Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Johnny Dangerously

Michael Keaton was riding a creative high after brilliant performances in NIGHT SHIFT and MR. MOM when he took on this dud for director Amy Heckerling (FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH). Luckily, Keaton rebounded a year later with GUNG HO and, after a couple of bombs, BEETLEJUICE, his terrific dramatic turn in CLEAN AND SOBER, and then BATMAN.

An odd premise for an BLAZING SADDLES-style spoof, JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY is a spoof of 1930s gangster pictures with a screenplay credited to Harry Colomby (Keaton’s manager), Norman Steinberg (BLAZING SADDLES), and sitcom guys Jeff Harris and Bernie Kukoff (DIFF’RENT STROKES). Keaton is good gangster Dangerously, just trying to financially support his mother (Maureen Stapleton) and younger brother (Griffin Dunne). On the, er, opposite side of the law is mean rival Danny Vermin, played by SNL’s Joe Piscopo in his first big feature role. The only character anyone remembers is mob boss Roman Moronie (Richard Dimitri from the Mel Brooks sitcom WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN), who swears in malapropisms like “fargin’ icehole.”

Audiences weren’t taken with JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY, a box office flop that opened with just 65% of the per-screen gross of BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, which also premiered Christmas weekend of 1984. The flashback structure is weak, partially because it keeps Keaton and the other main players off-screen for much of the first act. Keaton is good and his co-stars work hard — too hard. You can see them scrambling for laughs at times. The toilet jokes push the then-new PG-13 rating to its limit (an extended gag about men with testicles the size of beach balls feels like someone is stomping on yours). Surprisingly, Dimitri’s hamming always gets laughs.

Marilu Henner (TAXI) is sexy as the love interest. Stapleton is awful as the cliched sweet old lady who curses and talks about getting laid, as if that joke was ever funny. Poor Glynnis O’Connor (ODE TO BILLY JOE) is criminally wasted. Danny DeVito, just off ROMANCING THE STONE, is a crooked district attorney. Peter Boyle (YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN), Ron Carey (HIGH ANXIETY), and Dom DeLuise (BLAZING SADDLES) are here to remind you of Mel Brooks movies. Alan Hale from GILLIGAN’S ISLAND is an Irish cop, along with Ray Walston (from Heckerling’s FAST TIMES), Joe Flaherty (SCTV), Taylor Negron (THE LAST BOY SCOUT), and...Bob Eubanks? “Weird” Al Yankovic’s theme song is pretty good.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Three O'Clock High

First feature film by director Phil Joanou, who was something of a Spielberg protege, having directed two episodes of AMAZING STORIES before this. He directed only a handful of features, none of them spectacular, though his U2 concert film, RATTLE AND HUM, has an excellent reputation. THREE O’CLOCK HIGH is something of a cult comedy for those who saw it as teenagers in the 1980s, as it has a premise most can relate to.

Casey Siemaszko (STAND BY ME) stars as Jerry Mitchell, a wimpy teenager who accidentally antagonizes tough bully Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson, later the psycho in KINDERGARTEN COP), something of a legend around school. Buddy challenges poor Jerry to a fight after school, which becomes the talk of the school in no time, spurring Jerry to scramble a way out of avoiding a beating. Skipping school doesn’t work, framing Buddy for a crime is a no go, not even hiring a big kid to beat up Buddy (certainly a nod to MY BODYGUARD) can prevent Jerry’s destiny.

Written by Richard Christian Matheson and Thomas Szollosi, veterans of Stephen J. Cannell shows like THE A-TEAM and HUNTER, and heavily rewritten by Joanou, the story is thin, but the film is somewhat amusing due to some pretty good jokes and the dizzying camerawork by Joanou and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, a visual whiz who went on to direct the ADDAMS FAMILY and MEN IN BLACK films. They even shoot looking up from the bottom of a washing machine.

THREE O’CLOCK HIGH is one of the decade’s most visually inventive comedies, and the cast plays the heightened reality at the perfect pitch. Siemaszko is appealing, Tyson is terrifying while giving off a complex vibe, Anne Ryan is the sweet and quirky platonic girlfriend. And who can forget Charles Macauley (BLACULA) as the Dean of Discipline, Mitch Pileggi (THE X-FILES) as the overly aggressive security guard, Caitlin O’Heaney (HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE) as a romantic English teacher, and especially the great ham John P. Ryan (AVENGING FORCE) as the principal who delivers the film’s best line.

Neither Universal nor executive producer Spielberg, who took his name off the credits, knew what to do with THREE O’CLOCK HIGH. Look at its one-sheet if you don’t believe me. The film couldn’t even outgross clunkers like SURRENDER and SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME its opening weekend, though it is certainly better remembered today.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Return

Five years after starring in her third Peter Bogdanovich movie and four years after Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER, here is Cybill Shepherd lurching her way through ludicrous sci-fi with director Greydon Clark (WITHOUT WARNING). Produced in 1980, THE RETURN couldn’t find a theatrical distributor, but its PG rating ensured it played frequently on HBO.

Two children and a middle-aged prospector have a close encounter with a hovering spaceship one evening in a small New Mexico town. Twenty-five years later, the little girl (Shepherd) is a scientist working in the big city for her wealthy father Raymond Burr (IRONSIDE), and the little boy (Jan-Michael Vincent) is the town’s deputy under sheriff Martin Landau (NORTH BY NORTHWEST). They meet again during Vincent’s investigation of a series of cattle mutilations, which may or may not (ha ha, no, it’s may) be connected to that long-ago spacecraft and the creepy prospector (Vincent Schiavelli, great as an assassin in TOMORROW NEVER DIES) who strangely hasn’t aged in the last 25 years.

Brothers Ken and Jim Wheat (PITCH BLACK) and Curtis Burch (JOYSTICKS) wrote the screenplay, which is kind of a mess, asking all sorts of potentially intriguing questions and refusing to answer most of them. The premise is strong, but the payoff is weak. What credibility the story has lies in its professional cast, particularly the portly Burr, whose gravitas brings the script’s spacy shenanigans down to earth. By all accounts a warm man, Burr didn’t often get to play that, and he’s a joy to watch in THE RETURN.

Landau’s lawman, who splashes beer on his donuts, is played for humor, but with enough humanity that his fate makes a slight impact on the audience. Neville Brand (EATEN ALIVE) is broad as usual, but manages some emotional depth as a local farmer whose cattle is destroyed. Shepherd, never a deep actress, is fine playing a challenging romantic role opposite Vincent (HOOPER), who is unsteady and unfocused due to his alcoholism. Director Clark is bad in a cameo as the first human victim of the cattle mutilators.

For a film that was produced quickly and inexpensively ($750,000 with $400,000 for cast salaries), the stunts are impressive, and the visual effects are pretty good. Clark uses familiar Southern California locations as a reasonable substitute for New Mexico, including the Paramount Ranch, Bronson Canyon, and little Piru, California.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Jigsaw (1968)

Universal remakes its own thriller MIRAGE, which was released a whopping three years earlier. The best explanation for this decision is that JIGSAW was intended as a made-for-TV movie, but was instead given a theatrical release, possibly because Michael J. Pollard, just nominated for a BONNIE AND CLYDE Oscar as Best Supporting Actor, is in it. Or maybe because of its drug theme, which may have been too controversial for NBC censors.

Producer Ranald MacDougall (MILDRED PIERCE) hides behind the pseudonym “Quentin Werty” as his screenplay credit, which also gives nods to Peter Stone’s MIRAGE screenplay and the original novel FALLEN ANGEL by Howard Fast. Ignore the theatrical one-sheet that gives the impression Pollard is JIGSAW’s star. He’s barely in it with leading men Bradford Dillman (PIRANHA) and Harry Guardino (KING OF KINGS) carrying MacDougall’s psychedelic storyline.

Dillman wakes up in a strange apartment with amnesia and a dead blonde in the bathtub. He finds private detective Guardino’s AAA Detective Agency in the Yellow Pages, and hires him to investigate. Of course, when the two men visit the scene of the crime, the broken mirror is repaired, the furniture is replaced, and the girl is gone.

The culprit, at least responsible for Dillman’s amnesia, is LSD, and the direction by James Goldstone (ROLLERCOASTER) is trippy as hell. He really goes for the arty cutting and camera angles, which definitely makes JIGSAW more visually exciting than most of Universal’s thrillers from that period. The edgy editing by Edward Biery (THE DON IS DEAD) keeps the viewer disoriented, echoing the Dillman character’s own confusion. The downside is the audience is equally confused, and the plot fails to hold one’s attention.

Dillman and Guardino are quite good and Guardino rarely better. Pat Hingle (HANG ‘EM HIGH) is Dillman’s suspicious co-worker, Hope Lange (THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR) is Dillman’s confused girlfriend, Diana Hyland (THE CHASE) is Guardino’s wealthy girlfriend. Contract player Susan Saint James (KATE & ALLIE) is a secretary. Pollard is terrible as a dope dealer. James Doohan (STAR TREK) pops up in an unbilled role. Quincy Jones (IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT) did the music. Oddly enough, NBC, which originally rejected JIGSAW for prime time, did eventually air it a year later in 1969.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Hell Night (1981)

Set during Pledge Week, four wannabe Greeks — Linda Blair (SAVAGE STREETS), Vincent Van Patten (ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL), Peter Barton (THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR), and Suki Goodwin — vow to spend the night inside a creepy old house where the master of the manor murdered his entire family twelve years earlier. Or did he? One of the children, a “gorked out” monster named Andrew, was never found, alive or dead.

While the four college students explore the mansion — and one another — during the overnight hours, some of their friends (one played by LUCAN star Kevin Brophy) sneak into the house to escalate a prank war meant to test the pledges’ mettle. And who else is in the house? Someone with a nifty penchant for murder in creative and gruesome ways. A fraternity brother taking the act too far? One of the pledges? Or is...gulp...Andrew still alive with a taste for slaughter?

Not to be confused with the inferior HAPPY HELL NIGHT (a depressing experience for Darren McGavin fans), HELL NIGHT was made during the slasher movie boom of the early 1980s, when almost every week theaters were packed with teenagers eager to see teenagers getting smashed, bashed, gashed, and slashed. Though the basic premise, courtesy of screenwriter Randy Feldman (TANGO & CASH), is derivative to say the least (it wasn’t original even when the East Side Kids were doing it), the film rises above it to register as one of the genre’s better entries. Skillful direction by Tom DeSimone (CHATTERBOX), evocative cinematography by Mac Ahlberg (RE-ANIMATOR), Feldman’s intelligent plotting and dialogue, and a likable cast of TVQ favorites work together to throw a few scares into the audience.

Relatively tame in the sex and gore departments, despite the R rating, HELL NIGHT is a good example of what can happen when filmmakers tackle horror tropes with a bit of ingenuity. Making the Hell Night party a costume party and setting the film in an old house with candelabras and no electricity gives the film a nice Gothic atmosphere. Another interesting touch is the gender-swapping of leads Blair and Barton: she’s a mechanic from a blue-collar neighborhood, and he’s the rich kid (but not a snob).

HELL NIGHT was the last film released by Compass International Pictures, the independent studio behind HALLOWEEN, with HALLOWEEN’s Irwin Yablans also sharing production duties with Bruce Cohn Curtis (THE SEDUCTION). Despite an admirable job creating suspense, DeSimone continued to bounce between gay pornography and R-rated exploitation movies after HELL NIGHT, which may not have been seen by enough people in 1981 to benefit the careers of anyone involved.

As good as HELL NIGHT is, it doesn’t quite reach the level of great. The lack of nudity and gore (DeSimone’s one major gore scene was censored and never restored to recent releases) does take a bit of excitement out of the film’s sails, and the killer isn’t developed as a character at all. Once the movie gets going, it really crackles along, but excising a few minutes from the first half wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Darkman III: Die Darkman Die

Even more so than DARKMAN II: THE RETURN OF DURANT, this entertaining direct-to-video sequel focuses on the villain of the piece, rather than the mysterious superhero Darkman. Larry Drake was terrific as Durant in DARKMAN — smart, erudite, eccentric — but DARKMAN II turned him into a standard television heavy. In DARKMAN III, Jeff Fahey (THE LAWNMOWER MAN) chews a lot of scenery both as Peter Rooker, a nasty drug lord, and in scenes in which Rooker is impersonated by Darkman. Arnold Vosloo, back from DARKMAN II as Peyton Westlake, has less to do this time around.

Rooker and his unscrupulous lover Dr. Bridget Thorne (Darlanne Fluegel) kidnap Westlake and use his bodily fluids to fabricate a designer steroid that makes Rooker’s flunkies strong enough to take over the city. Westlake, who uses a self-developed synthetic skin to disguise his horrible burns, escapes and impersonates members of Rooker’s gang — and, of course, Rooker himself — in an effort to retrieve his formula. While disguised as Rooker, he becomes drawn to the criminal’s sequestered wife (Roxann Biggs-Dawson) and daughter (Alicia Panetta), who are ignored and later endangered by Rooker.

This sequel and DARKMAN II were shot back-to-back by director Bradford May on a reported $7 million budget, explaining the use of stock footage from previous films (inserts of Vosloo are cut into origin flashbacks to DARKMAN). Vosloo does a nice job in his limited screen time, but it’s Fahey who garners the lion’s share of the movie’s best lines and situations. More or less playing a dual role, Fahey and those big blue eyes hold the screen throughout while playing to the comic book crowd.

Unfortunately for Vosloo, because Westlake’s “power” requires many different actors to portray him, he has difficulty making an impression. Of course, he did in DARKMAN II as well, where he had a better opportunity to carry the film. The screenplay by Michael Colleary and Mike Werb — which plays like a first draft of their FACE/OFF — doesn’t give Rooker much of a personality, leaving it mainly to Fahey to make the heavy interesting, which he certainly does.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Darkman II: The Return Of Durant

Universal returned to the Darkman character created by Sam Raimi (EVIL DEAD) for two direct-to-video sequels shot back-to-back in Toronto by Bradford May (AMY FISHER: MY STORY). A cinematographer with experience directing episodic television and made-for-TV movies, May tackles his first feature with style, achieving a slick look, rapid pace, and quite a bit of fun and excitement. Liam Neeson was too big a star to return for DARKMAN II, but Larry Drake (L.A. LAW) wasn’t, even though his character was convincingly killed off at the end of the first movie. Hey, in comic books, nobody dies forever.

Arnold Vosloo (THE MUMMY) takes over as Peyton Westlake, who has been continuing his experiments in synthetic skin, financing them by ripping off drug pushers and arms dealers. His hope is to perfect the skin, which deteriorates after 99 minutes, so he can permanently restore his horribly scarred visage. Drake’s Robert Durant, back in town after three years in a coma, seeks revenge against archenemy Westlake.

He springs mad doctor Hathaway (Lawrence Dane) from an insane asylum and forces him to build a powerful laser weapon for use in his crime spree. More of a straight crime drama than Raimi’s original film, DARKMAN II suffers by excising the horror element that made Westlake such a sympathetic character.

Drake, by necessity, gets the best lines in the screenplay by Steven McKay (DIGGSTOWN) and makes more of an impact than Vosloo, who is rarely seen wearing the bandages and slouch hat that made the character so mysterious in DARKMAN. Kim Delaney, later an Emmy winner for NYPD BLUE, has a minor role as a television reporter who smokes a lot (and badly). Renee O’Connor, whom Raimi later hired to be Lucy Lawless’ sidekick on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, also appears in support as the owner of a strip club where the dancers don’t strip (you can take the director out of television, but you can’t take the television out of the director).

Saturday, January 20, 2018


One of the most underrated superhero movies ever made, DARKMAN is also the most underrated film directed by Sam Raimi, helmer of the original EVIL DEAD and Spider-Man trilogies. Raimi created the Darkman character for Universal and shares screenplay credit with his ARMY OF DARKNESS collaborator (and brother) Ivan Raimi, Chuck Pfarrer (HARD TARGET), and OUT ON A LIMB’s Daniel and Joshua Goldin. Inspired more by the Universal horror movies of the 1930s, William Gibson’s The Shadow, and EC comic books of the 1950s than by mainstream superhero fare, Darkman has no superpowers per se, but uses his scientific genius to strike back against the criminal underworld.

In Raimi’s origin story, Darkman is Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), a scientist who is nearly burned to death in an attack by crime kingpin Durant (Larry Drake). Though believed to be dead, Westlake survives and uses his experimental synthetic flesh — which dissolves after 99 minutes — to both re-create his old face and create new ones, so he can infiltrate Durant’s organization (think Martin Landau in the old MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series). Based in a secret warehouse laboratory, Westlake seeks revenge against both Durant and Durant’s employer, corrupt real estate magnate Strack (Colin Friels), who uses Westlake’s attorney girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand) as a hostage.

The first big-budget studio film by Raimi and producer Robert Tapert, DARKMAN soars in large part because of Neeson, who suggests Boris Karloff in FRANKENSTEIN, creating a sympathetic character while mostly swathed in bandages or trapped under layers of hideous makeup. Using gestures and his expressive eyes, Neeson delivers a compassionate portrait of a mad genius split between vengeance and self-pity.

Beyond the performances, Raimi’s direction of the action sequences (on a relatively low $16 million budget) and the makeup effects are well done with a dark comic flair (some of the visual effects are shaky). Danny Elfman, just coming off his pioneering work on BATMAN, produces a satisfying soundscape to punctuate the heroics. Not much of a hit — the R-rated adventure opened in first place, but was out of the Top Five in under a month — DARKMAN inspired two direct-to-video sequels (without Neeson or Raimi), as well as action figures, video games, comic books, and even an unsuccessful television pilot.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Yor, The Hunter From The Future

Look, I’m not going to argue that YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE, which Columbia astonishingly released on over 1400 screens in the summer of 1983 (number one film that weekend: Rodney Dangerfield’s EASY MONEY!), fits any textbook definition of “good movie.” I will argue, however, that if you don’t enjoy every warped frame of YOR, you may have not a drop of joy running through your veins.

Filmed in Turkey (exteriors) and Rome (interiors) by director Antonio Margheriti, whose forays into science fiction run the gamut from ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE to WILD, WILD PLANET (part of his Gamma One series for MGM) and TREASURE ISLAND IN OUTER SPACE (!), YOR was originally a four-part miniseries made for Italian television. Columbia trimmed it to 88 minutes and put it in theaters the same week Universal premiered METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN! (YOR finished seventh at the box office opening weekend, METALSTORM eighth.)

Blond beefcake Reb Brown, then known best for playing Marvel Comics’ Captain America in two television movies, stars as the rugged Yor, a stone axe his only possession. While roaming the desert, he encounters middle-aged Pag (Luciano Pigozzi) and his scrumptious ward Kala (MOONRAKER’s Corinne Clery) as they are being attacked by a dinosaur. Yor fights the creature, kills it, chugs its blood, and becomes Pag and Kala’s protector, as they continue their journey together.

As a cut-down version of an (approximate) four-hour piece, YOR moves quickly like a Republic serial, putting its characters in one dangerous mess after another. Barbarians with blue skin whose leader sits on a skull-like throne, a giant bat that Yor uses as a hang glider (!), a snake pit, mummies and their lovely non-mummy queen (Ayshe Gul)...and robots with lasers.

Yes, I mean, the title gives it away, so why hide it? YOR is not set in the prehistoric past, but in a post-apocalyptic future. Yor is not Yor, but Galahad, who survived a spaceship crash and grew up alone in the wilderness. Obviously inspired as much by STAR WARS as by CONAN THE BARBARIAN, Margheriti eventually goes full sci-fi, introducing John Steiner (TENEBRAE) as the Overload, a Darth Vader imitator who plans to use his robot army to conquer the burned-out ball that is now Earth. Where there is an evil space overlord, there will be rebels, so Yor joins up and adapts quickly to laser guns, matter transporters, and spaceships.

Of course, the story doesn’t make a lot of sense (how could dinosaurs exist in the future?), even if the big twist comes as a pleasant surprise (the title notwithstanding). Bad movies are often just as entertaining — even more so — than good ones, and YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE is as entertaining as they come. It moves quickly and is never boring. From the five-and-dime wigs to the loopy dialogue (“Stupid talking box!”) to Steiner’s creepy hamming as the black-armored space heavy to the delirious theme song (“Yor’s world!/He’s the man!”) composed by brothers Guido and Maurizio de Angelis, nothing in YOR is competent, yet everything somehow comes together.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Silk (1986)

Cec Verrell is the star of SILK and one of the few Roger Corman heroines to keep her top on (but how about that rockin' poster?). Corman was the executive producer of this cheapo action meller filmed by director Cirio H. Santiago, who made a lot of them. Laughably, the film is set in Hawaii, but aside from a handful of second unit shots, including Verrell strolling across the lawn of the Iolani Palace (better known to classic television fans as Five-O headquarters), Santiago shot SILK in the Philippines, fooling nobody.

The phony location shooting is hardly the worst part of SILK, which is a typically Santiagoan jam of poor sound, amateur-hour acting, and simple plotting with a healthy dose of sex and violence. Verrell is, of course, Silk, the sobriquet of Jenny Sleighton, the sexiest and baddest-ass cop on Oahu. Somehow she finds the time between blowing up cars and making out with fellow fuzz Bill McLaughlin (NAKED VENGEANCE) to delve into stabby rednecks with huge knives and the smuggling of gangsters into Hawaii from Asia.

That’s a lot of balls for screenwriter Frederick Bailey (FAST GUN) to toss at Santiago, who predictably fumbles them, resulting in a story that doesn’t seem to make sense. An unusual “characters created by” credit for one Claudine St. James accompanies Bailey’s and Santiago’s screenplay credit, though there seems to be no earlier Silk film or novel. Perhaps St. James wrote an unpublished book or unproduced screenplay that Corman optioned for a few shekels.

Verrell is beautiful, of course, but also believable as a tough cop with her hard look and slicked-back short hair. She looks and moves like an athlete, and does a few of her own stunts. Nothing really dangerous, but enough to establish herself as the character (more than can be said for Monique Gabrielle in the sequel, who couldn’t be less believable). Her acting is wooden as hell, but also arguably less important than her looks and athleticism in a Filipino action movie for Concorde Pictures.

Plenty of Santiago’s repertory company make it into the film, including Vic Diaz (FIRECRACKER), Henry Strzalkowski (FUTURE HUNTERS), Joseph Zucchero (ANGELFIST), and production designer Joe Mari Avellana (WHEELS OF FIRE), who plays Silk’s Japanese (!) colleague. It’s 1986, so Silk has her own theme song, belted out by an E.G. Daily soundalike. As mentioned above, Santiago made a 1989 sequel, predictably titled SILK 2, with Verrell replaced by Gabrielle (DEATHSTALKER II), who was more open-minded about doing nude scenes.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Eye Of The Eagle II: Inside The Enemy

Carl Franklin, a busy television actor in guest shots and regular gigs on CARIBE and MCCLAIN’S LAW, found time in his schedule to study directing at the AFI Conservatory. Upon graduation, he hooked up with Concorde Pictures head Roger Corman, who hired Franklin to direct his first feature, which turned out to be EYE OF THE EAGLE II. It’s an improvement over EYE OF THE EAGLE in that it has an actual story — Franklin and Dan Gagliasso (NAM ANGELS) take screenplay credit — and first-time director Franklin cares about it.

Literally from the opening shots, it’s clear this is not Cirio Santiago churning out a bunch of shots to make a schedule. While Franklin certainly was shooting quickly to make a schedule, his camera is fluid and his actors appear rehearsed, and no doubt FULL METAL JACKET was a major influence on both the story and shooting style. The result is a strong example of Corman’s general rule that, as long as the requisite sex and violence elements are present and the production remains on time and budget, he will leave the director alone.

Todd Field, who ditched acting to become the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of IN THE BEDROOM and LITTLE CHILDREN, stars in this Vietnam War drama as the sole survivor of a massacre who is sort of rescued by a young Vietnamese woman played by Shirley Tesoro (THE FIGHTER). While he’s recuperating from his injuries, his corrupt commanding officer (Andy Wood, one of THE ANNIHILATORS) kidnaps Tesoro and turns her on to dope and prostitution.

Instead of a revenge movie, which might have been more interesting from an action aspect, Franklin makes Field a passive hero (and a more believable one) who rescues Tesoro and spends the rest of the film getting the hell out of Dodge with Wood and his flunkies right on their tale.

With executive producer Santiago, the director of EYE OF THE EAGLE, presumably keeping a close watch on Corman’s new protege, EYE OF THE EAGLE II is a fine debut for Franklin, who also nicely plays a supporting role as a go-along-to-get-along colonel. While giving his boss the exploitation elements desired (Tesoro does some scenes topless), Franklin turns in a more sensitive film than is usual for the genre. Field isn’t the most commanding leading man, though that plays in his favor to some extent, because his character is not supposed to be a superman like, for instance, star Brett Clark in EYE OF THE EAGLE.

Speaking of, there was an actual sequel to EYE OF THE EAGLE called BEHIND ENEMY LINES, in which Robert Patrick reprised his John Ransom character. Why that film wasn’t called EYE OF THE EAGLE II, only Roger Corman knows. After two more Corman movies, Franklin directed the acclaimed crime films ONE FALSE MOVE and DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, and earned an Emmy nomination for an episode of HOUSE OF CARDS, making him one of the few mainstream successes from Corman’s Concorde years.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Blood Of Dracula's Castle

Al Adamson had few skills as a filmmaker, but one of his good decisions was using Castle Ranch, an actual stone castle built near Lancaster, California in the 1920s, as a location for BLOOD OF DRACULA’S CASTLE. Thanks in part to the additional production value, Adamson’s eight-day wonder, well shot by Laszlo Kovacs (who did EASY RIDER the same year!), is one of his best, which is to say it’s coherent, not unwatchable, and probably won’t put you to sleep. That’s a big win by Adamson standards.

Gene Shane (HELL’S BLOODY DEVILS) stars as a wiseass fashion photographer who inherits the castle from a late uncle. He takes his model girlfriend Jennifer Bishop (THE MALTESE BIPPY) to look it over, intending to move into it when they get married. Trouble is, the present tenants, middle-aged Alex D’Arcy (HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE) and Paula Raymond (THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS), don’t want to leave. Double trouble: they’re vampires who use butler John Carradine (THE ICE PIRATES), psycho Robert Dix (SATAN’S SADISTS), and mindless hulk Ray Young (BLUE SUNSHINE) to snatch young women and chain them in the cellar for use as a blood buffet. The dungeon is obviously a cheap plywood set at odds with the glamour of the real castle.

They may be in a cheap horror movie, but D’Arcy and Raymond play up their Old Hollywood allure in amusing performances. Dix’s character is so crazy that he takes the time — while being pursued by cops! — to drown a bikini girl he just happens to come across. Though it might have been a kick to see Carradine reprise his HOUSE OF DRACULA role, the fun that the veteran actors are having just hamming up screenwriter Rex Carlton’s (THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE) ridiculous dialogue is infectious to a point.

After all, it’s still an Al Adamson movie that opens with three minutes of Adamson regular Vicki Volante driving and walking while listening to the radio. Crown International released it in drive-ins on a double bill with NIGHTMARE IN WAX, which may be worse. Some prints have extra footage directed by Don Hulette (BREAKER BREAKER) in which Dix’s character is revealed as a werewolf. That must be a real howler.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ten From Your Show Of Shows

More than sixty years after YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS went off the air, it remains in the conversation when talk turns to the funniest television variety shows of all time. One indication of its high esteem is TEN FROM YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, a theatrically released film compiling ten of the series’ best sketches.

With a writing staff that included Neil Simon (THE ODD COUPLE), Mel Brooks (BLAZING SADDLES), Mel Tolkin (ALL IN THE FAMILY), Danny Simon (THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW), and Carl Reiner (THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW), YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS aired live for 90 minutes on Saturday nights from 1950 to 1954. It made stars of its four regulars — top dog Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Howard Morris, and Reiner — and won two Emmy Awards for Best Variety Program.

To learn why the show was so popular, TEN FROM YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS is an excellent starter package. Though the series was broadcast live every week from Manhattan, director/producer Max Liebman saved the kinescopes. Back when television networks were interested in their history, NBC would occasionally pull some clips for anniversary shows, but TEN provides the opportunity to see the series’ best sketches in their original form.

Picking a favorite is a tough call, but in the running are Coca’s jealous boyfriend Reiner tussling with innocent bystander (bysitter?) Caesar in a movie theater, leaving poor Sid confused, battered, and nearly naked; Caesar, Coca, Morris, and Reiner as figures on a rotating Bavarian clock that’s a textbook on comic timing; and a brilliant spoof of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. That none of the actors broke while performing such hilarious material is a testament to their professionalism (in contrast, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE comics will break if someone crosses their eyes), but “From Here to Obscurity” pushes Coca to her limit.

Caesar and Coca weren’t friends off-stage, but they’re one of television’s great comedy teams, both with marvelously expressive faces and masters of verbal dexterity. After YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS left the air, Reiner and Morris followed Caesar to CAESAR’S HOUR, another live variety show on NBC, while Coca did the one-season THE IMOGENE COCA SHOW.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Getting Even (1986)

Edward Albert (GALAXY OF TERROR) as Lee Horsley stars as Tag Taggar, a millionaire industrialist, helicopter pilot, kung fu expert, and all-around badass with a mustache and Texas twang who in no way resembles Matt Houston. American Distribution Group got GETTING EVEN into some theaters in 1986, but more people saw it on cable and VHS. Unfortunately, no legitimate DVD exists, so this fine action movie remains highly underrated.

Tag infiltrates Afghanistan and rescues a cache of deadly nerve gas, which he brings back to his Dallas lab to study. The feds, in the shapely form of Tag’s former squeeze Paige (DALLAS sexpot Audrey Landers, miscast), wants the nerve gas. So does Tag’s competition: evil rancher Kenderson (the great Joe Don Baker from WALKING TALL), who steals the gas from Tag’s lab and ransoms it for $30 million or else he’ll dump it over downtown Dallas.

Excellent gore makeup, including a juicy face-melting, demonstrate the gas’ effects. Regular doses of intentional humor and impressive stunts lift this Texas production above the bar for independent action movies. The director is Dwight H. Little, who moved on to entertaining action films with bigger budgets, such as RAPID FIRE (Brandon Lee), MARKED FOR DEATH (Steven Seagal), and MURDER AT 1600 (Wesley Snipes), as well as a long career in episodic television (THE PRACTICE, BONES, PRISON BREAK).

GETTING EVEN must have impressed the producers of Little’s later movies, as it demonstrates an ability to put thrilling action sequences on film without a lot of money. With help from veteran stunt coordinator Paul Baxley (Shatner’s double on STAR TREK being just one of his many credits), Little stages some terrific shootouts, chases, explosions, dangerous helicopter stunts, and an impressive finale with Albert crawling around the outside of Reunion Tower. The score by Christopher Young (SPIDER-MAN 3), reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith’s CAPRICORN ONE, is a tremendous asset.

Monday, January 01, 2018

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The best of four films (to date) inspired by Paul Gallico’s 1969 novel is the most faithful and the ultimate movie to curl up with on a chilly New Year’s Eve. The story is simple enough: a tsunami overturns a luxury cruise ship during a New Year’s part. The few survivors, mostly strangers to one another, have to work together to reach the “top” of the ship, which is above the surface of the ocean and, hopefully, where rescue crews will be waiting for them.

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE influenced a decade or more of “disaster movies” — big-budget thrillers with all-star casts trying to survive a major calamity — though one could argue AIRPORT is the genre’s true father. In any case, Irwin Allen, who was then famous for science fiction television, such as LOST IN SPACE and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, grabbed the football and ran with it, producing THE TOWERING INFERNO, THE SWARM, and WHEN TIME RAN OUT…, while other producers rolled out ROLLERCOASTER, TWO-MINUTE WARNING, THE HINDENBURG, EARTHQUAKE, AVALANCHE, and three AIRPORT sequels, among other disaster flicks, in short order.

While Allen’s THE TOWERING INFERNO is arguably the best of the lot, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE isn’t far behind. Boasting an excellent cast, eight Academy Award nominations, two Oscars (including a special award for its groundbreaking visual effects), a hit theme song (“The Morning After”), and a simple premise given dramatic weight by heavyweight scenarists Stirling Silliphant (IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT) and Wendell Mayes (DEATH WISH), Allen’s pioneering feature holds up decades later. A sequel, BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, followed, as did a made-for-television remake and a big-budget theatrical remake. Nobody remembers them fondly.

Gene Hackman, just off THE FRENCH CONNECTION, heads the excursion as a hip priest, who swears and wears turtlenecks, whose every decision is questioned by overbearing cop Ernest Borgnine (MARTY), who is insecure because his sexy younger wife (Stella Stevens) is an ex-prostitute. Melodramatic personal stories became a staple of the disaster genre. Thankfully THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE doesn’t get bogged down in minutes-killing flashbacks and soap opera antics, though the dialogue and some of the performances are awful.

Other survivors include middle-aged Jewish couple Shelley Winters (an Oscar nominee) and Jack Albertson (CHICO AND THE MAN), pretty teenager Pamela Sue Martin (THE LADY IN RED), waiter Roddy McDowall (CLEOPATRA), haberdasher Red Buttons (SAYONARA), and singer Carol Lynley (RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE). Trying to predict which stars make it to the end of the movie is part of the fun, as director Ronald Neame (METEOR — a notorious disaster-movie bomb) tosses all kinds of obstacles in their path. Why was there never a POSEIDON ADVENTURE video game?

The film’s highlight, aside from the astounding tsunami sequence involving dozens of stunts and thousands of gallons of water poured over the cast, is the portly Winters’ underwater swim of death, which is likely the scene that earned the two-time Oscar winner her fourth (and last) nomination (she lost to Eileen Heckart). John Williams’ Oscar-nominated score keeps the suspense high, and there’s fun in noticing Leslie Nielsen as the Poseidon’s captain, less than a decade before he spoofed the genre as the co-star of AIRPLANE!