Sunday 29 April 2012

Guns Of Diablo (1965)

The kind of movie that used to crop up regularly on British television on a Sunday afternoon back when you only had access to four terrestrial channels and you spent half of your weekend either snoozing after a hearty lunch or creeping around those who were snoozing after a hearty lunch, Guns Of Diablo is an enjoyable enough time-waster that doesn't ever really do enough to earn itself a reprieve from the obscure status it now finds itself in.

Charles Bronson (aka THE Hollywood Cowboy) stars as Linc Murdock, a man who leaves his group temporarily to get supplies and sort out some affairs in a nearby town. He takes along a very young Kurt Russell (playing Jamie McPheeters) and the movie feels like a nice, pleasant family romp. Not for long though. Things take a turn for the worse when Linc spots the beautiful Maria Macklin (played by Susan Oliver) and we're then treated to a lengthy flashback sequence that explains their past. A past that's about to cause a lot of trouble for them in the present. Some think that Linc has debts to pay and they mean to collect.

Based on a novel by Robert Lewis Taylor, Guns Of Diablo is a mix of standard childish adventure and more serious adult gunslinger fare and the mix ends up detracting from the final creation. It's not energetic and innocent enough throughout to make the childish parts as enjoyable as they could be while the adult fare isn't quite grim and serious enough for fans of the Western genre who have already seen 101 movies using this familiar material to much better effect.

Director Boris Sagal and screenwriter Berne Giler don't add anything to the ingredients to help transform them but they're lucky to have Charles Bronson in the lead role and a very chirpy and likeable young Kurt Russell by his side. Susan Oliver is watchable enough, as are Jan Merlin, John Fiedler and Douglas Fowley, and the overall casting of the film provides the best reason for wanting to give it a watch.


Saturday 28 April 2012

Deep Red AKA Profondo Rosso (1975)

Dario Argento is, quite rightly, regarded as a master of horror and has given fans a lot to enjoy over the years. Deep Red may be almost 40 years old by now but it holds up as one of his best films. A sleek and stylish giallo movie with a number of brutal death scenes and nice bit of investigation leading our hero (played by David Hemmings) towards a revelatory finale, this remains a film that you can bring forth as evidence of a master craftsman when arguing against any naysayers.

Of course, there will always be those who tell you that Argento does nothing more than ride on the coat tails of the great Mario Bava but this isn't true. There is SOME truth to it (the visual style and the setting of many scenes are reminiscent of Bava's work) but Argento is, in my view, the man who really helped to show just how involved the camera could be with all of the action. Bava had the style and some nice camera moves but Argento allows the camera to become a free spirit, floating hither and thither in a way that added a layer of balletic choreography to almost every scene.

Sadly, the scripts never tend to come up to the same level of quality as the visuals but Deep Red is one of the better attempts to marry proper movie dialogues to the bloody set-pieces. Sometimes it almost works (the conversations that Hemmings has with Macha Meril, who plays Helga Ulmann, for example) and sometimes it doesn't (pretty much any conversation that involves the character played by Daria Nicolodi).

Never mind though. A picture paints a 1000 words, as the saying goes, and there has never been more apt defence for the works of the great directors who know exactly where they want the camera to be while not always concerning themselves with the actors. Argento certainly fills each scene with enough mood and substance to make up for the weak script.

Deep Red remains an essential giallo for fans of the subgenre and is just as good an entry for newcomers as any other film that I can think of. If you haven't seen it yet then do so ASAP.


Friday 27 April 2012

Diagnosis: Death (2010)

After a very promising start, Diagnosis: Death soon becomes a stale affair that will disappoint fans of the talent involved. In fact, if you pick this up because you're a fan of Flight Of The Conchords then you may be in for a crushing disappointment. I've seen product listings that recommend this to fans of Flight Of The Conchords but general comments from fans tend to be in complete disagreement. And as for any praise that compares this to the early works of Peter Jackson . . . . . . . . . . no, just no. That comparison is, quite frankly, ludicrous. The early works of Peter Jackson are full of energy, great humour and lashings of gore. This movie has some laughs, few scares and a relatively lethargic pace.

The story starts with a man (Rabon Kan) being diagnosed with terminal cancer. This isn't the best news, as you can imagine. His one very slim chance is to get himself put on a drug trial. Once in the medical centre, he meets a young girl (Jessica Grace Smith) and the two of them soon bond over good conversation and strange experiences that may or may not be shared hallucinations. There would seem to be some busy spirits roaming the corridors and a dark past that wants to affect the present.

People who know my rating system and my penchant for small movies that simply strive to entertain will know, I hope, that I always try/tend to be generous. Bearing that in mind, my rating of 4/10 for this film may still be a little bit more than most people might give it.

There's just nothing here to enjoy after the first 10 minutes. Acting that doesn't exactly set the screen alight, no chemistry whatsoever between the characters, flat and uninspired direction making the whole thing look like a very amateur TV production at times and, worst of all for a horror comedy, a notable absence of horror and comedy, for the most part.

Raybon Kan is okay here and there but the movie is saved from being completely turgid by the presence of Jessica Grace Smith and Suze Tye, both presenting very different ways of gaining and holding your interest whenever they're onscreen (the former has a nice energy while the latter has a great air of potential villainy).

Director Jason Stutter, who also co-wrote the film with star Rabon Kan, can shoulder a lot of the blame but I can't help thinking that someone behind the scenes may deserve a bit of a dressing down, someone who came up with a flimsy concept and just convinced everyone that if they could get the folk from Flight Of The Conchords involved then they would have a cult hit, no matter how poor the final product was. I don't know who that someone is, it may end up being Sutter once more, but I hope that they are kept away from any decision making meetings for the next 20 years or so.


Wednesday 25 April 2012

Stats and facts and bric-a-brac.

Well, it's been a hectic few days in my own little movieland so anyone wanting to read a new film review may be sadly disappointed. That'll be one person then, not including friends I constantly blackmail into reading my drivel.

Those of you who write reviews and/or consistent blogs will know that sometimes you just get that feeling of burnout and you have to take a time out. It may be a day or two, it may be a couple of weeks, but it's a break and that's what counts.

Bizarrely, when I didn't post anything here yesterday my pageviews still managed to hit 120 (thank you to anyone stopping by, as ever) and I DO like to keep an eye on these things and react to whatever is increasing traffic and interest.

Flickfeast works in a similiar fashion, with the editor monitoring traffic flow and making the most of any advance reviews we can get written up and out there into the world wide web. I always find it a bit of a shame that we have so many registered members over at Flickfeast (2834 at this moment in time) and yet very few people use the Forum facility. Maybe it's just never going to be good enough or maybe people don't realise that they can be informed of replies to their thread if they pick the "subscribe" option once they have posted.

My home stats (aka my movie collection) are currently through the roof. Here is the latest selection for anyone wanting to keep up with my eclectic, often dubious, taste. The Collection.

But what of the blog stats? Well, first of all, it's been hitting 100+ pageviews every day for over a week now and I can't thank everybody enough. That amounts to 3000 visits in a month and I'd definitely like to keep growing the numbers.

And here are the top searches that have enabled people to discover some of the reviews:

Steven Seagal - No surprise there.

Eileen Daly - I'm glad that I have mentioned her on this blog and will endeavour to do so again.

Gutterballs - Ryan Nicholson deserves support so I will be covering more of his movies soon.

Debbie James - Hmmm, I've seen a movie with her in it and have forgotten her already.

Wild Things Foursome - Perverts.

Jillian Murray Hot - More perverts.

Teen Wolf - Yayyyy for the cool kids.

Into The Sun - Seagal fans. - To be fair, this is probably me searching for the site when my bookmarks aren't available.

Jacqueline Macinnes Wood Nude - And the perverts return.

The referring URLs seem to be split between IMDb and Google, as I would expect, so that shows a nice balance.

But where things get really interesting is in the post stats.

What do you think my most viewed post would be? I'd hazard a guess that you wouldn't have gone with Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes. Yet it IS the most viewed post, and by quite a long shot. Behind that comes Cradle Of Fear. Then Death Of A Ghost Hunter. Then Gutterballs. Oh, there's a Seagal movie in the Top 10 and also the enjoyable Among The Fallen but it's clear that people tend to look out for movies that have had less coverage elsewhere. Maybe people are genuinely interested in finding full reviews or maybe people have seen some of the movies that I have seen and then hope to see it given a merciless kick-in if it's rubbish (which a number of films I've viewed for the blog have been although I'm not lumping all of the titles in this paragraph into the one category).

Why post about this if I am taking a break from posting? Well, it's easy to write about and I just wanted to remind everyone that every visit matters and that these figures spur me on to keep trying to do more and do better. So, once again, thanks very much.

Monday 23 April 2012

The Noose Hangs High (1948)

Another Abbott & Costello movie directed by Charles Barton, The Noose Hangs High is pretty much a joy from start to finish. Even if you're not a big fan of the central duo this one should keep you entertained as it moves from routine to routine with the laughs coming thick and fast.

What's in the mix for this outing then? Well, there's a toothache, mistaken identity, gambling, verbal dexterity and an absolutely wonderful sequence in which the two leads try to get themselves arrested.

The one minor complaint to note is that a lot of the better gags and routines aren't new to anyone who has seen some of the A & C movies from the past but that doesn't matter when they're slotted in so nicely here and performed with such skill. The bet that is made to prove that someone present is actually "not here" is Abbott & Costello doing what they do best. Then there's the routine that sees Lou being confused as someone explains to him how a horse eats its fodder and how some male horses can make great mudders. Last, but by no means least, we have an exchange between A & C that covers a variety of topics from Lou boring holes in walls to disliking mustard and causing mass unemployment to dating a much younger woman to being in a train station with no destination in mind (just see it and all will become clear).

The cast all do great. This is focused on the leads for the majority of the runtime but Cathy Downs is a lovely lady, Joseph Calleia plays the tough guy strong-arming the main duo and Leon Errol is an eccentric with the best luck in the world.

John Grant and Howard Harris are the main writers but about five other names are attached to the process (from story to screenplay). As surprising as it is, this actually just makes the whole thing zippier and more full of gags as opposed to a big, sprawling mess. That may be in no small part due to the direction from the consistently capable Charles Barton, a man rightfully acknowledged as being able to get the best out of A & C.

If you're a fan of great comedy then this is definitely one to watch, even if you don't consider yourself necessarily a fan of those involved.


Sunday 22 April 2012

Nightmares (1983)

Ahhhhh the 1980s. A decade that gave us the coolness of Judd Nelson and then balanced things out by forcing us to endure performances from Emilio Estevez (who stars in this). A decade that allowed Veronica Cartwright (who also stars in this) to perfect her acting style in the manner of the most annoying female onscreen in any movie she starred in. A decade that gave us the brilliance of Creepshow and the mundanity of anthology horrors like this one.

Featuring four tales of descending quality, Nightmares is a pretty poor film that's probably more fondly remembered than it ought to be by horror fans who haven't seen it in many years.

The first story is all about an escaped killer and will be familiar to anyone who knows their urban legends (in fact, it's a horror staple that was reused in Body Bags, a poor anthology movie that still manages to be better than this one, and Urban Legend). The second story combines the best of the 1980s - "cutting-edge" computer graphics and Emilio Estevez (he plays an arcade whizz determined to beat the newest and hottest game). Did I say the best of the 1980s? I meant the worst. Story three uses Lance Henriksen very poorly, giving him an ineffective role in an ineffective rip-off of Duel. But, never fear, the very worst has been saved for the very last tale - "Night Of The Rat" is, off the top of my head, one of the worst anthology movie segments that I have ever had the displeasure of watching. It's about a big rat, in case you couldn't guess, and is the one with Veronica Cartwright being weak and whiny and generally unpleasant while Richard Masur has to play the most pig-headed husband for just long enough for viewers to start rooting for the big rat.

Written by Christopher Crowe and Jeffrey Bloom, Nightmares suffers from poor material that's not lifted up by a weak cast and then hampered further by the direction from Joseph Sargent. You may remember Joseph Sargent as the director of The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three or you may remember him as the director of Jaws: The Revenge. This film is certainly closer to the latter than the former.

Sometimes laughable, but more often than not just pretty boring, this is one anthology movie that you can easily miss. Settle down and watch some old episodes of Tales From The Crypt instead. Much better.

If you really MUST give it a viewing then ignore the link below for the extortionatel priced retail copies and just go and view it on YouTube instead. It's there and if you're watching it for free then you might just feel that you got your money's worth.


Saturday 21 April 2012

Altered States (1980)

Altered States is a Ken Russell movie and that means it has some entertaining weirdness. If you've ever seen a Ken Russell movie then you should know to expect some entertaining weirdness. If you haven't seen a Ken Russell movie before then you've been warned. Appropriately mourned by film fans when he passed away at the end of 2011, Ken Russell was a man of vision and daring. You might not always like his work but you'll be damned if it's easily forgotten.

The plot of this movie concerns a scientist (William Hurt) conducting experiments on himself with the use of sensory deprivation equipment and a hallucinogenic substance. The results are astounding and unexpected, leading the scientist to believe that he may actually be witnessing lifeforms from way back in time. In fact, he also believes that he is physiologically altered during his sessions. This is something that his colleague/helper (Bob Balaban) doesn't want to believe and neither does the man allowing them to use his lab space (played by Charles Haid). As the experiments continue, everyone becomes more and more worried about the sanity of the scientist. His wife (Blair Brown) can't stop him and fears for his mind but becomes even more worried when she allows herself to be convinced that maybe he's telling the truth.

There's plenty of psychobabble and philosophical musings here, thanks to the script by Paddy Chayefsky (adapting his own novel), and Ken Russell compliments the words with surreal and truly bizarre visuals. The effects throughout are pretty good, often wrapped in a shroud of drug-induced haze.

The onslaught of strange ideas and strange imagery may have been too much to bear if Russell hadn't managed to get himself a great cast to hang everything on. Hurt is, of course, a great actor and someone who possesses the intelligence to convince in a role such as this one. Bob Balaban, Blair Brown and Charles Haid all lend great support and the way they are torn between helping out a brilliant scientist and wanting to keep him safe is fairly well realised, considering the outlandishness of the central premise.

Funnily enough, for those more familiar with the work of Russell, this is actually a more straightforward movie from the man compared to many of his other films. Yet it still has plenty of individuality and personality, certainly enough for you to recognise it as the product of a film-maker who was never less than interesting.


Friday 20 April 2012

It Happened At The World's Fair (1963)

Elvis Presley. Elvis The Pelvis. The King. Despite the fact that you'll still find people who disagree, I am one of the many who rate Elvis as the undisputed king of rock. His manner, his swagger, his looks, his talent. Okay, he had numerous flaws but I've never seen anyone else with such a great mix of humour, confidence and sheer PRESENCE. Which all means that, almost inevitably, many of his movie outings were pretty poor - nothing more than an excuse to form any kind of star-led vehicle that could be thrown into cinemas to get bums on seats. And, as far as I know, it worked.

This light confection sees Elvis ending up, as if you couldn't guess, at the World's Fair. He's there thanks to his partner and friend, a man who can't get a grip on his gambling habit, and it's not long before he, ummmm, befriends the daughter of the man who allowed them to hitch-hike on the back of his truck. Yes, that's right. This movie sees a hitch-hiking Elvis left with the daughter of a man he just met and being allowed to look after her as if he was a rent-a-nanny. Meanwhile, he also falls for a woman (Joan O'Brien) who shuts him down at every opportunity and he remains oblivious to the fact that his partner and friend may be getting them both into even more trouble. There's also a movie debut from a teeny tiny Kurt Russell as a kid who kicks Elvis in the shin.

I enjoyed It Happened At The World's Fair and I would easily recommend it to all Elvis fans. Oh, it's no work of cinematic greatness but it's a fast-paced bit of fun that benefits from the central performances - Elvis being so Elvis-like, Joan O'Brien being resistant to his charms, Gary Lockwood as the gambling Danny Burke, Vicky Tiu as little Sue-Lin and Kurt Russell as the shin kicker.

The script by Si Rose and Seaman Jacobs does everything it needs to do and the same can be said for the direction by Norman Taurog. Jailhouse Rock remains, in my opinion, the best movie that Elvis ever made but this one is at least a step or two above his very worst.


Thursday 19 April 2012

History Of The World: Part 1 (1981)

History can often be a dull, dry subject. So any movie covering the history of the world is something that you may approach with some trepidation. Knowing that the movie is written and directed by Mel Brooks, however, puts a very different spin on things.

Taking potshots at a few different chapters in history, from the days of the caveman to the days of the Roman Empire and from The Spanish Inquisition to the French Revolution, we get the usual scattershot approach. Gags of all varieties fly thick and fast and if you find yourself groaning at one then don't worry because another, that you'll probably laugh at, will be along within a couple of minutes.

The cast are all superb, and many of them will be familiar to anyone who has already enjoyed other movies from Mr. Brooks. The writer-director himself takes on a number of roles, Gregory Hines really enjoys himself in his first cinematic outing, Dom DeLuise and Madeline Kahn are as much fun as they usually are and more laughs are delivered by Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Spike Milligan, Pamela Stephenson, Sid Caesar and Shecky Greene.

A lot of the jokes are obvious, but not necessarily less funny because of it, and it's quite reassuring to actually see the old "walk this way" gag. There are so many little treats throughout that it's hard to select favourite moments to mention in this review but the undeniable highlight for me, however, was seeing The Spanish Inquisition given the glossy, Hollywood, musical number treatment (with absolutely wonderful and hilarious lyrics AND a catchy melody).

It's sad to think that modern audiences may only know Brooks for such films as Robin Hood: Men In Tights and Dracula: Dead And Loving It when his work in the 70s and early 80s contains moments of sheer brilliance to set it on a par with any other classics that you can think of. This movie may not be one of his very best but it's full of enough intelligence and wit to make you glad that you gave it a watch.


Wednesday 18 April 2012

Treasure Island (1950)

If you don't know the story of Treasure Island - of Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver, The Hispaniola, mutiny and treachery and more - then you have missed out on some classic adventure goodness. The original story was written many years ago by Robert Louis Stevenson but I assure you that it holds up as a cracking yarn to this day, mainly because it throws in every pirate-related detail you have ever heard of and doesn't once apologise for it (of course, the cliches may not have seemed quite so cliched when the story was first published, considering how it pretty much created most of the established pirate traits).

This live action Disney take on the material isn't bad but the material deserves much better. It's such a great tale that I'd feel fairly assured in suggesting that it's almost impossible to make a mess of (though I'm sure that many have tried). The House Of Mouse have actually made a number of trips to this well with Muppet Treasure Island, Pirates Of The Caribbean (the ride and, of course, the popular movies deriving from the essence of Treasure Island) and Treasure Planet, to name but a few. This first attempt is probably the weakest of the ones I have seen but it still makes for passable entertainment.

Bobby Driscoll (known to Disney fans for his appearance in Song Of The South and his voicing of one Peter Pan) plays young Jim Hawkins, the lad who ends up with a pirate treasure map. He's also, along with everyone else in the tale, oblivious to the fact that Long John Silver (Robert Newton) is a scheming pirate. Which allows Long John Silver to help gather the crew that the few non-pirates need to acquire for their treasure hunt. Nobody seems suspicious despite the fact that Long John Silver has a parrot (one named after a pirate and that likes to squawk "pieces of eight", no less). Nobody seems to wonder just why Long John Silver says "aarrrrrr" so much. Surely these things are clues. Oh, and the fact that his name is Long John bloody Silver should have tipped people off.

Joking aside, the film suffers most from the same major problem that the source material had. Everything seems just a bit too over the top and obvious to take anyone by surprise. Those swarthy, coarse men are pirates?? They're all greedy enough to want the treasure for themselves?? Long John Silver has a cunning plan despite the fact that from the very beginning he looked like someone with a cunning plan?? Because the book left more to your imagination this wasn't really such a big problem. If things seemed too over the top and obvious then you could convince yourself that your imagination was at fault. The movie leaves you with no such excuse.

Byron Haskin directs competently enough and the script by Lawrence Edward Watkin translates the story quite faithfully. As the movie shared the big flaw of the book, so it shares the big plus point - the shifting moral compass of Long John Silver and the relationship that develops between him and Jim Hawkins. Everyone, and everything, is present and correct, from Billy Bones to Blind Pugh to the "black spot" to whatever else you can recall from the source material. Sadly, nothing really special is added to it all.


Tuesday 17 April 2012

Mexican Hayride (1948)

With Charles Barton directing once again and John Grant helping out with the screenplay, this is an Abbott & Costello movie that showcases our comedic duo at their easygoing best. It's not their finest hour, perhaps due to the source material (a play by Herbert and Dorothy Fields featuring Cole Porter musical numbers that were left out of the movie), but it's a lot of fun from beginning to end and features one or two truly wonderful routines.

Our two leads play a couple of conmen who end up making some money in Mexico. Of course, Lou is as oblivious to the real nature of the schemes while Bud tries to do whatever it takes to ensure the success of another great scheme. Things don't go smoothly and on the way there are amusing encounters with local food, a memorable elocution lesson and even some dangerously close contact with a bull.

While Mexican Hayride suffers in direct comparison to the previous A & C outing, the classic Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, it definitely keeps the quality level in line with most of their other movies that Charles Barton oversaw. Many people claim that he was the best director the boy ever had and it's hard to argue with that when you see him allowing the boys to play to their strengths time after time.

The script is by John Grant and Oscar Brodney, it's not quite a laugh-a-minute but there are plenty of one-liners and quick exchanges to keep fans happy. The cast all do well (especially Luba Malina as Dagmar) but they only float in and out of the picture to fill out the scenes in between the comedy set-pieces, which is as it should be when the leads are on such great form.

This is yet another fun outing for A & C from a time that, arguably, saw them at their very best.


Monday 16 April 2012

In The Woods (1999)

In The Woods is so cringeworthy, so awful, so poorly acted, so incompetent in so many ways, so full of terrible dialogue that it's one of those bad movies that becomes comedy gold. Unfortunately, for me it's never the kind of comedy gold that makes you forgive it for all of the sins and clutch it to your heart and rewatch it every time you have a movie-themed party night. But I know that the man who recommended it to me would say otherwise, and I'm sure that he'd be able to gather quite a decent group of supporters.

It's the fact that the movie isn't COMPLETELY inept on every single level that just stops this from transforming into something really superb. Writer-director Lynn Drzick actually knows where to point the camera most of the time. Sadly, that would appear to be the limit of her knowledge as she doesn't seem able to wring even half-decent performances from a cast of uniformly terrible actors and her script is one of the most laughable things I've encountered on film since watching The Room.

I guess I should still attempt to describe the ridiculous plot. Alex Kerwood (D. J. Perry) is a firefighter who turns to the bottle whenever things get too stressful, much to the upset of his wife, Helen (Aimee Tenaglia). At the start of the movie we see Alex leaving a burning building and lashing out at people because someone died. He turns to drink to take the edge off the day. When Alex then goes for a day hunting with Wayne (Jim Greulich) everything takes a turn for the worse when the pair find a grave and Wayne insists on digging the thing up, in an effort to possibly find one of the victims of a killer who has been terrorising the area. Something chases the pair through the woods and they then turn to drink to take the edge off the day. It's not long before body parts are being left in the vicinity of Alex's house and big, bad, stuffed toys are causing havoc and . . . . . . . . . . . you'll probably end up having to turn to drink to take the edge off the day.

There are too many choice moments to tell you about here, too many examples of how laughably dire this whole thing is, I just can't single anything out. Well, maybe one or two highlights would include: the performance of Rachel Walker as she tries to win the award for absolute worst acting in a cast full of terrible actors, the "special" effects used throughout and, my own personal favourite, a serial killer who lets a couple of loose fingers spill from his bag while he's getting money out to pay for a new knife. You're possibly already laughing hard at what I've just told you but, I assure you, it's very, very true.

If you know what to expect from this awful movie then you'll still get some entertainment value from it. Everyone else should approach it with extreme caution or avoid it altogether.


Sunday 15 April 2012

The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (1971)

Sergio Martino is a name I have been hearing for years. His work is recommended by other horror fans who love his work and, having seen this movie and All The Colors Of The Dark, I can now honestly say that I know why he has so many fans.

This is a stylish giallo starring the gorgeous Edwige Fenech (who also, along with a few of the male cast members here, starred in "All The Colors...") as the Mrs. Wardh of the title. She used to like a bit of pain mixed with her sex (which explains her past relationship with the twisted Jean - played by Ivan Rassimov) but is now a happily married woman (her husband, Neil, is played by Alberto de Mendoza). By happily married I mean, of course, that Mrs. Wardh acts like a loving wife but isn't averse to having her head turned by the likes of hunky George (played by George Hilton). Her friend, Carol (Cristina Airoldi), positively encourages this potential dalliance. The fact that some maniac is killing women he views as whores definitely makes life difficult for anyone wanting to take an extra lover.

Have I mentioned recently how long I have held a candle for Edwige Fenech? How I could watch her in anything at all? Well, the big bonus is that the surrounding movie is usually pretty damn good when it's directed by Sergio Martino. And the lovely Edwige wasn't a shy starlet.

I'll grudgingly admit that the movie isn't a success thanks only to the presence of Miss Fenech. The rest of the cast are pretty good in their roles but it's the twisting plot (from the screenplay by Vittorio Caronia, Ernesto Gastaldi and Eduardo Manzanos Brochero) and top-notch direction that really makes this a superior giallo.

There may be more than a hint of free love and the fashions are decidedly of the era but this movie somehow still feels fresh and energetic as opposed to many other examples that have retained their entertainment value while also feeling a bit like a time capsule of the era. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the turn of events in the second half of the film and really appreciated the efforts made to intrigue and wrong-foot the viewer.

Definitely one to view if you're a fan of giallo, Sergio Martino and/or Edwige Fenech.


Saturday 14 April 2012

The Haunting In Connecticut (2009)

I used to absolutely love haunted house movies. They would always entertain me and also scare the pants off me at the same time. The Amityville Horror (both versions), The Changeling, The Legend Of Hell House and The Haunting (1963) are a few of my favourites. Yet the tide of my opinion has been turning over the past 5-10 years. I think the fact that so many of them nowadays are labelled "based on a true story" or "based on the horrifying truth" or "based on the book based on the facts told to the neighbour by some previous owners" has turned me against them. Because, it seems, the more that they purport to be based on fact the easier it is to spot how false it all feels.

Here are a few common factors to spot in any modern haunted house movie "based on a true story" - the family is already under some kind of stress (emotional or financial), someone always helps them when things get a lot worse and, coincidentally, when the family unit is weakened. Kids are usually at the epicentre of events (this is often explained away by the fact that puberty and raging hormones encourages supernatural activity or some other hogwash). And, of course, most of the facts are based on testimonies as opposed to any actual, ummmm, evidence.

Like Mulder, I still want to believe. It's just getting harder and harder to remain a wannabe believer.

This movie doesn't help.Written by Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe, and directed by Peter Cornwell, it checks off all of the factors just mentioned and then puts them together to create something dull, unscary, predictable and borderline incompetent (just count the amount of "jump" scares that don't work because of the way that the camera moves and/or scene blocking indicate what's about to occur).

It's a shame because this movie wastes a damn good cast. Virginia Madsen is always someone I enjoy watching onscreen (and sorry to be so shallow but is she getting even finer in her 50s??) while Martin Donovan is solid enough. They play the parents to a cancer-stricken young man played by the excellent Kyle Gallner. Amanda Crew is an acceptable young actress and then we have a supporting turn from the superb Elias Koteas. They're all left floundering.

The poor script isn't laughably bad but it's just dull and seems to be two steps behind the viewer. The CGI is sometimes okay but usually overdone and distractingly fake. The direction is awful. The only fact that rings true by the time the end credits roll is that you shouldn't waste your time on this.


Friday 13 April 2012

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

If you haven't heard of this movie then you've led a very sheltered life. Plan 9 From Outer Space is often referred to as "the worst movie ever made" and when you watch the thing you can't help but think of that title. It makes it hard to take the movie seriously and yet it also makes it hard to hate.

The story is standard b-movie fare in some ways - aliens come down to Earth in flying saucers, fly around scaring folks and also reanimate corpses to . . . . . . . scare more folks. The real laughs come when you find out the motivation for all of this and see/hear the plot developments during the second half. It's so preposterous that I properly laughed out loud on a couple of occasions.

The man behind this cinematic lowpoint is, as many of you will already know, Edward D. Wood Jr. AKA Ed Wood. He directed the thing, and shows some tiny iota of competence despite the cheap design, all-too-fake props, bad acting and lack of continuity, but he also wrote the thing, which helps to overshadow that one tiny iota of competence. I've seen a LOT of bad movies (and, for the record, I don't think this is the worst thing I've ever watched) but I can't think of any that have suffered from such a poor script. When the events aren't being narrated as they occur onscreen we get some of the most inane conversations that you'll ever hear outside of any live Big Brother coverage.

The cast includes the brilliantly-monikered Dudley Manlove, the lumbering giant known as Tor Johnson, an old and frail Bela Lugosi, the lady known as Vampira and a selection of other people, some of whom at least try to work with the absurd material and some of them who don't even seem to do that.

The special effects look like they've been made by someone who couldn't even win a Blue Peter badge for themselves, the actions of the characters are almost as bad as the lines of dialogue given to each, Tom Mason is a terrible stand-in for Bela Lugosi and the material bookending the main storyline is ridiculous. I'm sure there are people who could easily nominate this as the worst movie that they've ever seen but I'm not one of them. I was never bored and I couldn't help having some affection for this filmed failure. I still have to say that it's very, very bad though. Just not the worst.


Wednesday 11 April 2012

The Alley Cats (1966)

Directed by Radley Metzger and written by Peter Fernandez, The Alley Cats shows you "the swinging sixties like you've never seen them" according to the DVD cover. Which would be correct if by 1966 people hadn't already seen folk freaking out to crazy tunes and then bedhopping like nymphomaniac rabbits. But isn't that what we've always seen of/associated with the swinging sixties. Those who were around at the time lived it, even if they can't remember most of it, and those who grew up in later years were told and shown just how it was. A mixture of free spirits, free love and freeing fashions.

The Alley Cats gives you all that you would expect as a "time capsule" from this era but it somehow manages to make all of the shenanigans, the sexual encounters and the fluid sexuality incredibly boring. Hard as that may be to believe, this is a dull, dull movie that proves to be about as erotically charged as an episode of Thunderbirds.

Anne Arthur plays Leslie, a young woman who suspects her fiance Logan (Charlie Hickman) of not being entirely faithful to her. Logan, to be fair, isn't being entirely faithful to her as he likes playing around with Leslie's friend, Agnes (Karin Field). Because popular TV shows such as Jerry Springer, The Jeremy Kyle Show, etc weren't around at this time, Leslie decides to solve her problem by "dallying" with Christian (Harald Baerow).  And Irena (Sabrina Koch) isn't looking too unattractive either.

There is nothing I can say about The Alley Cats that really needs to be said. If you see it then you probably won't run screaming from the room, asking for someone to douse your flaming eyeballs. But you probably won't want to ever see it again either. It's just rubbish, quite frankly, but disappointingly bland and inoffensive rubbish. Which, when you think about it, is almost the worst kind of rubbish.


Tuesday 10 April 2012

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Bringing together two things I loved in my youth, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein easily remains one of my favourite A & C outings. Of course, purists will balk at a number of factors. The fact that they don't actually MEET Frankenstein but, rather, Frankenstein's monster is one minor criticism often brought up but I must say that this is simply a minor error in an effort to truncate the title because throughout the film the monster is known as The Monster (or Junior, etc). It is never mislabelled as Frankenstein. The other criticism often levelled at this film, and a major one, is that it really was the end of the line for the classic Universal monsters and many fans of those great horror movies saw this as a real dignity-stripping fanfare for the villains they loved (Glenn Strange plays "The Monster" while Bela Lugosi returns to play Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr. once again embodies Larry Talbot/The Wolfman). This is a harder criticism to just shrug off and I think it comes down to personal taste. The monsters themselves aren't necessarily the butt of most of the jokes but they're certainly not the feared figures they once were. Personally, I love the clash between that world of cobwebs and creaking coffin lids and the patter of Abbott & Costello.

The plot sees our comedy duo getting themselves caught up in quite a monster mash between all of those I've already mentioned. I don't think I need to say any more though I will say that the plot has at least been created with a decent idea or two used to bring this motley crew together.

Director Charles Barton is at the helm once again and does a great job, once again. The performances are all quite enjoyable - as well as those icons of horror we also have decent support from Lenore Aubert, Jane Randolph, Frank Ferguson and Charles Bradstreet (there's even a fleeting cameo from Vincent Price) - and the movie wastes no time in setting up the action and wringing the laughs from it. Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo and John Grant are back on the writing duties and the premise of the movie allows them to create some real gems. This is the movie with the following, unforgettable exchange -

Larry Talbot: "You don't understand. Every night when the moon is full, I turn into a wolf."
Wilbur: "You and twenty million other guys."
I wish I could recommend this to everyone and know that they would like it as unconditionally as I do but I know that will never happen. In the meantime, I just hope that some people give it a viewing soon and find themselves laughing more often than not.


Sunday 8 April 2012

Kelly's Heroes (1970)

I can't start a review of Kelly's Heroes without first relating a memory. A memory that goes all the way back to my early teens when the home entertainment market was still lorded over by the wonder of VHS. In my home we had a copy of Kelly's Heroes. It was quite a good movie but back then I felt it was a bit long and it didn't hold my attention from start to finish in the same way as, for instance, Stir Crazy did.
One of my best mates, Robbie, loved it. Absolutely loved it. But he didn't have it in his house. He only had access to my copy (well, not MINE but you know what I mean). This meant that during our school holidays, when the Scottish weather was predictably dire, I watched a lot of Kelly's Heroes. As did Robbie. In fact, he even borrowed it for a few months and tried to watch it every day while he had it. Which tells you that this movie is one that some people just absolutely love.

For anyone who has seen Three Kings, this is a definite forerunner to that movie. Clint Eastwood plays Kelly, a soldier who luckily happens on some information regarding of a LARGE stash of gold being held behind enemy lines. Instead of the American soldiers fighting Germans without respite just because they're ordered to do so it becomes easier to motivate themselves when they know that they can make themselves rich. But it's obviously not going to be easy.

Written by Troy Kennedy-Martin (and, believe it or not, this wild ride has a basis in truth) and directed by Brian G. Hutton, Kelly's Heroes is a great mix of war movie, heist movie and standard comedy. There are, as my mate Robbie will testify, many quotable lines from the variety of characters onscreen. And what a collection of folk we have.

Eastwood is still at his squinty best, even if he is wearing military garb as opposed to a poncho or NY detective badge, while I just have to namecheck the rest of my favourites now so that I don't miss anyone out. Telly Savalas - brash and very likeable as Big Joe. Don Rickles - great fun as a man interested in making money who resents having to do some work for it. Donald Sutherland - stealing every scene that he's in as Oddball. Stuart Margolin - highly entertaining as Little Joe. There are also great turns from Carroll O'Connor, Gavin MacLeod, Hal Buckley, Jeff Morris and Harry Dean Stanton (billed here as just Dean Stanton). The more eagle-eyed viewers can also try spotting John Landis in an uncredited cameo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . as a nun.

Watching Kelly's Heroes nowadays is a bit of a frustrating experience because I have to admit that, all those years ago, Robbie was right. He may have gone overboard with his love for the movie but it's a movie that deserves at least a bit of love and recognition. Give it a try and see how much you end up loving it.


Saturday 7 April 2012

The Wistful Widow Of Wagon Gap (1947)

AKA The Wistful Widow.

One of the best movies starring Abbott & Costello, this comedy Western contains a great mix of verbal and physical humour and has considerably less of the annoying mugging and childish behaviour that Lou Costello had been making his trademark over the preceding decade. He's still a naive and nervy "little boy" but doesn't need to make funny whining noises and/or do a double-take every two minutes.

The plot sees our two leads heading in to a dangerous town to try and make a buck or ten. They're only there for a few minutes when someone dies and Lou gets blamed for it. Thankfully, instead of being given a death sentence the two men are ordered to support the widow and family of the deceased and to help pay off the dead man's debts. This is demoralising and tiring for Lou, who has to work from sunrise to sunset, but things take a turn for the better when he realises that nobody wants any harm to come to him. Why? Because if they are found responsible for his death then they have to take over the responsibility and put up with the fearsome widow. Having found the secret to becoming almost untouchable, Lou is made the sheriff of the town and begins to enjoy himself a little. But there's always going to be a time when a sheriff, even an apparently untouchable one, will get into some serious trouble.

Director Charles Barton gets plenty right here. The script (by John Grant, Robert Lees and Frederic I. Rinaldo) helps a lot, as do the performances, but Barton brings everything together in just the right amounts. Abbott and Costello fans will enjoy the standard A & C comedy but there are also many moments for fans of standard Westerns to enjoy.

Marjorie Main is very entertaining as Widow Hawkins, as is George Cleveland (who plays the Judge), while Gordon Jones, William Ching, Audrey Young and the others onscreen all do very well. The two leads, as already mentioned, are on top form with a mix of one-liners and enjoyable physical comedy.

Definitely a movie that fans of A & C will want to see and, hopefully, love as much as I do.


Friday 6 April 2012

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

There's something within me that gets angry at me while I enjoy movies sometimes. Some small part of me that knows that I SHOULD know better. It tries to distract me with shame and inner turmoil and whispers of how inept I am. Even after all this time it still tries, despite knowing that it won't work. Especially while I watch something I enjoy as much as 2 Fast 2 Furious.

Following on, of course, from The Fast And The Furious comes this - a videogame in all but the formatting. But the videogames that it replicates are some of my favourites, the likes of GTA and Driver. This is the only reason I can give as to why I enjoy it so much.

To be fair, the cast is pretty good. Paul Walker returns as ex-cop Brian, and he's the star of the show (no Vin Diesel for this instalment), but he's ably supported by Tyrese Gibson (who is a LOT of fun), Eva Mendes, Cole Hauser, Thom Barry, James Remar, Devon Aoki, and a number of other good folks. And 'Ludacris'.

That videogame plot is summed up thus: Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson are shown racing at different events before the action changes to an official police matter. Both men have to help the law get a charge to stick on their main baddie (Hauser) while racing around and avoiding being shot. That's it.

Michael Brandt and Derek Haas are the men who put their names to the screenplay here but it seems to me that they just squeezed in a few car chases in between guys saying "aaiiiiiiight" and "bro/bru" and plenty of cool handshakes and fistbumps. If you think I'm exaggerating then just monitor the dialogue for the first 20 minutes of the film. Aiiiight?

The cars look gorgeous, all pimped out and souped up, and the movie has a great energy as it barrels along from beginning to end. Many may dislike the editing, which is too hyperactive in places, but it fits in with that videogame aesthetic (the dialogue moments actually feel like "cutscenes" in between missions).

Director John Singleton may not be the most obvious choice for this kind of film but he handles it well and gives audiences a movie that won't disappoint those who know exactly what they want from the franchise - fast cars, simple language and a smattering of attractive women. Yep, you can happily switch your brain off as soon as you hear those engines being switched on.


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Thursday 5 April 2012

We interrupt this non-writing for some non-writing.

Well, well, well. Normailty has just about crept back into my life after the sheer craziness of the Dead By Dawn horror movie fest.

FULL reviews of every movie will appear on Flickfeast soon and I'm very, very close to finally having a bit of time back to myself, allowing me to once again post some reviews on this here blog.

In the meantime, I thought I'd post a couple of links here for anyone interested/unbalanced.

My selection of preferred YouTube stuff is HERE.

And my reviews of movies, shorts and TV shows on IMDb can be located HERE.

I hope that passes the time for the one person clicking on this blog and awaiting a new review. Normal disservice will be resumed tomorrow.

Oh, in all seriousness, a big thank you to the people who do stop by and read my nonsense and lead me to discover a pleasant surprise on the odd occasion when I check the traffic numbers. Muchos gracias.