Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Friday 31 August 2012

Burl reviews Massacre at Central High! (1976)

Hi, it’s Burl, here to take you back to high school! I’m sure that was the most delightful time of your life, and if you watch a picture like Massacre at Central High, you’ll find all those sweet memories coming back to you in an intoxicating rush!
Of course it sounds like a regular slasher picture, and then when you see the production year, 1976, you figure “Ha ha, I guess it’s more one of those proto-slashers, like Class Reunion Massacre or Savage Weekend!” But then you watch the movie, and for the first half or so, you could certainly be forgiven for assuming you’d accidentally put on one of those Crown International drama movies, like Malibu High or The Teacher! The presence of Robert Carradine and Rainbeaux Smith in the cast only bolsters this impression!
But finally the promised massacre begins! I’ll give you a quick rundown of the plot: the kids of Central High are routinely terrorized by a gang of blond BMOC bullies, of whom Mark, played by Andrew Stevens of The Fury, is the kindest! The rest of them are a pretty mean bunch! Then Mark’s old friend David, a sensitive fellow and an independent thinker, arrives at the school, but soon sees this bunch of goons for the ruffians they are! He resists Mark's attempts to pull him into the gang and ends up allying himself with their tormentees, who include Carradine’s mystical hippie, an outstanding glasses nerd, a chubbins, and some pretty girls! Eventually the bullies get tired of David’s stubborn resistance to their overtures and drop a car on his legs!
Well that gets David pretty steamed! The next thing you know, the bullies are dropping like flies – literally in the case of the one who meets his end thanks to a rigged hang glider! Another is tricked into diving into an empty swimming pool, and several others are blown up! The former victims almost immediately start filling the void in the social strata left by the murdered bullies, becoming swaggering cretins themselves, so David must get rid of them too! Ha ha, that’s a little social commentary for you, a feature of this picture duly noted by every single review of it ever!
So yes, it’s got more going on in its head than your typical teenage picture! It’s interesting too that, as in Peanuts, there are never any teachers, parents, police or adults of any kind visible in the movie! It would have been cool if they’d stayed off-screen but still occasionally spoke, and we heard “Waa-waa-wa-wa-wa-waaaa,” like in the Peanuts animated specials, but the filmmakers didn’t take this approach! Perhaps they feared being chewed up like a kite in a tree by the ruthless Schultz legal machine!
It’s an enjoyable picture with strong acting and an atmosphere all its own, though at times it strongly reminded me of Christine, of all movies! The patient, open-minded slasher fan will find it a charming sideways addition to the genre, however, and 1970s teen picture admirers, in particular those who love a good Crown International release, ought to have a look as well! It gets a bit mired in its depictions of high school polity, and it’s a chatty picture, no doubt about that, but it’s still a special, one-of-a-kind photoplay, and for that reason I give it two and a half exploding lockers!

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Burl reviews Moving Violations! (1985)

Yes sir, it’s Burl, here to review a very 1980s comedy movie for you, Moving Violations! This is not to be confused with Moving Violation, of course! There are a few commonalities between the two pictures, most notably the presence of automobiles, but the differences are legion! For instance, the makers of Moving Violations completely forgot to cast Dick Miller in their opus! Ha ha, too bad – he should have played the police commissioner or something, or perhaps at least the grandpa who gets hit in the croscharea with a bowling ball!
Yes, it’s that sort of picture! I saw and enjoyed Police Academy when it came out in 1984, but by the time this one came around a year or so later, I was quite content to ignore it, along with the other mid-budget comedies of the day: pictures like Real Men, Feds, Armed and Dangerous, Rustler’s Rhapsody and yes, even Brian DePalma’s Wise Guys! But I recently got my hands on a VHS copy and found that I was intrigued to see what Bill Murray’s little-known brother John would do with a starring role of his own! Ha ha!
John plays Dana Cannon, a tree nursery owner who runs afoul of a would-be fascist traffic cop played by James Keach! Keach is pretty good in the role too, and his moustache is just right for the part he’s playing! Along with a group of butterfingered or lead-footed misfits, Dana is ordered by Judge Sally Kellerman to complete a course in traffic school to be taught by Officer Keach and his equally jodhpur-clad and hard-nosed ladyfriend!
From there the plot involves some sort of corrupt deal between Judge Sally and Officer James, but that’s less involving than the vignettes involving the individual driving students! Ha ha, for its first half, especially if you watch it in increments over several days as I did, the movie starts to resemble a sprawling Los Angeles multi-story epic along the line of Short Cuts or Magnolia! It was even shot by Robert Elswit, who was the cinematographer on the Paul Thomas Anderson picture just mentioned!
It’s got a few moments that might qualify as mildly ha ha-worthy; and a few others, like the pixilated zero-gravity clothing that makes love, are pretty bizarre! The old ladies in the ensemble, one of whom was the famous Where’s The Beef lady, have a couple of good moments, and there’s the curious casting of not one but two veterans of that fine slasher picture The Burning! Mark The Rat Ratner (as the actor was called in Fast Times at Ridgemont High) appears here, and the other Burning alumnus is the guy who went skinny-dipping and later got a garden shears in the throat!
This latter actor here plays a guy who’s just mad about horror movies, and this sort of character was a bit of a staple in 80s comedy movies, ha ha! There are some horror loving characters in Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home, and of course there was Chainsaw and Dave in Summer School! In Moving Violations, though, the character is treated like a borderline psycho for liking such pictures! Ha ha!
Overall, Moving Violations is a pretty tepid comedy, a lot lighter on the funny jokes than a comedy should be! James Keach was good, and John Murray wasn’t as bad as I thought he might be, but the bottom line is that traffic school just isn’t that hilarious! I give Moving Violations one surprise appearance by Don Cheadle!

Sunday 26 August 2012

Burl reviews War of the Gargantuas! (1967)

Aiiiii, it’s Burl! Ha ha, no, I’m not a giant monster, just the same gentle movie reviewer you’ve always known! But today I’m reviewing War of the Gargantuas, a movie about giant monsters, or at least about gargantuas! (I waited in vain for an appearance by Pantagruel, however!) They’re pretty monstrous, these gargantuas, and in case they’re too humanoid for you, even though they’re big, shaggy and ugly, this movie tosses in a giant octopus for good measure!
The movie starts off with a good, creepy scene! A guy at the helm of a fishing boat is menaced by tentacles which poke in through the doors and grab at him! Ha ha, it’s a mighty kraken! The tentacle effects are perhaps the best I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea! Anyway, just as it seems the boat is going to be made a meal of by the enormous calamari, a green-furred gargantua shows up and battles the eight-legged beast! But the green monster is soon sinking the boat himself, and he eats up the crew like they were Junior Mints! Ha ha, munch munch!
Well, soon a laconic roundeyes named Professor Stewart, evidently a professor of giant monsters, is called in to advise on the situation! He’s played by Russ "Blood Screams" Tamblyn, who was, I presume, on a heavy program of barbiturates at the time! It seems that he and his pretty assistant once kept a small brown gargantua as a lab specimen and friend, but he escaped! The army wants to eliminate all gargantuas regardless of fur colour, so it’s up to this dynamic duo to prevent the killing of their chum the brown gargantua while helping to defeat the seemingly unstoppable green one! Added to this is the problem that if you blow up a gargantua, each bit will eventually become a full-sized gargantua itself, just like with the artichoke monster from Blood Beach!
Meanwhile, the green gargantua is making attacks all over Japan! He munches on a lady at an airport and later grabs a nightclub singer just as she’s finished warbling a wonderful, terrible pop song called “The Words Get Stuck In My Throat!” She almost gets stuck in the gargantua’s throat, but narrowly escapes! Soon the brown gargantua appears, and he hangs fire for a bit while apprising himself of the situation! Russ Tamblyn checks out some Yeti prints in the mountains, where for some reason everybody else is wearing climbing gear while he’s in a cream-coloured sports jacket!
Eventually the brown fellow realizes his green counterpart is a bit of a jerk! The war of the gargantuas finally begins in earnest, and many innocent model buildings are crushed! Ha ha, I often wonder about the Sisyphean labours of the Kaiju movie modelmakers! They construct these wonderful, detailed little worlds only to step back and watch them get immediately crushed to flinders by a few dudes in rubber suits! Ha ha, that must be just the least little bit frustrating, you’d think!
Well, I’ll confess that I’ve never been very much into the Japanese monster movies, maybe because so many of them seem geared towards kids, but when I watch them I tend to enjoy them, and this one was no different! I always love giant octopus scenes, so I give it extra points for that, and for sleepy Russ Tamblyn too! The models are great, and some of the scenes, where the green gargantua makes a terrifying noise and runs around stomping things in slow motion, are almost kind of scary! I also liked that horrible song! I give War of the Gargantuas two and a half groups of merrily singing youths!  

Saturday 25 August 2012

Burl reviews Smokey Bites the Dust! (1981)

Vrooom vroom, it’s Burl with another dusty car chase picture for you! This one, Smokey Bites the Dust, is firmly in the tradition of Roger Corman chase movies one usually associates with Ron Howard, movies like Eat My Dust and Grand Theft Auto! (At one time, I must confess, Grand Theft Auto was my favourite movie ever, and I still regard it as Ron Howard’s finest achievement!)
But there’s no Howard to be found in this one, not even a Clint or a Rance, and the role of Hard Driving Doofus instead goes to Jimmy MacNichol, Kristy’s brother, well-known from his appearance in the daffy Night Warning! It was directed by Chuck Griffith, who wrote many of Roger Corman’s finest scripts, including the incomparable A Bucket of Blood! He was a man who never heard a funny name, goofy musical cue or “boi-i-i-ing” sound effect he didn’t like, and all of these are present and accounted for in Smokey Bites the Dust!
Jimmy plays a vehicularly proficient high school goofabout who’s in love with the prom queen! She might have been the valedictorian too, I’m not sure, but in any case she’s slated to give a speech to the graduating class in a foot-ball field! However, young Jimmy effects a friendly kidnapping, and soon the chase is on!
Immediately there’s a large crowd hot on their tail! The sheriff, who of course is the prom queen’s father and hopping mad, is after them, along with a diverse bunch that includes the fantastic Dick "Piranha" Miller, a nutty sheik played by Mel Welles, and a demented football player in the grip of religious mania, played by none other than a young William Forsythe! These guys are pretty steamed at Jimmy all right! The sheriff plans to electrocute him with his own bare hands upon capture, and the foot-ball player abashes himself before God to request the power of instantaneous decapitation of his enemy, Jimmy!
The prom queen, meanwhile, seems not to mind having been kidnapped, and enjoys the car chase she’s in a lot more than Kay Lenz did in Moving Violation! And speaking of Moving Violation, a strange thing happened to me when I watched Smokey Bites the Dust recently! I’d never seen it before, but the car crashes were strangely familiar! It was a stronger feeling than simple déjà vu, and for a few minutes I thought I was going crazy, ha ha, before I realized that in the classic Corman tradition, Griffith had simply taken the crash footage from Moving Violation, and probably from some other movies too, and spliced it in to his opus! But it’s done pretty well, and if I hadn’t just watched Moving Violation a few days earlier, I might never have noticed!
But the tone of the movie is different, of course! The chases are frequently set to loony clown music, and as the film progresses, a strange pumpkin motif becomes evident! Of course any small structure or wooden construction of any kind we see on screen is earmarked for crash-through! Dick Miller comes to the same end he did in Moving Violation, careening down a hill and busting through a series of outhouses!
Smokey Bites the Dust is not a great movie, though it’s good-natured! I wish it was funnier, and Jimmy is kind of irritating, and I have to confess that though I’m usually a fan of recycling, in this case the high percentage of recycled footage was kind of disappointing! I know it was a budgetary issue, but it seemed a bit lazy, and anyway wouldn’t the fun of making this sort of picture be in staging your own crash scenes? Oh well, maybe Griffith didn’t have a choice in the matter! I give Smokey Bites the Dust one and a half snakes crossing the road, mostly for its bold use of Dick Miller!

Friday 24 August 2012

Burl reviews Apache Woman! (1955)

Lu-lu-lu-lu-lu, it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, I’m here to review a cowboy-and-indian picture for you, an authentic oater from days gone by called Apache Woman! It’s a Roger Corman picture, and an historic one too, since it featured the first feature film performance – or should I say performances – from the legendary Dick "Explorers" Miller, who plays both a cowboy and an Indian! Ha ha!
Things are restless between the townsfolk and the Apaches, it seems, and that’s putting it mildly! There’ve been rootings, tootings, rustlings, ropings and murders happening throughout the vicinity, and though, as we’re told many times, the marauders leave no living witnesses to their crimes, all signs point to the Apaches being behind it! The townsfolk, including Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze, are starting to feel in a posseing sort of mood!
Caught in the middle of this are the brother-and-sister demi-castes Armand and Anne, half white and half Apache, who can’t get any respect from either side! Armand in particular, perhaps feeling additionally alienated because of his French name, has had enough of this poor treatment and universal disrespect! Every word he says drips with venal sarcasm, and he delivers each line with a weird sharky grin! It’s pretty clear that he’s the one behind the marauding – unless of course there’s a startling twist at the end!
Soon Rex Moffitt shows up, and he’s played by Lloyd Bridges! Rex is some kind of Apache expert, and he’s trying to keep the situation from blowing sky high like the powder keg it is! The moment he meets Armand he’s pretty sure he knows what’s really going on, but his special attraction to Anne – he bears special witness to a little bit of skinny dipping after all, ha ha! – prevents him from hauling her brother off to the pokey without some solid evidence!
I won’t tell you how it all winds up, but I will say that I enjoyed all the performances in this picture, particularly the dual roles essayed by Mr. Dick Miller! He really did a great job, and it was hard to believe it was only his first movie! I thought he was marvelous as the Apache in the bowler hat!
Altogether, this is a pretty solid little oater! It’s too bad what happens to Jonathan Haze, and maybe there are some scenes with a bit too much chatting in them, and maybe I didn’t see the movie in its original Pathécolor, but I enjoyed it! I give Apache Woman two and a half yo-yo sheriffs!

Thursday 23 August 2012

Burl reviews Innerspace! (1987)

Ha ha, how would you like to enter the world of miniature people? I, Burl, will take you there today with my special review of Joe Dante’s picture Innerspace! That’s the one in which Dennis Quaid is rendered mini and injected into Martin Short’s bum! Yes, you know the movie I’m talking about!
Of course, like so many Dante pictures – Explorers, Matinee and Piranha among them! – Innerspace has a great cast! The principals are Hollywood types, but backing them up with great panache are thespians like Kevin McCarthy, Robert Picardo, Henry Gibson, Fiona Lewis, Vernon Welles, William Schallert and of course the legendary Dick Miller, well known from his roles in Sorority Girl, A Bucket of Blood and many other classics! And on top of all these folks, I think I saw Kenneth Tobey and Rance Howard lurking in the margins like Aragones doodles!
The plot is kind of nonsense, but I’ll tell it to you anyway! Dennis Quaid plays a guy named “Tuck,” a test pilot or something, who likes drinking a little too much for someone in his profession! He ends up part of a miniaturization experiment, but through a series of confusions finds himself within Martin Short (famous from his role in ¡Three Amigos!, of course!), and together this unlikely duo must outwit spies and criminals, and restore “Tuck” to his original stature! All of this takes 120 minutes, which seems a little overblown to me! I think they should have cut the whisky scene, myself, and maybe made Fiona Lewis and Kevin McCarthy into one character!
Well, that’s Monday morning quarterbacking for you! Ha ha, it doesn’t do much good now! So it’s true, the movie is a little too long for something so goofy and insubstantial! But as a special tribute to Fantastic Voyage, it’s not bad! There are a few funny moments scattered here and there, some impressive special effects and plenty of fine performances! All of these elements come together in such moments as the special-effects face changes, which are straight out of Looney Tunes!
There are a few other things I didn’t like about the picture, and a few other things I did, but I don’t want to just make a big list for you! Instead I’ll simply say that I give Innerspace two vibrating hands! Ha ha!

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Burl reviews The Dorm That Dripped Blood! (1981)

That’s right, it’s Burl here, with a review of another slasher picture for you! This one is particularly grimy and low-budg, and though it was originally called Death Dorm, a perfectly good title, it was eventually released into the world as The Dorm That Dripped Blood! Apparently this got a spiffy blu-ray release recently, but I don’t have one of those special machines, so I just watched the VHS tape! Six of one, half-dozen of the other, I figure!
This is not quite at the bottom of the heap budget-wise – in fact there are quite a few Dantean circles below it – though it was clearly done on a shoestring! But they still managed to sneak some genuine and quite effective Special Makeup Effects into it, which is always welcome to see! In many ways, in fact, The Dorm That Dripped Blood is, while far from perfect, a sort of ideal early-80s slasher picture: not good precisely, but the sort of thing you’d hope and expect to get when you pop in the tape!
The story is pretty simple! At a college which seems to exist in the warehouse district of some particularly depressed city, a dormitory building is set for demolition, and over the holidays a group of students are tasked with cleaning the place out in preparation! Of course there’s a killer lurking about, someone who murders not with the standard kitchen knife, but with whatever handy items are sitting around! He gets busy with a nail-filled bat, a garrote, a car, a drill, a giant pot of steam and some other stuff! And he knocks off Daphne Zuniga, well-known from her appearances in The Sure Thing and The Initiation!
For quite a while it’s assumed that the culprit is a bug-eyed, frizzy-haired guy named John who just hangs around the building! Ha ha, is he a student? If so, what is his major? Is he a handyman? No, there’s already one of those, and he gets a drill in the head, ha ha, yowch! I don’t want to spoil whether or not John is the killer, but if you don’t recognize the most crimson of herrings when you see one, you’ve never seen one of these pictures before!
When the culprit is revealed, it doesn’t make any more or less sense than if it were any one of the other characters! And then the whole thing wraps up with a particularly bleak ending, which serves to place The Dorm That Dripped Blood in a slightly different category than most other such pictures, where it sits side-by-each with The Prey
This was the first effort from the same guys who made both The Power and The Kindred! Ha ha, I now seem to have reviewed the bulk of their efforts, and each of them has something to recommend it! For instance, a guy named Matthew Mungle did the Special Makeup Effects for them all, and his work is pretty solid! The Dorm That Dripped Blood falls into many of the usual slasher movie pits: too much wandering up and down dim corridors, characters unburdened by any dimension or motivation, boring scenes filled with chat and an impenetrable, inky blackness within which are occurring things we will never be privy to! But it serves as an exemplar of sorts, and has a real barbed hook of an ending, so I'm going to give it two puffing smokestacks!

Sunday 19 August 2012

Burl reviews Moving Violation! (1976)

Ha ha, screech to a halt, as they say! Yes it’s me, Burl, doing my very best Viveca Lindfors from Creepshow impersonation! No, she’s not in the picture I’m reviewing for you today, but on the other hand there is plenty of screeching to a halt! Also plenty of screeching to a high speed, and around corners, and crashing through buildings and all the rest of it!
Yes it’s a car crash picture, a Roger Corman production in fact, and it’s called Moving Violation! It’s easy to mix it up with Moving Violations, a Police Academy rip-off from the 80s, but there’s one fundamental way to tell them apart: they’re quite simply completely different pictures! Stephen McHattie is the star of this movie, and he plays Eddie, a guitar-playing drifter who runs afoul of the law in some small town on the border between Arkansas and California! He hooks up with Kay Lenz, a young lass who works at the ice cream stand, and off they go to make sweet love in the back yard of a nasty rich man played by Grandpa Walton himself, Will Geer! Trouble is, the very same sheriff who gave Eddie a hassle earlier is visiting, and he chooses that time to plug his deputy full of holes! Eddie and his ladyfriend witness the killing, and then the chase is on!
It’s the sort of movie where the chase is joined by all sorts of other people, in this case mostly other cops and also contract killers hired by Will Geer! Ha ha, one of them is played by none other than the great Dick "Innerspace" Miller, and this is not the first time he’s played a killer acting at the behest of Will Geer! No, Miller played one of the riflemen Geer and Burt Lancaster hired to kill John F. Kennedy in Executive Action! Geer was an interesting guy, by the way – it’s worth reading up on him! He was pretty cool, was old Grandpa Walton!
Anyway, there’s lots of crashes and cops shaking their fists, but this isn’t just another one of the many hayseed car crash comedies that were so popular in the 70s! Here the sheriff is a full-fledged murderer, and a borderline psychomaniac if you ask me! Ha ha! The movie’s a bit like Eat My Dust crossed with Macon County Line! Another thing is that Kay Lenz, the girl along for the ride, isn’t as delighted to be part of a cross-country chase as these girls usually are! She’s utterly terrified by the situation she’s in, and is in fact driven into a near-catatonic state by it, and institutionalized as a result!
The young star of the picture is Stephen McHattie, who would go on to act in such pictures as Death Valley, The Dark and Pontypool! He also played Chet Baker in a movie because he aged to look exactly like Chet Baker, though probably not for the same reason (heroin)! He makes for a pretty odd hero in this picture, and not a very personable one I must say! But a great addition to the movie is Eddie Albert, playing a take-no-guff country lawyer! He’s not in the picture long enough, if you ask me!
It’s a pretty solid picture, with some good car crashes and a great scene with Dick Miller busting through a series of small houses as he careens down a hill in his car! The acting is pretty good across the board, and the tonal shifts are unexpected, but a welcome change from the usual good-old-boy stuff and nonsense usually served up in such concoctions! I give Moving Violation two smashed gee-tars!

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Burl reviews Christine! (1983)

Beep beep, it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, I’m here to review a movie about a haunted possessed killer car, and no, I don’t mean The Car! Not yet, anyway! I’m talking Christine, a movie that I and my friend Dave won tickets to see a special preview of from a radio station contest! Ha ha, we felt pretty lucky, being big Stephen King fans at the time!
I’d read the book, and so was very eager to see what John "Halloween" Carpenter, whose previous picture The Thing had rocketed instantly onto my Favourite Movies Of All Time list (and, remarkably, has stayed there all these years!), had done with the killer car story! All the ingredients seemed present and accounted for: the glasses nerd Arnie, his unlikely BMOC best pal Dennis, the new girl in town Leigh, and of course the murderous conveyance itself, Christine! There are assorted parents, bullies, cops and garage owners in there as well, all trying to figure out why Arnie has fallen in love so deeply with his ’58 Plymouth Fury, and how he has transformed from a glasses nerd into a weasel of cool!
Well, it’s because the car is possessed! In the book, it’s more or less possessed by the rotting corpse ghost of its original owner, Roland D. LeBay! And this is where I was knocked for a bit of a loop when I saw that radio station promo screening lo those many years ago: no Roland D. LeBay! Ha ha, I was really looking forward to that creepy back-seat corpse, but he was nowhere to be found! The great Roberts Blossom, so creepy as the killer farmer in Deranged and so gentle as the painterman in Escape From Alcatraz, plays his brother, George LeBay, and he’s excellent in the role, but it was still disappointing at the time!
Now I can see the logic: it would have been distracting from the simple concept of a possessed auto! Ha ha, the movie more or less leaves the idea of where the car’s powers come from to us, the viewers, to figure out! I myself settled on the notion that it’s simply a car with more personality than most, rather than some sort of bedevilment or ghost scenario!
The movie itself is what I’d describe as a solid piece of work! The acting is of a generally high quality, and there are great character performers decorating the fringes: guys like Roberts Blossom, Robert Prosky (from Gremlins 2 and The Keep), the great Harry Dean Stanton (who was also in Escape From New York, don't forget, and the fabulous Repo Man), and even Kelly Preston from Secret Admirer! John "The Fog" Carpenter pulls off some stylish scenes (Christine blazing down a dark highway on fire after a fleeing John Travolta lookalike is a doozy!), but mostly keeps it pretty basic! Donald M. Morgan’s cinematography is really quite good, and there’s plenty of golden oldies on the soundtrack, courtesy of Christine’s anachronistic radio!
It’s funny that the two lead guys, Keith Gordon and John Stockwell, both became directors a while after making this picture! Quite different directors too: Gordon, whom we know from his performances in Jaws 2, Dressed to Kill and Back to School, ended up making movies like Mother Night, which was based on my favourite Kurt Vonnegut book, while Stockwell, the star of the teen science picture My Science Project, made Blue Crush and other such cheesecake pictures!
I feel an affection for Christine even though there’s not much horror action in the movie and no Roland D. LeBay, and I appreciate the movie a lot more now than I used to! I give it three lunchbags filled with yogurt!

Thursday 2 August 2012

Burl reviews The Island! (1980)

Hi friends! Yes, it’s Burl again! Ha ha, I have had occasion already to review a movie adaptation of one of Peter Benchley’s literary efforts – Jaws in that case, as you may recall – and now here I am, barely a month later, trying the same trick again! This time the movie in question is The Island, which, after Jaws and The Deep, represented Benchley’s first tentative steps out of the ocean and onto dry land, like one of our Galapagosian antecedents of millennia gone by! But he takes care to keep the comforts of saltwater within easy reach!
The movie is less looney-tunes than the book, but not by much! It seems that Michael Caine, the Billion Dollar Brain, playing the sort of adventuresome magazine writer encountered only in the pulpiest fiction, has decided to investigate the Bermuda Triangle, a very late-70s thing to do, and because he has to, is taking his twelve year-old son along for the adventure! Ha ha, and an adventure it soon proves to be, as, after a quick stop at a gun shop operated by Don Calfa or someone a lot like Don Calfa, the pair are involved in a plane crash, an interrogation by Zakes Mokae (whom we remember from The Serpent and the Rainbow), a successful barracuda fishing trip and, finally, assault and kidnapping by pirates!
Yes, it’s pirates at the bottom of everything! There are some scenes sprinkled throughout of the pirates doing their thing on hapless boating parties, and they chop heads and cut throats with Voorhees-like abandon! This may have seemed crazily anachronistic back in 1980, but today of course we know there are many pirates out there who strike at yachts whenever they get a chance! Anyway, pirate leader David Warner takes a filial liking to Caine’s son and decides to induct him as an heir to the pirate throne; in the meantime Caine is given over for stud duty to a comely she-buccaneer! His first escape attempt is foiled by jellyfish, but eventually, after the pirates have taken over a Coast Guard ship, he manages to catch them unawares and machine gun the lot of them! Almost all of them anyway – it takes a flare gun to get rid of David Warner!
This is certainly a cracked concoction, and despite its provenance and arresting poster imagery, it flopped miserably when it was released to an unsuspecting public on June 13, 1980! Ha ha, they all went to see the slightly less gory Friday the 13th instead, I guess! One of the oddest things about this movie is the director: it’s Michael Ritchie, known to us for his comedy work in pictures like The Bad News Bears and Fletch! The movie was shot by the great Henri Decaë, but it shows little of the artistry he displayed in his many French New Wave efforts! But there is a nice score from Ennio Morricone, who, just as he’d done with Orca and other such movies, proves that he’s perfectly happy contributing good work to a goofy project!
But it’s got a pretty good cast – I always like Michael Caine, ha ha! – and some nice tropical locations, and the scenes of pirate attack do generate a healthy frisson! Ha ha, I liked when they attacked the schooner full of cocaine-smuggling hippies! The movie gets worse rather than better when Caine and his son get to the pirate island though, which demonstrates a pretty fundamental failing somewhere along the way! I’m going to give this goofnugget one and a half tight-shorted karate guys!

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Burl reviews Silent Assassins! (1988)

Hi-i-i-i-ya, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review a movie that has lots of the martial arts in it, the inaptly named Silent Assassins! Ha ha, have you seen this one? I’m excited to review it, because it feels like a new discovery: a healthy slice of Ridiculous Action that I discovered more or less on my own!
If you recall, Ridiculous Action is the (admittedly unimaginative) name I’ve given to that special microgenre of thrillers that are so gloriously, crazily over the top or just plain puzzling in their attempts to be action-packed that they cause you to guffaw and reach for another handful of chips at regular intervals! And though Silent Assassins doesn’t quite reach the giddy heights of Raw Force or Deadly Prey, it still does pretty well for itself!
It’s ostensibly a ninja picture, like so many Ridiculous Action movies are, and strangely, though I always enjoy Ridiculous Action, I’ve never much cared for the ninja genre! They’re so often repetitive in their action and unimaginative in their execution! But this one dilutes the whole ninja thing by having all sorts of other interesting stuff in it, and the ninjas themselves wear thick balaclavas and big coats rather than the usual tight ninja gear, so it’s got that going for it as well!
The star of the picture is Sam J. Jones, the guy who theoretically could have had a huge career after Flash Gordon if only they hadn’t dubbed over his voice! I’m assuming they’re using his real voice in this one, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with it, so I wonder why they dubbed it for the pulp space adventure! Who knows? Anyway, here Sam plays Sam Kettle, a cop whose methods are unorthodox, but are tolerated by his chief because after all, he’s The Best There Is! The whole movie is set in some pan-Asiatic netherworld, and a bald bad guy named Kendrick, with a heavy but unplaceable accent and a hysterical screechy voice, engineers the kidnapping of a elderly scientist and a little girl!
Why? Well, for The Formula, of course! The scientist is played by the old guy you hire when Wilford Brimley is busy, and Kendrick goes to work on him with bamboo splinters in a pretty horrific scene of torture! But even this harsh treatment isn’t enough to make the brave old duck give up The Formula! In the meantime Sam Kettle has been called onto the case over the objections of his goodly wife Linda Blair! Ha ha! He’s joined by the little girl’s uncle and red-trousered swordsman, and together they take on Kendrick and his legions of heavy-coated, hand-chopping ninjas!
Ha ha, the ridiculousness is strong in this one! Kendrick himself is completely nutso, with his high, shrieky delivery of such lines as “Take that, Dr. Wise Guy!” He pulls the old rubber baby trick on Sam Kettle early in the picture, laughs like a gooney bird whenever he runs, and does a lot of nefarious tortures; but after all that his quick demise in an exploding toy helicopter is a little disappointing! Mako shows up, of course, fresh from Armed Response, and has a few good battles with the ninjas before they pull a bookshelf over on him! Linda Blair showed she could kick buttocks in movies like Savage Streets and Nightforce, but here she’s nothing more than a concerned wife! She gets to shoot a guy at one point, but it’s still pretty disappointing that she’s not more involved in the action! Well, Sam Kettle’s two pals, one of whom reminded me very strongly of Eddie from Big Trouble in Little China, help take up the slack!

It’s got a lively climax, with some head-chopping and hand-chopping, a guy blowing up and Sam firing a rocket launcher at everything in sight without even once loading a shell into it! Given all of this, in the right circumstances, Silent Assassins is about as healthy a slice of second-tier Ridiculous Action as you could want; and having been pleasantly surprised to find this out, I feel kindly disposed to it! I’m going to give it two exploding scientists!