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You just never know what he'll review next!

Tuesday 28 June 2022

Burl reviews Land of the Dead! (2005)


Urrgh, groww, gnarr, it’s Burl shuffling at you with a zombie movie to review! And not just any old zombie movie, but one from the acknowledged grandmaster, George A. Romero, who of course brought us Creepshow and many other horror entertainments! And Creepshow had zombies – three of them, to be precise – but it’s the …of the Dead series for which this beardsman is most thoroughly celebrated! The one under review today is the biggest-budgeted of them all: Land of the Dead!

I’m a very big fan of Night of the Living Dead and especially Dawn of the Dead – ha ha, a great favourite, that one! Then, when Day of the Dead came out, and played at the grandest movie theatre in town when I was but fourteen years old, I managed to sneak in to see it opening night, and even got myself one of the promotional badges they were handing out! It was a night of great triumph: the first time I successfully sneaked in to an R rated movie; and so Day of the Dead stands as a sentimental favourite and always will! And so, as you can imagine, when Land of the Dead came along twenty years later I was pretty excited to see it too!

So I rushed out to the movie theatre, and what I beheld there was this: a slick, enjoyably meaty zombie picture with a nicely Romeroesque political dimension to it – ha ha, in other words, almost exactly what I was hoping for! Still, it’s never ascended to the pantheon occupied by the first two in the series! It’s a lot more lighthearted than Day of the Dead, though, which, with all its yelling, is a movie that can really harsh your mellow! On the other hand, I quite enjoy the picture! But we’re here to talk about Land of the Dead, aren’t we! Yes, ha ha!

Our story once again begins some unspecified amount of time after the zombie apocalypse, and society in Pittsburgh is bifurcated between the regular folk, who live in dirty slums where they indulge in every vice and yet keep it together enough to provide the children with puppet shows, and the rich, who dwell in comfort, as though nothing had ever changed, in a big tower called Fiddler’s Green! This edifice is run by Kaufman, who’s played by an unusually reserved Dennis Hopper, an actor we recall from My Science Project and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2!

Pittsburgh gets its supplies by means of night raids on nearby towns that have been overrun by zombies but still have shops full of canned goods and booze! Simon Baker from Red Planet plays Riley, the good guy who designed and is in charge of the main raiding vehicle, which they call Dead Reckoning! This conveyance, an armored truck thing reminiscent of the Landmaster from Damnation Alley, can shoot fireworks, machine guns, and mortars, and becomes the central item of interest as the movie progresses!

John Leguizamo from Die Hard 2 and Collateral Damage plays Cholo, the second-in-command who first works for Kaufman, then is snubbed by him, and so in his resentment becomes compelled to steal Dead Reckoning and threaten to shell the city with it! Riley, in the company of his old buddy Charlie, a puttyface played by Robert Joy from Amityville 3-D (and looking very much like he did in the final moments of that film), and his new friend Slack, a lady played by Asia Argento from The Church, form a repo gang who intend to get it back: not for Kaufman, whom they all dislike, but to save innocent lives in the slum zone! Meanwhile the zombies are being organized, after a fashion, by zombie liberation activist Big Daddy, a gaspumping zombie played by Eugene Clark from Trial & Error! As Riley and his bunch close in on Chulo, the zombies cross the river simply by walking across it under water, and the final battle for life, freedom, and Fiddler’s Green is under way!

The movie was released in the heart of the Bush years, in the midst of the war in Iraq, and serves pretty well as a political parable in the old Romero style! Hopper’s character is the Bush analogue of course, with Fiddler’s Green and Pittsburgh in general standing in for North America; while the zombies are the foreign hordes supposedly clamoring to destroy it or at least take it over! As political parables go it’s not subtle, and it lacks the lively cleverness of Dawn, but it’s still nice to see horror movies with subtext, even if that subtext isn’t very sub! Ha ha! And is it gory? Ha ha, you bet it is, especially in the unrated edition I just watched! You get face pullings, head stompings, all manner of grue!

The picture was shot in Toronto, not Pittsburgh, so the margins are filled with familiar Canadian actors like Earl Pastko from Roadkill, Robin Ward from Flick (supplying a mellifluous voiceover extolling the bourgeois virtues of Fiddler’s Green), Heidi von Palleske from Dead Ringers, and Boyd Banks from Crash! Of course Tom Savini, whose moustache-acting we’ll recall from movies like Creepshow 2 (where his moustache is prosthetically obscured, ha ha) and Innocent Blood, turns up in zombie form as the same biker, Mr. Machete, that he played in Dawn of the Dead!

It’s an entertaining and slick picture that suffers from thin characterizations (the hero’s defining personality trait is that he’s the hero, ha ha, and a pretty bland one at that) and is narratively underbaked! It doesn’t offer all the satisfactions I might have hoped for, but it still ticks plenty of boxes, and in spite of occasional moments of profound dumnitude, I think of the picture with fondness! I give Land of the Dead two and a half skyflowers!

Friday 24 June 2022

Burl reviews Pulse! (1988)


Bzzt bzzt, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m going back to the 80s horror well today, reviewing a picture that’s well-regarded by aficionados of the form! It’s one of those so-called “safe horrors” with which the decade was so generously supplied, and it’s a PG-13 joint in the bargain, with an eleven year-old hero! It all takes place on a Spielbergian suburban street, and features a premise Stephen King might have rejected as too obvious! Ha ha, the picture is called Pulse!

It begins with suburbanite Bill, played by Cliff De Young from F/X and Secret Admirer, woken in the night by a kerfuffle across the way! It seems the mean old man across the street has gone nuts and is breaking up his house! The next day Bill’s son David, essayed by wee Joey Lawrence from Summer Rental, arrives for an extended summer visit and is welcomed with open arms and a racing-themed bedroom by Bill and his new wife Ellen, a non-wicked stepmom played by Roxanne Hart from Highlander!

It takes a little while, but weird happenings start to become evident! With the parents away, David tries to watch the ballgame, but all the blobs of solder in his TV go crazy and he’s reduced to listening to the game on the radio instead! Later a gas main breaks while David is trapped in the garage, and he’s nearly suffocated! Ellen begins to believe David’s assertion that something uncanny is happening with the utilities, but Bill, a staunch realist, refuses to accept it, and his position is backed up by the tradespeople who periodically come by to check things out! These are played by the likes of Damone from Fast Times and Joe from The Annihilators, and they offer boring explanations which only further convince Ellen and David that something supernatural must be afoot!

Meanwhile the kid next door, a walking bowl cut called Stevie played by Joey’s brother Matthew Lawrence from Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, gives David the lowdown on the mean old man across the way! And a weird old duck played by Charles Tyner from Best Seller pops up with dire warnings about an evil electrical pulse that makes its way from house to house! There’s also a subplot involving a VHS tape of Starman, which I’ll confess I didn’t really understand, but all this sets the scene for a shower scalding, and then David and Bill, now at last a team, wage a final battle with the hydro, the plumbing, and the natural gas!

As I say, this is a fondly-regarded movie, but I’m not entirely sure why! It’s well produced, with nice photography, including lots of macro images of crazed solder blobs, and good physical trick effects; but things never get as creepy as they should! The provenance and motivations of the dreadful pulse are never revealed, and that’s fine; but the ambiguity is not in the service of unease the way it ought to be! It also takes a while for things to get going, and the movie feels weirdly trapped on its one street location, and not in a way that increases the feeling of peril and imprisonment!

Still, the cast is good and it’s slickly made, and there are a few moments that might have you eyeing your own utilities askance! It’s similar in many ways to Bells, though with a supernatural rather than a revenge-based explanation, and like that picture it could have used a bit more pep! I certainly didn’t hate it, though, so I give Pulse two racecar beds!

Wednesday 22 June 2022

Burl reviews Hot Bubblegum! (1981)


Ya-da-da-da-da-da la bamba, it’s Burl, reviewing for you some Israeli teen sex comedy! Ha ha, the teen sex comedy was not born in Israel of course – there were American pictures like The Cheerleaders that came earlier – but it could be argued that the Holy Land’s Lemon Popsicle series of films codified the genre and put it into a shape that would become all-too common through the late 70s and well into the 80s! This one, the third in the series, is called Hot Bubblegum!

Boaz Davidson, who went on from this directly to Hospital Massacre, and thence to The Last American Virgin, which is nothing more or less than a Stateside version of a Lemon Popsicle picture, was the director of this one! It starts with a bang, introducing us to the central trio of idiots: Yftach Katzur as the ratfaced Benji; Jonathan Sagall as Bobby, the allegedly handsome one; and of course Zachi Noy as Huey, or Yudale, the ducktailed slobbo! There’s also a skinny little glasses nerd called Victor, but he doesn’t figure in much as the picture wears on!

Anyway, these three, plus occasionally Victor, are up to their usual hijinks, which in this case is spying on ladies changing in a beachside structure, and of course Yudale plunges through the roof and hits the floor with a grotesque slapping sound! Then a lady pummels him with a shoe and calls him a sex maniac – not the last time this will happen to Yudale in the movie, and for good reason – and he runs and jumps into a big hole dug in the sand, which his friends immediately fill up, trapping him like the unfortunates in Creepshow! Then a little kid pees in his face, ha ha!

Back in the old VHS days, my pals and I loved these opening scenes! We thought the movie was a real piece of work, and our nickname for the main character, Benji, was “Ratatouille!” Indeed he is quite a ratboy, and it’s hard to understand why the local girls seem so intent on dating him! The slim narrative through-line of the picture is Ratatouille’s inability to decide between committing to his sweet freckleface of a girlfriend Doris, or to carry on with the gap-toothed partygal Nikki! Why either one would give him the time of day is the picture’s great mystery!

I’ll tell you, these three guys are real jerks, and everything they do is some form of sexual assault! They’re peeping toms, they spike drinks, they lie, cheat, misrepresent in their neverending quest for bohankie; and when they’re called out on all this criminal dishonesty, they get pouty and surly, or at least Ratatouille does! He’s the pettiest, jerkiest, most childish character in a movie chock full of them, and greasier than a duck’s underwear too; and his dad, the old perv, is no better! The scenes in which a pulchritudinous cousin comes to stay with the family are cringy enough to cause cramps!

I’ve seen a few other Lemon Popsicle movies, namely Baby Love, Going Steady, and the army one, Private Popsicle, but can hardly recall a thing about them! I assume they’re equally off-putting, however, and probably don’t even have the microscopically small redemptive moments we find here, like the characters getting peed on in the face, or landing painfully on concrete, or whispering "a-doobee-doo" in each other's ears! Ha ha, re-watching this one (which took three or four viewing sessions, so gruelling was the experience) did not make me eager to have another look at any of the others! Maybe the first one, Lemon Popsicle, would be interesting to see for historical purposes, but on the other hand, probably not!

It’s not surprising to find in the opening credits that the English language soundtrack was supervised by Mel Welles, who of course played Abu Habib Bibubu in Smokey Bites the Dust! The soundtrack is chock full of Welles-isms, and several of the voices, especially the father, sound like old Mel must have performed them himself! Ha ha, he sure loved to do his Old Jewish Guy voice! It’s hard to fathom how this early Cannon work could have afforded to license the wall-to-wall hits that are constantly playing in the background (it’s the best use of “La Bamba” outside of Birdy, I have to admit), but maybe they just didn’t bother with all the technicalities, like the asking and the licensing and the paying! Ha ha, that’s Golan and Globus for you, I guess!

This is one stinky movie, but for the laughs it gave my friends and I back in the 80s, I guess I have to give it some small credit! Watching it now as a grown-ass man was a painful experience, however, and I don’t recommend it to anyone! It also manages to make the act of looking at nude ladies actively unpleasant – not because there’s anything wrong with the ladies, but because of the context and the way the scenes are shot! And there’s not much of that here anyway, so nude lady enthusiasts are encouraged to look elsewhere for their fix! In the meanwhile I’m going to award Hot Bubblegum one half of a pathetic shoe mirror!

Tuesday 21 June 2022

Burl reviews Crimes of the Future! (2022)


By the power of Rubbermaid, it’s Burl, here to review a brand-new David Cronenberg picture! Ha ha, for a while there I thought I’d never get to type those words, as it’s been some years since his last movie, Maps to the Stars, and I thought maybe he’d hung it up for good! But no! Here’s Canada’s beloved King of Venereal Horror back at it again with what amounts to a strange little Greatest Hits piece entitled Crimes of the Future! And what a pleasure it was to head out to the mall multiplex on a hot summer’s evening with my good old dad to see it! No, you don’t get to see a new Cronenberg movie in the theatre every day, ha ha!

Of course Cronenberg has already made a movie called Crimes of the Future – it was his second mid-length effort, sort of a companion piece to, or an echo of, Stereo! But this new one is something a little different – not at all a remake, though it does share some commonalities with that earlier artwork! This new picture tells the tale of a pair of performance artists, Saul and Caprice, whose performances revolve around the curious new organs Saul’s body spontaneously produces, and the surgical removal of same!

It’s all set presumably in the future, but in this picture the future looks a lot like the grimier regions of Greece! Viggo Mortensen from The Prophecy and several other Cronenberg pictures, like A Dangerous Method, plays Saul, and his performance seems made up in equal parts of coughing, gagging, hacking, horking, and sighs! Léa Seydoux from No Time to Die and Midnight in Paris is Caprice, who, like most people in this crazy world, no longer feels pain, and regards surgical invasion as an enticing new form of sex! Ha ha!

There are lots of characters, and when they’re off-screen and being talked about by Saul and Caprice, one loses track of who’s who, I’m afraid! Kristen Stewart from Clouds of Sils Maria and Don McKellar from Roadkill play employees of one of Cronenberg’s crazy bureaucratic organizations, as seen in earlier pictures like the 1970 Crimes of the Future! There we had the Canadian Centre for Erotic Inquiry, and here it’s the National Organ Registry; and the performances by Stewart and McKellar, as their characters fall deeper under the spell of art-surgery, are each highly entertaining!

Scott Speedman from Kitchen Party plays a bereaved father who leads the local cell of an underground movement of plastic-eaters; his son, perhaps the world’s first natural-born plastic eater, meets a sticky end in the picture’s opening moments! But he plays a pretty big part in subsequent events, as does the general habit of plastic eating! The authorities, represented here by a cop with a boil on his belly, are frightened by the plastic eating, and believe that such an evolutionary step is unauthorized and inadvisable, while the plastic eaters themselves think they’re the only possible solution to a world being steadily polluted by plastics! We’ve come a long way from The Graduate, ha ha!

In part, of course, the picture is about the crimes we are committing against the future, and a warning that the future is likely to commit crimes right back! And my feeling is that Cronenberg is fully on the side of the plastic-eating “criminals” in this case, but since they don’t exist, the true underlying message of the movie from its 79 year-old director is something in the line of “Ha ha, best of luck, everybody!”

And as I say, and as every other critic says too, the picture is very much a greatest hits package! We’ve got the belly slits of Videodrome, the underground fetishists of Crash, the interior beauty pageants of Dead Ringers, the organic machines of Naked Lunch and eXistenZ, even the toxic saliva of The Fly! I didn’t consider any of this to be lazy repetition or fan service or anything like that – for me, who’s been watching Cronenberg movies since he exploded (ha ha!) into my field of vision with Scanners in the early 1980s, it was just pure comedic pleasure! I can’t say this is my favourite Cronenberg picture (Videodrome will probably always be that), but I certainly enjoyed it! Those similarly predisposed should run out and see it if they haven’t already, secure in the knowledge that I’ve given Crimes of the Future three goofy breakfast chairs!

Wednesday 15 June 2022

Burl reviews Instant Justice! (1986)


Bang bang, it’ Burl, here to review a little manchego-flavoured mid-80s action for you! Ha ha, here’s yet another one of those movies that appeared on video shelves in the wake of Rambo: First Blood part II – pictures like Steele Justice or Born American or The Patriot or any number of others, in which a U.S. military tough guy exacts some payback in the name of Uncle Sam, or at least in the spirit of that personage if not with his official sanction! This particular variation on the theme is called Instant Justice!

As just about every viewer points out, nested as it is within a movie over a hundred minutes long, the justice here is far from instant! It does come eventually though – sort of! Our principal justice seeker is Sgt. Youngblood, who’s stationed in Paris, and in the opening moments of the picture manages to save a jogging ambassador from a pretty amateurish assassination attempt! Then he gets a call from his sister Kim, who’s apparently a high class professional party girl in Madrid, and during the call he gets the feeling his sister is in some kind of trouble! This proves true, for by the time he gets to Madrid, Kim is dead with cuts all over her face! Yowch, time for instant justice!

Sgt. Youngblood is played by Michael Paré with an absolute minimum of expression, inflection, and what we humans call “life!” Ha ha, Paré, is even more robotic here than he was in Streets of Fire or The Philadelphia Experiment, and though he does get pretty barky with the other characters, it still seems a little synthetic, like he's expressing an emotion he's heard about but never felt! The characters on the receiving end of his abuse include a fiveheaded photographer called Jake, who was a friend of Youngblood’s sister and who gives the Sarge the rundown on the picture’s baddies! These heavies are a Raul Julia-voiced bossman called Mr. Silke, and his nattily-dressed henchman Mr. Dutch, who was the party directly responsible for Kim's demise! Jake is played by Peter Crook from Bird, and he gives off a sort of combination Peter MacNicol/John Malkovich vibe that I thought improved the picture markedly!

The authorities are no help, of course: after the gun which Youngblood’s buddy in Paris inexplicably stashed in his luggage is taken away by airport security, and Youngblood has to be rescued by local officer Major Davis, he explains his problem and yells “If you can’t help me, WHO DA HELL CAN?!?” at a recalcitrant policeman! Youngblood gets into punchfights everywhere he goes, makes impolite demands of Jake, and eventually meets enormous-haired Tawny Kitaen, whom we recall from Witchboard and Bachelor Party, playing Virginia, another party girl in the sleazy employ of Mr. Silke! Jake, Virginia, and Youngblood ultimately form a team in opposition to the evil Silke/Dutch duo, but not without a constant stream of monotonic, monosyllabic haranguing, demanding, and guilt-tripping from Youngblood along the way!

Major Davis is played by the great Charles Napier, whom we know from several Russ Meyer pictures and even more Jonathan Demme films, like Last Embrace for example! Of course he was also in Rambo, which is no doubt why they wanted him in what amounts to the Richard Crenna part in this one! And of course, in accordance with Spanish law, there’s an appearance from Luis Bar-Boo, whom we know from Conan the Barbarian and so many other Spanish-shot pictures!

It’s a medium-cheap picture, but the Spanish (and apparently Gibralteric) location work helps it out! Ha ha, for such an all-American yankee-doodler (“The boldest, brashest, All-American movie this side of basic training,” according to the VHS box copy), the movie sure has a European flavor to it – I think even the director is French! I was glad for that, though, and as someone who has actually been in a bullfighting ring with a bull, I appreciated the scene where Jake helps Youngblood evade some authorities by releasing a pack of angry bulls!

There are lots of punchfights, but the action scenes are generally pretty rote; and the ultimate fate of Mr. Dutch – he’s driven into an airplane propeller while riding the hood of a yellow Trans-Am - is conceptually interesting, but ineptly staged! It could use more pep and style (or any style, actually!), and the acting and dialogue is mostly foul! It’s altogether typical VHS fodder from the 80s, but especially dumb in parts, and so I give Instant Justice one clothed shower!

Saturday 11 June 2022

Burl reviews Cameron's Closet! (1988)


Hello closeteers, it’s Burl, here to catch up on some 1980s horror I missed the first time around! Or else I may have seen it and then completely forgotten it, ha ha! At any rate, I got my hands on a VHS copy of Cameron’s Closet and recently watched it, and I’m here to tell you all about it!

It comes from the director of He Knows You’re Alone and The Supernaturals, and I suppose it represents a slight step up from those works! It’s a bit more elaborate at any rate, but not to any great effect I’m afraid! The picture opens by introducing us to Cameron, a ten year-old boy with astonishing psychic powers who’s being studied by his father and a scientist pal! Cameron can put marbles in a jar or rearrange plastic letters merely by will alone, ha ha, but evidently his talents also extend to raising evil closet demons!

This is where his dad, played by Tab Hunter from pictures like Ride the Wild Surf and The Kid From Left Field, and the researcher pal, essayed by Chuck McCann from Herbie Rides Again and Lunch Wagon – in truth a good actor, but also the poor man’s Robert Prosky – start to get worried! Soon Tab is dead, his head cut off by an errant machete, and Cameron is off to live with his mom, played by Kim Lankford from Malibu Beach! The mom has a meathead boyfriend who venerates his car above all else, and one night he gets his eyes burned out and is fired out Cameron’s bedroom window as though from a cannon, landing of course, ha ha, on his beloved car!

Well this brings Detective Talliaferro, played by Cotter Smith from The Post, in on the Cameron closet case! He’s been having waking closet nightmares, which annoys his partner Leigh McCloskey (from Inferno and Fraternity Vacation), and is being forced to attend sessions with police psychiatrist Dr. Nora Haley, played by Mel Harris from Wanted: Dead or Alive! After Talliaferro’s partner runs afoul of the demon in Cameron’s closet, the investigation is on, and after further deaths, including one by interior superboil, and a near-chopping by ceiling fan of Cameron himself, the final confrontation is on!

Ha ha, this is an American picture, but there are a lot of Italian names in the credits, and the pastaland influence is everywhere evident! Cameron himself isn’t an evil child, but there are enough glowing eyes and psychic shenanigans to recall The Visitor (though it never gets as loopy, of course, because what could), and Cameron himself is terrorized nearly as much as little Bob in The House by the Cemetery! Thanks to the competent work of later-to-be-superstar cinematographer Russell Carpenter and a generally solid set of actors (even Cameron is pretty good!), the movie rises above its budget; but it’s when the demon itself comes onto the scene that things falter! He’s a creation of Carlo Rambaldi, who brought us such lovable animatronics as E.T., but on this job I think he may have been a bit drunk! The thing looks like a big raisin with teeth, as though he brought his creature from Possession out of a long, imperfect storage and gave it a quick coat of red-brown housepaint before shoving it in front of the camera! Ha ha!

It’s narratively incoherent, frequently derivative, and often stupid, but it’s got some zest and pizazz here and there, with the eyeless meathead shooting out the window a particular highlight! The trick makeup effects range from mannequin-style (the machete decapitation) to sort of scary (a smiley zombie creature), but are pretty delightful at either extreme! It’s dumbbell horror and there’s no denying it, but I give Cameron’s Closet two refitted He-Man dolls anyway!