Category Archives: Black Comedy

Rabid (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Graft patient craves blood.

Rose (Marilyn Chambers) becomes the victim of a horrible accident when the motorcycle she goes riding on with her boyfriend (Frank Moore) crashes and she gets pinned underneath the burning wreckage. Fortunately for her the accident occurs near a clinic that specializes in plastic surgery. The head surgeon (Howard Ryshpan) is able to perform an experimental procedure on her that helps graft her burned skin back to normal, but in the process creates a strange orifice in her armpit that sucks blood from everyone she attacks. Her victims then become possessed by a rare form of rabies that sends the city of Montreal into a panic as the authorities try to control the outbreak while also trying to figure out the cause.

This marked director David Cronenberg’s third feature film and from a low budget standpoint the results are impressive. I was especially amazed by some of the car stunts including having an out-of-control vehicle jump a guard rail and crash onto a highway below where a large semi then rams into it. His ability to somehow hire an entire fleet of squad cars is admirable too as most budget-challenged films will make do with just one police car when having authorities investigate the scene of a crime/accident even though in reality there are usually many especially if the crime or accident is severe like here.

I also loved the way he captures the gray/bleak Canadian landscape, which helps supplement the film’s dark and moody tone as well as the bits of dark humor that gets implemented into the story that made me wish the whole thing had been approached as a black comedy from the start.

The horror though isn’t all that much and genuine scares are light including the scenes showing rabid people attacking others, which becomes both clichéd and redundant. The orifice itself looks like an asshole and similar to the giant one that Cronenberg created many years later for his equally provocative film Naked Lunch.

Unfortunately porn star Chambers doesn’t have the presence or talent for mainstream film work. She broke into the business years earlier with a bit part in the Barbra Streisand movie The Owl and the Pussycat, but to her surprise other film offers didn’t follow, which eventually forced her into the X-rated business, which included starring in the cult classic Behind the Green Door, but she always held out hope to one day breaking back into mainstream movies and finally got it here, but it never propelled her further.

Part of the issue is her voice which is abnormally high-pitched and at times sounds like that of a very young child’s. In certain scenes it’s worse than others, but I found listening to her speak to be disconcerting and distracting although she does still look great naked.

The somber, downbeat ending is unusual for a horror film and it might’ve had more impact had the main character been given more depth. The viewer though learns little about her and she fails to have a distinctive personality, which limits the film’s ability to be anything more than just a curio.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 8, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Cronenberg

Studio: Cinepix Film Properties

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

Piranha (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mutant fish attack swimmers.

When two teenagers disappear late one night while swimming in a pool inside an abandoned military complex it’s up to Maggie (Heather Menzies) a professional skip tracer to find them. She recruits Paul (Bradford Dillman) a drunken backwoods loner to serve as her guide. As their investigation continues they learn that the swimmers were killed by some mutant fish that had been created by the government to be used as a weapon during the Vietnam War. Now that the war was over they were being kept inside a secret underwater tank, but when Maggie inadvertently drained the tank in order to search for the bodies she released the fish down the river where they are set to attack a children’s summer camp of which Paul’s daughter Suzie (Shannon Collins) is in attendance.

This is billed as a spoof of Jaws and supposedly according to Leonard Maltin’s review loaded with in-jokes, but to me I saw very little that was humorous and in many ways this film could work as a legitimate horror film on its own. The only amusing moments I found are when Maggie plays a Jaws video game near the beginning as well as a female beachgoer who is spotted reading ‘Moby Dick’, but otherwise the chuckles are light unless you count Dick Miller as an overzealous promoter who is indeed pretty funny.

The film starts out like I wants to be different from the typical horror film and initially I was intrigued particularly with the two protagonists. Normally the female/male leads in these types of films consist of good-looking teens/college aged kids, but here we get a guy who was near 50 and a female, who although being quite attractive has more of a take-charge attitude that is usually seen in a guy. Having the film play against gender stereotypes was for me the best thing it had going for it and I really liked the way the awkward relationship between Maggie and Paul initially developed.

Unfortunately it doesn’t stay that way and by the halfway mark Paul is the one taking control while Maggie is just tagging along, which I found disappointing. It also tries to sneak in a romance angle, which is ridiculous since the guy was clearly old enough to be her father. Paul is also seen continually drinking alcohol, but he never shows any signs of being inebriated and I realize alcoholics have a higher tolerance to the stuff, but still I doubt he would’ve been able to stay so sharp and heroic as he ends up being while still under the influence as he supposedly is.

The fish attacks become monotonous and consist of the same shot of rubber fish put on strings shown swimming towards their prey and the sound effects used for the fish when they start biting was performed by underwater dental drills, which to me sounded cheesy. There are a lot of pools of blood that form around the victim as he/she are being bitten, but not much else in the way of special effects. Only at the end does it get gorier and there’s even a shot of one of the fish coming straight towards the screen with its toothy mouth wide open, but I felt this should’ve been put in earlier.

The supporting cast of eclectic B-movie stars is interesting but underused and this also marks the final film appearance of Barry Brown who at the age of 27 killed himself just two months after the film wrapped shooting and was already dead by the time it was released to theaters. Overall though, the whole thing, which was remade in 2010, is watchable but disappointing. The humor and offbeat elements should’ve been played-up much more and the characters made to be more eccentric especially the two leads. In the end it becomes just another routine horror flick that’s no better or worse than the hundreds of others that are already out there.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 3, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: New World Pictures

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

Heartburn (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Husband cheats on wife.

Rachel (Meryl Streep) writes for a magazine as a New York food critic and meets Mark (Jack Nicholson) at a wedding that they both attend. Mark is a political columnist who’s known around Washington for being quite a ladies man, but the two get into a relationship anyways and then eventually despite their reluctance married. Things go smoothly for a while and Rachel even starts to think that she has a ‘perfect marriage’, but then as she is about to give birth to their second child she realizes that he has been having an affair.

The film is based on Nora Ephron’s autobiographical novel dealing with her marriage and subsequent divorce to newspaper reporter Carl Bernstein. The book starts out with her ready to give birth to the second child, but the movie unfortunately takes a more linear approach to the narrative as it plods along through the initial courtship and wedding even though the red flags are clearly there and the viewer knows exactly where it’s going. The story would’ve worked better had it started at the 50-minute mark where Rachel finds out about the affair and then through brief flashbacks shown how the relationship began, which would’ve cut the runtime, which is too long for such slight material anyways, and helped make the proceedings seem just a little less predictable.

A lot of the humor doesn’t work either. The sequence involving the wedding ceremony and Rachel not sure if she wanted to go through with it which keeps the guests there for hours gets botched because I don’t believe the people would’ve remained sitting there for so long. When she finally does decide to proceed with the wedding the guests all look strangely refreshed when in reality most if not all would’ve been long gone and it would’ve been funnier to see them getting married inside an empty room save for one bored wedding guest who remained there simply because it couldn’t find a ride home.

The dream-like segments where an Alistar Cooke-like character talks about Rachel’s marriage problems while hosting a TV-show is too surreal and should’ve been excised because doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film, which is more reality based. The segment where Rachel finds out that Mark is having an affair and then it cuts to a shot of her holding a pie that she is taking to a dinner party is too obvious as the viewer immediately gets a strong sense that the pie will eventually be going onto Mark’s face and when it finally does it’s not funny, but anti-climactic instead.

The script fails to add any new insight into an already tired subject and the characters aren’t likable as they have too much of an elitist coastal feel about them and their lifestyles won’t resonate or connect with anyone living in another part of the country. There are just too many people in this whose only concern or form of entertainment is having catty gossip/conversations dealing with who’s cheating on whom, which quickly becomes derivative.

Streep and Nicholson are good and its interesting seeing them play together here as they also starred together just a year later in Ironweed playing two diametrically different people. Unfortunately Jack, who is for the most part quite likable, doesn’t look or behave at all like the real-life Bernstein, which his character is supposedly loosely based on. Dustin Hoffman, who had already played Bernstein in All the President’s Men was the first choice for the role and he would’ve been perfect, but for whatever reason he turned it down.

Ultimately though the film’s biggest drawback is simply Rachel herself as she frets and nitpicks about everything and her anxiety-ridden ways would most likely annoy any man, which makes the ultimate affair when it finally does happen seem inevitable and not a shock at all. When she ponders to Mark about if they should get married and she tells him that she fears she’ll drive him crazy and Mark replies ‘you already are’ I felt like saying ‘she’s driving the viewer that way too.’.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mike Nichols

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Real Life (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ordinary family reality show.

Albert Brooks plays Albert Brooks a hot shot young filmmaker determined to make a splash by filming a regular American family in their home and capturing everything that they do. The idea is for the family to go about their daily lives as if the cameras aren’t really there and then record their interactions. Things though go off-kilter almost immediately, which sends Brooks into a panic as he fears his movie won’t be entertaining enough and forcing him to compromise the project by instilling outside influences in order to make the movie more commercially viable.

This is another film that gets listed in the book ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’, but I’m not sure why. I’ll admit when I first saw it over 30 years ago it struck me as being quite irreverent and edgy at least the beginning, but the second half fades as Brooks loses sight of the main theme and writes himself into a hole. This results in a lot of tired jokes that focuses too much on the filmmaker and not the family.

The idea is based off of the documentary called ‘An American Family’, which was broadcast on PBS from January to May of 1973. This is where a filmmaking crew followed around the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California for 7 months in 1971 and filmed everything that went on between them. The idea was not to sensationalize anything, but instead have it work as an educational program examining the dynamics of how a typical American family works. Although things started out normal it soon began to unravel when the wife asked for a divorce and the couple’s 20 year-old son suddenly came out as gay. All these things were unexpected and many critics felt it was the presence of the cameras that brought them out.

Unfortunately this film misses the mark by having the family’s unraveling occur almost immediately and therefore not taking advantage of a prime comedic arch. The family members also lack any discernable personality and proceed to just get more boring as the film progresses. Certain darkly humorous moments like the scene where the father, played by Charles Grodin, performs a botched operation on a horse as part of his veterinarian practice are not funny at all and instead quite disturbing especially since a real horse was used.

The audience comes into this thing expecting to see a story about a family, but instead gets bombarded with Brooks whose sarcastic personality is only tolerable in small doses. The intended satire of a popular TV-series morphs into scenes of a narcissist filmmaker endlessly whining about his anxieties making the whole thing seem more like a vanity project or worse a limp remake of Federico Fellini’s 8 ½.

Some great moments particularly the opening scenes showing the audition phase get lost amidst a rapid fire of sardonic gags that go nowhere.  I started to wonder if Brooks had even seen the actual series that he is supposedly trying to make fun of, or if he just considered the concept as an excuse to try and make himself the star. The intended surrealism doesn’t work and actually gets in the way with a whacked-out Gone with the Wind-like finale being the worst and only helps cement this as a misfire.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Albert Brooks

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

…and justice for all. (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawyer fights the system.

Arthur (Al Pacino) is a defense attorney who becomes increasingly more frustrated and disillusioned with the court system. He’s fighting to get one of his clients, Jeff (Thomas Waites), out of jail as he’s been sitting behind bars for over a year simply because he was mistaken for somebody else while also being forced to defend Judge Fleming (John Forsythe), a man that he vehemently hates, from a rape allegation.

The script by the husband and wife team of Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtain is chockfull of great insights into the American legal system and how messed up and prone to corruption it can sometimes be. Defense lawyers have in the past been glamourized in TV-shows like ‘Perry Mason’, but here the viewer gets a more stark assessment of their profession as they watch them being forced to defend those that they know are actually guilty. Yet it also balances this by showing how public defenders can also be the lone voice to those who are truly innocent and have no one else to speak up for them.

The film has a weird comedy/drama mix that doesn’t work and ends up getting in the way. When I first saw this many decades back I liked the humorous undertones as it gave production a surreal, satirical edge, but upon second viewing I didn’t find it to be as amusing. The script makes good hard-hitting points and adding in the humor only diminishes this message and takes away from the seriousness of the subject matter.

The side-story dealing with the suicidal judge, played by Jack Warden, should’ve been excised. I’ll admit the images of him eating lunch while sitting out on a ledge of a tall building, or trying to kill himself with a rifle are memorable, but pointless and by coupling this judge character with Forsythe’s crooked one seems to imply that all judges are either bad or crazy, which isn’t fair.

The storyline dealing with Arthur visiting his senile grandfather, played by Lee Strasberg, should’ve been cut out as well as it has nothing to do with the main plot. It also brings up many unanswered questions like why is Arthur close to his grandfather and not to his own parents and why did his parents apparently ‘abandon’ him? This backstory never gets sufficiently addressed and seems like material for a whole different movie altogether.

Spoiler Alert!

The storyline involving Judge Fleming is the most intriguing and should’ve been made the film’s primary focus, but I was disappointed with the way the judge glibly admits to his crime, which takes away the mystery angle and I would’ve preferred the truth coming out in a more dramatic manner. The film also has a very old-fashioned take to his situation by saying that just because the character is involved with BDSM activities that somehow makes him ‘deviant’ and more prone to committing rape, which has been proven untrue as there are plenty of people who can enjoy kinky activities with consenting partners and still remain ethical.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall the film is worth catching and has many interesting moments including Pacino’s final speech that he gives to a packed courtroom, which is a gem. This also marks the film debuts of Christine Lahti and Jeffery Tambor as Pacino’s lawyer friend who slowly goes crazy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Director: Norman Jewison

Rated R

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Devil comes to town.

Based on the John Updike novel of the same name, the story centers on three single women (Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer) living in the town of Eastwick, Rhode Island who are also witches, but don’t yet realize it. All three want to meet up with the man of their dreams, which ushers in Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson). He is a rich playboy that buys the town’s landmark home the stately Lennox Mansion. The three women are initially seduced by his powers only to realize later that he is actually the devil incarnate and spend the rest of the time conjuring up a spell that will send him back to where he came from.

After achieving so much success with The Road Warrior franchise Australian director George Miller decided to take a stab at something completely different, but had to deal with studio politics during the production, which made the final product disjointed. However, despite an array of confusing plot points the offbeat elements are enough to hold your attention and keep things interesting.

The creative special effects add an imaginative flair, but tend to get overdone. I enjoyed the scene where Veronica Cartwright vomits out cherry seeds all over her house, which leaves an indelible impression, but then Nicholson does the same thing later inside a church where it becomes redundant and gross. Watching a floating tennis ball defying gravity is amusing, but not needed. This scene, where all four get together to play a game of tennis, should’ve instead focused on the underlying tensions between the characters, which would’ve given the movie some needed nuance.

I enjoyed Sarandon, who goes from being a repressed nerdette to sexual vamp, but overall the efforts of the game cast are wasted as there’s not enough distinction between the women’s personalities making them seem almost like the same person. The only female that is distinct and memorable is Cartwright who’s campy, over-the-top portrayal of a paranoid religious woman hits-the-mark and should’ve been enough to give her more screen time and at least one scene where she confronts Nicholson directly.

I would’ve preferred also that the women been aware right from the start that they were witches, which would’ve made them immediate adversaries to Nicholson instead of these dopey pawns that passively allow him to seduce them one-by-one in long drawn-out segments that become quite strained. In contrast Nicholson could’ve preyed on the other women in town while these same witches spent their time coming up with ways to stop him and thus creating more of a theatrical battle.

Nicholson is great, but his character like with the others is poorly etched. At the beginning he’s a conniving player who possesses the ability to manipulate these women almost seamlessly, but then during the second half this all changes, but with no clear explanation as to why. His speech though inside a church expounding on man’s ever daunting task to tap into the female’s psychic is priceless:

“Do you think God knew what he was doing when he created women, or do you think it was just another one of his minor mistakes like tidal waves?…If it was a mistake maybe we can do something about it; find a cure, then a vaccine, build-up our immune systems.”

The biggest issue though is that the film needed to be genre specific and played more like a horror movie with dark comical undertones instead of a serene/hybrid comedy. The New England setting is picturesque, but not right for this type of story. A better location would’ve been a town that was mostly cloudy and gloomy while containing buildings that were old and gothic, which would’ve helped to create an eerie atmosphere that is otherwise sorely lacking.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Miller

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: These thieves double-cross.

Four colorful characters commit a London diamond heist orchestrated by George (Ton Georgeson). After the crime is committed Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her lover Otto (Kevin Kline) call the police and have George turned in as they plan to abscond with all of the diamonds themselves. However, George with the help of his stuttering henchman Ken (Michael Palin) had the diamonds removed from the secret safe that Wanda and Otto thought it was in, so when the couple comes back to retrieve them they find that they’re gone. With George now in jail Wanda decides to seduce George’s lawyer (John Cleese) with the idea that George most likely told him where the loot is stashed, but this causes jealousy with Otto who is highly insecure and doesn’t like to be called stupid.

The story could probably best be described as a comical variation of The Asphalt Jungle in which a crime is successfully committed only to have all the participants turn on each other afterwards. This concept works for the first 45 minutes, but then wears itself out making me feel more of a backstory and a longer set-up was needed. These people are also not very likable and it would’ve been nice to see at least one of them do something, even if it was just briefly, that wasn’t completely underhanded.

Curtis is miscast as she has a very strong and grounded personality in real-life, which always comes through in the parts that she plays, so having her portray such a superficial woman willing to do anything for money seems out-of-sync. Her character is portrayed as being calculating and crafty, but she’s really quite one-dimensional as all she does is use her body and sex appeal to get what she wants, which seems sexist to presume that sex is the only ‘weapon’ that a woman can use and never her mind instead. A truly clever lady would be able to come up with more imaginative ways to manipulate a man and not just immediately feeling the need to prostitute herself. It also made me wonder what she was going to do when she got older and her looks faded as she seemed to have no ‘plan-B’.

Kline gets the showy role and it was enough to net him the best supporting actor Oscar. The character initially comes off as being quite obnoxious, but if you accept the fact that he is extremely insecure then it works and is even somewhat funny particularly the way he spies on Wanda when she’s with Cleese, but by the second half his antics turn too dark making him psychotic and I no longer found him amusing or enjoyable at all.

Palin’s character suffers a similar fate. Initially he’s this dimwit that everyone else overlooks, so you feel like cheering for him. Yet his constant stuttering becomes an overplayed one-joke that seems to mock those in real-life who may suffer from the same affliction. His character loses his appeal when he becomes all too willing to kill off an old lady to silence her as a witness. His inept attempts at killing her becomes the film’s running gag and turns this initially witty movie into slapstick nonsense similar to a live-action version of a Wiley E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoon.

Cleese is enjoyable as the a proper British barrister stuck in a loveless marriage and the scene where the film cuts back and forth between Cleese and is wife getting ready for bed and the way Kline and Curtis also gets ready for it is the funniest, most inspired moment in the movie.  His character though starts to take over the film by the second half even though it worked better when it gets played as an ensemble comedy and the way he goes from being a nebbish to sexually liberated is not interesting. I felt his blossoming romance with Curtis was too forced and having Curtis fall in love with him simply because he could speak in different accents, which is enough to get her overtly aroused, is quite contrived and ridiculous.

I would’ve liked some situation, other than the initial crime itself, put in that would’ve forced these characters to get along and have shown a different side to their personalities instead of just their devious/desperate one, which gets too protracted. The constant double-crossings run-out-of-steam making they’re shenanigans increasingly more strained as it goes along until it becomes just a big cluttered comical mess that despite a few good chuckles doesn’t seem worth it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Charles Crichton

Studio: MGM

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

Ruthless People (1986)

Ruthless People Movie Poster (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife gets kidnapped.

Sam (Danny DeVito) wants to kill his shrewish wife Barbara (Bette Midler) so he can get her inheritance, but is unable to when she is kidnapped by a young couple (Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater) who demand ransom. Sam decides not to pay it, but mistakenly tells his lover (Anita Morris) about his plans and she with the help of her secret boyfriend Earl (Bill Pullman) scheme to use this information to extort him, but then a neighborhood psycho known as The Bedroom Killer (J.E. Freeman) throws everything into chaos by threatening to kill all of them.

The script was written by Dale Launer who at the time was a struggling salesman at a sound appliance store much like Judge Reinhold’s character in the movie, but like with many scripts written by first-timers there’s too many characters and a plot-heavy scenario that throws in one irony after another until it gets convoluted. Too much emphasis is placed on the concept and not enough on the characters with an end result that has no point to it other than just being very crass and over-the-top.

Everyone onscreen is simply a flimsy caricature used to propel the elaborate plot along and nothing more. The only one that is likable is Helen Slater whose nervous wide-eyed gaze makes her presence memorable. The film though would’ve worked better had it focused solely on the contrasting couples as well as having Reinhold and Slater shown working together more instead of Reinhold taking over and pushing Slater off to the side until she becomes almost forgotten.

DeVito is enjoyable, but Midler is annoying especially with her exaggerated facial expressions.  I also didn’t buy into the idea that this woman who is otherwise quite cynical and sarcastic would be naïve enough to believe that her husband still loved her and supposedly ‘worshipped the ground’ that she walked on even when he really didn’t. After living with somebody for 15 years, which is how long their marriage apparently was, you get a pretty clear view of your partner’s flaws no matter how hard they try to camouflage it. Even the most wide-eyed of people would’ve been at the very least suspicious that he might have ulterior motives as there’s always red flags and the fact that this lady was completely oblivious to them only proves how poorly fleshed-out the characters here are.

Spoiler Alert!

The story is overloaded with loopholes too. For instance Anita Morris and her lover Bill Pullman decide to play the tape of what they think is Sam murdering his wife on a VCR inside a TV-equipment store where all the other customers can see it, but why play something publicly that could potentially get them into a lot of trouble? If Pullman was able to afford a video camera, as he was the one who recorded the incident to begin with, then why couldn’t he also afford his own VCR?

It also takes too long for the police to suspect that Sam may have something to do with his wife’s disappearance even though in reality the spouse is always the prime suspect from the get-go. Having 8 police cars openly tailing Reinhold in hopes that he will lead them to his hideout is pretty stupid too. The idea is to not allow the suspect to be aware that you’re following him because otherwise he will just lead the police on a wild-goose-chase, which is exactly what he does here and any savvy veteran cop would’ve predicted that. I realize the filmmakers thought it would be ‘funny’ visually seeing all these police cars chasing the suspect, but it’s instead nonsensical. Every movie needs to have at least one person who is grounded and sensible even if everyone else is kooky. Having everyone behaving foolishly makes the story inane and unbelievable.

Reinhold’s ability to escape from his submerged vehicle after he drives it into a lake is equally questionable. Putting on a breathing apparatus underwater as he apparently does would be quite difficult if not impossible and how exactly was he able to make it seem like it was the Bedroom Killer (who was killed earlier in the film) as the driver of the getaway vehicle instead of himself? For that to happen the killer would’ve had to have been sitting in the driver’s seat where Reinhold was previously. Are we to believe that Reinhold had the dead killer’s body in the trunk of his car and while underwater somehow able to get the corpse from the trunk into the driver’s seat before the police got to it? The logistics of this is dubious, which is why having a scene done underwater showing him going through all of this should’ve been inserted in, but unfortunately isn’t.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall despite a few chuckles it’s a superficial mess and nowhere near the acerbic, dark satire that it likes to think it is. I disliked the gaudy Memphis style furniture used in DeVito’s home as well, which gives the production too much of a campy look.  Billy Joel’s ‘Modern Woman’, which gets played over the closing credits, seems to have nothing to do with the main theme and completely out of place. I also couldn’t stand the dresses that Helen Slater’s character designs. The movie acts like she has ‘talent’ and Midler really likes wearing them even though it looks like something you’d put on a clown and nothing I’d ever want to be seen in and I’d feel sorry for anyone who did wear them.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 27, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Dark Star (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Four guys in space.

Dark Star is a scout ship used to destroy planets in the galaxy that are considered unstable. Its crew consists of four men: Pingback (Dan O’Bannon) who keeps a pet alien resembling a beach ball in the back storage room, Talby (Dre Pahlich) who spends all his time sitting alone in the ship’s observation deck, Boiler (Cal Kuniholm) who enjoys playing around with the ship’s emergency laser rifle, and Doolittle (Brian Narelle) who spends his time dreaming about being able to water surf again. The men have all spent 20 years on the ship and its begun to take a toll on their mental state as well as the ship’s mechanical framework, which ultimately challenges their survival.

This started as a student project while director John Carpenter and O’Bannon were attending USC’s film school back in 1970 and it was met with such enthusiasm that they decided to lengthen it into a feature film. Although critics at the time loved it the public didn’t, which caused the film to be shown to virtually empty theaters only to finally find a second life on the DVD market where it has now achieved a strong cult following.

Despite being an obvious parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey it doesn’t just play it up for cheap laughs, which why it works. Too many times parodies overplay the comedy elements by using an Airplane-like structure that is just one slapstick gag after another. Here there’s an actual story with character’s motivations that make sense given their circumstances and coming off more like a quirky observation of the psychological effects of space isolation instead of just a cheesy comedy.

The special effects are impressive especially given its limited budget. Sure some of it is tacky including having the ship’s console board made up of ice cube trays turned upside down, or space suits made of muffin tins and helmets worn by the crew that were actually designed for children. Yet there’s a share of cool moments too like the flashing lights used to represent a meteor storm in space or a scene involving a former commander (John Carpenter) kept in cryogenic suspension and even a nerve-wracking moment inside an empty elevator shaft.

The most memorable segment involves an alien that resembles a beach ball with little feet. Initially this looks absurd and makes the film seem too silly, but when the alien manages to escape from its holding cell and begins creating havoc on the ship it starts to seem, as surprising as this may sound, creepy and gives the film a certain chilling edge that was later used as the basis for Alien.

There are enough original moments here for it to be appreciated by just about any sci-fi fan with a funnybone. The fact that the story focuses on the crew’s mental deterioration and the ship’s eroding structure is not all that far off from reality either. Many other big budget sci-fi flicks, in their quest to bombard the viewer with the latest overblown special effects, usually ignore the psychological angle of being trapped on a spaceship for long periods of time would have, which thus gives this movie, as campy as it ultimately is, a certain insightful edge.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 30, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated G

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: Jack H. Harris Enterprises

Available: DVD

The Running Man (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: A deadly game show.

The year is 2019 and the United States has turned into a militarized police state. In an effort to keep people’s minds off of their bleak existence the government broadcasts game shows in which the contestants are convicted felons who fight for their lives against well-trained and well-equipped assassins called ‘stalkers’. When Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) gets convicted of a crime he didn’t commit he is put onto one of these shows called ‘The Running Man’ as a contestant, which is hosted by Damion Killian (Richard Dawson). They then try everything they can to kill Ben, but to their surprise Ben proves to be far more resilient than they ever expected.

The film is based on a novel of the same name written by Stephen King under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. However, the novel is far different than the movie, which had the main character traveling to different towns in the northeast while here the game show action gets confined to a dark, dingy studio. The main character was also thin and meek-looking, which would’ve been more interesting had he been that way in the movie as it would’ve made him seem even more like an underdog.

The film’s comic book look is fun for a while and the shots showing the audiences stunned reactions as Ben continually takes down these supposedly unbeatable stalkers is funny. It also makes some good points regarding media manipulation and the hypnotic power of television although it’s too generalized and could’ve gone further with it.

The casting though is particularly good including Ricard Dawson as the egotistical game show host. He did some acting during the ‘60s, but was mainly known for his work as a panelist on ‘Match Game’ and hosting ‘Family Feud’ and yet here he falls into his role with complete ease and easily steals the film. It’s also fun seeing Jesse Ventura, who later became the governor of Minnesota wearing a tacky looking wig. Former football player Jim Brown gets one of the best roles of his film career as a stalker whose punk hairdo resembles that of a skunks and Barbara Lux is amusing as an old lady who swears liberally.

While the dark humor is engaging the story does get quite derivative. Watching Ben defeat the stalkers one-by-one becomes mechanical and redundant. The film also fails to display any type of futuristic vision as the characters use phones that are still connected by a cord, have computers with big, clunky keyboards, and watch TVs that are still of the boxy variety.

Spoiler Alert!

The most disappointing element though is the ending, which differs greatly from the one in the book and is far too neat and tidy. The idea that one determined individual can single-handedly take down a deeply corrupt system is the stuff of romanticized fiction. Having the brain-washed masses suddenly become ‘de-converted’ by showing them actual news coverage wouldn’t really work. If people have been feed a lie for so long they’re not necessarily going to know what the truth is when it hits them and may actually just consider it to be a ‘lie’. Throwing in a ‘feel-good’ ending diminishes the dystopian theme and dark humor that came before it making the film nothing more than a marketing gimmick with no real bite.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 13, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Michael Glaser

Studio: Tri-Star Pictures

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