Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Thursday 30 March 2023

Burl reviews How I Got Into College! (1989)


Ha ha, rapscallions, it’s Burl here with a new review for you! This one is the last part of what I’ve always thought of as a loose trilogy, but which in fact is not a trilogy at all – it’s just three movies made by the same guy! That guy is Savage Steve Holland, and the not-a-trilogy I’m talking about is Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer, and the picture under review today, How I Got Into College!

Of course the first two feature John Cusack, and this third picture does not, so you might debate its place in this nonexistent triumvirate! I myself, as a teen, was a big fan of Better Off Dead and a much lesser one of One Crazy Summer, but never did bother seeing this one until just the other day, so I guess I myself also discounted its place in the Savage Steve oeuvre! But I’ve always been aware of the movie and very slightly curious about it, so when I ran across a used DVD of the thing I thought to myself “Ha ha, now’s the time!”

And the plot? Ha ha, it’s pretty much right there in the title! Our protagonist is a high school lackwit named Marlon, played by Corey Parker from Friday the 13th part V: A New Beginning; an amiable enough sort, but almost aggressive in his disinterest in any intellectual pursuit! His overriding passion is for a pretty, sociable, smart girl in the school, Jessica Kailo, impersonated by Lara Flynn Boyle from Poltergeist III! She’s friendly, on the order of a character like Diane Court from Say Anything (the picture Cusack did instead of this one, I suppose), but is only vaguely aware of Marlon's existence, despite the constant creepy pining for her he does over all the years of high school!

The plot and title kick in when it becomes time to apply for a college! We follow Marlon and Jessica separately as they try for a fictional athenaeum called Ramsey College, and also meet the Ramsey recruiting squad, which includes one called Kip Hammet, played by top-billed Anthony Edwards from The Sure Thing, and also the picture’s nominal antagonist, a dapper dan named Leo, essayed by Charles Rocket from Fraternity Vacation! And there are other Ramsay candidates, like a football player (Duane Davis from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4) and a girl who works at McDonalds (Tichina Arnold from Little Shop of Horrors)!

Being a moron, Marlon’s biggest challenge is passing the SAT, which is apparently some kind of test you need to pass to get accepted to an American college! Marlon employs a pair of coaches to help him, and these are played by Nora Dunn from Shake, Rattle & Rock and the always-welcome Phil Hartman from Small Soldiers! Meanwhile we get the debates of the recruiting committee, some jousting for the deanship, the worries and tribulations of the various students, the growing (though unrealistic) potential for romance between Marlon and Jessica, and little imaginary scenarios involving the hypothetical A and B of the SAT word questions, who grow increasingly resentful of Marlon for his idiocy! (One of these hypothetical fellows is played by noted eccentric Bruce Wagner, a screenwriter who wrote David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars and appeared as an actor in Wes Craven’s Shocker!)

We also get a long parade of familiar faces in the cast, including Philip Baker Hall from Three O’Clock High as the dean of recruitment; Bill Raymond from C.H.U.D. as the recruiter who accidentally accepted a pig; Brian Doyle-Murray from Vacation as a coach; Robert Ridgely from The Wild Life as Jessica’s dad; Richard Jenkins from The Witches of Eastwick as Marlon’s dad; Bill Henderson from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai as another coach; O-Lan Jones from The Right Stuff as a secretary; Curtis Armstrong from Revenge of the Nerds in a cameo as a bible college recruiter; Diane Franklin from The Last American Virgin as Marlon’s comely stepmom; Helen Lloyd Breed from Funny Farm as Jessica’s mom; and Taylor Negron, who played a mailman in Better Off Dead, is again a mailman here – ha ha, maybe the same mailman! Plus it ends with a cameo from Bob Eubanks of Johnny Dangerously fame, here riding majestically in the back of a pink Cadillac filled with pretty girls!

Phew, ha ha! There are a lot of balls kept in the air for a 90 minute comedy, and the picture pulls the multistory element off surprisingly well! As a procedural story about the difficulties of getting into college it’s only sporadically interesting, and relies far too much on fantastical characters, like Edwards’s beneficent cool-dude recruiter, and unlikely scenarios to reach its resolution! Marlon is a fairly annoying personality, but I liked that the movie focused just as much on Jessica, makes her a human instead of a puppy-love object, and occasionally interrogates her alleged perfection – it’s very like Say Anything in that way, and in several other ways as well!

Just about everything in the movie is serviceable, and the picture as a whole is good-natured, but it rarely rises above that – laffs are sprinkled here and there, but it never gets very uproarious! I thought it was ok, but not much more, so I give How I Got Into College two plaid jackets!

Wednesday 22 March 2023

Burl reviews From Beyond! (1986)

Well slap my bucket, it’s Burl! Ha ha, remember how good Re-Animator was? Well, on the basis of that, I recall in the mid-80s becoming very excited at each new Stuart Gordon picture that got mentioned on Fangoria’s Terror Teletype: movies like Dolls and Robo Jox, and the sadly never-to-be made Gris-Gris, and of course the picture under consideration today: another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, and therefore the most direct follow-up to the great Re-Animator, and therefore the most exciting of them all, From Beyond! Ha ha, I had a one-sheet for this one up on the wall of my teenage bedroom, and it was a prized possession indeed!

The picture begins with a long pre-credit sequence that dramatizes the entirety of the Lovecraft story the movie is based on! Ha ha, we meet young and earnest science assistant Crawford Tillinghast, played by the committed Jeffrey Combs from The Man With Two Brains and Cellar Dweller, and his boss, the voluptuary and radical sybarite Dr. Edward Pretorius, impersonated here very well by Ted Sorel of Basket Case 2 fame, and who, a trivia, was the nephew of famed Universal monster makeup man Jack Pierce! Pretorius has invented a machine, the Resonator, which opens up mutually accessible pathways to normally extra-perceptible dimensions that are populated by monsters!

When a flying eel puts a biting on Tillinghast he knows it’s all gone too far, but before he can destroy the machine Pretorius has his head chomped off, and after a neighbour lady’s dog finds the body and licks the head stump, Tillinghast is thought mad and accused of the murder! (The neighbour lady, it should be noted, is essayed by Bunny Summers from The Kid With the 200 I.Q.!) Cue the arrival of a comely psychiatrist, Dr. Katherine McMichaels, played by Barbara Crampton from Fraternity Vacation and Chopping Mall!

The next step, of course, is to have the putative axe-murderer Tillinghast released into the custody of good Dr. McMichaels so they can return to the Pretorious house and figure out what happened! This may seem an unlikely happenstance, but the authorities aren’t fools: for security they send along an ex-football player-turned-cop called Bubba Brownlee, played by Ken Foree, whom we remember so fondly from shopping centre-based pictures like Dawn of the Dead and Phantom of the Mall! The trio set up camp in the house, and as soon as dials are fiddled with and giant tuning forks start glowing purple, the extradimensional creatures show up, accompanied by a now-bestial Pretorius!

Things don’t go well from there – there are locust attacks, an encounter with bondage gear, and a giant lamprey eats off Tillinghast’s hair! Moreover, pineal glands start acting up and an officious doctor played by Stuart Gordon’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon has her brains sucked out through her eye socket! Yuck! This is a scene which was depicted in the pages of Fangoria, but was cut out of all prints of the movie until fairly recently! I was glad to finally see it, but I have to admit the scene is gross!

And what of the movie itself? I like the creatures a lot, Combs is a nervous pleasure as ever, and it’s always terrific to see Foree on screen! Plus I like the pink-and-purple colour scheme (popular hues for Lovecraft apparently – remember The Color Out of Space?), and the craft across the board is very strong for a low-budget horror picture! And yet it doesn’t measure up to its predecessor! The story is fairly limp, the characters not terribly well-developed, and there are a few ropey trick effects! I don’t accuse the picture of being overly ambitious – ha ha, I admire ambition in low-budget pictures! – but they might have bit off a little more than they could chew with some of the dimensional effects!

Still, that’s not a big problem; the trouble really is the “That’s it?” feeling we’re left with at the end of the picture! It gets darker than I remembered – the conclusion has something of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre feeling, or maybe more of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 feeling, ha ha! But despite any shortcomings, the pleasures here are many; and if it’s not a revelatory experience like Re-Animator was, it’s nevertheless a fine chunk of 80s horror with some terrific monsters! I give From Beyond two and a half ill-fitting bald caps!

Sunday 19 March 2023

Burl reviews The Invisible Man Returns! (1940)


With a tap on your shoulder and you turn and no one’s there, it’s Burl, reviewing a tender slice of Universal horror for you! It’s another picture about that paragon of imperception, that clearest of creatures, the least visible of villains, the ethereal evildoer himself, the invisible man! Here, in point of fact, we have the first sequel to the great 1933 James Whale spookshow The Invisible Man, and what else could it be called but The Invisible Man Returns!

But it’s not the same invisible man, because Jack Griffin was cut down by police gunfire in the ’33 picture! This time, it seems a fellow called Geoffrey Radcliffe has been accused of murdering his brother, but only the Yard thinks he’s guilty - everyone else knows he's too nice a guy to have done the deed! So he’s in prison and sentenced to hang, but luckily he’s bosom chums with Dr. Frank Griffin, who's the brother of Jack and privy to the invisibility serum formula! In his cell, hours before his sentence is to be carried out, Radcliffe uses a syringe provided by Griffin to render himself invisible, escapes the gaol, and sets about trying to find the real killer – ha ha, just like OJ did, but this time there really is one!  

Radcliffe is played (invisibly, until the very end) by good old Vincent Price, whose face was also obscured in The Abominable Dr. Phibes, but whose sonorous voice is nearly as effective here as it was when he narrated The Devil’s Triangle! John Sutton from Booloo and Return of the Fly is Dr. Frank, who, as the story starts, is trying to find an antidote as quickly as possible, because he’s certain the potion will drive Geoffrey mad just as it did Jack seven years previously!

Sir Cedric Hardwick, who appeared in some Hitchcock pictures and whose voice adorns the original War of the Worlds, is top-billed here, and he plays a fellow who’s evidently an executive at the coal mine owned by the Radcliffe brothers! Meanwhile, Nan Grey from Tower of London (which John Sutton was also in, ha ha) plays Helen Manson, Geoffrey’s fiancĂ©e, who of course believes in his innocence and is helping Frank with Geoffrey’s escape, but now has to stand by helplessly as her betrothed becomes more and more devoted to maniacal laughs and paranoia!

Cecil Kellaway, who was in The Under-Pup with Nan Grey, and who later showed up in pictures as diverse as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Spinout, and Getting Straight, plays the dogged Scotland Yard inspector on the case, constantly puffing on a cigar in hopes of, ha ha, smoking out the invisible man! And Alfred himself, Alan Napier, whom we’ll recall from The Premature Burial, is the terrified, scarf-wearing Willie Spears, a gangly but pathetic figure who witnessed the real culprit but, terrified, said nothing and allowed Radcliffe to take the blame! For this he suffers the prolonged wrath of the invisible man!

Most of these people also showed up in The House of the Seven Gables, which, like this picture, was directed by the Teutonic megaphone-shouter Joe May! And I must say that while this doesn’t immediately strike one as a magnificently directed picture, I do think May brought some really nice stylistic touches to it! The script is nothing to write home about, but the cast is strong and there are some quite fantastic trick effects depicting the manipulations of the invisible man! And, ha ha, I also liked that for once there's a happy ending for the walking transparency! It’s a minor picture with some major aspects, like the terrific coal-cart scene! It’s not a patch on its predecessor, which is a movie I really like, but still, I give The Invisible Man Returns two and a half guinea pig harnesses!

Saturday 18 March 2023

Burl reviews Leprechaun! (1992)


Ai-te-ti-te-ti-te-ti, it’s Burl, here with a touch of the shamrock for you at this very Irish time o’ the year! Yes, as I write this it’s St. Paddy’s Day, a day for the wearin’ of the green, and I’ve just revisited a picture I saw in the theatre some thirty years ago – all by myself as I recall because no one would go with me! Ha ha, I can’t say I blame them! The movie is no classic, that’s for sure, but I suppose it has a few lucky charms scattered here and there! Yes, I’m talking about Leprechaun!

The picture begins with a limousine roaring through the wilds of what is supposed to be North Dakota, but is patently California! An auld Oirishman returns to his homestead and to his wife, babbling about how he caught a leprechaun while attending his mother’s funeral on the old sod and took his gold and now they’re rich! Rich! The couple, the O’Grady’s, are played by Shay Duffin from 10 to Midnight and Pamela Mant from Freaked, but what they don’t know is the leprechaun has packed himself as luggage and is in the house with them! These elderlies are soon dispatched or incapacitated by jolly little Warwick Davis in scare makeup by Gabe Bartalos, whose work we enjoyed in Frankenhooker!

Ten years later a father, played by the sort of guy who looks at home modelling in Land's End catalogues, drags his unwilling daughter Tori (a role essayed by a pre-stardom Jennifer Aniston, whom we know best from her part in Office Space) out to a very “Look what we built!”-looking rural house! It’s the usual dynamic: the earnest dad keen on rustification versus the mobile phone-toting glamourpuss, fully citified, whining about cobwebs and bugs and poor reception! A motley gang of painters soon appears, made up of one (1) studly fellow called Nathan, played by Ken Olandt from Summer School, one (1) paint-splattered oaf named Ozzie, essayed by Mark Holton whom you’ll recall from his role as Chubby in Teen Wolf, and one (1) precocious kid!

Naturally it’s the oaf who brushes away the four-leaf clover that affects the magical mini-man as a cross does a vampire, and thereby releases him from the crate that’s been his prison for a decade! At first nobody believes the oaf's tale of a rampaging leprechaun, but when the be-buckled entity shows himself, snapping his teeth and demanding always the return of his gold, they don’t demonstrate nearly the level of surprise I’d have expected from people suddenly presented with hard-biting evidence of a supernatural entity they had previously thought restricted to Disney movies and cereal boxes! There is much running around the house, and the leprechaun avails himself of a variety of conveyances, including but not limited to a tricycle, a skateboard, and two separate motorized go-karts!  

Of course Warwick Davis is known and beloved from The Force Awakens and many other Star Wars pictures, playing jolly forest teddies or else mystical elves of magic! But here he puts on a merry rumbustification indeed in the role of the corrugated, doggerel-spouting Emerald Isle pixie! Ha ha! And there are a few other familiar faces in the cast too, like one of the Darryls, namely John Voldstad from Joysticks, who gets bloodily pogo-sticked to death by the elf; and William Newman from Silver Bullet and The Serpent and the Rainbow playing Sheriff Cronin, whose face is almost as deep-creased as the leprechaun's, and who never leaves the police station!

Although this cast provides some merriment, the movie is never in the least bit scary, nor well-written, nor craftily directed! It also fails to whip up any atmosphere, whether uncanny or Irish! Warwick Davis and his makeup are about the only effable virtues the movie can boast, yet it’s nevertheless a breezy and reasonably good-natured concoction with a few bloody moments! Again, I certainly don’t blame anyone who demurred from seeing it with me at the Towne Cinema all those years ago, but I didn’t hate watching it again on this year’s St. Patrick’s Day! I give Leprechaun one and a half buckled hats!

Sunday 12 March 2023

Burl reviews 65! (2023)


Ha ha, Burl returning to you good people after an absence! Sorry about that – I’d have warned you there would be one, but I simply didn’t know! These things sometimes happen in Burl-land, and although I’ve watched plenty of movies I’d like to review, the old reviewing muscles simply weren’t twitching! But I’ve just returned from the cinema show, and I figured I’d review you the picture I saw while it’s fresh in my memory! It’s the sci-fi dino-fest 65!

And I know you’re saying “But Burl, by garr! What does that title mean!” Well, it refers to the time frame in which the picture is set: 65 million years ago! It seems an alien man named Mills, played by Adam Driver, whom we recall from Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Inside Llewyn Davis and The Dead Don’t Die, is driving his spaceship past ancient Earth when he gets knocked askew by a meteorite! But there’s some backstory, economically told thank goodness: Mills, we learn, is only driving this spaceship to earn enough money for lifesaving medical treatment to cure his ailing daughter, which is a plot point only an American could come up with! Ha ha, on a sophisticated, futuristic, Trek-style planet, they’ll have universal health care, believe me!

Anyway, Mills crash lands on a planet, which, tah-dahh, is Earth in the dinosaur times, and all the colonists or whomever Mills is ferrying are killed, but there’s one survivor, a little foreign girl! Together she and Mills must trek across the jungle primeval to the other half of the crashed spaceship, where there might be a blast-off pod! Along the way they must deal with dinosaurs, gross bugs, geysers, quicksand, cave-ins, language difficulties, and more dinosaurs! And of course their visit to Earth is perfectly timed with the impending arrival of the planet-killing meteor that wiped out the thunder lizards! Ha ha!

And that’s about it for plot! The bulk of the picture is the overland trek, punctuated by dinosaur encounters and the other hazards mentioned, and it’s all done passably well, but there remains a feeling that more excitement, more suspense, even more art, could have been wrung out of this premise! Driver does a fine job, though his attempts to communicate with the girl don’t always make sense; and the mere presence of the girl, a stand-in for the daughter he misses so much, is about as un-nuanced and sophomorically convenient as storytelling gets!

Still, the whole thing moves well, looks good, and clocks in at a trim (for these days) 93 minutes, so even with its obviously huge budget, it counts as one of those appealing B-cinema theatrical experiences that I treasure so well! One does occasionally wish for the R-rated version that might have been, in which there are more survivors among the passengers and therefore more potential victims to be bloodily chewed on by lizards and bugs, but there’s an appeal to this trimmer PG-13 iteration too – ha ha, it was a family outing for us, and it never got too gruesome for my 11 year-old! (He’s got a pretty high threshold for that stuff though!)

Altogether it was more straightforward and enjoyable than, say, Jurassic World or any of those recent ones – it was more on the level of Jurassic Park III, another unpretentious 93-minute special! I can’t accuse 65 of excessive originality or style or a very good title, but the premise works and it’s a night out, barely! I give it two mouthfuls of bug goo!