Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Monday 30 September 2019

Burl reviews Incubus! (1981)

Ha ha, Burl here with a movie that doesn’t exactly offer a lot of laughs! It’s a Canadian picture from 1981 called Incubus, and while you will find sources that claim it’s from 1982 and is called The Incubus (and the poster really pushes that article, ha ha), don’t believe them! My information comes from the credits of the movie itself, which I consider the final arbiter in such matters! And under no circumstances should you confuse it with Incubus, the 1966 picture with William Shatner wearing tights and speaking Esperanto!
These minor matters aside, we’re here to discuss the picture itself, and how good it is! The answer is, ha ha, not very! The picture is set in a small town called Galen, and the lazy autumnal days of life in this cornball burg are interrupted by a horrific series of rapes and murders committed by some inhuman thing! The town doctor, played as a near-crazy person by John Cassavetes, discovers awful internal damage to the rape victims and, now and again, great quantities of unusual sperms!
John Ireland, well-known for appearing in Gunslinger, The House of Seven Corpses and Satan’s Cheerleaders, plays the town cop who seems to have some kind of relationship with each victim! “I’ve known them since they were babies!” he cries at the demise of a pair of teens; or, at the scene of another outrage, “She’s my wife’s cousin!” Meanwhile, Kerrie Keane from Spasms plays a new-in-town newshound, and her reportage on the incidents occasions the worst prop newspaper I’ve ever seen! Keane, who immediately becomes the object of Cassavetes’ sexo-romantic obsession, gives one of the most unpleasant performances I can remember in a female lead! She acts as though she’s trying to be unlikeable, and maybe that’s how she was directed to act! Ha ha, I can’t say!
The cast is fleshed out with a number of faces who will be familiar to anyone conversant in Canadian cinema! There’s the local teen Tim, played by Duncan McIntosh from Bells, who’s having terrible dreams that are connected with the attacks in some way! Helen Hughes from Visiting Hours and Blue Monkey plays his crabby grandma, the matriarch of the town’s first family who is trying to keep the lid on an old scandal! Even Harvey Atkin, extremely familiar from Meatballs and Funeral Home and so much more, gets in on the action as the mayor of poor benighted Galen!
The meat and potatoes of this depressing picture are the attack scenes, and while there’s a bit of grue to liven things up (especially in a farmer-killing scene where, unfortunately, the graphic (fake) pitchforking of a dog is also shown), and a great, if briefly-seen, monster in the Incubus itself, thanks to makeup artist Maureen Sweeney, when you get right down to it there's way too much rape in this movie! Any rape is way too much as far as ol’ Burl is concerned, so having an entire picture built around such scenes is not my cup of tea! And the whole thing wraps up in a dark and depraved twist ending! Actually it doesn’t wrap up so much as it just ends!
The picture was directed by John Hough, one of those workaday filmmakers who could turn in good work (The Legend of Hell House, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry), or stinkers (Howling IV: The Original Nightmare), or, mostly, so-so stuff somewhere in between, like Escape to Witch Mountain or Twins of Evil! Well, Incubus, with its dumb dialogue, antisocial performances, lack of atmosphere and general skeeviness, hews much closer to the stinky end of things I’m afraid! I give it one Lil’ Red Express Truck!

Sunday 29 September 2019

Burl reviews Mr. Majestyk! (1974)

Hi, it’s Burl here, just getting the ol’ wet-dry vac! Yes, I’m here to review yet another picture featuring that carved-in-granite grandpa, Charles Bronson! This movie, Mr. Majestyk, is one of his better pictures, ha ha, and perhaps the only one in which he plays a vigilante watermelon farmer! It’s based on an Elmore Leonard book, and Leonard wrote the screenplay too, so you know it’s starting off with a pretty solid foundation!
Bronson is Vince Majestyk, and truly he is majestic in his zeal to get his melon crop in! But hoods, from the penny-ante variety played by Paul Koslo - yes Roy Boy from The Annihilators - to a sullen big-leaguer essayed by the gone-too-soon Al Lettieri, keep getting in his way! When, in a fabulous but heart-rending scene, they blast his melons to bits with shotguns, that’s more than enough for Majestyk! He’s taken all he’s going to take, ha ha, and with the help of his yellow pick-up, his lady sidekick and a shotgun of his own, he rights the wrongs done to him, and in the process proves himself a true melon farmer!
Of course we know Bronson from grotesqueries like Death Wish II and 10 to Midnight, but here, in the rocky open-air environs of the Great Divide, in his sporty cap and throwing melons like a pro, he’s a lot more appealing! This picture came out the same year, in fact the same month, as the first Death Wish, and it’s interesting to think what his career might have been like if this rousing adventure with its solid politics had been the picture that would define the rest of Bronson’s career, rather than the squalid, reactionary urban drama of Death Wish! Had that been the case I bet there would have been a lot more Indian Runners and a lot less Evil That Men Dos through that last quarter-century of his career! Ha ha!
But Mr. Majestyk remains a high point! It’s pretty clear that Leonard did his research into the world of melon farming and itinerant pickers, and his sympathies are with the underdogs all the way! Majestyk is no racist and doesn’t care where his pickers are from, nor what their status might be, so long as they pick a clean melon! And against this background we get some good rough-country car chases, some violence fights, some gun battles and some tragedy, and a lady named Wiley played by Lee Purcell from Eddie Macon's Run! It’s got that great clean look we find in many 1970s action-dramas, and the cars look and sound terrific! Ha ha, it’s one of those movies with auto manufacturer sponsorship, so everybody drives a Ford!
As ever, the Son of Bron is only able to muster a very limited array of expressions, but he manages to be likeable and believable! Mr. Majestyk is a solid if minor 70s crime adventure, and I give it two and a half watermelons!

Saturday 28 September 2019

Burl reviews The World's End! (2013)

Ha ha and hallo sailor, it’s Burl, here with a ha’penny’s worth of English behavior and hard drinking! Yes, today’s picture is one of Edgar Wright’s chumedies, which is to say one of those pictures he made with his pals Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, whom we know from The Adventures of Tintin and Paul! This one is The World’s End, which begins as a funny but otherwise garden variety pub crawl picture, and halfway through becomes an alien invasion extravaganza! Ha ha!
Pegg plays Gary King, a middle-ager who at one time, in his younger days, was the big man in town, the cool dude with the rad crew, all of whom participated in a legendary evening of drink and debauchery in their home town of Newton Haven! But now, in his forties, Gary is a dissolute old hidebag who’s never been able to move on from that night of glory! And the hometown pub crawl was never properly finished, so, through a combination of subterfuge, wheedling and naturally persuasive charisma, Gary manages to round up the old gang to have a go at it again!
And yet the old home town seems to have changed in some indefinable way! Bartenders look the same from one pub to another, the pubs themselves have been homogenized, everyone gives them side-eye or the outright hairy eyeball, and almost nobody in town seems to remember them! The lads run into their old teacher, Mr. Shepherd, played by Pierce Brosnan from Dante’s Peak, who does remember the quintet! Ha ha, he gives one of his finest Pierce Brosnan performances here, I must say! But of course, along with most of the townsfolk, he’s one of them!
And just what are them? Ha ha, aliens of course, of a particularly patronizing and supercilious variety! Their methods are explained over and over, but somehow never really become clear; but the upshot is that many in the town have been replaced by hollow automatons (they resent being called “robots”) with particularly fragile bodies filled with blue printer’s ink! And as the fivesome - well, the sixsome once they hook up with the equally bewildered Rosamund Pike, whom we may recognize from Jack Reacher and Gone Girl - continue their bar crawl, they must deal with more and more of these alien drone-people, before the movie more or less lives up to its name, ha ha!
Like all of these Wright/Pegg/Frost pictures, from Shaun of the Dead to Hot Fuzz and beyond, The World’s End is fast-paced and amusing, and clearly the work of people who watch and love a lot of genre movies! But there’s a self-awareness too, of course, embodied in the character of Gary! He has a few moments which might hit home to those of us around the same age; those of us who may not have grown up completely; those of us who may like a glass of beer now and again! But there’s a comfort there too, because - and I’m speaking only for ol’ Burl here, ha ha - we’re nowhere near as far gone as he is!
For its obvious and heavy-handed, but no less true message; for its frequently uproarious Englishness; for its veneration of the good old pint; for its apt-too-apt soundtrack; and for that moment when Brosnan claps his hands, snaps his fingers and says “Pretty cool, eh?” in that tone we’ve all heard from teacher, I give The World’s End two and a half old mix tapes made for you by a friend!

Monday 23 September 2019

Burl reviews A Bay of Blood! (1971)

Bueno bueno it’s Burl! Ha ha, a funny thing about ol’ Burl is that I tend to rank Italian horror movie directors according to the gentility of their work! Essentially my taxonomy is based on what some may call the tastefulness of their productions, or the lack thereof, but it's not a rating system and has nothing to do with my estimation of their talent or how much I like their movies! So Mario Bava strolls with quiet dignity near the top, with Dario Argento somewhere beneath, Lucio Fulci further beneath that, and Joe D’Amato and Ruggero Deodato lurking on some still lower rung!
Today’s movie, which I’ll refer to as A Bay of Blood though it has many other titles to choose from, comes from that upper-ranker Bava; but it is, nevertheless, one of the goriest, meanest movies ever made by any of the pastaland blood-slingers! I mean, ha ha, it’s no Anthropophagus, but still! It’s got head choppings, slow strangulations, pokings of all kind, including a sexual transfixation; face slicings, shotgunnings and squid bitings! It’ll be no surprise to you that this picture is considered the old grandpappy of the slasher genre! Certainly it was a hefty influence on Friday the 13th part 2, ha ha!
The setting is a picturesque little bay which seems to be populated exclusively by murderers! An old countess is noosed right off her wheelchair, and the perpetrator of that crime, her husband, is straightaway poked at with a stabbing knife! We learn that the carnage is all because of the titular cove, which is, ha ha, coveted by everyone who lives on the bay, and by all of their relatives too! A quartet of feckless youths fall victim to the monstrous desire for seaside real estate as well, or at least to the desire others have to keep the area for themselves!
Bava started as a cinematographer (his first work was the Rossellini short The Bullying Turkey, which I hope to see someday just based on that title!), and he shot many of his own pictures, including this one! So it’s a little strange that it’s one of his less visually striking works - it’s got some lovely shots, but movies like Planet of the Vampires, Hercules in the Haunted World, Hatchet for the Honeymoon and Danger: Diabolik all seem brimming over with striking imagery, whereas this one is a little more fast and loose! Maybe it was simply a lower-budget picture with a quicker schedule than he was used to!
As brutal as the killings are, and as misanthropic the theme, A Bay of Blood is nevertheless a pretty entertaining satire! Once you realize that everybody is just killing everybody else, it becomes genuinely uproarious, and the last few minutes serve as the cherry on top, ha ha! Though future slashers would fail to take this or some equally clever approach, you can't deny the movie's influence on everything from Friday the 13th to The Burning to The Dorm that Dripped Blood to The Mutilator! For its transgressive jocularity, its historic importance and its full-colour carnage, I give A Bay of Blood two and a half cable knit sweaters!

Thursday 19 September 2019

Burl reviews The Scarlet Claw! (1944)

With extreme logic, it’s Burl, here to get Sherlockery on you! Ha ha, today’s picture is The Scarlet Claw, a Rathbone/Bruce special from the 1940s, and I have to tell you, I enjoyed it a great deal more than something like Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows! Now that may seem an unfair sort of a statement, given how genetically perfect Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were in their respective roles as Holmes and Watson, but quite frankly there’s no more delicate way to put it! Mssrs. Law and Downey Jr. will simply have to cope somehow!
In The Scarlet Claw, we find Holmes and Watson in Canada, of all places, attending a conference on the o-ccult! (Ha ha! Why would superrationalist Holmes be at such a thing?) As a Canadian myself, I was quite pleased at this choice of locale; but that’s as nothing to how I felt in the picture’s closing moments - but more on that later! The conference is being held in some city - Toronto? Ottawa? Montreal? - but soon the detectives find themselves in rural Quebec, in a small village that resembles any small village in any Universal picture set in Eastern Europe or England or wherever! It seems a fiend has ripped open good Lady Penrose’s throat with some kind of clawlike garden implement, and Holmes and Watson accompany the bereaved Lord Penrose from the occult conference back to the little town of La Morte Rouge! Local murmurings have a clawed phantom as the culprit, but Holmes suspects a flesh-and-blood killer! Of course he’s right, but who among the many shifty people in town could it be, and where did he get that marvelous glow-in-the-dark suit? Ha ha, one of the most atmospheric sequences in this wonderfully atmospheric picture involves the killer aglow, bounding through the foggy fens like a galloping ghost! I tell you, it’s fun stuff!
There are several gruesome murders and some spooky scenes (one of which Brian DePalma appears to have borrowed for Dressed to Kill, which, strangely, is also the title of a completely different Sherlock Holmes picture), and to me it took the old deerstalker quite a little while to put the pieces together; and when you get right down to it, you have to admit Watson falls into the bog a lot! The bog, of course, looks just like the moors in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and I do admit that this story is slightly derivative of that Conan Doyle original! But, ha ha, de rien, as the Quebecois say! It’s still a terrific little photoplay with a properly maniacal killer!
Once the mystery is solved and Holmes and Watson are pushing off, they share a conversation about Canada that really baffled me, with Holmes declaiming about the critical position the country holds in Western history and culture! I thought at first this was a manifestation of something called the Canadian Co-Operation Project, a shameful agreement with the Americans in which Canada essentially agreed not to have a feature film industry in exchange for the occasional promotional mention of Canada popping up egregiously in American films! That’s what happens here, with Holmes sounding bored and enraptured at the same time, rhapsodizing about the joys of Canada! But this picture was made in 1944, four years before the Canadian Co-Operation Project took hold!
As I say, it’s a mystery! But it’s merely quaint and bizarre now, and serves as the cherry atop this most delicious little mystery programmer! Ha ha, I give The Scarlet Claw three glowing suits!

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Burl reviews The Virgin of Nuremberg! (1963)

Ha ha, it’s Burl here with a little Italian Gothic! Yes, this picture, The Virgin of Nuremberg, is set in Germany and trades in some pretty German story points, and it has a particularly international cast, but it’s an Italian picture through and through! It’s very much a pastaland cousin to the Poe pictures Roger Corman was making around this same time, stuff like The Premature Burial! Ha ha!
But this is a touch more gruesome, sadistic, and horrible than the Corman movies, and that's saying quite a bit considering the Poe pictures include The Pit and the Pendulum and Masque of the Red Death! To give you an idea of where this picture's heart lies, the titular Virgin of Nuremberg turns out to be an iron maiden-type torture device, inside of which, in the opening minutes of the picture, an unfortunate young lady is found bloody and punctured!
The picture takes place almost entirely in and around an old house-castle, naturally! Mary Hunter, the young wife of Max Hunter, who I guess is a baron or something, has just moved in, and she spends the bulk of the film wandering the halls and staircases of the castle, discovering terrible things like that dead lady, and trying desperately to convince her husband that such dreadful happenings are occurring in his barony! But, ha ha, neither Max nor anybody else believes her - or, at least, they don’t seem to!
But of course there are secrets aplenty in this castle! There’s a legendary hooded torturer from the castle’s history, a Mickey Hargitay type more or less, who may have returned after hundreds of years’ absence! And why is Max acting so suspiciously, and why does the score thunder so menacingly on the soundtrack when he’s just sneaking up to give his wife a little kiss? And what is a disfigured Christopher Lee, that legendary heavy metalsman from Gremlins 2 and Starship Invasions, doing lurking around the castle’s museum of torture implements? And ha ha, why does the castle have a museum of torture implements?
Of course the secrets are revealed in the end, and there’s Nazi shenanigans involved! The actual killer is very creepy looking when he’s revealed, but is almost the sympathetic sort of monster we recall from movies like Raw Meat! And naturally, as in most of these tales, there’s a conflagration to cap everything off!
It’s a solid tale of Gothic creepsterism, enlivened by nice art direction and yucky trick effects engineered by director Antonio Margheriti himself! (Ha ha, Margheriti, who frequently worked under the name Anthony M. Dawson, took on the trick effects a lot in his pictures, even unto later works like Yor, Hunter From the Future!) On the downside, The Virgin of Nuremberg offers a slightly boring script, an overly bombastic musical score, and a general lack of common sense! But for those who love this sort of picture, these things are part and parcel of the package, and they - we, ha ha! - won’t mind much! I give this picture two and a half face-loving rats!

Friday 13 September 2019

Burl reviews Clifford! (1994)

Hello my good and gentle readers, it’s Burl here to review a curious comedy called Clifford! Yes, this is an odd one, and the most generous reaction to it that I can conjure is to remember that quote from someone associated with the National Lampoon magazine, who said “Making people laugh is the lowest form of comedy!”
Ha ha, as I’m sure you know, I heartily subscribe to that philosophy, and so can’t help but wonder if the makers of Clifford were simply pursuing some higher ideal of comedy than the standard “funny” baseline most other studio laff-fests settle for! Of course, most studio laff-fests aren’t funny at all, or at least not funny to me, and as a rule I prefer the odd ones, the movies that strike out in some different direction in an effort to find some comedic vein not mined before!
So where does that leave Clifford? Well, it’s still not very funny! It tells the tale of the eponymous boy, a ten year-old played by Martin Short of Innerspace fame! They put him in a Fauntleroy suit and, when they can be bothered, use camera tricks to make him seem shorter than everyone else! So Clifford looks like a forty year-old man with an especially expressive face, and the other thing about him is that he’s a revengeful sociopath!
At the beginning of the picture, Clifford is flying with his parents to Hawaii, when he decides he’d like to get off in Los Angeles instead to visit the theme park he’s obsessed with, Dinosaurworld! After nearly crashing the plane he is placed in the care of his uncle Martin, played by Charles Grodin, well-known from It’s My Turn! Martin is trying to convince his fiancée, Mary Steenburgen from Elf, that he loves kids, so he gladly takes on the responsibility of caring for Clifford! When the unreasonable demands of Martin’s officious, horndog boss (played by, who else, Dabney Coleman from The Towering Inferno, Cloak & Dagger, Rolling Thunder, Dragnet and so many more) force Uncle Martin to renege on his offer to take the boy to Dinosaurworld, Clifford turns his uncle’s life into a living, crawling hell on earth! Ha ha!
There are shenanigans involving a cocktail made from pepper juice; a lipstick; a bomb threat; a dinosaur costume; an illicit house party; and some kind of explosive code inscribed onto a tape cassette! All of this combines to transform Uncle Grodin from the usual slightly uptight Grodin we know from the Beethoven movies into a raging psychopath bent on Clifford’s destruction! Ha ha, and we, the people of the audience, are fully in Uncle Grodin’s corner, I can tell you! By the arrival of the unexpectedly intricate yet still shoddy climax at Dinosaurworld, we’re enthusiastically rooting for Clifford’s death! Ha ha, I’m not sure if that was the intention of Short or the filmmakers, but that’s what we got!
Clifford is so finely engineered as to avoid all obvious laughs (except for the odd pratfall, which Short ably pulls off in the bookending segments set in the far future of 2050) that it’s kind of admirable! I’ve seen it a couple of times now, thanks to my son, who seems to like it (ha ha, a worrying thing in itself!), and I’m still not entirely sure what I think of it! I’m going to waffle a bit and award Clifford two four-year delays between filming and release!

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Burl reviews Volcano! (1997)

Boom boom it’s Burl, here to review some disaster for you! This is the other volcano movie of 1997, the one that wasn’t Dante’s Peak! No, this one is simply called Volcano; but was it the better or the worse of the two? Well, they’re just different enough from one another to make that question meaningless! Each has its champions, though, and for a long time I might have told you that Volcano was the better one! Now I’m not so sure!
What probably made it seem better was the slightly innovative location: downtown Los Angeles! Dante’s Peak was set just where might expect a volcano movie to be located: in a small town at the base of a volcano! In Volcano, an earthquake opens a caldera to the molten core, and soon it’s lava bombs, magma rolling down the streets, a massive cone rising from the La Brea tar pits! Emergency manager fellow Tommy Lee Jones, clearly saving his best stuff that year for Men in Black, tries to manage the emergency and his pouty daughter at the same time, and an artificially spiky relationship with geologist and Lady Who Saw It Coming, Anne Heche!
There are other characters too, like Tommy Lee’s underling, played by the very solid actor Don Cheadle, from Moving Violations, in a fine but largely wasted performance in which he virtually never leaves the office! John Carroll Lynch, that old son-of-a-Gunderson, plays a subway construction guy who takes the Murray Hamilton role of irritated nonbeliever until he redeems himself by horribly, hilariously, saving a subway driver by jumping knee-deep into lava, into which he melts like the Wicked Witch of the West! Ha ha! And Childs himself, Keith David from The Thing, turns up as a cop!
But the real star is of course the volcano and all its attendant spectacle! The trick effects hold up fairly well, and there are a few satisfactorily suspenseful sequences! The destruction is relatively small-scale when you compare this movie to, say, one of Roland Emmerich’s exercises in wanton ruination, or even something like Pompeii, but that’s not a problem! The problem, I guess, is the script, and the by-the-numbers approach to the whole thing! Ha ha, there’s a real sense that they figured the L.A. location was plenty enough innovation for one movie, and from there they coasted!
I do remember enjoying this one when I saw it in the theater, but really it’s one of the prototypical bland 1990s products! I give Volcano one and a half K rails, but most of that is for explosions and slow-flowing lava! Ha ha!

Monday 9 September 2019

Burl reviews The Magician! (1958)

Hä hä, it is Bürl, here to review a movie made by the grand Ingmar Bergman, which I vaguely recall seeing thirty-plus years ago at an art gallery screening! Ha ha, old Ingmar always had a taste for the macabre, as demonstrated not just in outright horror pictures like Hour of the Wolf and The Serpent’s Egg, but in uncanny tales like The Virgin Spring (the inspiration for Last House on the Left, don’t forget!) and psychodramas like Persona and Cries and Whispers! And didn’t Wild Strawberries have a pretty creepy dream in it? Ha ha, it sure did!
Well, today I’m reviewing The Magician, and this picture has no shortage of horror tropes and atmospheres swirling through it! The whole opening, set in a carriage traveling through a spooky, supposedly ghost-infested forest, feels like something out of Bava’s Black Sunday! The carriage is that of Vogler, a mesmerist and magician played mutely by Max Von Sydow, and his crew of confederates! These include his young assistant, who is a lady pretending to be a man in the least convincing drag performance since Dragonslayer; the vulgar tout Tubal; the nervous young coachman Simson; a drunken, dying actor they find in the forest; and an old witch!
The gang is on the run from the law, we soon learn! Hunted as charlatans, mostly, we assume, because of the old lady’s potions which are worthless or even actively harmful, they’re moving on with all possible speed to a town in which they and their chicanery are yet unknown! But when they get to the town the authorities seem to be waiting for them, and a trio of local so-called worthies, including the magistrate, the head doctor and the police chief, proceed to humiliate Vogler and his troupe, demanding proof of their magical abilities and threatening them with consequences should they in fact prove able!
The picture then moves into a series of talk-heavy vignettes between the various characters as the troupe is ordered to stay the night at the magistrate’s large house, and the various servants, guests and inhabitants interact in variously spooky, romantic, dramatic and comic ways! And it’s no surprise when the supposed young man, Vogler’s companion, turns out to be a lady, and Vogler’s wife! Ha ha, no foolin’, it’s Thulin! Nor is it a shocker when we discover that Vogler’s beard is a fake! Comes the dawn and Vogler and his friends must figure out a way to take revenge for their mistreatment without being thrown in the pokey; and we, the viewers, find we have been treated to a discourse on degrees of truth and the values associated with them; on the contract between spectator and artist; on the value of art in the midst of existential crisis; and on moral culpability and the relativity of same!
Von Sydow, whom we know well not just from Bergman pictures, but from Bergmanesque pictures like Dune, Dreamscape, and Never Say Never Again, plays Vogler as though constantly in the grip of anguished rage! Every actor is solid in fact, especially those members of Bergman’s own regular troupe, like Erland Josephson, Bibi Andersson, and Ingrid Thulin! The photography by Bergman compatriot Gunnar Fischer, is velvet black and lustrous silver, and the low-key score is effective! Sure, the middle part of the picture is a little episodic, but it’s never dull, and the picture weaves its artificial sorcery as surely as Vogler does in performance with his magic lantern! The Magician is a terrific picture and I give it three unexpectedly happy endings!

Sunday 8 September 2019

Burl reviews Highlander! (1986)

Hi, it’s Burl from down through the ages with another movie review for you! This time I’m talking Highlander, the original goofshow from 1986, which I remember watching, and enjoying, quite a few times on the rather drably packaged Thorn/EMI VHS tape they released after its initial underwhelming theatrical release! I guess I’m one of the people who helped this non-hit become a cult picture that was followed up by even goofier sequels and, I believe, a TV series!
Now, even if you didn’t know this was a movie directed by somebody who’d started out by making dozens of 1980s rock videos and a killer pig movie, you wouldn’t be surprised when someone told you that was the case! And when “rock video movies” became a thing in the 1980s - the term was used mostly, but not exclusively, as a pejorative - Highlander was held up as an exemplar of all the ways such a trend could go wrong! There were visual pleasures galore to be sure, the reviewers said, but, ha ha, wait a minute, the narrative’s a mess!
And they were right to say that! It was shot pleasingly by one of my favourite DPs, Gerry Fisher (who shot both Malpertuis and Wolfen, ha ha!), and there is no dolly move or crazy camera crane contraption that director Russell Mulcahy is not willing to try, and no chunk of dialogue or  story he’ll hesitate to chop out! So there’s a sort of unfinished feel to this picture, with the parts never making a whole, and feeling as though they'd been dropped in as placeholders and never finessed!
What’s it about, you ask? About a hundred and fifteen minutes, ha ha! Also, it chronicles the life of a young Scottish highlander, Connor MacLeod, killed in battle in the sixteenth century by an enormous warrior called The Krogan! But it turns out that both The Highlander and The Kroeger are immortals, which Connor learns from a fancy-pants Spanish-Egyptian oldie who shows up to teach him stuff; and they all are part of a whole group of immortals who battle each other and lop melons, which causes The Quickening, until, in present-day New York, they will have The Gathering, and the last man standing (they’re all men) will receive The Prize! Ha ha!
Now, if you were making this movie, who would you want to play this long-lived Scotsman? Why, you’d pick the actor with the thickest French accent possible, Christopher Lambert from The Hunted! And who would you choose to play his Spanish-Egyptian mentor? Certainly you’d choose the most iconic Scottish actor ever, Sean Connery, whom we know and love from The Hunt for Red October, You Only Live Twice, and so many others! Ha ha, but then suddenly your casting judgment would kick in, and, in contradiction to all your previous impulses, you’d hire the perfect actor, Clancy Brown, to play The Kalgon! Ha ha, he’s not as laid-back here as he was in Buckaroo Banzai, that’s for sure!
Goofy things happen all through this movie, enough so that you think it must all be some kind of gag! Connor fights a businessman immortal in the parking garage beneath Madison Square Garden, and the guy does backflips all over the place before finally Connor flashes his sword and the businessman's casaba hits the pavement! When, in the modern age, The Kolgate decides to go under cover, his idea of keeping a low profile involves sticking safety pins in his neck and orating loudly in a church! And The Prize, when finally it is bequeathed, turns out to be a bunch of cheap-looking animated skulls flying around! Ha ha, but I figure the movie must be a put-on, because why else hire Alan North, Leslie Nielsen’s captain in Police Squad, to play an allegedly normal police detective?
It has to be said: this is not a good picture! There’s some nice stuff in it though: entertaining spectacle, clever transitions, pleasingly hambone performances, decapitations on the reg; and the concept, though nonsense, is compelling! But on the other hand, it’s full of mediocre Queen songs, the makeup is bad, and it's all sillier than the Battle of the Network Stars! Ha ha, I give Highlander one and a half exploding windows, which is just a fraction of what the picture gives itself!

Tuesday 3 September 2019

Burl reviews Cliffhanger! (1993)

Stay back from the edge everybody, it’s Burl here with a review of 90s action! I’ve provided such reviews before - ha ha, remember logampompadors like Drop Zone and The Hunted? - but today’s picture, Cliffhanger, is one of the taller rock formations on the 90s action landscape! Not because it’s all that great, mind you, though it’s pretty entertaining; but in action-historical terms, we must note that by placing Sylvester Stallone on the edge of the abyss, it yet drew him back from the abyss! Ha ha, he was loading himself up with lead weights like Oscar and Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot and preparing to dive right in there, never to be seen again!
Having directed Die Hard 2 in 1990, Renny Harlin was well positioned to become a 90s actionmaster (though he overplayed his hand, ha ha!), and Cliffhanger shows him right in that sweet spot! The picture opens with its most memorable scene: a rescue climber played by Stallone (that grim-faced actor we may recall from Cobra) fails to stop his pal Michael Rooker’s girlfriend from plummeting into a chasm! Well, some months later, just as a sad Sly returns to his mountain town, an airborne heist orchestrated by none other than John Lithgow goes terribly wrong, and when the Rocky Mountain Rescue folks are called in on false pretenses to help out, it’s shoot, stab and plummet time in the mountains!
Ha ha, Lithgow affects a plummy accent that is somehow faker than his Emilio Lizardo voice in Buckaroo Banzai, but he makes a real meal of the role! His gang includes shouty Rex Linn from Night Game, who lays a salty tongue on all in his vicinity; Gregory Scott Cummins, the star of Action U.S.A. himself; the singularly named Leon from Bats; and a lady who is either the poor woman’s Kristin Scott Thomas or the very poor woman’s Emma Thompson! All of these characters meet a sticky end at the bottom of a chasm, or the tip of a bullet, or the pointy end of a stalactite!
I have to admit that 90s action movies intrigue me, and that’s perhaps because they’re such an ordered progression from their 80s forbears! It’s interesting to watch this kind of evolution! Now, I’m not saying they’re better, and in fact I assert that they’re not, but they’re different in incremental ways! They appear to have taken certain things that 80s films showcased, like the privileging of action setpieces, or the all-important gimmick death of the heavy, as an instruction manual, and created entire movies according to these directives! Ha ha! And I’ll get to a lot more of these movies, I’m sure: Speed, Hard Target, Eraser, maybe Under Siege and The Rock, and Demolition Man and other such things! But not Bad Boys! I hate Bad Boys!
Anyway, back to Cliffhanger: it’s often very silly, and really just a dramatization of how badly wrong a supposedly clever heist can go; but on the other hand the stunts and mountain photography and the Italian Alps locations are all very impressive! Of course, by the spring, when the snows recede up the mountain and the yetis wander down to take their pleasure in the local fatboys, you’ll have completely forgotten it, except maybe that opening scene! I give Cliffhanger two stylish old mountaineering sweaters!

Monday 2 September 2019

Burl reviews The Movie Orgy! (1968)

Hello and ha ha, it’s Burl here to review movie madness! Yes, I’ve recently watched Joe Dante’s first film, The Movie Orgy, which he made a full ten years before Piranha, back when he was a student and still wanted to be a comic artist! I guess The Movie Orgy represents Dante’s swing from comics into pictures, and as such I suppose it has historical value to those of us who appreciate the man’s work, even though one waits in vain for a clip with Dick Miller in it! But Dante's a fine director and, ha ha, you all know how I feel about Matinee!
But what is The Movie Orgy? Well, it’s a long pastiche of movies - mostly B pictures -  and television snippets, all cobbled together into a four-and-a-half hour beast that you can easily imagine the aliens from Explorers watching on their space TVs! A few pictures seem to occupy more real estate than others: Dante has distilled the likes of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, College Confidential (an Albert Zugsmith joint, natch, featuring Elisha Cook Jr. as The Angry Dad), The Giant Claw (the turkey gobbler from outer space, as big as a battleship) and something called Speed Crazy into just the good parts, and woven them all together like stripes on a mackintosh!
Laced into these are bits from other movies, like Teenagers from Outer Space, the 1933 King Kong, Beginning of the End, Moby Dick, and The Giant Gila Monster! We get many olde-tyme television moments too, like an episode of You Bet Your Life in which Groucho enacts something I’ll call The Humiliation of John Farbotnik! Other TV gold includes Andy Devine’s demented kids’ show Andy’s Gang, featuring good old Froggy; a clip of Elvis singing Hound Dog to a big basset in a top hat; US Treasury Bond appeals asking you to Underwrite Your Country’s Might; Nixon’s Checkers speech; and a series of insane Bufferin ads best described as inconclusive mini-dramas about “sensitive people” who care so much about others they need an extra edge to their headache medicine! Ha ha!
There are plenty of clever little editing room goof-offs, like a bit that starts with the opening title to The Naked City, followed by a short silent vignette from the 1920s involving a young inventor who has created a strange viewerscope upon which he can call up images of a topless ladies! Of course he is interrupted by his mother, which must be a familiar scenario to many of to-day’s computer-screen teenagers! Then we pop back to The Naked City, and the closing spiel: “There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them!”
We come away from The Movie Orgy with some fine quotes, like “That Skippy is too much for television!” from College Confidential, and the endlessly repeated “Everybody’s always crowdin’ me!” from Speed Crazy! There are lots of funny juxtapositions and a few editing tricks, and assorted monster movie, Western, and jungle picture clips, and lots of credits too, which I appreciated; and on top of all that the funniest Abbott and Costello skit ever: the Susquehanna Hat Company! Ha ha, great stuff!
The last reel jumps equally between 50 Foot Woman, Giant Claw, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers and Giant Gila Monster, with other clips salted in to make an ironic point, or a joke, or an ironic joke, or no point at all! Finally there’s a bloom of The End cards, and people signing off or walking out or saying goodbye, and even Nixon claiming this would be his last press conference and you wouldn’t have Nixon to kick around any more! Cut to an audience clapping with enthusiastic approval, ha ha! And there are a few other good jokes at Nixon’s expense, and, looking forward, a couple of jabs at Ronald Reagan too! None of it's very slick - ha ha, you can practically hear the rattle of the Moviola and see the tape splices - but you can tell it was made with heart!
Dante, who created this college collage with his pal Jon Davison, remembers “great drifts of funny-smelling smoke” coming from the crowd wherever this was screened (mostly university halls), and it seems to me funny-smelling smoke is the right mindset to adopt for this experience! It’s got lots of easy jokes, sure, but it’s equally easy to forget that this would have been a lot of work to put together back in the actual-film days! Oh those glory days! The Movie Orgy is a pretty special creation, and I give it three Skippies who are too much for television!