Category Archives: Cult

Clownhouse (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Clowns terrorize three kids.

Three brothers (Nathan Forrest Winters, Brian McHugh, Sam Rockwell) find themselves alone late one night in their big house when their parents are away on business. They try to scare each other by telling spooky stories involving clowns, but little do they know that three mental patients (Michael Jerome West, Byron Weible, David C. Reinecker) have escaped from a nearby insane asylum. They kill some men working as clowns at a local circus and then disguised as clowns themselves sneak inside the home where the boys reside and try to kill them.

This film has become better known for what went on behind-the-scenes as writer/director Victor Salva was convicted of having sex with the 12-year-old star Winters (no relation) during the production and ended up serving 15 months of his 3-year prison sentence at which point he was then released and has since gone back to filmmaking. To some extent even without having known this one could almost suspect that idea because, like in the movie Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom where the director featured a lot of underage nudity only to later be convicted of a similar charge, this filmmaker does the same thing by opening the movie with the boys walking around in their underwear and at one brief point capturing the young star’s naked behind, which was not needed and comes off as intentional voyeurism.

If you can get beyond the production’s notorious backstory then as a horror movie it’s not too bad as Salva shows a good ability at building a creepy, surreal-like atmosphere particularly the scenes done at the circus and then later at the large, ominous house. The only problem is that the setting is supposed to be a couple of weeks before Halloween even though all the leaves on the trees are green, which doesn’t exactly resemble fall.

The plot though is weak and it would’ve worked better had it not given away who these men in the clown costumes were until the very end, or maybe not at all. Having lunatic characters escape from a mental hospital is generic and it would’ve been more intriguing had the viewer suspected these clown as being a part of the child’s imagination instead.

Despite the short runtime the pace still bogs down with a premise that builds too slowly and drags out the suspense longer than need be. The mental patients behave more like professional clown performers and never even say anything once their make-up is applied, which is not believable and all the more reason for the film to have taken a surreal turn by portraying the clowns as figments of the boy’s imagination who have inexplicably come to life.

Ultimately it plays itself out too soon and lacks any type of final twist. Winters appears to be the same age as McHugh who was playing his older brother and at age 12 behaved more like a 6-year-old making me feel the the part should’ve been given to a younger performer. It is however fun seeing Sam Rockwell in his film debut and still looking very much like an adolescent.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 28, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 21Minutes

Rated R

Director: Victor Salva

Studio: Zoetrope Studios

Available: DVD

All the Colors of the Dark (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Haunted by her nightmares.

Jane (Edwige Fenech) is plagued by nightmares dealing with a blue-eyed man (Ivan Rassimov) chasing after her. She feels that the memories of the recent death of her child as well as the loss of her mother when she was younger may have something to do with it. Her sister Barbara (Susan Scott) has her see a psychiatrist (George Riguad) while her friend Mary (Marina Malfatti) suggests she attend a black mass, but neither helps and just makes things worse until she can no longer differentiate between her dreams and reality.

The film is a strong tie-in to Rosemary’s Baby and in many ways seems to be playing out the same essential plot, but doing it in a more vivid, graphic way. Instead of implying the horror like that one did this one goes straight to the stuff that was never shown or just briefly touched-on. For the most part I liked this approach as I always felt the Roman Polanski classic was too restrained and talky and could’ve gone farther cinematically with its intriguing premise than it did.

The visuals here are almost in-your-face particularly the surreal opening bit, which is the best moment in the movie. Director Sergio Martino keeps the viewer off-balance by constantly going back and forth between the present day and then to Jane’s nightmares until it becomes increasingly harder to tell the difference between them, which makes the viewer feel locked into Jane’s frightening dilemma right along with her.

Unfortunately rhe plot itself isn’t as creative and there were many times when I foresaw the twists long before they happened and could even predict when they’d come. The protagonist walks into too many traps that anyone else could’ve guessed was coming making her seem a bit dense while the cult-like mass segment had too many clichés making it campy while eroding from the rest of the film’s provocative style.

Fenech doesn’t look like the average housewife either, but more a magazine model and in fact all the women here have too much of that same appearance, which takes away from the authentic feel. Part of the reason why Rosemary’s Baby worked was because Mia Farrow came-off as fragile and vulnerable while Fenech has a detached look in her eyes that doesn’t allow her to emotionally connect with the viewer even though as the film progressed I softened on her more.

The on-going twisting of the dreams and reality eventually overstays their welcome becoming more annoying than intriguing particularly near the finish where too many false endings get played-out. Even though it never matches its first 10 minutes and isn’t as erotic as the film’s promotional poster suggests I was still glued to what was happening and it’s one of the more memorable Italian giallos of all-time.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 28, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Martino

Studio: Interfilm

Available: DVD

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

The Fog (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghostly fog haunts town.

As the town of Antonio Bay gets ready to celebrate its 100th year of existence a mysterious fog creeps into the area at midnight and then strange unexplained events begin to occur. The town’s priest Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) finds a secret diary detailing how 6 of the town’s founders intentionally sank a ship 100 years earlier. Now the ship’s ghostly victims have returned seeking revenge by insisting that 6 people from the community must die in order to make-up for the 6 that originally killed them.

John Carpenter’s follow-up to his highly successful Halloween has gained a fervent following, but in the end it really doesn’t amount to much. Maybe my expectations were too high as I had a friend who talked this up as being great, but the scares are lacking despite a good first act that nicely builds the atmosphere and has some effective visuals particularly the shots of the fog rolling in.

The interesting premise though gets ruined by having things explained too quickly. Sometimes a little mystery can go a long way and not knowing what’s causing the strange occurrences and only having it answered at the very end, or possibly not at all, would’ve made it scarier and more intriguing. The backstory makes the ghosts come off like sympathetic victims looking for justice and therefore less threatening. Instead of being this entity with no known boundaries they become logical, emotional beings that makes the scenario too contained and civilized and less intense than it could’ve been.

You wait for things to finally gel, but it never really does. The victims get attacked in a matter of seconds and the camera then quickly cuts away before any blood or violence is shown. The ghosts aren’t seen much either and amount to shadowy figures from a distance when they are with occasional glowing red eyes, but otherwise they lack visual flair.

Having three heroines was a mistake especially since Jamie Lee Curtis seems bored in her role and almost like she didn’t even want to be there. Her real-life mother Janet Leigh conveys far more energy and she could’ve easily been the star with Curtis cut out completely. The two do share a few scenes together, but frustratingly never any lines of dialogue.

Adrienne Barbeau, who at the time was Carpenter’s wife, is okay as a late night DJ working out of a lighthouse, but her over-the-air pleas to her young son Andy (Ty Mitchell) to get out of his house to escape from the ghosts came off as unintentionally funny. The simultaneous climaxes that occur at two different locations with some cast members fighting off the ghosts inside a church while Barbeau does the same inside the lighthouse doesn’t work and if anything the finale should’ve happened completely inside the lighthouse since that was a more unique setting.

The direction is competent and it’s not like this film, which was remade in 2005, is a bad one it’s just not particularly exciting or interesting. The horror needed to be amped up and the pacing quicker particularly as it got into the second act. The only moment in the film that impressed me had nothing to do with the horror, but instead was the shot showing Barbeau walking down a long, winding outside stairwell to get to the lighthouse, which was filmed on-location at the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse in Marin County, California.

 

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

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

Blazing Saddles (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Black man becomes sheriff.

Classic western parody centers on a new railroad being built during the 1870’s and how an attorney general named Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) connives to have it run through a town called Rock Ridge, but in so doing devises a plan to have the residents run out, so the railroad can be put in. He hires a bunch of outlaws to ride into the town and terrorize the people hoping they’ll be scared off and move, but instead they put in a request to the state’s governor (Mel Brooks) for a sheriff. The inept governor gets tricked into hiring a black man named Bart (Cleavon Little) to act as the sheriff, which sends the racist residents of Rock Ridge into an outrage.

The film was known at the time for its outlandish humor, which thanks to political correctness is now considered even more outrageous and would most likely have no chance of being made today. The film’s biggest sticking point deals with its excessive use of the N-word, which writer/director Brooks was pressured to take out by the studio executives (along with many other things), but he resisted insisting that co-writer Richard Pryor and star Little had their blessing to keep it in and that most of the letters he received that were critical of the word being used were from white people. Personally I felt that it was realistic for its setting, which was supposed to be 1874, so in that regard it worked.

The stuff that got on my nerves was the constant anachronistic jokes dealing with people that weren’t even alive when the film’s setting took place. This type of humor gives the film too much of a campy feel and should’ve been scrapped. I was also disappointed when Gene Wilder talks to Little about his past and how he was accosted by a gun-toting 6-year-old, but the film doesn’t cut away to a reenactment of this, which would’ve been hilarious to see, even though it does do this when Little talks about his own past.

The funniest bits that I did find myself laughing-out-loud to where the ones involving Brooks as the cross-eyed governor, but I was frustrated that the streaming video that I watched did not have the scene where Brooks goes to the town of Rock Ridge and mistakes the wooden dummies that are there as being real-people. I remember this scene vividly when I watched it on network TV back in the 80’s and thought it was hilarious, but apparently this segment is only available on the Blu-ray version.

The acting by the supporting cast is great with Korman getting the best film role of his career. Liam Dunn is memorable as the town’s pastor and I got a kick out of Jessamine Milner as a racist old lady who later tries to make amends with Bart, but only under certain conditions. Madeline Kahn is quite good too in a send-up of Marlene Dietrich and rumor has it that she intentionally gave a bad performance in Mame, which was filming at the same time, just so the director would fire her, so she could then get the part here, but still be paid for that one as her contract stipulated guaranteed pay as long as she was terminated and didn’t quit.

The only bad performance comes from Little, who is just too serene and laid back almost like he’s treating the whole thing as a joke and doesn’t get into his part at all. I would’ve expected to see some anger from his character over the way he had been treated by white folks, but none is conveyed and instead he comes off like some guy picked off the street who mouths his lines and that’s about it. The part was intended for Richard Pryor who would’ve given the role the extra edge that it needed.

Spoiler Alert!

As controversial as the film is it’s the bizarre ending that has always had me the most baffled as it breaks the fourth wall and has the characters without warning go from the western time period into the modern-day. When I first saw this years ago I thought it was the weirdest thing I had ever seen and didn’t like it as I felt it ruined the story as I was enjoying seeing the town’s residents take matters into their own hands by literally beating up the bad guys as well as realizing that their racist ways were wrong. Having them suddenly thrown onto a Hollywood backlot made it too gimmicky and took away any possibility for some minor depth/message that the story might otherwise have had.

In retrospect I can only conclude that Brooks did this to show that these characters were never meant to be a part of the true west. In fact the whole reason that attracted him to the project, which was based off of an idea by Andrew Bergman, was because of its so-called ‘hip-talk’, which had 1974 expressions done in an 1874 setting.

If this was the case then the film should’ve started out with the characters in the modern day and then transported them via a time machine into the old west. The movie is so goofy anyways that I can’t see how this funky added element could’ve hurt it and then at the end when they return to the present it would’ve seemed more fluid and less like a cop-out where the writer’s ran out of ideas, so they decided to just go weird.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mel Brooks

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Footloose (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A town bans dancing.

Ren (Kevin Bacon) is a teenager from Chicago who moves with his mother (Francis Lee McCain) to a small town in Utah where he finds that dancing has been banned by the town’s fiery minister (John Lithgow). He becomes determined to try and change that and convinces the other kids including his new found friend Willard (Chris Penn) that dancing really isn’t all that bad. He also falls for the minister’s daughter Ariel (Lori Singer) who is far more liberated than you’d expect someone from a religious upbringing to be.

I remember when this film came out and I intentionally refused to see it as I felt that the plot was too absurd to be believable. I was born and raised in a small Midwestern town of about 7,000 people and the idea that some lone minister could overtake it and start making extreme rules that everyone would follow especially in the modern era of the 80’s is just not realistic. If the town was really small and isolated with a population of like 200 then maybe but the one portrayed in the film comes off as being fairly big and was filmed mostly in American Fork, Utah, which in the 1980 census had a population of 13,606. Having a scene dealing with a literal book burning makes the thing even campier and made me believe this would’ve worked better had the setting been the 1950’s.

There is also no explanation to what the penalty would be if one is caught dancing. Everyone acts like it would mean jail time or something like that when most likely it would just be a small fine and since when have teens ever been that compliant when it comes to rules? There are several scenes where they are seen with joints, so if they’re willing to fudge the law in that respect then why not do it with the dancing too?

The concept is loosely based on an actual incident that occurred in Elmore City, Oklahoma in 1978 where the local teens challenged a city ordinance that banned dancing. However, the incident there made more sense because it was an ordinance that had been on the books for over 90 years. Many cities and towns have old ordinances and laws that are no longer relevant, or followed, but just haven’t been officially removed as opposed to some minister coming into a town and implementing a new law that everyone is forced to comply with. The town was also much smaller (population of only 653 in 1970) than the one portrayed in the movie, so religious sentiment would be more able to oppress the rest of its citizens.

The drama for the most part is limp and does not justify its runtime as there are long segments that have nothing to do with the main story including cringe worthy scenes where we watch Singer dangerously trying to leap between two moving cars and a game of chicken between tractors with Bacon and another teen driving them. There’s also a B-storyline dealing with Bacon trying to teach Penn how to dance, which gets corny.

The most annoying aspect though for me was Singer’s character as she doesn’t seem like a minister’s kid at all. She behaves in too much of a free-spirited way and I would think someone raised in such a repressed environment would reflect some religious traits and yet Singer conveys none. Having her religious at the start and even opposed to dancing and then become tolerant to it after she meets Bacon would’ve created an interesting character arch. Also, if she behaved in a cult-like manner due to her strict upbringing then it would’ve made the minister character more menacing because the viewer would be made to feel that was what he wanted to turn the rest of the town into.

Lithgow is a great actor, but he’s not right for this type of part as he is too young and was only 12 years older than Singer who played his daughter. A much older actor would’ve better illustrated how the older generation was desperately trying to cling onto their old way of life in an ever changing world and how completely detached they were from modern teens. Also, the character here doesn’t seem threatening enough as he is unable to control his own daughter so then how is he expected to control the rest of the town?

The opening bit done over the credits showing the different types of dancing feet is the best thing in the movie although some may take a liking to Bacon’s dancing inside an abandoned warehouse although much of that was done with the help of body doubles.  Otherwise this empty-headed movie, which was remade in 2011, has very little to recommend.

I did want to mention too that recently there was an 80’s podcast that I listened to where they reviewed this movie and one of the critics complained that the town had only white kids and acted like somehow that was not politically correct, but having grown up in a small town during the 70’s and 80’s I can vouch for the fact that there were little if any minorities there and therefore having an all-white cast, whether it is politically correct or not, was realistic.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, 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

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She performs daily chores.

This is a highly unusual film which analyzes in minute detail the monotonous tasks that a single mother performs throughout her day and was apparently inspired by writer/director Chantal Ackerman growing up with a mother who suffered from obsessive/compulsive disorder. The story centers on Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig) a woman raising a teenage son while living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Belgium. During the day she entertains various men with sexual services and uses the money that she receives for this to help maintain things for both herself and her teenage son Sylvain (Jan Decorte). When she is not working as a prostitute she is busily cooking and cleaning, but as each day passes her routine becomes sloppier, which is a subconscious signal that something is bothering her and only at the very end does the viewer find out what it is.

Some have hailed this as a masterpiece including being listed among the ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ by Steven Schneider. Normally I enjoy films that buck the conventional narrative and trying to learn about a character through the way she performs her daily routine as opposed to doing it the standard way through dialogue and action is commendable, but the cinematic flair is missing making this seem more like ‘monotonous task porn’ than a movie.

For instance when we watch Jeanne wash her dishes the camera does it in a very static way from behind her instead of doing something flashy like a close-up of the water glistening of the dish, or from some other provocative angle. Akerman has stated that she took this approach in order to show respect to her character’s ‘personal space’, but this only ends up giving it a closed-circuit TV feel.

Nonetheless I still remained strangely intrigued, but I’m not sure if this was because of some reviews I read beforehand where I was told that about the ‘surprise/shocking ending’ that would somehow make what I was watching all seem worth it, or because of what I was actually going on. I’ll agree that seeing the way she prepares and cooks her various meals is fascinating, but it’s for all the wrong reasons as you become more caught up in the task itself than the character and to say that one’s mind doesn’t eventually begin to wander after 3 hours and 20 minutes of this would be an understatement.

The 3-day arch that she goes through from where she performs her tasks proficiently on the first day only to screw them up more and more by the third one needed to be much more apparent as her ‘screw-ups’, like dropping a newly washed spoon on the floor, are too subtle and not enough of a payoff. Cinema is still a visual and dramatic art form and yet this film runs away from that at every conceivable turn making it seem more like an assault on one’s stamina instead.

Spoiler Alert!

The only true cinematic moment comes at the very end when Jeanne kills one of her male clients, but there’s no reason given for why she does this or what the aftermath will be. To have to sit through all that comes before it just to walk away with unanswered questions is frustrating and almost like being told a joke where the punchline is not an equal payoff to the long, tangent-filled set-up that it took to get there. I like the concept, which is intriguing, but it could’ve been accomplished in half the runtime making this an interesting experiment that can be appreciated as an oddity, but nothing more than that.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 14, 1975

Runtime: 3Hours 21Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Chantal Ackerman

Studio: Olympic Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video

Local Hero (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Businessman travels to Scotland.

Mac (Peter Riegert) works for a gas company out of Houston, Texas that wants to buy up the small town of Ferness, which sits on the north shore of Scotland and turn it into an oil refinery. It’s Mac’s job to travel to the town and offer the citizens a generous monetary offer to sell their homes. He is not excited about going as he enjoys doing business over the phone, but once there he grows attached to the more laid-back pace. The townspeople grow found of Mac as well and eager to take the money and become rich. The problem is that through research they find that it is actually Ben Knox (Fulton Mackay) an eccentric man who lives in a ramshackle house on the beach who owns the land and he is unwilling to sell no matter what the price.

This film received positive reviews at the time of its release and one of the few movies to get a 100% positive rating at rotten tomatoes and yet after watching this now twice I’m still mystified over what all the fuss is about. When I first saw it several decades ago I came away feeling like I had just viewed something where very little happens and upon the second viewing I felt the exact same way.

I get that the emphasis is supposed to be on the quirky humor and that’s fine, there’s even a few chuckles, but the script flat lines after its initial set-up.  The eccentric characters and offbeat quality becomes one-dimensional and the story offers no true conflict or tension. Everything gets handled in such a subtle, dry way that there’s barely any drama at all and seems not really worth the effort to watch.

It would’ve worked better had there been one true antagonist, somebody that would be in stark contrast to everybody else and create genuine upheaval to the otherwise benign complacency. Initially it seemed that Lancaster’s character, who owns the oil refinery, would be a perfect foil to the serenity. Most business owners are consumed with the profit margin, but this one is instead more interested in astronomy. I realize that writer/director Bill Forsyth wanted to work against the grain and not portray the typical caricature of a hard-driven business man, but how can a guy run a successful business if the financial bottom line isn’t his main drive? Making the business owner a lovable kook as the rest takes away any potential confrontation of which this movie could’ve used some.

Riegert is equally transparent. His yuppie tendencies should’ve been played up more and his dramatic arch from big city businessman to lover of small town life more apparent. I was hoping that after he slowly became fond of the place that he would be one to throw the monkey wrench into the proceedings by refusing to make a deal and fighting to save the town even as the other residents are more than happy to leave it, which would’ve been much funnier.

The townspeople are blah too. The viewer only gets to know a few of them and they’re indistinguishable from the other. The only one that stands out is the lady with a punk look and I was intrigued to learn more about her and how she was able to get along with everyone else despite dressing in such a radical style and yet we never hear her utter a single word.

Ben Knox is the only character that offers a twist as we initially perceive him to be a homeless nobody only to realize that he ultimately holds all the cards and yet it just teases the viewer with a potential confrontation between he and the townspeople that never comes to fruition. I was also disappointed that we didn’t get to see the inside of his makeshift home that looked so rundown and precariously put together that you truly wondered what the interior looked like or how someone could survive living in it for as long as he does. Lancaster goes into the home to negotiate a deal with him and I felt the camera should’ve followed him in.

If you’re looking for lightly amusing comedy that goes down easy then you may take a little more of a liking to this. If you desire a movie with something more than just incessant whimsy then this flick will not suffice.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 18, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bill Forsyth

Studio: Warner Brothers

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