Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Monday 30 April 2012

Burl reviews Sorority Girl! (1957)

Hi, Burl here to review a movie about sorority girls! Ha ha, not for the first time either! But this one is actually called Sorority Girl, and it’s another Roger Corman drama movie much like Carnival Rock, which it strongly resembles! Like that picture it features the tragic and beautiful Susan Cabot and the fantastic Dick Miller, and like that picture too it weaves exploitable elements into what might best be described as kitchen-sink character drama! Or maybe the weaving goes the other way around, hard to say!
Cabot plays a rich sorority girl in Beta Pi or Sigma Ki or whatever – ha ha, it’s all Greek to me! – and has failed to make any friends there merely because of her mean, haughty attitude, her sadism, her spiteful remarks and her constant air of exasperated superiority! Barboura Morris, even more gorgeous here than she was in A Bucket of Blood, is the good-girl sister-with-a-secret, and Dick Miller plays a local guy who I’m not sure is a student or not, but who owns the local rock-dancing club! He’s the voice of reason, just like he was in Carnival Rock!
Cabot has a gooney-bird of a girl under her complete command, and uses this hapless lönguebönes to help her play mean-spirited tricks on the other girls! She engages in meddling and blackmail and brutal spankings! It’s up to Dick Miller to save the day when her scheming puts the life of one girl at risk!
Ha ha, there’s a bit of rock and roll in this picture, a smidgen of heavy petting and the dramatic centerpiece, the spanking scene! But there’s also a lot of bitchy bickering, wailing, simpering and pleading! It sure is dramatic! And my reading of the very end is that it’s about to get much more dramatic as Cabot’s character walks grimly into the sea, but nowhere else have I seen this coda mentioned! Maybe it’s obvious to everyone else that she’s just going for a swim to cool off! Ha ha!
There’s lots to recommend this sixty-minute special! Obviously Dick Miller is a huge plus, as always, and Cabot and Morris are both gorgeous and convincing! Like Carnival Rock once again, this picture has a bizarre and surreal opening-credits sequence that leaves you a little disconcerted! It’s written and directed with the punchy zing you expect from a Roger Corman film, yet it can also seem a million minutes long if you’re tired or not in the mood! Ha ha, I recommend tracking it down anyway and giving it a look! And at least the VHS box has that terrific picture depicting Miller in his natural state: surrounded by beautiful ladies! I present Sorority Girl with two and a half freshly washed stockings!

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Burl reviews Wild on the Beach! (1965)

Hi, Burl here! Ha ha, do you love a beach movie as much as I do? I’m not necessarily talking about those Frankie and Annette movies, although they have their pleasures! I’m thinking more of the non-A.I.P. ones of the same period, pictures like Ride the Wild Surf and It’s A Bikini World, and some of the more recent Crown International classics like Malibu Beach and The Beach Girls! Sunset Cove and Beach House are pretty good non-Crown examples!
Well, I thought I might have unearthed a rare gem when I found a VHS copy of Wild on the Beach for sale! I’d never even heard of it! Word on the picture turned out not to be good, but I’m well-practiced at shoving aside bad notices and watching a movie anyway!
It turns out the naysayers were right about one thing: there’s virtually no beach in Wild on the Beach! After some stock beach and surfing footage under the titles, we repair into a beach house and rarely leave again, and if we do it’s to go to a university office or a bar or another beach house! But guess what: beach houses and beach bars are great places to set a movie! I’ve always had a deeply romanticized notion of beach houses and have always wished to own one, and even though the interiors of this particular beach house were obviously sets in some rented soundstage somewhere, just knowing they were supposed to be in a beach house was kind of thrilling!
The plot is kind of similar to both Beach House and The Beach Girls! In all cases there are two competing parties vying for the full use of a beach house! Here the stakes are higher than simple beach-life enjoyment, ha ha! A young lady named Lee is planning on living in her deceased uncle’s beach house and renting the other rooms to cover her tuition, but a young fellow named Adam is already there with a bunch of his buddies, staking a squatter’s claim on the residence and also some vague story about his father’s friendship with the deceased uncle! There’s an oft-mentioned campus housing shortage and an unlikely new rule from the board about how students who can’t find school-sanctioned housing must withdraw from their courses and find somewhere else to get an education!
Soon Lee and Adam are racing to be the first to get the necessary permits to make the house an official student residence! That strategy didn’t make much sense to me, but ha ha, what do I know about university housing regulations of the 1960s! I do know that I find endless repetition of the word “permit” a little stifling, especially it they pronounce it “per-mit,” as if it was a verb, rather than the more normal “per-mit!”
There’s also middle-aged men galore if that's your thing! We’ve got a slaphead university employee who keeps searching the beach house, an angry dean who’s a cross between John Vernon in Animal House and the head elf from the Rudolph Christmas special, and a beach neighbour who’s a would-be record producer and would-be lothario who chugs pitcher-fulls of martinis! Where most movies in the genre end with a dance party on the beach, this one ends with a dance party in the beach house! Ha ha! And there’s a rousing musical number from The Astronauts, singing a song of warning about Speedy Gonzales! (You can see that number here!)
It’s not a great movie, but it has many small pleasures woven through it! But where most beach party movies are filmed in widescreen and bright colours, this one is black-and-white and stubby! I wonder if they couldn’t afford colour and so decided to set their movie largely indoors, or if they looked at the lack of beach scenes in their script and decided they may as well shoot in monochrome? It’s a puzzlement! Anyway, I give Wild on the Beach one and a half surprise appearances by Sonny and Cher!

Sunday 22 April 2012

Burl reviews Curse of the Black Widow! (1977)

Hi, Burl here with a review of a TV movie! I haven’t reviewed too many of these old boys so far – This House Possessed and The Horror at 37,000 Feet are probably about it – but I usually enjoy watching them! Like This House Possessed, this is one I watched on or near its original broadcast, and it scared the terwilligers out of me! I’ve mentioned my gut-churning terror of giant spiders before, in the review of The Strange World of Planet X, I think, and it’s my belief that my viewing of Curse of the Black Widow as an impressionable young chap was the inspiration for this life-long phobia! (I’m not scared of spiders in general though, just enormous ones that might try to eat me! Ha ha!)
As in any TV movie of the era that had to stretch itself out to 104 minutes, there’s an awful lot of padding filling out this Naugahyde package, but the basic story of Curse of the Black Widow runs as follows: a glamorous mystery lady is stalking Los Angeles bars, picking up men in sport coats and then terrifying them in some unspecified manner and leaving them drained husks, often swathed in mysterious webbing! Ha ha, turns out she’s a were-spider, and hot on her trail is smooth-operating consulting detective Tony Fransciosa, well known from Death Wish II, and a gruff police investigator played by Vic Morrow from Humanoids From the Deep! Ha ha, Vic Morrow’s character is named Conti, but for some reason Fransciosa always calls him “Gully!”
Anyway, as per many TV movies and most Dan Curtis productions, there’s a lot of family drama woven into this situation, along with several strange time-wasting digressions and an often-inappropriate musical score, as well as many hideous sport coats! This is why I’m a big fan of so many Dan Curtis productions, in particular Trilogy of Terror, which was the first horror movie I ever saw, and Burnt Offerings, one of Dan’s rare theatrical efforts! (I never was a Dark Shadows fan, however – it just seemed like any other soap opera to me, with a few extra drifts of fog here and there!)
I became pretty confused about two thirds of the way through Curse of the Black Widow when a number of older ladies started showing up and the family drama bit really kicked in! I must not have been paying enough attention, because I really had no idea who was who, what their relationships to one another were and what the conflicts were all about! But being totally at sea didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the picture one bit, ha ha!
And what a cast! Vic Morrow always plays a good grouch, and Max Gail plays, yes, a disheveled cop, this time named “Rags” instead of Wojo! The mysterious old ladies are played by the likes of June Allyson and June Lockhart! Sid Caesar and Jeff Corey play two of the padding-providing ancillary characters, Pinky Tuscadero plays “Flaps,” the secretary, and there’s a great cameo from none other than Hard Boiled Haggerty, playing a man who once saw the giant spider but no one believed him!
The actual giant spider, when we finally see it at the end, is a little bit fake looking, I have to say! It’s still plenty scary though, especially when you’ve got a phobia like mine! I give Curse of the Black Widow two and a half bargain-basement arachnoid transformations!

Friday 20 April 2012

Burl reviews Goin' All the Way! (1982)

Ha ha, Burl here to review a movie about the frustrations of young people! Here is a movie that, as the back of the video box says, is “Goin’ All the Way to the screen all fun-packed high good times!” Yes, that’s what it says! And even though it makes no sense at all, it’s still a pretty good précis of the oddity that is Goin’ All the Way!
There are a few classic story templates out there that get used over and over again! The Odyssey is one of them of course, and Romeo and Juliet, and still another is Archie Comics, which is the model heavily relied upon by Goin’ All the Way! The Archie figure is here called Artie Mulligan, and he’s a sort of gormless, halfway-handsome lug of a guy, and the Veronica proxy is his girlfriend Monica, who won’t make love to him! Ha ha, hard to blame her! Artie’s rascally friend Reggie – ha ha, they didn’t even bother trying to find a different name for this fellow – convinces him that taking Monica to a motel would get the old flywheel spinning! But Monica throws a Cornish Hen, which is a sort of tantrum way out of proportion to the perceived offence, and kicks Artie to the curb!
Well! There’s a subplot involving wrestling women that kicks in at around this point, and the connection between the two narrative strands is the Big Moose stand-in, here called Bronk! (Bronk, by the way, is played by none other than Johnny Big Head from Surf II!) Anyway, Bronk’s girlfriend Candy, aka Midge, shows an interest in Artie now that he’s fancy-free; and somehow Monica hooks up with some kind of 70s holdover guy who declares himself “a songwriter – among other things!” He’s the slimiest character seen on film since the yachtsman from Summer Night Fever!
It all comes to a raging climax at a Sadie Hawkins dance, of all things! Everyone’s wearing hayseed outfits, except for Reggie who’s dressed like Nahalla from The Ghost Dance! Ha ha, were Sadie Hawkins dances ever really a thing? Not where I come from they weren’t, I can tell you that! I won’t tell you how it all works out except that it’s exactly as you expect it will, with the addition of a final shot involving Bronk standing there hog-tied, naked and shaved bald as a cueball!
This is a Teen Sex Comedy all right, but a strangely lifeless one despite all the weird goings-on! The wrestler girls are an odd addition to the formula, and the Sadie Hawkins dance is a head-scratcher too! Bronk is a pretty unpleasant character – it always seems like he might turn nice, but he just gets worse as the picture goes on! But there’s something so basic about the movie that I kind of liked it anyway, despite all the undeniable lamenesses which abound! It’s worth seeing for the recording studio scene alone, which rivals the famous one in Pod People! I give Goin’ All the Way a solid one and a half weird bike-riding fantasy scenes!

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Burl reviews Matinee! (1993)

B’dee, b’dee, b’dee, it’s Burl! That “b’dee” business was supposed to be the noise of Twiki the robot for you, but I’m not sure if I spelled it right! And what does Twiki have to do with Joe "Explorers" Dante’s marvelous movie Matinee? Exactly nothing! It was just fun to type, ha ha!
I’ve already tipped my hand, I guess: I’m a fan of Matinee! Not only does it feature such delights as The Shook-Up Shopping Cart (with an early appearance by Naomi Watts of Mulholland Drive fame), but it teams up my favourite actor, Dick Miller, with John Sayles, a director, screenwriter and sometime actor I greatly admire! And plus it has John Goodman in it, straight out of C.H.U.D., and he's an actor I always enjoy, and lots of other stalwarts in the cast too; and the cream in the coffee is a grand re-creation of the 1950 giant monster pictures I love so well!
Ha ha, the picture is set in Key West at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis! There’s a kid named Gene who loves horror pictures and also a William Castle-like impresario arriving in town to show off his new gimmick-laden monster movie Mant just as the nuclear hysteria reaches its peak! There’s a subplot about another kid who likes a girl, but that girl has an imbecilic, violence-prone boyfriend who just came out of the reformatory and is itching to pound his young rival’s face into face-paste! Ha ha!
And that’s about it for the movie’s story! It’s a movie of incidentals, but our great good fortune as viewers is that these incidentals are so very splendid! You get Miller from Get Crazy and Sayles from Piranha as supposed morality crusaders whipping the citizenry of Key West into anti-Mant outrage! Of course they’re actors hired by Goodman’s Castle stand-in to help publicize the picture! (Miller can be seen standing in the background of the Mant sequences, wearing an army helmet and clutching a huge bag of sugar!) And David Clennon, Palmer from The Thing, is on hand as a beatnik dad! (Ha ha, funny thing - Robert Cornthwaite from The Thing From Another World is in here too, so both versions of the space invader story are represented!)
The Key West setting is very nice, and the period details are grand! If I’d been Gene, I would have had a big crush on the beatnik girl with the ironed hair too! And then there’s Mant itself, from which we are generously shown many scenes, and it’s pretty wonderful! Any student of the 50s big bug movies and/or William Castle will recognize that it’s not exactly accurate – William Castle never made a big bug picture, and based on the elaborate effects, Mant’s budget looks to be bigger than that of Them!, which no other big bug picture ever was! (Them!, by the way, is a great picture, one of my favourites, and not just because it has an exclamation point in the title!) They were also long done with big bug movies by the early Sixties, except for a Fly movie here and there; and frankly the guy who plays the Mant itself has a contemporary-sounding voice that hurts the verisimilitude a bit!
But such inaccuracies are meaningless, since after all the spirit of the era is captured perfectly, and that’s the important thing! The picture’s also often quite funny! It can get a little sentimental here and there, but never too much! If I’d been thirteen or fourteen when I saw this, it probably would have been one of my favourite movies ever! As it stands, it still ranks pretty high! I give Matinee three and a half flying rubber professor movies!

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Burl reviews The Ghost Dance! (1980)

Hi, Burl here! Ha ha, it’s time to review a sort of a slasher picture, but not really! But on the other hand, sort of! It’s structured like a slasher picture for the most part, and there is a slasher, but he’s been possessed, so to some of the more dogmatic slasher taxonomers he might not count! But I say that’s splitting hairs, and by garr, this fellow splits a lot more than hairs in his quest for Indian vengeance, ha ha!
It seems that some anthropological researchers (or “reckless fools,” as the back of the video box characterizes them, though I think that would better apply to the anthropologists of Time Walker) have disinterred an ancient Aboriginal somewhere in New Mexico! Ha ha, he’s called Nahalla, and in a spectacular medicine light show, he takes over the body of a local redman and starts a-killing! There are a few Omen-style accidents as well, but most of the carnage occurs at the hands of the Nahalla-proxy!
Lead archeologist Dr. Kay Foster happens to look just like Nahalla’s wife from way back when, so he starts throwing a possession whammy her way too! Her boyfriend, who contends throughout the picture that everything is just a crazy legend, is not too thrilled about any of this business! Finally it all culminates in a nightmarish and downbeat finale!
I’ll tell you the big flaw with this movie: there’s not enough good stuff! It’s pretty talky, and frankly it could use a few more strange murders and mysterious goings-on! But I’ll tell you something else: what is there is actually pretty good! I always like a movie set in the deserts of the Southwest for starters, and on top of that much of the movie takes place in a museum, just like The Outing! But better use is made of the location, I must say! Ha ha, there’s a great chase scene where the lady thinks she’s lost Nahalla, but he rises up from behind a display, standing just in front of a condor exhibit in such a way that he looks like he’s got massive wings growing from his shoulders! Also there’s an ill-fated couple who make sweet love in a horse-and-buggy exhibit, and even though they’re not directly connected with the desecration of his grave, Nahalla makes short work of them anyway! And then the ending is, as I mentioned, actually fairly spooky, or at least it spooked me out a little bit!
Another thing worth mentioning is that, for a cheap regional horror movie, it’s got some pretty decent photography! The cinematographer was Fred Murphy, who would go on to shoot movies like Larry Cohen’s Q, the Eddie Murphy copshow Metro, and also John Huston’s final picture, The Dead! Ha ha, an odd career, but a talented guy!
Well, it’s hardly a perfect movie, and it’s only even a lost gem if you’re predisposed to liking the very specific elements that make it up and if you’re in exactly the right mood for it, but on the possibility that those criteria may be met one evening, I’d recommend giving it a try! Surely to biscuits someone somewhere has made their VHS copy available for viewing to just plain folks! Ha ha, I give The Ghost Dance two and a half falling shards of glass!

Friday 13 April 2012

Burl reviews Amityville 1992: It's About Time! (1992)

Hi, Burl here with a new review! Ha ha, I’ve not yet reviewed any of those Amityville Horror movies, so I may as well start with one of the least likely candidates! The actual Amityville, as most of you will know, is located on Long Island, but this movie, Amityville 1992: It’s About Time, takes place in sunny California! So it’s wrong-footing it with great dedication right from the beginning!
Ha ha, the big-faced and slightly scary Stephen Macht, from Nightwing and The Monster Squad, plays an architect who lives in the Burlwood Estates, ha ha, in a bland suburban home that kind of, sort of, if you squint a bit, might be thought by the undiscerning to have eye-like window formations vaguely recalling the classic third-story fan windows of the original Dutch Colonial-style home! He’s just returned from a business trip to, you guessed it, Long Island, and has inexplicably brought back an ugly old clock from the home he was visiting there! Yes, the clock is apparently salvage from the Amityville house, and yes it’s brought some cursedness along with it!
Bizarre things start happening involving dogbites, retro home decorating, unusual clothing, a giant, bowtie-clad fake bird and Dick Miller! Miller plays a neighbour whose hedges are immolated by the demonic timepiece, and he gets a great little scene which suggests a whole angry-neighbour subplot that was cut out of the picture – so often the fate of Miller’s performances, it seems!
In the meanwhile Macht becomes possessed by the haunted horloge, becoming the wimpiest, whiniest, most ineffectual possessee ever! His teenage kids go through their own trials at the hands of the cursed chronometer, but they take a ticking and keep on licking, ha ha! However, sundry neighbours, acquaintances and boyfriends aren’t so lucky! Ha ha, one fellow is reduced to paste by a puddle of slop in the basement!
Ha ha, the original 1979 Amityville Horror movie was a movie of homeowner horror, with its costly renovations, tricky encroachments and lost wads of wedding money! The pig eyes are scary too, but anyone who’s seen slime coming out of the walls of their own basement will find the picture particularly scary! The single best thing in this Amityville 1992 movie, besides Dick Miller, is the little model the possessed Macht makes of his new planned community made up entirely of Amityville Horror houses! Ha ha!
Well, Amityville 1992: It’s About Time doesn’t quite manage that level of terror! I don’t think it manages any level of terror, actually, unless images of barking dogs are frightening to you! The ugly clock drilling its way into the mantelpiece gives a hint of the damage-based horror in which the picture could have gone, but most of the movie is just a succession of strange events befalling these people, without any internal logic behind it whatever! It would be nice to say the picture’s plot works like clockwork, but that would be a big fat fib! I give Amityville 1992: It’s About Time one and a half swinging pendulums, and that’s almost entirely for the model housing estate and Dick Miller!  

Saturday 7 April 2012

Burl reviews Attack of the Crab Monsters! (1957)

It’s Burl, calling in at you through the window in a ghostly manner! Ha ha, you already know from my review of Island Claws that I love a giant crab picture! There aren’t too many out there, just the aforementioned Claws and this one, Roger Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters! And I guess Mysterious Island contains a giant crab scene, but I wouldn’t include that in the microgenre, myself!
I’m pretty surprised that old Roger hasn’t remade this movie as part of his ongoing series of giant CGI monster movies like DinoOctoCroc-O-Shark and suchlike! But I’m also glad, because those remakes always tend to sully their inspirations just a little bit, as we know from the Bucket of Blood redux of his, and also of course Humanoids From the Deep and Piranha!
This picture has a script by the great Charles Griffith, who also wrote A Bucket of Blood and many other excellent movies! It’s got a lot of Griffithian quirks in it, namely that these are not just giant voracious crabs, but giant voracious crabs who absorb their victims’ personalities and speak back in their voices at odd hours of the night! They’re also tunneling beneath the remote South Pacific island on which the movie is set, collapsing it bit by bit into the sea to force their intended victims onto ever-shrinking promontories! Ha ha, I think that’s a brilliant way for a tiny-budgeted movie to create a sense of large-scale menace without spending a whole lot of shekels! But that’s Chuck Griffith for you!
I mentioned in the review of The Strange World of Planet X that I’m pretty terrified of big bugs! Well, ha ha, the same holds true of giant crabs! I’d hate to be dragged into one of their crab holes to be leisurely devoured by their totally alien, disgustingly Lovecraftian mouths! I’d hopefully go into some kind of state of shock, barely able to laugh much less remain alert and aware of what was going on! Attack of the Crab Monsters taps into these fears somewhat – there is after all a scene of a crab munching down on someone – but not as much as it might have done! I suppose it’s fair to say that the sentience of the crabs dilutes the primal terror they would otherwise evoke!
But that’s a pretty minor complaint! Otherwise, Attack of the Crab Monsters is an effective low-budget creature feature, more complex and intelligent than most, and if maybe the monsters themselves aren’t as scary as they could have been, well, you can’t have it all! We do after all get Mel Welles doing an accent, and that’ll improve any picture! I give Attack of the Crab Monsters three blood-stained undershirts!

Sunday 1 April 2012

Burl reviews A Bucket of Blood! (1959)

Hi, it’s Burl to review one of my all-time favourite movies starring probably my all-time favourite actor, Dick Miller! Ha ha, don’t expect this review to be very balanced or dispassionate – I’ll tell you right up front that it’s a rave!
The great Miller, well known from Carnival Rock and other fine films, stars as Walter Paisley, the slightly slow-witted busboy at the Yellow Door café! The Yellow Door is a beatnik haunt run by a beret-clad fellow named Leonard and presided over by the haughty, bearded poet Maxwell Brock! (The poems he recites are works of satirical genius from the manic pen of Chuck Griffith, from which flowed the entire wonderful script!) Walter’s only pal is Carla, a friendly girl-next-door upon whom he’s got an unreciprocated crush; and there are other assorted beatnik artistos sitting in various corners of the place! Music is provided by Paul Horn on the sax or, at other moments, Alex Hassilev from that great group The Limeliters!
Well, poor awkward Walter wants nothing more than to become an artist, just as the people whose cups he carries away nominally are! Ha ha, he chooses the medium of sculpture, but proves to have as little talent at that he’s got at clearing tables! An oddball accident involving his landlady’s cat becoming stuck in the wall (the 1995 remake pointlessly wastes several lines of dialogue to make the situation more “believable”) leaves Walter with a dead cat on his hands and the means – clay – to cover it up! His sculpture is hailed as the weirdest, wildest, like, wiggiest thing ever seen, man!
But to stay cool he needs to make more statues, so from there events naturally spiral out of control! You’ve got to know murder is involved, ha ha! Also plenty of marvelous music and some amazing bon mots, all of it revolving around a fantastic performance by Dick Miller! He plays the role to perfection, becoming a wild-eyed, poetry-spouting killer without ever losing audience sympathy! And all the other actors – pretty Barboura Morris, bushy Julian Burton, slimy Anthony Carbone, extra-large Bruno Ve Sota from Attack of the Giant Leeches – are note-perfect as well, the Fred Katz score is great, and we must extend kudos to Roger Corman for some fine direction – it boggles the mind that he made this picture in a mere handful of days!
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this picture! I’ve seen it time and again, and it just never gets old or wears out its welcome in the slightest! I’ve even staged it as a live theater piece, and let me tell you, it was a hit! I give A Bucket of Blood four and a half zen sticks, my very highest rating! See it as soon as you can, cool cats!