Category Archives: Black Comedy

No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer enjoys taunting police.

Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) is a Broadway theater owner suffering from a mother complex who vents his anger by strangling older women at random. He uses a variety of disguises to get into their homes and then when they let down their guard he kills them while leaving a lipstick drawing of lady’s lips on their foreheads as his ‘signature’. Detective Brummell (George Segal), who still lives at home with his overly protective mother (Eileen Heckart), is assigned to the case and quickly forms a communication channel with Christopher who displays a strong narcissistic trait by becoming quite upset if his crimes aren’t given the front page attention that he feels they deserve.

The film is based on William Goldman’s first novel of the same name and inspired by an article he read involving the Boston Strangler. However, in the book version there were two stranglers on the loose and both competing with each other to see who could top the other with their outrageous crimes while in the movie we’re given only one.  To an extent the film works pretty well and has an almost Avant garde flair to it as director Jack Smight gives his actors great latitude to improvise their lines while also allowing the scenes to become more extended than in a regular production.

Steiger’s strong presence gets put onto full display and the wide variety of accents that he uses is impressive. He manages to successfully create a multi-faceted caricature, which keeps it intriguing, but eventually he becomes too self-indulgent with it and in desperate need of a director with some backbone to yell ‘cut’ and reel him in a little.

Originally he was offered the role as the detective, but chose the strangler part instead forcing the part to be enlarged. Segal though holds his own and does so by not competing directly with Steiger’s overacting, but instead pulls back by creating this humble, passive character that’s just trying to do his job, which helps make the contrasting acting styles work and the film more interesting.

The film though fails to ever be effectively compelling. Most thrillers tend to have a quick pace particularly near the end in order to heighten the tension, but the scenes here remain overly long right up to the end. The side story regarding Segal’s budding romance with Lee Remick doesn’t help nor does Heckart’s Jewish mother portrayal, which comes off as a tired caricature. Had these things been put in only as brief bits of comic relief then it might’ve worked better, but with the way it’s done here it takes away from the main story until the viewer loses focus and ends up not caring whether the bad guy gets caught or not.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

S.O.B. (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife goes topless.

Movie producer Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) is suffering from what they call in Hollywood as Standard Operating Bullshit. His recent film, a family oriented musical that starred his wife Sally (Julie Andrews) and was titled ‘Night Wind’ is a box office flop. Now no one wants to work with him and the studio tries to reedit the film in an attempt to ‘save it’. All of which sends Felix on verge of suicide until he gets the idea of turning the movie into a soft core porn flick and having  Sally bare her breasts in it.

The film is loosely based on experiences that writer/director Blake Edwards had along with his real-life wife actress Julie Andrews during the early ‘70s when their project Darling Lilli did not do well financially and his next several films after that met with lots of studio interference before he was finally able to rebound by resurrecting the Pink Panther franchise.

The satirical jabs are obvious but amusing and the real problems come more with the shallow/jaded characters. Even the wholesome Sally comes off as cold with her rather ambivalent reaction to her husband’s depression/suicide attempt. There is also a running gag dealing with a man (Herb Tanney) who has heart attack at the beach while jogging and his loyal dog stays by his side even though no one else pays attention to it, which starts out as darkly amusing, but eventually gets cruelly overplayed.

Mulligan makes a flat impression as the star to the point of being almost transparent. For the first half he doesn’t say a single word while behaving in an overly exaggerated despondent way. When he finally snaps out of this he then eagerly tries to sell-out on his own film vision simply so it can make a buck, which makes him no better than the rest of the scummy Hollywood elites that he is supposedly trying to fight. Andrews is boring too and her brief topless scene comes off as exploitive and ill-advised.

The best bits come from its supporting cast. Robert Preston as the perpetually inebriated doctor has a few great lines and Robert Webber does well as a very nervous, high-strung press agent. Loretta Swit is hilarious as a bitchy, cantankerous gossip columnist who gets cooped up in a hospital after an accident and an almost unrecognizable Larry Storch hams it up under heavy make-up as a spiritual guru. There is also Robert Vaughn wearing high heels and women’s clothing.

I enjoyed the film within a film approach and the tawdry dream-like sequence scene, but the story suffers from adding in too much slapstick including a drawn-out car chase that seems suited for a completely different type of movie. For mild comedy it is okay, but as satire it fails to make any strong or impactful statement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Youtube

Night of the Comet (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Comet wipes out humanity.

A comet passes by earth, which kills off everyone that was outside watching it. The only people that survive were those that remained inside rooms incased by steel. Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and her sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) are two of the survivors. As far as they know they are the only remaining inhabitants, but then a secret group of scientists track them down pretending at first to be their friends, but in reality they are after the two for their blood as the researchers were inadvertently tainted by the comet’s effects and now need a fresh blood supply from those that were not exposed in order to remain alive, but will the two sisters catch onto their ruse before it’s too late?

This film, which has become a major cult hit, starts out sharply and could’ve been a really great picture had it kept the dry, quirky humor that it has at the beginning. Unfortunately it devolves too much into a drama that loses its momentum and becomes draggy. I enjoyed the scenes showing Los Angeles as a deserted wasteland and these moments were apparently shot in the early morning hours during the minutes when the cars where stopped at traffic lights, which made it all the more impressive and I wished the movie had more of these scenes as it gives the film a surreal quality.

The two female leads are fantastic. Stewart is not only really beautiful, but her acting is excellent and I liked the fact that when she gets attacked by a zombie she doesn’t break out into a scream like is the clichéd reaction of most female characters, but instead keeps her composure. The film would’ve been far stronger had these two remained the sole cast as the implementation of the Hector (Robert Beltran) character does not help things and in fact weakens it as it makes it seem that a man is necessary in order to save them since apparently females are not strong enough or smart enough to do it themselves. The evil scientists are uninteresting as well and outside of seeing Mary Woronov playing a more serious role their time on the screen is quite boring.

The story does not take enough advantage of its quirky concept and misses the chance for a far more original scenario. Adding in zombies is a downer as there are already way too many zombie flicks out there and this one adds nothing to the mix. Seeing two valley girls learning to ‘toughen up’ and survive by solely using their own wits would’ve been the best story angle.

The film is also too tame. When the Hector character does appear Samantha becomes jealous when he chooses Regina over her, but why couldn’t they just do a ménage-a-trois? Since there is no other people around, or very few, that means societal conventions no longer necessary, but for some strange reason the characters here become more ‘civilized’ as the story progresses when in reality the exact opposite would likely occur.

There are also too many logic loopholes that never get addressed. For instance why does the electricity remain on when most likely employees working at the power plants would’ve disintegrated along with everyone else? If the power goes out how are they going to store food in order to keep it fresh or cook it for that matter? These questions along with a variety of others helps knock down what is initially a great idea and impedes this cult flick from living up to its reputation.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Thom Eberhardt

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The ‘Burbs (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: New neighbors cause suspicion.

Ray (Tom Hanks) spends his vacation milling about his suburban home while keeping a close eye on his new neighbors that are rarely ever seen, but at night their basement emits strange noises and lights. Mark (Bruce Dern) and Art (Rick Ducommun) are two other men living in the cul-de-sac who notice the same things. Together they decide to form a strategy by finagling their way inside the rundown place and seeing what exactly is going on in there especially after another neighbor, the elderly Walter (Gale Gordon) mysteriously disappears.

Director Joe Dante has had a lot of success at doing films that mixes elements of horror with dark comedy, but this exercise fails almost immediately because there is nothing scary about it. In fact the humor and threadbare story are so innocuous that it becomes downright boring after about the first 10 minutes. The film fails to have much of a second or third act and the light doses of humor and action sprinkled about barely make up for it. The whole thing comes off like something written by an unimaginative novice that was more suited for an episode of an anthology series than a feature film.

Hanks manages to be marginally funny and Carrie Fisher makes for a good anchor as his no-nonsense wife, but Dern gets wasted as what starts out to be an over-the-top caricature of a right-wing gun-toting radical that soon gets as watered down as the rest of the script. He does manage to get in a few of his ‘Dernisms’, which was mainly due to the fact that the actors were allowed to ad-lib their own lines due to the fact that it was shot during a writer’s strike, but the part isn’t half as funny as it could’ve been. Also, in real-life a person like him wouldn’t be married to such a hot-looking younger woman and it would’ve been more impactful had the actress cast as his wife been his physical equal. I also wondered why they had so much free time to spend milling about the neighborhood. Hanks’ character was on vacation, but what was their excuse?

Spoiler Alert!

The ultimate revelation as to who the neighbors are or what they were doing is quite stale and almost like a non-event. If you are actually considering thinking of sitting through this thing just to find out that answer I would suggest that you don’t bother as it’s not in any way worth the effort. Also, there is never any explanation for what the neighbors were really doing, why they have a trunk full of human skulls, or why they would summon the police when they think their house has been broken into.  There is incriminating evidence at their residence, so why bother risking having the police come over to find it? Since they clearly didn’t have any problem killing people why didn’t they just attack the would-be intruders like they had done to their other victims?

End of Spoiler Alert!

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Gremlins (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t get them wet.

During his travels through China gadget salesmen Randall (Hoyt Axton) spots a furry little creature called a mogwai at a Chinese antique shop run by Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) and decides to purchase it as a Christmas present for his teenage son Billy (Zach Galligan). The mogwai, which they name Gizmo, comes with three simple rules that must never be broken. The first is that the creature must never be exposed to sunlight or bright lights of any kind, he must never get wet or be given water and most importantly he should never be fed after midnight. Unfortunately all three of these rules end up getting broken and the result is the creation of ugly little monsters called gremlins that create havoc and destruction on a peaceful town during Christmas Eve.

The concept is great with a nice mix of horror and dark comedy and I loved the idea of having this Norman Rockwell small town besieged with an ugly underbelly. The creatures look amazingly real and Gizmo is especially cute with special effects that are both creative and effective.

However, in the filmmaker’s effort to be humorous and ‘clever’ the film goes off-the-beam a bit by adding in stuff that isn’t logical and hurts the plot’s overall integrity. I didn’t get where these monstrous gremlins were finding all these hats and clothes that they are seen wearing nor how they were able to read signs, or know how to drive vehicles. Their tiny arms would be too small to be able to hold a chainsaw let alone run it and if you look closely during the bar scene you can see that the beer mugs that they are holding have been miniaturized in order to conform to the dimensions of the puppet. Also, the part where Gizmo gets into a remote controlled toy car and ‘drives’ it makes no sense since they are solely powered by a remote run by someone else that is not present.

Since water is the basic fluid for the survival of most living organisms it was peculiar that this one couldn’t be given any. What liquid was he supposed to drink instead? If he can’t eat after midnight then when exactly can he eat  since theoretically any time is after midnight whether its 3 AM or 3 PM. To me though the dumbest part is when Gizmo’s original owner Mr. Wing reappears at Billy’s and Randall’s home looking to take the creature back, but how would he know where to locate Randall as he left him no address and the film makes it seem that somehow he walked all the way from orient to get there, which is really dumb.

The film was also in its day considered quite controversial since it features a scene where Billy’s mother (Frances Lee McCain) traps one of the gremlins in a microwave and then heats it up until it explodes, which many people considered ‘too violent’ for a PG film and it helped to usher in the PG-13 rating. To me I felt this scene was actually the best moment in the movie as it’s the one part where it actually becomes like a horror film and has some genuine tension.

Dick Miller is fun as a maintenance man who despises foreign made products and Polly Holliday is equally amusing as a scrooge-like landlord whose over-the-top death is a highlight. I also liked Hoyt Axton as the father, but the running joke dealing with all of his inventions and gadgets that constantly breakdown gets old real fast and I was confused how he was able to afford such a nice big house when he made such a menial living trying to sell things that nobody wanted and didn’t work.

This also marks the last acting appearance of two great character actors, which include Scott Brady who is amusing as the alcoholic sheriff who refuses to believe that a bunch of gremlins are on the loose until it’s too late. Many consider this to be Edward Andrews, whose role here as the bank manager was greatly reduced when the runtime was trimmed by over 50 minutes for the final cut, last onscreen appearance as well even though Sixteen Candles, where he had a much more prominent role, was filmed later, but released to theaters earlier.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Buddy Buddy (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suicidal man hampers hit.

Trabucco (Walter Matthau) checks into a hotel intent on completing a hit by shooting a mob informant before he can testify at trial. He’s already killed the two other informants with relative ease, but now finds this one to be much more complicated due to having to deal with Victor (Jack Lemmon) who resides in the adjoining room. Victor is upset that his wife Celia (Paula Prentiss) has left him for a sex therapist (Klaus Kinski) and proceeds to try to hang himself by tying the noose around the water pipes in the bathroom, but all he succeeds at doing is busting the pipes and creating a flood. Trabucco decides to ‘befriend’ the man in order to keep an eye on him and prevent him from trying to kill himself again, which he feels will only lead to unwanted attention from the authorities. However, Jack causes more problems for him than the police ever could.

This was the last film directed by Billy Wilder who stated in more than a few interviews that he considers this movie to be his poorest effort and his least favorite. Matthau and Lemmon have pretty much said the same thing as well. The film was a critical flop and lost 3.5 million at the box office, which helped to prevent Wilder from ever helming another movie again.

However, I was delightfully surprised at how funny I found this movie to be. It’s not exactly laugh-out-loud hilarity, but on a low-key level it works. The part where Lemmon gets tied to a chair and his mouth gagged while he screams at an ambivalent housekeeper (Bette Raya) to free him is quite good and the part where the two men going gliding down a clothes chute is fun too.

The whole thing is a remake of the French film A Pain in the A__, but it implements changes to the plot that improves it from the original. For one thing the dialogue is funnier, the two men have more genuine conversations and they even develop a bit of a bonding. The film adds more characters too like the beleaguered Captain Hubris played by Dana Elcar who tries in vain to protect the witnesses from Trubacco, but with little success. The distinctive musical score by Lalo Shifrin is also big improvement.

Lemmon is quite funny as he plays a sort-of hyped-up version of his Felix Unger character. Matthau seems a bit stymied in a role that allows for very little expression, but he still manages to make the most of it. My favorite performance though was that of Kinski who takes a rare comic turn and utters the movies best line: “Pre-ejaculation means always having to say you’re sorry.”

Having the two actually work together to complete the hit and then make an escape from the cops is good and something that did not occur in the original. The resolution, which takes place on a tropical island, is a bit of an improvement over the first one though it’s still not perfect. In either event it’s a relatively solid comedy that offers a few good laughs and deserves more attention especially for fans of Lemmon/Matthau.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Billy Wilder

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS

Wild in the Streets (1968)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rock star becomes President.

I was going to post this review the day after the election, but decided given the results that I might postpone it a few days as I didn’t want some readers who might feel a bit on edge with the outcome getting any more nervous. The film’s subject matter consists of what at the time was considered simply wild satire, but now in these crazy political times may actually hit frighteningly close to home.

The story centers around Max Frost (Christopher Jones) a rock star who has become a major teen idol to the nation’s young people. Senator Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook) is running for office and wants to campaign to lower the voting age to 18 in an attempt to garner support from young Americans, which in turn he hopes will get him into the Presidency. He asks for the assistance of Max to help him in his pursuit. Max agrees, but then promotes the idea to his fan base of lowering the voting age not to 18, but to 14. Fergus is ill-prepared for the onslaught of enthusiasm this idea has with the teens. He reluctantly agrees to compromise and pass a bill that allows this, but to his shock it gets Max elected President and not him. With Max in office things spiral recklessly out-of-control. Hippies take over the senate and pass extreme laws that send anyone over 30 into concentration camps where they are forced fed LSD.

The script by Robert Thom is unabashedly cynical, which is what I liked most about it. It takes no sides. The younger generation is exposed with just as much foibles as the older one. The film never compromises on its dark tone and the bleak scenarios get pushed to the ultimate extreme, but horrifyingly never fall all that far from the truth.

The film’s acerbic humor is refreshingly on-target. Director Barry Shear camouflages the low budget with a quick pace that emphasizes the frailties and reactions of its characters. Holbrook is superb as the idealist who gets a harsh dose of ugly reality that sends him more and more on edge. Shelley Winters is hilarious as Max’s narcissist mother who uses her son’s rise to fame as an opening for her own entrance into the spotlight. She appears sporadically throughout, but manages to own every scene that she is in when she does.

Jones is excellent in the lead and I considered him very much like James Dean both in is looks and acting method. He’s perfect for the role except in close-ups he looks middle-aged as he was already 30, which hurts the theme since anyone over 25 was considered the enemy. Diane Varsi is quite sexy as a flower child and I loved the scene of her first day in congress where she and her radical young followers send the elders in the room into a shocked free-for-all. The film also gives you a glimpse of famous child TV stars in early roles including Barry Williams, famous from playing Greg in ‘The Brady Bunch’ and Kellie Flanagan who went on the play Candice in ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’.

While I was impressed with the bird’s-eye-view of the mob scenes and how many people they were able to get to be a part of the teen protesters I still felt that there should’ve been violence and raw emotion in these sequences in order to have been more effective. The ending makes its point and then gets very heavy-handed and goes on too long repeating the same statement that the audience already got the first time, but overall I really liked this film and felt that now more than ever it’s quite timely.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Barry Shear

Studio: American Pictures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Offerings (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mute killer sends gifts.

As a child John Radley (Richard A. Busewell), who is mute, gets bullied by the neighborhood kids and the only one that befriends him is Gretchen (Loretta Leigh Bowman). Years later after he escapes from the mental institution, where he resides for killing his emotionally abusive mother (Rayette Potts), he returns to the same town while taking revenge on those kids who are now teens by hacking up their bodies and then packaging their body parts into little ‘gifts’ that he sends to Gretchen as a token of the ‘love’ that he feels for her.

Making a successful low budget horror movie requires one to pretty much follow the same formula as Sam Raimi did with The Evil Dead, which is to emphasize the gore, special effects and atmosphere while keeping the pace fast and cerebral. This movie unfortunately proceeds in the exact opposite direction with scenes that go on too long and dialogue that is extraneous. If you cut out all the needless footage and just kept the moments that actually helped propel the story you’d be left with literally only 8 minutes of its otherwise 94 minute runtime.

The murders are few and far between and its cheesy soundtrack is a complete rip-off of Halloween’s. Watching a guy getting his head squeezed inside a vice is the only killing worth catching and even this one isn’t all that great and as it’s seen via a shadow on the wall with apparently a watermelon used in place of an actual head. The film’s humor is equally sporadic and not enough to save what comes off as just another mechanical slasher retread.

There are problems with the killer a well as he’s barely seen and never says anything, which ultimately makes him quite transparent. How he is able to climb an electric fence without being electrocuted or get shot at and still keep walking is never explained. The fact that he has a severely deformed face and moves like a zombie would easily attract other people’s attention and they would report his whereabouts to the police who most likely would have the guy apprehended before he was even a few minutes outside of the mental hospital’s grounds.

There is also a scene where Gretchen and her friend Kacy (Elizabeth Greene) watch a horror movie on TV and they make fun of how ‘dumb’ the victims are in their attempts to escape from their killer even though these women end up doing many of the same stupid things. If you’re going to mock other movies then you better make sure your film is an improvement, which this isn’t.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Christopher Reynolds

Studio: Arista Films

Available: DVD

The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lots of car accidents.

The residents of a poor Australian town known as Paris come up with a scheme to cause car accidents to those traveling through it which will allow them to salvage what’s left of the vehicle and resell it for goods or cash.  Things go smoothly for a while until Arthur (Terry Camilleri) and his brother George (Rick Scully) become victims to one these ‘accidents’. George dies, but Arthur survives and is too traumatized to get back into a car again or leave town. He takes up residence with the town’s mayor (John Meillon) who gets him a job as a parking enforcer, which causes problems when Arthur gives a citation to some rowdy young people who do not take kindly to this and seek a violent revenge.

This decidedly odd story marks director Peter Weir’s feature film debut and it’s hard to know what genre to place it into. Originally it was intended as a wacky comedy, but then dark elements were added in. Eventually it was distributed as a horror film, but it didn’t do well at the box office, so it was reissued as an art film and only fared slightly better. The film has managed to obtain a cult following and the story is original with funny moments, but the unexpectedly gory ending could leave some viewers cold as it did when it was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival back in ‘74.

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One of the best things about the movie is the casting of Camilleri in the lead. He’s very soft-spoken and has an almost transparent demeanor, which helps heighten the interest because you become intrigued at seeing how this schmuck is going to potentially take down this small town criminal organization, which would’ve been fun, but unfortunately the plot doesn’t get played-out in quite that way.

Meillon is solid as the mayor and I enjoyed seeing how his character puts up this calm façade while simultaneously trying to bottle up all the tension that he has inside. Bruce Spence is effective as the town crazy as well as Chris Haywood playing an average-joe who seems quite benign and good-natured at the beginning only to become increasingly more menacing as the film progresses.

The entire movie was shot on-location in Sofala, New South Wales which has a population of only 208 people and quite possibly the narrowest main street of any town in the world. Weir captures its rundown look well and helps convey how poor and isolated the residents were, which allows the viewer to understand why the people resorted to such desperate measures. However, I didn’t like how these same people immediately flee the town the minute the young adults get out-of-control. People who’ve lived somewhere all their lives become emotionally bonded to it and will not move the moment something goes wrong. They would try to control the threat if they could and only up-and-leave months or years later if they had to. Besides where would these people go as they had no money and limited job skills.

If you’re into offbeat comedy then this one may do for a slow evening although those looking for something in the horror vein will be disappointed.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: The Australian Film Corporation

Available: DVD

Cannonball! (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: An illegal car race.

Wacky participants convene in Santa Monica to take part in an unsanctioned cross country car race. All drivers are accountable for any speeding tickets or injuries that they may accrue and the only rule is that the first person to arrive at a designated spot in New York City wins. Yet the race’s top driver Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman (David Carradine), who is on parole, risks being sent back to prison if he crosses the state line, but he decides to proceed any ways despite the objections of his lawyer girlfriend (Veronica Hamel) who eventually rides along with him.

This film is based on the same real-life race that inspired The Gumball Rally, but critic Leonard Maltin incorrectly states in older versions of his book that this film plagiarizes that one, which isn’t true as this movie came out first and adds in many different story angles.

Despite the fact that the production is plagued with the typically cheap Roger Corman look and seems more like an extension to Death Race 2000 I still preferred this to Gumball. Both films have characters that are decidedly cartoonish and neither film makes any attempt to recreate what really happened, but this movie has a darker edge and most thankfully a better soundtrack that doesn’t have a kiddie-like melody.

This film also reverses the race’s starting and end points. In both the real-life event and in Gumball the starting point was New York, but here it’s California, which is actually a plus. In Gumball the drivers seemed to go from the Big Apple to the desert southwest in a matter of only a few minutes, which made no sense. Here the film crew is allowed ample time to take advantage of the closed desert roads to do their car stunts, which aren’t bad, and it also sets up an ending in which driver Mary Woronov arrives in New York, but then gets lost in the congested traffic and can’t find the finish line, which is the film’s funniest bit.

The cast is much more eclectic. I really enjoyed Judy Canova in her final film appearance as her facial expressions are a hoot especially as she has her car gets rear-ended by Carradine’s. Dick Miller is entertaining as a man that tries to rig the race and Bill McKinney is very effective as the bad guy. Director Paul Bartel and producer Roger Corman have bit parts as does Carl Gottlieb the man who penned the screenplay for Jaws. Other directors make cameo appearances including Jonathan Kaplan, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante and even Martin Scorsese.

Yet what I really liked is the massive car pile-up that occurs near the end that features car after car crashing into an already existing accident and then exploding one after another into a ball of flames. This was considered quite controversial amongst the crew and star Carradine tried to convince Bartel not to put it in, but he insisted and I’m glad he did. Yes it’s morbid, but it helps put a touch of reality into the whole thing. The ‘70s were filled with a lot of silly car chase movies all with the running theme that people needed their ‘freedom’ and having a speed limit takes away all the ‘fun’, but there is a reason why those rules were put into place as what starts out as a good time can easily turn into something horrific in a matter of seconds. To me this was Bartel’s way of spitting-in-the-face at all those other inane road race movies that always took an innocuous angle while conveniently ignoring the ugly realities that existed just beneath the surface.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 6, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Bartel

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video