Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday 28 January 2016

Burl reviews Luis Luis, Folger of Men! (1957)

¡Hoy! ¡Hoy! It’s Burl! Today I’ve got an obscure Mexican picture, though one curiously multinational in its cast and crew, as though Mexico decided to try out every co-production deal it had at the same time! In the blurred and dodgy subtitled version I found, the movie goes by the title Luis Luis, Folger of Men! I was lucky enough to get a scan of the original poster from my pal Alejandro, and I present it here for your delight! Ha ha, I do enjoy presenting odd and obscure artifacts!
Anyway, Luis Luis, Folger of Men appears to have been equally inspired by two other shot-in-Mexico movies, Simon of the Desert and The Sin of Adam and Eve; or at least it would appear so if it didn’t predate both of those pictures! Luis Luis, essayed in one of his only starring roles by perpetual bit player and hairstylist Cosmo “The Errand Boy” Sardo, is a humble, middle-aged clerk who is obsessed with long-dead actress Florita de la Cruz, played in repurposed silent film footage by long-dead actress C├ęcile Guyon! But, in a fascinating gambit that comes of as a cross between Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and The Purple Rose of Cairo, a number of other silent-film starlets (or would-be starlets) begin competing for Luis Luis’s attention! (All this old footage alone makes the picture worth a viewing, ha ha!)
An increasingly befuddled Luis Luis finally can’t take it anymore and, at about the midpoint of the film, decides to become a lonely desert anchorite! But this is easier said than done, and poor Luis Luis encounters resistance from his lawyer (played, I think, by a brought-out-of-retirement Bert Roach from Dr. Renault’s Secret) and his ex-wife! Ha ha, to have an ex-wife at all seems oddly progressive in a Mexican film of the 1950s, but there are so many separate influences in this strange brew that almost nothing can truly be out of place! It was all apparently based on an old screenplay by Jules Furthman, who wrote The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo, but I'm not sure how much of his work actually made it into the film!
Things go downhill for poor Luis Luis after that, but of course I don’t want to give away the ending! Suffice to say that it gets a bit racy, a bit horrific, and finally a bit surreal! No, strike that, a lot surreal! Luis Bunuel doesn’t seem to have been involved in any direct way, but from the title on down his spirit hovers over it all! It's a fascinating work, overheated and baroque in some places, remote and ascetic in others! Does Luis Luis ever really become a folger of men? And, perhaps more crucially, what is a folger of men? Ha ha, with the ambiguous ending we get, it’s impossible to say, but endlessly fascinating to speculate upon!
It’s a nice-looking picture, with even the muddy transfer I saw implying some crisp and inventive monochrome photography! Perhaps one day the movie will be remastered and reissued – we can only hope! I found it quite compelling: an exotic curio of the first order, of particular interest to students of cinema, and maybe a head-scratcher for everyone else but at least a highly entertaining one! I’m pleased to give Luis Luis, Folger of Men three life-sized effigies of St. Sebastian!

Monday 25 January 2016

Burl reviews Night Warning! (1982)

By Strindberg, it’s Burl! Yes, not only do I have another movie to talk about, but it’s another movie with bodies in the cellar! There are an awful lot of those, aren’t there, ha ha! This particular one is called Night Warning (it’s also known as Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker), and it’s a batty-dame extravaganza more along the line of Funeral Home than Whatever Happened to Baby Jane!
The whole thing begins with a couple driving off and leaving their little son with his aunt Cheryl! But before they get too far on their journey, the brakes fail, right there on a busy mountain road, and we get a fairly spectacular road accident featuring a truck crash, a messy decapitation and some impressive stunt work! Soon the boy has grown into Jimmy McNichol from Smokey Bites the Dust, and Aunt Cheryl has become a scenery-chewing madwoman! She’s played by Susan Tyrell from Motorama, Fat City and Tapeheads, and what a performance this is, ha ha!
Her relationship with Jimmy is, ha ha, highly unorthodox, and there’s no way she’s letting this strapping lad out of her crazylady’s grasp! Then one day a repairman happens by and Aunt Cheryl puts her moves on him, but he’s not buying, so Cheryl gives him a poking! Bo Svenson, from Snowbeast and Primal Rage, plays a cop so blinded by his homophobia that he can’t see straight, or mount an effective investigation! He’s convinced that Jimmy is gay and is moreover having an affair with his basketball coach, played by Steve Eastin from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and Gotcha!
Bill Paxton from Mortuary, Impulse and Weird Science pops up as another jerk that Jimmy has to deal with! And when Aunt Cheryl starts spiking his milk with relaxant, Jimmy’s world takes a turn for the even stranger! His girlfriend, played by the blonde lady from Newhart, does her best to help, but when Aunt Cheryl goes fully bats, there’s not much anyone can do! Ha ha, she gives the chop to most of the cast, and helps provide this strange slasher/drama hybrid the opportunity to showcase a few subtle Special Makeup Effects!
The picture was directed, weirdly, by William “Fireball 500” Asher, whose specialty was of course beach parties! There are no beach parties to be found here, but there is plenty of skeevy behavior, along with an admirable-for-the-time refusal to do gay caricaturing of any discernible kind! It’s got some dull patches, and some pretty humdrum performances, and Jimmy Mac’s character seems more than a little bit of a blockhead, but on the other hand it’s always nice to see a different approach to the slasher genre! There was a patch during which a dowdy neighbor-lady looked like becoming the hero of the piece that I was particularly pleased, but that section ended in a vicious poking, ha ha! I’m going to go ahead and give Night Warning one and a half missed free throws!

Sunday 24 January 2016

Burl reviews The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane! (1976)

Ha ha, I’m Burl and this is my house! So, welcome! Yes, today I wanted to tell you about The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane – no, not a real little girl living down an actual lane, but the movie by that name featuring a young Jodie Foster as the little girl of the title!
Foster, whom we know from her one-two punch that is Taxi Driver and Freaky Friday (both released the same year as this one – what a year!) plays Rynn, the preternaturally assured 13 year-old who lives in a big house with her father – but whenever people drop by the house, and they do so frequently, the father is always out, or working, or having his nap!
Droppers-by include the nasty lady who owns the house (Rynn and her absent father have it on a three-year lease), and, separately, her son, a slimy molester type played by Martin Sheen from The Dead Zone! A friendly cop played by Viva Las Vegas co-songwriter Mort Shuman is a frequent, increasingly suspicious visitor, and his nephew, Mario the Magician, played by Scott Jacoby from The Supernaturals, pops by as well, but becomes a friend, ally and, eventually, lover to the just-barely-teenaged girl!
So just what’s going on with all this mystery and malarkey? Well, Rynn is extremely disinclined to allow anybody down cellar, so that should give you a clue! Is daddy down there? Well, maybe and maybe not! Someone certainly is, and slowly but surely, more people go down there to join them! Ha ha, we ourselves never get a look at the cellar, except for a few quick glimpses down the hatchway!
The movie is largely made up of scenes in which Rynn fends off the inquiries of these visitors, and while they’re effective and well-acted (particularly on the part of the extraordinary Foster), they’re also repetitive and stagy! Never has a movie not based on a play seemed more like a movie based on a play, ha ha; or at least never since the heyday of Roger Corman three-day wonders like A Bucket of Blood!
It’s nevertheless compelling and atmospheric! The setting is a small Maine village in late autumn/early winter, so the atmospherics are mostly built in! It’s not a horror movie, though horrific things happen and there is one genuinely spooky scene! (So, ha ha, maybe it is a horror movie after all!) Those expecting a murder-fest, or eventfulness, or pep, or conclusive endings, will come away disappointed; but devotees of highly controlled child performances will be quite satisfied! A warning to hamster lovers, however: you will be truly shocked and dismayed!
It’s a strange little chamber piece, and if you watch it in the right company, you’ll have a good time! The holes in Rynn's plan quickly become apparent, and it does appear that her poet father might have been a bit damaged himself, but the situation takes on a certain elegance when viewed in its totality, and that, along with Foster, mght be the picture's greatest asset! Ha ha! It takes a while for the child molester/hamster killer to get his, but be patient, because eventually he does and it’s quite satisfying! I give The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane two bumping trapdoors!

Thursday 21 January 2016

Burl reviews Endangered Species! (1982)

Alerting you from ranch country, it’s Burl, here with a review of that very oddball Alan Rudolph picture about cattle mutilations, Endangered Species! Now, Alan Rudolph, ha ha, there’s a director with a curious career! He’s a Robert Altman acolyte: this is well known, and pictures like Welcome to L.A., Choose Me, Trouble in Mind, The Moderns and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle – the “real” Alan Rudolph movies – all attest to it! Then there are the director-for-hire movies he made, like Songwriter, Made in Heaven and Mortal Thoughts, the little romantic-comedy-genre movies like Love at Large and Afterglow; and he also has a number of even more genre-y pictures to his credit, like Barn of the Naked Dead, Premonition, and this one!
So I admire Rudolph for mostly doing what he wants, or else trying weird things that he must have known would be commercially dead in the water! It’s hard to know what attracted him to this story in particular, but it’s an interesting one because, despite the picture being a product of the Reagan era, it has a defiantly 70s sensibility: anti-authoritarianism (despite its cop heroes), paranoia, unconventional storytelling methods, a refusal to engage with thriller material in the expected fashion! All of this seems to me admirable, but nevertheless, ha ha, the movie doesn’t quite pull it off!
There are two stories happening in parallel through the first act! We have an abrasive, alcoholic New York cop played by Robert Urich from Turk 182, and his teenage daughter, decamping from the big city and heading west, their relationship a minefield of fractiousness and resentment! They’re pulling a big camper-trailer, but initial hopes that this will be a Winnebago Movie are ultimately dashed, as I don’t recall that we ever even see the thing’s interior!
Meanwhile, new sheriff JoBeth Williams, well-known from Poltergeist II, has her hands full with moocow mutilations! Her initial suspicion, that the dead beeves are the work of coyotes, is closer to the truth than she could possibly know, ha ha! Hoyt Axton, the great songwriter who was in Gremlins, plays a local big wheel who seems to know more than he’s telling! This is borne out when, later in the movie, he has a meeting with the big bad guy, a quasi military-man played by Peter Coyote, who has flown in by whispercopter, and still later when a fatal toothbrushing incident leads to Hoyt’s belly exploding in blood and sausages! Ha ha, graphic!
Paul Dooley from Last Rites appears as a small-town crusading newspaperman (one of my favourite archetypes, I must admit!), and the story also features Harry Carey Jr. from UFOria and Exorcist III as the local veterinarian whose nosebleeds are getting worse; Dan Hedaya from Commando and Wise Guys as the chief cowsnatcher, and Gaillard Sartain from All of Me as The Mayor! It’s a pretty solid cast! We even get the first-ever film appearance from Bill Mosely, whom we would later see in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2, The Blob and The First Power!
All this bovine mystery and bellybusting is set to a musical score that sounds borrowed from a Don Dohler movie, and seems intent on lending the proceedings a cartoonish, B-movie aspect! Despite this, the revelations, when they come and such as they are, have a generally plausible feel! Scenes are short, almost to the point of feeling cut away from a little prematurely! On the other hand, Urich’s unpleasant personality, his alcoholism and his desultory romance with the sheriff are all dwelt upon a little too much!
So it’s a weird and flawed film, but I’m glad I gave it a look! It’s full of treats! For example, the actress who plays Urich’s daughter, despite being much too old for the part, holds an enormous appeal! She should have appeared in more movies if you ask me! Anyway, Endangered Species has been a movie I’ve long been curious about, and now that my curiosity has been satisfied, I give it two and a half cowcatching contraptions!

Monday 18 January 2016

Burl reviews Tarantula! (1955)

Fss fss fss, it’s Burl, here to review a big bug picture for you! Ha ha, Tarantula may not be the best of the big bug films, but it might be second best, or in the running for that position anyway! (Them is of course the best such film, but The Black Scorpion, with its Willis O’Brien trick effects, has always been a dark horse contender for second as far as I’m concerned!)
Jack Arnold, director of Black Eye, is in charge here, and his great feel for desert atmosphere and landscape is much in evidence! We begin with a pajamaman staggering through the sage, and when we see his face he looks like the guy from Goonies, only worse! It’s a real mystery, and the local sawbones, a dashing fellow played by John Agar of The Mole People, investigates matters by speaking with Professor Deemer, the reclusive scientist conducting his research in a lonely desert mansion!
Professor Deemer is of course played by Leo G. Carroll from North By Northwest, and it’s a canny performance because, without resorting to obvious actor tricks, Carroll is able to subtly undercut his natural avuncularity and show us hints of the driven scientist beneath! This effect, in concert with his lumpen physiognomy, offers prodromal hints of the drastic changes to come, ha ha!
Looks like Deemer and his motley gang of monkeyfaced assistants are working on a plan to make animals really big! Ha ha, but there’s a fire, and sadly all the animals are wiped out except the monkey and, of course, the tarantula! When it leaves the house it’s about the size of a coffee table, but later, when sheep and cows and horses and even people begin to disappear, or at least everything but their bones disappears, we realize that it must have grown substantially larger! The town sheriff, played by a grinning Nestor “Creature From the Black Lagoon” Paiva, is baffled by the craziness that has beset his community, but through it all he never stops grinning! Pools of white goo are discovered, and ol' Doc Agar barely hesitates before tasting the stuff! And a pretty scientific assistant, played by Mara Corday from The Giant Claw, arrives in town just in time to be menaced by a spider the size of the Taj Mahal!
Eventually the money shots begin in earnest: the truly huge tarantula stalking the windswept deserts! The trick effects are pretty good, and I particularly liked the scene where that big old arachnid peeks in the window where the lady scientist is sitting! He gives her a pretty good scare, ha ha! But popguns and dynamite fail to stop the beast, and finally it’s up to Clint “In The Line Of Fire” Eastwood to put things aright with napalm drops from his jetplane! Then it’s quickly reduced to a pile of enormous burning pipecleaners, which must have been fairly unpleasant for any towns downwind of it!
I’ll tell you this: I like Tarantula, but it never quite overcomes its one major problem, which is that the monster is just too darn big! Ha ha, this isn’t Godzilla after all! If it was maybe the size of the crab in Island Claws, now, that would be scary! But it’s still a really enjoyable picture, and a solid addition to the big bug cycle we all love so well! I give Tarantula two and a half desperate ranchers!

Friday 15 January 2016

Burl reviews The Prey! (1984)

Ha ha, it’s Burl, friends! It was not so very long ago that I sat down to watch a little film, by name The Prey! This was the tale of a group of youngsters from California, or maybe Utah, who decided to make a hike into the mountains, with their ultimate plan being to climb down, not up, a cliff! Ha ha, but the viewer is presented with information denied the characters until it is too late: namely, that a very tall man with a monkeyface is stalking the woods, ready to mete out a dire punishment! This he does to a middle-aged couple near the beginning of the film!
There are six youngsters, with each sex equally represented! As the picture progresses, and amid much footage of woodland creatures, they are punished by the very tall man in a variety of ways! One man is whipped with a brutal face rake, and a lady is put in her sleeping bag the wrong way around!
Later, a man’s head is twisted around so that he looks the other way! Ha ha, a fake buttocks was used to achieve this effect! Another man is dropped down the cliff he had so lately yearned to climb, and a lady is bumped into a tree by one of the hideous lunatic’s forest traps! A helpful park ranger is also among the fatally injured, crosseyed and gurgling tomato paste with a pair of huge monkeyhands around his neck! In the final minute of the film, the madman’s plan is revealed to the last remaining lady: he would like to start a family of his own in the woods!
But it was not the heartwarming narrative of The Prey which so held my attention! It was, rather, the many sequences showing birds, animals and insects in their natural habitat! From the fearsome hoot owl to the lowly centipede (who makes marching sounds like a North Korean military parade!), all of the forest fauna are represented! Ha ha, are they ever – it’s like a slasher movie directed by Terence Malick!
Many odd things happen in the picture! The forest ranger tells a joke to his friend the deer, and this is a scene you will not soon forget! As for where this film fits in my loose slasher taxonomy, I will note that, as in The Burning, we have a heavily disfigured manic; like Madman and The Prowler, the photography can at times look a little blue; and there are on occasion one or two Special Makeup Effects!
The cast is fairly lackluster, but they do okay! Steve Bond from Massacre at Central High is in there, and Lori Lehin from Bloody Birthday; we have Jackson Bostwick from Tron and The Outing as the park ranger, and none other than Uncle Fester himself, Jackie Coogan, from The Kid and Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype, as the park ranger’s other friend! No, ha ha, the manic does not get Jackie, but this was his final film role after a long and storied career! Finally, big tall Carel Struycken, well-known from The Witches of Eastwick, plays the gooper-faced manic himself!
There are quite a few points of mild interest scattered throughout, and the ending is effectively horrific. but it’s ultimately a picture seriously lacking in the sort of pep such stories require! I give The Prey one and a half wide-mouthed frogs!

Saturday 9 January 2016

Burl reviews Avenging Force! (1986)

Oh-ho-ho, it’s Burl, here with a little 80s action for you! Ha ha, you really do come across some little gems while trolling that particular pond, and Avenging Force, while hardly perfect, qualifies as one of them!
Scuttlebutt tells us this was originally meant to be a sequel to Invasion U.S.A., that picture about Chuck Norris taking on all the bad guys with his blazing twin Uzis! Ha ha, a ridiculous movie, really, but charming in its own brutal, blockheaded way! But old Chuck declined to take part in this one, either because his schedule didn’t permit it or because its politics weren’t to his taste!
Because, like Malone and Day of the Survivalist, the bad guys are right-wing, racist, popgun-loving survivalists! I’m not suggesting Chuck is a racist, ha ha, but these are otherwise guys he’d probably rather have a beer with than a battle! So Norris was out but Michael Dudikoff, known for his roles in Tron and Olympus Has Fallen, was in, though the character name, Matt Hunter, stayed the same!
I’m glad they changed the actor and not the script, because frankly I always like pictures in which quasi-fascist buffoons are punched, chopped, impaled and shot! It’s pretty darn satisfying, ha ha, and timely too, for as I write this, just such a group of nincompoops is in the news for taking over a wildlife refuge! Ha ha, terrific plan, fellows!
Anyway, the gang from Avenging Force is called The Pentangle, and they like to play dress up and hunt humans through the swamp! The leader, Professor Elliott Glastonbury, is played by John P. Ryan from Fatal Beauty, and you have to see his performance to believe it! Ha ha, suffice it to say that Ryan put a lot of mustard on this one! There are three other fellows in the gang, making the identity of the presumed fifth (since they’re called The Pentangle) a mystery, but not a very tough one! Even Dudikoff figures it out by the end!
Being loathsome racists, The Pentangle’s other favourite activity is attempting to assassinate black politicians, and the one here, played by Steve James from Mask and Weird Science, happens to be Matt Hunter’s best pal! James survives the attempt, but his family is not so lucky, and so the revenge battle is on! Nobody is safe in this picture, not kids or ladies or grandpas or just plain passers-by, and eventually it’s just Matt Hunter running through the swamps and doing battle with the loathsome Pentangle one by one!
Ha ha, let me tell you, it’s no easy task for young Hunter! He gets a sound punching from almost every member of The Pentangle, and that’s not even mentioning the crossbow bolt they put through his leg, which makes him, and a small rag dummy he’s carrying, fall off a roof! Yowch! But the upshot is this: if you like swamp fights, particularly ones involving people dressed as leather daddies, off-brand movie slashers, or sporting mime and fish masks, this is surely your picture!
It’s a bit overlong for a little action picture, but it’s feisty and, for its time, pretty progressive! Dudikoff is a bit wooden and the young girl who plays his sister is – well, “not a very good actor” is probably the best way to describe her; but Steve James is certainly an appealing presence, and the bad guys are as hateful and as deserving of comeuppance as bad guys get! Ha ha, have a look at this forgotten mini-gem if you get the chance! I give Avenging Force two fish masks!

Friday 8 January 2016

Burl reviews Ghost Story! (1981)

Boo to you, and you, and you too: it’s Burl, here to review a ghost story by the name of Ghost Story! Ha ha, I have a long history with this picture, having first seen it several times at my neighbourhood cinema on its original December, 1981 release! I was too young to be seeing movies of this sort, probably, but I loved it, and took friends equally too young along with me for my repeat viewings! (I only got around to reading the Peter Straub book some time later, but I recall liking that too!)
Later I met, worked with and even had dinner with the lady at the center of the ghostly doings, the lovely Alice Krige! This was years later but she was as radiant as ever, and told me many stories from the set of Ghost Story, particularly about the quartet of superannuated thespians who were her co-stars! Boy, she loved those old jaspers! And moreover, I’ve spent some time in the little Vermont town which served as its primary location, and on many an occasion crossed the bridge from which she scares one of the old ducks to his doom!
So this picture, whatever one’s opinions of its quality, is woven into me somewhat, and glimpsing the poster in my viewing of Six Weeks inspired me to give it a spin once again! The quartet of elderlies referenced earlier, known as the Chowder Society, consists of Fred Astaire, whom we know from Top Hat and The Towering Inferno; John Houseman, whom we know from Bells, and who opens this picture by telling as spooky tale just as he did in The Fog; Melvyn Douglas, who was in many interesting pictures, like Being There and The Changeling and The Tenant; and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who was in plenty of movies all through the ages!
These duffers tell each other eerie tales every month, then sip their brandy! But there’s one scary tale they won’t breathe a word of, because it happened to them, ha ha, and they feel pretty bad about it too! Craig Wasson from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 appears as a moustacheman who takes a flopper out a high-rise window when his nude ladyfriend says boo to him; we next meet the moustacheman’s brother, a clean-shaven version also played by Wasson, who arrives in the little Vermont town to get to the bottom of things! But the old tartans start dying too, each of them with the dickens literally scared out of them by, you guessed it, a sinister ladyghost saying boo and turning her horrible face upon them! Ha ha, you might call these boo scenes a bit repetitive, but it gives us a chance to see the work of the great makeup trickster Dick Smith, so I myself certainly don’t mind! It’s just too bad we didn’t get to see this particular one, which he made for the film but which went unused, maybe because it was just too darn scary!


Ha ha, spooky! Anyway, stories are exchanged, and the ladyghost is of course a vengeful spirit whose vanquishing turns out to be a reasonably simple affair! In fact the whole movie, particularly when compared to the book, has a dumb simplicity to it, a feeling of interesting backstories, subplots and expanded scenes lurking around the margins but never shown! The ghost has a couple of helpers, a toque-wearing fellow played by Miguel Fernandes from Spasms and his little dress-wearing kid-buddy, whose presence is nearly inexplicable! Ha ha, if so much was going to be cut out of the story, they might at least have chosen an elegant simplicity rather than a forced and imperfect one!
There are a few ladies haunting the margins as well, like Patricia Neal from Happy Mother’s Day, Love George and Jacqueline Brooks from Last Embrace, but they don’t get much to do besides scold! On the other hand, the movie is determinedly classy, with terrific photography from the great Jack “The African Queen” Cardiff and a truly stellar musical score! It looks great, the old guys have a terrific presence, Krige is magnetic and the New England smalltown atmosphere is exemplary! On balance it’s a deeply flawed picture, and rarely scary, but I like it anyway! I’m going to give Ghost Story two and a half skull flaps!

Thursday 7 January 2016

Burl reviews Starman! (1984)

Beep, boop, it’s Burl, here with a picture about an alien’s visit to earth! Ha ha, no, it’s not our old friend E.T., but an alien who looks more like a ball of pure light than a Raisinette under a magnifying glass! Ha ha, he’s the Starman! And no, they never have occasion to play the David Bowie song in the movie, but I’ll bet it was tried at least briefly before being declared too on-the-nose!
There’s a Stones song prominently used however, ‘Satisfaction,’ and this is heard in the opening as we see the Voyager II spacecraft drift past, its hand outstretched in greeting! Our lightball decides to make the trek to Earth, but is shot down as soon as he enters the atmosphere! He bips around Wisconsin a while until he finds the DNA of a dead house painter in the lock of hair kept by his still-grieving widow, Karen Allen, well-known from Animal House!
Well, after a little sequence of rubber alien babies growing into adulthood, put together in separate stages by a superstar team of trick effect artists, the alien takes on the aspect of Jeff Bridges, famed for his great work in King Kong! Ms. Allen can’t quite believe it, but soon the chase is on as the alien tries to make it to the place he can meet up with his buddies before they all leg it back to their own galaxy!
And it’s a Herbie Goes Bananas reunion as Charles Martin Smith and Richard Jaeckel play government fellows with an interest in finding the alien! Smith is a kindly sort who wants to make the alien welcome, while Jaeckel, whom we also know from The Dark and Grizzly, is a hard-nosed fellow who wants to capture and experiment on him, or worse! Meanwhile there are many picaresque adventures, curious culture clashes and wild animal reanimations as the Bridges-alien interacts with everyone from a nasty hunter played by Ted White (he was Jason in Friday the 13th part 4, don’t you know) to, of course, George ‘Buck’ Flower from Teen Lust and Pumpkinhead, who turns up as an amiable chef! Ah, ‘Buck!’
And of course love comes to town, because even a glowing ball of light, whose intellect is stratospherically above any concept of physical attraction, recognizes that Karen Allen is pretty cute! Ha ha! Everything follows pretty much the expected path, though in a generally charming way! John Carpenter does a fine job with this uncharacteristic material, and I think if almost anybody else had directed this, I’d just think of it as a drippy rip-off of E.T.! But Carpenter pulls it off!
I’ve always paired this one with Christine in my mind because they were both made for the same company, and came along during the Cundey Interregnum, when Donald M. Morgan was shooting his films! (This is to be differentiated from the Cundey Abrogation, when Cundey went on up to the Zemeckis / Spielberg leagues, and Gary Kibbe took over the camera and lighting!) It’s as fluffy and studio as Carpenter ever got, with the possible exception of Memoirs of an Invisible Man, but still a mildly engaging watch!
Bridges gives a goofily entertaining performance and does solid work throughout! The trick effects are very good, though the weird growing baby is in its own category; and it’s altogether a polished piece of Hollywood craftwork, with a nicely efficient yet affecting ending! I give Starman two and a half exploding trees!

Wednesday 6 January 2016

Burl reviews Impulse! (1984)

With a courtly bow, it’s Burl, here with another picture for review! This one, Impulse, falls into a microgenre I’ve seen quite a few examples of over the years: Toxic Spill Terror! This subset is populated by pictures like George Romero’s The Crazies (and the not-that-bad remake), Mutant, Warning Sign, Nightmare at Noon (which not only tells the same story as Mutant, but uses the same cast, ha ha!) and Search and Destroy! There’s usually a government conspiracy woven in, and very frequently soldiers in hazmat suits appear in the third act!
Well, Impulse is a pretty low-key variant on this theme, and a peculiarly effective one too! Big-city couple Meg Tilley from Psycho II and Tim Matheson from Fletch, a dancer and a doctor respectively, are drawn back to Tilly’s Midwestern hometown after she receives an abusive telephone call from her formerly (we presume) sainted mother, who then goes on to shoot herself non-fatally in the head! What they don’t know is that the town just had an earthquake, a little one, ha ha, but big enough to rupture some kind of concrete bunker and allow a suspicious-looking liquid to trickle from it!
Tilly and Matheson meet the kindly town doctor, played by Hume Cronyn of Brewster’s Millions fame, and there’s a lot of talk about changing bedpans! Tilly’s father, played by John Karlen from Gimme an F, seems like an okay guy, a little surly and suspicious maybe; but her brother is played by Bill Paxton as a provincial weirdo, just like he was in Mortuary!
Everyone in town starts acting weirder and weirder, ha ha, engaging in all the behavior they’d previously have suppressed! There are eruptions of rudeness, passion and violence; Tilly’s former best friend becomes first moody and then maniacally resentful, while her children lock Tilly in the garage and try to barbeque her up! The sheriff, played by Claude Earl Jones from I Wanna Hold Your Hand – he’s not actually the brother of James Earl Jones, it would appear – grabs his machine gun and starts blasting petty criminals, which I have no problem believing is the true impulse of many a law enforcement officer, or dude with a gun for that matter! The most disturbing of all is Cronyn’s journey from compassionate clinician to grinning murderer: the kindly country doctor is supposed to be one of our most inviolate archetypes!
Things get darker and darker, and it doesn’t look like there’ll be much of a happy ending! Spoiler alert: there isn’t! The conspiracy angle raises its head, though there are no fellows in hazmat suits – it’s just good old Peter Jason, the familiar face from They Live and so many other pictures, driving around in his truck and peering through binoculars! Finally a solution is arrived at, but not one likely to make anyone in the town very happy, ha ha!
It’s a movie stuck firmly in the realm of “ha ha, not bad!” But Tilly and the rest of the cast, particularly Cronyn, are fine, and the lines they are asked to read are competently written! It’s true that there are silly bits: like Springfield, this is one of those towns you can only enter or leave by a single bridge! And this may just be a lapse in my own memory, but did they ever show us what happened with Bill Paxton? Anyway, though I can think of a thousand ways in which it could be better, the Impulse we have is probably the Impulse we need, and I’m going to give it two broken fingers! Ha ha, ouch!

Monday 4 January 2016

Burl reviews Vice Versa! (1988)

Ha ha and changeabouts, it’s Burl, here to review another holiday holdover! It’s one of those body-switch pictures from the late 1980s, Vice Versa! Ha ha, of course you recall that there were a bunch of movies made on this theme at that time: Like Father, Like Son, 18 Again and the dark horse, Dream a Little Dream! Ha ha, sometimes Big is included in this roster, but it’s technically only half a body-switch picture, though it was twice as popular as all the others! (All of Me is another thematically similar outsider, ha ha!)
I gave all of these things a pass back at that time, and continued to ignore them long into my adulthood! But now I have a son myself, and it made me think: what if this thing happened to us one day? Ha ha, I’d better be prepared! So I sat down one recent evening and put on Vice Versa, which always seemed to me the most interesting of a pretty anemic lot!
Here the dad, Marshall, is a workah*lic (natch!) department store executive played by Judge Reinhold from Beverly Hills Cop and Gremlins and Ruthless People! His son Charlie is played by Fred Savage from The Princess Bride! Through a series of lazy plot convolutions, an enchanted skull, stolen from the lamas of Nepal, ends up in their possession, and indeed possession is the key word here, as it somehow effects a personality transfer! Naturally Marshall is in the middle of some kind of business deal, which the child must now see through; and the father, entrapped in the corpus of his issue, is forced to deal with tests and bullies and little girls, ha ha!
Of course this concept is inherently creepy, and maybe the pleasure in watching these movies comes from observing how they attempt to dilute or sidestep or otherwise wrestle with this built-in grotesquerie! Vice Versa tries to ignore the implications until late in the game, when it briefly appears ready to embrace the inevitable quasi-Oedipal consequences, in a scene in which the father, in his son’s body, peers in as his eleven year-old son, in the father’s grown body, prepares to make l*ve to a pretty lady! No, ha ha, it’s not his own mother, and anyway this event is headed off at the pass before any actual consum*tion!
I think the other notable aspect of these is that the screenwriters, believing something inherently interesting will emerge from the situation, feel free to stay as lazy as outfielders when creating their characters! They stick with the stereotypes (overworked dad, fun-loving pre-teen) and add nothing to them; the result therefore is simply one stereotype swapping places with another! Ha ha, that’s certainly the case here, and, aside from the vaguely Christmas-y setting, there’s not a whole lot else on offer!
But there’s a bit! We get some actual location work in Nepal, which is pretty amazing; and the movie as a whole is more engaging than it has any right to be! The supporting cast includes pretty Corinne Bohrer from The Beach Girls; Jane Kaczmarek from D.O.A.; William Prince from The Paper; David Proval from Mean Streets; Elya Baskin from Deep Star Six; Jane Lynch from The Fugitive; and even James Hong, director of Teen Lust! So there are a lot of familiar faces, and that helps matters!
I don’t think the movie is going to help me much if I myself undergo a body switch, but then again who knows! At least I can now say I’ve seen one of these movies, and while I’m not going to rush out to see a second one, I may give 18 Again a try, just to see if the advanced ages (18 swapped for 81) makes any fundamental difference! In the meantime I’m going to give Vice Versa one smoking skull mouth!

Friday 1 January 2016

Burl reviews Comfort and Joy! (1984)

Aye, it’s Burl, ha ha! It's a new year, but I have a few seasonal holdovers to report on yet! I’ll tell you, I’ve spent some time in Scotland, and I had a marvelous time there! It’s a thoroughly charming country, and while I was there I went on a sort of pilgrimage to some of the locations used in Bill Forsyth’s marvelous picture Local Hero! Ha ha, it was a terrific little amble, magical and amazingly scenic!
So Local Hero is a favourite of long standing, but until the other night I’d never seen Forsyth’s follow-up, a semi-Christmas picture called Comfort and Joy! I ignored it back when I had every opportunity to see it on VHS, and then later it proved difficult to find! But if you beachcomb the Internet for long enough, these things will eventually wash up, and that was the case with this picture! It’s another one of those it-happens-to-be-Christmas movies, and you know how much I like to watch those, ha ha!
Our main character is a morning radio host, of the sort revered by pensioners, called Alan ‘Dickie’ Bird, and he’s not having a very pleasant holiday season! His ladyfriend, a dedicated kleptomaniac, is leaving him and taking with her all the trinkets and things she’s pilfered over the years! And then, one day not long after, Dickie catches sight of a lovely lady in an ice cream van, and, after purchasing his cone, bears witness to a terrible act of vandalism when masked men beat the truck with bars!
Well, this arouses his journalistic instincts, previously thought moribund, and Alan involves himself in what is apparently an internecine war between Glaswegian ice cream interests! The Mr. Bunny crew are the rogues, the interlopers, selling their cream rampantly anywhere in town they please, whereas Mr. McCool is the established frozen treat family! Ha ha! The violence, which is always directed toward things rather than people, escalates, and Alan attempts to broker a peace while simultaneously wooing the pretty lady! But she remains as aloof and exotic as the mermaid in Local Hero, ha ha!
However, Alan’s activities and his coded radio comments lead his listeners, friends and employers to believe he’s gone barmy! Further complications ensue on the road to the gentle and funny conclusion, ha ha, and along the way there are many wry, dry laffs, of the sort ol’ Burl appreciates very much! The gags unfold at their own pace, almost in the spirit of Jacques Tati, and most of them hit home! There are some groaners of course, and some that fall pancakewise, and some annoyances here and there too, like why Alan spends even a second pining for, not to mention erotically dreaming about, his horrible girlfriend once she’s gone! (Ha ha, she is pretty though, so I’ll grant him the erotic dreams!)
I was glad to finally track this picture down, or rather, in the manner of the internet, have it wash up on shore right to me; and if it sticks around I could see it becoming a seasonal staple for me! It was highly enjoyable and, like Summer Night Fever, it made me feel GOOD just to watch it! Ha ha, and what more could you ask for? I give Comfort and Joy three and a half creamed BMWs, or, as they're better known, Creamers! Ha ha!