Mansion of the Doomed (1976)

mansion

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gouging eyes for daughter.

Dr. Leonard Chaney (Richard Basehart) is a man tormented with guilt. He was the one driving the car the day he got into an accident that caused his daughter Nancy (Trish Stewart), who was a passenger in the vehicle, to lose her sight. Since he already had a background in eye research he begins working on finding ways to restore her vision. He finally comes upon the idea of transferring the eyes from a person with sight to hers. He chooses her boyfriend Dan (Lance Henrikson), who is also a doctor, as his guinea pig. At first the surgery is a success, but then later Nancy again goes blind. Chaney becomes even more determined to find a cure and begins kidnapping more people for his eye harvesting. Once the victims have their eyes removed he does not kill them, but instead keeps them prisoner in a cage in the basement of his mansion where his nurse and cohort, Katherine (Gloria Grahame), feeds them while also sending them electrical shocks through the metal bars of the cage just in case they try to get out-of-line.

The was the first feature length film to be produced by Charles Band, who has become known has a B-horror movie maestro. He had just gotten done producing the short Last Foxtrot in Burbank, which was virtually a shot-for-shot spoof of the Last Tango in Pariswhich won him enough attention and accolades that it allowed him to get funding for this project. The star of that film Michael Pataki was commissioned to direct this one and Frank Ray Perilli, another B-actor who helped write the script for the first one, was assigned writing the screenplay here. Although the story is quite ghoulish the special effects are decent and the microscopic close-ups of eyes being poked at while in surgery will effectively make many quite squeamish.

Unlike other low budgets horrors the acting is excellent. Basehart, who was a one time considered an up-and-coming leading man but was clearly in a career decline by this point is still able to drive the story. I liked the way his character is conflicted and feels through his guilt that he’s doing the ‘right thing’ even when he isn’t, which made him a far more interesting villain than just the one-dimensional evil one. Gloria Grahame, another actor who had success, and even an Academy Award, decades earlier before plummeting into B-movie hell, isn’t as strong and her paralyzed upper lip, the unfortunate effect of too much cosmetic surgery, I found a bit annoying when she spoke, but fortunately she isn’t seen doing that too often. Henriksen is great as a caged prisoner who refuses to go down without a fight, but Vic Tayback, who had appeared with Grahame just a few years earlier in another horror flick, Blood and Lacegets stuck with an extremely small role, as a police sergeant, which has very little screen time.

The script is a bit one-note and the second act has a redundant quality as we see one eye surgery after another. The victims become a bit too easy to subdue as well. One scene has two angry men, played by JoJo D’Amore and Al Ferrara, who chase Chaney into his home after he crashes into their car. All the Dr. does to ‘make it right’ is hand them a check for $1,000, but the men accept this offer too quickly. How would they know the check wouldn’t bounce, or that Chaney would stop payment on it before they tried to cash it? Other segments have him kidnapping a hitchhiker (Katherine Stewart) and a real-estate agent (Donna Andressen), but it’s never shown how exactly he’s able to overpower them. This was a short guy who was aging (already in his 60’s) and not too big, so he wouldn’t have necessarily had the upper-hand on these other women who were much younger and more agile, so playing-out the struggles he has with them should’ve been shown.

The blinded victims locked in a dungeon is what helps this film stand apart. Granted there are logistical issues that never get explained like how do all these people crammed into a small space pee and poop? Do they just all do it in the small cage and if so how and who scoops it out? Other than that though the make-up effects where their faces are shown with empty eye sockets is genuinely horrifying and realistic. Their efforts at trying to escape are both gripping and exciting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Pataki

Studio: Charles Band Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

One Dark Night (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Overnight in a mausoleum.

Julie (Meg Tilly) is a high school student hoping to join a snotty clique called The Sisters, which is lead by Carol (Robin Evans). Carol is unhappy that Julie is dating her former boyfriend Steve (David Mason Daniels), so she decides to make things tough for her by insisting that to become a member of the clique she must spend the night in a mausoleum. Julie is hesitant at first, but eventually agrees. Carol and another member of The Sisters, Kitty (Leslie Speights), return late at night after dropping Julie off at the mausoleum entrance. The two hope to scare Julie and make her think that the place is haunted, but little do they know that the body of renowned occultist Karl Raymar is buried there and his psychic powers bring the dead bodies back to life that terrorize all three.

It’s always tough to start-out the annual Horrorween festival by watching a stinker, but unfortunately this thing really clunks, which a shame as it begins decently. I like how the paramedics come into the room to haul away the dead bodies and see all sorts of bizarre things in the room like silverware smashed into the walls, which is creepy. The tracking shot done inside the mausoleum, the interiors were done at The Abby of the Psalm Mausoleum and the exteriors shot at The Hollywood Cathedral Mausoleum, are cool and help give off an eclectic energy. Unfortunately everything inside the mausoleum is painted white, which makes the place, despite the coffins, too bright and inviting. It doesn’t help either that the only part of the place we see is the main corridor, which visually becomes boring.

Tilly, who retired from acting in 1995 to raise her kids and write novels and who now runs a YouTube channel called Meg’s Tea Time, is a wonderful actress whose performance in Agnes of God I’ll never forget and she’s quite likable here too. The problem is that the story doesn’t focus on her enough. She’s the only cast member with actual appeal and we need to see her battling the evil powers not the two snotty sorority sisters whose acting abilities are not up to Meg’s. I didn’t like how the character of Olivia (Melissa Newman), the daughter of the occultist Raymar, comes-in at the end either. Meg is the only one that we care for and therefore it should’ve been her sole responsibility to fight Raymar’s powers and no one else’s.

Spoiler Alert!

The thing that really bugged me though is that there just aren’t enough scares. It goes almost an hour in with virtually no frights to the point I almost started to wonder if there would even be any. Once the special effects do kick-in it’s nothing special. The corpses look like melted wax dummies connected to a track that wheels them forward. The lightning bolts coming-out of the eye sockets of the occultist are cheesy. The ending offers no interesting twist and fizzles out without any proverbial bang.

Director Tom McLoughlin and writer Michael Hawes insist that the problem was that the film was taken out of their hands and they had no control over the final cut. The original ending had Carol and Kitty getting permanently entombed in the crypt while still alive, which could’ve been cool and there was a scene where Tilly’s eyes would cast an eerie glow as she looked back at the camera in order to represent that Raymar’s spirit had been transferred to her body, but for whatever reason this got cut out and what’s left isn’t impressive.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 9, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tom McLoughlin

Studio: Liberty International Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Freevee, Pluto TV, Tubi, Amazon Video

Horrorween Part 11

scary

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: Scary movies all month.

Since 2012 Scopophilia has been reserving the month of October to exclusively reviewing only horror movies and this year will be no different. While other movie blogs also do this regular readers of this blog will know that we dig a bit deeper, really deep, looking for lost obscurities that other sites have either overlooked, or haven’t heard of. So, buckle up. Besides reviewing some well known favorites we’ll also be looking at lost gems (or non gems), both foreign and domestic, that may pique your interest (or maybe not). It all begins tomorrow, so sleep tight as you’ll probably be too scared to get much for the rest of the month!

Digby: The Biggest Dog in the World (1973)

digby2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog grows really big.

Billy (Richard Beaumont) is a young boy who buys an Old English Sheepdog from a local dog home manager ( Victor Maddern). However, when he brings the dog home his grandfather (Edward Underdown) doesn’t want it in the house, so his mother (Angela Douglas) tells him to give the pet to someone else. He then leaves him at the home of Jeff (Jim Dale), a researcher who works at a defense lab that is experimenting in growth formulas. Jeff is smitten with Billy’s mother, but too shy to ask her out. He ultimately agrees to take the dog as an excuse to be around the mother more. Things though turn chaotic when Jeff decides to borrow some of the growth formula at his lab, in order to feed it to his tomato plants, but instead it gets accidentally given to the dog, who then grows to gigantic proportions.

This is the type of movie that’s clearly meant for kids, but kids today, with the advanced computerized special effects seen in modern films, will quickly be turned-off by the cheesy effects here. The attempt to make the dog seem bigger by placing him in a miniaturized kitchen doesn’t exactly work. Other segments where he’s seen outdoors and at a circus don’t work either because it’s obvious that the animal was simply put in front of a green screen. The segment that has Jeff sneaking the dog outside while having him wear an outfit meant for a horse is stupid too because a horse’s head is shaped differently than a dog’s, so there would be no way it would fit over the dog like it does.

The only inspired effect is when Billy crawls into the dog’s giant mouth in order to feed it a formula that will supposedly get the animal to shrink back to normal size. The recreation of the dog’s mouth to a large size is impressive though a dog’s tongue is thinner and longer than a person’s and yet the tongue in this mouth is styled much more like a human’s. Having the kid command the dog not to swallow, as if he did it would’ve sucked the boy down the throat, is dumb because swallowing is a natural reflex when liquid is poured in, so I’m not sure it could’ve been prevented, or that the dog would’ve understood what the command ‘don’t swallow’ would’ve even meant.

The story is based on the novel by Ted Key, who besides creating the comic strip ‘Hazel’ also wrote the screenplays for Gusabout a mule who kicks field goals, The Million Dollar Duckabout a duck who lays golden eggs, and The Cat from Outer SpaceThose movies fared a bit better as they were more imaginative and had better character development. Outside of a circus scene, which features an elderly and near-sighted knife thrower played by Bob Todd, there is nothing that is funny, or even slightly amusing.

A good story should have a protagonist that the audience can root for and and a clear antagonist that the audience hates, or at least fears. This film though doesn’t have that.  Jim Dale is a likable enough, but a scientist nerd who’s awkward around women is a tired stereotype that isn’t interesting. The kid had more appeal and could’ve easily been the hero without the Jeff character even being present. The supporting cast is essentially the same person; deluded, wacky folks who are lost in their own little worlds and clueless about what is really going-on. It’s okay to have one dumb character, but when everybody is goofy it gets tiring fast. There’s no bad guy either just a bunch of buffoons running around saying buffonish things and getting into cartoonish predicaments. If that’s your idea of entertainment then have-at-it, but most will find this to be a dated and silly though those that remember watching as a kid may for nostalgic purposes like it a bit more.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 6, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Joseph McGrath

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD (Region 2)

Night Games (1980)

night

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex with masked stranger.

It’s not often that I can say this, but I personally know the man, Anton Diether, that’s credited with writing the screenplay (and story idea) for this film. He’s a member of the Austin Screenwriter’s group that I also attend. He’s harshly critical of everyone else’s screenplays, so I was intrigued to see something that he had written in order to ascertain if his stuff was any better. To give him credit I’ve asked him about this film many months back before I had seen it. He stated that director Roger Vadim had ‘ruined it’ and that he had a big fight with him on opening night when he realized how much Vadim had changed the original story. For his sake I hope he’s telling the truth because this thing is nothing I’d ever want my name to be attached to.

This was also intended at being a star making vehicle for Cindy Pickett, who’s excellent and seen quite a bit in the nude. Vadim was famous for directing films that turned his lady stars into international sex symbols like Bridgitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, and Jane Fonda as well as dating them and even marrying two of them. While Pickett did date Vadim as the film was being shot they quickly broke-up once it was over and it failed to make her a superstar like the other three, but much of that can be blamed on the lame script more than anything.

The story centers on Valerie (Cindy Pickett) who’s married to Hollywood producer Jason (Barry Primus). While their marriage may seem perfect to an outsider it’s filled with turmoil behind-closed-doors mainly because Valerie cannot have intimate relations with her husband due to still suffering from bad flashbacks of a rape that happened to her several years before. She is supposed to see a therapist to help her get through the traumatic experience, but she feels it’s not helping her enough, so she quits going. With their sex life stagnant Jason moves-out and goes on an extended ‘vacation’. Home alone Valerie begins hearing strange noises at night and convinced that an intruder has broken-in. She searches around, but doesn’t see anyone, but then the next night the intruder comes back wearing a mask and suit that makes him resemble a giant bird. Valerie finds herself put at ease with his presence and able to enjoy sex again without being tormented by her ugly memories.

The one thing that I did like was showing how difficult it is for the victim to get over a sexual assault. Sometimes people may never full recover from these types of events and this is one of the first films to tackle the post traumatic stress of it, so in that realm it should be applauded, but it never gives any details about the assailant, or whether he was ever caught, which I found frustrating.

The film though fails when it shows Valerie change into this promiscuous vamp who during the first half was hyper-paranoid about any man getting near here and yet when one appears in tacky costume late at night she’s cool with it and lets down her defenses completely. Most women who hadn’t been raped would be panicked at seeing a strange man wearing a wild getup in their home, so why isn’t Valerie and why the sudden flip in her personality, which are never answered (at least not sufficiently).

She also allows a man, played by Gene Davis, that she only knows very casually, to come-over to her place where she is all alone, so that she can paint a portrait of him in the nude. You’d think that if she has such anxiety around men that she wouldn’t do this. Anyone else would be concerned, at least a little, about the man taking advantage of the situation, but Valerie doesn’t until it’s too late, which again given her past doesn’t make any sense.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending, where it’s found that the guy in the bird suit is really Sean (Paul Jenkins) a friend and collaborator to Valerie’s husband, is by far the stupidest thing about it. For one thing Sean is shown downing large amounts of alcohol constantly making it seem like he’d barely be able to stand-up let alone make love, or beat-up another man who is much younger and better built. It’s also quite clear that even with his clothes on Sean is middle-aged with a potbelly, but when he’s playing the bird man his stomach is flat and muscular. This is because these scenes were done by a stand-in named Mark Hanks, but the viewer is supposed to believe that it’s really Sean, so why is the body type so different?

For these reasons and for the incredibly corny wrap-up, which should win the award for corniest ending ever, is why this movie was a definite career killer for Vadim whose talent was already considered overrated even before this one came-out.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: April 11, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Vadim

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R (j4hi.com)

52 Pick-up (1986)

52

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blackmailed over sex tape.

Harry (Roy Scheider) runs a successful construction company and is married to Barbara (Ann-Margret) who’s running for city council. One day Harry gets abducted by three men in hoods (John Glover, Clarence Williams III, Robert Trebor). They bring him to an abandoned building and show him a video tape that they’ve recorded featuring Harry’s steamy affair with a 20-something stripper named Cini (Kelly Preston). They demand $105,000 per year to stay quiet and if not they’ll release the tape to the press. Harry decides not to go to the police for fear it would jeopardize his wife’s political ambitions and instead does the investigating himself to find the tape and the men who made it and then turn-the-tables on them.

In 1984 The Cannon Group bought the rights to Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name with the intent of turning it into a spy thriller with the setting changed from Detroit to Tel Aviv. Leonard was commissioned to write the script, but the drafts he submitted were deemed unacceptable and eventually someone else was hired as the screenwriter and the movie became known as The Ambassador2 years later John Frankenheimer, after having read the novel, decided he’d like to turn it into a movie in a more faithful version to the book. Since The Cannon Group still owned the rights they agreed to produce though several changes were made including having the setting in Los Angeles, which was mainly done for budgetary reasons.

While I’ve complained about other movies produced by The Cannon Group this one looks much more polished and could’ve easily been released by a major studio. I enjoyed the constantly moving camera that turns every scene into one unending tracking shot, which gives it a visual energy and allows the viewer to feel like they’re right there in the setting with the camera acting as their point-of-view as they move around amongst the action.

Many movies from the 80’s touched on the tawdry, underground lifestyles of Los Angeles, but would always pull-back before it became too distasteful and yet this one dives completely in and never leaves. By immersing the viewer into the seamy environment it helps them to better understand the sick nature of the bad guys and the elements that made them believe they could get away with it. It also features adult film stars from the era including Amber Lynn, Jamie Gillis, Tom Byron, and Barbara Dare. Porn legend Seka was also set to be in it, but the aging and apparently still quite horny Frankenheimer pestered her behind-the-scenes in an effort to have sex and even asked her out on a date, which was enough to get her to walk off the set.

The three antagonists are the most entertaining aspect. Glover gives a poetic quality to his character’s sliminess and is mesmerizing in his vileness. Clarence Williams III, best known for his work in the TV-show ‘Mod Squad’ has a creepy intensity that makes his scene riveting. Trebor, as the extremely anxious strip bar owner, makes breaking down in a panic an art form.

The problem is with the two leads who get upstaged by the baddies. In fact during the second-half the three villains receive more screen time than the heroes making it seem like the movie is more about them. Scheider’s insistence on trying to track down the culprits on his own with only an inkling of clues is intriguing to an extent, but he ends up finding their whereabouts too easily. Otherwise Scheider and Ann-Margret do nothing but react to the situation they’re in instead of propelling the action. It’s not because of bad acting either, but more due to the script that doesn’t flesh-out their characters enough to make them interesting, or for the viewer to care what happens to them.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 16, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Frankenheimer

Studio: The Cannon Group

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Tubi

Sunday Lovers (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stories about illicit sex.

International production has 4 stories taking place in a different country with a famous male movie star and director native to that region. The stories central theme revolves around love-making, or attempts thereof, and all outside of marriage. The concept sounds like it should’ve been a creative experiment especially with all the big-name talent, but the results are flat and forgettable.

The first story, ‘An Englishman’s Home’, stars Roger Moore as Harry Lindon, a rich man who owns a villa that Winston Churchill once resided in. He meets by chance a beautiful young blonde named Donna (Priscilla Barnes), who’s an airline stewardess in London on layover and who becomes impressed with Harry’s home and goes with him to visit it. It’s there that Harry plots with his loyal butler (Denholm Elliot) to get her to go to bed with him, but his plans are disrupted when his lady friend Lavina (Lynn Redgrave) comes for a unexpected visit. He and his butler spend the evening trying to avoid having the two meet by creating a scheme where Harry will be ‘forced’ to leave the dinner table with one to answer a phantom phone call, which allows him to then visit the other one before being informed by his butler of yet another ‘phone call’.

Moore is funny with his glib and sarcastic delivery and Barnes is amusing playing-up the ditzy blonde persona. The plot though is neither original, or entertaining and becomes boring quite quickly. The ending has a novel twist, but this is where I felt the story should’ve begun, which would’ve been more interesting.

The second segment, ‘The French Method’ was written by the prolific Francis Veber and deals with Francois (Lino Ventura), a French businessman, trying to close a deal with an American businessman named Henry (Robert Webber) The problem is that Henry is a middle-aged lech who’s got the hots for Francois’ attractive receptionist Christine (Catherine Salviet). Henry insists that before any deal is made he must have dinner with both Francois and Catherine. Francois is reluctant to ask Catherine to come along, but he’s so desperate for the deal to go through he becomes willing to do almost anything. Christine agrees despite disliking Henry. Once the dinner engagement commences Henry makes clear that he wants Francois to come-up with a polite excuse to leave, so the two can be alone together. Francois does as he’s asked, but then returns to have a confrontation with Henry, which leads to unexpected results.

This segment is expertly played by the three leads particularly Ventura and the characters are fleshed-out enough to keep it intriguing. The final twist is fun making this easily the best of the four.

The third segment, ‘Skippy’, was written and directed by Gene Wilder who also stars in the lead. It’s about a suicidal patient who’s allowed a weekend pass out of a mental hospital. He then meets-up with a younger woman (Kathleen Quinlan) at a disco. They hit-it-off especially after finding that each of them are ‘nutcases’. They go back to her place and share a passionate night of lovemaking only for him to have his heart broken the next day when she confides in him a surprising revelation.

This story is helped greatly by Quinlan who is young and beautiful and you even get to see her topless though you also have to put up with Gene’s bare bum too. Either way she gives a sprightly performance, but the story is odd and takes too long to play out. I was expecting it to go in a different direction than it does and the ending offers no pay-off.

The final segment, ‘Armando’s Notebook’, stars Ugo Tognazzi as a married man whose wife goes off on a trip to visit her sick mother. Armando uses this as an excuse to hook-up with old girlfriends from the 60’s by using his little black book that still lists their addresses and phone numbers. Unfortunately when he meets them he finds that things have changed quite a bit and not for the better. Many have aged to the point that they’re no longer attractive, or have become ‘liberated’ through feminism and won’t allow him to take advantage of them like they used to. One turns-up dead while yet another has become a high class prostitute who even accepts credit cards.

While this story is watchable it’s also too jokey and features a weird bit where one of the women, played by Sylva Koscina, has acquired the ability to suck in a massive amount of air and then blows it out with hurricane force, which has a strange supernatural vibe that doesn’t fit with the rest of the material.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 31, 1980

Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: Bryan Forbes, Edouard Molinaro, Dino Risi, Gene Wilder

Studio: Viaduk Productions

Avaliable: None

Not a Pretty Picture (1976)

not

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reenacting a rape incident.

While Martha Coolidge is known today for having directed such 80’s classics as Valley Girl and Joy of Sex she started her career in the 70’s doing documentaries mainly about high school students. After having done three of those she decided to do one that was more personal and dealt with a real-life incident that occurred to her when she was 16 when she got raped on a date with a college student who was 20. While she went about casting the actress to play her as a teen she was shocked to learn that the actress, Michele Manenti, had a similar experience. The film then weaves between reenactments of the date rape and the situations that lead up to it as well as the aftermath. There’s also interviews with the cast members who talk about the emotions they go through while playing the characters including Jim Carrington, who plays the rapist named Curly, who confesses that he thought women secretly wanted to be raped due to his belief that they fantasize about it.

What I got out of the film and enjoyed the most was looking at the acting process and how the performers used elements of their own experiences to help shape the characters that they play. I was genuinely surprised that only one of the cast members, Amy Wright who has a small role as Cindy, ever went on to do another movie. The two stars, who I felt were both outstanding, never acted in anything at least film or TV wise even though I felt they should’ve had long careers. I realize that the acting profession is a very competitive business and what may seem like the cream-of-the-crop in college may not be able to rise to the top in the real-world, but it still seemed sad that they weren’t able to do more, or at least more in front of the camera. It’s also surprising how non-dated this is. The conversations they have both about dating and acting is something that could’ve easily been shot today and just as topical. If it weren’t for them openly smoking indoors in a public setting, which is a major no-no now, you would never have known this was done in the 70’s.

While the conversations that Coolidge has with the cast proves to be insightful the reenactments aren’t as compelling. The scene involving the conversations that the four friends have inside a car has some interesting points, but it goes on too long and gets static. The aftermath where Martha is ridiculed by the other girls at her school and called a ‘whore’ because of the rumors that Curly spreads stating that she was a ‘willing participant’ and the stressful moments she has when she doesn’t get her period and fears she may be pregnant are quite dramatic, but the most important scene, the rape itself, gets botched. All the other recreated scenes where done as if in real-time and with sets that replicated the era, which was 1962, but with the rape it’s staged as a rehearsal with Martha and the other stagehands clearly in view as it occurs and Coolidge constantly stops the action to have them redo the scene several times in order to get it right, but this takes the viewer out of the moment and mutes the emotional impact. In hindsight I think they should’ve done the entire recreation, both the rape and what lead up to it as well as the aftermath, first and then went to the behind-the-scenes footage afterwards instead of inter-cutting it, which may have been novel for the time, but eventually gets off-putting.

The film’s focus was apparently intended to be on Martha and her reactions at seeing her own rape get played-out as the camera keeps panning back to her face as she watches the actors perform it and then at the end she describes her feelings in a emotional way. While I’m sure this was a tough thing for her to do I still felt it would’ve been more encompassing to have it about all the other women, including the actress in this film, that this has happened to and how men in that time period were able to get away with it and never had to be accountable. That to me was more disturbing and the film ends up missing that point, or not hitting-it-home hard enough, and thus isn’t as strong, or ground-breaking as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 31, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 23 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Martha Coolidge

Studio: Coolidge Productions

Available: Vimeo

The Ambassador (1984)

ambassador

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for porno film.

Peter (Robert Mitchum) is a US Ambassador to Israel who has an idealistic view on how to find peace in the Middle East by bringing together young Jews and Muslims who he hopes will work together for middle ground solutions. Not everyone including Peter’s own security agent Frank (Rock Hudson) thinks this is realistic. Peter’s wife Alex (Ellen Burstyn) feels ignored by her husband and falls into the arms of a much younger man named Hashimi (Fabio Testi) who just so happens to work for the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). Alex’s rendezvous with him are sexual in nature and during one of their meetups they are secretly recorded on film. Peter then gets blackmailed to pay a large sum of money, or risk having the movie broadcast on TV. Peter refuses to comply and orders Frank to find the whereabouts of the blackmailers hoping to retrieve the original print before it can be seen by anyone else.

This was yet another film shot on-location in Israel that was produced by Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus, who bought the production company known as the Cannon Group during the 70’s and were notorious for producing, and sometimes writing and directing, a lot of slap-dash action flicks that were made in such a quick, assembly line style, that it got them the nicknames of the Go-Go- Boys. This film isn’t as bad as some of those and features tight editing and interesting twists. It was inspired by the 1974 Elmore Leonard novel ’52 Pick-Up’ and Leonard himself was hired to write the screenplay, but after his first two drafts were rejected he walked-out. The only elements of the story that was retained was the sex film blackmail plot, but everything else was changed though 2 years later the Cannon Group produced 52 Pick-Up that starred Roy Scheider and Ann-Margaret that was more faithful to the original book.

Surprisingly the best thing about this version is Hudson and while I’ve been critical about some of his other performances he shines here despite being already quite ill and looking gaunt and not as muscular. The role had originally been offered to Telly Savalas, but due to scheduling conflicts he had to bow out and Hudson was brought in just a week before filming began. Even with his poor health he takes part in most of the action and has a strong presence though reports were that he and Mitchum did not get along and had many arguments throughout the shoot.

Mitchum, who took the role after getting accused of being anti-semitic and a holocaust denier, is wonderful despite his age and face that has a very tired and worn-out look. Burstyn is excellent too and I was genuinely shocked at her nude scene, no body double here, and at age 51 still looked great doing it.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending had me rolling-my-eyes a bit with the way it’s able to bring together these Jewish and Muslin students at a remote location and somehow get them to see eye-to-eye on things, which seemed too easy and romanticized. The proceeding bloodbath did take me by surprise though having Mitchum conveniently leave the scene and is therefore not a part of the carnage that kills everybody else seemed like it would come-off as suspicious to others. The viewer knows he had no idea of the pending massacre, but the other characters don’t and having him quietly leave just before the shooting commenced would make some believe that he had something to do with it, or maybe even set-up the students to get killed and thus be despised by the other people at the end instead of considered a visionary hero like he is.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection) Blu-ray

Dirty Dishes (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Housewife has nervous breakdown.

Armelle (Carole Laure) is a full-time housewife taking care of 2 young boys while her husband Marc (Pierre Santini) works a job designing car tires. Armelle is bored with the mundane chores that she must do day after day and looks forward to Thursday evenings, which is the one night that her and husband can go out, but since Marc’s job has become very demanding he can no longer do that, which makes her feel even more shut-in. She occasionally goes out with her two friends (Liliane Rovere, Liza Braconnier), but they’re trapped in the same thankless domestic routine as she is. One day she snaps and has a sexual tryst on her cluttered kitchen floor with an architect (Daniel Sarky) who works across the street, but this doesn’t subside her feelings of rebellion, so she steals a car, which almost gets her in an accident. Eventually her husband realizes her frustrations and promises that things will be different, but will this really bring the change that she wants?

Written and directed by the daughter-in-law of the legendary filmmaker Luis Bunuel, the film is a mixture of Diary of a Mad Housewife that came out 8 years earlier and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which was released 10 years after this one. There’s even a bit of Jeanne Dielman mixed in for good measure. The one thing that this film does do well is focusing on the mundane tasks that she does each day, which gives the viewer a clear impression of her trapped feeling. Unfortunately it doesn’t go deeper than that and ends up just being another feminist comedy that fails to have anything unique to say from the other films from that era with the same theme.

There are a some amusing lines uttered here and there, but the laughs are sporadic and there should’ve been tighter editing, which would’ve given it a frenetic pace and made the absurd moments seem less out-of-place. There’s also a few really weird tangents that come out of nowhere including a psychotic man that invades the families picnic at a park and tries running them down with his car that has no connection to the main story and wasn’t needed as was the segment at a grocery store where Arnelle breaks up a fist-fight between two men only to find that she’s been a victim of a candid camera-like prank.

There are a couple of good poignant moments particularly the scene where the couple is lying in bed and Armelle states to her husband that she feels scared and he replies: “Why, are you afraid something is going to happen to you?” and she responds: “No, I’m afraid nothing will happen and everything will remain the same.”, which hits home the characters quandary perfectly.

Laure’s is radiant and soaking in her beauty helps smooth over the slow spots. The scene where she gets rejected as a model of a dish detergent ad because she’s ‘too beautiful and no one would ever believe she does her own dishes’ is quite funny as that’s all we’ve seen her do since the film began.

The ending however offers no conclusion or answers. The character remains stuck in the same situation that she was at the start with only vague promises from the spouse that things ‘would be different’, but in cases like these that usually means things will eventually just go back to the way things were. The viewer needs to see the change for themselves, or how the character learns to adapt to the problem by finding ways to make the monotony seem more interesting, but the film shows none of this making it feel ultimately like a waste of time as both a satire and character study.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joyce Bunuel

Studio: Planfilm

Available: VHS