Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Burl reviews The Beast Within! (1982)

Hah trayah, good friends, it’s Burl, here to review a spookshow that takes place in the o-o-o-o-ol’ Sou-u-u-uth! That’s right, Burlmaniacs, the picture is The Beast Within, the famous were-cicada picture!
Along with The Howling, An American Werewolf in London and Cat People, this was a part of the great Transformation Sweepstakes of the early 1980s! It got lost in the shuffle a little bit I think, because nobody was quite sure what the main kid, played in a very strange performance by horror fan Paul Clemens, is supposed to turn into! I call him a were-cicada, but that’s only because cicadas are mentioned several times, and there’s a parallel drawn between their seventeen-year life cycle and the fact that The McCleary Boy, as he’s most frequently called in the movie, has just turned seventeen and is therefore ready to make his transmorphication!
I’ll back up a bit for those who have not seen the picture or who need a refresher on the plot: Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch play newlyweds who run off the road near the little town of Nioba, Mississippi! Well, Ronny goes off for help and of course Bibi is attacked by a mysterious figure who has just escaped from some kind of basement hideaway! Seventeen years later, their son, The McCleary Boy, is sick with “an occult malignancy,” and the two parents travel back to Nioba to see if they can find any clues to the illness!
One thing I like about the picture is that only some of the townsfolk are in on the conspiracy of silence! Amazingly, the sheriff, played by L.Q. Jones from White Line Fever, just tries to be as helpful as he can, and the doctor is played by the great R.G. Armstrong, from The Car, in one of his rare nice-guy roles! Ha ha, and what a cast, as you can tell just from the names Cox, Jones and Armstrong! There’s also Meshach Taylor, who flew the helicopter with Dick Miller in Explorers, as a deputy! (L.Q. Jones, by the way, gets one of the all-time great introductory lines: “Oral sodomy, eh? Well, that’s why it’s a small town!” Ha ha!)
There’s all sorts of quasi-Southern Gothic happenstance, and when The McCleary Boy arrives in town, the strange murders begin! Other excellent character actors like Logan Ramsay and Luke Askew are killed by The McCleary Boy, who is evidently possessed by the spirit of a fellow who’d been reduced to an animal form by maltreatment at the hands of a local Nioban seventeen years earlier! Ha ha, I think you can connect the dots from there!
And then we get the big transformation! Ha ha, it’s one of the craziest ever put to film, I think! Convincing it’s not (which is partially to be blamed on the effects themselves, and partially, I think, on the way they were photographed), but it’s certainly something to look at! The McCleary Boy, wearing his PJs the whole time, expands and puffs out through the use of bladder effects so egregious you can practically read the word “Trojan” on the pulsating goiters! Soon he turns into a large rugby ball with eyes, and thence into a monster that, when you think back on it, you can’t really remember what it looked like! The monster goes on a little rampage, punching through cinderblock walls and pulling heads off, that sort of thing! 
It’s a pretty enjoyable movie, even if it could use a little shoring up in the narrative department! Apparently The McCleary Boy transforms because he’s possessed by the spirit of his father, Billy Collins, who was imprisoned in a root cellar and passed the time by practicing Indian Magic he’d learned from his pal Tom Laws, and that magic was something called The Changing Game, which for whatever reason was connected with the cicadas and their lifestyle! But ha ha, you wouldn’t know any of that from the movie – I only learned it from reading an interview with Paul Clemens!
The movie’s a little rapey for ol’ Burl – there are two such incidents in the picture, which is two too many if you ask me – and it could stand to be scarier, but that great cast, the audacious trick effects and the Southern-fried atmosphere make it a personal favourite! I give The Beast Within two and a half Gumphreys!

Burl reviews The Van! (1977)

Hi, it’s Burl, here to review another 1970s teensploitation picture! I myself lived through the 1970s as a very young lad, but I had a only vague appreciation of the decade’s trappings – shag rugs and boogie vans particularly – and only ever managed to attend one classic late-Seventies swinging-hedonist pool party, which was held by the recently-divorced father of a childhood friend! He’d rented a palatial riverside house in which to sow his post-marital oats, all wood panelling and modernist angles, with a cavernous, two-story pyramidal living room, an adjacent glassed-in area with ferns and kidney-shaped pool, and a long interior balcony on the second level, each door leading to a bedroom furnished with mirror walls and waterbeds! Ha ha! The partiers were very groovy, sporting feathered hair and devil-may-care attitudes, and the air was thick with something I now well recognize as pot smoke! It was just one night of my young life; one social event of which I was not really even a part, but it affected me deeply!
And here is where the Proustian trigger effects of the best Crown International films kick in! My own thimbleful of the Seventies lifestyle was nothing like the sun-bleached, van-driving beach fun depicted in these films, but the attitude was the same, and it was easy to recognize when I finally saw the movies! For me, then, these fun-loving belles lettres are rich with reminiscence and longing, and their insipidity floats on the surface like a gasoline rainbow! As with memories absent analysis, they’re about nothing but themselves! Malibu Beach is probably the best example! 
The Van is another good example: not a movie about a van, but a movie about everything about a van, like buying it, owning it, driving it around, and trying to tempt girls into having sexual intercourse in it! Really The Van isn’t about anything at all – it’s a Crown International Picture, after all – but the elements listed above describe it pretty well nonetheless!
Ultimately, for the viewer (and who else is there?), The Van is about wishing you owned a van like that! It’s about envy, and about feeling better about it by feeling superior to those you envy! If you owned such a van, you wouldn’t be such a doorknob all the time like the guy in the movie; you wouldn’t smile constantly and smack the steering wheel, shaking your tousled head in wonderment at your good fortune! You’d be a lot smoother with the ladies: you wouldn’t, for example, let the car wash pull your overalls off while the girl you liked was watching, as happens to the main character in this movie, and which misfortune causes only the briefest fluctuation in his ever-present simper!
Bobby is this young fellow’s name, of course, and the movie begins with him driving not a van but his convertible down the street, already shaking his head and dashing his palm off the top of his steering wheel, grinning like a skull! His head is a kaleidoscopic hodgepodge of reverie and fantasy – he’s thinking about his graduation ceremony: remembering his fantasy of seeing the valedictorian’s robe dissolve during her speech, and recalling the collapsing-dais stunt he pulled with his buddy Jack! Bobby can’t stop smiling through this opening scene: a red-feathered Sardonicus cruising the PCH to the gentle strums of a neo-folk ode celebrating the magic of Chevy Vans!
Bobby’s been saving his money for years to buy a van of his own, but before he gets to that, we see him going through his daily routine. He manages to get on the bad side of the local van-driving bully, Dugan, by relentlessly ogling his girlfriend! Yes, it’s the same Dugan from Malibu Beach! 
Finally Bobby is able to go pick up his beloved new conveyance! This is truly a golden moment, and for once we forgive Bobby the face-splitting grin he sports as the customizer gives him the grand tour! Eight track player! Tuck and roll upholstery – foam rubber! A toaster! Mirrors on the ceiling! A captain’s chair, fog lights, a refrigerator and, hardly least, a waterbed! Ha ha! Bobby shakes his head in disbelief at each new wonder displayed for him, then peels out for a ride in his new machine – a yellow Dodge with big round windows and “Straight Arrow” splashed across the side – and a little more grinning and head-shaking! His mission now: to have sexual intercourse! The rest of the movie details that quest and its triumphant conclusion!
What wisdom does The Van offer its audience? The message is one of hope: you can be hopelessly uncool, socially paleolithic and dumber than a box of dead crabs, but if you can get your hands on a big yellow boogie van, ha ha, you’ve got a chance! It is of course another movie chronicling first love and first sex, but is also peerless in trapping that peculiarly 70s fascination with custom vehicles, in particular vans! George Barris, the most famous car customizer of them all, was not just the Kustomizer King: he was and is a towering figure of 70s mythology, worthy of inclusion on a Mount Rushmore of pop culture figures from that decade along with Evel Knievel, Joe Montana and the Crying Indian! The Van serves well as a glowing tribute to the glitter-glitz mentality of the day: it's a big rainbow iron-on thumbs-up of a movie, complete with a role for Danny DeVito of Wise Guys fame, and I give it two and a half bottles of castor oil-infused beer!

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Burl reviews It Came From Beneath the Sea! (1955)

Hi, Burl here! I was pretty sad when, recently, I learned of the passing of Mr. Ray Harryhausen! He was pretty elderly, but still, there’s a significant figure in Hollywood history, pfft, gone! He was a talented man and I doff my cap to his great works! They still and always will look better to me than the digital creatures!
It Came From Beneath the Sea is probably not the best showcase of his work, as it was a low-budget production – legendarily so low that the movie’s enormous killer octopus has only six tentacles instead of eight, ha ha! Even so, the monster is not shown quite as much as it otherwise might be! Nevertheless, a giant killer octopus movie is something ol’ Burl can usually appreciate, unless it’s a cheap CGI picture from the 2000s or later! Ha ha! And yes, you sm*rt alecs out there, I do enjoy Tentacles! Watch for a review coming soon!
But what about It Came From Beneath the Sea? Well, it’s your basic 1950s monster movie in many ways, though here, where they are usually in opposition to some degree, science and military forces work together in harmony to vanquish the beast! In fact, there’s a bit of a science/military love triangle, and it’s dealt with in as amicable and adult a manner as can be imagined!
The movie starts with sub captain Ken “Innerspace” Tobey feeling the squeeze, and later, after several more incidents involving a murderous calamari which has risen from the depths, creature scientists Faith Domergue and John Curtis are brought in! The trio work together, battling not just the beaked terror, but the special feelings that are growing between jarhead Tobey and the lady scientist!
Ha ha, I liked that Domergue’s scientific credentials were never questioned, even though she was – gasp! – an extremely pretty lady; though whenever there’s coffee to be made, guess who ends up making it! But she holds her end up when it comes to octo-battling! And there’s plenty of that by the time the suction-cupped fiend makes its way to San Francisco!
The trick effects in this picture are very nice, I must say! The physics and spatial relations are not always completely within the arena of the plausible, perhaps – how does this stadium-sized beast linger just meters away from the waterline on a beach, ha ha – but if you can forget about that (easy enough!), the movie is full of cephalopodic enjoyments! I was a little disappointed that we never got to see the mighty calamari’s vicious snapping beak, but I guess you can’t have everything! It does slap people down as they’re fleeing in terror along the streets of North Beach, so I guess that’s something!
I find it an enjoyable picture, and the excellent Harryhausen work puts it streets ahead of most 50s creature movies! (Ha ha, I also enjoy all of those, it need hardly be said!) I give It Came From Beneath the Sea two and a half awkward dinners for three!

Monday 10 June 2013

Burl reviews Ghostbusters! (1984)

Hi, Burl here, reviewing another picture for you, simply because burlin’ makes me feel good! Ha ha! And today’s review, as you’ve no doubt guessed from my reference, is the big-budget comedy escapade Ghostbusters, wherein three men and a fourth man chase, trap and bust the ghosts who are plaguing New York City! Ha ha, it comes from Ivan "Junior" Reitman, the director of Cannibal Girls!
Ha ha, I guess there’s no real need to go over the plot of Ghostbusters! I remember going to my neighbourhood cinema to see this picture one warm and sultry Sunday evening just as grade school was winding down for the year and final exams were beginning! I had to really plead with my parents to forego studying for a couple of hours! I really enjoyed it, and the upshot of the whole experience is that Ghostbusters has come to symbolize the beginning of summer for me, and that excellent tag line, “Coming To Save The World This Summer,” only backs the feeling up! This is why I’ve chosen to re-watch and review the picture for you now!
I have to say, as a breezy entertainment from Hollywood’s dream factory, it holds up very well! It’s still pretty funny, thanks mainly to a fine performance from Bill “Meatballs” Murray, and also some merry japery from the likes of Aykroyd, Ramis and Moranis! All the acting is pretty good, in fact, and Sigourney “Cabin in the Woods” Weaver makes a fine straightwoman! It would have been nice to see John Candy in there somewhere, but I guess you can’t have it all!
Of course Murray, well known as the brother to John “Moving Violations” Murray, epitomizes the 80s comedy hero, in that he’s a wisenheimer who does the right thing, but isn’t actually very likeable! When he puts the moves on Weaver and she says he seems less like a scientist and more like a game show host, you have to admit she’s absolutely right!
Another funny thing about this picture is that the EPA fellow is the bad guy! Sure, he’s played by William “Die Hard” Atherton, which automatically makes him a bad guy and a jerk, but when you get down to it, an EPA inspection of the Ghostbuster facilities is a pretty reasonable request, public safety and corporate oversight-wise; and, overlooking the fact for a moment that Atherton’s meddling hastens the third-act phasma libertas, the unregulated facility was, as indicated by the Twinkie analogy, a legitimate danger! And yet, in what I suppose must have been a reflexive expression of Reagan-era attitudes, the EPA – created by Nixon, remember, ha ha – is presented as a bunch of literally impotent crackernacks!
And then there’s Ernie Hudson, who does what he can with his role, but who nevertheless may as well have his picture in the dictionary under the “Token Black Guy” heading! He contributes a few lines here and there, and opens the possibility of an Old Testament reading of the antics, but contributes nothing to the actual narrative, which is itself a pretty weak concoction if you step back and think about it for more than a few seconds! Ha ha!
But it’s still somehow a fine picture, crammed full of top-flight trick effects and marvelous comedy performers! It’s also got a great score from Elmer Bernstein, and a number of mediocre pop songs! They made a sequel of course, and even though all the same people were involved, it was terrible! It makes the original look all that much better! I’m going to give Ghostbusters three flowers that are still standing!

Burl reviews Taken 2! (2012)

Hi, Burl here with a review of a movie I just watched and can already barely recall, as though it was shown to me by Red Chinese hypnoscientists and requires a playing card to trigger any memory of it! I think it was called Taken 2, and I believe it was the sequel to an earlier picture, which I believe I’ve also seen, called Taken! Both of these are ideal airplane fare, and that’s exactly where I watched this one, ha ha!
If memory serves, the original picture starred Liam Neeson as a special superspy whose daughter is “taken” by Albanian slave traders! (“Kidnapped” is a word never used in these movies; it’s always “taken,” which never fails to sound kind of dumb to me!) Neeson must track the takers all through Paris, and he lays quite a biffing upon these hapless Albanians when he catches them!
The sequel is briefly interesting in that the story features the friends and relatives of the original Albanians seeking revenge upon Neeson while he’s in Istanbul! The new Albanians, who are not themselves slave traders, are just upset that their sons/fathers/brothers/uncles/what-have-you were punched, kicked and electrocuted by Neeson rather than simply taken to the police, and, moral blind spots notwithstanding – they don’t care what crimes their kinfolk may have committed, so they claim – it’s hard not to see their point!
But pretty quickly they stop being a group of vengeful bereaved and start acting more like your garden-variety Eastern European criminal organization! Of course there are more takening attempts, and this time it’s Neeson and his ex-wife who are taken, and the daughter, who doesn’t even have her driver’s license, who must attempt to save them! This leads to a pretty clever scene in which she tosses grenades around Istanbul (which nobody seems to notice, ha ha!) so that a head-bagged Neeson can triangulate his location!
There are a few car chases and a number of violence fights, and eventually Neeson faces down the grief-stricken father who is at the center of the revenge shenanigans, and who is played by the exact guy you would expect to play such a role! This fellow assures Neeson and the audience that he has a few other sons of his own, who will definitely come after Neeson and therefore assure a Taken 3! Ha ha, when will these Albanians learn! More to the point, when will this American family learn, as the takeaway from their foreign experiences is clearly meant to be “Ha ha, never leave America!”
The movie is mostly dumb and inconsequential, with a few okay action scenes, but not as many as you’d think; and, like a few other pictures I’ve seen lately, it seems to be missing a proper third act, or at least a proper transition between the second act and third! This leaves you with the feeling of having watched an episode of television rather than a proper movie! And a lot of time is wasted on the family drama, which really gets tiresome! Even at the requisite “Neeson’s Bar-b-que buddies” scene, that’s all they talk about!
‘Tis a silly movie, and it would have been a lot more interesting had it worked more strenuously to knock Neeson off his moral high ground! Failing that, some stronger action scenes would have been nice! But as it is, I’ll be happy to give Taken 2 one and a half cell phone foot stompings!

Sunday 9 June 2013

Burl reviews Trancendental Hopheads! (1988)

Ha ha, it’s Burl again, here to review the last of the home-made movies I found on VHS tapes that were languishing in a bin just inside the doorway of a long-gone video store on Bathurst Street in Toronto, Canada! You’ve already read about Attack of the Flesh Eating Tree!! and Attack of the Killer Squirrel; now prepare yourself to hear the fantastic tale of Trancendental Hopheads!
First of all, yes, that is how the title is spelled! The next thing to note is that this movie is a lot longer than either of the Attack films – in fact, it’s close to eighty minutes! Ha ha, and on an amateur production from the late 1980s, each minute feels like at least two or three! Also unlike the Attack pictures, this one can be precisely dated, as the unusually comprehensive credits claim it was produced in 1988!
The Attack pictures both had fairly straightforward plots; Trancendental Hopheads does not! The narrative is extremely abstract! Nevertheless, I shall manfully attempt to wrestle it into some comprehensible form for you! It seems there is a group of youths living in a town, and a separate group of youths who are trying to lure them into a kind of devilish coven, and are murdering them in gory ways when they fail to be so lured! Then, in a manner that reminded me somewhat of a recent  picture called Bad Meat, the movie ended suddenly in the middle of an action scene!
But it did not actually end there; would that it had! What happens then is that two teenage “movie reviewers,” who sport sunglasses, fake moustaches and fey, lisping voices, appear, sitting on a couch, to criticize the movie they themselves are apparently an extension of! They also attempt to clarify story points (a valuable service, and the only way I was able to offer a plot précis myself) and screen some additional scenes! This potentially clever meta-device is drastically undercut by its ineptitude and gross overextension!
Ha ha, there are a few funny little scenes in the picture, as when one of the so-called “miscreants” decides to send some totemic warning to Gorman, one of the “innocents,” and so drills a hole in his own forehead, plucks out a morsel of brain, seals it bloodily in an envelope and scrawls GORMAN across the front of it! Ha ha, that will teach Gorman all right!
But gems like this are buried in a muddle of criminally overlong improvised scenes, disconnected dream sequences, flat-footed gore setpieces, action scenes filmed in near-complete darkness and dialogue scenes pointlessly filmed in bright light, in which eighty percent of the spoken words are unintelligible! And it goes on and on and on, and by the time you get to the movie reviewers, who are obviously the same fellows who made the picture, you just want to strangle them! Ha ha!
It’s not a good picture, and it bears no promise of future brilliance, but I’m glad to have found and watched this movie nevertheless! For it serves as an indication of how many backyard productions must be out there, striving, seeking for the light! I am glad to be of some help in providing a little exposure to pictures like Attack of the Flesh Eating Tree!!, Attack of the Killer Squirrel and, yes, even Trancendental Hopheads! (In that precise spirit, my pal Bleeding Skull provides a look at the works of David “The Rock” Nelson – ha ha, check out his reviews of same!) In the meantime, I give Trancendental Hopheads one and a half c. 1988 Super Big Gulps!

Monday 3 June 2013

Burl reviews Alligator! (1980)

Hi, well, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to do a review for you, finally – a review of a massive alligator movie called, naturally, Alligator! Ha ha, it’s kind of surprising that it took someone five long years to cross-pollinate Jaws with the age-old myth of alligators in the sewers, but they finally did it with this picture, and I think you’ll agree it was worth the wait!

Ha ha, like Piranha and The Howling, this is a genre picture with a script from John Sayles, an excellent writer and director with many indie-type movies to his credit! I’ve always liked Matewan, and Lone Star was pretty good, and so was The Secret of Roan Inish, and his early picture The Return of the Secaucus Seven is something I remember enjoying quite a little bit, and it was also inspiring to me, a budding maker of independent motion pictures myself!

Anyway, the story Sayles concocted is pretty simple, and like Piranha it hits many of the bases we all remember from the hijinks on Amity Island! We meet a little girl who gets a pet alligator and names him Ramón, and then later the girl’s dad finds his shoes all chewed up or something, and he flushes the little reptile right down the basin! But against all odds Ramón survives, and he starts munching on dead dogs that have been injected with growth steroids and dumped into the sewer system by an unscrupulous chemical company! Ha ha, great set up!

Flash forward to quite a few years later, and sewer workers, including one called Ed Norton, ha ha, start disappearing! Robert Forster plays the investigating cop, and by garr, no one will believe his tale that a giant alligator is putting a biting on the hapless citizens of this no-name Midwestern town that certainly isn’t St. Louis! Finally Ramón busts out and begins prowling the streets, and only then do the city fathers hire on Henry Silva, playing a big game hunter and the closest thing the movie has to a Robert Shaw surrogate!

Of course Forster is the Roy Scheider clone – the two fellows even kind of look and act the same, ha ha – and the Richard Dreyfuss of this film is the little girl from the beginning of the picture, who has grown up and become a scientific expert on reptiles! She also becomes Forster’s ladyfriend, something Dreyfuss never managed in Jaws, and they work together to rid this town of its reptile problem! 

Alligator is a highly enjoyable little monster movie, and I’ll tell you why! The cast is simply marvelous, for starters: you get Forster, who’s always good; Silva, having lots of fun as the pompous hunter; growly Michael V. Gazzo as the chief; Sidney “Silent Madness” Lassick as the creepy chemical company dogsbody, ha ha; Dean "X the Unknown" Jagger as the head of that same company; Perry Lang, from Spring Break and Teen Lust, as a doomed rookie; and big Mike Mazurki in probably one of the tiniest roles of his career! Robin Riker is pretty good as the lizard doctor too, and Sue "Lolita" Lyon even shows up, strangely enough! Ha ha! The picture has some top-flight trick effects in it also, better than those in Jaws I would venture! And Sayles’s anti-corporate sensibilities really come to the fore in this movie, and I certainly liked that, big old leftie that I am!

It’s a solid johnson all around, a fast-paced and superb popcorn picture with plenty of munching on screen as well as off! The limitations of the budget show themselves now and again of course, and there are points where you want a little more suspense or horror than the film seems able to muster, but overall it’s a fine production! I give it three slaptail-destroyed limos!