Monthly Archives: April 2012

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Clowns aren’t for kids.

This is a fun and well-crafted sci-fi satire dealing with outer space aliens that resemble clowns and fly in a spaceship that look like a circus tent. They arrive on earth and begin killing everybody, wrapping them up in a cotton candy like cocoon and storing them in a freezer on their spaceship. When these cocoons become ‘ripe’ they stick a straw into them and suck out their blood.

It’s all a very unique parody on clown culture and those old sci-fi movies from the 50’s. There are shades of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, and The Blob to name just a few.  Everything is fast paced with an inventive mind set. All those things that were always considered harmless and childlike have been turned into threatening and scary things here and it’s brilliant. The best one is the balloon dog that becomes a vicious barking little beast.

The special effects are outstanding. For a low budget picture this may actually be the best you will find. The circus tent spaceship is impressive especially when it takes off at the end. The popcorn ray guns and the shadow figure of a hungry tyrannosaurus are also good. You got to love the distorted features of clowns that are made to look genuinely frightening where even their bodies are misshapen and grotesque. You start to believe that these are actual creatures and not people inside a costume.

The only drawback is that it was made in the 80’s and is embedded with very bland looking, bland acting teens as the protagonists that seem like cookie cutouts from the genre. It even starts out with the very clichéd scene of having them making out in their parked cars at a secluded, wooded area. Outside of the clowns John Vernon has the only other interesting part. He plays a hardened and slightly corrupt cop who has seen it all and doesn’t fall for anything. He is both edgy and funny and gives the film some added grit. His death scene is good (like most of the others) but it would have been nice had he been able to carry the picture.

Overall this is clever and creative and sure to click with those possessed with a warped sense of humor.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 27, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Director: Stephan Chiodo

Studio: Trans World Entertainment

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Good Neighbor Sam (1964)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be married.

            Sam Bissell (Jack Lemmon) is an advertising executive working for a demanding client (Edward G. Robinson) who is very conservative and insists everyone around him have a clean-cut image and lifestyle. Sam’s wife Minerva (Dorothy Provine) brings home her college friend Janet (Romy Schneider) for a visit and she rents out the neighbor’s place while she is there.  Janet then finds out that she is going to be left a large inheritance, but the will stipulates that she must be married even though Janet is instead going through a divorce. For the sake of allowing her to collect the large fortune, which is 15 million dollars, Sam agrees, with the blessing of Minerva, to pretend to be Janet’s husband by staying at her place until the money is paid out.  A private detective (Louis Nye) is hired to keep a close eye on them and matters become even more complicated when Janet’s ex-husband Howard (Mike Connors) returns.

The concept is original and to my recollection has never been done before, or since, which is amazing when you think about the fact that just about everything else has. It does rely heavily on coincidence and too much of the first hour is spent setting up the plot with some extraneous scenes that could’ve and should’ve been cut. For such fluffy material, even entertaining fluff such as this, a 130 minute runtime is too long.  Three different writers were credited with doing the screenplay and the overall vision seems disjointed as at times it works as a satire, slapstick, and sex comedy, but never coming together completely as a whole. However, there is enough eventual pay off to still make it worth it.

This is one of Lemmon’s better comedy vehicles, if not his all-around best. Sometimes he comes off as too strait-laced and benign in these things, but here it works to the film’s advantage. His best part is when he dreams seeing himself getting out of bed and going over to the bedroom where Janet is and trying to seduce her. She screams so loudly that the entire town wakes up and comes over, which is funny and should have been played-out more.

Schneider though is the best thing about the movie. I loved her bright, beaming smile and effervescent personality. She sparkles in every scene and I was impressed that although she could be pleasant she could also easily get into a shouting match with Howard and the fact that she could switch emotional gears so easily and quickly proves that she had talent. Costume designer Jacqueline Moreau puts her into some snazzy outfits that look great on her including an all red jumpsuit, a strapless evening gown, and a two piece white pajama outfit with pink polka dots that was my favorite. It is a shame that due to her severe depression over the accidental death of her son as well as alcoholism and a three-pack-a-day smoking habit her career and life was cut short as she most assuredly still had a lot of outstanding parts and performances left to do.

Blonde Provine looks almost as good and equally delightful in her role where she tries holding it all together. Connors, best known for starring in the long-running TV-show ‘Mannix’, is surprisingly engaging as the ex. His arguments with Sam are fun and in order to keep the scheme going he pretends to be Sam and stays in the home with Minerva, which culminates with the film’s funniest moment, which is the early morning ‘kissing contest’ the two men have with each other’s wives.

Nye is also amusing as the detective and I got a kick out of his van that was supposedly disguised to be that of a cleaning service with a giant model of a vacuum on top of it that was used as a telescope.

The only one who gets wasted here is legendary actor Robinson who really doesn’t have anything funny to say, or do. However, his dinner party is still memorable simply because everyone gets served on all gold dinnerware, which includes the plates, cups, and utensils.

The music score is bouncy and the climatic sequence that features the main characters defacing area billboards is artsy and creative. On a lightweight, inoffensive level this satisfies and delivers a few laughs along the way.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1964

Runtime: 2Hours 10Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: David Swift

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (The Jack Lemmon Collection)

The House That Cried Murder (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: The bride goes nutzo.

Despite a low budget this is an intriguing horror film with a unique vision. Barbara (Robin Strasser) is a young headstrong woman who designs an ominous looking, modernistic home, which she then has built. She plans on moving into it with her fiancé David (Arthur Roberts) who is caught fooling around on their wedding day, which sends Barbara into reclusion. Soon David begins experiencing strange occurrences, which leads him back to the house where an odd climatic sequence ensues.

This film stands out from the other low budget, cardboard horror movies of the 70’s simply because director Jean-Marie Pelissie shows a good understanding of the genre and how to effectively create eerie sequences. The house itself is an odd spectacle that looks like something designed by Frank Lloyd Wright while drunk. It’s erected in a large, empty field which gives it a very pronounced presence. The inside of the place was unfinished, and Pelisse uses the large windows of the home to casts unusual shadows along its white plastered walls and gives it a spooky look  as the camera goes spinning around it. Some of the imagery used during a nightmare sequence is equally creepy.

Strasser herself is quite frightening and flies into authentic looking rages easily. One good segment has her walking in front of all the wedding guests wearing a blood stained gown while behaving erratically. She then runs off with only hints that she may or may not be lurking in the shadows, which nicely taps into the fear of the unknown and mysterious.

The unfaithful groom is a good character with all the qualities that you love to hate. He is good looking, but amoral. He uses people while climbing the social ladder, but is quite dumb in the process. He tells his bride that he will be gone “for only a minute” and then has the audacity to go to an upstairs room of the house where they are having the wedding party and fools around with his former girlfriend, but doesn’t think to lock the bedroom door. When he gets his eventual comeuppance you have no problem seeing it.

As Strasser’s father John Beal is unimpressive. He is supposed to be a man of money and power, but instead comes off like a wimpy old man. Iva Jean Saraceni,,who portrays David’s old girlfriend Ellen, looks too much like Strasser, which doesn’t help.

Although this film has potential the low production values almost destroy it. The lighting is flat and certain segments are so dark you can barely see what is happening. Many scenes were filmed in small, cramped looking rooms with tacky props in the background. The music used during the scary scenes is good, but the soundtrack played over the rest of the film sounds like a bad rendition of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

If you’re into cheap 70’s horror flicks then this is one you should check out. It definitely has some distinctive moments and is an interesting forerunner to A Nightmare on Elm Street since Barbara terrorizes David and his girlfriend through their dreams.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Alternate Title: The Bride

Released: December 14, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jean-Marie Pelissie

Studio: Golden Gate Productions

Available: VHS, DVD

The Blues Brothers (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A mission from God.

Jake (John Belushi) is released from jail and joins his brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) in starting up their old band so as to raise money for their old orphanage. Trying to get the members back proves harder than they thought, but because they are ‘on a mission from God’ nothing deters them including having every police agency in the state (and various other riff-raff) on their tail.

If you take away the songs and the extended car chases you have only 20 minutes of actual comedy and even then it is not real hilarious just amusing. Sometimes it gets downright silly like an old Disney movie with no edginess or satire. There isn’t even the expected crudeness or sophmorics and having this thing rated ‘R’ is ridiculous.

For such a simple comedy it is well staged almost like a grand scale spectacle. The stunts are spectacular and at certain times breathtaking. Director John Landis seems to have shut down the whole city of Chicago to do it and it definitely set a new standard for car chases.

Some of it makes you grab the edge of your seat especially when you see in fast motion, from their viewpoint, careening down the street as they dodge cars and pedestrians that seem to pop up at you. It also helps the validity to have them run into some road construction because in Chicago that’s pretty much all you see. I lived there for 18 years and the saying they have is that there are two seasons ‘winter and road construction’. Yet it would have been nice to see them wearing their seatbelts! Anyone else would have been killed or injured with any number of things they do and this thought takes away from some of the fun. It also would have helped the plausibility to have a couple of the bullets shot at them at least hit the car. There is a scene where over a hundred different policemen shoot at the car and not even one hits it!

The songs are great and it’s more of a musical anyways. There is a nice emphasis on the blues that bring out a distinct Chicago flavor. Cab Calloway is terrific doing his famous rendition of ‘Minnie the Moocher’ while the Blues Band plays along dressed like a 1920’s swing band. The numbers done by the Blues Brothers themselves is the most rousing as they guys can really sing! Their rendition of ‘Rawhide’ is hilarious.

Kathleen Freeman has probably the funniest part in a nifty send up of those Catholic school nuns that loved to use a ruler as a disciplinary tool. Carrie Fisher is engaging as a jilted bride out for revenge as she always did have a very ‘Don’t mess with me’ look in her eyes even when she was doing Star Wars. Henry Gibson shows his usual sinister style as the head of the local Nazi party and yet it is Aykroyd who is the real star as he is at his deadpan best throughout.

Look quickly for Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Ruebens as a French waiter. Also the DVD version has 18 minutes of extra footage.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released; June 20, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 13Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Landis

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video