Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday 25 February 2021

Burl reviews House! (1986)


Ding dong, it’s Burl at the door! Ha ha, today I’m going to maintain my occasional habit of telling little stories about my personal experience with whatever movie I happen to be reviewing! The funny thing about today’s movie is that my personal experience involves not seeing it! Ha ha, the movie I’m talking about is House, and not the crazy Japanese one either but the one Steve Miner made to escape the curse of making movies like Friday the 13th part 2 and Friday the 13th part 3-D!

You see, it was around this time of year in 1986 when House was released into theatres! For whatever reason, the powers that be rated it R in my bailiwick, and that meant no one under 18 could see the movie under any circumstances! Ha ha, this rating still mystifies me! Anyway, it was playing at the theatre around the corner from me, and I and two of my friends decided to try our luck! One friend, Rob, would have no trouble getting past the crabby old lady at the ticket booth: at age fifteen, he looked more like he was twenty! My pal Dave, on the other hand, had just turned sixteen, but looked ten! (I myself was fifteen and looked fifteen, ha ha!)

So before the movie I snipped off a bunch of hair from Dave’s head and used spirit gum to construct a fulsome moustache on his upper lip! I worked hard at it and it looked fantastic, but when I was done there was no time left to make one for myself! When we got there, Rob sailed through with no problem, and then Dave, with his big fake blonde moustache, made it in as well! Of course it was me who was refused entrance to the movie, and I had to go home and wait as Rob and Dave enjoyed the film! When they arrived back at my house they said the picture was only okay, and I assumed they were just being nice so I wouldn’t feel bad for missing it!

When I finally saw it, I realized they were right: it was only okay, if even that! And now that I’ve watched it again, my opinion on the movie must be revised still further downward! Here’s the story: a grocery boy arrives at a big Victorian house to find that the old lady who lives there has hanged herself! Her nephew, a big-time horror novelist struggling to write something uncharacteristic (a popular sort of a character, thanks to Stephen King), inherits the house! His name is Roger Cobb, he’s played by William Katt from Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, and his crowded backstory involves the mysterious disappearance of his son, and, separately, a touch of guilt from his Vietnam days, which is what he’s trying to write a book about!

Never mind that William Katt seems much too young to have fought in Vietnam, ha ha, especially seeing as how he doesn’t look any younger in the flashbacks! And it is a flashback-heavy movie, and also a movie of extremely terrible scoopneck sweaters! Luckily Roger’s next-door neighbor is a goofy but kind-hearted guy played by George Wendt from Fletch and Dreamscape, and the scenes involving him have some appeal! Kay Lenz from White Line Fever is Roger’s ex-wife, and Richard Moll from The Sword and the Sorcerer is the old Army buddy who reappears as an angry zombie-man!

The picture occasionally dips a toe into the rubber reality you find in Nightmare on Elm Street pictures, but it seems much more interested in simply having monsters pop out of closets to startle Roger! There are some odd tonal shifts, but neither Miner nor anyone else possessed the deftness of touch to weave these together with any style or elegance! It’s never the least bit scary, and the reason for the R rating that kept me out all those years ago is completely baffling! Ha ha, around here pictures like The Thing and Ghost Story were rated PG, and I and my friends went to see them with impunity and without adults! I can only assume a lozenge became stuck in the throat of somebody on the ratings committee while they were adjudging House, and so the picture got that R!

The upshot: it’s a mediocre mid-level horror picture, professionally made and slick enough, with a few bright spots here and there and some cartoonish monsters! It’s badly edited and relies very heavily on some low dolly shots of the house, which it only needed one or two of instead of the dozen or so that we get! And what’s with that Swedish neighbor cadging child care from Roger? I could discern no point to the sequence, other than to show us that Roger’s fatherhood instincts are still intact! Ha ha, it’s a pretty bad movie, and I award House one wet sweater!

Tuesday 23 February 2021

Burl reviews Black Cobra! (1987)


Greetings to all, it’s Burl here with another review! Ha ha, and this is a strange one: a movie that isn’t any kind of official remake, but an unofficial adaptation that makes no bones about its status as a cinematic remora! Of course there are a lot of these movies in international cinema, from the Turkish Star Wars on down, and endless Italian examples but usually they purloin from big hit movies instead of, say, the Sly Stallone vehicle Cobra! Ha ha! Yes, the picture I’m talking about today is the Italian-made, Fred Williamson-starring, hyper-literally titled Black Cobra!

The Hammer, whom we remember from The New Gladiators, itself the Italian clone of The Running Man, plays Robert, aka Black Cobra, a homicide cop whose unconventional methods drive his captain crazy! We see his moves early in the picture when, instead of a supermarket as in Cobra, some nogoodniks have taken over a swimming pool, of all places! Meanwhile there’s a crazed murder gang with a profound love of studded leather, led by big-faced Bruno Bilotta from Warrior of the Lost World! In the course of their everyday murder activities, Bilotta has his picture taken by fashion photographer Miss Trumbo, played by Eva Grimaldi, who was in something called The Fine Art of Love: Mine Ha Ha! Based on that title, I supposed I ought to see that one some day!

The murder gang decides that the hospitalized Miss Trumbo must be killed, and as step one of their plan to infiltrate the medical institution, they wrap a chain around some poor motorist’s neck and drag him to his bloody demise! Step two involves actually visiting the hospital, but Black Cobra arrives there too, and rides gurneys around the place while blasting away at the murder gang! Black Cobra manages to save Miss Trumbo from the murder gang, but only just, and so he decides that the best way he can protect her is if she comes and lives with him!

At home, Black Cobra is utterly dominated by his cat Purvis, which terrorizes him with its constant demands for colour-coded cat food! (Could this be a little tribute to The Long Goodbye? Ha ha!) But even Purvis must adapt to a new routine when Miss Trumbo arrives, and one somewhat nervously expects the movie to become an Odd Couple riff, with Miss Trumbo complaining about Black Cobra’s homemaking habits! But this doesn’t come to pass! Instead, happily, the murder gang attacks again and people are blasted by Black Cobra’s big gun or the grenades he will occasionally toss!

Meanwhile Black Cobra has a partner whose teenage daughter is kidnapped by the violence gang, and their wish is to trade her for Miss Trumbo! But Black Cobra is having none of it, informing his partner that “I’d go and get her even if it was Santa Claus’s daughter!” Ha ha, I’m sure Santa is happy to hear that! The climax is decently well done for a cheap little rip-off picture, I suppose, and includes a fake-out or two; but the gang leader’s demise is nothing close to the spectacle offered in the Stallone picture!

Those are the things you miss in these rip-offs! Cobra drove a big black tank-like vintage car; Black Cobra drives a shitbox Ford! The violence gang in Cobra chanted and banged axes together; the clowns in Black Cobra just sit around moping in their abandoned factory hideout! Ha ha, they don’t even keep the furnaces blazing like the guys in Cobra did! On the other hand, neither Cobra nor any other movie I know of can boast a collision between a Chevy Blazer and a windsurfer, ha ha, but Black Cobra sure can! For that, and for all its other little peculiarities, I give it one tin of blue cat food and a half a tin of red!

Monday 22 February 2021

Burl reviews Color Out of Space! (2019)


Good day goldenrods, it’s Burl, here to review some of the latest craziness! Now when I was a younger film enthusiast, one of the more interesting names circling around the cucumber patch was Richard Stanley, the behatted eccentric who made Hardware and Dust Devil! After that, and following a quickly-curtailed but legendary attempt to direct The Island of Doctor Moreau, it seemed that he simply became too strange for the silver screen, and we all feared he’d been consigned to the dust bin of film history for ever and ever! Thankfully, however, that is not the case - in the last few years he began making genial appearances in documentaries and podcasts and other such stuff, and then finally made a new movie, an adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story Color Out of Space!

I know what you’re saying! “Ha ha, Burl, I’ve already seen the Ovidio J. Assonitis adaptation from 1987, The Curse, featuring TV’s Sheriff Lobo in a starring role! Do I really need to see this one?” My answer to that is yes, because the ways in which this version is superior to its predecessor can hardly be counted! The 1987 version is, frankly, chock full of assonitis, and while this can sometimes be a good thing, as it is with Tentacles or The Visitor, in the case of The Curse it did old Howard Phillip Lovecraft no especial favours, ha ha!

Believe it or not, the story this time is set on a family alpaca farm! Yes I said alpacas! And in the family we have dad and chief alpaca enthusiast Nathan, played by Nicolas Cage from Con Air; Theresa, a stock broker of some kind, who comes in the shape of Joely Richardson from Event Horizon; and three kids, a teenage boy and girl, and little Jack, whose spectacles give him that Billingsley look but also mark him as doomed! Hippie squatter Ezra, who turns out to be none other than Tommy Chong from After Hours, is also on hand, as well as a newly arrived hydrologist conducting some kind of research survey! The hydrologist is the audience stand in, the most normal character, and we're grateful to have him!

Well, another new arrival on the farm is a meteorite that carries with it an eerie magenta: the color referred to by the title! Ha ha! Then everything goes buggy: bizarre flowers grow, the alpacas turn odd, mom cuts off her fingers, the well glows and seems to make friends with the little boy, and dad, who was always weird since he’s played by Nicolas Cage, only gets weirder! Much of what happens next owes a great debt to John Carpenter’s The Thing, but then again, The Thing owes a great debt to Lovecraft!

All of this is deeply unpleasant for this poor family of oddballs, and by the last reel the movie weaves together an uncanny atmosphere of strange upset in true Lovecraft style! I found it effective, particularly because I watched it with my own family projected onto the curtains by a powerful 4K projector! Ha ha, I wonder what passers-by outside the house must have thought during some of the stranger and more fuchsia-tinted scenes!

Of course the movie made me think about other Lovecraft adaptations, principally the Stuart Gordon pictures! Re-Animator will always be a personal favourite of mine, but Color Out of Space gives a visual tip o’ the cap more to From Beyond, which also used the pink and purple spectrum to good effect! How this new picture compares with Dagon is unknown to me, since I have not yet seen Dagon! Ha ha, I will soon though, seeing as how it’s sitting in my VHS basement just waiting for me, beckoning come-hither with its pseudopods!

Anyway, there was a lot that could have gone wrong in bringing this picture to the screen, and it’s just so delightful to find that very few of them did! Stanley’s spiritual sensibility fits the material well, and in technical terms the picture accomplishes just exactly what it needs to! I think they really pulled something off here, and I happily award Color Out of Space three alpacas!

Friday 19 February 2021

Burl reviews Phantom of the Paradise! (1974)


With a Hollywood smile and a perfect profile, it’s Burl, here to review the great rock ‘n roll phantasy of the 1970s! No, it’s not the Rocky Horror Picture Show, it’s the other one: Phantom of the Paradise! Ha ha, this picture really was everywhere when I was growing up: everybody I knew had the soundtrack album and could sing the songs by heart! I still recall how grateful I was on being called in by my father from some onerous outdoor chore to watch the movie on TV!

So needless to say I feel quite fondly toward the picture! And of course it comes from Mr. Brian De Palma, who’s made many movies I’ve enjoyed - ha ha, yes, even Wise Guys, and certainly The Fury! In this tale he evokes Faust and updates the cautionary tale of devilish deal-making to the 1970s and plops it into a glam-rock setting! Ha ha, and in this world, the biggest thing in music is a diminutive impresario called Swan, who’s a combination of Phil Spector, David Geffen, Berry Gordy, Bill Graham, Malcolm McLaren, Brian Epstein, Albert Grossman, and Lou Pearlman, with just a dash of Colonel Tom Parker! And all this while standing no taller than three bricks and a short refrigerator, ha ha; but he’s made a deal with the devil as it turns out, and is a pretty ruthless customer in any case!

He’s looking for the perfect new music to open up his new concert hall, the Paradise, and finds it in the piano stylings of Winslow Leach, a songwriter who looks like a weedier Warren Zevon with just a touch of John Sebastian! Of course Swan doesn’t want Leach, just his songs, and soon the naïve but rage-prone songwriter is ignored, then framed, imprisoned, has all his teeth extracted, and is hideously deformed in a record press accident! He dons a leather outfit and a silver bird mask and becomes the vengeful Phantom haunting a cherubic rocksman’s Paradise!

It all ends in a glam-rock delirium that shoots for complete chaos, but, for budgetary reasons, doesn’t quite get there! This is both what’s wrong and what’s admirable about the movie: they all-too-obviously didn’t have the money to create the Olympus of popular music the story really calls for; but what they did accomplish through inventive filmmaking and the Herculean efforts of such people as set dresser Sissy Spacek, ha ha, is extremely impressive!

The songs are good, thank god! Paul Williams, who plays Swan, wrote them and did a good job sending up the 70s singer-songwriter genre, hard rock, nostalgia rock, softrock balladeering, and glam! (It would be considered a truly prophetic work had it predicted punk, New Wave, and disco, but it doesn’t quite make that step!) William Finley, who was in other De Palma pictures like Sisters, and interesting genre pictures like Silent Rage and The Funhouse, is poor schlubby Winslow, driven mad by the storm of malevolence and misfortune he suffers! Jessica Harper from Inserts is the ingénue, Phoenix, the only one Winslow will allow to sing his songs!

The supporting cast has a quintessential quality! We get Gerrit Graham from C pictures like Cannonball, Class Reunion, and Chopping Mall as the fey and monstrous Beef, a sort of Alice Cooper/Gary Glitter hybrid; big George Memmoli from Mean Streets as Swan’s right-hand man; Archie Hahn from Matinee and many other Joe Dante pictures as one of the rotating band members; and groupies played by such lovely and familiar faces as Janit Baldwin from Humongous, Janus Blythe from Eaten Alive, Robin Mattson from Candy Stripe Nurses, and Rainbeaux Smith from The Pom Pom Girls, Logan’s Run, Massacre at Central High, and more!

Its pleasures are so plentiful that it would be churlish to list its flaws, and so I won’t, ha ha! There’s some of that De Palma trickery of course, and I always love that stuff, even when it’s not top shelf material! The split-screen sequence, for example, isn’t as effective as the one in Sisters, but I still like it a lot! But the bottom line is that I am and always will be very fond of this movie! I’ve seen it on TV, on VHS, on DVD and on the big screen in revival showings, and it’s fun every time! And now I’ve shown it to my son, and so the circle continues to turn, ha ha! I give Phantom of the Paradise three and a half neon lightning bolts!

Monday 15 February 2021

Burl reviews Evil Under the Sun! (1982)


With a drawing room hello it’s Burl, here with a good old-fashioned murder mystery to tell you about today! Like The Mirror Crack’d it’s an Agatha Christie story, as was the fashion in the 70s and early 80s; until Cannon took a hand in killing the loosely-knit franchise, just as they strangled others aborning around the same time, Masters of the Universe or what have you! But unlike The Mirror Crack’d, today's picture, Evil Under the Sun has as its sleuth the Belgian moustache wax enthusiast Hercule Poirot, not old Miss Marple!

Of course Poirot is played by Peter Ustinov from Logan’s Run, who had embodied the Fussles from Brussels before in Death on the Nile, and would again in Cannon’s Appointment With Death! Here he appears in a Mediterranean spa, on a sort of a busman’s holiday it seems, and in the company of, by and large, highly objectionable people! Ha ha!  Colin Blakely from The Pink Panther Strikes Again is Sir Horace Blatt, who has entreated the Belgian flatfoot to help him recover a diamond!

The location is a sun-drenched hotel run by Maggie Smith, and other guests include Roddy McDowell from Fright Night and Doin’ Time on Planet Earth as a sailor-hatted gossipmonger; Jane Birkin from Beethoven’s Nephew and Nicholas Clay from Excalibur as a seemingly ill-matched couple; an odder couple still are Sylvia Miles from The Sentinel and James Mason from ‘Salem’s Lot, playing a pair of Broadway producers! A hail-fellow-well-met sort of a chappie is played by Denis Quilley from The Black Windmill, and he’s married to the inconstant, bitchy Arlena, well-enacted by Diana Rigg from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service!

Everyone but Poirot has a reason to hate Arlena, and the only surprise about her murder is that it takes so long to happen! But everything that occurs while we’re waiting around for her to fall victim to one or more or all of the other characters isn’t boring, though some of it is a bit repetitive! Ha ha, I have to admit that I was kept enthralled simply by the location - it’s very cold where I am right now, and a little Mediterranean sun goes a long way! (I think the island is supposed to be in the Adriatic, but they shot the picture much farther West, on Majorca!)

Of course we’re all just waiting for the moment when Poirot gathers all the characters in the siting room and explains in his usual self-celebratory terms how he solved the mystery, and we the audience get flashbacks to all the clues we missed! It’s done perfectly well here, though the whole sequence seems a bit mechanical - possibly from our over-familiarity with such detective-driven climaxes! But Usinov is good, as always, and this may be the place to mention that I actually got the chance to meet him once, and needless to say he was delightful!

The movie is directed by Guy Hamilton, who had just made The Mirror Crack’d, and would go on to Remo Williams after this! Ha ha, he’d also done several Bond pictures, of course - The Man With the Golden Gun, Live and Let Die, so forth; and he evidently loved the Majorca location so much that he retired there and, in 2016, died there! Most of the actors had appeared in murder mysteries before, Christie or otherwise: Ustinov, of course, but also Blakely and Quilley in Murder on the Orient Express, Mason in The Last of Sheila, Smith in Murder By Death, and Birkin in Death on the Nile!

So there was plenty of mystery experience on this set, and the result is a film of absolute competence, but little excitement! It’s never quite thrilling while it’s on, but it’s consistently exactly what you hope for when you choose this as the picture you want to watch! So that’s something, certainly - or at the very least, it’s not nothing! It gave me a nice break from the winter chill, and so I give Evil Under the Sun two disappearing eggs!

Thursday 11 February 2021

Burl reviews Amityville 3-D! (1983)


Ha ha and picture windows, it’s Burl, here to talk haunted house sequels! Yes, it’s one of the Amityville pictures today, one I have a very specific memory attached to! Ha ha, I have specific memories attached to several of these movies, as it happens: when I was very young, a kid in my class had a birthday party to which everyone but me, it seemed, was invited! They all went to see The Amityville Horror, and the next day at the lunch table were all talking about how scary it was! Then, a few years later, my friend Dave and I went to see Amityville II: The Possession in the theatre, and that one, with its mixture of incest and demon possession and matri-parri-fratricide would surely have been a heady brew for a pair of 11 year-olds!

The devil’s fondness for the Dutch colonial building style is well documented, ha ha, and so today’s picture is Amityville 3-D, which I saw once again with my friend Dave! We biked to the video store one humid July day, rented this movie, and then got caught in a massive, pounding summer storm while biking back to Dave’s place! We later learned that some poor soccer player had been struck by lightning during that storm, yikes!

Well, the other day I revisited this picture, which of course builds on the malarkey presented by that Lutz family who made up that whole haunted house thing in the first place! This tale, in contrast to the first two movies, is entirely fictional instead of only 99% fictional, ha ha, and involves Baxter, a professional magazine skeptic played by Tony Roberts from Annie Hall, who, after debunking a pair of fake spiritualists who’ve been using the place as their base, decides to purchase the rambling Long Island spookhouse for himself! How Baxter does this on a magazine writer’s salary is left to our imaginations, ha ha - this picture abandons the household finance fixation that was the most frightening aspect of the first picture!

Candy Clark from The Blob plays Baxter’s partner at the magazine, who, after having a spooky encounter at the house and taking strange pictures of the realtor (played by John Harkins from Six Weeks) which make him look even more yoplait-faced than he really is, renounces her skepticism of the supernatural, does some investigating, and eventually comes to a remarkably sticky end while sitting in her car! Lori Laughlin of Secret Admirer and of recent news stories, is Baxter’s teenage daughter, who, along with a feisty friend played by Meg Ryan from Innerspace, D.O.A., and Armed and Dangerous, continually hangs out at the house against the wishes of Tess Harper from Flashpoint, essaying the role of Baxter’s angry ex-wife!

Robert Joy from The Dark Half and Land of the Dead is Baxter’s scientist friend, and he too comes to a bad end when a goochy demon monster reaches out of a bubbling water pit and grabs his face! Ha ha, there’s quite a body count in this picture, in fact - characters you don’t expect to become victims of the baneful dwelling are cut down as wheat before the harvester! Then one of Joy’s research assistants is blasted halfway out a widow by a door - ha ha, yes, you read that right! And all of this was filmed in 3-D, so of course there are many, many instances of items being thrust toward the lens, which will tend to confuse the viewer unaware of the movie’s tri-dimensional provenance!

Any affrights the movie has to offer come from the inherently spooky shots of the house, and even these are not as spooky as they are in the earlier pictures! (It’s still scarier than Amityville 1992: It’s About Time, though, ha ha!) It was directed by an old pro, Richard Fleischer, but he doesn’t seem to have had much interest in the goings-on! There’s an elevator scene, for example, that any truly engaged filmmaker would have excised at the script stage! Oh well - maybe Dino De Laurentiis made him keep it in, saying something like “Everybody heart stop when elevator drop! Everyone surprise when elevator rise!” I give Amityville 3-D one and a half smiling swordfishes, and that extra half a swordfish is really for the rainstorm that drenched me those many years ago! Ha ha!

Wednesday 10 February 2021

Burl reviews City on Fire! (1979)

By the hearth, it’s Burl, here to bring you a simply disastrous review! Ha ha, well, I hope the review itself won’t be a disaster, but the movie sure is! This one came along at the very tail end of the great 70s disaster cycle, just before the twin hilarities of Airplane and When Time Ran Out pounded stakes through the heart of the genre, and I suppose you might accuse it, along with odourific contemporaries like Meteor, of contributing to the demise! The picture in question is none other than City on Fire!

It is of course the sort of movie that shows off the cast in little boxes to emphasize how special they are! The biggest boxhead of course is Mr. Henry Fonda, whom we know from On Golden Pond and Tentacles, and who plays Fire Chief Risley here, but of course there are others! Several of these are disaster veterans: we have Shelley Winters from The Visitor and The Mad Room, who appeared with Fonda in Tentacles and also swam her way through The Poseidon Adventure; here she plays a dedicated hospital nurse! Ava Gardner from Earthquake and The Sentinel is a sort of news anchor, or maybe more of a talk show host, ha ha, it’s hard to tell; either way, she’s a raging inebriate! We also get James Franciscus from When Time Ran Out, who is Gardner’s long-suffering producer!

In this ensemble cast, the default main character is probably a doctor played by Barry Newman from Vanishing Point and The Limey! But he doesn’t get much to do!  Susan Clark from Porky’s is in there as maybe Newman’s girlfriend, but definitely some kind of philanthropist donating money from her late husband’s estate to put a new wing on the hospital! Leslie Nielsen, perhaps best known for his horror roles in Prom Night and Creepshow, plays the mayor of the city (which goes unnamed but is clearly Montreal), who’s at the hospital for the new wing’s dedication ceremony! And aside from the boxheads in the cast there are plenty of familiar Canadian faces: people like Cec Linder from Explosion, Donald Pilon from The Pyx, and Jefferson Mappin from Incubus!


But what are the circumstances behind the citywide conflagration? It seems there’s a guy named Herman, played by Jonathan Welsh from Starship Invasions, who’s displeased with his employment situation and so goes on a sabotage rampage at the refinery conveniently located in the middle of town! Ha ha, and then he celebrates his accomplishment by purchasing a new suit! Next thing you know there are a few explosions and then an oft-repeated trick effect that looks like a leftover shot from Damnation Alley! This is supposed to represent the city being on fire, I suppose, but the bulk of the actual incendiary action takes place in and around the hospital! There are hardly as many stunts and burning things as you might find in an average episode of Emergency!

There is one full-body walking burn gag that’s pretty impressive, though, in the picture’s most harrowing moment! That’s when, eager to escape the hospital before the fire eats all the oxygen, a lady bolts from the premises before she can be sprayed by Leslie Nielsen or protected by the “water tunnel” planned by the fire brigade! She runs down the street but goes up in flame halfway there - but she keeps running! She doesn’t make it, however!

Most of the rest of the movie takes place on this one Sesame Street-style city block, with water spraying and dampened people running or being wheeled on gurneys! It’s not the most thrilling sequence ever committed to film, but at least it leads to the demise of the saboteur, resplendent in his newly purchased threads as a scaffolding falls on his head!

I can only speak plainly here: City on Fire is a bad movie! Neither the budget nor the skill required to pull it off was present during shooting, and nobody aside from Nielsen, who gets demoted from mayor to sprayboy, puts much effort in! There is a moral, however, just as in The Towering Inferno when Steve McQueen laments how much architects like to build tall towers with a tendency to inferno! City on Fire, for its part, concludes with Fonda shaking his head and murmuring: “It only takes one man to start a huge big fire!” I guess that’s true, chief! I give City on Fire one irritating newsman!

Saturday 6 February 2021

Burl reviews Isabel! (1968)


Eh bien, c’est Burl! Ha ha, I’m here to talk about a picture I saw on TV long ago, back when the Canadian TV stations were playing any and all Canadian movies they could find, over and over again! That’s how I first saw pictures like Rituals, Prom Night, and Meatballs! But this movie is another thing entirely: it’s the moody exercise in Gaspé-Gothic known to all as Isabel!

Ha ha! The star of Isabel is of course Isabel herself, played by Geneviève Bujold from Earthquake and Dead Ringers, who was married at the time to this film's writer-director, Paul Almond! Bujold plays a young Montreal-dwelling woman who, as the story begins, is on a train back to her little hometown on the Gaspé coast to see her dying mother! But she arrives in her curiously Anglo community a little too late, and is left to bumble around in a big dark farmhouse with her uncle, who continually issues thunderingly obvious hints that he would like her to stay and cook his meals and help out on the farm! The uncle, played by Gerard Parkes from The Pyx and Spasms, is plagued by troubles of the heart - physical, not emotional ones, ha ha - but like many old rural types, is not taking his encroaching decrepitude with quite as much grace as he might!

Isabel, meanwhile, resists his entreaties, claiming she needs to get back to her job and life in the big city! But she keeps receiving, or not receiving, letters that one by one remove her reasons for leaving the Gaspé: her roommate, who may or may not also be her girlfriend (we are reminded of Theodora’s unseen roommate in The Haunting), is ghosting her, and her employer lets her go! Stewing in this death-cursed place, thinking about the drowning demises of her father and brother, and about the shell-shocked grandfather who went mad, ran around the town in his gas mask and eventually jumped into the spinning blade of a sawmill, or the young cousin who was evidently eaten by a pig, it's not surprising that she begins to have odd, troubling, ghostly visions! She has encounters with people such as the rugged Jason, played by Marc Strange from Run and Tommy Boy, who buys some of the uncle’s livestock and proves pleasant company to Isabel; a needy local called Herb, essayed by Al Waxman from Tulips, who exudes a date-rapey vibe he makes good on before the story's end; Isabel’s much older sister, who is also a sister in that she's a nun, but not a particularly sweet or friendly one; and, in my very favourite performance in the whole entire picture, a storekeeper played by J. Donald Dow! It broke my heart a bit when a voiceover flashback made him sound a bit creepy!

While there are plenty of details of farm-town society, including the inevitable fiddle dance, the picture is really about Isabel’s interior life and the threat of emotional disintegration as illustrated by horror tropes and spooky atmosphere and intimations of past abuse and trauma! In that respect it’s like a quieter Canadian version of Repulsion or Images, and though it would in all honesty be hard to classify Isabel as a horror picture, it nevertheless contains as many or more genuinely scary scenes than many avowed horror pictures do!

Some have complained that the movie is slow and boring, but I never found it so! Even in the less eventful passages there’s always the gorgeous cinematography of Georges Dufaux to admire, or the coastal early-spring atmosphere, or the strong acting, or the insanely cute Bujold herself, ha ha, whose look in this film very likely instilled my weakness for dark-haired pixie-cut gals! On the debit side there’s a convolutedness to the narrative and to the psychological landscape of the film that is never really worked out; and several scenes near the end are lacking in illumination of any kind! In this darkness it’s not always clear who’s who and what they’re doing, nor what, in the past, they may have done! And where things stand at the end? Ha ha, it’s anybody’s guess! Nevertheless, I enjoyed the picture immensely, and I believe that if you approach it in the right spirit and in the right mood, you will too! I give Isabel three booters!

Friday 5 February 2021

Burl reviews The Town that Dreaded Sundown! (2014)


A shivery sunset to you, it’s Burl here with remake terror to review! Ha ha, and among the least likely horror works to be remade might be the films of Don Dohler or Bill Rebane or Larry Buchanan, but close behind that in the unlikelihood stakes are the films of Charles B. Pierce! Wait a minute, you say - did somebody remake Boggy Creek II… and the Legend Continues? Ha ha, nope! In fact it’s an all-new take on The Town that Dreaded Sundown!

The original picture, released in 1976, is probably remembered more for its poster, or at least the image on the Warner clamshell video release, than for anything else! But it was also an effective exploitation of a local spook-story, in a low-budget, regional sort of a way! The creepy headbag went a long mile to securing its place in the grindhouse pantheon, though, and in my childhood, thanks to that movie, I found even the name “Texarkana” to be inherently eerie! Ha ha, I still sort of do!

The original picture told the story of maniac who terrorized Texarkana in 1946, using a gun or a knife to kill habitués of the local Lovers’ Lane! This new version begins at the annual screening of the Charles B. Pierce picture in Texarkana, during which it is revealed that the killer, now presumably elderly, has returned to his old habits! And judging from his filthy jacket and workpant combo, and of course his headbag, he shops at the same outlet store Jason does! Ha ha! But is it really the same killer, who would now be so impossibly old he could barely wield a buck knife, let alone chase screaming teenagers through the woods with it; or is it someone related to the killer; or someone simply inspired by the movie itself; or, in a possibility brought up several times, some kind of blood-crazed supernatural boogeyman!

Well, the movie has an answer, though not one that will satisfy all viewers! It has other things to offer, of course: a highly stylized shooting approach that will impress some and put off others; some wince-inducing gore; and a game cast! The younger contingent of the cast all acquit themselves well as they try to evade the shootings and pokings, but there’s also a gallery of oldenbones, or relative oldenbones, that includes some surprisingly familiar faces! Veronica Cartwright from The Birds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers plays the lead girl’s granny, who decides that now is finally the time to up stakes and leave Texas, which she claims never to have done before despite living less than a kilometer from its border, ha ha; Edward Herrmann from The Lost Boys is a priest who’s strangely supportive of the murders; Anthony Anderson from The Departed, playing the Texas Ranger in charge of investigating the murders, gets a great blustery entrance but is given disappointingly little to do after that; Gary Cole from In the Line of Fire is a deputy, and Ed Lauter from Lassiter is the sheriff!

The picture works hard to be stylish, clever, and scary, and is successful only some of the time! I did like that they included Charles B. Pierece Jr., noted for his constant shirtlessness in Boggy Creek II, as a character who provides the leads with his own theories on the case! The long take that opens the movie is impressive in a mechanical sort of a way, and some of the lighting has a pleasingly Bava-esque quality, but too often the pointlessly canted angles distract from the atmosphere, ha ha! And the concluding reel of the picture is very familiar, and therefore lacks the impact found in earlier spook-scenes! Still, a noble effort made with enough verve and intelligence to make it worthwhile and not just another sequel/remake/reboot that wastes everybody’s time! I give The Town that Dreaded Sundown two death-recliners!