Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Burl reviews Hell Night! (1981)

Ha ha and H-E-double hockey sticks, it’s Burl, here to review another Halloween-themed slasher picture! Ha ha, this one is called Hell Night, and it was even produced by Irwin Yablans, whose Compass International Pictures helped bring us the original Halloween! But make no mistake, this isn’t Halloween!
No, it’s Hell Night, and that means we start at a frat party with everyone in costume! It’s time to rush the pledges, and this means frat bros Peter and Scotty, and their comely accomplice, are going to send four unwitting students into Garth Manor for the night, but not without telling them that, after old man Garth held a murder party for his family, one of the deformed brothers, or "gorks," per the dialogue, was supposed to have survived, and gorks around the manor to this day! And of course this turns out to be true!
Our frosh quartet includes Linda Blair, perhaps best known from Nightforce and Roller Boogie, in the role of Marti, whose defining characteristic is that she can fix cars! There’s fresh-faced Peter Barton, who also faced a maniac in Friday the 13th part 4, playing Jeff, and who tells a tale of the time he saw a three foot man with a long beard, a green jerkin, curly boots and a tall, pointed cap, and concluded that it must have been an elf! We also get Vincent Van Patten, whom we know from Rock n’ Roll High School, as Seth, who spends most of the movie wearing comical boxer shorts and repeating “My name is Seth!” Then there’s a lady with a British accent: Suki Goodwin as Denise!
Kevin Brophy, who plays Peter the frat bro (he also played Peter in Time Walker; and maybe it’s the same Peter! Ha ha!), does so with enough good humour that he doesn’t come off as repellent as most frat bros do in movies like this! He’s got an assistant jokester, a glasses guy who sports a parrot on his shoulder but otherwise seems to be dressed as a waiter in an Italian restaurant! The glasses guy catches a pretty stiff neck twist, and, as with a similar scene in The Prey, a fake buttocks was used!
Hell Night is long for a slasher picture, somewhere north of 100 minutes; and in all that time you get an awful lot of lurking in tunnels, hallways and gardens! It’s a little disappointing, because they had a back story with lots of potential, and a good, scary house to work with, lots of turrets and wrought iron; but director Tom De Simone, who came to the horror genre after a long career in pornoo, was not up to the challenge of making any of it scary! Although there are a few good moments: a great shock cut from a POV shot to a wide of the gork; a mildly scary walk from the front gate up to the door of the house after the characters have finally become aware that a gork is lurking; and a moment with a gork rising up from under a carpet, where there’s a hidden trap door!
But it’s a pretty cozy, good-natured affair overall, though it’s more gorky than it is gory! It’s pretty reserved as these things go, and, I'm sad to say, offers very little pep! On the other hand, it does have not one but two gorks, and both of them are mildly deformed, so we do indeed get some Special Makeup Effects in the end! Most of the deaths are pokings or defenestrations, or in some cases are not really seen at all! It is in other words a perfect slasher movie for people who don’t like slasher movies, and I give Hell Night one and a half shoulder parrots!

Sunday 27 October 2019

Burl reviews Hack-O-Lantern! (1988)

Ha ha and double boo, it’s Burl! Now, call me crazy, but I like my Halloween pictures to have some Halloween atmosphere, and when this movie, Halloween Night, or is that Hack-O-Lantern, started off with a shot of a pick-up truck full of pumpkins, I was heartened! I’m afraid the picture didn’t have the follow-through that I hoped for, but there were a few compensations for that!
The movie is better known as Hack-O-Lantern, and indeed the Halloween Night title card on my copy is clearly a replacement! The story involves the grandpa driving the pumpkin truck, played by Hy Pike from Hollywood High, Slithis, Blade Runner, and Vamp, who turns out to be a crazy Satanist with plans for, and a powerful hold over, his grandson Tommy! Tommy has a younger brother and sister, and a mother who looks perpetually anxious and careworn!
Thirteen years on, Grandpa has a new pumpkin truck and Tommy has grown into a sullen, fish-lipped guy who wears a vest with no shirt (when he wears anything at all) and who tosses cassette tapes around carelessly, wears sunglasses all the time, and dreams of rock videos in which he plays guitar, is zapped by laser eyebeams, and then is decapitated! Ha ha! He’s played by Gregory Scott Cummings from Action U.S.A., Phantom of the Mall, and Cliffhanger!
Roger, the little brother, has become a rookie cop, and Vera, the sister, is still just Vera, ha ha! It’s the night of the big Halloween party, and somebody in a robe is occasionally poking people with sharp implements! Victims include Tommy’s girlfriend, who is famous for her bum tattoo, and Vera’s boyfriend, who ogles the aforementioned bum tattoo (it’s actually a brand), but doesn’t deserve the shovel through the noggin that he catches!
It’s all about the crazy, leering, handsy grandpa and his desultory coven and their barn-bound activities, which include dancing, chanting, cackling, sacrifice, and the branding of people’s bums! Happenings are random and plot twists arbitrary, and everything in the second half, including a comedy routine so bad I had to pause the movie and cover my eyes, seems to revolve around a Halloween party that’s not nearly a patch on the bash in Primal Rage, ha ha! By the end the grandpa has passed on the family bumbranding tradition, but thankfully not his penchant for wild overacting, to the least likely of his grandchildren!
Well, it’s a terrible movie all right, but just occasionally weird and random enough to warrant some interest from the undiscerning Halloweentime viewer! The script is one of the worst ever written, and the direction is haphazard, and they try so slightly to create a Halloween atmosphere that they might better not have tried at all! Ha ha, without skeletal tree branches, heavy skies and a few dead leaves blowing around, it just doesn’t... quite... make it! I’m going to give Hack-O-Lantern, aka Halloween Night, one Dead End Drive-In poster, which I had on my wall too! Ha ha!

Saturday 26 October 2019

Burl reviews The Abyss! (1989)

Blub blub it’s Burl! yes, I’m underwater again, and it’s 1989, so I must be reviewing Leviathan! No? Oh, ha ha, then is it Deep Star Six? No? The Rift? Endless Descent? Full Fathom Five? Okay, last guess: The Abyss!
Of course it is the James Cameron picture, famous for its difficult shooting conditions and the subaqueous martinet at its helm, that we’re discussing today! It was partly shot in an abandoned cooling tower owned by Earl Owensby, where a big model undersea base was built, and the actors and crew had to swim around like crappies! Ha ha, it’s funny to think of even the least little touch of Owensby on this big giant Fox production!
Anyway, the tale tells of a gang of roughbusters who man an underwater oil drilling unit; and never mind the environmental sketchiness of this idea, but the blue-collar posse somehow ingratiates where the analogous roughbusters in Armageddon make you hope their oil rig will be hit by advance meteor shards as soon as possible! The guy in charge is Ed “Creepshow” Harris, playing Bud, and he’s just a regular fella, regular as a bowl of prunes! His ex-wife, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, the lady from Scarface and Slamdance, and who happens to have designed the underwater oil drilling base, descends to the rig with a bunch of marines led by a mustachioed Michael Biehn, well-known from Navy Seals and other Cameron pictures, like Aliens! The idea is that they’re all going to cooperate to find the missing submarine!
Biehn, already kind of a jerk, is busy getting worse from some kind of pressure madness! The appearance of underwater aliens hastens this process, and soon (well, not soon: this is a three-hour movie!), he’s sending a recovered nuclear torpedo on a collision course with the alien ship! Along the way there’s plenty of yelling, bubbles, a punchfight or two, miraculous alien water tendrils, a lot of salt-of-the-earth grassroots-folk stuff, and the surprising revelation that salt-of-the-earth grassroots folk, in addition to being good with tools and fond of jargon, are committed pacifists! Ha ha, that’s a message I can get behind!
The aliens themselves look like angelic parameciums and are not completely ungoofy, especially in a shot of one of them taking Ed Harris by the hand and guiding him Peter Pan style toward their big ship, but this almost doesn’t ruin the movie! Ha ha! Most of the picture holds together well, plays with reasonable seriousness, and serves as a solid underwater adventure! All the acting is good - Harris channels Ralph Kramden, Mastrantonio creates a unique "likeable bitch" character, and honestly, I think this is Biehn’s finest hour - and the verisimilitude Cameron was going for is there in spades! Whether Ed Harris, who vowed never to talk about the experience of making this picture, now considers that it was worth the trouble is unknown to me! Probably not! He probably thinks more fondly on something like The Right Stuff, where he was way up high instead of way down low, or Apollo 13, in which he got to wear a snazzy white vest!
I tend to credit the underwater pictures more than they deserve, and maybe that’s true of The Abyss also! But the fact remains that I both enjoy it and am impressed by its determined physicality! For the first two thirds anyway, ha ha! And the death of Biehn, smashed like an egg, is particularly memorable! I give The Abyss two and a half elbows to the tape player!

Friday 25 October 2019

Burl reviews Tales from the Winnipeg Film Group! (2017)

Ha ha, and ticket stub please! Yes, it’s Burl, here to review a documentary about a regional film club called the Winnipeg Film Group, which I recently happened to catch on the Kroger Channel! I like these local movie and moviemaking tales - the last such picture I reviewed was probably 2014’s Out of Print, the documentary about the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles!
This one is called Tales from the Winnipeg Film Group, which is a riff on the title of the first feature by one of the Group’s most famous acolytes, Guy Maddin! That picture was called Tales from the Gimli Hospital, and if you haven’t seen it, ha ha, I recommend it! In fact I recommend all of Maddin’s work, particularly a picture called Careful!
Maddin is one of many interviewees in this talking-heads doc: he speaks of playing many hours of ping pong at the film club’s offices, and of his creative debt to fellow film club member John Paizs, the camera-cranker who made a very amusing picture called Crime Wave! Paizs himself is not interviewed for some reason, but much footage from his films, Maddin’s films, and the cinematic efforts of many, many others are excerpted! Ha ha!
There is also some footage of many of the moviemakers at work, using all manner of fascinating techniques to produce their films! There are vintage photos from the club’s early days in the mid-70s, so, ha ha, we get some good outfits and facial hair! The fact that it was largely a bastion of white male enterprise is addressed, and we see that the club has lately expanded its membership to include ladies, people of colour, the queer, and even some Indigenous folk! Better late than never, I suppose!
Of course it all takes place in Winnipeg, that famously remote and chilly city on the plains! It seems an interesting place, and in fact I know it is, having spent some time there myself! Their film club is among the most famous and accomplished in the land, ha ha, so on that basis alone, this documentary production is of interest! Those who are fans of the great Canadian films of the 1970s, from Goin’ Down the Road and Black Christmas, to Between Friends and Rip-Off, to Homer and Paperback Hero, will find themselves hooked!
There are plenty of tangents taken and amusing stories told in the course of the movie, but the unfortunate thing is that this film about filmmaking rarely sings as a filmmaking exercise itself! The editing seems too frequently arbitrary - you can see where the filmmakers have inserted shots simply because they need something there! Ha ha, the wallpapering is at times pretty egregious! And there are far too many literal gags: if someone mentions fire, we see a shot of fire! If the floor is mentioned, there’s a shot of the floor! Ha ha, having so many miles of other people’s films to choose from was perhaps not the advantage the makers of this doc supposed it was!
So at times one wishes this was better made, but mostly the subject matter is compelling enough to make you forget that! I’m glad the picture was made, and would hope to see other such histories from other cities! I give Tales from the Winnipeg Film Group two and a half jumping cats!

Burl reviews Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul! (2017)

Ha ha and kidstuff, it’s Burl, here to review the fourth entry in a franchise I’ve barely seen the first of! Yes, it’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, which is based on one of what seems like a million-book series which my son is currently enamored of!
Now, you’re going to have to bear with me, because I haven’t read the books myself, nor seen the previous movies! What I do know is this: they made three pictures in rapid succession, all featuring the same cast; but then the kids aged out of their parts and now, several years after the initial trilogy, a new cast of kids has been chosen to take up the story!
And what is the story? It’s the misadventures of a family called the Heffleys, and our hero is twelve year-old Greg! He’s got an older brother who seems like sort of a jerk, but a fairly hapless one; a younger brother, whose primary function is to make a mess, and later, to speak Spanish; and a standard-issue pair of parents, here played by Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett-Scott!
After an unfortunate event in a kiddie restaurant in which Greg becomes a viral star known as Diaper Hands, the family embarks on a road trip which follows in many ways the template set by the original Vacation! Ha ha, along the way Greg makes an enemy of a family headed by the gas station attendant from that new Friday the 13th picture, and this culminates in a scene which scrupulously recreates the shower scene in Psycho - which, as you’ll remember, is also parodied in the old National Lampoon picture!
Many things go wrong, of course: there are car troubles, a baby pig, lots of screaming and yelling and dangerous driving, and much talk about restricting device use and screen time, which, if that’s your idea of an entertaining family comedy, you will enjoy a great deal of here! Against all the odds the family makes it to some old grandma’s birthday party, nobody is killed or runs off with the circus! Ha ha!
It’s fast-paced I suppose, and they fully commit to the Psycho bit, but there’s not a lot else to recommend this movie! I suspect the earlier ones are a lot better, quite frankly, and I guess I’ll be finding out for myself one of these days! At least, I’m sure they’ll seem better in comparison, so maybe it was good to start with the last movie first! I’m going to give Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul one and a half gruesome, toothy pacifiers!

Thursday 24 October 2019

Burl reviews Primal Rage! (1988)

Hi! Burl! Yes, I’m back with another movie review! The picture is called Primal Rage, and it’s another late-80s Italian effort shot in Florida, like Welcome to Spring Break, with which this picture shares a lot of cast and crew! It’s not exactly a good movie, but I feel safe in saying it’s a bit of a treat! Ha ha!
First of all, it’s a campus picture, which I always like! There are many enjoyable campus-based horror pictures, like Night of the Creeps, Final Exam, Black Christmas, Monster on the Campus and Time Walker! (Then again there are stinkers too, like Rush Week and Girls Nite Out!) The subgenre is especially fine when a picture includes lots of little details of academe in the set dressing, like the little hand-written poster we see on a door in this one, advertising an upcoming “Geology Seminar Meeting!”
In the opening scene, the male half of our hero couple - played by a guy called Patrick Lowe, ha ha! - zooms around the campus on his scooter, his sweater sleeves tied loosely around his neck, snapping pictures one-handed with a 35mm camera and what looks like a 200mm lens on it, with a criminally bad pop song tootling in the background! Ha ha! (We hear an awful lot of this song, ha ha! I’ll take the metal soundtrack in Demons any day!)
Anyway, the hero guy is a crusading student newspaper reporter with a buddy, Duffy, who considers himself the Hunter S. of Florida U.! The girl is… well, I don’t know who she is, just a girl, and she has a roommate who seems beaten down by life but boasts about her I.Q.! Bo Svenson from Snowbeast, here sporting among the least flattering hairstyles in human history, the mini ponytail, plays a scientist who puts a rage virus in a baboon! There is also a trio of perhaps the most loathsome frat boys ever seen on the screen, and ha ha, that's really saying something!
If you mix all these elements together, you get a lot of growling and roaring and running sores and just plain running, a bunch of particularly gross gore (some of which seems to have been harshly edited to secure an R rating!), and, filling the last act of the film with the expansiveness of a prematurely inflated dirigible, one of the great Halloween parties on film! Ha ha, they must have really busted the budget on costumes, and I admire that! These gems of masquerade include a guy with a saw through his head, an unsettling bird lady (pictured), pig sailors, a giant nose,  and my favourite, the upside-down guy! Ha ha!

Primal Rage has a lot to counter-intuitively recommend it! Almost in spite of myself, I liked all the actors, even the girl who did the big cartoon wince at one point! And the makeup is pretty good, and, as mentioned, frequently grotesque! Ha ha, its pleasures aren’t for everyone, but some of you will truly enjoy it! I give Primal Rage two and a half human faucets!

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Burl reviews The Ring! (2002)

Approaching through your TV screen, it’s Burl, here to review a solid modern scarepic, namely the American remake of The Ring! Yes, I saw this one in the movie theatre, and never mind that it doesn’t make a lot of logical sense: it worked on me to great effect!
It was distinctly less effective this time around, which is to be expected, and is not really a reflection on the movie, ha ha! I still thought it was pretty well crafted, even if it’s even more out of date than other technology-based spookshows tend to become seventeen years on! The villain here, or the villain’s delivery system, is of course a VHS tape, and this was a superannuated medium even in 2002; and the movie is filled with answering machines and physical file folders and all manner of 20th century information and communications ephemera! Ha ha! (Of course, I have a basement full of VHS tapes, so it can still be pretty spooky to me!)
We all know the plot, but here it is again! Some unlucky teens run afoul of a possessed VHS, which carries what appears to be a lost collaboration between Luis Bunuel and Maya Deren and a sophomore film student in a Withnail scarf; and after a scary opening sequence we meet an intrepid reporter played by Naomi Watts, well known from her appearance in The Shook-Up Shopping Cart excerpt seen in Matinee! She has a young son, and recruits the help of his photographer father to investigate the increasingly scary mystery of the tape! Ha ha, the trail leads her from damp Seattle to an even damper island, where she meets grumpy Brian Cox, well known from Manhunter and Rushmore!
After a complicated electrocution and some horse-based horror, things come to a head at the bottom of a well, and then there’s another scary scene! It’s all done fairly well, even if it doesn’t actually make any sense! Ha ha, there’s a real division between horror in the West and that which comes from regions of the world that are more connected with their own tapestries of myth and legend! “Sense” is not a particularly valued commodity in terror tales originating in the East! (The Ring is of course based on a Japanese novel and movie adaptation!) And this is as it should be: horror is an emotional genre, not so much a logical one! Anyway, many Western tales make no sense either, but they often try to pretend they do!
The bottom line is that this one works every bit as well as its Japanese forbear did! The picture was photographed in cool blue and rainy grey tones by Bojan “Pumpkinhead” Bozelli, and directed by some Hollywood slickster who, they say, used to be a punkrocker, like ol’ Burl! Ha ha, bet you didn’t know that about ol’ Burl, but yes, I used to punkrock with the best of them! But while this ex-punkrocker director is no Alex Cox, I still say he did a good job with this effort! It’s got some Special Makeup Effects from no less than Rick Baker, and the trick effects in general are superb! The Ring is a good movie to re-watch around Halloweentime with your sweetie, and I give it three clumsy horses!

Saturday 19 October 2019

Burl reviews Rio Bravo! (1959)

The sun is sinkin’ in the west, the cattle look out at the view, the red bird settles in her nest, and it’s time for a Burl to review! Ha ha, yes, I’m here to talk about that great late-period Howard Hawks picture Rio Bravo, a longtime favourite of mine! Now, I don’t think I’ve reviewed a Hawks picture yet, but rest assured, he’s a director I admire!
And this was one of his best! Yes, it’s got John Wayne, whom we all know so well from Randy Rides Alone, in one of his finest roles in all of Dukedom! He plays Sheriff John T. Chance, who finds himself in a typically Hawksian siege situation with a colourful passel of allies! There’s a great, wordless opening in which Chance’s deputy, a bestubbled inebriate played by Dean Martin in perhaps his finest performance ever, scrounges for a silver dollar tossed into a used spittoon by Claude Akins of TV’s Lobo; this leads to a sudden, pointless murder and the jailing of Lobo!
The movie gets right to it from the beginning, and then unfolds at a leisurely but never draggy pace! In fact, the pace of things is one of this movie’s greatest achievements! Ha ha, all credit to Hawks, screenwriters Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, and editor Folmar Blangsted, who has one of the great names in Hollywood editorial department history, for this accomplishment!
The situation comes down to this: Chance with help from his deputy Dude (that’s the shaky-hands played by Dino), his other deputy Stumpy, played by Walter Brennan, the young pistoleer Colorado, essayed by Ricky Nelson, and a cardsmith called Feathers played by Angie Dickenson from Dressed to Kill, must keep Claude Akins in jail long enough for the Marshalls to collect him, without getting plugged by all the fellas who want to break Akins out! Because Akins, you see, is Joe Burdette, brother of Nathan Burdette a local richman with enough fifty dollar gold pieces to hire all the gunmen he wants!
There are all sorts of terrific scenes in the movie, and one of the best is when Chance and Dude follow a muddy-booted gunman into a Burdette saloon! Dude takes the lead in unearthing the fugitive and the scene unfolds beautifully, thanks to some blood dripping into a mug of beer! And of course you can’t have Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson in a movie without a couple of songs, and we get the marvelous “My Rifle, My Pony, And Me,” which I used to sing to my son every night at bedtime! Ha ha, I really do love all the scenes where the fellows are just hanging out in the jailhouse, kicking back, drinking beer and kicking back, waiting to see what will happen!
And there’s a solid gold climax with shootings, punchfights, and explosions! Ha ha, it’s kind of amusing how many Burdette men get plugged by our heroes throughout the movie, in fact, and by the end the bad guys are slinking out with their hands up, claiming to have simply had enough!
It’s one of the most purely enjoyable Westerns ever made, relaxed, professional and beautifully done in every respect! No doubt just about all of you have seen it before, but it’s intensely rewatchable, so I recommend giving it another spin whenever you get the chance! I give Rio Bravo four tumbleweeds and an extra donkey face suddenly appearing at the window! Ha ha!

Friday 18 October 2019

Burl reviews The Ninth Configuration! (1979)

Ha ha and mop dogs, it’s Burl, here to review a truly unusual picture! Yes, it’s William Peter Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration, and it’s truly one of those movies that you ponder on - as the name of that movie podcast goes, How Did This Get Made?
Of course, the glib answer to that question is: The Exorcist! Even though he wasn’t the director, Blatty got himself some credit in the Hollywood bank with that one; or maybe the executives got confused because his name also was William! At any rate, six or so years after the big devil hit, he got to take a terrific all-dude cast to Hungary or somewhere, put them in a castle and get them to act all crazy! And then he called the result The Ninth Configuration, or sometimes Twinkle, Twinkle ‘Killer’ Kane! Ha ha!
Though later Blatty would make the strangely terrific Exorcist III, this was his first adventure behind the camera! He had the presence of mind to hire the great cinematographer Gerry Fisher, a favourite of mine (he also shot Malpertuis, which this movie resembles in some ways), but the Blattster was not what I would call an accomplished and elegant filmmaker! The picture comes off a bit stagy, which is perhaps not a surprise as much screen time is given over to one character’s attempt to adapt Shakespeare’s plays for dogs!
There’s not so much a plot as there is a bunch of fine actors doing crazy things and riffing on the usual teleological arguments for the existence of God! The setting is a castle, ostensibly in the Pacific Northwest, repurposed as a treatment center for servicemen who’ve gone bats, or possibly are only pretending to have gone bats! New psychologist Colonel Hudson Kane, played by Stacy Keach from Escape From L.A., arrives on the scene, and seems to fit in all too well with the inmates! Scott Wilson from Blue City and Malone plays Cutshaw, an astronaut who panicked during the countdown (he’s the astronaut Regan warned in The Exorcist, ha ha!); Jason Miller hams it up as the Shakespeare-for-canines point man, with Joe Spinell from The First Deadly Sin helping him out; Moses Gunn wears a Superman outfit and George Di Cenzo tries to walk through walls; Robert Loggia from Innocent Blood and Alejandro Rey from Mr. Majestyk play other patients; Ed Flanders from ‘Salem’s Lot is the physician in charge, though he's hard to differentiate from the other patients; Neville Brand from Without Warning and Tom Atkins from Halloween III play some of the guards! Whew! So you can see what I mean about that cast, ha ha!
Of course there’s the question of, first, whether the men are mad or merely pretending to be, or else, like Hamlet, fervently pretending to be in order to stave off true madness; and the old problem of whether the doctor is crazier than the patients is also raised! Ha ha, with Keach’s intensely somnolent performance, how could it not be! But even with these colourful characters and pressing problems, the grey cloud and constant rain outside this castle, and the clammy atmosphere within, become oppressive, and we’re grateful for a change of location in the third act! Yes, this new location is a biker bar, where first Cutshaw and then Kane are turned into living beach balls, and beaten and humiliated by a gang led by Stryker himself, Steve Sandor, and also Richard Lynch from The Premonition, both of them dolled up in eyeliner for some reason! But when Kane reveals his true nature, there comes one of the most cathartic bar fights ever committed to film, and the eyeliner gang is left lying in puddles of blood and beer! Ha ha!
As teenagers my friends and I were very much into this movie, ha ha! We had not one but two book versions of it, one called The Ninth Configuration and the other Twinkle, Twinkle ‘Killer’ Kane, which we traded around and quoted lines from! We were not so much into the theological arguments made throughout the picture and its literary companions, which seemed very Intro Philosophy even then! No, I think the appeal came more from how funny it all was! This was so at odds with what we expected from the guy who wrote The Exorcist that it seemed a string of delightful surprises from beginning to end!
It seems less so now, though it’s still frequently funny! Blatty’s dedicated Catholicism now feels overwrought, and Cutshaw, the chief doubter in the company, a little more like a straw man than he used to! I still feel fondly toward this unique motion picture, because where else are you going to see something like this! Ha ha, it’s a true meli-melo, and I’m going to give The Ninth Configuration two and a half moplike dogs!

Thursday 17 October 2019

Burl reviews Splitz! (1982)

Good day, it’s Burl! Yes, I’ll be reviewing a movie for you, and the picture under discussion today is a collegiate comedy called Splitz! In fact it’s a sort of hybrid: part collegiate comedy, with the standard issue competing Greek houses and the usual grumpy dean, and part good-time rock ‘n’ roll let’s-put-on-a-show show! Ha ha!
All of it is sort of, kind of, not really tied together by copious amounts of narration, which is of course usually the last gambit of a desperate filmmaker! Our narrator is a guy named Chuck, who may or may not be a college student, and who manages an all-girl band called Splitz, or possibly The Splitz! Either way their tunes are pretty poor, and not made to sound any better by the presence of real bands like Blondie on the soundtrack! Still, we get to see the ladies play the actual CBGB’s stage at one point, and that’s a nice treat! Band leader Gina, a tough New Yawk broad played by Robin Johnson of D.O.A., has a mobster dad, essayed with all the mafia clichés by Raymond Serra from Wolfen, and the whole subplot of Chuck trying to get them a decent gig is solved merely by the dad exerting his influence over the owners of “the hottest club in town!”
Meanwhile, for absolutely no particular reason, the band get themselves mixed up with an underdog sorority at nearby Hooter College, ha ha! Yes, that’s the name they came up with, and it really says something when you can’t find it within yourself to be as clever as a movie like King Frat, which, as you’ll all recall, took place at Yellowstream College, or Up the Creek, with its Lepetomane U! The dean of Hooter College, played by the imposing Shirley Stoler of Grumpier Old Men, is called Dean Hunta, and the filmmakers steal a gag from Mel Brooks by having thunder roar and lights flicker every time her name is spoken aloud!
But speaking of gags, there are very few in this picture! In fact there was only one laff in the whole thing, a visual gag that accompanies the dean's cry of “There’s a lot at stake!” That made me say ha ha! Otherwise it’s pretty bereft of uproariousness and ribaldery! Somehow it all comes down to a series of sports contests between the sorority houses, and one of these is a game of strip basketball, ha ha! There is indeed a bit of stripping, but not so much as some of you fellows would probably wish for!
One more curious note: the picture was shot by, of all people, the British cinematographer Ronnie Taylor, the same year he shot Gandhi! That’s mighty weird, I have to say, and stranger still, the movie nevertheless has the same dishwater East Coast look of such contemporary fare as Cherry Hill High or Cheerleaders Beach Party! Ha ha! Anyway, for this odd hire and for showing CBGB’s in action and for the one effective joke, I give Splitz one single cleavage fish!

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Burl reviews Halloween 5! (1989)

Ha ha ha, ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha, it’s Burl! Yes, in case you didn’t catch it, that was me trying to laugh John Carpenter’s theme from Halloween! It’s a cheap trick, so is an entirely apt way of introducing a review of Halloween 5, which itself counts as a cheap trick on anyone who ever enjoyed a Halloween picture! It's surely no treat! (And, just to be clear, while the full title on the poster is Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, the title card simply reads Halloween 5, so that’s what I’m calling it too!)
This foul cronkite follows directly from Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers in the same way that Halloween II followed the original Halloween, by showing the last few moments of the previous picture! Unlike Halloween II, it then proceeds to utterly betray the spirit of its predecessor by ignoring the disturbing set-up in which a nine year-old girl becomes the fearsome primal killing force behind the now traditional late-October pokefest! Ha ha!
As in the previous picture, the little girl, Jamie, is played by Danielle Harris, whom we saw recently in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood! Ha ha, she really gets put through the wringer in this one, not just by Michael Myers and his poking knife, but by the increasingly hoarse-voiced and crazy Donald Pleasance, who of course returns with a putty on his face to play the burn-scarred Dr. Loomis! He alternately shouts at and pleads with the little girl in a seemingly endless series of scenes, when in reality such a person would never be allowed near a child, no matter how much of a psychic connection she may have to her supernatural maniac uncle! Ha ha, Maniac Uncle would have been a good subtitle for this one!
The sheriff from the previous picture, the one played by Beau Starr from Fletch and Summer School, returns too, but the action is so confused that I can’t be sure if he survives this one! Other victims include a faux-Fonz called Mikey, played by Jonathan Chapin from Rubin and Ed, who is obsessed with his sweet Camaro and catches a gardening implement in the head! A mid-picture sequence set at a party farm gives Michael a chance to diversify from his kitchen knife and use a few other agrarian tools on his victims, like a pitchfork and a scythe!
I’ll tell you, this is an incredibly scattershot production, lacking in many things but especially in a good script! People are always running from one location to another, and nothing makes any sense; and a fancy-booted man is clomping around the town with no discernible goal in mind! Just about every character is a jerk or an idiot, and you’re glad to see them dispatched just so you don’t have to hear their grating voices or see their smarmy faces again! The opening credits imply the presence of Special Makeup Effects in the picture, and indeed there are brief, near-bloodless flashes of the old KNB artistry in the picture! But they’ve been trimmed to within an inch of their lives, ha ha!
The story seems to have been made up as they went along, the dialogue is bad, and the acting, for the most part, is worse! (The little girl is quite good though!) There is no hint of style to the direction, the picture is completely free of any Halloween atmosphere, and it’s not very well photographed, except for one decent shot of Michael appearing in a dark forest! If not for the existence of Halloween: Resurrection - which I’m not even sure I’ve seen, or at least don’t remember much of, but have heard is very bad - I would say this is far and away the nadir of the Myers saga! I give Halloween 5 one cookie woman!

Sunday 13 October 2019

Burl reviews Curtains! (1982)

Ha ha, it’s Burl here, reviewing another Canadian horror picture from the early 1980s! It’s called Curtains, and when I say it’s from the early 1980s, I mean it’s from practically all of them! It was shot partly in 1980, partly in 1981, it was finished in 1982 and then not released until 1983 in the US, and 1984 in its native Canada! Ha ha, but the copyright date on it is 1982, so that’s the year I went with!
So yes, this was a Troubled Production! Ha ha, apparently it started out as a story about a 500 year-old banshee who possesses a lady and kills the other ladies in the house with her; something not dissimilar to Incubus! But along the way it changed to a more prosaic story: a tyrannical director named Jonathan Stryker is casting for his newest film, “Audra,” and invites a half-dozen actresses to his house to try out for the role! But one of them is willing to kill for it, ha ha, and so the bodies start a-tumblin’!
Well, I guess there’s some potential there for a mixture of suspense and showbiz satire, but Curtains takes no advantage of this potential whatsoever! There’s some catty drama, and Stryker gets called a bastard a lot, and there is much creeping around the hallways of his hotel-like house, and now and again there is a poking! Ha ha, the best and most Canadian of the killing scenes involves a lady skating on the ice, when suddenly the killer, sporting an old hag mask and hefting a small scythe, skates after her for a little bit of wintertime chopping!
But other than that, there’s not much horror here! What the picture does have going for it is a thoroughly Canadian cast of mostly ladies! The great John Vernon, from Fraternity Vacation and Herbie Goes Bananas, plays Stryker, using his well-deep voice to good effect! Samantha Eggar from The Brood and Demonoid is his old ladyfriend, a famous actress and great star; and the rest of the would-be starlets include Linda Thorson from Sweet Liberty, Anne Ditchburn from Six Weeks, Lynne Griffin from Black Christmas, Sandee Currie from Terror Train, and Lesleh Donaldson from Funeral Home! Creeping around the fringes of the film are such familiar faces as Michael Wincott from Alien: Resurrection, Maury Chaykin from The Bedroom Window, The Sweet Hereafter, and Wild Thing, and Kate Lynch from Meatballs!
At some point late in the production, the producer canned the director and shot a new last act himself! This involves the sudden demise by defenestration of two important characters and, subsequently, a long cat-and-mouse chase in what appears to be some sort of prop warehouse adjacent to the mansion, and then a climactic reveal of the killer’s identity in a kitchen scene, complete with a final poking! All this new stuff sits ill with the rest of the picture, and the whole thing has a ragged, stitched-together feel reminiscent of Bad Meat, ha ha! And the director credit was given to the fictional director played by Vernon!
Wintry Canadian horror pictures can often have a cozy familiarity to them, but Curtains rarely manages this! Some pep and a dose of the red stuff might have helped, but despite the presence of makeup maestro Greg Cannom in the credits, who was responsible, apparently, for “prosthetics,” there are no real Special Makeup Effects in the picture, unless you count the old hag mask and a creepy doll that pops up now and then! Oh, and there's a head in the toilet too! I guess Cannom made those things, ha ha, and maybe the banshee face that they never ended up using! As I said, there's wasted potential all over this thing! I give Curtains one and a half Burton Cummings songs, and that’s mainly for the cast! And the Burton Cummings song too, ha ha!

Thursday 10 October 2019

Burl reviews The Lonedale Operator! (1911)

With a silent ha ha, it’s Burl, here to review The Lonedale Operator, one of the hundreds and dozens of short subjects that D. W. Griffith made in the days before his ambition brought him to make Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms, and all the rest of the pictures that made his reputation for both good and ill! Ha ha, I think this might be the first silent picture I've reviewed for you since Eternal Love, and I found it on a compilation tape of old silent railroad dramas! There were a couple of Griffiths on that tape, and a less interesting film about rescuing an old grouch from an oncoming train that was produced by Thomas Edison’s company, and a little mini-documentary on the railroad genre as well!
But The Lonedale Operator was well worth a gander! If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering “Ha ha, but what does he operate? A station? A telephone exchange? A train?” It turns out he’s a telegraph operator, but he’s feeling poorly that day and turns over the operation of his post to his lovely daughter! She’s having an affair of the heart with a train engineer, and they share a happy moment before he zooms off in his iron horse!
The next thing you know another train arrives, this one bearing the payroll! But it’s also bearing something else: two rail-riding hobos who climb down from the rods and observe our pretty young operator hauling the heavy cash bag into the station! Ha ha, they seem to say as they rub their hands together with glee! An easy mark! Or so they think!
The young damsel espies these rascals lurking outside her window and almost falls into a faint, but manages to lock the door just in time! As the scoundrels begin bashing their way into the hut, she hurries to send a telegraph of her predicament to the next station down the line - but the operator there is asleep, the dirty dog! The bandits are that much closer to getting in - the door is starting to buckle! Meanwhile the sleepy telegraph man wakes to hear the frantic beeping! He conveys the situation to the young engineer, who jumps into his train and speeds to the rescue!
But alas, he might be too late! The hobos have crashed through two doors now and are in the telegraph office! But wait! What’s that shiny object in her hand? It must be a gun, and the two would-be thieves are kept at bay until the engineer and his fireman burst in! And what was the metallic item in her hand? Not a gun, but a wrench! The two rapscallions offer humble bows before the bravery and bluffing artistry of the heroic young woman! The end!
So it’s got a pretty good plot, but it’s a noteworthy bit of cinema too, being one of the hundreds of one- and two-reelers Griffith made for Biograph, where he was helping to figure out the visual language of narrative cinema, ha ha! He hadn’t fully gamed out reverse shots yet, or eyelines - the bandits outside the window are not at all in line with where the young woman is looking, for example! But on the other hand there are thrilling shots taken from the train’s tender, and a great early example of crosscutting for suspense! It’s a sweet little country thriller, and I give The Lonedale Operator two and a half enormous black bowties!

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Burl reviews Apollo 13! (1995)

Blast off it’s me, Burl! Ha ha, I’m here to review a movie of rocketmen, and I have to say that it’s a picture I’ve always held in fond regard! I’m not much for the rah-rah Americana - ha ha, I’m not even American! - so that this picture avoids all the obvious touchstones, like the snapping flags that, say, Peter Berg or Michael Bay would have added had they told this story, makes me like it all the more! Oh, I just shuddered at the thought of Berg, Bay or some like-minded simp making this instead of Opie “The Paper” Cunningham!
And if Opie Cunningham were here, I would clap him on the back and tell him he did a fine job with this tale of accidents in space! In fact it’s my second-favourite of his pictures, right after Grand Theft Auto! He’s always been one of those craftsmanlike directors, but he’s got his high points and low points like anyone else! Rush, for example, was pretty good, and Cocoon and Backdraft both have their moments! Gung Ho, on the other hand, is an unfunny anti-union jackanapes, and those DaVinci Code pictures are crazy nonsense! Yes, the more I think about it, the more I realize Apollo 13 is streets ahead of most of Opie’s work, and that’s even before I recall that Roger Corman has a cameo in it, playing a senator, ha ha!
Of course we all know the true-life story! Three astronauts bound for the moon have their plans changed when an electrical blauchup plays havoc with their spaceship! The commander of the mission, Jim Lovell is played by the imperturbable Tom Hanks, whom we all know best from Dragnet; pilot Jack Swigert is portrayed by Kevin Bacon, famed from his appearance in Friday the 13th; and third guy Fred Haise is brought to life by the sadly late, but always great, Bill Paxton, beloved for his appearances in movies as diverse as Mortuary and Streets of Fire! All of these actors acquit themselves marvelously from the opening bar-b-que scenes (there has to be a bar-b-que scene in these astronaut movies, ha ha!) through the space crisis and right up to splashdown!
The scenes in Mission Control are excellent too - some of the best moments involve these gentlemen (and they were all men back then) solving problems and doing math! Ed Harris, who’d been to space himself in The Right Stuff, but who’s best known for his roles in eccentric productions like Knightriders, Creepshow, and Walker, rules the roost down in Houston, but he has able support from the likes of Clint “Ticks” Howard and Gary Sinise, who would get a chance to attend a bar-b-que before going to space in Mission to Mars! Kathleen Quinlan from Wild Thing helps ensure that the family scenes are not a drag, as they could easily have been in a story like this! It helps that the editors ably keep things bouncing around from the ship to Mission Control to the home front so that you never get tired of any one group, location, or situation!
Well, it’s a solid middlebrow Hollywood picture, and that can hardly be denied! It doesn’t juice up the action or overplay the drama or invent bad guys or try to lay blame! It looks good thanks to the portly cinematographer, Dean Cundey, and it projects an air of absolute plausibility! And the moment where Lovell’s young son (played by Miko Hughes, who was Gage in Pet Sematary) asks “Was it the door?” always makes me momentarily misty for some reason! Good work, Ron Howard, ha ha! I give Apollo 13 three steely-eyed missile men!