Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday 30 July 2020

Burl reviews Ants!! (1977)

Beedlee-beedlee-beedlee it’s Burl, here with another movie about insects on the attack! Yes, it’s time for ants in the pants with a TV movie called, simply, Ants!, though it’s also known by the more cryptic title It Happened at Lakewood Manor! That’s the title under which I first became familiar with the movie, but I do believe Ants! is the proper and original moniker!
Anyway, Lakewood Manor is a thriving if old-fashioned resort hotel run by an old wheelchair lady played by Myrna Loy from Another Thin Man! Her daughter, Lynda Day George from Mortuary, is trying to get her to retire from the hotel business, and there’s an abrasive businessman who wants to buy the place! Meanwhile, there’s construction of an indeterminate type going on in the front yard, with boss Robert Foxworth from Death Moon and Prophecy, and his foreman Bernie Casey from Never Say Never Again running their tractors back and forth!
But right off the hop, things go wrong! A construction worker falls victim to a mysterious something under the ground, and when another goes to help him, they are both buried alive! Realizing their mistake, Foxworth and Casey dig their co-workers out, and in the process are bitten by ants! Ha ha, and when first a young boy playing in the garbage, and then a kitchen worker doing his job are found with toxic poisoning, Foxworth begins to suspect the ants are responsible for all the trouble! But people just laugh at him, in particular the government safety monitors who’ve been giving him trouble and who seem like beta versions of the EPA guy in Ghostbusters!
So, desperate to prove his formic theory, Foxworth jumps in his front end loader and bashes at the dirt in which he believes the ants are living, with the result that he enrages them so much they attack the hotel and kill several people! Ha ha, well done Foxworth! It all comes down to a scene in which Foxworth, George, and the real estate guy are all sitting in one of the hotel rooms, covered with ants and breathing through tubes of rolled-up ugly wallpaper! Then the developer gets ants in his pants and jumps out the window, ha ha! Truly a thrilling climax!
Brian Dennehy from F/X and Best Seller has meanwhile made a surprise appearance as the local fire chief who can barely believe his eyes every time he looks at the strange blurry blob that is supposed to represent millions of ants! It’s the sort of special effect you expect from a 70s TV movie, but it’s still pretty bad! (Not a patch on the spider transformation in Curse of the Black Widow, or the guy falling out of the plane in The Horror at 37,000 Feet!) But never mind the bad special effects, lousy script, barbiturated direction and robotic acting: it’s horror TV from the 70s, so I enjoyed it! I give Ants! one and a half trenches of fire!

Burl reviews 52 Pick-Up! (1986)

It’s Burl here with a little 80s neo-noir! I guess it’s more just a thriller - it doesn’t attempt to recapture the noir style like Body Heat or something, but at the same time it has many of the tropes we associate with the noir genre, in particular a main character who finds himself in a quicksand of trouble thanks to his own poor judgment! The patsy in question is played by famed leatherman Roy Scheider, whom we know so well from Jaws and Sorcerer, and the picture is called 52 Pick-Up!
Scheider plays a wealthy industrialist who hasn’t forgotten his blue-collar roots, and who, despite being married to Ann-Margret from Grumpy Old Men, is playing a game of bohankie on the side with the lamentably late Kelly Preston from Mischief! A blackmail gang made up of John Glover from Gremlins 2, Clarence Williams III from Tough Guys Don’t Dance, and living gumdrop Robert Trebor from My Demon Lover take the requisite pictures and put the screws to the fancy car-driving beefjerky!
You can guess where it goes from there! Scheider immediately confesses to his wife, then sets about resisting the blackmailers with all his leather! They raise the stakes, and soon grisly murder becomes a flower in their bouquet! Scheider is implicated, so can’t go to the cops, and because this is an 80s movie it eventually comes down to such predictable events as a gun battle in a house and, finally, an exploding car! Ha ha!
John Frankenheimer, who brought us The Train and Prophecy, is the somewhat unlikely director of the picture, and he gives it the kind of B movie sauce someone like Alan Pakula or Sidney Lumet would have eschewed! It’s a little bit too bad the Elmore Leonard story was relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles, and the L.A. location is never used to its full potential; but on the other hand, the cast all do fine work! The leads are all good, as are the blackmailers, and there’s solid support from the likes of Vanity, whom we recall from Deadly Illusion, and Doug McClure from Tapeheads and Humanoids From the Deep! Clarence Williams III is especially good here, as the sort of scary fellow you’d be better off avoiding!
It’s no super-barnburner, but this is a well put together 80s thriller that gets lost in all the Jagged Edges and Morning Afters and what have you! And, ha ha, it’s a Cannon production, so it’s not afraid to get a little sleazy around the edges, with the pornoo parties and so forth! I enjoyed 52 Pick-Up, and I give it two and a half deadly car cassettes!

Wednesday 29 July 2020

Burl reviews Friday the 13th part 7: The New Blood! (1988)

Chay Chay Chay Paa Paa Paa! Yes, you’ve got it right: it’s time for another Friday the 13th movie review! You know, just an aside before beginning: why, in any of his adventures, has Jason not visited a spa or some kind of health retreat? The closest he’s come to that is the halfway house or whatever in Part 5, and that’s not very close at all! Ha ha, imagine the damage Jason could do with a roomful of weightlifting equipment, or how he could blend in with the field hockey masks hanging on the wall!

Anyway, enough of my geeky film proposals! This installment is Friday the 13th part 7: The New Blood, and it came to us from the director of Cellar Dweller, the late John Carl Buechler! Of course he was better known as a trick effects makeup man, and indeed, even if much of the trick effects work in this picture was cut out by overenthusiastic censors, there are still a number of gory treats briefly on view, a few of them pretty tasty!

As is well known, the concept here is Jason meets Carrie! There’s a cousinage already in evidence, since the first Friday borrowed its sting from the Brian De Palma picture! But yes, our heroine is a telekinetic teen girl, one who’s troubled by the guilt of having used her powers to accidentally kill her father by knocking him into Crystal Lake and then dropping a pier on him! She evidently has a broader remit, psychically speaking, than Carrie White though, because when she concentrates hard, she can resurrect long-dead corpses! When one evening she tries to will her dad back to life (ha ha, why? He was a jerk!), she accidentally revives Jason instead, who, to be fair, would have figured out how to return one way or another anyway, by the powers vested in him by the Paramount Pictures Corporation and Mr. Frank Mancuso Jr.!

Part 7's closest model seems to be Part 4, which also features two houses on Crystal Lake close to each other, but remote from everything else; and in both films one house has a mother and a daughter, and the other a group of party-hearty youths! By this point though, Jason has lost any pretense to humanity and is a fully supernatural zomboid creature! And the other novelty in this picture, aside from the psychic girl, is the presence of her evil psychiatrist: a genuine antagonist who is not the killer! Before this the only human antagonists in these films (Part 5 aside) were the bikers in Part 3, and then just a wide array of jerks here and there, like the morgue attendant in Part 4 or that sheriff in Part 6!

But while this one has its moments, I can’t pretend to prefer it to any of the other episodes I’ve mentioned! (Ha ha, it’s still a lot more fun than that 2009 remake, though!) It’s a fairly miserable series of films when you examine them critically, but people, even intelligent people, find themselves returning to these movies over and over! I guess there’s something about the simplicity of the concept and the inherent scariness of dark, lonely woods! Friday the 13th part 7: The New Blood psychokinetically messes with that simplicity a bit, and the results frankly don’t seem worth it! I give the picture one chay and only half a paa!

Sunday 26 July 2020

Burl reviews Joysticks! (1983)

Beep, beep, boop, it’s Burl, here to review a comedy about video games! Ha ha, totally awesome video games, as the theme song repeatedly, maddeningly insists! And I have to admit, many of the cabinet games seen in this movie are indeed totally awesome! The picture itself, however, is not! Of course I’m talking about Joysticks!
This photoplay comes from Greydon Clark, the auteur behind such entertainments as Satan’s Cheerleaders, Without Warning, and that one about the mutant cat! Here he’s in Teen Sex Comedy mode, chronicling the arrival of a glasses nerd, named Eugene of course, who comes to work at a video arcade called Video Arcade! It’s run by a perpetually smirking featherhair played by Scott McGinnis of Secret Admirer, and its most devoted patron is a portly, flatulent fellow played by Jim Greenleaf, who greatly resembles the portly, flatulent fellow in Cheerleader Camp, but whom we know from his portrayal of Ox in Evilspeak, Blatz in Pigs vs. Freaks, and Fat Solowitz in Gorp!
Video Arcade is a popular place, but there are forces gathering in opposition to it! On the one hand we have King Vidiot, played by Jon Gries from Number One With A Bullet, a faux-punk with a posse of gals who beep and boop and robot-walk like Twiki himself! On the other we have an uptight businessman played by the marvelous Joe Don Baker from The Pack and Fletch and The Living Daylights, whose daughter loves to visit Video Arcade and play all the games it has to offer! Ha ha, I always love to find Joe Don playing a bad guy in a movie, because he so often seems to be having the time of his life, especially in pictures like Getting Even! He’s a little stiff here, especially when King Vidiot is crawling all over him, but he’s still our Joe Don!
Once Joe Don and King Vidiot have joined forces, it comes down to a video game challenge: giant Pac-Man, which the featherhair is unable to play without sweating due to a romantic trauma he suffered! But Dorfus, Video Arcade's best player, has been kidnapped by Joe Don’s idiot henchmen! Bound and gagged, Dorfus can only fart for help! His plea is heard, and he is rescued by a sexual admirer! He makes it back to Video Arcade, ready to jump in and grab the oversized joysticks, but our noble featherhair contends that he must overcome his debilitating debility! Ha ha, I don’t think it will be giving away anything to tell you that indeed he does, and wins the day for Video Arcade!
Of course everything going on in this picture is very dumb and artlessly captured, and there are entirely too many Pac-Man scene transitions! Some of the acting is better than you’d think, though - the tightpants in the lead, who also played “Mr. Adventure” in Star Trek III, don’t forget, is almost at the smirky level of someone like Tim Matheson! Gries fully commits to his role of King Vidiot, and also it’s nice to see a movie starring both Leif Green and Jim Greenleaf! These are small compensations though, nearly microscopic, and I give Joysticks just one and a half little tiny motorcycles!

Burl reviews On Her Majesty's Secret Service! (1969)

Ha ha, this never happened to the other fellow indeed! Yes, it’s Burl again and Bond again, only this time the superspy in question played not by Connery, not by Moore, not by Dalton, Brosnan, or Craig, but by the doughty one-offsman George Lazenby! So yes, of course the picture is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service!

Now, I’m not so sure I’d have watched this movie in July had I remembered it was a Christmas picture, but there you are! It’s not one of your more action-packed outings, to be sure, but, ha ha, Lazenby’s not the only novelty here, because the picture tries a bunch of new things! Because it’s the late 1960s, we get some elliptical editing and other New Hollywood movie tricks, particularly in the fight scenes! I enjoyed this, though to contemporary audiences it may well have seemed like the kind of blender-editing which makes Quantum of Solace such a chore to sit through!

He does some garden-variety spy stuff, like when he sneaks into an office to steal some documents! But he doesn’t just snatch the papers, nor photograph them with a little spy camera, no: he has a buddy dress up like a construction worker, then place a large case into a crane bucket so it can be hefted up the side of a building to the fifth floor where Bond is! The case contains a device which proves to be an enormous photocopier, ha ha - state-of-the-art equipment for any spy in 1969, I’m sure!

Of course it all ends up in Blofeld’s mountaintop allergy clinic on Christmas, ha ha! Blofeld even has a tree and gives out neatly-wrapped gifts! And here, the perennial villain is played by Kojack himself, Telly Savalas, whom we know so well from his equally sinister appearance in Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil! Ha ha, Blojack! And what’s great about this iteration of the super-villain is that he gets a lot more personally involved in the battle against Bond than we see in other pictures! He’s not just sitting in a chair and stroking his pussy this time, no sir!

The big question is: how’s Lazenby? Well, he’s demonstrably no Connery! He’s matey and cavalier, and seems equally uncomfortable doing the action as he does in the long section at the allergy clinic during which he must wear a kilt and pretend to have no interest in the beautiful ladies who abound there! And in the end he’s not really an actor, nor does he claim to be! But for all that I didn’t mind him - certainly I prefer him to Moore in his smarmier moments! And the movie Lazenby has going on around him is, while not exactly action-packed, interesting and solid enough to raise him up to a quite acceptable level!

And the movie sticks the landing, emotionally speaking! This is perhaps the only Bond picture which ends with the superspy sobbing instead of snogging, and it makes for a genuinely affecting conclusion! Diana Rigg, who plays Mrs. Bond, and whom we know so well from Theatre of Blood, is quite believable as the woman Bond would want to settle down with, and Gabriele Ferzetti, who was Sandro in L’ Avventura, is terrific as her friendly gangster dad! I give On Her Majesty’s Secret Service two and a half purple parcels!

Burl reviews Eye of the Beast! (2006)

Snip snap slurp, it’s Burl, back with more to review! It’s time again for a little cephalopodic horror: a freshwater squid picture called Eye of the Beast! Ha ha, this one was not only shot in Manitoba, Canada, which is about as far from any ocean as you can get, but it’s set there too! So how could there be a giant squid problem in this landlocked prairie region? Well your guess is as good as mine, because they never explain it!
Ha ha, I’m getting ahead of myself as usual! Eye of the Beast is one of those cheap creature features they were making back in the oughts, most of them rip-offs of Jaws, and this one perhaps most of all! For it purloins not just the underwater beastie, but the opening scene with a lady being et; the troubled cop, the visiting scientist and the crabby sea captain; the discovery of boat wreckage, the disbelieving townspeople, and initial diagnosis of a boating accident; and the bifurcated structure wherein the first hour takes place on land and the second hour (or half hour in this movie’s case) aboard a boat on the hunt for the beast! In fact it borrows everything but the final method of the monster’s execution, electrocution! That, it steals from Jaws 2! Ha ha!
From Humanoids From the Deep it takes a community conflict between white fishermen and the Indigenous people who’ve been accused of over-fishing the area! The bizarre fact that all this takes place in a lake in the middle of the continent goes virtually unmentioned! All I could think whenever the fisheries officer lady, Cat, and the scientist guy played by James Van Der Beek tried to persuade people there was a giant squid swimming around in large shallow lake, was “Ha ha, no wonder they don’t believe you!” But indeed there is, and it’s represented either by dodgy digital effects, or by one floppy and overworked mechanical tentacle, or, as in the final topside appearance of the monstrous calamari, by the kind of fiberglass novelty cover you might affix to a monster truck called “The Sqidinator!” That the squid appears more frequently as a green dot on a tracking monitor than it does in real life is perhaps the saving grace of the trick effects here, because you hardly get a chance to see them!
I know just what you’re asking, though! “Ha ha, but Burl,” you’re saying, “are there any shots of the squid’s sharp, snapping beak?” I’m sorry to say that there is nary a one, and it’s a truly unaccountable omission! That’s what we killer cephalopod enthusiasts live for - it’s the money shot! But, as in Tentacles, this critical aspect is virtually ignored! Most of the attack scenes are done with an economy of spectacle a small town community theatre would envy, so I guess a snapping beak was simply not in the budget! But it sure should have been! It should have been an over-the-line expense in fact!
Now I know this all sounds terrible, and mostly it is! But it’s not quite as bad as all that in the end! The acting is variable, but in general stronger than one might expect! Arne Macpherson does good work with the Robert Shaw role, here reupholstered as an uxorious husband whose love for his wife is matched only by his disdain for everybody else, and who displays an inexplicable tolerance for his two racist dimwit deckhands! The script, generally dogged in its effort to follow its brief of aping Jaws completely, salts in a few minimally clever lines or ideas here and there, but almost seems ashamed to be challenging the form in even this insignificant way!
The paucity of incident and the absence of affrights are bad, but the total lack of beak-snapping is unforgivable! I can’t in any fulsome way recommend Eye of the Beast to underwater monster fans, and for its sins I give it one severed tentacle!

Saturday 25 July 2020

Burl reviews Quiet Cool! (1986)

By gum it’s Burl with 80s action! Here we have something called Quiet Cool, the bite-size picture that attempted to turn James Remar, whom we know from 48 Hours and Django Unchained, and who had a solid career in the “pretty-boy bad guy” genre of movie acting, into an action hero! I guess they thought they’d start him out slow, because instead of giving him heroin dealers or cocaine lords to fight, they put him up against some pot growers!

I’ll admit, these are some pretty mean pot growers, while all the weediculturalists I’ve ever met have been pretty mellow folks! Not this gang, made up as it is of a gallery of stock-looking heavies! In Quiet Cool, right at the top, the dealers execute a potential tattletale, then chase down a teenager who’s witnessed the murder, shoot both his back-to-the-land hippie parents in the head, rope him and drag him behind a dirt bike, then dangle him off a cliff, drop the corpses of his parents down past him, laugh as he swings around screaming mindlessly at the utter horror of the moment, then drop him to his supposed doom!

Meanwhile the slain father’s sister, Daphne Ashbrook from Gimme an ‘F’, worried about the disappearance of her brother and his family, calls up her old boyfriend James Remar, a leatherjacket cop in New York City! But Remar is busy chasing down rollerskate bandits, and only once he’s done with that task is he ready to fly across the country to investigate the disappearance! But the nefarious wig-tightener merchants are on him like stink, ha ha, and soon enough, after a few fights, Remar blunders his way into a bag full of razor blades and fish hooks! Yowch! Luckily the teenager, who survived his fall down the cliff and has transformed into a vengeance-driven mountain man, saves him, and the two team up to take out the couple-of-dozen strong electric lettuce gang!

One of the gang members sports an enormous walrus moustache, which Remar mutilates with a scissors! Another, a husky cross between Wings Hauser and Mandy Patinkin, is the local sheriff! Still another, perhaps the least-respected member, is called Toker, he being the one who smokes enough of his own product that he’s essentially useless, but because he looks like the runt sibling in the Barbarian Brothers’ family, they keep him on! And there’s a Nasty White-Haired Guy, a little like the Dar Robinson character in Stick or Billy Drago in Vamp; and we even have the Nasty Glasses Guy, which I think there’s one of in Die Hard, though of course Die Hard came later! Ha ha, a lot of guys, but there’s only one Mr. Big, the true identity of whom is something the picture saves for its Big Twist Ending! Ha ha, not to give anything away, but once you’ve experienced this ending, the words “You’re soaking in it!” will never sound quite the same!

At 80 minutes in length, it’s a speedy little babatoudnik! The action scenes are not particularly brilliant, though there are some good stunts! But, speaking frankly, Remar is something of a charisma void here, and not especially good at the action business either, so it’s easy to see why he didn’t get many more action leads! It’s a New Line Cinema production, so the characters always seem to be watching A Nightmare on Elm Street on their television sets, so at least we get that! It has scrappy action and plentiful bad guys, and an earnest, blank-eyed hero and a goofy 80s theme song, so in the end I’ll have to give Quiet Cool two slices of overnight bed pizza!

Burl reviews Conan the Barbarian! (1982)

Ha ha, Burl, what is best in life? To crush bad movies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their directors! Ha ha! No, that’s not my remit at all - I was just expressing the quasi-fascist ideal found in John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian! In fact, my own philosophy is quite different, but if you’re a regular reader of my notices, you are surely well aware of my gentle and pacific nature! Ha ha, Burl laughs not just at your Four Winds, but also at your Nietzschean Super-Man!

Of course this picture came out in that magical summer of 1982, along with The Thing, Blade Runner, Poltergeist, The Road Warrior, E.T., Star Trek II, and probably some others! For that reason it might be held in slightly higher regard than it might be otherwise, but it’s still a pretty solid action fantasy! It’s an origin story, following Conan from his youth, when his parents are killed and his village destroyed by a cult leader, Thulsa Doom, played by James Earl Jones in a beadless Donna Summer wig; through his kidnapping and maturation on the Wheel of Pain; his pitfighting and poetry-reading years; and finally the gathering up of his pals and his quest for revenge!

Conan and his friends jog across the countryside, through desert, steppe and thundering beach, with the cry of the loon accompanying them everywhere they go! There’s a marvelous heist scene featuring a giant snake, and later the mission gains some focus when a grizzled old king played by Max Von Sydow from Strange Brew and The Magician tasks Conan and his pals with the job of rescuing his daughter from the cult! Of course Conan is made to do some contemplation on the Tree of Woe, but there are some battles and finally a Wagnerian scene on the steps, complete with a head-chopping!

There’s a pretty good gallery of faces in this picture! In addition to those named, we get Mako from Armed Response and The Killer Elite playing a twitchy stilt-house wizard who becomes Conan’s pal and chronicler, and serves as the film’s narrator! William Smith from Fast Company and Maniac Cop does a terrific job in the part of Conan’s dad, and husky Sven-Ole Thorson, looking like a lost member of Spinal Tap, is Thulsa Doom’s hammer-wielding henchman!

I’ve never considered it a great action picture, though! It’s more like an opera stripped of its singing (though it has a terrific score from Basil Polidouris), with some thundering hoofbeats and clanging swords added in for spice! But while it does a fair-to-good job of translating the Conan mythos to the screen, it’s rarely exciting to watch! It’s good solid Hollywood comfort food, if frequently goofy and a bit on the reactionary side! I give Conan the Barbarian two and a half straightened snakes!

Thursday 16 July 2020

Burl reviews The Hole! (2009)

Ha ha and holey holes, it’s Burl, with one of the newer Joe Dante pictures to review for you today! With the Gremlins-fuelled salad days of his career behind him by the early days of the twenty-first century, Dante was pulled back to the lower budgets of his early years; but hand-in-glove with that regression came a return to the more horror-oriented pictures he used to do, like Piranha and The Howling! Today’s review is of The Hole, which is a horror-fantasy with a youthful dimension, and of all Dante’s previous works it most strongly recalls his episode in Twilight Zone: The Movie!
The story is fairly simple: a single mom with two kids - one an unusually angsty male teen, the other a precocious younger brother - move into a new house in a small town, and, after they meet the pretty girl next door, she and the two brothers discover a heavily padlocked trapdoor in the basement floor! Of course they open it up to find a seemingly infinite void within! My first worry would be that my house was going to collapse into this cavern, but this apparently doesn’t cross their minds - all they do is continue to bicker and be rude to their mother!
But of course spooky things begin to happen, and it’s hard to say whether they’re borrowed more from Poltergeist or The Gate! Ha ha, I’m not accusing the picture of plagiarism, but there are a few remarkable similarities, namely the clown doll of which the younger sibling is afraid, and which comes to life and tries to strangle him, just as happens to the little brother in the Tobe Hooper picture! From The Gate we get material that is less specific, but more important: a back story of familial tragedy, parents who go away for the weekend, and a general horror-meets-After School Special sort of atmosphere!
Luckily this is a Joe Dante picture, and so we also get a cameo appearance from Dick Miller, who plays a pizza man! Ha ha, it’s a completely wordless part, measurable in single-digit seconds, and is perhaps the most desultory role of Miller’s sixty-year career! But we’re lucky he’s in it at all - the movie was shot mostly in Vancouver, with only a week or so of pick-ups in Los Angeles, which is where they shoehorned Miller in! Bruce Dern from The King of Marvin Gardens also shows up, playing a lightbulb-loving (or, more properly, a darkness-fearing) old crank, and his appearance is in a way even more desultory than Miller’s, seeing as how he’s so much more a plot device than he is a character!
There are some spooky sequences though, and Dante, grizzled Hollywood veteran that he is, keeps a sure hand on the tiller! The early bits with the discovery of the hole and the mystery of what it’s all about are probably the best, and the climax, which features some clever moments, is what most specifically reminds us of Dante’s segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie; but it also recalls the snake-man sequence from Dreamscape, which I guess is yet another picture this one borrows from!
The borrowings are more charming than they are anything else, and I don’t hold them against either Dante or his movie! I do wish the older brother’s angst could have been communicated without him being so unpleasant all the time, and I could have done without some of the 3D trappings that are nearly at the Jaws 3D level of flagrancy, but on the whole I thought the picture was reasonably effective, decently efficient 80s throwback! Ha ha, plus Miller’s in there, and also I guess I’m just a devotee of holes! So I’ll give The Hole two pizza deliveries!

Friday 10 July 2020

Burl reviews Night of the Lepus! (1972)

With a hippity-hop it’s Burl, here to review a tale of bunnikin terror! Ha ha, of course I’m talking about Night of the Lepus: aside from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and maybe that Arch Hall epic The Nasty Rabbit, I can think of no other killer bunnies on film! And perhaps - I only say perhaps - that’s for the best! If you’ve seen Night of the Lepus, you’ll probably have formed your own opinion on that point!
Aside from having the cottontail horror angle all to itself, Night of the Lepus fits into a number of other microgenres of which I’m fond! I’ve always enjoyed what I call Southwestern Horror: genre pictures set in the wide desert expanses of that part of North America! I’m talking about The Car and Nightwing and The Devil’s Rain, or even lesser stuff like The Ghost Dance and Track of the Moonbeast! At the same time, with its cast of heroic grayhairs, Night of the Lepus, like Bog, comes off at times like a nursing home stage production put up to showcase the talents of elderly performers!
Thanks to some sort of serum, the specific nature of which the script doesn’t even try to explain, a test rabbit released into the wild sires a band of bunnies as big as moocows! Ha ha, and these guys are hungry and aggressive, and apparently nocturnal, which I didn’t realize rabbits were! Anyway, a loosely-knit group made up of scientist Stuart Whitman from The Deadly Intruder, his wife and helpmate Janet Leigh from Psycho and The Fog, rancher Rory Calhoun from Motel Hell, and concerned moustacheman and Star Trekker DeForest Kelly (quite able here to discern DeForest from DeTrees, ha ha), work on rabbit-ridding strategies while dodging the slow-motion hops and tempera paint-smeared incisors of the creatures!
Perhaps because the oversized hares are so inherently goofy, there is plenty of blood used in the killing scenes, and they do ruthless things like mutilate entire families! Ha ha, mostly it’s just the same bright red blood smears seen in pictures like Grizzly, but, also like that picture, there are some severed limbs as well, with one victim sectioned like a butcher’s wall chart! No, a rabbit’s foot does not mean good luck to these unfortunates, ha ha! The fuzzy bunnies also rampage through a produce warehouse, which you’d think would satisfy them, but they’re eventually attracted into a trap by the headlights of some good people who were attending a drive-in screening of Every Little Crook and Nanny, and as a consequence the beasts run afoul of an electrified train track and are fricasseed!
As in Tentacles, we mostly get shots of normal-sized rabbits filmed to look large, at least allegedly! They hop through some nice miniature sets, and there are also a few quick shots of people in rabbit suits, which are worth pausing to get a better look at! If you’re a rabbit lover you may want to steer clear of this picture however, as it does include plenty of documentary footage of actual rabbits being rounded up and terrorized! Otherwise it’s a pretty good time at the movies, with lots of fun badness on offer and a few pretty shots of the barren Southwest! Anyway, it’s unique! I give Night of the Lepus one and a half panicky farmhands!

Thursday 9 July 2020

Burl reviews Gimme an 'F'! (1984)

Ha ha, it’s that dancin’ fool Burl, here to review yet another movie about a cheerleader camp! It’s not Cheerleader Camp, of course, because I already reviewed that one; today’s picture, however, features all the necessary components for a cheerleader camp picture - pom poms, gymnastics, squads competing for the big prize - except the one it could have used most: a murderous killer! Ha ha! And the movie we’re talking about today sports the vaguely unsavory title Gimme an 'F'!
I’ll say right up front that this is a slightly odd one! In some ways it presents as a raunchy sex comedy: the camp is called “Camp Beaverview” (the campers eat at the “Beaverteria”), and by the third act the antagonists are being pelted with enormous urine balloons; but on the other hand, though opportunities are rampant, there are virtually no nude ladies in the film, and the plot spends an awful lot of time on the dramatic life choice problems of Tommy Hamilton, the head counselor played by Stephen Shellen from American Gothic! (In this, I think the movie believes itself to be imitating Meatballs, but it’s not a very good imitation, ha ha!)
Tommy’s problem is that he loves antics and to teach the art of cheerleading, but feels that, at twenty-five, he’s too old for both these pursuits! He’s apparently not too old to romance sixteen year-old campers though, which he just barely manages to do without committing any arrestable offences! Tommy has a girlfriend who’s displeased with him not because of the antics, but because he wants to stop doing them! (She’s also not too chuffed about the sixteen year-old!) Tommy’s flashdancing pal is Roscoe, played by Mark Keyloun from Sudden Impact, and Roscoe, whose urine fills those balloons late in the picture, is the very definition of an anticsman, so this makes it even harder for Tommy!
Aside from the counselors, we meet plenty of the cheerleading campers too! There’s an evil team, the Falcons (pronounced “faaalcon,” as Americans will do); a sweet and inexperienced team called the Molene Ducks; and, just for good measure, a team of sympathetic tough girls! Familiar faces dot all of these squads, faces belonging to the likes of Jennifer Cooke from Friday the 13th part 6, Daphne Ashbrook from Quiet Cool, Tyra Ferrell from Tapeheads and Exorcist III, and Darcy DeMoss from Return to Horror High and For Keeps! John Karlen from Impulse plays Bucky, the owner of the camp, whose constant outrage at Tommy and his antics is perfectly within reason! It’s that Ghostbusters thing: the villain may be a jerk, but he has a solid point nevertheless!
Bucky is trying desperately to impress a group of Japanese investors led by the always-enjoyable Clyde Kusatsu from In the Line of Fire and Godzilla! And yes, this group is always introduced with the bonging of a gong on the soundtrack! Classy move, Gimme an 'F'! Meanwhile Roscoe falls in love with a member of the Faaaaalcons, and to impress the surly object of his affections, he delivers chocolates and swings down from trees, but is only made the guest of honor at a slap party for his troubles! In an extreme of desperation he dresses like Wez from The Road Warrior, and surprisingly that is what works!
After performing a long underwear dance in the shower, Tommy makes an ill-advised bet with Bucky that the Ducks, a meek bunch of klutzes, can beat the fearsome Faaaaaalcons in the big final competition all these camps seem to have! (The performance scenes seemed to me ridiculously elaborate productions for a modest sleepaway camp!) No prizes for guessing that the Ducks transform from goodie-two-shoed stumblebums to sexy professional dancers in a matter of days, and the pee-soaked Bucky loses both his bet and his sanity!
Gimme an F seems like a movie made by strippers and pornographers who, jaded by years of exposure to skin and sex, get their biggest thrill from clothing being left on! Ha ha! It was written by Jim V. Hart, whose next credit would be Steven Spielberg’s Hook, another movie with weird tonal shifts! The filmmaking is nothing to write home about, and while there are some impressively athletic performances, the lack of charm in the leads is everywhere evident! They come off as a bunch of jerks: Bill Murray could prank Morty in Meatballs and not seem too mean about it, but these guys can’t even fire a pissbomb at a nasty crank without coming off as despicable! Ha ha, Gimme an 'F' is a pretty poor and forgettable movie and I award it one locker room flashdance!

Wednesday 8 July 2020

Burl reviews Tentacles! (1977)

Ha ha and handshakes, it’s Burl, here to rassle with cinema’s eternal problem: how to make an octopus seem huge and threatening on film? 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea did a pretty good job with their squid, and I’m even a little fond of the one in Peter Benchley’s The Beast! And of course there’s It Came From Beneath the Sea, but otherwise the octopi usually don’t get the titular roles, or even featured parts - ha ha, look at The Goonies, which left its octopus on the cutting room floor, but had the cruel audacity to maintain a reference to it in the dialogue! Outside of the Sharktopus kind of stuff, which even ol’ Burl finds nearly unwatchable, and close kin to same like Eye of the Beast, there aren’t many good movie octopi to choose from!
But ho! you say, what about Tentacles? Ha ha, I remember seeing this picture on television many years ago, in the flower of my youth, and it made a real impression! I never forgot the portly fellow who suffers a calamari attack and is pulled around with his feet sticking out of the water! Naturally the picture is a direct rip-off of Jaws, whose imitators always seemed the most brazen; but aside from setting up a close reworking of the small seaside town situation found in the Spielberg picture, Tentacles can’t come close to maintaining the beautiful simplicity or primal power of its inspiration!
Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis, who of course also brought us the nerd-in-love comedy Desperate Moves, the picture is set, and even mostly shot, in a small California coastal community! In the very first scene, unnecessarily in my opinion, a sweet young baby relaxing in his stroller becomes the first victim of Tentacles! Tentacles, a rampaging monster who sucks the very marrow from the bones of his people-meals, next plucks a bandy-legged fisherman from his craft, and later on he wrecks boats and eats portly men!
John Huston and Shelley Winters, both of whom would catch a case of Assonitis again when they appeared in The Visitor, play an elderly brother and sister who live in the beach community Tentacles has chosen for his feeding ground! Huston is, as one review has it, “the sort of grizzled investigative reporter who wears his nightdress on the porch,” and Winters plays a hot-to-trot divorcée with a young son! Meanwhile, up the coast, Bo Hopkins from The Killer Elite plays an orca expert, while Claude Akins of TV’s Lobo plays the local lawman!
Henry Fonda, who had no sea monsters outside of a decent-sized trout to deal with when he hung out On Golden Pond, plays Mr. Whitehead, the owner of a construction company and an almost completely pointless character! Ha ha, I suppose Mr. Fonda thought “Hmmm! Once Upon A Time in the West turned out pretty well! Maybe I’ll do another picture with these Italian fellows! Ha ha!” But Tentacles is not quite up to the level of the masterful Sergio Leone western, I’m afraid! Cesare Danova from Mean Streets carries most of Mr. Whitehead’s narrative burden anyway,  surreptitiously ordering the vibration-drilling experiments theorized to be the cause of the calamari’s murderous rage, and leaving the old man to play most of his scenes upbraiding people over the telephone!
I guess I’m kind of talking around the star of the picture, Tentacles himself! Well, I think that’s because he’s a bit of a disappointment! Most of the time we see what looks like a perfectly normal octopus, intercut with shots of people screaming, or bubbles coming from the mouths of divers! For one scene of boat destruction the filmmakers pull out a fake head that gets pushed though the water and frankly looks more like a swimming hippo than an octopus, and there appear to be a few fake appendages waving around here and there! I wish they’d pulled off a good old-fashioned fake ‘pus, complete with clicking beak and eight arms to hold you! Carlo Rambaldi could have made a good one for them, I’m sure! They did pull off a few good moments involving Tentacles’s glaring angry-eyes, though!
The picture’s got that charming ESL atmosphere of so many offshore Italian productions (though Assonitis himself is Greek-Egyptian or something), some enjoyable wide-screen photography, and a little of that genuine seaside summer atmosphere that Jaws manages so well! Plus it’s got some laughs and some very weird performances from Huston and Winters! Bo Hopkins just looks a little embarrassed as he orates to his orcas before asking them to kill the octopus for him, which they do! Ha ha! I give Tentacles two fish standing on their heads!

Thursday 2 July 2020

Burl reviews Con Air! (1997)

My goodness, it’s 90s action again! Ha ha, I’ve reviewed a lot of these lately, it seems, and this one, Con Air, is a picture I may well have tackled back in my old reviewing days, and if I looked I might be able to find the old notice itself! But I recently watched the picture again, so I can provide opinions that are popping fresh and hot out of the oven! Hee hee!
I’ve said it so often that the words have lost all meaning: here, truly, is quintessential 90s action! But I’ve felt the same about pictures as minor as Passenger 57 or as forgotten as Executive Decision, though if I were applying myself seriously - ha ha! - I might have to give the title to something like Speed, or even to the execrable Bad Boys or The Rock! Con Air, for its part, is more the latter than the former: one of those Bruckheimer crundleburgers that practically bust a nut trying to earn the baffling critical acclamation “Testosterone Fueled Action!”
Well, here is where the movie scores highest: in the simplicity of its plot and in its singular cast! Nicolas Cage pulls out his Sailor Ripley accent, with just a touch of H.I. McDunnough, to play a man just paroled from years in the pokey, hitching a ride on a plane with a load of convicts who are all being taken to a big new jail! But soon the hard cases take over the plane; these include legendarily monstrous criminals played by the likes of John Malkovich, doing the same sort of thing he did in In the Line of Fire, Steve Buscemi from Escape from L.A. playing a calm maniac, Ving Rhames from Mission Impossible III as a Black revolutionary, plus M.C. Gainey from Starman and Django Unchained, Danny Trejo from Machete, and Mykelti Williamson from Streets of Fire as the diabetic buddy! We also get famed instability comedian Dave Chappelle playing a young wiseacre! Ha ha, so you see what I mean about the cast!
The tensions come from Cage trying to keep his identity as a parolee from the other cons, and particularly from Malkovich! Meanwhile, on the ground, John Cusack is trying to figure out how to get what he constantly refers to as his plane back down on the ground without blowing it up, which is what hothead Colm Meaney wishes to do! (To be fair, Meaney has seen this kind of thing before, from when he played a pilot in Die Hard 2!) Up in the plane, where convicts are constantly rooting through Cage’s stuff and discovering his secret, there are violence fights and near-misses, and it all ends with a crash in Las Vegas and then a fire truck fight, and then an over-the-top showcase death for main heavy Malkovich! Ha ha, he catches a real piledriving right upside the head!
Rachel Ticotin from Total Recall plays the only lady on the flight, and as such becomes the focus of Danny Trejo’s horrible rapist character! Of course he gets his just desserts without having a chance to practice his horrible avocation, but, after enjoying a tea party singalong with a little trailer park girl, Buscemi’s maniac is allowed to stroll off for a some action at the roulette table! Ha ha, all of this simply reveals a script that privileges mindless button-pushing over structure or characterization, or other things a motion picture scenario usually aspires to!
All it really has to offer are moments scattered here and there to juice up the audience and make them whoop and say ha ha! We get scenes like the dumping of Chappelle’s battered corpse from the plane down to a city street; the destruction of a classic Corvette by use of a plane, a length of cable, and a hook; and the time Cage rolls under a truck to avoid an explosion, only to find Dabbs Greer already there! Ha ha! And these are all fine, and the movie’s 115 minutes move quickly and entertainingly! It’s clearly aware of its own absurdity, and the cast is just having a ball, but there’s a forced cynicism and faux edginess to the whole thing that really wears thin, and some of the special trick effects are pretty bad too! It’s a movie of its time and doesn’t have the staying power of some of the better 90s actioners, and so I give Con Air one and a half bunnies in the box!