve discussed, you’ll see that’s really saying something! It’s a German picture, but since it takes place in Mauritius among a spectacular array of races and nationalities, it has a polyglot flavour that can hardly be beat!
But it also has a plot that can hardly be deciphered! Melody, a young lady, has come to Mauritius to holiday with her older lady cousin, a married woman with a baby that gets forgotten about somewhere in the middle of the movie! Her husband Octavio is a skindiving treasure hunter, and we see him hard at work fighting sharks and knifing them like a big jerk! Separate from all this, there is a pair of friends vacationing on this island paradise, one of whom is a girls’ school teacher being pursued by three of his comelier students! The other one ends up meeting with the older cousin lady and by extension Melody! Meanwhile the volcano under which all of these characters romp is apparently ready to blow its top any minute! We know this because every now and again the characters stop to mention how much they fear an eruption, and because the opening credits run over beautiful slow-motion shots of flying globs of lava! Just as if Chekhov had set a play in a gun shop during a gunfighters’ convention on Gunfire Amnesty Day, there’s a certain inevitability to the conclusion!
Like Summer Night Fever, this movie features some ridiculous songs from the pen of Gerhard Heintz! There’s one about how honeymoon’s for loving, loving all the day, that has to be heard to be believed! The picture also features random kung-fu fighting; a street knifing; an array of Peeping Tom-isms; a battle with an octopus; some beach dancing; a scene where Octavio and his skindiving pals bring up a treasure chest (it looks like something that might have been bought at Pier 1 the day before) which, upon proving empty, prompts great roars of Walter Huston-like laughter from the group; and a great number of unclad ladies! And then, finally, the volcano goes off and causes smoky flashpot explosions along the hillside!
Well, it has enough of the European 70s decadence seen in Summer Night Fever to make a viewing worthwhile, and it’s got exotic locations too, and of course Melody herself is spectacularly pretty; but it’s really the excessive weirdness that seals the deal! It’s a kooky picture, and no mistake! I give Melody in Love two mysteriously disappearing schoolteachers!


Sunday 4 March 2012

Burl reviews Last Night at the Alamo! (1983)

Hi, Burl here to review a little regional picture that I’ve always been surprised didn’t get more attention, though it certainly got some! I remember reading a review of Last Night at the Alamo in one of those Home Video Enthusiast-type of magazines – the sort of magazine that would rate the relative merits of the Panasonic Omnivision IV versus the Sony SL-7200, but also had reviews of the latest tape releases – and it was intriguing to me then, even though I was a horror fan through and through! (I remember that issue also had a review of The Mack, starring Richard Pryor!)
Well, many years later I got my hands on a VHS copy of the picture, and glad I am of that! It’s a very low-budget movie, taking place mostly in one Houston watering hole called, of course, The Alamo! But this is the last night of operation for this venerable establishment, and the regulars who populate the place – among them Claude, played by the great, sadly late Lou Perryman of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – aren’t ready to give it up without a fight, or at least without a lot of drunken grousing!
The key figure in the drama is unseen for the first act of the picture, but expansively discussed! It’s Cowboy, an amiable fellow never seen without his bucket hat and lazy grin! Ha ha, he’s a local hero type of guy, but there’s something kind of stupid behind his eyes, and it burns brighter as he decides to spearhead the effort to save the Alamo!
Well, it’s a foregone conclusion that they’ll have to settle for remembering it instead, but these fellows have had enough booze that they have no problem believing the place might be spared the wrecker’s ball through a few late-night phone calls to dimly remembered old acquaintances who are now mucking about in state politics! Cowboy proves not to have the influence he’d claimed, and in the meantime Claude repeatedly dials his wife on the pay phone and engages in spectacularly profane arguments with this never-seen woman! Yes, he really lays a salty tongue on her, and no mistake!
By the end of the picture, well, let’s just say that Cowboy’s hat has come off, and the movie has moved from being an ambling, Southern fried slice-of-life to something similar, but darker and more roiling! It’s a handsome-looking black-and-white picture that, at $50,000, must have had a lower budget than even something like Satan’s Black Wedding, but is galaxies ahead in its quality, especially in the performative realm! Ha ha, the acting’s just great!
This is a true indie film from just before the days when that label began to have some cachet! It’s a bit stagebound at times, but well worth watching, and I highly recommend tracking it down! Ha ha, it’s a true Texas gem! I give Last Night at the Alamo three and a half homemade pest control signs!

Saturday 3 March 2012

Burl reviews Satan's Black Wedding! (1975)

Hi, Burl here to review a weird and strange little movie! Ha ha, it’s called Satan’s Black Wedding, and it’s one of those little no-budget 1970s treasures you run across every now and again!
Now I must caution you: it’s not a treasure because it’s a particularly good movie! In fact it’s one of the most poorly-made movies I’ve ever seen! Framing, camera placement, scene structure, general mise en scene – all of this was most studiously ignored by the filmmaker, Nick Millard! But I don’t hold that against him, because the movie sort of works anyway!
The movie starts with a lady slashing away at her wrists with a razor blade, causing a nearby mustache man to sprout a mouthful of enormous cardboard fangs! Then Mark, a Hollywood actor, is shown driving up to Monterey to attend the lady’s funeral! She was his sister Nina, and she had apparently spent the two years leading up to her suicide researching and writing a book about demonology or something!
Mark chats with a weird and creepy priest and then checks out the suicide room of his sister! Considerately, the cops have kept it as she left it, and Mark and the lead investigator chat comfortably for a while in a room splattered with Nina’s lifeblood! It seems the cop is not satisfied that Nina killed herself, and neither is Mark! He plans to stay in Monterey, bunking in his sister’s over-mullioned house as long as it takes to solve the crime! He teams up with an old girlfriend who used to be friends with Nina and was helping her write her terrifying tale of the supernatural!
But then toothy attacks by zombie vampires, including the late Nina, begin in earnest! Though Mark repeatedly states his intention to stay in Monterey in spite of everything, all the people he speaks to about the situation – his aunt, his aunt’s maid, the cop, his old girlfriend – fall victim to these horrific assaults! Eventually it turns out to have something to do with how Satan would like Mark to marry his sister! Well, Mark beats feet when he hears that, but will he make it safely back to Los Angeles? You’ll have to see the movie to find out!
Ha ha, this isn’t a great movie, but believe it or not, a few of the sequences are a little bit scary! And it’s really a very weird movie too, a condition which of course rates pretty high with ol’ Burl! It’s a bad movie, make no mistake about that, but it’s a bad movie with heart, and some nice locations, and some gruesome scenes and some hilariously bad acting, and many other qualities that make it enjoyable! I give Satan’s Black Wedding one and a half vile manuscripts!

Thursday 1 March 2012

Burl reviews Out of Bounds! (1986)

Hi, Burl here! Sorry to start this review on a sad note, but I was just watching this movie Out of Bounds, and got to thinking about the picture’s cinematographer, Bruce Surtees! He shot Beverly Hills Cop as well, and also some very good-looking movies like Dirty Harry and Big Wednesday! Anyway, I thought to myself “Ha ha, now there’s a talented guy,” and then a few days later I read that he up and died! Too bad!
Anyway, Out of Bounds is certainly one of his minor works, and that’s the picture I thought I’d review for you today! It’s a homburg picture, just like Blue City! That’s my term for the transitional movies in the careers of Brat Pack actors - in this case Anthony Michael Hall - who want to be Taken Seriously and not cast as high schoolers any more! But so often, as is the case with Blue City and, I’m afraid, with Out of Bounds as well, the movies are bad enough to put a real crimp in the actor’s career! (And this might have been the movie Anthony Michael Hall did instead of Full Metal Jacket, which is a pretty poor trade-off if you ask me!)
Still, Out of Bounds is better than Blue City, and better than distaff homburg pictures like Fresh Horses and For Keeps as well! It tells the story of Daryl, a corn-fed Iowa farmboy who travels to Los Angeles to stay with his football-hero brother! Unfortunately, a confusion at the airport results in Daryl walking off with a bag belonging to a murderous drug dealer, who, we’ll have to agree, was a bit of a dummy for flying to L.A. when he could have driven!
Once Daryl is set up in his new digs, an outbuilding behind his brother’s house that’s hidden behind a fake camouflage hedge for some reason, he finds “some kind of crazy stuff” in his bag! Next morning his brother and sister-in-law have been murderized, and Daryl’s on the run, with only a goofy gal named Dizz for company! Dizz is played by Jenny Wright from The Wild Life, and is that sort of crazy L.A. lady we see in all sorts of movies, from The Vals to L.A. Story! She works as a waitress at Barney’s Beanery, yet drives a fancy convertible car and lives in an over-decorated house that would be way beyond any waitress’s salary to own or even rent! Ha ha!
The cops, perhaps to demonstrate their total dedication to solving the crime, make incredibly detailed tape outlines of Daryl’s relatives and then immediately decide he must be the murderer! Under Dizz’s supervision, to the aluminum whine of The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now,” Daryl undergoes an L.A. makeover, donning an all-new lifestyle outfit complete with fingerless leather gloves! Every action Daryl takes seems to dig him in ever-deepening poo with the police, and soon the cop on the case, played by Glynn Turman from Super 8, tells Daryl that he’s “gone way out of bounds!” Ha ha, oh for the days when a movie’s title would be awkwardly inserted into the dialogue!
Well, this forgotten picture is no classic, but it’s a fine artifact of the era! As a tour of 1980s Los Angeles, it rivals such players as Into the Night and Miracle Mile, and it even features a surprise appearance by Siouxsie Sioux, whom we find singing in a rock n’ roll club! Anthony Michael Hall’s performance is okay I guess, but Daryl is so reserved and taciturn that at times it seems like Rainman has been made the star of an action picture! Instead of counting toothpicks, his special talent is for throwing knives, which we see him do at the beginning of the picture! From there it’s just a matter of counting time until he bookends that by throwing a knife into the drug dealer too!
In memory of the talented Bruce Surtees, and for its marginal qualities rather than any fundamental merit, I give Out of Bounds two large penguin posters!

Burl reviews X the Unknown! (1956)

A mighty crack opens in the ground and suddenly it’s Burl standing there, arms akimbo! Ha ha, that’s right, it’s me, here to review an early Hammer picture, a sort of proto-Quatermass sci-fi horror number with some shocking effects!
Do you know, I think this is the earliest picture I’ve ever seen with the magic phrase “Special Makeup Effects” in the credits! There were variations in earlier movies of course, but I can’t recall that particular arrangement of the words, which would later become so popular, previous to this! The credit, by the way, goes to Phil Leakey, who was Hammer’s version of Jack Pierce, designing all-new makeups for their appropriated roster of Gothic horror stars, whose various looks were under copyright at Universal!
The picture takes place in Scotland, where British army fellows are conducting their nuclear detection exercises! The next thing they know, a fissure opens in the ground and their Geiger counters go plumb nuts! What could it be? A faulty mechanism? A minor geological event? A radioactive mud-blob creature from the very bowels of the earth? It’s the latter, and science must rally to save the day!
As local Scots are zapped by the creature – here is where the Special Makeup Effects kick in, with gruesome skin-melting scenes and various oozing sores – an American scientist, Dean Jagger, starts putting the pieces of the puzzle together! His ruminations and inductions are strongly reminiscent of Robert Hutton’s incredible leaps of logic in The Vulture! But like Hutton’s they are also correct, and as it happens he’s been working on a project that applies perfectly to just this outlandish situation!
I mentioned that this was a Quatermass-like picture, and indeed it reminds me so strongly of the Quatermass movies that for years I assumed it was one of them; but there’s a crucial difference: X the Unknown is sorely lacking in the audacious metaphysics and the conceptual mind-bogglers with which Nigel Kneale generously larded his movies! But that doesn’t mean it’s bad! Ha ha, it’s pretty enjoyable, and Dean Jagger, though something about his performance suggests a little off-screen experimentation with the local ferments, does an excellent job as the scientist hero!
And that’s maybe my favourite thing about the picture! The scientists are indeed the heroes, and the army helps them out without grousing too much about it! The threat, oddball as it is, is a naturally occurring monster and not a lab creation gone awry! Another quick note: for anyone who’s seen both movies, didn’t the two constantly complaining lance corporals who came to a sticky end remind you of the pair of soldiers played by Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze in Roger Corman’s It Conquered The World? Ha ha, they sure did me!
Anyway, this was an enjoyable movie with good trick effects and a few spooky sequences, and, on the debit side, quite a lot of chatter and some silliness! Ha ha, how do you kill mud, anyway? I give X the Unknown two and a half spinning jeep wheels!