Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday 28 October 2021

Burl reviews Halloween Kills! (2021)


Boo to you and boo to you too, it’s Burl, here with some slasher sequel action! Ha ha, yes, it’s true - after my experience with Malignant, I returned to the cinema for more horror! This time I was the only guy in there, thanks to my clever policy of seeing matinees if possible! As a fellow who more or less enjoys the Halloween series, it was a real treat to see this pumpkin-flavoured madness on the big screen, though I wished there was no pandemic and I could comfortably watch it in a crowd!

Of course we know from my recent review of the 2018 Halloween that this cycle of films makes a point of ignoring all the other Halloween pictures except the 1978 Carpenter original! But, like the 1981 Halloween II, this newest picture, Halloween Kills, takes up right at the moment its predecessor ends, though with the addition of an extended flashback to that terrible night in late October of 1978! Eventually we get another flashback which rewrites the end of the original film, or at least rewrites the beginning of (and obviates the entirety of) its sequel!

Jamie Lee Curtis, famed from her appearances in Prom Night and Trading Places, returns in the role of Laurie Strode, former donkey girlscout, now vengeance granny! But she’s too injured from her encounter with Michael to do much beyond lie in her hospital bed and soliloquize about the terror and the evil, and occasionally to reminisce with her roommate, Will Patton, who got grievously injured in the previous picture by a rogue Turk, but somehow survived!  

And then there are the minor characters who met Michael that first time he came home! Ha ha, it’s quite a gallery! Anthony Michael Hall from Out of Bounds plays Tommy Doyle, the kid being babysat by Laurie in the old picture, grown into a big solid man whose hobbies include bird whistling and mob inciting, and another fellow plays Lonnie, the kid who was kind of a bully in grade school and gets scared away from the Myers house by an uncharacteristically playful Dr. Loomis, but in this picture he seems to be the object of bullying, which I suppose is part of the film’s “what goes around comes around” theme!

But many of the original actors return from the Carpenter picture: the original Lindsey, played then and now by Kyle Richards from The Car; the psychiatric nurse played by Nancy Stephens, whose character was killed in Halloween H2O, but of course that never happened as far as this movie is concerned; and Charles Cyphers from Truck Turner and The Fog, whose Sheriff Brackett is no longer the police chief but has become a very grampy-looking hospital security guard! Many of these people either become involved in or else try to stop a homicidal mob on the trail of Michael, or else become involved in it and then try to stop it! The mob sets great store in their catch phrase, “Evil Dies Tonight,” but frankly their follow-through is lousy!

The mob provides plenty of victims, but other victims are just minding their own business! People in their homes are poked, bonked, neckbroke, and gouged! Of them all, I’d most like to hang out with Big John and Little John, the affectionate couple who have moved into Michael’s old house, where they smoke pot and watch John Cassavetes movies - and Little John is played by none other than the fellow who directed Anthony Michael Hall as Walter Paisley in that A Bucket of Blood remake! Ha ha!

They really tossed a lot of mackerels in the pot for this one! There are some gross murders with plenty of marinara; an effective score from Carpenter, his son, and a buddy; a confused ideology; a sad scene involving another escaped patient who is mistaken for Michael by the mob despite the two-foot height difference in the men; not a whole lot in the way of affrights or basic common sense; and lots of references to the other Halloween pictures, even to Halloween III! (Ha ha, I think the movie’s reality should have included the events of both Part I and Part III, with some somber references in the dialogue to the great mask massacre of ’82!)

And yet for all the silly behavior and bloodthirstiness, Halloween Kills is what David Lynch refers to as a “neighbourhood film!” I think the fact that Haddonfield is supposed to be a small town yet runs on for endless streets is a sort of tip-off to this picture’s alternative universe: as though it exists in a Tardis and everything is magnified and under which magnification a simple local madman may be catapulted to mythical status and motivate half the town into forming a violence gang, and the stairwells of the Haddonfield hospital seem to be twenty stories high! From almost any aspect - rational, narrative, geographical - it makes little to no sense, but nevertheless I give Halloween Kills two smoking pumpkins!

Saturday 23 October 2021

Burl reviews It! (1967)


Addressing you from the Heights, it’s Burl, here with a tale of wild golemnry! Ha ha, surely you all know of the golem, that man of clay created to defend the Jewish peoples in the village! You’ve heard the legend, seen his adventures in that old cinema classic by Paul Wegener, The Golem, How He Came In To the World, probably even heard him referred to as “the Jewish Frankenstein!” Well sirs and madams, here we have a golem picture that has nothing to do with any of that, and it’s simply called It!

Ha ha, we begin with a warehouse fire in London, and this particular warehouse is filled with the overflow items from the local antiquities museum! The curator and his assistant, Pimm, played by Roddy McDowell from Fright Night and Heads, don’t seem too upset by it, but they’re fascinated to find one statue standing unscathed in the midst of the smoking rubble! It’s a humanoid thing that looks like a twisted old root with arms and legs, and Pimm and his boss identify it as a golem statue! But when Pimm turns his back for just a moment, the curator is fatally bonked by objet or objets d’art unknown! Did the statue perpetrate this senseless murder?


Ha ha, yes, of course he did! But Pimm so far has only suspicions, so the golem is trucked back to the museum, where, for the fussy little assistant curator, there is intrigue both of the workplace and romantic varieties! Pimm’s ambition is to become the head curator, of course, and he also has (rather unlikely) designs on Ellen, the dollybird daughter of the former curator! Ellen is played by Jill Haworth from Tower of Evil, and of course Pimm’s interest in her is not reciprocated - ha ha, that she addresses him only as “Pimm” the whole time ought to make this obvious!

But, as the revelation that he keeps his dead mother’s body in his flat, Psycho-style, makes abundantly clear, Pimm is no ordinary chap! The revelation not presented as much of a shocker though, and the dead mum has no bearing on the plot, so I suppose it's less a revelation than a quirky character note! Pimm’s twin ambitions are thwarted: career-wise by a nasty new curator played by Aubrey Richards from Endless Night, and romantically, not so much by Ellen’s indifference, which Pimm is too thick to register, but by the arrival of a manly American museumsman called Perkins, played by Paul Maxwell from The Haunting and Aliens and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade!

In the midst of all this, Pimm discovers that the conehead of clay can be made operational by the simple application of a certain scroll, and that it will do his bidding! He has the golem put a bonking on the new curator and gets it to destroy a bridge to impress Ellen! Eventually, after some inner struggles with the ethics of it all, Pimm has the statue kidnap the object of his affections and take her to a country manor house! Perkins and two or three army guys camp themselves outside and shoot at the golem a few times, but, as the poster says and also a rabbi who pops in as the only actual Hebrew representative in the picture, nothing can destroy this crazy thing! The officials settle on the only sensible solution: drop a nuclear bomb on the manor house! Ha ha!

The picture seems like something Hammer put in the oven at the Bray Studios commissary and baked only halfway, and in this it reminded me very much of The Vulture! The script is an empty thing, providing no interesting backstory or cultural detail to the golem, and no dimension at all to the characters! McDowall, an actor I like, is in full fussbudget mode here, which I must say is not my favourite mode! The picture manages no affrights and is pretty silly overall, but it's a curio, and a curio has value to a reviewer like ol’ Burl! Plus the golem suit is good! So, ha ha, I give It! one and a half uneven umbrellas!

Friday 22 October 2021

Burl reviews Dortoir des grandes! (1984)


Eh bien, bonjour les gars et les gamines, c’est Burl! Ha ha, today I’m reviewing a French picture for you, and how very French it is! Way back in the mid-80s, when this movie was new, my friend Doug somehow managed to tape most of it onto a VHS cassette, which we then watched over and over again! But the beginning of the movie was missing, and we didn’t know the title, so we referred to the picture as Dormitory F!

Of course the movie was packed to the brim with naked ladies, which accounted for the bulk of its appeal, but it also featured a scene in which the ladies visit a punk club and listen to a catchy song we called “Ansari Anse!” For years since then, I sought out both Dormitory F and that catchy punk song, but being as how I didn’t know the proper titles for either of them, this proved difficult! But once again Doug came to the rescue: once again by mysterious means he found the movie, put it on a little flash drive instead of a VHS tape this time, and gave it to me, and now it’s my pleasure to reveal the proper title of the picture: Dortoir des grandes!

That translates most directly to Senior Dormitory, but I believe the standard English title for it is College Dormitory! In any case, I was excited to see this movie again after so many years of it living (and growing and mutating) in my imagination! It turns out to be the tale of a girl called Adeline, who, her father being dead and her mother who knows where, lives with her stepmother and the stepmother’s creepy doughboy sweetheart! When these two start getting cozier with her than she would like (pulling her into the bathtub, spiking her drinks, double-teaming her in her bed, that sort of thing), Adeline’s superhuman equanimity finally fails her and she demands to be sent to a private school for girls!

The bulk of the picture plays out at this academy! The other girls are reasonably welcoming, with the only holdout being Juliette, the bad girl, who becomes jealous! Good-natured Mowgli, who I guess is called that because she’s black, becomes Adeline’s good pal, and all the girls are pretty cuddly with one another when you get right down to it! Fanette, the dean, is a very pretty lady, but a grouchy and insecure one who is prone to having affairs with her students! Her current objet d’amour is Juliette, and boy does Juliette get steamed when Fanette’s interest shifts to Adeline!

Instead of a plot, the movie simply features scenes of the girls doing stuff! They take group showers of course, and massage one another, and play little pranks on their teachers, and at one point they lock the dean in her room and have a dorm party with some invited boys and a poster of Rocky watching over them! Of course the highlight is the visit to the grungy basement punk club, where a band called Les Porte Mentaux play a song not called “Ansari Anse,” but rather “Ah ca ira!” Ha ha, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to finally see this scene again after all those years, and hear that catchy song! And the scene is just terrific all around, and brought back memories of my own visits to grungy basement punk clubs! Though I don’t recall the punk ladies taking their tops off and dancing around as happens in this picture, and also the bathroom seen here is the nicest punk club bathroom anyone ever heard of, ha ha! Normally you feared for your life in those bathrooms, and if you were smart you stayed out of them altogether! (It was the germs you feared, mind you, not your fellow punks, who by and large were a pacific bunch off the pogo floor!)

So all that was great, and it’s nice that in the last quarter of the film, after a suicide attempt that nobody seems to worry overmuch about, the location shifts to the Caribbean, where Adeline accompanies Mowgli for an erotic holiday, and then the arrival of Fanette complicates matters slightly, and the whole thing takes on a Melody in Love sort of a vibe! But otherwise I must admit that the movie is fairly desultory, with no art and precious little craft in evidence! The script is very piecemeal and the characterizations extremely confused! It’s mainly a series of scenes in which people grope and snog one another for a while before they invariably cut abruptly to a new scene! I’m not sure if more explicit stuff was snipped out, but I don’t really care either because, naked ladies notwithstanding, the bohankie scenes get boring and repetitive as always seems to be the case with pornoo, or near-pornoo! Still, I enjoyed it because it brought me back to those days when movies like this were a big deal! Ha ha! I give Dortoir des grandes, the former Dormitory F, two posters of Ator the Fighting Eagle!

Monday 18 October 2021

Burl reviews Night of the Creeps! (1986)


This is Burl - ha ha, thrill me! If you’ve seen the movie I’m discussing today, you’ll know what I mean by that, and if you haven’t, well, you should! I myself saw it in the theatre, though I had to sneak in because I was several years too young according to the rules in my neck of the woods; but, as with Evil Dead II, Day of the Dead, Creepshow 2, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and several others, I successfully broke these rules, and therefore hold some extra fondness for the picture I might not otherwise have! Though I’d probably be pretty fond of it in any case, ha ha! And the picture? None other than Night of the Creeps!

Sure, I saw it on the big screen, but I had some friends who managed to catch it at the drive-in, and I was a bit jealous because that would be the absolute perfect venue for a movie like this! And, ha ha, the movie knows it, which is part of its charm for the horror fan! It was the first effort of Fred Dekker, who later made The Monster Squad, and he’s the sort of guy who, having been struck by the idea of naming all his characters after horror directors, commits to it one hundred and fifty percent!

The picture opens in a spacecraft populated by naked munchkins, then continues with a sequence set in the late 50s and shot in luminous black-and-white! Ha ha, this part involves Sorority Row, Lover’s Lane, and an escaped axe maniac, and features a marvelously sinister use of The Stroll, that old song by The Diamonds! And then, finally, we segue into the present day on the campus of good old Corman University! We meet our protagonists: a pair of misfits named Chris Romero, played by Jason Lively from Brainstorm and European Vacation, and James Carpenter-Hooper, or J.C., played by Steve Marshall from… well, ha ha, I don’t know what he’s from!

As they walk around the campus Chris spies Cynthia Cronenberg, essayed by Jill Whitlow from Porky’s and Weird Science, and falls instantly in love! This leads to a prank attempt at the behest of some frat bros led by Allan Kayser from Hot Chili in the role of Brad, and this in turn results in the release of the space slugs that had been accidentally created by the munchkins! And of course here is where Detective Ray Cameron, played by the unstoppable Tom Atkins from The Fog, Halloween III and Creepshow, takes center stage!

From here things swiftly go magoo as a busload of frat bros become slug zombies, innocent pets are possessed by the otherworldly leeches, the axe murderer returns from the grave, the two gomers who started the whole thing, along with their sorority sister friend, make themselves variously martyrs or heroes, and Atkins repeatedly places demands on people to "Thrill me!" But the important thing to note is that while we get some familiar faces in the cast, like David Paymer from City Slickers and Robert Kerman from Cannibal Holocaust and many a pornoo, we also are blessed with a cameo appearance from the terrific, the one-and-only Dick Miller, well known from pictures like Apache Woman and Explorers! Yes, it’s a gratifying appearance too, with Miller as a police armorer coerced into giving Atkins and Lively a flamethrower with which to battle the space slugs! Ha ha, how marvelous! How truly Miller!

I’m well aware of this picture’s flaws: the lapses of logic, the dog’s breakfast narrative, the weak characterizations, the my-first-movie directing, the sometimes dicey acting, the sophomoric though not inapt move of naming all the characters after horror directors! But, ha ha, very little of that bothers me, because even today, after all these years, I find the movie tremendously enjoyable! The humour is generally well-judged, the trick effects look good, the central friendship is heartwarming, and Atkins and Miller provide all the thespian firepower you could want! It was great fun to see in the theatre when I was fifteen, and it thrills me to this day! I give Night of the Creeps three monobrows!

Thursday 14 October 2021

Burl reviews The Secret of Roan Inish! (1994)


Ay-ti-tai-ti-tai-ti-tai, it’s Burl, here with an Irish tale of seaside blarney! Ha ha, this is a picture I remember writing aboout back in the old movie reviewer days, but fear not, what you're reading right now is all new, all Burl! The enjoyment I derive from this defiantly uncommercial entertainment has remained constant, however, and the movie in question is John Sayles’s The Secret of Roan Inish!

My DVD copy of this picture claims it to be “Sayles’s most popular movie ever!,” which is a bit like saying sour cream & onion is the most popular Old Dutch Flavour Favourite! Ha ha, those in the know are the lucky but the (relative) few! Anyway, I’d have thought Lone Star was his most popular movie ever, but that shows what I know! This one, The Secret of Roan Inish, is very charming and has broad appeal to all ages, so I guess its putative popularity makes sense!

In Donegal, up in the north-west of Ireland, just after the Second World War, a wee lassie of ten, Fiona, played by charming young Jeni Courtney, has just lost her mother, and her father must work in the factories! So she goes to the coast to live with her grandparents, two kindly souls who live on the seaside and stare out at Roan Inish, the island their family used to occupy but had to move away from because the government told them to or something! Mick Lally from The Fantasist plays Hugh, the bearded grandpa, and Eileen Colgan from Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin in the Bronx is moody Grandma Tess!

The family are the Coneelys, and over the course of the film we hear plenty about their family history and the mythical stories around it! Most recent of these is the tale of young Jamie, Fiona’s younger brother, who was in his boat-shaped cradle one day as they were packing up to leave the island, when he shot out to sea and was apparently lost to the waves! And yet in the three years since, he’s been sighted many a time captaining his little ship around the coast, often in the company of the seals who dwell there also! And from Tadgh, a tetched and dark-haired Coneely who cleans fish and is played by John Lynch from Hardware, she hears the back story of how a Coneely man became romantically involved with a selkie woman, which is to say a sort of a were-seal!

Well, this gives little Fiona a lot to think about, and she discuses it and makes plans with a fellow who became one of my favourite characters in the picture, her cousin Eamon, played by Richard Sheridan! He’s a young teen with charming manners who decides to believe Fiona when she reports finding evidence of habitation on Roan Inish and seeing her little brother running around in the altogether! It becomes evident to the two kids that the seals, or the selkie people, simply want the Coneelys to once again take up residence on the island!

Well, ha ha, I’m not usually a fan of magic realism, because it’s mighty hard to pull off! Sayles nails it, however, perhaps because he never tries too hard: the fantastic elements are underplayed as much as possible! It helps, too, that the picture is so earthy, so tethered to the world it creates, so matter-of-fact instead of pushily magical! The musical score is emblematic of this, sticking with Chieftains-like airs rather than, say, doodly-doo synthesizers!  

It may seem far removed from Sayles’s genre screenwriting work, but this picture after all has a strong water-creature angle like Piranha and Alligator, and a transformation scene like in The Howling, if a little less elaborate, ha ha! The cinematography from Mr. Haskell Wexler is unflashy, but works perfectly for the piece, and occasionally a beautiful shot is tossed at you! There’s an especially nice sequence on a cliff-side meadow dotted with yellow and purple flowers!

Whether or not it adds up to much is up to each individual viewer, I think, but by organically creating such a complete world and welcoming audiences into it with seemingly no effort at all, Sayles has really pulled off something special! I give The Secret of Roan Inish three enormous beach bonfires!

Monday 11 October 2021

Burl reviews Halloween! (2018)


Ha-ha-ha, ha-ha-ha, ha-ha-HA-ha, it’s Burl, laughing the famous Halloween theme tune for you! And I know what you’re saying: “Ha ha, Burl, haven’t you already reviewed Halloween?” Yes I have, but now I’m reviewing the recent remake of that picture, or actually more of a belated sequel: the 2018 picture known, like its inspiration, simply as Halloween!

This new picture was directed by David Gordon Green, who brought us Prince Avalanche, and the idea here is that every other sequel, including Halloween II, Halloween 4, Halloween 5, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, and any other sequels there might be, are completely ignored! Halloween III: Season of the Witch, being as it’s a story that has nothing to do with Michael Myers or Haddonfield, is not necessarily being ignored - ha ha, we just don’t know one way or the other! And as for those Zombie ones, well, I haven’t seen them, but I detected no references to them in this picture!

Jamie Lee Curtis, whom we know so well from Prom Night and Grandview U.S.A. and so many others, is of course once again Laurie Strode, and, as in Halloween H20 (the existence of which is, naturally, also ignored), she’s a jumpy, paranoid mess as a result of her terrible experience from her days as a babysitting teen! Now though, instead of channeling her fear and rage into running a private academy for jerks, she has become a doomsday prepper with a house full of guns and alarms and locks and bolts and bars! She has installed such survivalist accouterments as a gun cubby and a swivel counter, and has made sure her house is fitted with louvered closets so she can re-experience the trauma of her babysitting days any time she chooses! Ha ha, she reminded me a bit of Rambo in his final adventure, Last Blood!

Between installing floodlights and target shooting at mannequins, she has found the time to have a daughter, played by Judy Greer from The Descendants and Jurassic World! But her paranoid ways have driven her daughter away, and Laurie’s penchant for wine-guzzling and angry non-sequiturs even have her granddaughter, a teen who calls Laurie “grandmother” as though she were addressing Mrs. Manson Mingott from The Age of Innocence instead of Laurie Strode from Halloween, looking at her a bit askance!

But what about Michael, you ask? Well, he’s been in an institution, standing on a checkerboard floor and attended to by another crazy doctor now that Loomis is long gone! The new headshrinker is Haluk Bilginer from Ishtar, and his idea of therapy is to let a pair of dimbulb podcasters approach Michael on his checkerboard floor and dangle the old Shatner mask in front of him! Ha ha, of course these podcasters are made short work of once Michael escapes his checkerboard and heads back to Haddonfield!

Will Patton from The Puppet Masters plays the local lawman, and there are other assorted victims or potential victims wandering around the town! Michael enjoys a little welcome-home killing spree once he arrives in Haddonfield, which we the audience mainly observe from outside the windows! It’s a pretty effective sequence! Meanwhile, Laurie, her daughter, her granddaughter, and the good-time comedy slaphead dad who seems like a holdover from more lighthearted David Gordon Green projects, are all arguing about whether Laurie is too paranoid or not paranoid enough; and Michael, who is emphatically not related to Laurie this time around (phew!) nevertheless seems to have some kind of Laurie Strode homing beacon implant which has him on a steady course toward the strapped granny’s security castle!

Head-bashing is Michael’s favored killing method this time around, frequently with messy results! Even Laurie catches a bonk, though a non-fatal one! Yes, there’s significantly more grue than in the original picture, which features approximately zero Special Makeup Effects but is a far superior movie nevertheless! I think that should go without saying, but after all, this is a movie review, ha ha, so critical comparisons like that are part of the game! This new one isn’t the worst potato on the block though - it’s entertaining enough, and does a fine job of making Michael a primal force of evil and all that, but it never does manage to bring us that skittering-leaves October atmosphere the original provided so satisfyingly, even though it was shot in the summer and on a much lower budget!

It’s always a pleasure to see Jamie Lee Curtis on screen though, and I appreciated that they kept it reasonably simple and didn’t try to add family connections, cult antics, or supernatural mumbo-de-jumbo! I give this newest Halloween two dollops of peanut butter!

Saturday 9 October 2021

Burl reviews Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle! (1994)


With a big bouquet of bon mots, it’s Burl, here to blab about a biopic! Well, a sort of a biopic anyway - it concentrates mainly on one particular chunk of its subject’s life! The subject is Dorothy Parker, the chunk is the Roaring Twenties, mostly, and the movie is Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle!

Jennifer Jason Leigh from Eyes of a Stranger and Grandview U.S.A., using a more languorous variant of the accent she sported that same year in The Hudsucker Proxy, plays the feisty wordsmith, who’ll throw back a drink and toss out a quip faster than you can sing exclavius! As the picture begins, she’s slaving away writing reviews at Vanity Fair alongside her friend Robert Benchley, played with astonishing amiability by Campbell Scott from Singles and The Daytrippers! The relationship between these two, which is platonic but suffused with tender regret and longing, as well as a fond formality which has them addressing one another as “Mrs. Parker” and “Mr. Benchley,” is the emotional spine of the movie, and was to me a stirring one!

The centerpiece of the film, ha ha, is of course the Algonquin Round Table, which we see the genesis of as Parker, Benchley and the many witticists of their acquaintance gather at the storied Gotham hotel for lunch, filling a booth as more and more of them arrive and causing the exasperated maître d’ (Wallace Shawn, back in a restaurant again as in My Dinner With Andre, but not a patron this time) to finally roll in a big round table and let this gang of tongue-runners do their thing!

The verbosophisticates include Lili Taylor from Mystic Pizza as author Edna Ferber; Sam Robards from Fandango as magaziniste Harold Ross; James Le Gros from Phantasm II as music critic Deems Taylor; Nick Cassavetes from Quiet Cool as playwright Robert Sherwood; Tom McGowan from True Crime as Alexander Woolcott; David Gow from Pin as Donald Ogden Stewart, and Martha Plimpton from The Goonies as Jane Grant! Ha ha, it’s quite a gallery! We also get Jennifer Beals from In the Soup and Vampire’s Kiss as Benchley’s undemonstrative wife Gertrude; Matthew Broderick from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as Charles MacArthur, who breaks Parker’s heart; Andrew McCarthy from Weekend at Bernie’s as Eddie, the drugs-addicted war veteran whom Parker married twice; and Keith Carradine from Thieves Like Us aw-shucksing it up as Will Rogers!

The picture follows Parker through her numerous heartbreaks and increasing reliance on the bottle, and includes many examples of her mordant wit and her difficulties in writing what, and for whom, she wanted! The drama is broken up, unnecessarily I feel, with monochromatic interstitials in which Leigh drawls bits of Parker doggerel! I suppose these were justified by Rudolph and Leigh as opportunities for people unfamiliar with Parker’s work to experience it, and therefore understand why they should be watching a two-hour tribute film about her, but I can’t agree with this logic! However, hearing that funny, sad, alarming verse is never a bad thing, so it’s not a fatal problem!

Leigh’s performance is a highly affected one, but after all she’s playing a highly affected person! It’s altogether very skilled work on Ms. Leigh’s part, and indeed the entire cast seems to have caught the spirit of the thing! Plenty of credit for this must surely go to the director, Alan Rudolph, who must have worked hard to create the sort of atmosphere in which these sorts of performances - naturalistic portrayals of highly artificial people - may flourish! My favourite is Scott’s performance as Benchley, though, possibly because he reminds me of a friend of mine, and because, as I said, his friendship with Mrs. Parker truly is touching! And he pulls off the Treasurer's Report beautifully!

Ha ha, Rudolph has made plenty of pictures, and some of them are very much Rudolph movies while others, like Endangered Species or an early number called Premonition, are not so much! Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle is perhaps the Rudolphiest of his movies however, and it’s no surprise to find Robert Altman’s name in the credits as a producer! Montreal does a very creditable job of standing in for New York, and Rudolph’s evocation of the period is exemplary! I liked Jan Kiesser’s cinematography too, and on the whole there’s something very sweet and cozy and lunchtime about this movie! Ha ha, I give Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle three banquettes!

Friday 8 October 2021

Burl reviews Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man! (1943)


Ha ha and arooo, by the light of the full moon it’s Burl, here to review some Universal monster horror! This isn’t the best of the run, but it’s far from the worst, and like any of them it makes for some fine October viewing! The name of this picture is, and could only be, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man!

It serves more as a sequel to The Wolf Man than anything else, though by the end it plays as a standard Frankenstein picture! Our man Lon Chaney Jr., known from My Favorite Brunette, is the constantly anguished Larry Talbot, who, as the picture begins, reposes peacefully in his grave, not bothering anyone! In a striking sequence marvelously directed by Roy William Neill, who also brought us the delights of The Scarlet Claw, two foolish grave robbers decide to pilfer the Talbot family crypt, and on the night of the full moon no less! Ha ha, these two miscreants are soon weeping copious tears as the hirsute terror revives himself and goes full wolfman! (An interesting trivia is that one of the robbers is played by Cyril Delevanti, who later appeared in pictures like Son of Dracula, The Night of the Iguana, and Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad, played Johnnycake Jones in the Hudson’s Bay teleseries, and ended his career in Jack Arnold’s blaxploitation picture Black Eye, playing a character called Talbot! Ha ha!)

A hapless Welsh constable catches a fatal wolfmanning as well, and then Larry is found dazed and confused and human again, and having no idea how he ended up sleeping rough on the streets of Cardiff! He tracks down Maria Ouspenskaya, the old Gypsy woman whose son Bela put a biting on Larry in the first picture and turned him into a werewolf, but all she can do is point him in the direction of a certain science doctor she knows of! Well, of course this is Dr. Frankenstein, but when Larry arrives at the castle, he discovers two astonishing things: one, the doctor is dead; and two, the Gypsy woman’s son Bela, thought dead, has somehow been transformed into a Frankenstein Monster, and is reposing in an ice cave beneath the ground!

Of course Bela, the new Frankenstein Monster, is played by the great Bela Lugosi from Island of Lost  Souls! Replacing the departed doctor is a new doctor, Dr. Mannering, played by Patric Knowles from Another Thin Man! He quickly becomes obsessed with the secrets of life and death, which alarms Frankenstein’s daughter, Baroness Elsa, while down in the town the mayor, Lionel Atwill from Night Monster, tries to keep the increasingly anxious townspeople from lighting up their torches for a mob run up to the castle!

Ha ha, this mob is headed by the local malcontent, a large gentleman with a fulsome walrus moustache and a delightfully modern taste in shirts, who’s played by Rex Evans from Midnight Lace! And his gang includes the great Dwight Frye of Dracula fame! It all comes to a head just as Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man are finally throwing down for their climactic monstero-a-monstero, and while I won’t tell you who wins, I will say that the results are inconclusive thanks to a great wall of water unleashed by the constantly grousing Evans!

The bald fact is that if you like Universal monster movies, you’ll like this one, because it’s got just about everything you could hope for from the form! It’s a bit scary, a bit silly, and suffused with backlot atmosphere, and the tone does get a bit grim with Larry Talbot's constant hankering for the sweet release of death! This was the first of the monster-mash pictures, but not the last, and of course eventually the comedians would get involved and we’d have such works as Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff! But at this point they were still trying to be scary, and they halfway succeeded! I give Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man two and a half ice windows!

Thursday 7 October 2021

Burl reviews The Philadelphia Experiment! (1984)


Hurtling through a time tube, it’s Burl, here to review a four-dimensional film from my VHS-spent youth! Now, I’m not talking about The Terminator here, nor Time After Time! I’m not even talking about The Final Countdown, but rather a picture that might have passed that one going the other way in the time tube, a picture known to all as The Philadelphia Experiment!

This is apparently something that John Carpenter was gong to direct, and I’m sure that would have been enjoyable, but he ended up only as an executive producer! This fact puts the movie into a small little group: Mid-Budget Movies Of The 1980s That Carpenter Had Something To Do With But Didn’t Direct, and this is a group which includes Black Moon Rising and not a lot else - ha ha, maybe those cable TV Westerns he wrote that came along in the early 1990s!

Anyway, The Philadelphia Experiment begins in 1943 with a group of Navy men participating in a science experiment intended to make ships invisible to German radar! Instead the test ship is blasted into a time tube, and when two sailors, played by Michael Paré from Streets of Fire and Bad Moon and Bobby Di Cicco from I Wanna Hold Your Hand and The Supernaturals, leap over the railing, they land in Utah c. 1984! Finding an empty bottle of Löwenbräu has them worried the Germans might be lurking around, but on entering a café to discover Humanoids From the Deep playing on TV, they realize some crazy time travel must have occurred!

From here much of the movie is a chase, with an army base security chief played by Kene Holliday from No Small Affair pursuing them from the wastelands of Utah to the orange groves of California and back again! And here we have the root problem with the movie: for every scene in which the police or the Army security folks almost catch the two sailors, and there are many of these, we miss out on some potentially interesting time travel ramification scene! Oh sure, we get a few instances of Paré watching TV or goggling at modern miracles like the aluminum can, but the whole second act is just a big chase, with little scenes of Paré getting to know his new future friend Allison Hayes, who is not fifty feet tall, but is played by Nancy Allen from Robocop!

Along the way, for reasons never made clear, DiCicco’s character suffers fits and ends up disappearing back to 1943! Paré becomes terrified that this will happen to him too, but that's also confusing since I thought he wanted to go home! Still, it’s a good thing he doesn’t, because it turns out that what’s going on is that the scientist who did the experiment back in 1943, who is now elderly and played by Eric Christmas from The Changeling and Porky’s, is up to his old tricks again, and this time has tried to make a small fake town invisible to radar! Ha ha! But this has opened a time tube and all of 1984 is at risk of being sucked into it! Christmas somehow knows that the only solution is to put Paré into a space suit, pop him out the top of a tank and up into the time tube, and have him turn off the generator in the ship! Of course, ha ha, he doesn’t just turn it off, but smashes everything in the control room, especially the evidently critical array of time bulbs, because after all that’s more exciting and cinematic than just turning off a switch!

Louise Latham from The Sugarland Express shows up playing the oldlady version of a friend of Paré’s from 1943, and the picture also features an early appearance from Stephen Tobolowsky from Single White Female, back when he was still moderately behaired! He’s still a glasses nerd, though! But none of this changes the fact that the movie seriously mishandles the potential of its premise! It’s entertaining enough, and the fact that I watched this more than once back in the VHS days, and even had the poster up in my room, seems to confirm that; but you can’t escape the feeling that somewhere, in some dimension or behind some time portal, a much better and more thoughtful movie called The Philadelphia Experiment was made! I give this Philadelphia Experiment one and a half punk rockers!

Tuesday 5 October 2021

Burl reviews A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child! (1989)


One, two, Burl’s coming for you! Ha ha, and by “you,” I mean Freddy Krueger of course, the laughing scarface in the stripèd sweater, the fellow who appeared in a few enjoyable pictures and then, having transformed into a jokester in a knife-glove, foisted upon the world such pictures as A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master! Ha ha, I didn’t like that one much, and I remembered its direct sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Child, as being even worse! Well, I watched that one again the other night, and you know what? It’s not worse!

It’s not a whole lot better either, but it is better, and, as with its two immediate predecessors, I saw it in the theatre with a gang of pals, so it’s possible the agreeability of that experience will bleed into my opinion of the picture! I’ll try to avoid that! What I will say is that Wes Craven never came within a mile of this film - ha ha, he was too busy making Shocker, which I guess was his attempt to make a new Freddy type of fellow! Luckily for all, I think, Horace Pinker didn’t make it!

Maybe you’re wondering why I’ve omitted the number 5 from the title - ha ha, well, that’s how they do it on the title card in the movie itself, and so that’s how I’ll say it too! I guess they were trying to downplay how far along in the series they were! In any case, this one is a direct continuation from number 4, with Lisa Wilcox from Gimme an ‘F’ once again styled as a forty year-old lady to play the character of Alice, yet another Elm Street kid who’s become the target of the fedora-topped dreamaniac!

Alice has a boyfriend called Handsome Dan, and pals like Yvonne, played by Kelly Jo Minter from Summer School; Mark, essayed by a pretty bad actor called Joe Seely from Armed and Dangerous; and Zandalee herself, pretty Erika Anderson, as Greta! Yvonne’s dad looks like an amiable oaf, but Mark, Greta, and Dan have parents who oppress them in one way or another, though this never comes to much either narratively or thematically! Alice herself has an AA dad played by Nicholas Mele from The Lonely Guy, and another parent (Dan’s, I think?) is played by Burr De Benning from Armed Response, but we never find out if these parents too were part of the original John Saxon mob that burned up Freddy back when he was just a creepy, handsy janitor!

Of course the dream murders are the engine that powers these vehicles, and again, for the most part, they just come off as little skits in which Freddy can perform homicidal charades in the guise of a chef or a surgeon or a motorcycle! One fellow turns into a cartoon or something, and finds a new definition of “paper cut,” ha ha! The idea is that Alice is pregnant and Freddy is somehow funneling himself through the dreams of the fetus and thereby able to pick off Alice’s friends! Ha ha, even internally, the logic is a mess - I mean, the fetus is not even a fetus, being only days old over the period of the story! It would be a little, undreaming clump of cells! Some of you evangelicals may disagree with me on that, but it’s true!

The movies try to be fun lite-horror, but I’ve always felt the more unsavory aspects of Freddy, like his repeated use of the word “bitch,” his origin story as the child of a gang-raped nun (an event dramatized in this movie, unfortunately), and of course his pre-conflagration career as a child molester, sit ill with his status as a comic-bookish anti-hero firing off catch phrases! But in the last act this picture suddenly decides to try harder and show off a little imagination! Ha ha, the dream world becomes an Escher-like maze of staircases unmoored to conventional planimetrics or everyday physics, and indeed reminiscent, unusually for this series, of an actual dream! Another noteworthy moment has fake heads on tendons popping out of Freddy’s back like riot balloons! Ha ha!

But most of the picture is saddled with poor dialogue, so-so acting, and rote dream sequences, so it’s no great glahoonick in the end - not a patch on the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, nor the enjoyable Dream Warriors! And every single special effect seems to have been done by a different artist or company, and that lends the thing a real patchwork quality! I wasn’t sorry I watched it, but nor was I transported back to August 31, 1989, when I saw it at the downtown mall multiplex! I give A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child one and a half ugly baby carriages!

Monday 4 October 2021

Burl reviews The Lost Squadron! (1932)


Hello chums, it’s Burl, here with a nifty picture about flying fliers and the flights they flew! It’s a story about some airborne veterans of WWI - the Great War, ha ha - and what happens to these fellows once the hostilities have ceased; and it’s called The Lost Squadron!

It opens in the final five minutes of the war as our heroes try to down as many German planes as they can, and then, as the 11 AM bell strikes on November 11, we see them exchange a last friendly wave with their former enemies and fly back to their airfield! Ha ha, it really pushes the alleged gentlemanly aspects of the war, in much the manner as it was parodied many years later by Monty Python in The Meaning of Life, except here it’s in earnest!

Our boys are upright Gibby, played by Richard Dix from It Happened in Hollywood and The Ghost Ship; Woody, the most carefree of a pretty relaxed bunch, essayed by a cheerful Robert Armstrong from King Kong and The Mad Ghoul; Red, handsome and charming, in the person of Joel McCrea from Foreign Correspondent, Sullivan’s Travels, and of course the great Ride the High Country; and their potatofaced mechanic Fritz, played by Hugh Herbert from The Black Cat and Hellzapoppin’! At their demobbing they are told nothing has changed since they left for Europe, but on their return Stateside they find everything has! Personal disasters - bankruptcy, cuckoldry, so forth - befall each man, which they accept with astonishing stoicism; and one drinking scene and a quick montage later, all but one of them have become rail-riding hobos!

On the distaff side we have Mary Astor from The Palm Beach Story and of course The Maltese Falcon playing Gibby’s ex, the ambitious, inconstant Follette - a character not dissimilar to how Astor herself was perceived by the public a few years later when she was beset by the sort of scandal that small, Puritanical minds think is important! As well there’s a crucial character called The Pest, who is Woody’s little sister and is played by Dorothy Jordan from The Searchers!

Gibby, Red, and Fritz, the three members of the squadron who have become stewbums, make their way to Hollywood, where they discover Woody living the good life as a stunt flier for the then-booming genre of aerial war pictures, and The Pest worrying about him and trying to stop him from his habit of drunk flying! Woody’s glad to see his old pals and convinces them to join him in the lucrative if still dangerous endeavor, and so it is that the squadron once again find themselves facing off against a fiery German enemy: this time the shouty director Von Furst, played by The Man You Love To Hate, Erich von Stroheim! Not only is he a sociopathic martinet in jodhpurs, but he’s now married to Gibby’s old flame Follette, who’s the female star of the movie! Ha ha!

Well that is a coincidence! And it’s not one the perpetually angry Von Furst is willing to countenance: he decides to get rid of Gibby by dousing his plane’s guywires in acid! But the irrepressible Woody takes the sabotaged plane up instead, and when Gibby, having realized what’s happening, goes up and flies alongside Woody trying to warn him about the acid attack on his wires, Woody just laughs and gives him the finger! Ha ha!

Well, after the wires break and Woody crashes in a spectacular conflagration, it’s clear to the remaining three that revenge is required, though there is disagreement on the type! However, before this can be resolved an accidental gunshot claims the autocratic filmmaker, and down the stairs he tumbles! Ha ha, the boys have to pull a Weekend At Bernie’s with Von Furst’s corpse to fool a slow-witted watchman who heard the shot! From there events proceed as they must, with noble subterfuge and sacrifice abounding, and in a final touching coda, the squadron members who’ve succumbed in the course of the story reappear as ghost fliers piloting ghost planes!

It was a real pleasure to watch this peppy little picture, I must say! The stunt flying is impressive, and the cast a real delight, and the pre-Code shenanigans are terrific! The gentlemanly comradeliness of the squadroneers is almost alien in its profundity and relentlessness! Von Stroheim is good in his role as the heavy, even if he’s more or less playing a more homicidal version of himself, and the layers of postmodern irony with which the narrative is infused seems almost unintentional, which fact merely adds another layer, ha ha! It’s a crackerjack and no mistake, so I give The Lost Squadron three toasts to fallen comrades!

Friday 1 October 2021

Burl reviews Murder By Decree! (1978)


By the powers of deduction, it’s Burl, here to review a Sherlock Holmes tale from the director of Porky’s and Black Christmas! Ha ha, yes, Bob Clark, who made all genres of picture in his career before regrettably coming to a violent end on the Pacific Coast Highway thanks to a loathsome drunken driver, here tries his hand at a star-studded detective picture which pits the famous consulting sleuth against the terrors of Jack the Ripper! Ha ha, I suppose it’s not unlike playing H.G. Wells against the Ripper, as we saw in Time After Time, but this picture, Murder By Decree, though its hero be fictional, tries to ground its Ripper theories in as much fact as it can muster!

Like Time After Time, the picture begins with a ripper murder, and then we enter into the cozy buddy-buddy world of Holmes and his pal Watson! These worthies are played by Christopher Plummer from The Silent Partner, Dreamscape and Dragnet, in all of which he was a bad guy, so it’s nice to see him on the side of good here; and James Mason from such varied productions as Bigger Than Life, North By Northwest, and Evil Under the Sun! We meet the duo as they’re out at the opera defusing an anti-monarchist rabble, and soon enough they’re back in the velvet confines of 221 B Baker Street, mulling over the ripper murders at the behest of a group of anarchists!

The case proceeds from there through a gaslit, heavily fog filtered mystery that includes the royals and the anarchists, along with psychics, madwomen, and eventually to the very heart of the power structure! Ha ha, I won’t get into all the details about the whys and whos and wherefores, first because it’s a mystery you should unravel for yourself, and second because I didn’t understand it! Or if I did, I’ve become foggy on the details in the days since I watched it, and having seen it several times before in its incessant broadcasts on Canadian TV through the 80s didn’t help at all!

They say that the Ripper theories espoused here are among the most plausible, however! I myself haven’t done the research, but I wouldn’t put anything past a royal! But verisimilitude aside, the big draw with this picture is the cast, which includes not just the champs playing our lead investigative duo, but such goodniks as David Hemmings of Juggernaut fame in the role of Inspector Foxborough; Donald Sutherland from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Heaven Help Us as the psychic; Geneviève Bujold from Isabel and Dead Ringers as the madwoman; John Gielgud from Arthur as the Prime Minister; plus the likes of Susan Clark from Night Moves; Anthony Quayle from The Guns of Navarone; Frank Finlay from Lifeforce; and Tedde Moore from Rip-Off! Ha ha, whoa baby!

Clark directs it all in the acceptably workmanlike fashion you might expect and even hope for, and the cinematography is attractive, but fuzzier than a London pea-souper! There are lots of shots of a nicely-built model of the Victorian London skyline, and plenty of extreme close-ups of the Ripper’s bloodshot madman eyeball! And, as byzantine as the plot gets, in the end it all comes to a rather frustrating naught - frustrating for Holmes and a little bit for the viewer as well! It’s got plenty of atmosphere along the way, however, and the period is well-evoked, and it’s just a pleasure to watch that cast! I give Murder By Decree two and a half deadly scarves!