Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Saturday 31 October 2020

Burl reviews Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers! (1995)


Ha-ha-happy Halloween everybody, it’s Burl! And yes, I’m here with a review of one of the Halloween pictures! It’s not one of the best of them, nor is it one of the worst, but with stinkeroos like Halloween 5 and Halloween: Resurrection to choose from, that’s not saying much! This middling effort, which really isn’t all that good at all, is Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, the sixth of them if you’re counting!

Whatever you think of it, though, it’s a part of history, being as it is the very last appearance of Donald Pleasence, the marvelous actor we recall from his turn as Blofeld in You Only Live Twice and of course his role as the worm-addled doctor in The Devonsville Terror! And it’s also among the first appearances from Paul Rudd, who became famous for his comedy in pictures like Our Idiot Brother, and lately, for his superheroism as the man-ant!

Pleasance is playing good old - very old - Dr. Loomis, now more enfeebled than mad, while Rudd has taken the role of Tommy Doyle, the little boy who caught affrights in the original Halloween! Thanks to his terrible experience on Halloween of 1978, Tommy has become the sort of eccentric who keeps Michael Myers clippings on his wall and a photograph of Divine on his fridge, and as far as the rest of the neighbourhood is concerned, he’s the creepyweird guy across the street from the Strode family! Apparently the Strodes are being targeted for some reason that might have been outlined in the two previous movies, but which is so spurious a justification that I’ve completely forgotten it!

The confused narrative of this picture offers no clues, ha ha! We get to hang out a bit with the Strodes, a singularly unpleasant family who require no backstory to deserve the chop, says I! The dad is a horrible brutish hard case played by Bradford English from The Malibu Bikini Shop, and one is relieved when the electrical panel makes his head explode; the mother is a doormat essayed by Kim Darby, playing essentially the same character she did in Better Off Dead!

The picture begins with a baby born to a young lady who is then chased around by a black-clad Michael Myers cult led by Mitchell Ryan from Lethal Weapon, and by Michael himself! The chase leads to a bus station cursed with a very lax janitorial service, and while the young lady meets her doom at Michael’s hands, the baby is rescued by twitchy Tommy Doyle! Now, I don’t normally care for baby-in-peril stories, because I like babies and don’t want to see them jostled about! Of course the baby is mostly played by a rubber reproduction - ha ha, I’ve worked on a couple of movies with fake babies in them, and one was played by an item called Baby Accurate! I thought I recognized the touch of Baby Accurate in this film!

Anyway, the cult stuff is somehow very tiresome, and I don’t know if the alternate cut, known as the Producer’s Cut I believe, clears anything up, because I’ve never bothered to watch it! I saw this one in the theatre, and thought it was okay just because it’s exciting to see a Halloween picture on the big screen, but watching it again I do admit the exploding head is the best part! There’s an obnoxious radio host, a blonde kid with dark eyebrows who also gets terrorized, and a hilariously-edited scene at the end where Tommy Doyle goes ape on Michael’s head with a lead pipe!

It replaces the Panaglide style of the Carpenter movie with garish rock video lighting, though it does manage a bit of autumnal atmosphere here and there! In sum, it’s middling-to-bad, but it’s still a Halloween movie, and therefore you could do worse at this time of the year! I give Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers one and a half self-defenestrations!

Friday 30 October 2020

Burl reviews Kenny & Company! (1976)


Hello gumchewers, it’s Burl, here to review a family film from Don Coscarelli, the director of Phantasm! Yes, that’s right, a family film, but one with some pretty heavy Halloween themes, so rest assured it’s entirely apropos for this time of the year! The picture is a nice little bibendum by the name of Kenny & Company!

It’s a slice-o’-life story following twelve year-old Kenny, and his friends, enemies, and family, through a few weeks in the fall of 1975 or so! Ha ha! He lives somewhere near Los Angeles, so there’s not much in the way of autumnal atmosphere on display, but there’s a heavy emphasis on the approaching kidstravaganza of Halloween! We see Kenny at play, nearly messing up a football game by running the wrong way before his best buddy Doug sets him aright; we see him at school, where he interacts with a cool teacher played by Reggie Bannister, that Coscarelli mainstay we know so well from Phantasm II; we see him at home, with parents that are decent but sometimes annoy him or give him bad advice!

Mostly we see him hanging out with his pal Doug, played by the kid who was Mike in Phantasm! They skateboard, ride in their go-kart, pull pranks (including one cruel jest in which they fool the annoying kid across the street into snapping his fingers in a mousetrap) and generally behave much in the manner I recollect from my own days as a 70s youth! Ha ha, Kenny’s a fair bit older than I was at that time, but I still have some groovy memories from those pointy-lapelled days of yore! Much of the picture chronicles Kenny’s battle with a truly imposing bully called Johnny Hoffman, and his creepy little sidekick Pudwell (who is played by one of the kids from the same year's Grizzly, ha ha)!

But the shadow of Johnny Hoffman, large as it is, does not loom over the whole of Kenny & Company! It’s mostly blissfully nostalgic goings-on steeped in a heavy, all-natural 70s atmosphere - a Richard Linklater movie for the pre-teen set! Ha ha, Coscarelli probably wasn’t thinking about making a glorious time capsule when he made this picture, but just look at the clothes, the bikes, the cars in the background! Look at what Kenny and Doug do for fun, double skateboarding in a manner that today would have them on the evening news and then arrested! One of them even skates through a pile of flaming debris, and of course they also ride around in the back of a pickup truck!

We see Kenny daring to hold the hand of a girl he likes! And we see him visit the local muscleman! And of course in art class, Doug pulls the old trick of sculpting a hollow ball that will blow up in the kiln and destroy everybody else’s work! Ha ha, someone did this very trick in my art class back in grade 7! And then there’s Doug’s dad, a big, red-faced cop with a keen sense of humour, whose favourite gag is to lock people up with his handcuffs and then pretend he left the key at the office! It’s all perfectly wonderful, just a blissful good time at the movies! Even the many scenes of Kenny wrestling with his own mortality - a theme not unexpected if you’ve seen Phantasm - don’t harsh the buzz!

I guess I was in just the right frame of mind for this movie, and with the right company when I watched it, because I really loved it! Sure it’s shapeless and not terribly slick, and potentially boring to those who can’t find any entry point into its magical world! But I was with it from the start, and let me tell you, it’s worth a watch! It’s easily found on the internet for free, so go forth and step into the little time machine that is Kenny & Company, a film to which I bequeath three Pudwells! Ha ha!

Monday 26 October 2020

Burl reviews The Monster Squad! (1987)


Ha ha and flapping bats, it’s Burl, coming your way with an all-new review! Now I’m a fellow who saw a lot of movies in the 1980s, and I tried to see just about every horror movie that came along, if I could! Ha ha, I even saw Jaws: The Revenge! But one movie I didn’t bother with was today’s entry, The Monster Squad, because it looked to me like a kids’ movie, and by the summer of 1987 I was simply too sophisticated for such nonsense! I was in the first maturity, the false maturity!

And in the intervening years I haven’t spent a lot of energy tracking it down, even though I was and am a big supporter of director Fred Dekker’s previous movie, Night of the Creeps! But for years now I’ve been catching up with pictures like this and watching them with my son, and this Halloween season was the right time to finally watch The Monster Squad! I’ll admit here and now that I was fearful of a Goonies-style scream-fest, with kids talking like particularly loutish adults and plenty of insults for the portly!

And to a degree, that’s what I got! But in this tale of horror-loving tweens battling real Universal monsters (or as close to that as the Universal legal department would allow, given that this is a Tri-Star production), I also got some idea of why the movie is so beloved by people just a few years younger than me! The horror passion on display is genuine and convincing, and extends from the characters to the movie itself! Ha ha, that goes a long way with this viewer! And the portly child Horace, played by the late Brent Chalem from Moving Violations, who is called “fat kid” even by his supposed friends, gets the kind of validation never given to Chunk in The Goonies!

The kid actors are okay, with the weakest of them probably being the one who plays the lead, Sean! Sean’s cop dad, played by Stephen Macht from Nightwing and Amityville 1992: It’s About Time, and his mom, played by Mary Ellen Trainor who was in Die Hard and also played the mom in The Goonies, are having marital problems, and that part of the movie is a drag, but it doesn’t take up much screen time! The monster actors are pretty good - there’s a Frankenstein Monster played by the marvelous, towering Tom Noonan, celebrated from his appearances in Wolfen and F/X; and a werewolf played by King Vidiot from Joysticks, Jonathan Gries! I wasn’t such a fan of the movie’s Dracula, though - he seemed too posh and uncommitted to his evil most of the time!

Leonardo Cimino from Dune as the Scary German Guy, who is in fact an affable concentration camp survivor, is a delight, but unfortunately there’s an irritating performance from Stan Shaw, an actor I usually like in pictures such as Truck Turner and Snake Eyes and Daylight, as a perpetually sarcastic cop who gets blown up by Dracula! On the backside of the camera, Dekker does a fine job of keeping things moving, and makes sure the kids have an awesome treehouse of horror to hang out in! I wasn’t a big fan of the way the picture looks pictorially, though - the wide screen was a good choice, but the cinematography seemed too bright to me, not evocative of the Germanic look of the Universal pictures! Ha ha, that would have been nice!

The monster designs and makeup are almost all great though, the exception once again being Dracula, who looks like a local actor in a dinner theatre production of the Deane/Balderston play! And there’s some fine carnage for an ostensible kids’ movie, and plenty of adult-ish talk too! It was pretty enjoyable, but frankly no Night of the Creeps! But it was no Goonies either, and for that we can all be grateful! I give The Monster Squad two Return of the Living Dead movie posters!

Saturday 24 October 2020

Burl reviews Phantasm! (1978)


BURRRRRRL! Ha ha, no, it’s not the Tall Man, it’s me, Burl, reviewing the very first of the Phantasm pictures, which is to say Phantasm! Now, I’ve seen the picture a time or two, and I’m pretty sure I saw it back in the old days of VHS, but somehow it never really spoke to me! I liked it passably well, sure, but never concentrated on the movie hard enough to buy into the dream logic frequency it operates on! It wasn’t until Phantasm II came out in 1988, and I went to see it in the theatre, that I really began to appreciate the demento imagination behind these pictures!

Of course we know the story of Phantasm, or what passes for a story! In a small town (which is, like Haddonfield, really just cobbled together from a bunch of L.A.-adjacent locations), a teenage orphan called Mike notices strange goings-on around the local funeral home! His older brother’s buddy has just been killed, and a weird, towering, almost psychotically stern-looking undertaker is hefting coffins around like they were empty cardboard boxes, and robed dwarves are running around and then there’s that severed finger bleeding mustard, the enormous housefly, and the silver flying ball that spikes itself into people’s foreheads and drains their blood as though through a firehose! And don’t forget the tuning forks that lead to another dimension!

Ha ha, it sounds like I’m describing a weird nightmare, doesn’t it! That’s exactly the appeal of Phantasm; well, that and the hardcore 1970s After School Special atmosphere it possesses! Actually, maybe the combination of crazy metaphysical supernatural sci-fi horror and Brady Bunch melodrama is what makes the thing work the way it does! Add to that the frowny Tall Man, played by good old Angus Scrimm from Chopping Mall, and the mellow balding ponytailed hipster-jester sidekick ice cream man buddy Reggie, and an unforgettably boss HemiCuda, and you’ve got a mighty groovy concoction!  

The acting is all over the place, but every performance, however raggedy, is exactly what the picture requires! Michael Baldwin from Kenny & Company is fine as Mike, and Bill Thornbury from Summer School Teachers does what he needs to do as Jody, the older brother! Scrimm and Reggie Bannister, playing Reggie of course, are even better! The picture could use a strong female character or two, but I guess you can’t have everything!

It’s a special little movie, very 1970s, very nonsensical, and quite unique! As much as I like Phantasm II, I almost wish this original movie was a standalone phenomenon! (Ha ha, the subsequent sequels have some pleasures to offer I suppose, but in the end are pretty forgettable! At least, I’ve pretty much forgotten them!) I guess it’s not for everyone, but those who like weirdness and 1970s So-Cal blow-dry madness will find a lot to appreciate! I give this crazy movie Phantasm three giant flies in the garbarator!

Friday 16 October 2020

Burl reviews Invasion of the Body Snatchers! (1978)


Hello, it’s Burl, and believe me, it really is Burl, not an outer space replacement! Ha ha, you know it’s me, because I don’t think my pod replacement would laugh quite so much, or if he did, it would be in a sinisterly robotic fashion! No, it’s good ol’ Burl, here to review possibly my favourite iteration of that old tale of poddery, Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

Now, I’m sure I don’t need to defend my preference for this over, say, the Abel Ferrara version, Body Snatchers (which I still enjoyed quite a bit!), or close cousins like The Puppet Masters, which has its own modest charms perhaps! There will be some, though, who are aghast that I would like this better than the original Don Siegel picture! I suppose it’s because I’m a city kid, so can better relate to the unease of urban dehumanization than I can to the small-town version we see in Siegel’s film! Anyway, the old one is excellent, don’t get me wrong - ha ha, and so large did it loom in the cine-political firmament as I was growing up that I used to believe “McCarthyism” referred to the star of the picture, Kevin McCarthy, and not the diseased Senator Joseph McCarthy! Ha ha, shows to go you where my interests lay!

Anyway, we’re here to talk about Kaufman’s picture, which, by the way, employs both Siegel and McCarthy in important cameo roles! We also get Robert Duvall from The Killer Elite in a strangely sinister appearance as a swinging street priest! But our stars are San Francisco public health official Matthew, played by Donald Sutherland from Klute and Heaven Help Us (and The Puppet Masters, ha ha!) and his co-worker, on whom he clearly and understandably nurses a big crush, Elizabeth, played by Brooke Adams from The Baby-Sitters Club!

Of course spores come from space right at the outset, and right away Elizabeth’s husband, played by Art Hindle from Black Christmas and Porky’s, is replaced by his pod double, and becomes emotionless and uncaring about sports, a subject on which he previously was compulsive! The feeling of a grip being slowly tightened settles over the movie, and ordinary street scenes acquire a disquieting menace! Kaufman, who later brought us The Right Stuff, also brings it here with his masterful control over the material!

He also put together a stellar cast: in addition to those mentioned, we get a new agey couple who run a mud baths, played by Jeff Goldblum from Buckaroo Banzai and Veronica Cartwright from The Birds! Ha ha, a terrific couple, and then too we have Mister Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy from Star Trek Into Darkness and The Brain Eaters (which, being an off-brand adaptation of Robert Heinlein's original The Puppet Masters, is another cousin to the Body Snatchers series)! Ha ha, what a bonanza! All the performers acquit themselves admirably, with Sutherland especially good!

Terrific photography by Michael Chapman, marvelous trick makeup by Tom Burman and family, and great San Francisco location work all make for a movie that’s a jewel of a pip of a beauty, and a real work of craftsmanship! Ha ha, and watch out for that ending! The post-Nixon paranoia, the satire of 70s self-help, the character work, the eerie use of ‘Amazing Grace,’ it’s all part of this wonderful and of-its-time picture, and I give Invasion of the Body Snatchers three and a half man-headed dogs!

Burl reviews Army of Darkness! (1992)


Klaatu Burlada Niktoo! Yes, it’s Burl, here to review a movie for you, as I so often enjoy to do! Now here’s a movie I’ve been fond of for quite a few years, though I confess to being fonder of its series forbears than of this picture itself! However, it’s still a tremendous lot of fun, and the movie of course is the third in the Evil Dead trilogy, Army of Darkness!

It’s a curious little trio, because each picture has a different tone, and each to some extent must repeat or at least recap what has come before for those who have not seen the earlier entry, or entries; and at the same time must serve those who like all three! For the record, I love the first one, but am fonder still of the second, which I managed to see in the theatre on opening night by sneaky means! This third adventure of the hapless Ash against the army of Deadites is by almost every measure - budget, spectacle, and laff-count excepted -  the least of the three!

The overarching story involves Ash, played by Bruce Campbell from Maniac Cop and The Hudsucker Proxy, a slightly dim shopman who goes on a weekend vacation to a cabin in the woods, fights devils, and is whisked by a vortex back to medieval England! There he must fight more devils and quest for a copy of the unholy Necronomicon, the all-purpose demon book that contains a spell which the local wizard, played by Ian Abercrombie from Von Ryan’s Express and The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood, can use to send our man Ash back to his position in housewares at S-Mart!

Of course the plot is not the thing here, ha ha! It’s all about the goofery, and the goofery in question is turbo-powered by director Sam Raimi’s great love for the Three Stooges! I share this love, so the poinks and slaps and facewashings which Ash endures, and sometimes dishes out, go a long mile with me! The amazing amount of punishment poor Ash is subjected to is the running joke in all the Evil Dead pictures, and it’s a good one!

Ha ha, and at times, this picture recalls one of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies, or Jason and the Argonauts, except there’s no ship’s crew or Argonauts along, just Ash! We get little showcase segments like Ash fighting miniature versions of himself that have arisen from shards of mirror; Ash splitting in two; Ash trying to claim the book but forgetting the words of his magic spell; and then a whole lot of action japery once it becomes a castle siege!

The picture has all sorts of attractions, like the old-style trick effects, the goofy-gruesome monster design, the uproarious tough-guy dialogue, and of course a special cameo appearance from Bridget Fonda, whom we recall from Single White Female! Campbell pulls off the role of Ash as few others could, and his willingness to be abused by his director is admirable! Ha ha, it’s a rollicking, old-fashioned good time at the movies! I give Army of Darkness three requests for sugar!

Thursday 15 October 2020

Burl reviews Rambo: Last Blood! (2019)


Hi there and welcome to oldster action! Yes, today we have some geriatric mayhem for you courtesy of Sylvester Stallone, well known from such pictures as Cobra and Cliffhanger and Cannonball, and even some that don’t start with C! This one for instance: it’s the latest, and maybe even the last (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter taught me never to trust subtitles) of the entertainment series about a catastrophically damaged war veteran plagued every day by unending emotional torment, and won’t the voices in his head PLEASE JUST STOP?!?!?!?!? Ha ha, yes, I’m talking about John Rambo, and here is his latest psychotic adventure: Rambo: Last Blood!

I believe I’ve seen all of his previous cavalcades: the marvelous initial picture, First Blood, in which he only kills one person, and him by accident; the second picture, Rambo: First Blood part II, in which he became a Reagan-era superhero; the third one, Rambo III, the most expensive movie ever when it was made, in which he travels to Afghanistan and helps the Taliban with its self-actualization; the fourth, Rambo, tout court, in which we meet him again after a long absence to find him back in Vietnam, training snakes and machine-gunning evil soldiers into gobbets of bloody flesh; and now here he is again, having somehow become a horse rancher in Texas or Arizona or some such!

He’s assembled a little family too, though I never really figured out the specifics of the relationships! There’s an older lady who could be his wife, his girlfriend, his housekeeper or his nurse, or maybe just his roommate; and a young woman who calls him “Uncle John,” but who doesn’t seem to be his actual niece! Well, ha ha, whatever the actual link, the point is that he cares for these people, in his way, and when the girl, in defiance of pleas from both the woman and Uncle John, travels down to Mexico in search of her real father, she is immediately kidnapped by sex slavers! Of course it’s up to Rambo to go down and save her, which he does, but too late! This necessitates a vengeance vacation back to Mexico for Rambo, and then a visit from the remaining bad guys up to the horse ranch, which Rambo has equipped with tunnels and booby traps in case of just such an eventuality!

And that’s the plot! The first half of the movie is all lead-up, and the second half is largely mayhem! Border crossing is a non-issue: the bad guys have a tunnel, and Rambo simply drives his truck through the border fence whenever he crosses! The key selling point here is the violence, which is as over the top as it was in the previous picture! Ha ha, there’s a nasty scene where he rips out a fellow’s clavicle; another in which he bowls a guy’s head down the highway; and then, once the slavers arrive at the farm, there’s an array of pokings and blastings designed to offer catharsis to the casual xenophobe! And of course there's the grand finale: ripping out a man’s heart and showing it to him before he dies!

Stallone does his resigned, world-weary psychopath thing in such a way as to seem a parody of the type! The girl he was trying in his Travis Bickle-ish way to protect is punished so severely for her poor decision-making that she becomes not a human character but a kind of sad, hyper-manipulated symbol! As a drama, Rambo: Last Blood is unmemorable; as a piece of cinema, unremarkable; as an atrocity exhibition, unconscionable! As the rear bookend to the Rambo saga, it might as well be seeking to invalidate everything worthwhile about the first picture, and to undercut the heroics of all the others! And, as I’ve already hinted, it wants to be Taxi Driver, but the big problem there is that there’s already a Taxi Driver, which does the job of being Taxi Driver just fine thank you very much! Ha ha! I give Rambo: Last Blood one front porch rocking chair!

Tuesday 13 October 2020

Burl reviews The Changeling! (1979)

Boo and double boo, it’s Burl, here with a haunted house story! Now, the picture under review today is not a universally-known movie, but those who like it tend to like it a lot! Ha ha, it’s a Canadian picture, but stars perhaps the last person you’d expect to be frightened by ghosts: the carved-out-of-mahogany George C. Scott, whom we recall from Dr. Strangelove! And the movie, of course, is The Changeling!

It starts with a tragic sequence in which Scott, trapped in a phone booth, watches as his wife and daughter are run over by a dumptruck! Months later, in his bereavement, he moves to Seattle and rents the biggest and most-likely-to-be-haunted home he can find, with local historical society member Trish Van Devere, whom we know from The Hearse and Hollywood Vice Squad, and who was Scott’s real-life wife, acting for some reason as the realty agent!

Strange things begin to occur from the moment Scott moves in, ha ha! Echoing clangs, moanings and whisperings, and strange tunes from dusty music boxes fill the mansion; hidden rooms and cobwebbed wheelchairs are discovered; rubber bouncing balls materialize and roll across the floor! Scott and Van Devere put on their deerstalkers and investigate, and the clues lead them to unearth an eighty year-old scandal-mystery involving a powerful old senator played by Melvyn Douglas, who of course fought and succumbed to a phantom again in Ghost Story! The Scott-Van Devere team also pull up some floorboards in a different house to simultaneously reveal a) an old well containing a child’s bones, and b) the striking similarities between this picture and The Ring! Ha ha!

I’ve got to mention a few effective scenes! Most famous is when the wheelchair comes to life and chases Van Devere around the house - ha ha, many recall having the gumdrops scared out of them by this sequence, though it wasn’t as intense as I recalled from my own junior viewings of the picture! Better, though less showy, is the séance scene, with the scrawling hand on the paper and the husband reading out what the medium is writing down! Yes, I thought it was a fine scene, well-directed and acted by solid old pros!

There are plenty of familiar Canadian and British and British-Canadian faces in here! We get Jean Marsh from Frenzy; John Colicos from Phobia, playing his usual hard-nosed cop; Barry Morse from Funeral Home; Eric Christmas from Porky’s; Bernard Behrens from The Man With Two Brains; and Frances Hyland from Happy Birthday To Me! These folks all help the movie with its classy, mid-Atlantic bona-fides, as does the director, Hungarian-born, British-based Peter Medak, who also brought us such varied pictures as The Ruling Class, Romeo is Bleeding, and Species 2!

The Changeling, for its part, is a fine movie, but that’s all it is really! It’s not a great haunted house movie like The Haunting, nor is it quirky, weird and eerie like The Legend of Hell House! Like the house it’s largely set in, the film is solid, expansive, and foursquare; and though it’s a winter picture, it’s a good item for this Halloween season! I give The Changeling two and a half old biddies!

Thursday 8 October 2020

Burl reviews Sleepy Hollow! (1999)


Ha ha and headchops, it’s Burl, here with a drama of decapitation that stands with the best work that frizzhead Tim Burton ever did! I mean, I like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure as much as anybody, and Beetlejuice and the first couple of Batman pictures are just fine, but I maintain that his finest picture is Ed Wood, and his second finest (of the ones I’ve seen, anyway) is today’s extravaganza Sleepy Hollow!

It’s pretty clear that Burton wanted to make his own version of a Hammer film here, and he tips that hand right at the beginning with a marvelous cameo from Christopher Lee, whom we know so well from pictures like from Starship Invasions and Desperate Moves! The picture also seems a belated addition to the horror updates they were doing in the 1990s, with Coppola’s Dracula and Branagh’s Frankenstein!

So it’s a mélange of several different things, but they all come together to make a new thing that, for my money, holds together decently well! The story is similar to the one told in Washington Irving’s classic tale, and in the animated Disney thing everyone has seen, but is not exactly the same! Here, Ichabod Crane, played by Johnny Depp from A Nightmare on Elm Street of course, is an investigator in 1799 New York who, though he suffers from both nervousness and squeamishness, wishes to bring modern forensic techniques to the rather crude police procedures of the day!

Christopher Lee sends him to the hamlet of Sleepy Hollow to investigate the head-choppings that have been taking place there, and when Crane arrives he finds the town terrified of the risen ghost of a nasty horseman played, when he has a head, by a shark-toothed Christopher Walken from The Sentinel and A View to a Kill! He also finds winsome lass Christina Ricci from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; flinty Miranda Richardson from Spider; and the greatest gallery of English character actors outside of a Harry Potter film! We get Michael Gambon from Nothing But the Night and The Life Aquatic; Richard Griffiths from Withnail & I; Ian McDiarmid from The Rise of Skywalker; and Michael Gough from The Serpent and the Rainbow!  Jeffrey Jones from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Casper Van Dien from Starship Troopers are also present and accounted for!

You can see that the cast is one of the strong points here, but so, naturally, are the decors and other pictorial aspects! It’s a fine-looking picture, and, befitting a movie about a decapitating ghost, doesn’t skimp on the blood and gore! Ha ha, I remember seeing this one in the theatre and being genuinely delighted, and not a little surprised, that they went as far as they did with the tomato paste! I mean, it’s still fairly anodyne when you compare it to something like Re-Animator, let’s say, but for a mainstream Hollywood release it demonstrates a reasonable dedication to the tenets of cinema as outlined by Fangoria magazine!

It’s got some flaws, of course - the story seems to fall apart a bit as the picture goes on, and Depp’s character, who keeps fainting all the time, is a little too goofy and cartoonish and a-scared of spiders! Ricci is slightly miscast, and Danny Elfman’s score, while perfectly effective in the moment, is curiously unmemorable! However, with all that it’s a fine picture to watch around the Halloween season, especially if you have a junior member of your family who likes horror and is old enough to handle seeing a few heads roll around! Ha ha, I’m going to give Sleepy Hollow three headbags!

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Burl reviews City Slickers! (1991)


Yee-haw girls and boys and all points in between, it’s Burl, here with a tale of city-slick friendship and cowpunching! Ha ha, I recall that this was a big fat hit when it came out back in June of ’91, but, as with Backdraft, Point Break, and The Rocketeer, movies released that same summer, I didn’t bother seeing it for years and years! I didn’t go to see all that much that summer, as I believe I myself was working on a movie through pretty much all of July and August, but I did make it out to see such gems as Barton Fink, Terminator 2, Slacker, The Commitments, and What About Bob!

All of this is just plain beside the point, because the movie we’re talking about is City Slickers! It’s the simple tale of three New York buddies, each with their own problems, who take two weeks and join a dude ranch cattle drive led by a stern and leathery trail boss! Ha ha, and guess who plays the boss? Well, he won an Oscar for it I guess, so you probably remember that it was none other than Jack Palance from Without Warning!

The middle-aged trio are played by Billy Crystal, whom we remember from the time he was slathered in oldman makeup for The Princess Bride; Bruno Kirby from The Young Graduates and Between the Lines (and of course both Crystal and Kirby were in When Harry Met Sally together); and Daniel Stern from Get Crazy and C.H.U.D.! Stern’s problem is that he has a monstrous wife and that he might have impregnated Yeardley Smith from Maximum Overdrive; Kirby’s conundrum involves resolving whether to settle down with his latest girlfriend and have kids, or continue his life as an aimless, unlikely stickman; and Crystal is, at forty (ha ha!), feeling old and used up and, in the words of his long-suffering wife, has “lost his smile!”

After a long New York build up, she commands him to go and find his smile with his buddies on this cattle drive caper, and then the string of incident begins! Other dude ranchers on the trek include Helen Slater from The Secret of My Success, as the lone pretty lady; Tracey Walter from Repo Man, in charge of the chuckwagon; Josh Mostel from The King of Marvin Gardens and David Paymer from This House Possessed, playing ice cream brothers modeled on Ben and Jerry; and Bill Henderson from Silver Streak as a dentist on the outing with his adult son; and the ranch is owned and operated by Noble Willingham from Butch and Sundance: The Early Days!

The trip is full of gaggery and straight talkin’ 90s man discussions, and the script tries hard to be relatable and sometimes even comes close! There’s also some death and a cow birth and a stampede and assorted other such stuff! Ha ha, I just made up a term for movies like this, which have all the trappings of Westerns but really aren’t themselves Westerns: we’ll call them “faux-ters!” As in oaters, but faux! Do you think the term will catch on, and we’ll soon see it used in all the new academic stuff as well as on random blog posts? Well anyway, it’s a professionally put together comedy movie, quite likeable despite its whole “it’s tough being a straight white guy” vibe, occasionally funny, sometimes cheesy, but for all that, pretty entertaining! Nothing about it is great (though the cast is pretty exceptional) and nothing about it is surprising, and it could have jacked up the Palance a bit, but it’s okay! I’m going to give City Slickers two smiley-faced moons!

Monday 5 October 2020

Burl reviews The Birds! (1963)


Cheep-cheep and bad birdseed, it’s Burl, here to Hitch your wagon to a new review, ha ha! Today I want to review a movie I’ve seen many times, but always enjoy; and ha ha, you know, though it’s not perfect, I think it just keeps getting better! It’s Alfred Hitchcock’s tale of avian disturbance, The Birds!

I think you all know the story: birds attack, nobody knows why! But it’s also a people story, with flighty (ha ha!) San Francisco socialite Melanie Daniels, played by Tippi Hedren from Marnie, acting like a complete maniac and following handsome lawyer Rod Taylor, whom we remember from The Time Machine, up the coast to Bodega Bay in order to teach him a lesson by gifting a pair of lovebirds to his little sister! Ha ha, yes, her plan is as insane as it sounds! She sort of reminds me of Marion Crane and her little pile of cash in Psycho!

Up in Bodega Bay, Melanie rents a boat from none other than Doodles Weaver from The Errand Boy! It seems that Rod Taylor, playing the rather smug Mitch Brenner, is up for the weekend visiting his mom Lydia, essayed by Jessica Tandy from Cocoon, and his little sister Cathy, a pubescent performance from Veronica Cartwright of The Witches of Eastwick! Meanwhile the local schoolmistress, Suzanne Pleshette from The Shaggy D.A., is obviously carrying a torch for Mitch, but lets Melanie rent a room for the night in her house anyway! Ha ha, they even become friends, after a fashion!

Given that Melanie has some growing up to do (but also has done some growing up previous to the opening moments of the story), and frosty old Lydia, the world’s primmest chicken farmer, has her own obvious if obscure son-related issues, and Pleshette’s character Annie Hayworth is jealous, sad, and stoic all at the same time, there’s plenty of soap opera material available here! But Hitch knows how to do all this stuff in his own way, and the drama and the bird attacks are somehow all of a piece!

And those bird attacks! Ha ha, this surely must have been a heck of a shoot, especially for old Hitch, who was afraid of birds! But the technical wizardry from such accomplished trick effect folks as Ub Iwerks and Albert Whitlock, and many others besides, still dazzles after all these years, and so the movie is a great pleasure to watch from a technical standpoint! It looks good too, except for the odd dud of a studio shot, ha ha!

There’s an artifice to the human element that the picture never really overcomes, but that really does get swept aside by the principal element, as underlined by the title itself: The Birds! Those flappers and squawkers and beakéd beasts really do their stuff, ha ha, and as a result the movie is a grand entertainment in the way only Hitchcock could create! They peck out eyes, they go after old folks and children, they bust through doors and swoop down chimneys and blow up gas stations, and if I were to list all the ways in which this picture is superior to Beaks: The Movie, we’d be here all day! Ha ha! I give The Birds three and a half old lady berets!

Saturday 3 October 2020

Burl reviews Eyes of a Stranger! (1980)


Hello, Burl here! It’s my duty today to review a slasher picture, but one that’s particularly unpleasant because he’s a rapist too! The fact that it leans in a little more to a Special Makeup Effects-type of slashing than one expects (or not: the Special Makeup Effects in question are by Tom Savini) only mitigates this unpleasantness a little bit! Anyway, the movie is Eyes of a Stranger, made in Florida by the same guys who made King Frat!

Later on the same fellow, Ken Wiederhorn, directed Return of the Living Dead II, which at least was slicker than this one! Eyes of a Stranger brings us a tubby, spectacled sex maniac played by John DiSanti from For Keeps! Ha ha, the filmmakers gave him the most boring-guy name they could think of, which is “Stanley Herbert!” He’s the sort of übercreep who follows women around, leering and licking his lips, makes some horrible phone calls to them, then busts into their homes and rapes and murders them! He’s a really terrible guy, and sometimes you only keep watching the movie to see him take some punishment! Which, ha ha, he finally does, later!

Our hero is Jane Harris, the sort of local newslady who’s not afraid to go off script and tell it like it is! She’s played by Lauren Tewes from the good old Love Boat, but not doing much cruise direction here! Naturally the assault killings have her upset, and imagine her surprise on discovering that the maniac lives in her own building complex! She has a Harold Ramis-y lawyer boyfriend who doesn’t believe anything she says, and whom I thought I remembered being on the receiving end of a sound poking through the head, but it turns out I was thinking of a different Savini-ganza, The Prowler!

More important by far than the boyfriend is Jane’s little sister, who, years earlier, had been abducted by a different creep and rendered psychosomatically deaf and blind from the experience! She’s played by Jennifer Jason Leigh of Single White Female and Grandview U.S.A., and of course Backdraft, and she pulls off the blind and deaf stuff quite well, in spite of some of the things she’s asked to do! Ha ha, it’s not her fault, after all, that a neuropathologically dubious turn of events at the climax will stretch the suspension bridge of disbelief with the force of a Godzilla!

There are some quite effective suspense sequences in the movie, though not so good as they might have been, perhaps; and there are also some outright missed opportunities! The slasher aspect is present, though sometimes seems a bit shoehorned in - according to Savini, the extra tomato paste was called for only later in production, after the producers noticed how well their previous film Friday the 13th was doing! And so the makeup man provided a head chopping, a knife poking and a couple of juicy gunshots, which were then of course themselves quite badly chopped by censors! Ha ha, oh well!

It’s not a good picture, though it has moments, and it certainly has a hateful villain whose comeuppance you await eagerly! I liked the twin apartment tower thing, but they could have done a lot more with it methinks! It’s no classic, and I suppose I’ll give Eyes of a Stranger one and a half Dawn of the Dead posters!