Category Archives: Black Comedy

The Boys in Company C (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going through boot camp.

Tyrone (Stan Shaw), Billy Ray (Andrew Stevens), Alvin (James Canning), Vinnie (Michael Lembeck), and Dave (Craig Wasson) are five young men from varying backgrounds and wildly different temperaments who get drafted into the army in August of 1967. Their experiences in boot camp, which is harshly run by the demanding Sergent Loyce (R. Lee Ermey) and the equally stern Sergeant Aquilla (Santos Morales) prove challenging both physically and psychological, but the real test comes when they’re put out onto the battlefield and their personalities begin to disintegrate.

While the film acts like everything that goes on is based on fact and even includes specific dates for each event and at the end small bios of what occurred to the characters after they returned to civilian life it’s actually all fictional and based on a screenplay written by Rick Natkin in 1972 while attending a film class at Yale and then later expanded. It’s noted as being the first film in the 70’s to deal with the Vietnam War on the field of battle as well as the film debut of R. Lee Ermey playing a similar role to the more famous one that he did in Full Metal Jacket. Here though he’s thinner and while the things he says are certainly still aggressive it’s not in quite the over-the-top way as in the Stanley Kubrick film. In fact I sympathized with him here and the challenges he faced in trying to get the rag-tag group conditioned and how he supported the Tyrone character and the racism he had to deal with. Morales also plays the same type of drill sergeant and found it ironic that both men had some missing front teeth in the same areas of their mouths and wondered what the story was behind that.

Shot in the Philippines where its similar type of topography to Vietnam lends an authentic look and the viewer is given a vivid feeling for what wartime life was like where things could be calm and peaceful one moment and then bombs going off the next. While I’ve had my issues with Wasson, Stevens, and Lembeck in some of their other films where I considered their acting to be weak here their performances are solid and the transitions their characters go through during the course of the movie are compelling though without question Shaw is the standout.

While the first half shows the realities of war the second part becomes mired in the darkly comical absurdities. This was clearly inspired by the era where such films as M*A*S*H took the Korean conflict and turned it into a surreal comedy, but mixing the grittiness with moments of levity cheapens the reality. Scott Hylands’ character is particularly off-putting. He plays a captain who makes one insane blunder after another until he becomes more of a caricature. I’m sure it’s quite possible for high-ranking officials to make the occasional misjudgment, but this guy becomes clownish to the top degree making it almost farcical in the process. The climactic soccer game has the same issue where the soldiers can get out of fighting on the front line if they just agree to lose the game, but this scenario never actually occurred to any veteran I’ve ever known and it’s jarring to go from action on the battlefield to kicking a ball around like a war movie that suddenly turns into a sport’s one.

It’s still well enough directed to keep it engaging and there are some strong even profound moments despite the severe shifts in tone, but it would’ve been better had it maintained the realism from the beginning and not thrown-in stuff that would’ve been better suited for satire.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1978

Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

A Wedding (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Guests at wedding party.

Muffin (Amy Stryker) marries Dino (Desi Arnaz Jr.) at a wedding ceremony that is non-eventful. However, during the reception afterwards, held at the mansion of Dino’s family, the Correllis, everything begins to go wrong including having the family’s elderly matriarch, Nettie (Lillian Gish) promptly die just as the guests arrive. Snooks (Paul Dooley) and Tulip (Carol Burnett) are the parents of the bride, while Buffy (Mia Farrow) is Muffin’s jealous older sister. During the party Buffy lets Dino know that she’s pregnant with his baby, which sends the family into an uproar once word gets out. Meanwhile Mack (Pat McCormick), the cousin of the groom, makes it known that he’s ‘madly in-love’ with Tulip and wishes to have an affair with her. Tulip at first resists, but then devises a scheme where the two can meet in 2-weeks, at a location in Tallahassee, Florida under the ruse that Tulip will be going to visit her sister who lives there.

While director Robert Altman made some great movies and revolutionized movie-making with his over-lapping conversations technique, he did also produce a few duds. Most of them came during the 70’s when he was given too much free rein to make whatever he wanted in however way he wanted to do it, which culminated in a lot of over-indulgence. This one though, which came right in the middle of his down cycle, is one of his better efforts The idea came as an accident as he was tired of being hounded by a reporter asking, while he was still working on finishing up on 3 Women, what his next project would-be and he joked that he was set to ‘film a wedding’, which at the time had come into vogue for people to shoot the weddings of their family members in a home movie style. Later that night, after speaking with the reporter, he partook in a drinking session with the crew of 3 Women, where they discussed the possibilities of making a movie about a wedding where ‘everything would go wrong’ and by the end of the night he had already come-up with an outline for his script.

This film though, like with all of Altman’s movies, does come with its share of detractors. Gene Siskel in particular did not like the characters, who I admit are a cliche of the nouveau riche and too easy a satirical target. He also complained that there was no one likable, which is true, though films where one person in a large group somehow manages to rise-above-the-fray and being morally virtuous when all the rest aren’t, is unrealistic and having an amoral climate such as here where everyone gets dragged down to the same level as everyone else makes more sense.

The edginess of the comedy is dated as well as what was considered ‘pushing-the-envelope’ at the time, like introducing the characters who are secretly gay, smoke marijuana on the sly, have had multiple sex partners, or (gasp) had sex outside of marriage, is no longer even remotely the scandal, even amongst the most conservative, as it once was, so to enjoy the film one must put themselves in that time period to totally appreciate it. With that said, it still works beautifully. It’s amazing, when considering the massive amount of characters and intersecting story-lines, how well it flows and it’s never confusing, nor do you ever lose track of any of the characters, or their issues, even if they’ve not been shown for a while. The humor gets exaggerated just enough for comic effect, but always within the realms of reality, which is what I really enjoyed about it, is that this could easily remind people of their own real-life weddings, and wedding parties, that they’ve been through.

The cast is splendid and perfectly game to the script’s demands with many of them allowed to freely ad-lib. Howard Duff probably gets the most laughs as the chain-drinking doctor of a dubious quality and Viveca Lindfors as a caterer who becomes ill, takes a pill, and then breaks-out into a loud song during the reception. Burnett is superb as a middle-aged housewife looking for more excitement in her life while also juggling the difficulties of raising a promiscuous daughter and Paul Dooley is quite enjoyable as her brash, and never shy to speak-his-mind husband. I also got a kick out of Amy Stryker, who was cast on-the-spot simply because she wore braces and resembles a young Burnett in many ways and was therefore perfect to play her daughter. Though the ultimate scene stealer is Mia Farrow, who although well into her 30’s at the time, looks amazingly still adolescent-like and pulls off the part of a young daughter quite convincingly. She utters very few words, but makes up for it with her shocking topless scene (she looks great) and the bit where she openly tries to count everyone she has slept with to the stunned silence of the others, including her parents, in the room.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1978

Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Deadly Games (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid versus Santa Claus.

Thomas (Alain Lalanne) is a 10-year-old who’s a wiz with computers and technology. Not only has he set various booby traps throughout the large mansion that he lives in with his mother (Brigitte Fossey), but he can fix cars and even drive them. Despite being super smart he still believes in Santa Claus while his friend Pilou (Stephane Legros) tries to convince him that he isn’t real. Thomas goes on the computer in an attempt to communicate with Santa, but instead gets a vagrant (Patrick Floersheim) on the other end pretending to be the jolly red fellow. He gets Thomas to give out his address and also reveal that his mother is a rich corporate CEO. The vagrant goes to his mother’s company and gets a job as a Santa, but is soon fired by her when he slaps a child. In revenge the vagrant, still in his Santa costume, goes to Thomas’ house where he plans to kill him, but Thomas uses his technical ingenuity to set a trap.

The film is an unusual hybrid between playful children’s comedy, a holiday film, and a slasher horror, which only could’ve been made in France where filmmakers aren’t under a repressive studio system that forces all scripts to conform to a cookie-cutter formula and here allows them to deviate between genres. Many have labeled this the original Home Alone and in-fact writer/director Rene Manzor threatened to sue John Hughes, who had directed the other one, insisting that he had essentially remade his film without permission. There are though quite a few differences between the movies to the extent that I didn’t think it was an unauthorized remake at all. If anything it reminded me more of another French classic Le Joutabout a rich kid living in a big place with a wide assortment of toys. This is also the best of the killer Santa movies as You Better Watch Out and Silent Night, Deadly Night took themselves too seriously while this one has a playful edge that manages to be both amusing and tense.

The kid certainly has an engaging quality and his love for his elderly grandfather (Louis Ducreux) is quite endearing, but he’s also just a bit too smart. I was okay with him being keen on the gadgetry, but having him get underneath a car and able to not only fix it, but also drive it was going too far. I wasn’t sure that a 10-year-old could reach the pedals with his feet and still be able to see over the dashboard. Part of what makes horror movies intense is having a victim appear vulnerable, but right away with the kid being so incredibly ingenious it makes the odds stacked against the killer and thus their cat-and-mouse game not as intriguing. I also really couldn’t stand the kid’s mullet haircut.

The home is over-the-top as well. It gets referred to as a mansion, but really seems more like a castle that’s bigger than anything I’ve seen anyone else, even the billionaires and celebrities, reside in. It doesn’t even seem like a real place, but instead, in certain shots, a miniature model and at other points a painting. All the secret rooms gets a bit dizzying including the hidden one that can be entered via an old refrigerator (are they really expecting us to believe that a 10-year-old kid, no matter how smart he is, could build that?). Another moment has Thomas getting trapped inside a life sized maze, but who the hell would take the time and effort to build a maze in their very own home, which again ends up getting too creative for its own good and negates the tension instead of enhancing it.

The Santa character is a boring. Usually horror movies make an effort to give the psycho, whether it’s through flashback or dialogue, some sort-of backstory, but here this guy pops-up without any idea of who he is, where he’s from, or why he’s so crazy. There’s also a few segments where he gets caught in a trap, like when he falls through a trap door and stuck in a net, but no shot showing how he got out of the predicament. Seeing how he gets himself out should’ve been shown each time (it’s shown in a few scenarios, but not all) in order to make the plot seem more reality based and less cartoonish.

Overall, despite the over-direction, it’s still a fun, wild ride that could be enjoyed by the whole family. It does get a bit intense at times, but the quick-thinking kid always seems to be pretty much in-control. Outside of the pet dog getting stabbed none of the other killings are seen and only the feet of the dead bodies are captured on camera to represent their demise, which should make it palatable for most kids to sit through without having nightmares afterwards.

Alternate Titles: 36.15 code Pere Noel, Game Over

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 18, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Rene Manzor

Studio: Deal

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

The Meateater (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: A haunted movie theater.

Mitford (Peter Spitzer) is a middle-aged father of two who decides he’s had enough of being a shoe salesman. Much to the reluctance of his wife Jan (Dianne Davis) he buys an old movie theater and decides to reopen it. The theater had remained closed since the previous owner showed the movie Carnal Knowledge, which was considered too racy for the conservative citizens of the town, but Mitford promises to schedule only G-rated fare. While opening night is a sell-out it proves fatal when the projectionist (Richard Nathan) gets electrocuted and dies. Then from behind the screen it’s revealed that someone from years ago had hanged himself. No one knows for sure who it is, particularly the vulgar police detective (Joe Marmo), but the new owners begin to suspect that the weird, stuttering man (Arch Joboulian) who lives nearby and always appears in the theater at odd times may know more about what’s going on than he’s letting-on.

Regional filmmaker David Burton Morris, who has shot the majority of his films in the Twin Cities area where he’s from, has had some acclaim with his dramas, but his foray into horror is a disaster. The only redeeming quality are the quirky characters. Raymond, as a hyper nervous, geeky projectionist is funny and I hated seeing him go. The crass investigator is good for a few chuckles too and in some ways probably not all that different from a gruff policemen of that era.

The film’s downfall is the fact that there aren’t any scares. It starts out creepy enough, but that vibe soon gets lost and the soundtrack plays like something better suited for a comedy. The extraneous conversations really bog it down. Discussions about Jimmy Dean sausages and having the family singing the Oscar Meyer wiener song as they drive home has no place in this story, or any other for that matter. It also suffers from poor framing where the husband and wife are sitting on a porch to one side and the detective on the opposite end, but despite all three being involved in a conversation only the couple are seen while all we see from the detective are his legs.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act is where it really goes south as the brother of the crazy stuttering man (both played by Joboulian) kidnaps the couple’s teen daughter (Emily Spindler) because she reminds him of Jean Harlow his favorite movie star. However, the teen girl wasn’t in much of the movie up until then, so the viewer has no emotional connection with her and therefore no care whether she gets away, or not. Since the mother had taken up most of the screentime it really should’ve been her as the kidnap victim. Either way it’s not very tense and Jobulian, who comes-off as a cross between Angus Scrimm in Phantasm and Richard O’Brien from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is not a good enough actor to make the villain role even remotely interesting. The attempt to borrow from the ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ theme where this deformed being falls for a young beauty is both stale and contrived.

The story also has no connection with the title. We do see a man biting down on a rat at the beginning and the theater does show some documentaries of animals attacking other animals, of which we see a few snippets of, but the title leads one to believe this will be about cannibalism and there’s none. The film’s promotional poster seen above is misleading as well and far scarier than anything you’ll witness in the movie.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Burton Morris

Studio: Hollyco

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

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

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

Mortuary Academy (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two brothers inherit mortuary.

Max (Christopher Atkins) and Sam (Perry Lang) are brothers who inherit a mortuary from their dead uncle. At first they’re not happy as neither one of them wanted to go into that business, but when they realize how much money they can make they change their minds, but there’s one small catch: they must pass the rigorous mortuary course. This won’t be easy as it’s taught by Mary (Mary Woronov) who’s the lover of Paul (Paul Bartel) who are both aware that they’ll lose the place should the brothers take over, so they try to make the course as hard as possible to ensure that they both fail. Meanwhile, Paul has other issues as he’s into necrophilia and wants to have sex with the latest dead body that has been sent in, Linda Hollyhead (Cheryl Starbuck), a teen who died while chocking on popcorn.

The film was clearly trying to capitalize on the earlier success of the cult hit Eating Raoulwhich also starred Bartel/Woronov and both were scripted by Bartel, but the edginess and satirical elements from that one are missing here. Probably the only surprising thing to take away from this is Atkins who proves he can actually act. He started out as a male model and then got into show business simply for his looks and starring in the hit film Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields, but his effort to broaden his resume by appearing other movies like The Pirate Movie with Kristy McNichol proved downright embarrassing and like he was just another pretty boy face in-over-his-head, but here he’s his funny facial expressions and inability to kiss women got me chuckling. I came away feeling there was no need for two leads especially since the brothers agree on everything making them seem like one person and without Lang, who’s dull, Atkins would’ve had more of a chance to play-up his goofy nervous looks even more.

The supporting cast, with exception of elderly actress Nedra Volz who’s rants about having her last period 50 years ago are a riot, is what really destroys it. One reviewer on IMDb labeled this as a Police Academy- wanna-be and that’s exactly right. The other students aren’t like real people, but instead stereotyped, benign losers saying and doing dumb things simply for a cheap laugh. The biggest travesty is the appearance of Anthony James, who because of his hawk-like facial features gets once again stuck with a role of a would-be psycho-nut and it’s no surprise that he eventually got sick of the type-casting and left the business for good in order to focus his efforts on artistic paintings some of which were quite impressive.

Bartel and Woronov help a bit playing the exact opposite of the couple they did in Eating Raoul where they killed-off those that were into kink, but here they’re the kinky ones. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work. Bartel’s attempts at sex with a dead body, particularly the scenes at a beach we he momentarily loses her via the incoming tide to a group of frat boys, are funny, but some of their other shenanigans fall flat. Woronov is amusing when she plays a nefarious person, but when she transitions to a good guy and becomes a part of the team, she gets boring.

The biggest issue is the humor, which isn’t dark enough and far too good-natured. The script is gag driven and the special effects poor and tacky. Some would say that because this was a comedy it shouldn’t be gory, but that’s the old-way of thinking as movies like Shaun of the Dead and Evil Dead have proven over-the-top effects actually make it funnier, which is what this film should’ve done. Instead it takes a middle-ground approach making its edgy premise lose all of its zing and only half as good as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Schroeder

Studio: Taurus Entertainment Company

Available: DVD

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Subway passengers held hostage.

Four men wearing disguises and going by code names: Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo), and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman) board the same subway car, this one being the Pelham 1-2-3, at different locations. Once all four are onboard they take out their guns and take over the subway car by holding both passengers and conductor hostage. For their release they demand $1 million in ransom to be paid in 1-hour and for every minute that it is late one passenger will be killed. They communicate these demands to Lt. Zack Garber (Walter Matthau) who is a part of the New York City Transit police. As Mr. Blue and Garber communicate with each other over the radio and the city races to meet the crooks demands Garber begins to try and surmise who these men are and how they’ll be able to get away with it since they’re trapped in an underground subway. Garber is convinced that it will not work and the men will eventually be caught unaware that Mr. Green, who used to work for the subway system until he was, in his mind, unfairly terminated, has come up with an ingenious contraption that can override the dead-man’s switch and allow the train to keep running even with no one at the controls.

The film is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by John Godey, who was a subway enthusiast and came-up with the plot after spending many years using the subway system. While the movie rights for the paperback were sold for $450,000, in anticipation that it’d make a great movie, the film almost didn’t get made due to the reluctance of the Metropolitan Transit Authority to allow the production to be filmed on-location.  Much of the reason stemmed from their fear that it might give ‘kooks’ the idea to pull-off a real-life heist, but eventually they caved once screenwriter Peter Stone added in the fictional contraption that could override the dead-man’s switch.

As a caper/action flick it is quite exciting from literally the first-frame to the last, but it’s some of the other added elements that make it a standout. I really enjoyed how the city of New York becomes like a third character and the unique, brash attitude of the people. Every character, no matter how small the part, has a distinct personality and memorable. My favorites were Mari Gorman as the feisty hooker, Michael Gorrin, as the elderly passenger convinced that the subway car must eventually come to a stop even as it careens out-of-control and everyone else panics. I also enjoyed Louie Larebee as an alcoholic woman, who is so drunk that she passes out when the crime begins and sleeps through the whole thing as well as Carolyn Nelson, the real-life wife of the film’s director Joseph Sargent, playing a college coed who believes she can stop the train through sheer mind control and meditation.

On the ground there’s some great character bits too including Tom Pedi as an aging, misogynist who doesn’t like the idea of having to work alongside women, nor that he should stop cursing because of it, who walks right into the line-of-fire when he stubbornly refuses to listen to the kidnappers warnings. Kenneth McMillan, is very funny as an exasperated street cop trying to direct traffic, and Dick O’Neill lends moments of drama as an outspoken transit employee who doesn’t like the idea of giving into the kidnappers demands and isn’t shy about voicing his disapproval, which leads to a tense confrontation with Matthau.

Matthau’s anti-hero take where he seems initially like nothing more than a aloof, laid-back guy, who doesn’t seem to have the cunning, or initiative to defeat the bad guys. At one point even openly insults a group of Japanese reporters who he thinks can’t speak English only to learn to his regret that they can, is excellent and in patented Matthau style seems to be able to do it without much visible effort.

Shaw is solid, but I felt there needed to be an explanation for how he got bought into the scheme, which never comes and ultimately is the film’s only real weak point. His personality is so different from the other men in the group that I couldn’t understand why he’d want to pull-off a robbery with them, nor why, being such a careful planner that his character is shown to be, he’d only realize as the crime is happening that the Mr. Gray was too much of a hot-head and not right for the job, as I’d think he would’ve observed this much earlier during the planning stage and had Gray removed before the actual crime had ever been carried out. Having scenes of the backstory spliced in would’ve helped made it more complete.

This was remade as a TV-movie in 1998 and then as another feature film in 2009 that starred Denzel Washington in the Matthau role and John Travolta playing Shaw’s part. I never saw the TV version and it’s been many years since I viewed the theatrical remake, but I remember finding it a letdown mainly because it centered too much around Travolta, who would go on long rants that bogged down both the pace and plot making it not nearly as exciting as this one.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Sargent

Studio: United Artists

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

The Chair (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The prison is haunted.

Dr. Langer (James Coco) is a psychiatrist who decides to reopen an abandoned prison with the help of his assistant, the beautiful young Lisa (Trini Alvarado). The problem is that the warden, Ed (Paul Benedict) is plagued by nightmares of a prisoner uprising that he had to deal with many years earlier, that cost the life of his friend Joe who he abandoned when he tried to go for help. While he lay hidden Joe was dragged by the prisoners to an electric chair and killed. Now, years later, the prison has become haunted by Joe’s spirit, but Dr. Langer refuses to believe this until he comes face-to-face with the ghostly presence forcing him to apologize to the prisoners who he had initially disbelieved, but the prisoners are seething from a lack of a working fan, caused by the ghost, and the heat in their cells has become stifling and motivates them to take out their frustrations on the defenseless Langer.

This film, which was directed by a man better known for his work in industrial films, is an odd mix of quirky comedy and surreal horror. The first act works as a soft satire to the new wave of ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ psychiatry that has its share of mildly amusing moments. James Coco is perfect as a Dr. who seems confident and in-control to his prisoners, but deeply out-of-control when dealing with his personal life. Had the movie centered solely on Coco, a highly talented character actor whose obesity was the only thing that held him back from receiving better roles, it might’ve worked.This though will be turn-off to the regular horror fan who will likely find the broadly comical overtones as the beginning off-putting and even confusing as at times, at least initially, it doesn’t seem like a horror flick at all.

The second-half gets darker and even features a few deaths though it cuts away too quickly, particularly with the scene featuring the guard named Wilson (Mike Starr) who gets electrocuted in gruesome fashion, but no follow-up scenes showing how they removed his mutilated body, or who discovered him. The flashbacks dealing with the uprising don’t happen until 55-minutes in, which is too long of a wait to be introducing something that’s an integral element to the plot. There’s also numerous shots of an image of an eyeball appearing inside a light bulb, which becomes redundant and isn’t scary.

The man who gets electrocuted on the chair, and whose name doesn’t appear in the credits, is seen too little and needed to have a bigger part onscreen. The shift in tone from playful camp to gory effects is jarring and makes the whole thing seem like it was done by amateurs who had no idea what they were doing. It also features a completely impotent ‘hero’, played by Gary McCleery, who gets for some reason trapped in his cell when everyone else is able to escape and thus cannot not stop, or prevent any of the violence that happens, which makes him a completely useless character that had no need being in the story at all. If anything Coco, who’s fun despite the anemic material, should’ve been the protagonist and having him disappear before it’s over was a mistake.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending features Lisa marrying Rick, but this gets explained through a newspaper headline even though movies are a visual medium and thus should’ve been shown. The twist of some real estate developers deciding to turn the place into a senior citizen center, is novel, but having this occur at the beginning would’ve been better, as watching a bunch of old-timers fighting off the ghosts would’ve been far more entertaining than anything else that goes on.

Alternate Title: Hot Seat

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Waldemar Korzeniowsky

Studio: Angelika Films

Available: VHS, DVD (Import Reg. 0)

Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Women forced into slavery.

Sardu (Seamus O’Brien) runs an underground theater in the SoHo District of New York where they put on live stage shows that feature naked women tortured and mutilated all to the delight of a paying audience. The members of the public who come to see it believe it’s all an act, but in reality the women are kidnapped and forced to do things against their will through hypnosis. When a theater critic named Creasy Silo (Alan Dellay) refuses to write a positive review about the place in his newspaper Sardu summons his dwarf assistant Ralphus (Luis De Jesus) to kidnap him where he is then chained in the basement of the theater and tortured like the others. Sardu also has famous ballet dance Natasha (Viju Krem) kidnapped where she eventually, through the power  of hypnosis, puts on a perverse dance, but Natasha’s boyfriend Tom (Niles McMaster) doesn’t believe she’s doing it willingly, so he calls on police detective John Tucci (Dan Fauci) to investigate. The problem is that Tucci is corrupt and secretly agrees to do nothing about Sardu’s crimes as long as he gets bribe money. 

Out of all of the exploitative films that came out during the 70’s this one still holds the top prize of being the most notorious and rightly so, as what it shows went far beyond many other provocative films of that decade that promised sensationalism, but delivered little. This one definitely delivers to the extent that writer/director Joel M. Reed professed to losing many of his longtime friends after they watched it. While intended as a dark comedy, a very dark one, how much one enjoys will be dependent on how twisted their sense of humor is with some finding it entertaining, even darkly inventive, while others will be downright shocked and appalled. 

The effects are done from a campy perspective and have not aged well though still potent. The two that took me aback a bit was when a young woman, played by Illa Howe, gets put on a guillotine and has her head chopped-off. The severed head then is taken out of the basket it was dropped in and it really does resemble her face and not that of a mannequin’s like you’d expect. The infamous brain sucking scene, which became the inspiration for the film’s title, where a sadistic Dr., played by soap star Ernie Pysher, drills a hole into a women’s head, played by Lynette Sheldon, who has since gone on to become a well renown acting teacher, and then sucks her brains out through a straw is pretty grisly too.

The film was picketed by women’s groups, including women against pornography, outside of theaters that showed it. Many labeled it misogynistic and I’d have to agree as all the women characters have no discernible personality other than jut running around naked while allowing themselves to be tortured, beaten and even mutilated as passive victims with no resistance. The premise explains this is because of ‘hypnosis’, but that pushes that concept far beyond believability making it more like a twisted male fantasy than a movie.

The film has also gained notoriety for the violent deaths of its two stars with O’Brien becoming a homicide victim of a home invasion less than a year after its released while six years later Krem perished from an accidental shooting while on a hunting trip. Personally I found Fauci, who is the founder of The Actor’s Institute and has been the acting coach of such notables as Fisher Stevens and Marisa Tomei, to be the funniest. He plays the caricature of a corrupt cop, but does it in such an amusing way that every time he utters a line it’s highly entertaining.

Special mention must also go to dwarf actor De Jesus, who came to fame 5 years earlier in the porn flick The Anal Dwarf, where he attempted to have sex with a regular sized woman as apparently not every part of his body was small. Here, I found his facial expressions and overall energy to be engaging and had he and Fauci been the stars, playing adversaries, the film would’ve been funnier.

On the technical end the remastered blu-ray has a faded color and a spotty sound, making it look like it was captured on cheap, vastly inferior equipment from the get-go. Of course for those that came to see the explicit sadomasochism these other issues won’t matter.

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Alternate Title: The Incredible Torture Show

Released: November 3, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel M. Reed

Studio: American Film Distributing Corporation

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