Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Savage Wild (1970)

          An enterprising naturalist who served in a number of different creative roles on his films—actor, cinematographer, director, producer—Gordon Eastman made several pictures in the late ’60s and early ’70s about life in Wyoming and the Yukon. Some were marketed as documentaries and some were sold as fiction films, but if The Savage Wild is any indication, Eastman favored a hybrid style in which he fabricated scenes he wasn’t able to capture organically. Clearly, Eastman possessed some skill and tenacity, because The Savage Wild contains competently shot vignettes of animals frolicking in wilderness. Just as clearly, however, he lacked a distinctive point of view. In its dullest moments, The Savage Wild plays like an anemic imitation of countless similar pictures from Disney. And in its most exciting moments, of which there are precious few, The Savage Wild comes across like a shameless knockoff of Farley Mowat’s 1963 book Never Cry Wolf. (The real screen adaptation of Never Cry Wolf, released in 1983 by Disney, is one of the greatest outdoor films of all time.)
          Dragging along for 103 harmless but tiresome minutes, The Savage Wild mostly records Eastman’s attempts to raise wolf pups in captivity for vaguely scientific reasons. Over the course of the movie, he captures, nurtures, and releases two sets of wolves, occasioning lots of aww-inducing scenes of cute puppies growling and playing. Clumsily grafted onto the picture are badly acted dramatic scenes in which Eastman clashes with a professional wolf hunter, though the implied threat the hunter poses to the pups never materializes. Much of the film features post-production sound layered onto silent footage, so if you find Eastman’s narration dull, your patience will be tested. However, if the occasional glimpse of caribou coupling sounds interesting, The Savage Wild is for you. FYI, the other movies comprising Eastman’s quasi-fictional oeuvre are Never Look Back (1973) and Free as the Wind (1974), while his pure documentaries are High, Wild and Free (1968) and Trail of the Wild (1974).

The Savage Wild: FUNKY

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary (1975)

          Like George Romero’s disturbing Martin (1978), this low-budget shocker is a vampire movie without vampires. Starring the elegantly pretty Cristina Ferrare, Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary has as many weaknesses as it does strengths. On the positive side, the movie is mildly erotic and mildly spooky, with slick photography and evocative locations. On the minus side, the acting is sterile, the pacing is far too slow, and director Juan López Moctezuma lacks the breadth of visual imagination needed to put something like this across. Some viewers will lose interest partway through Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary because so much time elapses between exciting scenes, and it’s true that much of Ferrare’s appeal stems from her fashion-model beauty. Just as her performance suggests a world of emotional experience rather than properly expressing those emotions, the movie as a whole feels like a rough draft. Nonetheless, the film travels an interesting path by forcing viewers to ask whether the lead character is a supernatural monster or merely disturbed.
          Set in Mexico, the picture follows the travels of a painter named Mary (Ferrare), who has a nasty habit of murdering the men and women she meets. Specifically, she seduces them, weakens them with spiked drinks, then removes a hairpin and punctures their throats so she can drink their blood. Yet Mary feels conflicted about what she does, and she’s haunted by visions/memories of the mystery man (John Carradine) who triggered her murderous impulses. The particulars of the plot are neither clear nor significant, but the gist is that Mary falls for Ben (David Young) and tries to end her lethal cycle so she can be with him. Meanwhile, the mystery man chases Mary across Mexico, setting the stage for a final confrontation.
          In its best moments, Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary has something approaching an art-movie vibe. For instance, a long lesbian seduction scene features mirrors, striking costumes, and deliberate pacing. In its worst moments, Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary feels like drive-in schlock. One crude sequence features Mary writhing atop a lover/victim while the camera pointlessly cuts back and forth between Mary’s face and objects d’art around the room. Carradine’s appearance is especially problematic. In most scenes, his character is obviously portrayed by a stunt double. Moreover, the costuming of Carradine’s character recalls that of the old pulp character the Shadow, right down to the high collars and wide-brimmed hat. In sum, those who avoid this movie aren’t missing much—but those who give it a chance will discover an offbeat experience.

Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary: FUNKY

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Psycho Lover (1970)

There’s a real movie hidden beneath sexploitation sludge in The Psycho Lover, and some psychotronic-cinema fans make the case that The Psycho Lover is respectable compared to similar fare. But is improving just slightly over garbage really all that much of an accomplishment? Between interminably long rape, murder, and/or softcore-sex scenes, The Psycho Lover tells the story of psychiatrist Dr. Kenneth Alden (Lawrence Montaigne) and his deranged patient, Marco Everson (Frank Cuva). Throughout the first half of the picture, Marco kills various women and then, under hypnosis, tells Kenneth about the crimes. Even with pressure from cops, who identify Marco as a suspect, Kenneth seems disinclined to either tell authorities what he knows or use his influence to end the crime spree. Instead, Kenneth spends lots of time cavorting with his hottie girlfriend, Stacy (Elizabeth Plumb), even though he has a depressed wife, Valerie (Jo Anne Meredith), back home. One day, when Stacy somewhat randomly describes the plot of The Manchurian Candidate (1962) to Kenneth, he gets the notion of compelling Marco to murder Valerie. The movie’s halfway over by the time happens, so you get an idea of writer-director Robert Vincent O’Neill’s lackadaisical approach to pacing. That said, The Psycho Lover is not an incompetently made picture. The photography is decent, some of the acting is passable, and a few lines of dialogue are tasty. (Examining a crime scene, a cop says the following about a murderer: “I can smell him in this room, and the hairs on my ass stand on end every time I catch his scent.”) These attributes are insufficient to make watching the picture worth the trouble.

The Psycho Lover: LAME

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Sporting Club (1971)

          Things get weird fast in The Sporting Club, a wildly undisciplined adaptation of a novel by Thomas McGuane, who later became a screenwriter of offbeat films with Western themes. Here, the theme is actually Midwestern, though The Sporting Club certainly has enough eccentrics and iconoclasts to resonate with other films bearing McGuane’s name. The basic story is relatively simple. Rich white people gather at the Centennial Club, a hunting lodge in the Great Lakes region, for a drunken revel celebrating the club’s hundredth birthday. One of the club’s youngest members, an unhinged trust-fund brat named Vernur Stanton (Robert Fields), has a scheme to destroy the club from within while making a grand statement about class divisions in American society. Vernur fires the club’s longtime groundskeeper and hires a volatile blue-collar thug as a replacement, injecting a dope-smoking X-factor into the uptight culture of the Centennial Club. Yet the plot is only the slender thread holding the movie together. More intriguing and more prominent are myriad subplots, as well as bizarre satirical scenes featuring the aging members of the Centennial Club devolving into savagery.
          If it’s possible to imagine a quintessentially American film that should have been directed by British maniac Ken Russell, The Sporting Club is that movie. Like one of Russell’s perverse freakouts, The Sporting Club puts a funhouse mirror to polite society, revealing all the grotesque aspects that are normally hidden from view. And like many of Russell’s films, The Sporting Club spirals out of control at regular intervals.
          Here’s a relatively innocuous example. Early in the picture, Vernur and his best friend, James Quinn (Nicolas Coster), wander from the Centennial Club to a nearby dam, where the (unidentified) president of the United States makes a public appearance. Vernur and James sneak onto a tour bus left empty by Shriners watching the president, then trash the bus and commandeer it for a presidential drive-by during which Vernur moons the commander-in-chief. The scene raises but does not answer many questions related to character motivation and logistics. And so it goes throughout The Sporting Club. Outrageous things happen, but it’s anybody’s guess what makes the people in this movie tick or even, sometimes, how one event relates to the next. Very often, it seems is if connective tissue is missing. In some scenes, James makes passes at Vernur’s girlfriend, and in other scenes, he’s involved with the local hottie sent to clean his lodge. Huh? And we haven’t even gotten to Vernur’s fetish for vintage dueling pistols, the time capsule containing century-old pornography, or the climactic scene involving a machine gun and an orgy.
          As directed by journeyman Larry Peerce and written by versatile wit Lorenzo Semple Jr., The Sporting Club has several deeply interesting scenes and a few vivid performances. Coster, familiar to ’70s fans as a character actor, does subtle work in the film’s quiet scenes, even though the nature of his overall role is elusive. Conversely, the great Jack Warden is compelling to watch as the replacement groundskeeper, even though he’s spectacularly miscast—more appropriate casting would have been Kris Kristofferson, who plays a similar role in the equally bizarre Vigilante Force (1976). The lively ensemble also includes Richard Dysart, Jo Ann Harris, James Noble, and Ralph Waite.
          There’s a seed of something provocative hidden inside the bewildering action of The Sporting Club, and one imagines the folks behind the movie envisioned a provocative generation-gap farce. What they actually made is a disjointed oddity with lots of drinking, sex, violence, and pretentious speechifying.

The Sporting Club: FREAKY

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Body Shop (1973)

At some point during this mindless gorefest, a local cop knocks on the door of the castle-like mansion where a mad scientist performs unholy surgery. The scientist answers the door politely, so the cop makes an inquiry: “You’re not doing anything illegal, are you?” “No,” the scientist says, “I’m a doctor.” Inexplicably satisfied with that answer, the cop says, “Well, I hope I didn’t bother you.” Huh? As goes that idiotic scene, so goes the rest of this unwatchable movie, which is sometimes known as Doctor Gore. Written and directed by J.D. Patterson Jr., who also plays the leading role, the picture concerns a medical man determined to replace his deceased wife with a simulacrum. Aided by his hunchbacked assistant (yes, really), the doctor seduces and murders young women, then cuts up their bodies with the intention of building a new bride for himself. Variations on the same ridiculous presence are nearly as old as Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein (1818), in which the monster demands a mate, so Patterson doesn’t get any points for originality. Nor does he deserve praise for anything else—from acting to directing to writing, everything he does here is inept. For instance, what’s with periodically cutting to portly country singer Bill Hicks, who repeatedly croons the song “A Heart Dies Every Minute”? And what’s with those dull montages of Patterson, as the doctor, making out with curvy young women? Excepting some quasi-realistic gore, this flick runs the gamut from incompetent to indulgent. Luckily, Patterson only made one more movie, The Electric Chair (1976).

The Body Shop: SQUARE

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Blood Stalkers (1976)

          It’s probably best to begin by listing all the things this low-budget horror flick is not. Despite the title, the subject matter doesn’t concern vampires or zombies or any other plasma-craving monsters. And lest any of the following remarks give a different impression, Blood Stalkers is not a good movie by any measure. It’s amateurish and goofy and sluggish, burdened with clichéd characters and trite dramatic situations. Having said all that, Blood Stalkers has tangential connections to Bigfoot, who was very much in vogue at the time this picture was released, and the picture hits its stride as a nihilistic shocker during the final 30 minutes or so. All of which is to say that if you dig the elements contained herein, Blood Stalkers makes for an adequate empty-calories snack.
          The sketchy narrative begins with two couples driving into the Everglades for a vacation. Mike (Jerry Albert) recently inherited a remote cabin, and he’s brought his reluctant wife, Kim (Toni Crabtree), and their friends Daniel (Ken Miller) and Jeri (Celea Ann Cole) along for the ride. Upon arriving in swamp country, Mike clashes with a grubby gas-station proprietor (Herb Goldstein), who gives the standard get-outta-here-if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you rap. Naturally, because he’s a character in a dumb horror movie, Mike ignores the advice. Things get weird immediately thereafter, because three gun-toting slobs, who look less like Deliverance rejects and more like members of a redneck militia, show up at the gas station to wave guns at the newcomers. Again, Mike proceeds despite the clear danger to himself and his friends, which means that logic is not a factor in what follows. After Mike’s group settles into the cabin, they’re frightened by mysterious creatures that are referred to by locals as “blood stalkers,” whatever that means. The siege grows more intense each passing night, with hairy Bigfoot-like monsters eventually putting their hands on members of Mike’s group.
          Eventually, the movie develops a queasy sort of tension because things get ultraviolent, complete with over-the-top gore. None of it makes much sense, but it’s hard to look away from bizarre scenes featuring slow-mo chases and cuts to gospel singers. (Don’t ask.) And while the onscreen Bigfoot stuff is a bit of a tease, the offscreen connection to Sasquatch lore is real. Robert W. Morgan, who wrote and directed Blood Stalkers in addition to playing one of the menacing rednecks, appeared in several ’70s documentaries as a self-proclaimed Bigfoot hunter. He cut a memorably ridiculous figure in those projects, so it’s unsurprising that Blood Stalkers, his sole directorial effort, is simultaneously earnest and stupid. For better or worse (mostly worse), Morgan approached his contributions to ’70s pop culture with fierce commitment.

Blood Stalkers: FUNKY

Monday, December 11, 2017

Tears of Happiness (1974)

          In the ’70s, Armenian-American filmmaker Sarky Maroudian made three melodramas starring singer/actor Manuel Manankichian—and while the following remarks pertain to Tears of Happiness, which appears to be the first and most widely seen of their collaborations, one imagines that Promise of Love (1974) and Sons of Sassoun (1975), neither of which were available for review, are roughly equivalent. Tears of Happiness, which is mostly in Armenian but has a few scenes in English, is a somewhat primitive piece of work, competent but marred by iffy performances and a weak storyline. Yet bitching about anemic plotting probably misses the point, because it’s not as if anyone ever bought tickets for an Elvis picture expecting profound insights into the human condition. Like myriad other musicals designed to showcase singers, Tears of Happiness is a one-dimensional showbiz saga that follows a predictable path to a crowd-pleasing payoff, with many tuneful detours along the way.
          When the picture starts, Raffi (Manankichian) is a boorish, willful singer-songwriter who treats his young wife, Silvia (Sosi Kodjian), terribly, even striking her one night when she fails to keep their infant child quiet while he’s trying to compose a song. Silva leaves Raffi, prompting him to do some soul-searching. What happens thereafter is strictly formulaic: Without Silva’s love to ground him, Raffi finds fame but loses his integrity until realizing he’s been a fool and winning Silva back.
          An unkind review would note that Tears of Happiness often lapses into self-parody. Director Maroudian’s idea of a deep scene is to have someone cry or mope near water—a fountain, an ocean, a river—in vignettes that usually comprise only two shots, one of the actor and one of the water. This device feels particularly enervated during musical passages that drag on for several minutes. The acting is as crude and obvious as the filmmaking, so the big reunion scene (not-really-a-spoiler alert!) consists of Raffi wandering through woods and shouting Silva’s name until they somehow find each other in the wilderness. Still, Maroudian and his collaborators showed enterprise by creating specialty content for an underserved demographic, and some fans undoubtedly savor this document of Manankichian in his prime.

Tears of Happiness: FUNKY

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sammy Stops the World (1978)

          It’s tempting to wonder what sort of box-office expectations the producers of this filmed stage production had, because Sammy Stops the World radiates sensibilities associated with the mid-’60s rather than sensibilities associated with the late ’70s. Did anyone really think the public was hungry for a dated musical starring an old-fashioned entertainer? In any event, Sammy Stops the World failed to restore Sammy Davis Jr. to the big-screen popularity he enjoyed in the ’60s, and has since fallen into obscurity. Seen today, it’s perhaps best appreciated as a record of Davis’ incredible stamina, though casual fans might prefer tracking down concert footage of Davis’ familiar hits. Instead of “Candy Man” and “I Gotta Be Me,” Sammy Stops the World comprises unmemorable songs by UK tunesmiths Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, of Doctor Dolittle and Willy Wonka fame. That’s because Sammy Stops the World records a performance of Davis in the 1966 Bricusse/Newley show Stop the World—I Want to Get Off. The most famous tune to emerge from the musical is “What Kind of Fool,” not to be confused with the Barry Gibb song of the same name popularized by Barbra Streisand.
          Performing against a circus-themed backdrop and accompanied by a small cast of singers and dancers, Davis plays Littlechap, an everyman whose life journey forms a ham-fisted satire about modern existence. He gets married, takes a soul-sucking job to pay the bills, and sells out his principles for professional and social advancement, eventually becoming so adept at telling people what they want to hear that he becomes President of the United States. Periodically, Littlechap addresses the audience by exclaiming “Stop the world!” and uttering introspective asides. Eventually, the story resolves into a moral lesson because Littlechap rediscovers his integrity at a crucial moment.
          The fashionable anti-Establishment lingo of the original play was reconfigured slightly for Davis, hence some awkward references to race relations. (The performance in this film, recorded in Long Beach, California, was part of a national tour.) As a movie experience, Sammy Stops the World is underwhelming at best, exhausting at worst. Davis works his ass off, but he also mugs shamelessly and milks emotional moments—which is to say that he offers his usual shtick. And while his leather-lunged belting is physically impressive, it’s not particularly artful. Worse, the show doesn’t properly showcase his remarkable dancing. Incidentally, mention should be made of costar Marian Mercer, who plays multiple roles, since she performs the show’s cutesy dialogue and lyrics with welcome edginess.

Sammy Stops the World: FUNKY

Saturday, December 9, 2017

God’s Bloody Acre (1975)

There’s a decent idea for an exploitation flick buried in here, because the premise is that hillbillies who have lived illegally in the wilderness for an extended period of time fight back once government developers try to clear the land for creation of a park. Alas, the filmmakers avoid the obvious path of making the hillbillies sympathetic, instead portraying them as dimwitted maniacs. Worse, the filmmakers provide the hillbillies with a steady supply of victims by contriving subplots about folks wandering into the woods during the killing spree. To a one, the characters in God’s Bloody Acre are stereotypical and underdeveloped, so it’s impossible to care what happens to anyone onscreen, though of course basic human empathy kicks in once the final survivors of the ordeal seem close to becoming victims. In any event, God’s Bloody Acre represents many of the worst tropes in horror cinema, reveling in violence against women (there’s an endless scene of a young lady getting her throat cut) while reinforcing demeaning clichés about rural populations. Oh, and just for good measure, the picture throws in a little racism, because, naturally, the three black guys driving a Rolls-Royce are violent thieves who rob every white person they encounter. In the spirit of trying to say something kind, director Harry Kerwin manages a few clever scene transitions, and the vignette of a fellow getting chopped in two by a bulldozer blade is nasty. But in all the usual ways for this sort of junk, God’s Bloody Acre is boring, cheap, dumb, and unsavory.

God’s Bloody Acre: LAME

Friday, December 8, 2017

Meatcleaver Massacre (1977)

Here’s the most striking scene in this atrocious horror flick—for several anguished moments, a young man contemplates suicide while holding a straight razor over his wrist, then abruptly says, “Oh, Jesus, I’m late for work,” sets the razor down, and zooms off to start his day. Need it even be mentioned that he’s alone in his apartment, so it’s unclear to whom he directed that line? Finding a morbidly funny non sequitur is about the only enjoyment one can derive from watching Meatcleaver Massacre, a supernatural-themed revenge saga that not only lacks any scenes featuring meatcleavers, but also lacks any scenes featuring demons, even though characters talk endlessly about them. The plot is simple enough: After several college students beat up a professor who teaches classes in the occult, the professor summons a demon to menace his attackers. Alas, the plot accounts for only a portion of what appears onscreen. In some scenes, characters run around as if they’re being pursued, and in other scenes, characters experience psychological freakouts that are presented like acid trips. None of what happens is interesting, very little of it makes sense, and none of it is scary. Basically incoherent beyond the opening scenes that set up the relationship between the professor and his tormenters, Meatcleaver Massacre offers just one familiar actor, horror-cinema icon Christopher Lee. But don’t get your hopes up—he appears only briefly at the beginning and end, sitting in an office while reciting eerie mumbo-jumbo factoids. Apparently Lee shot the footage for a separate movie, and the producer of that never-completed flick sold Lee’s clips to the folks behind Meatcleaver Massacre, prompting Lee to explore litigation. If only he’d successfully injoined the film from being shown anywhere.

Meatcleaver Massacre: SQUARE

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Every Little Crook and Nanny (1972)

          Every Little Crook and Nanny is a deeply mediocre crime comedy based on a novel by Evan Hunter and featuring a random assortment of familiar actors. The stars are studio-era hunk Victor Mature, taking a break from retirement to play a caricatured mobster; versatile British actress Lynn Redgrave, still desperately trying to pick a lane in Hollywood; and sad-eyed Paul Sand, one of the most distinctively neurotic screen personalities of the early ’70s. Abetting the main actors are a slew of minor players from film and TV of the era: John Astin, Severn Darden, Dom DeLuise, Pat Harrington Jr., Pat Morita, Austin Pendleton, Isabel Sanford, Vic Tayback, and more. The story moves briskly, the jokes are (mostly) inoffensive, and watching these actors is like noshing on comfort food. In other words, even though Every Little Crook and Nanny is substandard, watching the picture is a tolerable experience.
          At the top of the story, goons working for mobster Carmine Ganucci (Mature) forcibly evict etiquette teacher Miss Poole (Redgrave) from her longtime storefront, so she vows revenge. Poole talks her way into a job as a nanny for Carmine’s young son just before Carmine departs for a trip to Europe. Then Poole conspires with her dimwitted accomplice, Luther (Pendleton), to kidnap the boy and squeeze Carmine for ransom. Coproducer, cowrtier, and director Cy Howard, a longtime comedy pro, keeps things humming with abundant physical comedy, plentiful punch lines, and short scenes. Hilarity is elusive, but the movie aims to please—and with so many gifted comic actors in the cast, some moments, particularly those with Pendleton and Sand, nearly connect. It will come as no surprise to say the movie fails to create emotional engagement, though Howard scores a few glancing blows with his portrayal of Carmine’s son as a lonely boy desperate to form real human relationships.
         As for the leads, Mature and Redgrave are smooth in different ways—he struts through scenes with a pleasant I-don’t-give-a-shit swagger, and she churns through complicated dialogue with grace. It doesn’t really matter that neither of their characters is remotely believable, since Every Little Crook and Nanny is basically a live-action cartoon. Is the picture frenetic and overstuffed, representing a desperate attempt to substitute constant noise for substance? Of course. And is there any compelling reason for movie fans to seek out this forgotten studio release? Certainly not. But if Every Little Crook or Nanny somehow crosses your path, it will offers 92 minutes of pointless silliness.

Every Little Crook and Nanny: FUNKY

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Guns of a Stranger (1973)

Beyond his success as a country singer, Marty Robbins occasionally acted, for instance starring in the short-lived Western series The Drifter (1965–1966). This movie, which contains Robbins’ last leading performance, is a quasi-continuation of that series, because Robbins stars as a former sheriff who goes by the nickname “Drifter.” Envision an anemic rehash of the plot from Shane (1953), and you know roughly what to expect here. Kind but tough Matthew (Robbins) leaves law enforcement for life on the roam, then happens upon a family in trouble. Elderly Tom Duncan (Chill Wills) isn’t up to the task of protecting his grandchildren, pretty twentysomething Virginia (Dovie Beams) and impressionable grade-schooler Danny (Steven Tackett), from generic frontier varmints. Seeing injustice sparks Matthew to action—sort of. Among the most casually paced Western movies ever made, Guns of a Stranger meanders from one inconsequential event to the next, so viewers never get a sense of impending danger. In fact, the movie frequently stops dead so Matthew can warble a tune or impart a life lesson to the worshipful Danny. Storytelling this vapid went out with Gene Autry, and matters are made worse by the excruciatingly bad supporting performances; although Robbins is competent, Wills is well past his prime and Beams is stunningly awful. Guns of a Stranger is so enervated that it verges on accidental comedy at times, as when Matthew participates in a lengthy but pointless bare-knuckle brawl or when he sings a lullaby to a group of cows.

Guns of a Stranger: LAME

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Killer’s Delight (1978)

Clichéd, tedious, and unpleasant, crime thriller Killer’s Delight offers a weak recitation of tropes familiar to anyone who’s ever watched an obsessed-cop story. The hero clashes with people who think he’s lost perspective, a beautiful woman is used as bait to trap a killer, and murder scenes are depicted in such loving detail that the movie often seems like a celebration of psychosis instead of a tribute to dogged law enforcement. Killer’s Delight is relatively well made, with competent photography spiced by extensive location work in San Francisco. Furthermore, costar Susan Sullivan—best known for her long TV career—endeavors to both deliver a proper performance and maintain her dignity. That she mostly succeeds matters little. The movie around her is so brainless and ugly that even an Oscar-worthy acting turn wouldn’t have been sufficient to redeem the overall enterprise. As for the plot, out-of-town detective Vince (James Luisi) tracks a psycho to the Bay Area, then enlists help from the SFPD as well as from his mistress, Carol (Sullivan), a doctor who moonlights as a lounge singer. Despite allegedly being extrapolated from real case files, Killer’s Delight travels a familiar path, right down to the bit where the psychopath freaks out upon learning the police think he’s an impotent creep with mommy issues. As goes the portrayal of the murderer, so goes the rest of the movie—everything in Killer’s Delight is formulaic, predictable, and uninteresting, like an episode of a bad cop show but with a few extra jolts of big-screen sex and violence. Even the bummer ending falls flat, since it makes the hero seem like a reckless idiot instead of a dauntless crusader—this movie isn’t weighty enough to support an ambiguous climax.

Killer’s Delight: LAME

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ash Wednesday (1973)

          Had anyone but Elizabeth Taylor played the lead in this enervated melodrama, it would be completely uninteresting. As is, the minor appeal of Ash Wednesday stems from the way a generation of moviegoers fell in love with Taylor as a child actress, devoured reports of her scandal-sheet lifestyle, and watched with unending curiosity as she evolved from a breathtaking beauty to a merely attractive woman of a certain age. Many of Taylor’s films in the late ’60s and early ’70s concern women struggling to remain sexually vital in their middle years, none more so than Ash Wednesday, which revolves around a woman who gets a facelift in order to win back her unfaithful husband’s affection. Accordingly, those who decode this film for parallels to Taylor’s offscreen personas will find it mildly intriguing. Such was the power of old-fashioned movie stardom. Just as John Wayne fans tolerated substandard movies in order to huff his masculine charisma, so too did Taylor devotees endure hours of aimless Eurotrash just to savor her complicated mixture of fragility and glamour.
          The painfully slow-moving Ash Wednesday opens with Barbara Sawyer (Taylor) visiting a European clinic for a facelift and other cosmetic procedures. Soon, clips from real surgery are shown, so queasy viewers will have to look away. Later, while recuperating, Barbara becomes friends with flamboyant photographer David (Keith Baxter) while awaiting the arrival of her husband, Mark (Henry Fonda). Since she kept her surgery plans secret, all Mark knows is that she’s been on holiday in Europe for several weeks. Unwilling to accept all the obvious clues that her marriage is over, Barbara becomes so lonely awaiting Mark—who delays his arrival several times—that she has an affair of her own, thinking jealousy might shock Mark’s system. Ultimately, the whole storyline is a slow burn to Barbara’s painful reunion with her husband.
          Listing the movie’s shortcomings does not require much effort. The characterizations are thin, the pacing is absurdly dull, and the supporting performances are perfunctory. Furthermore, while we can empathize with Barbara’s anguish, one is hard-pressed to believe that a character played by Elizabeth Taylor at any age has been so starved of romantic attention that she has grown to doubt her own comeliness. (Sure, the deeper reason she gets the surgery is that her self-identity is wrapped up in her marriage, but this isn’t a story about someone getting therapy—it’s about a facelift.) Despite these significant faults, Taylor invests her performance with just enough confusion and pathos to make a few moments feel authentic. Oddly, this is not only one of her most unvarnished performances but also one of her most vain—after all, the real love story here isn’t between Barbara and Mark, but rather between Taylor and her own beauty.

Ash Wednesday: FUNKY

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Women Unchained (1974)

Some devotees of trash cinema see virtues in this exploitation flick about ladies on the run after escaping prison, but those virtues escaped my notice. Perhaps fans of Women Unchained—also known as Five Angry Women—appreciate the way that much of the film comprises scenes of the characters talking about their feelings and personal histories. Fair enough, but for the fact that each character is a cheap writerly contrivance rather than a sincerely crafted mechanism for dramatizing harsh realities. Baby (Carolyn Judd) is a tough criminal trying to reconnect with the younger sister she hasn’t seen in years, while Tina (Darlene Mattingly) feels anguish because she was convicted for euthanizing her ailing mother. Other characters include a lesbian who feels timid about expressing her sexuality, a stereotypical smartass African-American convict, and so on. A real social drama has fully dimensional characters trapped in believable circumstances. Woman Unchained seems more like half-hearted junk rendered by people who are ashamed of what theyre doing. The picture is neither credible enough to take seriously, nor sleazy enough to enjoy as a guilty pleasure. The rotten soundtrack doesn’t help, because background tunes range from maudlin country to the sludgy rock. And would it have killed the filmmakers to inject humor once in a while? Still, I take no pleasure in maligning Women Unchained, since the picture avoids much of the usual women-in-prison sexploitation ugliness. Yet with nothing of merit in place of cheap thrills, the only possible reaction is indifference.

Women Unchained: LAME

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Fairy Tales (1978)

Twisting children’s stories to insert adult subject matter is nothing new, so it’s not as if Fairy Tales—a sleazy sex comedy with musical numbers—gets points for novelty. In fact, it doesn’t get points for much of anything, though an honest review must acknowledge that perhaps one of every hundred jokes approaches wit. Furthermore, a couple of the songs are executed competently. Beyond those not-worth-the-trouble attributes, Fairy Tales is dreary. A prince awakes on his 21st birthday and discovers expectations that he will soon copulate, presumably as a means of demonstrating his ability to produce heirs, so three old men—his “sexperts”—provide a compliant woman who strips off her clothes and mounts the prince. He fails to perform, explaining that he only has eyes (and sex drive) for someone named Princess Beauty, occasioning a quest to find her. Along the way, the prince meets a horny Little Bo Peep (“I’m up to my ass in smelly old sheep!”), an oversexed Snow White (who sings about her “seven times a night” living arrangement), a frustrated Jill (turns out Jack is gay), and, eventually, the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe. She’s a madam, and her shoe is a brothel with lots of kinky BDSM chambers. (The Andrews Sisters-type number featuring naked dominatrixes is particularly distasteful.) Like other low-budget sex comedies of the ’70s, Fairy Tales is so boring to watch that one’s mind wanders to questions about the film’s creation. How did the producers find so many women willing to humiliate themselves onscreen? Why did so many has-been and/or never-were comedians agree to participate? And what the hell is Motown singer Martha Reeves doing here as a witchy chick singing a disco number from inside a smoking cauldron? Whatever. Even contemplating these notions for a moment requires giving Fairy Tales more time than it deserves.

Fairy Tales: LAME

Friday, December 1, 2017

Satan War (1979)

Years after his minor career as a TV actor sputtered, Bart La Rue directed his first and only fictional feature. It’s beyond terrible. Satan War, which is padded with long vignettes at the beginning and end, largely concerns a couple enduring torments after moving into a new house that appears to be haunted. Said torments manifest in silly ways, as when brown goop oozes from the stove or the cross on the wall spins upside down as if moved by invisible hands. Through it all, the idiotic residents act as if the haunting problem will solve itself. Or at least that’s how they behave until hooded cultists enter the house with knives. Where the story goes from there is . . . well, for lack of a better word, it’s stupid, but that’s par for the course in Satan War, among the dullest movies ever to invoke the Prince of Darkness in a title. Even those who relish rotten cinema are likely to get bored waiting for things to happen during the main storyline, since most of Satan War’s train-wreck appeal resides in the prologue and epilogue. The prologue is a cheaply filmed black mass that for reasons beyond comprehension includes lots of interpretive dance, and the epilogue—basically the same shot played on an interminable loop for about 10 minutes—features a voodoo priestess gyrating to the rhythm of tribal music. Fair warning: You may start the picture loving the John Carpenter-ish score, but by the time you’ve heard the same three or four abrasive cues several times each, you’ll be ready to scream, and not because you’re frightened.

Satan War: SQUARE

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Happy Mother’s Day, Love George (1973)

          Despite a storyline that devolves from muddy to nonsensical, the mystery/horror flick Happy Mother’s Day, Love George is moderately interesting to watch because of its colorful cast, and also because it qualifies as a minor cinematic footnote: This is the only fictional feature directed by actor Darren McGavin. Although he doesn’t appear in the film, those who do include Ron Howard, Cloris Leachman, Patricia Neal, and McGvin’s costar from Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Simon Oakland. Some are able to find more clarity in the material than others, with Howard’s characterization suffering the worst ill effects of the dodgy storytelling, but each actor has at least a vivid moment or two. How these moments coalesce doesn’t matter all that much, because by the time Happy Mother’s Day, Love George reaches its absurd climax, so many bizarre and inexplicable things have happened that believability, logic, and suspense have evoporated. Depending on one’s level of involvement with the viewing experience, the final stretch of the picture is likely to trigger either amusement or bewilderment. Nonetheless, getting there isn’t the worst experience.
          In a small town on the Northeastern coast, young drifter Johnny Hanson (Howard) shows up one day asking questions about the past. Turns out his mother is greasy-spoon proprietress Rhonda (Leachman), who gave him up years previous, an action to which Rhonda’s domineering sister, Cara (Neal), was party. At the same time Johnny dredges up old secrets, local cop Roy (Oakland) investigates a series of unsolved murders, tagging Johnny as a suspect. There’s also some weird business with Johnny’s cousin, Celia (Tessa Dahl), who sports a British accent and takes Johnny as a lover. Oh, and singer/actor Bobby Darin is in here, too, playing Rhonda’s husband.
          The movie has solid production values and some fine location photography, but the inept storytelling renders nearly all the commendable elements moot. For instance, even though Neal is forceful as a bitchy and delusional matriarch, the contours of her relationships with other people are mostly perplexing. Furthermore, the third-act switch from twisted domestic intrigue to Edgar Allan Poe-style horror is whiplash-inducing. Yet with so many talented people participating, including screenwriter Robert Clouse (later the director of several enjoyable genre pictures), it’s tempting to examine this misfire and ponder what the original intentions might have been. Surely, at some point, rational people thought this piece would work.

Happy Mother’s Day, Love George: FUNKY