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You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday 29 August 2019

Burl reviews Phase IV! (1974)

Doodlee-doodlee-doodlee, it’s Burl, here to review another picture about insects! In fact, alongside Bug it’s the other intellectual bug movie released by Paramount in the mid-70s, but this one is generally regarded more highly than Bug! It’s called Phase IV, and it was the only feature directed by Saul Bass, who brought us the marvelous credit sequences of Vertigo, Psycho, and so many others!
It seems, on the surface, to have more on its mind than Bug, but afterward it’s hard to remember what it had to say! The story involves two scientists, one a bearded rationalist played by Nigel Davenport, the other a younger, more relatable fellow played by Michael "Shocker" Murphy! Ha ha, they install themselves in a geodesic dome out in the desert in order to study what’s up with the ants, who have been behaving strangely and building oddball structures!
Well, to hurry the insects up, Davenport blows up their structures with his handy grenade pistol, then sprays the area with a pesticide called 100% Yellow! Whether this kills any ants is uncertain, but it most definitely kills most of a family who’ve been a little late to evacuate! The survivor is a young lady played by Lynne "Vampire Circus" Frederick, who has no idea what’s going on! When Davenport gets an ant bite and his arm blows up like a sausage, things get a little hairy for the trio, and this leads to an ending in which, presumably, the ants move on to phase four of their plan to take over the world, and Murphy and Frederick are invited to be some sort of Adam and Eve of the new formidae reality! Ha ha, frankly the ending reminded me a bit of Invasion From Inner Earth!
Saul Bass was a terrific designer, so we might expect some pictorial delights in the movie, and we get them! The visual treats include, per the credits, “Insect Sequences by Ken Middleham,” who was the go-to guy for this stuff: he also provided Bug with its cock-a-roaches! I was surprised that the interior of the science dome, where most of the story takes place, was not cooler, more Ken Adam; but I guess that wouldn’t have been realistic, as it was intended to be a temporary structure! There’s lots of other neat stuff though, and the photography by the amusingly named Dick Bush is noteworthy!
It’s perplexing that Bass should have chosen this story as the one feature length tale he was determined to tell, but maybe it was the only one he could get financed! But it’s a unique picture, one of those movies whose existence alone is a surprise! It’s not all it might have been, perhaps, and frankly not all it thinks it is, but it’s quick, engaging and well worth a look! I give Phase IV two and a half goggle showers!

Burl reviews Bug! (1975)

Ha ha and bug-bug-bug, it’s Burl, here to write you up a little review on one of the two intellectual bug movies Paramount Pictures made in the mid-1970s! This one is Bug; an unprepossessing title perhaps, but the movie has slightly grander schemes than might be supposed by someone who knows only the name of the movie!
The other intellectual bug movie released by Paramount that decade, in case you were wondering, is Phase IV, and I call them intellectual bug movies not because the bugs themselves are intellectuals (though, for bugs, they are), but because in both cases there are pretentions to erudition, which, whether they work or not, is in general a quality that pleases me in a horror movie!
Bug is based on a book called The Hephaestus Plague, and I’ll let you decide which title is better! But Hephaestus the Greek god is mentioned by name in the movie, so right there you get some of your book learnin’! The picture opens in a desert church, and when an earthquake shakes up both the place and its parishioners, at least one of the congregation evidently takes it for an Old Testament Wrath-Of-God event, and can be seen supplicating wildly in the aisle!
The quake opens a wide crevasse in a nearby farmer’s field, and some big old cockroaches climb out and start burning everyone up with their incendiary legs! Ha ha, yes, they rub their back legs together and poof! a pickup truck, a kitty cat or a lady’s hairstyle will burst into flames! Local university professor Bradford Dillman, currently teaching Advanced Squirrel, is soon on the case, and after his wife - in a weirdly nervous performance by Joanna Miles - becomes the guest of honour at a six-legged flambé party, he becomes more and more obsessed with investigating these bugs! He grows the same beard he wears later in Piranha (ha ha, his critter-fighting beard, I guess!) and manages, very unwisely, to cross-breed the critters with normal house roaches! Soon, of course they’re spelling words on the wall!
Well, the first half of the picture seems to be building into a disaster scenario, with pick-up trucks bursting into flame and buildings all over town suffering mysterious conflagrations! But all of that stops cold so that, for the whole second half of the picture, Bradford Dillman can put bugs in a diving helmet and freak out his friends with his weird behaviour! And the very ending features the hero suffering a fate few leading men in cinema were ever asked to endure!
The picture was directed by the same fellow who would later bring us Jaws 2, and was attractively shot by Michael Hugo, who lensed The Manitou! Ha ha, along with this latter picture, Bug features in my personal list of Weird Midbudget 70s Horror: a cherished group of films indeed! But Bug itself is not terribly high on the list, I must say, and I give it two exploding pick-up trucks!

Burl reviews House of Death! (1981)

A creak on the stairs, and a hearty ha ha - these things mean it’s Burl, here to review yet another seedy good-time slasher picture for you! Like so many of them, this one goes by multiple titles, but I believe it may be best known as House of Death! It’s a slightly perplexing title, as, while there is indeed a house in the movie, much of the death takes place in a variety of non-house locations! Perhaps the film's alternate title, Death Screams, would be preferable, if equally generic! But oh well, a title like House of Death will do the job, I suppose!
Ha ha, it’s a regional picture, having been made in, I believe, South Carolina, with some of the same cast and crew as Final Exam! And while Final Exam was more fun than I’d been led to believe, as a slasher movie it’s still a bit on the dry side, both figuratively and literally! House of Death seems to be treading the same path for most of its running time, and then in the last ten minutes or so, they unleash first a soundtrack of bombastic music and bloodcurdling screams, like something from a Coffin Joe movie, and then their special effects man, Worth Keeter (the same fellow who made the fur-face picture Wolfman) to add a dose of blood and gore!
But I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual! House of Death starts with a couple of killings down by the river: a couple making sweet love on the back of a motorcycle is suddenly wrapped in razor wire! There’s a great shot where they and their motorcycle roll backwards down into the water, and then, now and again through the rest of the picture we see their bodies floating down the river, unnoticed by anyone, at least until a crucial moment!
We then meet a bunch of characters: a baseball coach and his assistants; a couple of musclemen and their ladies; a jokester named Diddle; a tubby man of limited intellect; a giant bearded sheriff; a shopgirl played by Susan “Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood” Kiger, who lives with her grouchy, arthritic grandma; and more! There are so many of them that I can’t recall who lives and who catches a poking! It might have made for a decent mystery, all these characters, if it wasn’t the sort of movie where you don’t spend a moment wondering or caring who the killer is!
But I do remember the unfortunate Diddle meeting his maker in an outhouse, an entirely apt location for his demise! And I recall a lady getting cut in half; one of the musclemen falling into an open grave and, in trying to climb out, getting his hands cut off á la House on Tombstone Hill; and a pair of decapitations! And then the killer is identified, and he has his throat slashed with a piece of glass, is shoved out a window, falls two stories, lands in a garden shed and is impaled multiple times, and then is shot by a passing lawman, and the cop’s bullets are so powerful that the killer’s head simply explodes as in Scanners!
All of this happens in the comparatively energetic last ten minutes, but the first seventy-five are passably entertaining too, in a homely sort of a way! There’s no style, not a whit of spookiness and precious little wit, so it’s hardly a good or great movie! But the slasher completest, particularly the regional slasher completest, will, I believe, not be disappointed! I’m going to sit back and give House of Death a rousing one and a half short shorts!

Burl reviews Never Say Never Again! (1983)

Doo-doot-de-doo, ha ha ha! It’s Burl here with a little off-piste Bond for you! Yes, it’s Never Say Never Again, Sean Connery’s big return to the role after a decade of watching Roger Moore make movies like Live and Let Die and Moonraker! It was made by another company than usual, so they couldn’t use the theme or the same actors to play M, Q and Moneypenny! Ha ha, the worst thing is not using John Barry’s great action music and choosing to replace Barry not with James Horner or Jerry Goldsmith or someone who made sense, but with Michel Legrand, a composer forever tilting at the windmills of your heart! He’s not the first one to try ruining a Bond movie with an elevator jazz score, but it hurts a little more because the movie is otherwise decent!
Or anyway it’s decent compared to the contemporaneous Moore ones! Now Connery is a little older here, sure, but he’s in fine shape! He does tread the line between confident relaxing and lazy coasting at times; on the other hand one can’t deny that he delivers the quips better than ever! And for gosh sakes, he’s Sean Connery, who can kick around leprechauns while growling “Get away from me, you bashtards,” and still seem like a heck of a guy!
The plot of Never Say Never Again is really just Thunderball with more video games and (marginally) fewer high colonics! Bond’s fitness is in question by a particularly priggish M, so he’s bundled off to a special clinic! Trouble comes right after Bond does, and soon a hulking beardo is chucking him around the room! This all leads to missiles under the sea and an entertaining, smile-based performance from Klaus Maria Brandauer as the bad guy, Largo! Along with Skyfall and maybe one or two others, this is one of the few Bond pictures with a straight-up insane man as a heavy! It’s too bad we don’t get more of Max Von Sydow as Blofeld, but you can’t have everything! At least we get Barbara Carrera as the kill-crazy Fatima Blush!
There’s some okay action, but not that much of it! Kim Basigner’s buttocks make a featured appearance; Bond sleeps with so many ladies that it’s as if he’s trying to make up for a decade of inaction; and there’s a super motorcycle that doesn’t do much besides make a few rocket-powered leaps! Ha ha, it doesn’t even seem all that fast, and Bond falls into traps so easily while riding it! And I have to say the final confrontation below the sea is a little underwhelming too! But at least there’s much less boring scuba fights than there are in Thunderball! Ha ha, I like Thunderball, but that stuff really drags it down!
On balance it’s an okay slice of Elderly Action, but it looks better than it is if you put it beside movies like Octopussy, which everyone did because they were the two rival Bond pictures that came out in the same year! I’m overrating it, I know, but, if only for the moment in which one of Q’s devices doesn’t work all that well, which in real life would happen all the time, I’m going to give Never Say Never Again two exploding femme fatales!

Burl reviews Escape From Alcatraz! (1979)

Ha ha and jailcells, it’s Burl! Yes, I have a tale of the big house today, of cons doing hard time, of yardbirds staring down the wrong end of a long stretch! It’s Escape From Alcatraz, one of the many, and maybe the last, of the pictures Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood made together!
What’s it about? Ha ha, the title tells you about everything you need to know! Clint plays Frank Morris, a robber who is sent to the Rock not so much for his robbing, but for escaping from other prisons! Nasty warden Patrick McGoohan dislikes him from the get-go, and Frank spends some time in the lightless bowels of D block! Ha ha, having spent so much time as a prisoner himself, you’d think McGoohan would take it a little easier on his charges!
But no, the steely-eyed turnkey ratchets up his nastiness, causing a terrible incident when he revokes the painting privileges of a kindly dabbler played by the great Roberts Blossom from Christine! Poor Roberts is so despondent that he goes to the wood shop and chops all his fingers off with a hatchet! It’s gory and sad, and for Eastwood it’s the last straw! He begins planning his escape, his first digging tool being the nail clippers he purloined from the darn warden himself!
Eastwood’s pokey pals include Fred Ward from Secret Admirer and UFOria; another guy playing his brother, and yet a fourth fellow, a sad sack called Charlie Butts, well known from Armed and Dangerous, whom you know things are going to go badly for the moment you see him! There’s a tender scene between Charlie and his wife, who’s the only visitor you see anyone get, and in fact the only lady in the whole movie! So you’re rooting for Charlie, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up for him if I were you!
There are some pretty suspenseful scenes and a great cast! Paul Anthony, a very unusual actor of whose work I’m fond, is the one who gives Eastwood the low-down on the place, and it would have been nice to see him get a crack at escaping too! The style of the thing is minimalist, and it’s some of Siegel’s best work of that decade! And that was a good decade for him - he made Charley Varrick after all! And Telefon too, but we won’t talk about that, ha ha!
There’s moody photography from Bruce Surtees, who also shot Out of Bounds of course, and a pretty penitentiary atmosphere! No, it doesn’t make the pokey look like much fun! Except the toques - the toques are nice! And one of the guards seems like an okay guy! But I say no thank you, it’s not the life for me! Ol’ Burl’s going to stick to the straight and narrow! In the meantime, I give the effective Escape From Alcatraz three fake heads!

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Burl reviews The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai! (1984)

Burl here, and wherever that is, here I am! In media res has come to refer to scenes that begin while already in progress, like in the middle of a fight or some such! Really it means being thrown into the middle of an entire story, a thing few movies attempt! One picture that does, and which I’ve always admired for doing so with such absolute commitment, is The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!
Despite this being his first adventure in any form, Buckaroo (played by Peter Weller, whose face we know so well from Robocop) is already an established hero of comic books, a hitmaking musician, a cutting-edge brain surgeon, a nuclear physicist, and the leader of a rag-tag bunch of busriders, The Hong Kong Cavaliers! He has a worldwide following of fans called the Blue Blaze Irregulars, ready to swing into action at a moment’s notice; a dead wife; and a mortal enemy called Hanoi Shan!
But all of this is background, and has little to do directly with the story, ha ha! And I love it! I love that someone was willing to spend a lot of money on a picture that almost dares you to understand it, and so esteems the intelligence of summer sci-fi action movie audiences! I think the set decoration is nonpareil, and the layered dialogue, recalling Altman at times, keeps the picture interesting over multiple viewings!
Innovative things are often said to be ahead of their time, but I think that phenomenon is much less common than is supposed! I think Ulysses was ahead of its time, and the Nude Descending the Staircase, and the Velvet Underground, but, ha ha, not a whole heck of a lot beyond that! I think Buckaroo Banzai fits this category; and the proof is not just that it suffered a serious blanketing at the box office and has now become a beloved cult item, but that so many movies have since paid fealty to it! From The Life Aquatic to Thor: Ragnarock, the Buckaroo acolyte is recognizable by the presence of Jeff Goldblum in the cast! Ha ha!
And speaking of cast, this picture’s got a dandy one! Weller and Goldblum are backed up in the Cavaliers by the likes of Clancy Brown (from Highlander) and Lewis Smith (from Django Unchained) and Pepe Serna (from Fandango), and the nasty Red Lectroids who serve as antagonists include in their number John Lithgow, who leads them, and Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli, Dan Hedaya and the like! All these latter guys are named John, ha ha, which is a detail I’ve always treasured!
You’ll notice I haven’t said much about the plot of the picture, and that’s because there’s not a lot of plot there to speak much about! I mean, there’s a plot, but somehow it’s the least important, least interesting thing about the movie! It’s not a picture for everybody, but those who like it, like it a lot! Ha ha, I give The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension three and a half Small Berries!

Burl reviews Mischief! (1985)

A-womp-bomp-a-lula, a-womp-bam-Burl, hello! I’m here to review one of the milder Period Teen Sex Comedies of the 1980s, Mischief! It’s another of the erotic children of American Graffiti, a slightly fancier version of Slumber Party ’57, Sweater Girls, Hometown U.S.A., Porky’s of course, and the Lemon Popsicle movies! Yes, that’s right, it’s a nostalgic look back at how teenage boys lost their cherries back in the niftyfifties!
I guess the message is, ha ha, plus ca change, because it was not so different for me in the 80s! But I never got so unpleasantly aggressive as our supposed hero here, Jonathan! As played by Doug McKeon, Jonathan looks ready to bust into a chorus of “Sweet Mr. Sansregret” at any moment, yet he’s capable of putting so much erotic pressure on his ladyfriend that he rips her underwear off by main force! Thankfully he relents after that, and briefly even seems to feel bad about it!
I’ll backtrack a bit and give you the bigger picture! Mischief is set in some small Ohio town in the late 50s, and the big event on Jonathan’s street is the arrival of a cool-daddy Fonz called Gene! Gene roars around on his motorbike, and his father - no, not his stepfather, ha ha - is played by Terry "Silver Bullet" O’Quinn, who yells at him a lot and even clobbers him on occasion! But Gene and Jonathan become pals even though they’re different sorts of fellows, and Gene is even willing to help Jonathan achieve his goal of “makin' it" for the first time with the seemingly unapproachable object of his lust, a good-time blonde named Marilyn! Ha ha, she’s played by Kelly Preston from Christine and Secret Admirer!
Meanwhile Gene falls for Bunny, played by Catherine Mary Stewart from The Beach Girls and Dudes! This gives rise to conflicts with Bunny’s sometime boyfriend, the biggest jerk in town, played by Ron Johnson himself! Ha ha! And sooner than you think, and to no one’s greater surprise than his own, the hapless Jonathan is dating Marilyn! And then, in the usual ritual of awkward jim-jams and breathless broken promises and abrupt endings, the deal between them is sealed! Ha ha!
But is there any true mischief in this movie? As a studio picture, albeit a small and relatively inexpensive one, the picture’s antics are on the softer side of things! But they still have an erotic flavouring: for instance, at one point Jonathan is forced to stand up in class while “feeling the king’s anger,” as they say! There are some pranks and other shenanigans, and a visit to the drive-in of course, which is always a treat, and trouble and punch-ups and chicken races! In the end true love prevails between Bunny and Gene, and Jonathan discovers his true passion: Jami Gertz from The Lost Boys!
Of course, as in all of these pictures, the soundtrack keeps very busy! It features just as many 50s hits - and many of the same 50s hits in fact - as a Lemon Popsicle picture! The small-town atmosphere is nicely maintained, and the performances are just what’s needed! Chris Nash makes a pretty good Gene, and Doug McKeon has the perfect look as the nebbishy Jonathan! It also looks fine, with pastel cinematography from Donald Thorin and Jan de Bont!
There’s not much there there in Mischief, but it’s a pretty painless little nostalgia-coction! Unless you're from the 1950s and your teenage life went just like this, you'll probably forget all about the picture two seconds after it ends! I give Mischief two turned-around teddies!

Burl reviews 10 to Midnight! (1983)

Cease to worry, because Burl’s on the case! Yes, it’s me here with a review of a policier starring that most expressionless of action heroes, Mr. Charles Bronson! We all know the Son of Bron from his appearances in pictures like Death Wish II, but here, in a startling twist, he’s playing neither a vigilante nor a cop! Ha ha, no, in 10 to Midnight he plays a vigilante cop!
Looks like Los Angeles is suffering through a murder spree again! A lady has been found knifed in the park, and Detective Charles Bonson, or Leo Kessler as they call him here, is on the case with his new partner, the earnest Paul McAnn, played by Andrew Stevens fresh from Massacre at Central High! Bronson’s daughter, well-played by Lisa Eilbacher (whom we know from pictures as diverse as This House Possessed and Beverly Hills Cop), stands on the sidelines, hoping to get closer to her old dad, and growing fond of the chainsmoking McAnn!
Now to be sure, this is no mystery movie, no whodunit! The killer is Warren Stacy, who is one of these incel guys we have now, only instead of shooting up the place or running people down, he’s working out his nasty misogyny by putting brutal pokings on the ladies he hates so much and is so roundly, and justifiably, and regularly, rejected by! Gene Davis, an actor I’m not familiar with, does a top-notch job of playing the killer as creepy and hateful and vile and repellent and completely without sympathy, while still somehow seeming like not a very good actor! Ha ha! But Warren Stacey is the murderer all right, stalking and killing his victims in complete dishabille, and Detective Bronson is so convinced of this even in the absence of any proof that he manufactures some bloodstain evidence to ensure a quick conviction! However, he does this so ham-handedly that everyone knows he did it, and when he confesses to the act in court, Warren Stacey is set free again!
From there it’s a quick trip to the nurses’ residence where Bronson’s daughter lives with her roommates, and Warren Stacey gets his kit off and picks up the old poking knife! Killing a dorm full of nurses seems an unnecessary speck of verisimilitude even for this unpleasant movie, but there’s no tawdry road down which this picture will not travel! The ending, in which Bronson’s character throws away any pretense of respect for due process, is thoroughly depressing! And among the movie's greatest offenses: a criminal waste of Wilford Brimley!
Like just about any picture that strives to criticize the justice system from the point of view that criminals are simply afforded too many rights, 10 to Midnight is thick-headed and reactionary! It is so much so, in fact, that one is tempted to take it instead as a clever jab at exactly the kind of movie that it actually is, ha ha! With that immutable face of granite, Bronson seems calm, competent and in control, but his attempt to subvert the justice system is downright moronic, and leads pretty directly to the murder of the nurses!
But I can’t give this picture any credit for subversive cleverness! With its Junior Conservative Club message of “You liberals love criminals so much, but you liberals also say you love women, so how come you want a savage poker of ladies like Warren Stacey to be treated so fairly, huh liberals?” the movie tries for some kind of “Gotcha, snowflakes!” checkmate, but just comes off as idiotic and juvenile, figureheaded as it is by a particularly stupid hero! And the supposedly shocking flippy-floppy nude killer is just goofy, despite the effectively hateful performance from Davis! I mean, imagine if Michael Myers was walking around and you could see his bum all the time? I give 10 to Midnight one wad of gum!

Burl reviews Jaws: The Revenge! (1987)

Ha ha, Burl here again! Ooh, something smells fishy! Can you imagine an even worse Jaws picture than Jaws 3-D? Well you don’t have to, because here it is: Jaws: The Revenge! Again I have to mention the absolutely precipitous downfall the series took in only four pictures! I remember going to see this one at the Park Theater as a teen (the same place I saw the original picture, ha ha!), and at the end I came reeling out, my brain snapping with skunkfire, hardly able to believe how bad the movie I’d seen really was!
I recall that it was a summer release, but it’s a Christmas picture when you get down to it! The movie opens in Amity, the scene of the first two shark adventures, to the sound of carolers, with the wife and son of the sadly deceased Chief Brody doing the best that they can on the island! They seem pretty jolly, what with the holidays coming up and all, but it seems that young Sean Brody, who was a cowboy afeard of water in Jaws 3-D, is now a deputy on the Amity PD, and it falls to him to move a harbor log out of the way!
Well, that’s him munched! The action then moves to the Bahamas, where the older son, Mike Brody, works with Mario Van Peebles counting conchs! Mike is played by Lance Guest from Halloween II, and though he’s got a beard and seems to be living the life of Riley in the islands with his wife and daughter, he’s perpetually morose and grumpy, except in those moments when his wife (Karen Young from Heat) is snapping her panties at him! Ha ha!
Old Ma Brody, still played by Lorraine Gary as she has been since the original Jaws, arrives in the Bahamas, and brings the party down still further with her insane conviction that Jaws himself has a grudge against her family and has purposely been eating (or, in Roy Scheider’s case, giving heart attacks to) as many Brodys as possible! Pretty soon though, she’s dancing with Michael Caine, who has swum these waters before, in The Island, and who here plays a loveable pilot rogue named Hoagie! Ha ha, being named after a tasty sandwich would place Hoagie high on Jaws’s menu, one might think, but like so many of the characters, Hoagie escapes without a scratch! He doesn’t even seem to get very wet after crashing his plane in the ocean to rescue crazy Ma Brody, and at any rate he comes out of it in better shape than Michael Caine!
The shark attacks a few people and yanks a luckless lady off the back of a banana ride, and all that sounds much better than it plays! Then comes the climax, with the shark’s heartbeat thumping away thanks to a device created by Van Peebles, and he keeps poking his body fully halfway out of the water and roaring like a dinosaur! The real head-scratcher is the end, when Ma Brody aims her spar right at the shark and he explodes like the Pinto in Top Secret! Ha ha! It’s the goofiest thing you ever saw!
They say this movie was put together on a remarkably tight schedule for a Major Motion Picture - soup to nuts in five months or something like that! Well, it looks it! At least we get a reasonably cinematic look to the thing, with decent widescreen photography and one or two nice underwater shots! Joseph Sargent, the director, has done some good work (The Taking of Pelham I,2,3, ha ha!), but this isn’t among it! No, this picture simply lies there like a dead crappie on the sand! I give Jaws: The Revenge one half of an enormous rainbow lolly!

Burl reviews Jaws 3-D! (1983)

Dumb-dumb, dumb-dumb, it’s Burl approaching from the starboard side! I’m here today to review one of the dumber of the Jaws pictures, Jaws 3-D! Ha ha, has there ever been a series of pictures with a steeper downward slide than these fish movies? I think not! Look at Jaws, which is so great, and then have a look at this gobbler, and you’ll feel your gorge rise as though you’re on the downslope of the world’s biggest roller coaster!
Jaws 3-D was directed by the production designer of the first one, Joe Alves! I’m afraid he learned nothing about filming effective shark attack scenes, as there aren’t any of them in this movie! Oh sure, there are shark attack scenes, but they’re really just someone getting faked out, and then the next time they turn around, there’s Jaws! Cue the bubbles and the bluh-bluh-bluh!
And in this picture, cue the things that are supposed to stick out into the audience because it was originally in 3-D! I recall the 3-D being pretty effective, but on home video we just sit and puzzle at all the instances of fish heads and spear guns floating, thrusting and poking toward the lens! There’s one nice gruesome bit with a floating severed arm, but that’s not much to hang your hat on! It’s no Parasite, ha ha!
Our setting is Sea World in Florida, owned and operated by flashy slapheaded impresario Louis Gossett Jr.! Working for him he’s got Bess Armstrong, last spotted taking the High Road to China, and Dennis Quaid, whom we know from Dreamscape and Innerspace! When a big shark comes to threaten the waterski pyramid, everyone knows something should be done, but nobody knows quite what!
Well, Simon MacCorkindale, the poor man’s Michael York, whom we know well from The Sword and the Sorcerer, has an idea! So far as I can tell he’s playing a sort of bloodthirsty Jacques Cousteau, and he wants to blast the shark with grenades! Quaid and Armstrong are of a different mind, and Louis Gossett Jr., well, he’ll go with whatever sells the most tickets! But the big shark turns out to be just a baby, and the mother is roaming around the underwater hamster tubes of the artificial lagoon!
It all builds to some hilarious scenes of MacCorkindale being eaten and a fantastically terrible trick effects sequence of the shark busting her way into the underwater control room! Poor Fred, the affable technician, is eaten, but then later somehow the previously munched-on MacCorkindale is partially regurgitated back up past Fred so that his hand, clutching one of his grenades, is lifelessly waving within Quaid’s reach! Ha ha, you can guess the rest!
It’s all exquisitely terrible in the way only a 1983 release can be! With the sea park setting, the flamboyant Gossett Jr. performance, the 3-D and the terrible script, it should be so much more entertaining than it is! I give Jaws 3-D one game of stand-up, whatever that is! Ha ha!

Burl reviews Nightforce! (1986)

Well hoot-n-holler, boys, it’s Burl, here to review some Reagan-era action! Ha ha, the picture is called Nightforce, all one word according to the title card, and politically speaking, it’s about as Reagan-era as you can possibly imagine! That’s not exactly the kind of thing I like to watch on its own merits, but I do like to laugh at them! Ha ha!
Story-wise it’s a kind of proto-Collateral Damage! We are introduced to a group of college-age pals, most of them a bit jerky in one way or another! One of them, Christy, is the daughter of Senator Cameron Mitchell, an actor whom we know from so many pictures, from Without Warning to Raw Force! Anyway, there’s some soap opera stuff, and then Christy is kidnapped by a vanful of burly guys in fatigues - it’s South American terrorists again!
Cries Senator Cameron Mitchell, “Gnarr! There’s nothing I can do!” So it’s up to Christy’s buddies and secret boyfriend to go and rescue her! Among them are a goofball mechanic, a macho gun freak who brings along his bazooka, a sort of random cool dude guy, and Linda Blair from Roller Boogie! The secret boyfriend is a burly fellow with a bad case of Resting Idiot Face, and he’s ready to do what it takes to get Christy back despite the drunken, insecure ravings of the social-climbing brother from whom he stole Christy’s affections on the very day she and the brother were to be married! (Ha ha, I told you there was soap opera stuff!)
Once they’re in South America and looking for the terrorists’ encampment, the kids hook up with flute-playing, serape-wearing ex-soldier Richard Lynch, whom you probably know from The Premonition, but won’t recognize here ‘cause he isn’t wearing clown makeup! Meanwhile Christy sits naked in a cage in the middle of the camp, repeatedly brutalized perhaps, but treated with kindness by the potato-faced midget who guards her! There’s a climax of exactly the sort of action you expect when renting a low-budget 80s, and then the 82 minute picture is over!
This isn’t a Ridiculous Action movie despite the direction by Lawrence D. Foldes, whose Young Warriors very much is, and the presence of Mitchell, who seemed pulled to RA pictures by some sort of gravitational force! Foldes, evidently the kind of auteur to order a box around his name in the opening credits, was obviously trying to play serious here, and even, judging by the sympathetic potato face, a little bit nuanced! It’s nevertheless shot through with Ridiculous Action moments, but not of a high enough concentration to qualify it for the larger Ridiculous Action genre!
I still recommend it to the RA completests though, because it’s really only a few punji sticks and a crate of New York Seltzer away from Deadly Prey! It could use a few more novelty killings and some more tomato paste too! But on balance I feel confident giving Nightforce one and a half comfort-serapes!

Burl reviews Dirty Work! (1998)

Hi there! It’s Burl, here to review one of the forgotten 90s comedies, and no, it’s not Chairman of the Board! Ha ha, this one is Dirty Work, which was supposed to be Norm Macdonald’s shot at movie stardom, but I guess it didn’t take! I suppose in one sense I can see why - it’s hard to imagine Macdonald’s particular shtick traveling beyond this one exact movie, the way Bill Murray’s did from Meatballs into Stripes, and Ghostbusters, and beyond!
He plays one note, and you’ve got to like that note! I happen to like it, and so I hold Dirty Work in much higher esteem than perhaps it deserves! On the other hand, because it hardly lives up to what I see as its potential, I am just as likely to feel more harshly about it than an average moviegoing citizen might! Ha ha, I guess we’ll see in this review! My money’s on a swirling, expansive whirlwind of both feelings simultaneously!
Norm plays Mitch, a fellow who, as happened to Murray in Stripes, loses his job, his girlfriend and his apartment all in one day! Instead of joining the army with his best pal, he decides to open a business with his best pal - a business perpetrating revenge tricks on behalf of anyone willing to employ them! Mitch’s best pal is Sam, and there are additional complications involving Sam’s dad Pops, played by good old Jack Warden, and the heart transplant he needs in order to survive and continue his campaign of curmudgeoning!
But the bits that really work are the revenge tricks and the little associated bits, as when Mitch has to take work as an experimental brownie tester and suffers an hallucination of Gary Coleman, from The Kid With the 200 IQ, in the role of the devil, cackling with evil glee! There are all sorts of bizarrities, which I always appreciate in an apparently straight arrow comedy picture! It captures about thirty percent of what’s funny about Norm Macdonald, which is actually higher than one might expect with a mid-budget studio comedy!
It’s a pretty 1990s picture! Mitch’s shirtwear choices alone locate it firmly in that decade! Chevy “Fletch” Chase and Don “Beach Blanket Bingo” Rickles anchor the old guard, but much of the cast is 1990s comedians, like Artie Lange as Sam, and Chris Farley as the half-nose barfly and skunk-looser! And it sure was nice to see George Chuvalo, the ill-fated arm wrestler in The Fly and a champion boxer in his own right, as the ring announcer!
Ha ha, it has a very 1990s soundtrack too! Of course it has Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind and Tubthumping by Chumbawumba, and songs by Better Than Ezra, Green Day, and The Reverend Horton Heat, and there’s an ironic use of Escape (The Pina Colada Song) and a heartfelt one of AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)! How the Spin Doctors escaped this playlist I don’t know! Ha ha, this isn't the stuff I was listening to back then, but it fits the picture well enough! They should have found a use for that Steely Dan song that shares a title with their movie, though!
I can’t say I love this picture, but I am fond of it, even though I wish Macdonald, his co-writers and director Bob Saget had found it within themselves to do something with a little more danger to it! It’s littered with funny bits, so I’m going to give Dirty Work two and a half bearded ladies!

Burl reviews Witchboard! (1986)

Ha ha and hello, you’ve conjured up Burl, here to review another movie for you! This time it’s Witchboard, an earlier movie from the maker of Witchtrap! Ha ha, the fellow had witches on the brain!
Well before I get into the plot, I’ll tell you that this is one of those movies that managed to get a theatrical release in my town, despite them being cheap and dirty little genre pictures! Time Walker, Deadtime Stories, Strange Invaders and Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot all fit into this category! (Galaxy of Terror would be in there too, if I hadn’t been kicked out of the cinema, ha ha!)
I saw Witchboard at my beloved Park Theater with a couple of pals, sneaking in past the crabby lady who usually demanded to see ID and settling in to watch the story of a young couple, Linda and Jim, who get tangled up with a Ouija board brought into their lives by a slick frenemy named Brendon! Brendon is deeply into Ouija, and he’s made a little ghost friend called David, whom he calls up at a party the couple are holding! Brendon is very obviously played by a soap opera actor, so along with the Ouija board he brings a bunch of soap opera drama, which occupies a good deal of the picture’s running time! Brendon loves Linda, you see, and believes Jim, his former best friend, stole her away from him! Ha ha!
But there’s spooky stuff too! Soon Linda is hooked on Ouija, talking with someone she believes to be the ten year-old David, but who proves after some investigation to be the ghost of a Portuguese axe murderer! A few Omen-style accidents occur: Jim’s pal Lloyd is smushed by sheetrock at a construction site, and a goofy Valley Girl psychic played by Kathleen Wilhoite from Road House is sliced across the neck and hurtled out the window to land on a decorative yet pointy sundial! After this the murderous boogaboo reverts to his old ways and simply puts a chopping on his victims; but how he, a simple shade, is able to tote his axe around and deliver his chops with it is never satisfactorily explained!
Despite the chopping and the slicing I’ve described, the picture is pretty talk-heavy! Luckily the acting is not too bad or this would be truly intolerable! The soap opera guy is a little soap opera-y, and Tawny Kitaen, as Linda, is a bit Tawny Kitaen-y, but they all seem like part of the package, so it works fine for the picture! The main guy, Jim, played by Todd Allen from Django Unchained, is somehow very laconic and So-Cal while still burning with rage and cigarette embers, and by the end he learns to love again; and the cop on the case, one of those movie eccentrics (played by Burke Byrnes from Prophecy, he gobbles down grapefruits and tells long, rambling stories about magic) is pretty artificial! Again, however, they work for this particular picture!
Poor old Rose Marie plays the landlady, and she isn’t given much to do except clean up the mess at the end! Ha ha, the climax she’s cleaning up after is underwhelming, but worth waiting for nevertheless, as it involves the most direct and least sensical way of disposing of a Ouija board that anyone could conceive, dramatized by an hilarious special effect that reminded me of Forever Evil! (There are newer Ouija board movies, I’ve heard, but I haven’t seen them and can only hope they’ve copied this disposal method!) While Witchboard’s occasionally witty script, functional acting and acceptable production serve as feathers in its cap, the lack of ambition and abundance of blab are certainly black eyes! I give the picture two goofy hammerhatchets!

Burl reviews Godzilla! (1998)

Grr grr and growl, it’s Burl, with a review of the Godzilla picture they made in the 1990s! Yes, it’s simply called Godzilla, and when it was announced that this would be the next movie from the fellow who brought us Independence Day, the world’s response was “Ha ha, of course it is!”
Now, this one took a different approach from the 2014 Godzilla and its more recent sequel! In those pictures, the G man seems to be part of a cabal of god-like Ancient Ones who ruled the world until they decided they would rather live underground, like Titans! There’s a bit of that in the old Toho pictures too! In this 1998 version however, he’s just a big lizard, grown size large because of nuclear testing conducted by the French! Ha ha!
Our unlikely hero is a fellow who’s been studying worms for three years, called Nick Tatopolis, played by the open-faced actor, Matthew Broderick! Ha ha, great sport is made of his supposedly complicated Greek name, which I suppose is in tribute to the monster designer, Patrick Tatopolous, who works regularly for this director! Another dubious tribute the script attempts is to hire Michael Lerner, well known from Class Reunion and Strange Invaders, to play callow Mayor Ebert! I suppose Roger Ebert must have given this guy a bad review for something, so he chose this non-clever revenge, over-extending the gag to include a scene in which his very Siskel-like assistant rates the mayor a thumbs down!
There are a few other characters, some of them played by voice actors from The Simpsons, which is a pretty 90s thing to do! Ha ha! Broderick, wearing a beret for some reason, is carrying a pretty unconvincing torch for a lady who would like to be a reporter, played by Maria Pitillo from Wise Guys; and some non-Godzilla drama results from her stealing Broderick’s secret research materials!
None of the bad guy types - not Mayor Ebert, not the nasty anchorman - get squished by Godzilla, or even get particularly close to him! I assumed both would feel the weight of Godzilla’s bottom, but I was wrong! I guess I have to give it to the picture - it surprised me! Ha ha, I’ll bet they thought about squashing both characters, but just couldn’t fit it those scenes around all the stuff they borrowed from Jurassic Park!
I try to be a positive sort of fellow, so here are a few things I liked about the movie, ha ha! There’s a good deal of carnage, so the picture keeps its end of that bargain; and the trick effects have not dated as much as we might expect! Also, and I’m an easy touch with these things, they did manage to create some empathy for the lizard, and some pathos when he dies! I’m usually on the monster’s side in these things, and so it was here!
On the other hand, the characters were a bunch of nundinckers, not a one of them with much to offer the discerning viewer! Broderick is a likeable enough fellow I suppose, and Jean Reno is the only interesting fellow on view here, and that just barely! The whole thing shuts down for a while to do the raptor scenes from the Jurassic Park movies, and spends so long with the baby dinosaurs in Madison Square Garden that I was reminded of Gremlins 2!
It achieves no surprises except in how narratively unambitious it is! Ha ha, maybe I’m just bitter, because this came out the same day as a movie I made, and it made a lot more money than mine! Well, that was no surprise! I give Godzilla one cup of poor American coffee!

Burl reviews The House on Tombstone Hill! (1988)

It’s Burl with another cheap horror movie for you! This one is called The House on Tombstone Hill, but it’s really called Dead Dudes in the House! Ha ha, but I’m going to call it The House on Tombstone Hill, simply because I much prefer that title!
Nevertheless, Dead Dudes in the House is a fairly accurate summation of the goings-on in this picture! One dude has bought himself an old house, and has somehow convinced a number of other dudes, along with two ladies, to come and help him fix the place up! But, ha ha, when the biggest jerk among the dudes breaks a small tombstone he finds outside the place, he awakens the spirit of a dude in old lady makeup, who I think was supposed to be an actual old lady, or anyway the ghost of one! Supernatural forces are truly at work here, ha ha! Quickly the doors close, the windows become unbreakable, the shutters flap shut, and all the dudes and dudettes are trapped in the house with the old manlady!
Well, the manlady gets to work, luring the dudes one by one down shadowy corridors or up rickety ladders, and when she gets them where she wants them, it’s time for sadism! Yes, she’s a particularly mean old slasher ghost, pinning down her victims with scratch awls, chopping off half their hands before spearing them with pipes, that sort of thing! Ha ha, thanks to the work of Ed French, who startled us also in C.H.U.D., Breeders and Creepshow 2, it gets pretty gory, and they really go the extra mile on the spurting blood in this picture!
More dudes show up, more or less randomly, and have their own encounters with the old manlady! Meanwhile her victims come back to life as murderous talking zombies, who are just as eager to kill the live dudes and dudettes as the old lady is! Like her, they seem imbued with a supernatural strength and resilience, but they are not invulnerable! Neither, as it turns out, is the old manlady, but she holds up pretty well!
The back half of this picture is a slightly repetitive series of fights between the dwindling gang and the ever-increasing cohort of zombies! Luckily the zombies never attack en masse; it would be a much shorter, but probably more thrilling, movie if they did! There is an awful lot of bopping and thwacking and biffing and clobbering, and one fellow carries a four wood around with him as his weapon! Ha ha, I guess they are after all a pretty preppie bunch of dudes!
The picture proceeds with the teensiest amount of wit and a ha’penny’s worth of style, but that’s still more than I was expecting, and is enough to set it apart from other cheapie scare pictures! The location they used was pretty good too - the house is big enough and old enough and ugly enough to make itself a character, though every room on the inside looks alike, which contributes to the decidedly repetitive nature of the film! But we feel trapped in there as much as the characters do, and when one of the sash windows does finally open, we know, having seen Superstition and The Boogey Man, that one shouldn’t linger half in and half out of a haunted house window! Ha ha, the window gets tired of the guy’s dawdling and simply eats him!
It’s got some entertainment value, and the old manlady, as relentless as the Terminator, is a daunting creation! For punching above its weight, even if slightly, I give The House on Tombstone Hill two homemade saw blade knives!