Foolin’ Around (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Redneck falls for hottie.

Wes (Gary Busey) is a college student who has moved from Oklahoma to Minnesota to attend the university. Desperate for some extra cash he takes part in a program run by the student science department where he gets strapped to a chair and given an electrical shock every time he gives a ‘right’ answer. The procedure is facilitated by Susan (Annette O’Toole) who’s an attractive coed there. Wes is immediately smitten, but finds himself in an uphill battle as she is already engaged to Whitley (John Calvin) an obnoxious stuck-up social climbing man whose equally arrogant mother (Cloris Leachman) wants her to have nothing to do with Wes and tries to completely shut him out of her life.

Although far from a critic darling this obscurity still manages to have a few funny scenes. The best are Wes’s encounters with Whitley particularly when Whitley tries parking his car in wet cement or trying to subdue an out-of-control carpet cleaner in his office. Wes’s conversation with Susan’s grandfather (Eddie Albert) high up on the edge of a skyscraper under construction is nerve-wracking particularly when Albert walks out to the end of a beam hundreds of feet up and then challenges Busey to do the same. The film also has a unique car chase that features an automobile made to look like a giant hot dog as well as a hang gliding segment through the Minneapolis skyline that is downright exhilarating.

Busey does well as an amiable doofus in a part that seems best suited for his acting ability. O’Toole is at the peak of her beauty and Leachman manages to get a few choice moments as the meddling mother. Tony Randall is fun as a snooty butler with a French accent and it’s great to see William H. Macy in an early, but brief part near the beginning.

The on-location shooting done in the state of Minnesota adds some verve particularly the segment done on the sidelines of an actual Vikings-Rams football game. Unfortunately the script is threadbare with certain gags that become labored and lame and a romantic angle that is sappy and contrived. It is also hard to believe that Susan would for even a remote second consider marrying the Whitley character who is a one-dimensional arrogant asshole to the extreme. It is even more absurd that she would fall in-love with Wes as she is clearly out of his league both physically and intellectually and it’s about as farfetched as Busey ever one day winning the Academy Award.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 17, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard T. Heffron

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

The Midnight Man (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Security guard solves case.

Jim Slade is a 60-year-old out on parole after serving time for killing his wife’s lover. He finds a ho-hum job as a security guard at a local university and soon gets swept up in a murder mystery when a coed (Catherine Bach) is found dead. The local cops nab the town pervert (Charles Tyner) and take him into custody, but Slade is convinced they have the wrong man and goes on a crusade to find the right one only to realize that there are far more suspects than he initially expected and no one no matter who they are is quite innocent.

Many critics at the time and some viewers complained that the mystery was too involved and a bit confusing however I was able to follow it and it manages to remain intriguing enough to be entertaining, but it’s still no better than an average episode of Columbo. The film also doesn’t have enough action although the part where Lancaster finds himself trapped in a rural barn and must use whatever implement he can find to fight off a trio of rednecks and their ferocious dog is nifty.

On the technical end the film is a bore and looks unsuitable for the big screen. Writer Roland Kibbee in his only directorial effort shows no flair for visual style filming scenes in places with dull and ordinary backdrops and fails to capitalize on its South Carolina location where it was shot. The soundtrack though by Dave Grusin is distinctive and the one thing that shows verve, energy and feel and I wished it had been played more particularly the part at the beginning.

Lancaster, who also co-produced and co-wrote the script, walks through his part in an almost comatose state and the fact that his character seems so very on-top of his game in this investigation leaves little doubt in the viewer’s mind that he will ultimately solve the case, which isn’t as interesting. For a character that is so savvy he does make one glaring error when he finds a dead body in his car and fearing that he will be fingered for it decides to put the body inside a nearby hotel room, which seems foolish. For one thing to check into the room he would have had to have faced a hotel clerk who could’ve easily recognized him for the police later and he also doesn’t wear any gloves leaving his fingerprints all over the room when simply dumping the body in a wooded area would have made much more sense.

Out of the entire cast Cameron Mitchell shows the most energy and it certainly is fun to see Bach in her film debut and years before she became Daisy Duke playing a foul-mouthed, snippy college student. Although she has no nude scenes there is a painting of her naked likeness shown at one point, which may be good enough for some viewers.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 14, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roland Kibbee

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

To Find a Man (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen wants an abortion.

Rosalind (Pamela Sue Martin) is a teenager attending an all-girls Catholic school who finds out that she is pregnant. She can’t tell her parents (Lloyd Bridges, Phyllis Newman) and some of the advice that her girlfriends give prove to be useless. She decides she wants an abortion, but doesn’t know where to go so she turns to one of her guy friends named Andy (Darren O’Connor) who is a bright student and a little more sophisticated. After being scolded by his family’s live-in maid Modesta (Antonia Rey) as being too selfish he decides to go out of his way to help Rosalind with her problem even if at times she seems to have no appreciation for it.

I know the phrase ‘they don’t make movies like this anymore’ has become a modern-day axiom especially when reviewing films from this era, but in this case it fits, but not for the expected reasons. In a lot of ways this is far more open-minded about the controversial subject than anything you might see today. It manages to nicely avoid the political issues and instead tells a refreshingly realistic story about teenage friendship that respects the intelligence of its intended audience without ever getting preachy or overly-sanitized.

The film also manages to be surprisingly funny particularly at the beginning when Rosalind and her naïve friends come up with all sorts of insane ways to try to terminate the pregnancy on their own, which may sound potentially offensive to some, but somehow scriptwriter Arnold Schulman and director Buzz Kulick balance it well enough to keep it an innocuous level. They also manage later on to shift it seamlessly towards the serious side as it shows in vivid detail the cold, ‘business-like’ attitude of those working at an abortion clinic and the impersonal way they treat people that come to it.

Martin in her film debut is excellent playing a character that is not necessarily likable, but still quite human and believable for that age. O’Connor in his one and only film appearance is equally good and it’s great to see a teen lead that is smart without being particularly fashionable, trendy or attractive.

Bridges is great as the girl’s father and the unique friendship that he has with O’Connor is quite interesting. Ewell is a standout as the abortionist in the final sequence that manages to be stark, compelling and strangely moving.

In a lot of ways this is more a story about the flawed human beings that we all are and how sometimes when its least expected they can do some amazingly selfless acts in this slice-of-life of film that is surprisingly both touching and upbeat. It is also quite similar to Our Time, which came out 2 years later and also starred Martin.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: January 20, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Buzz Kulik

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Loving Couples (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody is fooling around.

The marriage between Evelyn and Walter (Shirley MacLaine, James Coburn) has grown stale. When dashing womanizer Greg (Stephen Collins) sets his sights on Evelyn and makes a play for her she is all too happy to take him up on it. Then Greg’s girlfriend Stephanie (Susan Sarandon) finds out about the affair and tries to put a stop to it by informing Walter only to find that they have a special chemistry and soon they are in a relationship as well, but the more time the couples spend with their new mates the more they end up longing for their old ones.

The flat, unoriginal script was written by famed TV-show writer Martin Donovan and is not worthy for even a second-rate sitcom. Outside of a brief amusing segment where Walter demonstrates to Stephanie how to perform brain surgery by using a hamburger bun as a patient’s cranium there is nothing much that is funny. The plot itself is dull and placid and becomes increasingly more boring as it goes along.

The Greg character and how the women respond to him is a big issue. His methods at seduction could easily get him charged with harassment or stalking these days, but he is also an obvious player and yet Shirley MacLaine’s character still gets into a relationship with him despite the fact that she is old enough to know better and then ends up stung and shocked when he starts fooling around with another woman even though anyone else with half-a-brain could have easily predicted it.

Stephanie’s attempts to somehow ‘win him back’ when she finds out that he is cheating on her is equally absurd since by her own admission he has already done it several times before with other woman, so why waste time trying to stop this latest fling when he’ll most likely start it up with another woman regardless?

The film lacks any quarreling, which could have spiced things up. Instead when they find out about their partner’s transgressions the conversations are civil to a sterile degree, which is not only uninteresting, but unrealistic. Let’s face it all couples fight and if you can’t get into a shouting match with your spouse when you find out they’ve been cheating then when can you?

Coburn manages to be engaging despite the weak material, but his curly silver haired mop-top looks better suited for a male gigolo than an otherwise staid and conservative middle-aged doctor. Helena Carroll has a few witty lines as the couple’s maid and she should’ve been given more screen time, but it was actually Sarandon that I liked the best as she plays a shy, slightly naïve character that was unusual for her.

This is quite similar to A Change of Seasons, which came out later that same year and also starred MacLaine and although that film was certainly no classic it is still far superior to this one.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Detective hounds jewel thief.

Webster (Ryan O’Neal) is a bored computer programmer who has grown cynical of the business world and decides to become a modern day Robin Hood. He does so by stealing paperwork listing illegal activities of a corrupt politician (Charles Cioffi) and uses this to blackmail him into giving the addresses of his rich and equally corrupt pals. He then robs them of their jewels while with the help of a local fence (Ned Beatty) resells them and keeps half the profits. He even manages to get into a hot relationship with a beautiful woman (Jacqueline Bisset), but just as things start to click insurance investigator Dave Reilly (Warren Oates) gets on the case who’s determined to expose and nab Webster anyway he can.

The film, which was written by Walter Hill and based on a novel by Terence Lore Smith, has a slick even smug attitude about it. It has some interesting ingredients, but never really gels. Webster pulls off these robberies with such relative ease that they are barely interesting to watch. The scene where he gets rear-ended by an old lady and then chased throughout the streets of Houston when he cannot produce proper identification to the police is fun, but there needed to be more of this and the otherwise laid-back pace does not help.

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Despite his good looks O’Neal is a weak leading man although here he isn’t too bad. Still the supporting cast easily upstages him especially Oates and had he been made the star this film would’ve been far better. The scene where his car breaks down while tailing O’Neal and then having O’Neal turn around to help him fix it is quite amusing as is Oates’ final act of defiance towards his superiors after he gets fired.

Austin Pendleton is quite funny as an obsessed chess player and Beatty is great as a caricature of a ‘good ole’ boy’ Texas con-man and he really deserved more screen time. Bisset is wasted, but looks beautiful as always and I really digged her ritzy, spacious house that outside of a two lamps had no furniture at all.

The production has very much of a European flair, but its sophisticated façade quickly wears thin. You keep waiting for it to catch its stride, but it never does making it fluffy and forgettable including its wide-open non-ending.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 1, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

A Change of Seasons (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody has a fling.

Adam (Anthony Hopkins) a middle-aged college professor who starts having an affair with a beautiful young student of his named Lindsey (Bo Derek). When his wife Karyn (Shirley MacLaine) finds out about it she decides to get her revenge by having an affair of her own with a handyman named Pete (Michael Brandon). All four decided to take a ski trip together while staying in the same house with each spouse sleeping with their new found lover. Despite a few hiccups things go surprisingly well until their college-aged daughter Kasey (Mary Beth Hurt) shows up who is none too thrilled with her parent’s new arrangement. Then Lindsey’s father (Edward Winter) appears who, after initially being shocked at the tawdry set-up, eventually adjusts and then makes a play for Karyn as well.

Although the film’s trailer and poster makes this thing look like a madcap farce it really isn’t and despite a comical set-up veers surprisingly towards the dramatic most of the way. To some extent it kind of works and I enjoyed some of the dialogue that tries to dig a bit deeper than most of the other mid-life crisis films as it analyzes why otherwise happily married men would jeopardize their union by having a mindless fling and somehow expecting to successfully juggle both relationships. However, it would have worked much better had it stayed with the comical route. Some of the funny scenarios don’t get played out enough and with such goofy characters and situations it’s hard to take it seriously even when it wants to culminating in an uneven mix of a movie that never quite hits its stride.

There are also certain scenes that don’t make much sense in either the comical or dramatic vein. One involves Adam admitting to Karyn about his affair and instead of her becoming enraged and either throwing him out or leaving they spend the rest of the night calmly discussing it and even going to bed together, which seemed highly unlikely to occur in real-life. The way Karyn hooks-up with Pete is equally stupid as he waltzes into her house unannounced and starts making himself some coffee and breakfeast. When Karyn comes downstairs to find this stranger in her home she doesn’t panic and call the police like a normal person would, but instead after a very brief conversation invites him upstairs for sex.

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Hopkins gives and excellent performance and the main reason the film stays afloat and is passable to watch. The way his character is forced to face his own contradictions and flaws is good and the scene where he catches Karyn with Pete is well acted on his part and makes the segment more interesting than it otherwise would have been. Winter is great as well and gives the best performance of his career where his initial shock at discovering their living arrangement is genuinely funny.

The only weak link of the cast is Derek. Yes, she certainly looks great naked and the opening sequence featuring her and Hopkins in the hot tub is okay on the erotic level, but her acting is overall quite poor and her monotone delivery eventually becomes annoying.

Overall the theme is too derivative from many other films that have tackled the same subject making this one hardly worth the effort to seek out. In fact MacLaine starred in another film that very same year entitled Loving Couples that has pretty much the exact same storyline and that one will be reviewed next week.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Lang

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

Making It (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen enjoys seducing women.

Phil (Kristoffer Tabori) is a cocky, self-centered teen who uses his good looks to get practically any girl he wants into bed with him. He even has a fling with the wife of his basketball coach, but when he thinks he has gotten one of them pregnant things begin to spiral out-of-control especially when his emotionally fragile mother (Joyce Van Patten) starts to have some ‘problems’ of her own.

Peter Bart’s script, which is based on James Leigh’s novel ‘What Can You Do?’ has some incisive comments, but surprisingly it’s more on being middle age than adolescence. It shows with a depressing clarity what a thankless, pain-in-the-ass the middle age years can be and how people at that stage secretly wish to go back to their teens if only to experience for a fleeting moment the carefreeness and idealism once again.

The on-location shooting done at West Mesa High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico nicely captures the gorgeous, crystal blue skies of that region. The students are made up of actual teens that look and behave very much like teens of today. However, John Erman’s direction is lackluster and flat. Everything is shot in a conventional, unimaginative way with a pace that is slow and only manages to improve towards the end when it becomes dramatic.

Phil’s spirited debate with his English teacher, played by Lawrence Pressman, is engaging as is a rebellious student played by Bob Balaban arguing with his beleaguered principal (David Doyle) about his right not to have to stand at attention during the pledge of allegiance. The film is also famous for the novelty of casting real-life siblings Dick and Joyce Van Patten as lovers and includes a sequence showing him kissing her on the mouth, which had to be awkward to perform let alone rehearse.

Tabori, who is the son of actress Viveca Lindfors and Dirty Harry director Don Siegel shows an impressive amount of composure and maturity for such a young age, but I wasn’t so sure I liked the sound of his voice. Louise Latham, who plays the mother of the girl Phil thinks he might have impregnated, is memorable and had her part been just a wee bit bigger she would have easily stolen the whole thing. She is also involved in the film’s funniest moment where she asks Phil for some weed and thinking she doesn’t know “grass from her ass” he decides to take a regular cigarette, roll it up like a joint, light it and then let her smoke it where she  ends up getting a ‘high’ anyways.

The film’s staple though is its twist ending that is genuinely shocking and most likely to leave even the most jaded viewer’s mouth agape. It could’ve been played out a little more, but remains nasty nonetheless and it’s something you’re guaranteed not to see in any other movie. It is also the one thing that gives this otherwise undistinguished teen flick a kick and probably explains why it has never been released on either VHS or DVD nor ever shown on broadcast network television.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Erman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.

Funnyman (1967)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Being funny isn’t funny.

Peter Bonerz, who also co-wrote the script along with director John Korty, plays Perry a struggling comedian working with the famous San Francisco improvisational group The Committee who is finding that life onstage isn’t as fulfilling as he had thought. The story focuses on his many different relationships and behind-the-scenes activities as he searches for some meaning to what he does.

The film is a loosely based look at Bonerz’s own experiences during his time with the group. It has a definite cinema vertite feel and look, which helps accentuate the improv attitude. Some of the situations he goes through do indeed help shed light for the viewer as to the difficulties of the profession particularly the part where Bonerz and a friend stay up late one night trying to brainstorm a creative ad campaign for a bug spray and finally do manage to come up with something clever only to have it frustratingly nixed by the client over concerns that it may possibly offend their targeted audience.

I also found it interesting to see how much things have changed in regards to casual affairs and relationships as Bonerz is seen meeting woman for the first time and then going back to their place for sex and in one instance having the woman go off to work and leave him still in bed at her place without seemingly any concern about him being a potential psycho or thief.

Bonerz, who is probably best known for playing the Jerry Robinson character in ‘The Bob Newhart Show’ does well in the lead and I was impressed with his variety of voices and characterizations. However, the many skits that they do, which were filmed onstage in front of an audience weren’t all that funny or engaging. The only one that is mildly humorous involves a bit with Richard Stahl describing a new robot (played by Bonerz) that is programmed to be used as a peace demonstrator during campus protests.

Korty’s over-direction doesn’t help as too much emphasis is put on mood over substance. His attempts to instill an existential slant to the material falls flat and his use of shooting each scene with a different color filter is distracting and ultimately annoying. The final twenty minutes veers too much away from the main story as the Bonerz character decides to take a vacation at an isolated retreat where he gets into a relationship with a nude model, which meanders and is not compelling or interesting.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 23, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John Korty

Studio: Korty Films

Available: None at this time.

Wacko (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spoof of horror movies.

On Halloween night the infamous pumpkin head lawnmower killer murders Mary’s (Julia Duffy) older sister. Now, 13 years later, the killer has returned and this time he has his sights set on Mary, but who could he be? Is it her surgeon father (George Kennedy) who tries any chance he can to see catch his own daughter disrobing, or maybe it’s her boyfriend Norman (Scott McGinnis) who makes lawnmower sounds every time he is aroused. Either way dogged detective Dick Harbinger (Joe Don Baker) is hot on the trail determined to end the mystery that has been haunting him and the town ever since it began.

This is one of several horror spoofs that came out around the same time and although it is far from excellent it still manages to rise above the rest. The main reason is Baker who’s overacting and mugging is perfect for the part. Just watching him roll out of bed and get ready for the day is a hoot. His funniest moments though are during the flashback sequence where he is seen wearing a dress while being tied up during bondage. The part where he arrives at Mary’s parent’s house to give them the sad news of their daughter’s death while dressed as a clown and then afterwards in an attempt to ‘lift their spirits’ makes a balloon dog for them is absolutely hilarious.

Stella Stevens, sporting a brunette wig and playing Mary’s mother has some amusing moments as well particularly when she recreates an obscene phone call for her daughter as well as when she and Kennedy sniff some laughing gas. Andrew Clay, who’s billed here without the ‘Dice’ is engaging in his film debut as a Fonzie-type high school student and his conversation at the dinner table of his girlfriend’s parents is good.

The segment involving a parody of Psycho with Norman Bates’ skeletal mother being used as a ventriloquist dummy was goofy enough to elicit a few chuckles, but overall there are more misses than hits. The production values are sloppy and the film, particularly during a car chase segment, veers too much into the cartoonish and nonsensical. They could’ve also had a more original soundtrack than simply playing or having a character hum the Alfred Hitchcock TV-show theme, which isn’t all that clever.

Some of the most successful horror parodies like Scream and Shaun of the Dead are ones that manage to have an interesting story of their own as well as a nice amount of gore and scares, but here there is no special effects or horror to speak of and the limp plot makes this whole thing seem more like one long, unending gag reel than a movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Greydon Clark

Studio: Jensen Farley Pictures

Available: VHS

Suspiria (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ballet dancer battles witches.

Suzy (Jessica Harper) is an American from New York who aspires to be a ballet dancer and travels to Freiburg, Germany to enroll at the dancer academy there. When she arrives she confronts another young lady who shouts something about a ‘blue iris flower’ before running out into the stormy night and then later turning up murdered. As the days progress strange events begin to occur convincing Suzy that the dance school may really be a cover for a coven of witches.

I first saw this film back in the late 80’s and it left me cold, but after reading a few other movie blogs where the critics insisted this was ‘brilliant’ I decided to give it another chance and approached it with a completely open mind only to end up liking it even less. The majority of the problem is Dario Argento’s over-direction. The sets and color schemes are wildly over-the-top bordering on camp. Had he pulled back even a little it might have been visually impressive, but instead gets obnoxious. The atmosphere, like everything else, is overdone creating a dream-like fantasy feel that has no connection to reality and therefore not very compelling.

The music, which was done by a group called Goblin, is interesting to some extent. I like the effect that to me sounded like hissing demons, but the other parts of it too closely resembled the ‘Tubular Bells’ music that was used in The Exorcist. It also gets overplayed and is too loud coming off like a spoiled child demanding your attention, which creates less tension and more distraction instead.

The special effects don’t live up to billing. When a man gets attacked and then eaten by his own dog is the only good part simply because it’s unexpected. Otherwise the blood and gore is average and even lacking. The majority of it is at the beginning where we see a young, frightened woman squirmy around on the floor while she gets stabbed and to a degree looks like some interpretive dance routine. The shot of a body coming out of a ceiling and then hung from a rope doesn’t work because it is clearly a mannequin and if you look real closely her face already has a strangled expression on it before the head goes through the noose.

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Harper is a good protagonist and its fun seeing classic film star Joan Bennett in her last film role. I also really liked Alida Valli as Miss Tanner the dance instructor. During the 40’s and 50’s she was a stunningly beautiful leading lady, but here looks very witchy with the way her hair is cropped up into a tight bun as well as with her eyes and voice. The rest of the supporting cast have their voices dubbed, something that Italian productions during this period were notorious for and gives the already wooden dialogue a cheesy, amateurish sounding banter.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic finish is a big letdown. For such an extravagant, garish build-up I was expecting much more of a bloody, drawn-out battle. Instead Harper just picks up a sharp object and stabs the head witch, who looks dead already, and it immediately kills her along with the others, but to me this didn’t make sense. This is supposedly some otherworldly demon, so the same laws of physics wouldn’t necessarily apply to her like it does to humans and a simple stab wound wouldn’t have the same effect like it would to regular people.

End of Spoiler Alert!

I was glad to see that other viewers on IMDB particularly those on the message board felt the same way about this ‘classic’ as I did. In my opinion the only way to enjoy it is for its excessive camp value and nothing more.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes (Blue Underground 2-Disc Special Edition)

Rated R (Originally rated X)

Director: Dario Argento

Studio: International Classics (Dubbed Version)

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray