Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Passing of Bill Landis

Word has just came to me of the passing of an old friend and inspiration: Bill Landis, writer and film connoisseur. If one article can be said to have changed my life, it was his "From Tack to Gore: A History of the Exploitation Film" in the old New York Rocker magazine. At the time, he was publishing Sleazoid Express, a manual-typed newsletter which would inspire a generation of Zine publishers ( I still have some back issues). I'd been a film buff for years, but Bill's article opened up a whole new world of films to many of us. Within the first few months of reading it, I was checking out the local Drive-Ins for lost classics. Within two years I would found the print version of this blog after starting a film society. I was privledged to bring Bill to Ohio for a lecture and got to know him via letter and phone.
Sometime in the mid-90's Bill vanished into the netherworld of 42nd Street cinema and it was difficult to get back in touch with him. He managed to author a biography on filmmaker Kenneth Anger in the 90's and get a book of his film criticism published in 2002.
Memory Eternal, Bill. I may have been critical of you and your research sources over the past few years, but your place in film history is secure.
In honor of Bill I've posted a picture of The Deuce in it's glory days. It was his favourite haunt.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Confessions of a Superhero (2006)

Slow and sad documentary about people who impersonate all kinds of popular movie characters on Hollywood Blvd. The catch is that they want the tourists to get their picture made with them. Of course, nobody has to give them a tip, but they need that cash to survive.
The film follows many of these people around, talking to them and finding out why they do what they do. Most have traveled to Hollywood to get into the movies and are doing this impersonation gig just to pay the bills.
Christopher Dennis, who does a good Superman, has a vast Superman collection. His mother was famous film actress Sandy Dennis. Then there is the homecoming queen from Tennessee who plays a killer Wonder Woman on the street.
You come away from this film impressed with these people and the difficulties they face with their chosen roles. Perhaps some of them will make it in Hollywood. Most seemed doomed to exist just once step above panhandling. But at least they provide some entertainment.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise (2001)

Viscous, brilliant movie from Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later). A very British take on the Hollywood "Salesman" movie, where a poor chump gets recruited into the world of high-pressure sales to his own demise.
Poor Pete is a young man with a nasty girl friend, no job, and little future. All he wants to do is be a DJ and mix his own tapes. One day he's accompanying his girl friend to one of her gigs as a stripagram when he meets the head of a vacuum cleaner sales company. He's given a job as a trainee and stuck with Tommy Rag (Timothy Spall) as a mentor.
It's here, early in the film, where Vacuuming deviates from your traditional Death of a Salesman story. Tommy Rag is a totally repulsive human being who has a bad haircut and worse teeth. He belittles poor people in low income housing to buy clunky vacuum cleaners and leaves once he's got their signature. He drives like a maniac and screams "I'll do anything to make a sale!" at the top of his lungs. Poor Pete follows him around in horror.
The supporting characters are something to behold. Retired welfare mothers who dream of doing porn shoots, support staff who are over-worked; it's hard to find a likable person in the entire movie. The one item which links them are their teeth: hideous.
A black comedy that is hard to quit watching.
One warning: the dialogue is mostly in British slang. And there are scenes of sexuality when you'd least expect them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Countdown (1968)

Here's an interesting premise:
Just suppose the Soviet Union had gotten real close to putting a man on the moon before the USA. Suppose they were almost ready to launch and the US, still a year away from the Apollo launch decides to sent one astronaut ahead in a tricked-out Gemini/moon lander hybrid to live alone until the Apollo mission shows up to relieve him. All it would take would be a shelter sent up in advance, gung-ho, and good timing. But suppose Moscow jumped the gun by launching first, forcing an unprepared NASA to make the go/no go decision.
This whole scenario is the plot of Countdown, which stared James Caan and Robert Duvall as rival astronauts for the Pilgrim space mission. Only one of them can go and mission control chooses Caan because he's a scientist and the white house wants a civilian up there first. Naturally, this leads to a lot of tension because Duvall, an air force officer, who feels it should be him.
I don't think this received a lot of play when it was first released. After Apollo 11 got there, the whole plot seemed dated. But Countdown did play on late night TV a lot in the 70's.
It has a number of good scenes. In one of them, Caan is nearly killed when a hose in his environmental suit fails in a vacuum chamber on Earth. Duvall refuses to stop the simulation, arguing "Who'll be there for him on the moon?"
A good and over-looked movie from the space race.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Hamiltons (2006)

Creepy vampire movie with an original plot. "The Hamiltons" are a group of emo young adults who live, argue, cause problems, and generally act like any other dysfunctional family. There's younger brother Frances, who mopes around with a video camera and tries to avoid attending high school. Older brother David tries to keep the family intact (both parents have died) while goth girl Darlene and her twin Wendel cause a lot of grief. Youngest brother Lenny is particularly a bother.They also have to deal with social workers.
There's just one problem with this party-of-five: they're vampires. They don't burn in the sun, but they need a lot of blood to survive. Human blood.
Although I get sick of movies which try to present the vamp's viewpoint, this one impressed me. It sucks you into it's own twisted world and attempts to answer the question: Just how does a family of serial killers justify what they do?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Ugliest Woman in the World (1999)

Amusing little film from Spain by director Miguel Bardem. Some one is killing off former Miss Spain winners right before the 2010 contest. It's up to Federal Police investigator Teniente Arribas to find the killer before they strike again. With a little bit of Blade Runner influence tossed in for good measure, the movie takes the whole concept of "beauty" and smashes the audience in the face with it.
Early in the movie, Arribas discovers that the super model Lola Otero was born as a hideous baby. Treated cruelly by those around her, she soon finds a radical doctor who treats her with a secret chemical to make her beautiful. But the Otero has had a life time of hurts and plans to pay the world back for each and every one.
Worthwhile to watch.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Forrest J Ackerman: November 24, 1916 - December 4, 2008

I am saddened to report of passing of Mr. Forrest Ackerman, AKA F4J, AKA Uncle Forry. He was the man whom millions of us monster kids turned to for providing us with humorus and insightful information in his Famous Monsters of Filmland, which he edited for many years. Forry's health hasn't been the best these past few years and many of his fans were preparing for the worst. An avid collector, a brilliant literary agent, Forry defined fandom in both SF literature and monster movies for generations. He will be missed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wet Kiss (2007)

Proving that my opinion does count.
Some time ago, I did this review of the movie Wet Kiss on my other blog before I split them up. I sent the mention to the film's producer (whom I met at Monster Mania) and she returned with a thank you.
Now it looks like they've used my quote on the general release cover for the DVD.
The people who made this flick are in the Reading, PA area. In other words, just up the road. Perhaps this will spark a revolution in SE PA filmmaking.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Machine To Die For- The Quest for Free Energy

With the cost of fuel going down, it may be time to look at ways to make sure we don't get burned again. There are a number of people out there doing just that- trying to come up with a machine which will furnish free energy. Or at least run from it's own power (perpetual motion). Of course such a machine would violate the third law of thermodynamics. Be as it may, these inventors toil on in obscurity, trying to find a solution to building their new machine.

To Die For, is not so much a history of attempts at building these infernal devices, but a look into current researchers. There are some surprises here. A retired auto mechanic in France has constructed a giant wheel which seems to move under it's own power. A Scandinavian artist shows a machine which runs continuously for days on end. Of course, there's the devil's advocate: an American engineer who is offering a prize of $10,000 for the first person who can successfully demonstrate a perpetual motion machine. So far, no takers.

Along the way we run into people who tie their efforts into UFO's, angels, Tesla, and The Unexplained. It's a big, strange world out there. A few of the researches seem sincere, a lot come across as just plain nuts.

But if just one of these people can find a break-through, we'll have free energy. And that's what keeps them forging ahead.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wolfhound of the Grey Dog Clan (2007) AKA Volkodav iz roda Serykh Psov

I have seen the future of fantasy film and it is Russian.
Seriously, Wolfhound is one of the best, if not the best, fantasy films I have ever had the pleasure to watch. Excellent production values, good action, good actors, spectacular effects, and not one word in English. As a matter of fact, I had to hunt down the English translation.
When is someone going to get a clue and release this epic in the USA?
Based off a popular fantasy novel in Russia, Wolfhound combines the best parts of Lord of the Rings with Conan. In prehistorical Russia, a young boy watches his entire tribe wiped out by marauders. Sold into slavery, he endures long enough to escape and seek out those who destroyed his life. He ends up at a cursed city. There, he is charged with escorting the daughter of a prince to her marriage. But the very fiend who wiped out Wolfhound's tribe is determined to stop this from happening....
Filmed in Eastern Europe, Wolfhound benefits from the scenery. The cinematography of this movie is something to behold. The fight scenes are carefully filmed with attention to technique and detail. Most of the costumes derive from medieval Slavic origins and did remind me of the early 60's Russian fantasy films.
This is not an easy film to find, but I can't recommend it enough.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD - Interview with director

This is a good follow-up to the movie.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Not Quite Hollywood-The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation (2008)

I'm a big documentary fan. If I feel I'm learning something from a movie, I'll sit still and take notes. Give me a good retrospective on electronic music and I'll be happy for the next two hours. Just not so many talking heads. I'm not reviewing the documentary on Kraftwerk because there were too many damn interviews.
Which brings us to Not Quite Hollywood. Now here is the right way to make a film about film. First, pick an interesting subject matter (exploitation films in the 70's) that hasn't been beat to death (Australia). Show some mainstream interest (George Miller) and match it with cool animation. Add tons of film clips, mix with amusing, but short, interviews. Spin for two hours. Presto! You have a great documentary.
Featuring (but not too many) cameos by American cinema stars, NQH, tells the story of Australian Drive-In cinema. Seems the land down under had it's own Drive-In culture at the same time we had one in the states. With screens desperate for movies which would appeal to their car culture, it didn't take the Aussies long to start making their own. Most of the best would make their way to the US, even if they ended up as one week wonders or in video stores. Mad Max, which was dubbed into American English, was one of the rare Oz flicks to get a big release in the states.
What makes this movie a must-see is the producer's love for his subject matter. There are countless interviews with the stars and directors of the films from this era. Turkey Shoot, which I saw in the early 80's under a different title in the States, is one of the films featured. Even if most of the actors felt the producers had gambled away the production money, you can easily tell they had a great time doing the movie.
Many of the films examined have faded into the past. I recall seeing Alvin Purple in countless video stores twenty years ago, but never bothered to watch it. I did see The Man From Hong Kong in a theater in 1976, but wasn't impressed. Chain Reaction I remember from a cable viewing, and it was quite good.
Do see this movie if you have the opportunity.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Brotherhood of the Bell

Prof. Andrew Patterson (Glen Ford) has it all: distinguished position at a private college, nice house, beautiful wife, daddy-in-law with money. He's worked hard to get what he has, but the good professor also received a little help on the way up. You see, he's also a member of an exclusive fraternity within a fraternity: The Brotherhood of the Bell. It seems Patterson was recruited twenty years ago when he attended a prestigious college. Now it's his turn to sponsor someone into "The Bell".
This MTV movie begins with the induction ceremony where Patterson introduces the new pledge to the "Senior" who had recruited him. After a few words about the importance of The Bell and it's lineage, the new recruit (Dean Jagger) faces the sunrise with the other two men and swears his oath. He is told of the necessity of obedience to the order. The inner sanctum is dominated by a huge oriental bell. Afterwards, Patterson tells the new initiate that he is now "the establishment".
Later, Patterson is given an assignment by The Bell: prevent a dissident linguistics professor from accepting a position at another college. He is to do this by any means necessary. The means given to him is a list of names which could be damaging to the academic. The method will be blackmail. When he protests the assignment to his Bell contact, Patterson is reminded of his oath of loyalty. So he carries out his mission and the target commits suicide.
Horrified, Patterson attempts to tell people about The Bell secret society. He tells his connected father-in-law about it, so dad takes him to a meeting with a government agent. The agent claims the feds know all about the Bell and have been following it for years. However, when Patterson tries to contact the agent's office, he's told no such agent exists. And dad explains the meeting as put-on to alleviate sonny-in-law's paranoia.
Soon Patterson has lost his position, his wife, social respect, and even his own father. How far will the Bell go to punish a renegade?
We never actually get to see behind the mirror in this movie. No shadowy figures discussing how they will eliminate the traitor, no smoke-filled rooms with pulsating music. Because the viewer never sees much of The Bell, or even learns it's history,this becomes all the more frightening. Many of us have heard stories of rich and powerful secret societies. Could they be real? Just what the heck is going on at that Odd Fellows lodge?
The best scene in the entire film has Patterson facing off against William "Cannon" Conrad. Conrad plays a talk show host who likes to bring on extreme guests and insult them. Not only does Patterson have to endure the host, but a cavalcade of conspiracy nuts take the podium to proclaim their beliefs as well. Pushed to the breaking point, Patterson attacks the host, accusing him of being an agent of The Bell.
Although the movie has a cop-out ending, it's still worth watching if you can find it. I can only imagine how it would play today if remade. No, I shudder to think how it would get bastardized if remade.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tribes (1970)

Tribes is one of those 70's MTV movies that stays with you days after watching it. Released in 1970, years before the big boom in movies made for television. And it starred two very fine actors: Darren McGavin and Jan Michael Vincent.
Years before would earn his fame as a supernatural investigator, McGavin played Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Drake, a tough-as-nails drill instructor trying to mold a group of draftees into a fighting unit. Much to his disgust, one of the new boots is Adrian (Jan Michael Vincent), a former hippie. But this movie isn't a psychedelic Gomer Pyle; both Adrian and Sgt. Drake are portrayed as real human beings. It's no suprise this movie took home a few awards.
While most of the other draftees are buckling under the tough conditions of boot camp, Adrian quickly figures out the game and flows with the pressure. He even teaches the other members of his unit how to use meditation to promote endurance. Although Sgt. Drake is initially apalled by what he sees in Adrian, he comes to understand him. But all the understanding in the world won't help when Adrian realizes where the training is taking him.
There are plenty of powerful scenes here. The title comes from a confrontation between Sgt. Drake and Adrian where the former hippie tells the DI that they are from "different tribes".
The credits list a marine as technical advisor which probably accounts for the level of reality.
A good movie from the dawn of the 70's.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Earth II (1971)

Sometime in the near future, the United States launches an orbital space station. But this one is a little different: it's supposed to be a wholly independent nation in space. The president of the US then goes on TV and asks for the public to vote on whether or not the station should be granted independence. To do this, all they have to do is turn on any lights in the evening they normally wouldn't and a satellite will compute the tally. Well, they didn't have on-line surveys back in those days. The public votes over 70 % in favor and the station is granted its sovereignty. However, sinister forces are underway to prevent the station from living up to the dream.
Forgotten by most people today, Earth II was a good attempt at creating a realistic SF TV show. The producers worked out the concept with such futurists as Buckminister Fuller and it shows. There's even a "dymaxion map" in mission control at the beginning. Unfortunately, the show's plot also hinged on the Communist Chinese government orbiting a nuclear weapon. They could do this because mainland China wasn't a member of the UN and didn't have to abide by treaties against nuclear weapons in space when the film was made. One month before the movie's premire, China was accepted into the UN, which made much of the plot absurd. Bad timing.
Earth II is presented as an ideal society, but not a Utopian one. Anthony Franciosa plays a new immagrent to the station who wants to use the Chinese nuclear weapon they discover orbiting near the station as a guarentee against terrestial interference. All the citizens of Earth II take part in voting during a televised debate where the panel is chosen at random.
The technology may seem a little dated to people used to all the post-Star Wars stuff, but it was quite good for it's time. There's a lifting body shuttle which anticipated the current space shuttle. Most of the "space" footage looks good as well.
One movie from the golden age of space travel.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

RED BELT (2008)

Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a martial arts instructor in a big US city. He teaches Brazilian style Jujitsu. He has a unique method of teaching: he puts his advanced students into a tournament where one of them is handicaped in some form (arm tied back, etc.). He's also married to a talented Brazilian woman (Alice Braga) who is constantly berating him about their lack of funds. You see, Terry's school runs out of a store front and is always short on funds.
One night Terry is visting his successful brother-in-law's bar when a movie star (Tim Allen) walks in on his own. Some of the other patrons try to pick a fight with the movie star, forcing Terry to intervene. So impressed is the star with Terry, he invites him to his Hollywood mansion for dinner. But what would seem to be a golden opportunity turns into a sham when Terry's tournament method is stolen by an employee of the star. Terry watches in horror as his style is appropiated for a pay-per-view TV show. With his life and marraige going to pieces, he's forced to defend the very belief system which gives him meaning.
Most Hollywood movies about martial arts are crap. Well, most martial arts movies are crap period. As someone who's pursued a martial art for years, I can tell you the highs and lows do not make for a good film narriative. There are very few magic thrusts which bring forth justice. Red Belt, on the other hand, gets the story right. Written by playwright David Mamet, it may be the best film every made about martial arts. Do see this one if you get the chance.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

LA 2017 (1971)

One of Maestro Spielberg's first films. This was produced as an episode of the TV series NAME OF THE GAME, but later released to some markets as a stand-alone film. With a script written by SF writer Philip Wylie, Stevie went full throttle into the future. I first caught this on it's initial TV showing and the memory of the hideous world of tomorrow stayed with me for a long time. Now, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I am able to see it again.
After leaving an ecological conference, magazine editor Glen Howard (Gene Berry)has a car accident. He's awoke by two men wearing breathing equipment who slap another mask on him. Next, they toss him into a sealed ambulance and take him to the underground city of Los Angeles. Seems that in 1989 an abundance of dead seaweed floating on the oceans began releasing enough toxic gas to kill off most of the population. the dead seawood was caused by ocean pollution. Those who did make it to the safety of underground shelters were upper-level corporate types and their employees. So now the hidden city of LA is governed by a vice-president who reports to the chairman of the board of directors. Upper level management live in secure apartments while the lower shlubs get assigned to dig new tunnels. And a private police force ensures that things never get out of hand.
The new national order wants Howard to become the editior of a propaganda sheet. He wants to find the underground's Underground. And by the end of the film, you wonder if it was all a dream.
There are a number of sequences in this production which really stand out. You can see the talent who would give us Jaws. The film keeps cutting to the odd monitor watcher and flunkies who crack jokes to each other which make no sense at all, but seem to have some kind of internal humor. And there is the hippie bar which features a band of bell-bottomed octogenarians burning up the stage with electric blues.
You don't see too much of the underground world other than a few corridors. Since a certain other Hollywood wunderkid was producing his own film about subterranean dwellers of the future, you have to puzzle where was the chicken and where was the egg. Also, the entire scenario of the apocolypse is a little hard to take, but screenwriter Wylie was on an eco-kick in those days. He did come up with some good end-of-the world ideas.
Recommended if you can find it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Terror From The Year 5000

Here's a good idea which never manages to lift off the ground. Two scientists, one elderly, one young, are attempting to contact the future with some kind of electronic device. They have to conduct their experiments on a remote Florida island since the energy it generates messes up all the local radio and TV signals. They start trading with someone in the future. When one of the statues they send out to a museum to be examined turns out radioactive, a curator decides to make a trip down to the island to find out what they are up to.
In spite of all the Mystery Science Theater rips on this movie, it's actually pretty decent. Working on his own, the younger scientist nearly gets killed when a hand reaches out of the time machine chamber. Those of us a certain age who first watched this movie on TV will remember that scene.
Another scene has the curator sending a fraternity medallion with Greek letters on it into the future. The one the poeople from the future trade has Greek writing on it which translates as "Save us".
Finally, the hideous mutant woman from the future shows up to grab some pre-nuclear holocaust male genes. You know she's from the future because she wears a suit with sequins all over it. She also steals the face of a nurse sent to the island and attempts to hypnotize the younger scientist into going with her into the future.
Not a dud of a movie, but not great classic. Salome Jens, who would later go on to have many roles on TV, plays the future woman. I don't thing too many other of the actors went on to other films.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Shining spoof

Ok this is just messed-up.

Paddle to the Sea (1966)

One of my fondest memories of elementary school was the occasional 16mm film the teacher would show the class. When I was in 4th grade and all of eight years old, we would have a special "language arts" class once a week. It often involved showing movies. One day we were shown Paddle to the Sea.
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, who kept unleashing all those unwatchable art films, this is an amazing short little film about a wooden Indian in a wooden canoe making it's way to the ocean. From a 1941 children's book by author and illustrator Holling C. Holling (which you can go here to read the book on-line), it begins with a light house keeper finding the small toy canoe on a beach. Next, you are shown a young boy carving the canoe and setting it on a snow covered bank. When the snow melts in the spring, the canoe falls into a stream and begins it's journey.
The hand-carved indian in the canoe is the only real actor in the film. There is narration, which comes from the text of the book.
I can't praise this film enough. It's worth an entire season of Afterschool Specials.
It can also be viewed on Youtube by going here.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Satan Bug (1965)

(Opening Credits)

Here's another movie which sticks in my mind more for the ad campaign than any thing else. When it first hit my hometown of Dayton, Ohio the promotion of it figured heavily on a flyer which portrayed a man getting fried on an electric fence. Just the sort of thing to grab the attention of an impressionable seven-year-old kid. I never did see the movie on its original release; my parents had no intention of going. So years later, I was able to watch it on TV. And then it turned up on various video releases over the years.

Based on a novel by Alistair MacLean and from a script by James Clavell, this movie is a very good thriller which shows the influence of the times. In an isolated, fool-proof government biological warefare lab, someone breaks in, kills a scientist, and makes off with samples of germs, one of which has the potential to kill every living thing on the planet. Investigator Lee Barrett (George Maharis) is recruited by the government to track-down the missing samples before the theives, who are now threatening to use them, can unleash Armageddon on the world. Who stole the bugs? Religious extremists? The communists? Random nuts?

The look and feel of the movie reflects the year it was made. When one of the lesser toxic agents is used as a demonstration on a Florida Key, the investigators review the horror in silence by a 16mm film projector. All the government agents wear suits, ties and pork pie hats. When Barrett tries to track a suspect down to Palm Springs, California, it's shown to be an isolated desert town. Now, it's part of the urban sprawl.

A lot of thought went into the design of the secret research laboratory. Each room is sealed with automatic doors activated by foot pedals. Even the refrigerator where the samples were stored has to be unlocked with a special key. The lab itself is shown to be in the desert and surrounded by two fences, each electrified and with guard dogs running in between. All of this makes for some interesting discussion at the beginning of the film as to how the thieves break into the lab.

An excellent film from the days of "Bond. James Bond".

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Modulations trailer

Modulations (1998)

This is one of the best documentaries I have ever wittnessed on electronic music. Produced in 1998, it covers a variety of pioneers and pursuants in the "Techno" music genre. You learn where the term "house music" originated, how John Cage in the 1930's predicted mix-ups, and what is the optimal beat for a good dance party. Even if you've never had the least bit of interest in drum synthesizers, you'll find yourself taking notes while listening to the enthused experts. Because this is the key to a good non-fiction book or doccumentary film: people who are generally excited about what they are talking about.
The film doesn't stick to a straight timeline or any linear narriative. At one moment you'll be listening to a British DJ telling you how ambient Techno came about as a result of the decline of raves, then you'll be shot back in time to Kraftwerk humming away in the 1970's. There's even a long interview with Robert Moog, who invented the synthisizer which bore his name. The one thesis which keeps coming up is how the music is driven by technical developments. Cheap effects machines were purchased by club DJ's who worked them into their own albums.
Modulations does keep going by to a few gadflys for commentary. In particular, we get to see Genesis P-Orridge in a stiff wig spouting on and on about the relationship between man and machine. Since he's ridden the wave of countless musical trends over the past 30 years, who would know better?
A movie every fan of digitally enhanced sound should check out.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Two Andys: SAVAGES and PRAY FOR THE WILDCATS (both 1974)

Everyone my age remembers Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor on the old Mayberry TV show. A gunless sheriff beloved by all in a small southern town (which, interestingly enough, contained no black people) who solved all kinds of problems while trying to raise a young boy on his own. The whistling theme song has burned itself into a lot of brains. And there was the later, elder Griffth who stared as the lawyer Matlock in a TV show of the same name. But in the early 70's Sheriff Andy starred in two made-for-TV movies that took him in a different direction: a psychopathic manipulator with power and money. In some ways, these roles were a return to the earlier one he'd played as the sinister as "Lonesome" Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd (1957).
Both movies were released in 1974. The first, Savages had Griffith playing a handicapped lawyer who hires a local kid as a hunting guide. The second, Pray for the Wildcats, had him dirt biking across Baja Calfornia with William Shatner, Marjoe Gortner, and Robert Reed. Both movies shocked a lot of people when they first hit the little screen. Imagine a family turning on the movie of the week expecting more down home country witticisms and instead seeing a leering lunatic.
Savages was based-off the 1973 novel Death Watch by Rob White. In the movie Andy Griffth plays lawyer Horton Maddock who is desperate to get into the desert to hunt bighorn sheep. The young guide he hires, Ben Campbell, is played by Sam Bottoms. Although Maddock has a little bit of trouble getting around, he is quick to inform Ben that he's made a fortune by using his mind. He's always smartly dressed in khaki bush clothes and sports a painted grin whenever addressing someone. Several days into the hunt, Maddock accidentally shoots an old prospector who just happens to be Ben's friend. Maddock wants them to bury the body and pretend it never happened. He's afraid if word got out he shot someone it would jeopardize his legal career. Ben refuses and makes plans to take the body back to town, even turning down a cash bribe. But suddenly Maddock conceives a plan to blame the death on Ben and sends his young guide out into the desert alone with barely any clothes to die of dehydration. It then becomes a game of the hunter and the hunted as Ben uses his survival skills against Maddock.
Savages is actually a good adaptation of the Rob White book. Although the dead prospector is introduced in the movie as Ben's friend and mentor, while in the book he's just a random old man who happened to get in the way of Maddock's target. The description of Ben's survival methods are far more explicit in the book, but this is a minor point. There is only so much you can do with a 74 minute film.
Pray for the Wildcats also had Andy Griffith in a sinister role. It's famous for having a bunch of TV actors in parts for which they were not usually found. Sam Farragut (Andy Griffith), William Summerfield (William Shatner), Paul Mcllvian (Robert Reed), and Terry Maxon (Marjoe Gortner) are four buddies who spend the weekends motorcycling around the back country on their dirt bikes. William, Paul, and Terry all work at the same advertising agency and they are trying to get Sam, a manufacturer, to sign on with them. William is having an affair with Paul's wife (Angie Dickinson) and is being pushed out the door from his executive position. Terry is a rising star who's just learned his girlfriend is pregnant. And Sam won't close the deal with the agency until the other three agree to take a cross-country motorcycle ride through Baja California. They all agree to spend a week on the road, first getting photographed in their monogrammed "Wildcat" leather jackets.
But the trip turns bad when Sam, the self-anointed leader of the group, takes too much fancy to a hippy chick at a Cantina. William manages to pull him out of a fight, but Sam has decided he's going to have that girl one way or another. And Terry is willing to do just about anything to get Sam's favor. Paul? He just wants to go home and back to ignoring his wife.
Both movies were a major shift in how the viewing public saw Andy Griffith. While he plays a cold and methodical killer in Savages, he's the drooling potential rapist in Wildcats. He's great in both roles. There's just enough down-home country boy in each character to make you think of The Killer Inside Me. Both movies are highly recommended, although they are hard to find these days.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)

Luther Heggs (Don Knotts) works as a typesetter at a small town newspaper in Kansas. One night he witnesses what he thinks is murder and swiftly pulls his gigantic Edsel over to photograph what he assumes is a crime scene. He's the graduate of a correspondence journalism school, so this is Luther's big chance. However, it turns out not to have been a crime at all, making Luther the laughing stock of his small town. But it's also the eve of a famous murder which occurred in the same town. The newspaper editor suddenly hits on a great idea: have Luther spend the night in the murder mansion and "write" about the experience.
A hilarious movie from start to finish, this is one of the last Hollywood looks at rural America with being condescending. Rural shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction were all the rage up till 1971 when the advertisers wanted TV to start selling to the urban money crowd. GAMC was also a staple of the "family" circuit and plenty of people my age first saw it at a Drive-In with their parents.
It's also famous for staring a plethora of TV actors: Dick Sargent, Charles Lane, etc.
Strange that the ultimate anti-rural America movie, In Cold Blood, hit the screens the following year.
One amusing moment happened while I was watching this movie. Luther was in his shop setting the type for the paper where he worked. Somebody came into the room and asked me what in the world he was doing. They had no idea newspapers existed before computer word processing. Hard to believe, but there was a time when people were paid to take metal letters and make-up the copy for printing.
Go here for the ultimate Ghost and Mr. Chicken fan guide.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Psychopathia Sexualis (2006)

Every since Woody Allen filmed Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex people have been trying to develop classic works on human sexuality for the screen. With the recent film and biographies on sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, it was inevitable someone would attempt adapting another book.
The final edition of Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis in 1902 was 617 pages long and contained 238 case studies. A progressive thinker (for his time) on psychiatric treatment, Krafft-Ebing was a major influence on both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Psychopathia Sexualis was one of the first text books to take a serious and scientific study of alternative human sexuality. Many of the terms used in his book remain with us today.
The movie version, released to DVD this year, consists of a series of dramatized scenes from the cases in the book. Linking them together is narration by a medical doctor who we soon see to be a manipulator. Corset fans will enjoy one scenario where a man hires two women to work him over. All of the action takes place during the Victorian era.
Bret Wood had previously shown his ability with the documentary Hell's Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films (2003). His eerie style adapts very well to Psychopathia Sexualis. The colors are vibrant through the entire movie. However, much of the sexuality portrayed was toned down to give it an “R” rating.
The DVD also includes several short films set in the same time period.

Moon Child (1974)

I wish there was more information on this movie. From what I can tell, director writer Alan Gadney made this one film and never did another. Most of the actors were TV preformers from the early 1970's including such names as Victor Buono and John Carradine. Though to be a lost film, it has been showing up on VHS over the past ten years. I will give it a first: the only movie I can think of which begins and ends with a quote from Edgar Cayce.
The plot: a young artist encounters an elderly man (Carradine) while painting a picture of an old Spanish mission. The old man encourages him to visit the mission, which has now been transformed into an elegant hotel. In the hotel he meets a variety of strange people, each of whom seem to know something about his past. It all has to do with a crime committed centuries ago which is about to cycle through the ages once again.
Too low budget and scary for the art house crowd, too artsy for the gore hounds, this is still a good example of the kind of film cinema graduates would attempt in the early 70's. A lot of colleges were just sending out film school kids into the world in this time and some of them were making a stab at fame. There would be those in the mold of George Lucas who would find success, and others, such as the obscure director of Moon Child, who would make one film and vanish into history.
Pop this one in after viewing The Idaho Transfer.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Power (1968)

One of the last films produced by George Pal, this movie holds up quite well as it makes the transition from book to movie. The book was written in the 1950's by Frank Robinson, but has remained in print over the years. Music by the great Hungarian composer Miklos Rozsa. Stars George Hamilton, Suzanne Pleshette, Arthur O' Connell, and Michael Rennie.
Professor George Tanner (Hamilton) is part of a government funded research team studying the effects of human endurance. One of the members of the team (O'Connell) suddenly puts forth the proposition that a super human, someone of extraordinary abilities and intelligence has infiltrated the team. After laughing him off, Tanner suddenly finds himself in the cross-hairs of a police investigation after someone on the team is killed under strange circumstances. His entire background is also called into question as no one on his resume can remember who he is or where he came from. With only one other member of the team believing in him (Pleshette), Tanner has to investigate by himself who is after him and why. The only thing he has to lead him is a mysterious note left by the first victim with the name "Adam Hart" written on it.
For reasons I can't understand, this film still hasn't been released to DVD. It's a tight thriller which preserves the final twist of the book's ending. All of the actors are more than capable in their roles, and the film is a great reminder of what Hollywood could still turnout in the 1960's.

A Gun For Jennifer (1996)

A lot of movies have thrived on their reputation, but once you see the final product it can be a bit of a let-down. Before the age of the Net I would travel all over the place just to see some obscure art house flick only to find it not worth the hype. Most of the time. I will never get back the wasted 2 hours I spent on Diva, but there are worse things I could've done.
A Gun For Jennifer is one of those cult movies a lot of people have heard about, but few have actually seen. It's back story is almost better than the movie plot. One of the principal financiers of the film turned out to have been embezzling money from his international company. The FBI impounded the movie, finally releasing the unedited print when they realized filmmaker Deborah Twiss was innocent.
Lensed in grainy 16mm film, Jennifer has the look and feel of a Drive-In movie, but was made ten years after most of the grindhouses had closed. The plot, a band of dancers decide to form a militia to kill rapists, is straight out of roughy central.
In 1997 director Twiss was asked about the movie's plot and had this to say:

"We took the position what if you had a collection of 5 or 6 very damaged, angry women who because of the way they were brought up, the things that happened to them throughout their lives, to just show this really radical, almost terrorist cult behaviour. That's basically how we looked at it. We didn't moralize it, just here are these women, this is what they have been through and this is why they're behaving the way they are. We wanted to show that we weren't behind vigilantism, we showed that violence has terrible consequences. The wrong people die, you live by the gun you die by the gun." ( A Gun For Jennifer: Interview)

This is a grim movie. Don't watch it if you're expecting Thelma and Louise.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fear of Darkness, Phase II

In 1982, I decided to become a magazine publisher. I'd already run a film society for the past year, so I figured why not a magazine? Inspired by such cool journals as Magic Lantern, Sleazoid Express, Fangoria, it seemed that I could do it too. I had contacts all over the country, a devouted group of friends who came to my 16mm film showings in Columbus, Ohio, and a steady job. What could go wrong? All I needed was a title for it.
While pondering the title, I was listening to a tape I'd made of a local punk band. It's been a long time and I can't even remember the name of the band. Suddenly, the song "Fear of Darkness" came blasting out of my stereo and I had the name for the magazine. So the magazine Fear of Darkness was born.
Two years later, after several format changes, after deciding that I didn't like supporting printers, I called it quits. I boxed up everything I had and shipped it to a friend in another state who'd agreed to take over the publishing. And that was the last anyone ever heard of Fear of Darkness. I did manage to get some mention nationally, The Catalogue of Cool listed FOD as one of "coolest" magazines in the nation. But all that mention never translated into financial success.
So I've decided to do it again in blog format.If nothing else, the cost will be lower.