Category Archives: Gay/Lesbian

Saint Jack (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: American pimp in Singapore.

Based on the 1971 novel by Paul Theroux the story centers on Jack Flowers, an American who comes to Singapore in hopes of starting-up a profitable brothel and then moving back to the states a rich man. He finds the challenges more staggering than he initially thought and is constantly looking over his shoulder for the syndicate who would like to crush his business so it won’t compete with the other more established brothel’s in the region. In order to cover what he’s doing he works with a Chinese executive as a liaison for his clients. One such person is William (Denholm Elliot) a timid British accountant with a heart condition who has traveled to the area on an assignment. Jack enjoys William’s quiet demeanor and grows fond of him only to be heart-broken when he dies suddenly, which eventually changes Jack’s perspective on things specifically when he’s asked to take part in the blackmail scheme of a U.S. Senator (George Lazenby).

By the late 70’s director Peter Bogdanovich had fallen on hard times. He began the decade doing the acclaimed and award winning The Last Picture Show and followed it up with the equally impressive Paper Moon However, after the critically panned musical At Long Last Love his career began to tumble. He tried following this up with Daisy Miller, but it appealed to only a small audience. Nickelodeon was his attempt at returning to slapstick comedy that had won him success with What’s Up Doc, but it dived at the box office too making this once promising young talent feel fully washed-up. In an attempt for a revival he decided to go in a completely different direction by doing something with a gritty realism.

Cybill Shephard, whom Peter was in a relationship with at the time, had read the Theroux novel when it was given to her by Orson Welles in 1973. She had suggested he make it into a movie, but he had initially resisted. Then in 1978 when she sued Playboy for publishing unauthorized nude photos of her she got rights to turn the book into a movie as part of the settlement and Bogdanovich decided at that point he would do the project. Since Singapore officials were aware of the book, which had not portrayed their country in a positive light, he was forced to create a mock synopsis called ‘Jack of Hearts’, a benign love story that he used to convince the government that was the movie he was making so he could get the permission to film there, which was worth the effort as the unique ambiance of the setting is the main thing that propels the movie and could not have effectively been recreated had it been done inside a Hollywood studio lot.

Gazzara’s performance is another chief asset as he’s never at a loss for quick quips, or sarcastic replies. I loved the way he’s shown constantly moving, never sitting still in one place for too long, which nicely accentuated his situation of needing to ‘on the move’ in order to stay one-step ahead of the bad guys. Elliot is excellent as well in an atypical role. Usually he does well playing stern, jaded, and detached types, but here conveys a genuinely sensitive person who seems cut-off from the worldly ways. Lazenby, best known as the one-and-done James Bond from Her Majesty’s Secret Service, gets a small, but pivotal role as a closeted gay politician who takes a stroll in the middle of the night to hook-up with a male prostitute while Jack secretly follows him that has a great voyeuristic quality and the film’s most memorable moment.

Out of all of his movies Bogdanovich has stated that this one and They All Laughed were his two favorites. Some may not agree as the story has a fragmented style where things happen all of sudden and without forewarning. Yet for me this helped emphasize the reality of Jack’s shaky environment. While hailed by many as a great director’s least known work it deserves to be seen more and when compared to his other output clearly unique and original.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: New World Pictures

Studio: DVD, Blu-ray, Fandor, Plex, Tubi, Amazon Video

The Rubber Gun (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making cash dealing drugs.

Steve (Stephen Lack) is a cash-strapped would-be artist who hasn’t made any money with his art exhibits in the past 5 years and has turned to drug dealing in order to bring in some income. He lives in a cramped, rundown studio apartment in Montreal with his makeshift ‘family’ who are also dealers as well as addicts. Bozo (Allan Moyle) is a student at nearby McGill University who is doing a thesis paper on drug use with the controversial position that it has positive effects and chooses Steve’s family as his subject, but without letting them know what he’s doing. Steve though is beginning to have second thoughts about being in the business as he sees what it does both on himself and those around him especially Pierre (Pierre Robert) a bi-sexual heroin addict who’s the father of a young daughter that he doesn’t seem able to take care of and whose addiction has caused him to become a narc with the police feeding him heroin in order to get info on Steve and the family.

Fascinating, experimental film that’s quite similar to Dealingbut with much more of an avante-garde flair. Director Allan Moyle, whose first film this was, takes the Paul Morrissey approach where he gives the actors a general idea of what the scene was about, but then lets the performers ad-lib the lines. The result is much more of a conversational quality where discussions ramble on a bit, much like in real-life, but remain revealing and amusing throughout.  Instead of feeling like you’re watching a movie it seems more like a documentary giving one a rare vivid view of the counterculture movement north of the border.

Probably the biggest surprise is Stephen Lack, who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced. I saw him in Scannerswhich he did 4 years after this one, and felt he gave one of the worst performances of a leading man I had ever seen and one of the main reasons that film didn’t succeed as well as it could’ve. Here though he’s amazingly engaging. Maybe it’s because he’s playing an extension of himself as I have no doubt that this is loosely based on his own experiences as a struggling artist, but the guy is quite funny in virtually everything that he says and does and I enjoyed how we see all different sides to his character from his partying one to more of a responsible one and by the end disillusioned with dealing. He even has a scene where he talks about regularly visiting his parents each week, who are quite conservative and unaware of his ‘occupation’, though it would’ve been even more fun to see the actual visit versus just discussing it.

My favorite character was Rainbow a small child, the daughter of Pierre and his girlfriend, who couldn’t have been more than 3 who goes on with her playing as the grown-ups in the room talk about drugs and other things. The image of innocence inside a room of jaded debauchery is darkly amusing. What’s better is that unlike most other movies she’s not given any cutesy lines to say and simply allowed to be herself, which makes her all the more engaging. Despite what’s initially perceived as ‘bad parenting’ you still get the feeling that these fringe adults do love the kid and in their dysfunctional way care for her, which ultimately makes the characters more appealing to the viewer instead of less.

The film has an obvious low budget look, with faded color, grainy stock, muffled sound, and choppy editing. Some may consider this a detraction, but it also helps accentuate the fringe realism with a kick-ass soundtrack to boot. In an era now where everyone his trying to make a movie on their phones with virtually no money this film should be used as a prime example on how to get it done by creating multi-dimensional characters and then allow the actors to fill-out the details through their improvisation, which helped lead writer/director/star Moyle to a Hollywood contract where he went on to make even more interesting movies on a bigger budget.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Allan Moyle

Studio: St. Lawrence Productions

Available: None

By Design (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gay couple wants baby.

Helen (Patty Duke) is a fashion designer who’s in a relationship with Angie (Sara Botsford). Despite running a successful clothing business together Helen still longs to be a mother. Angie isn’t so excited about having a kid, but if it makes Helen happy she’ll go along with it. The coupe initially consider artificial insemination, but turn it down when they see the type of male clientele that are allowed in and the adoption agency rejects them outright due to being gay. They eventually set their sights on Terry (Saul Rubinek) an obnoxious and sleazy photographer who works for them and has been hitting-on Helen for years unaware that she’s a lesbian. Helen hopes to have a one-night-stand with him simply to get impregnated, but as the planned event draws near she begins to have second thoughts.

The story certainly has potential and was ahead-of-its-time, but the way director/writer Claude Jutra approaches the material by implementing ill-advised silly humor and trying to turn it into a basic sitcom is all wrong. The one thing that I did surprisingly like was Saul Rubinek. Normally he’s not a favorite of mine, but here he plays the scuzzy, lecherous male on the prowl perfectly. I found it interesting too at seeing how much things have changed. He gets reported for touching a woman in her private area on the job without her consent, which would mean immediate termination today, but the two protagonist women bosses don’t do that. Instead they brush-it-off with a boys-will-be-boys mindset inadvertently making the woman who brought it to their attention feel embarrassed and even humiliated for coming forward.

What I didn’t like was his extreme transformation at the end where he becomes this kind and caring soul that’s too much of a change that wasn’t earned and makes him seem like two different people. The fact that he was unaware that Helen was gay even though everyone else knew seemed a bit preposterous. In keeping with the character’s arrogance and conquest nature he should’ve been fully aware of her being lesbian, but convinced he could ‘cure’ her of it if she simply went to bed with him. His relationship with one of the models, Sonia Zimmer, who for whatever bizarre reason has romantic inclinations for him even though during one photo session he says some of the most degrading and demeaning things I’ve ever heard a guy say to a woman, so unless she’s a masochist there’s absolutely no reason why this beautiful woman should desire him and thus making this romantic side-story completely stupid and unnecessary.

The story starts out okay and had me hooked for a little bit, but it quickly goes downhill. The jump-the-shark moment is when Helen has sex with Terry and at the same time for some inexplicable reason Angie has random sex with some guy (Alan Duruisseau) that she meets in a parking lot, but she’s a confirmed lesbian, so why the sudden/extreme shift? If she’s pan-sexual, or bi-sexual or just has some latent desire to sometimes ‘swing-both-ways’ is fine, but that needs to be introduced earlier and not suddenly thrown-in, out-of-nowhere without warning. The scene also culminates with Angie and Helen calling each other on the phone and professing their love for the other as they continue to have sex with the other men, which I know the director thought would be a ‘hilarious’ moment but comes-off as incredibly dumb instead.

Had this been handled in an intelligent manner it could’ve been ground-breaking, but the director was clearly insecure with the material and thus decided to just give it the jokey treatment, which ruins it. Duke also seems miscast though shockingly you do get to see her nude in a couple of scenes of which she looks pretty damn good.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 16, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Claude Jutra

Studio: Astral Films

Available: DVD-R

The Redeemer (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murdered for their sins.

Six people, who attended the same high school and graduated from the class of 1967, get invited to a reunion. When they arrive they find that the school has been shut down and the building abandoned, but are let in by a kindly janitor. Inside is a room set-up for a party including an array of delicious food and drinks. They partake in the meal, but still wonder why they were the only ones from the class that got invited. They then begin getting killed-off in violent ways and when the remaining survivors try to leave they realize they’ve been trapped inside, but none of them knows who’s committing the killings, or why?

This yet another proto-slasher made long before the release of Halloweenwhich has become the standard. Like with Savage Weekendwhich was reviewed here last October, this movie goes on its own tangents, unlike 80’s slashers, with deviations that make for a fun watch and are filled with a lot of weird twists and imagery.

The entire production was filmed on-location in the town of Staunton, Virginia in the summer of 1976. The Staunton Military Academy was the building used for the setting of the abandoned school. It was loaned out to the producers for one month by Layne Loeffler, who appears briefly near the beginning. He was hoping that by allowing the movie to film there that it would generate enough interest to allow the academy  to open back-up, but the movie didn’t gain as much attention as they thought causing it to eventually be torn down just a few years later.

As with most low budget films it has the expected trappings of an independent feature produced and directed by a bunch of first-timers including a grainy film stock, which detractors of the film used as an excuse to hate it. I felt though that the faded look worked in its favor as it made it seem more like viewing lost footage dug up from years in storage and thus witnessing carnage captured by a hidden camera.

Despite the majority of the cast never doing another movie after this one, which includes both the director and writer, I came away more impressed than disappointed. There are indeed some genuinely scary moments and the killings are surprisingly vivid. In fact they look more realistic than many of the ones done in bigger budgeted movies that came-out later. The pacing is handled much better too and doesn’t have the slow, awkward drama segments like in other horrors. Even the characterizations showing people’s need to impress others while simultaneously putting up facades to hide what they feel others will judge them harshly on, a common occurrence in most high school reunions, is well brought out.

Spoiler Alert!

Many only complaint is the ending that doesn’t offer any final twist. I was fully expecting that the character of the Redeemer, played by T.G. Finkbinder, would ultimately be exposed as a fraud since he did the killings over what he felt were various perceived sins committed by the others and yet the film acts like these brutal murders were somehow justified and the victims ‘deserved’ what they got, which is pretty warped. However, outside of its weird messaging, it’s still an interesting obscurity particularly for slasher film collectors.

Alternate Titles: The Redeemer…Son of Satan!, Class Reunion Massacre

Released: October 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Constantine S. Gochis

Studio: Dimension Pictures

Available: Blu-ray, Tubi, Amazon Video

Last Resort (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family takes nightmarish vacation.

George (Charles Grodin) is a Chicago salesmen who loses a major client when he calls him fat, which in-turn costs him his job. Feeling the need to get away from the cold Chicago winter and reassess things he decides to take his family to a tropical island for some much needed r-and-r, but finds the place run by crazy people who house everybody in tiny little cabins. The island is also surrounded by a barbed wire fence due to a civil war going on, which soon has George stuck in the middle of it.

This film was directed by Zane Buzby, who appears here as a abusive summer camp counselor and who has since left the directing profession and devoted her life to brining aid to last surviving members of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, which is a far better way to spend her time than making films like these, which isn’t funny and lacks any type of visual style. Much of the blame for this is the low budget, which makes the movie look cheap right from the start with its stock footage of a Chicago blizzard, the generic music score, and every indoor shot looking quite shadowy as if they weren’t able to afford enough spotlights to give it the properly lighted look. The island setting is bad too looking nothing like an actual island, but instead the brown, sun scorched landscape of a studio backlot.

The story is built around a lot of gags the majority of which aren’t funny, or even slightly original. The concept is the reverse of a National Lampoon’s Family Vacation where Chevy Chase plays the inept father who bungles everything while everyone else around him is normal. Here the father is the normal one and all the other people are nuts, but this doesn’t work as well as the folks behave in such an extremely absurd and obnoxious way that they have no bearing at all to real people and for satire to work it still needs to have some semblance to reality and this thing has none. It’s just insanity for the sake of goofiness with no point to it, which gets old fast.

I’m a big fan of Grodin, but his dry humored, deadpan observations are not put to good use and he ends up getting drowned out by all of the foolishness. I did though at least start to understand why Howard Stern always would accuse him of wearing a wig. To me I never thought he did wear one and Grodin, who disliked Stern immensely as he felt the shock-jock’s humor was too vulgar, would hotly dispute these accusations and even had one segment on his own short-lived talk show during the late 90’s where guests were allowed to tug on his hair just to prove it was natural and wouldn’t come off. However, here for whatever reason it really does appear like some rug plopped onto his skull that doesn’t even fit the dimensions of his head right.

Some of the supporting cast, which consists mainly of yet-to-be-famous, up-and-coming-stars does help a bit. This though does not include Megan Mullally, who plays Grodin’s daughter Jessica, who puts-on a high pitched, squeaky voice that I found really irritating. I did though find Jon Lovitz somewhat amusing as a bartender that can supposedly speak English, but can’t understand anything that Grodin says. Phil Hartman, wearing a blond wig, is a riot as a French gay guy named Jean-Michel who comes-onto Grodin, but my favorite was Mario Van Peebles as a flaming gay man who’s also one the tour guides. Some viewers may complain that his portrayal is too over-the-top and stereotypical, but it’s still campy fun especially at the end when he rips off his wig and suddenly turns into a macho guerrilla soldier freedom fighter.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 9, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Zane Buzby

Studio: Concorde Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Shout Factory TV, Pluto TV, Tubi

A Different Story (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homosexuals in heterosexual relationship.

Albert (Perry King) works as a chauffeur to famous pianist Sills (Peter Donat) and he’s also his part-time lover, but when Sills finds another man Albert gets put on the street and must seek refuge as a squatter. Stella (Meg Foster) is a real estate agent who finds Albert taking up residence in one of the homes she’s trying to sell. She decides to let him move in with her and since both of them are gay they partake in a platonic friendship. Then immigration comes looking for him since he’s also an illegal alien from Belgium. In an effort to prevent his deportation Stella decides to marry him and they soon become romantic including having sex and a baby, but just as things seem to blossom Stella becomes concerned that Albert may be seeing someone behind her back.

While this movie may have seemed ‘groundbreaking’ when it came out it has not aged well and features an assortment of issues starting with the whole botched premise. Having a single woman take in a virtual stranger is never a good idea. If you have concern for a homeless person direct them to the nearest shelter, but inviting them back to your place is clearly dangerous. Perhaps because she knew he was gay she thought he’d be ‘safe’, but just because he’s not going to rape you doesn’t mean he might not rob her when she was away.

The characterization of Albert works too much off gay stereotypes such as having him into cooking, cleaning, and even dress designing. The film should’ve challenged the viewer’s perception of gay people by working against the cliché by having him into auto repair, football, and drinking beer instead. I also thought it was dumb that, in an effort to hide that he was gay, Stella pretends to have made the dinner when her parents (Richard Bull, Barbara Collentine) arrive for a visit, but why couldn’t she just have introduced Albert as her straight male friend who just happens to be a great cook, or are we to presume that every male chef out there is secretly gay?

Spoiler Alert!

The third act is when it jumps-the-shark not so much with the introduction of the baby, which was bad enough, but more when Albert starts fooling around on Stella with another woman! The whole idea that simply having feelings for a member of the opposite sex would magically ‘ungay’ a person, or that ‘love can change everything’ is just not true. The initial gay theme gets totally lost and it starts to resemble a flick about a straight married couple instead. In the end there’s just nothing different about this ‘different story’, which is the whole problem.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Aaron

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Conformist (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to fit-in.

Marcello (Jean Louis Trintignant) is living in Italy during WWII and a member of the fascist secret police. He longs to be a part of acceptable society and partaking in the conventions of what he believes is a normal life including settling down and getting married even if it’s to a woman Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) that he doesn’t really love. He gets ordered to assassinate Quadri (Enzo Tarascio) who was one of his professors back in college, but who has now been deemed an anti-fascist by the government.  Marcello uses the guise of his honeymoon as an excuse to travel with Giulia to Paris in order to carry out his mission. However, once there he begins to have feelings for the professor’s wife Anna (Dominique Sanda) and becomes unable to carry out the assignment despite being aware that Anna is only using him to get to Giulia, which is who she truly desires.

This film became a benchmark in Bernardo Bertullici’s career and was his first box office success that allowed him the ability to go on and direct even bigger  classics such as The Last Tango in Paris and 1900.  While the visuals are impressively stylistic I do agree with many critics that too much emphasis is placed on the sets, that gives it an almost over-the-top kitschy feel, while drowning out the story, which is handled in a more subtle way, in the process. The plot is still captivating, but a good movie should have a nice balance and as critic Gene Siskel stated in his review it’s more of a ‘show than a story’ and reviewer Keven Thomas labeled it a ‘bravura style Fellini’, which I consider to be a very accurate description.

The story is based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia, but apparently Bertolucci had never read it when he pitched the idea to Paramount and managed to wow the studio execs into loving the idea simply by relying on the the description of the story giving to him by his then-girlfriend who had read it. When he finally did read it he did so while writing it into a screenplay at the same time.

There are many differences though between the source novel and the film with the movie leaving out a lot of Marcello’s childhood backstory that I felt was needed. The book examines Marcello’s penchant for killing lizards and even the neighbor’s cat as well as his witnessing his father’s abusing of his mother and the vandalization of a family photograph, which the film doesn’t touch on. The book also gets into more detail about why Marcello is tormented by his classmates where in the film we see Marcello being harassed, but it’s never made clear why.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending gets changed too. In the book Marcello has an interesting philosophical debate with Lino, a chauffer who sexually abused him as a child, but this conversation is left out of the movie. Marcello also, along with his wife and child, gets gunned down while driving in their car, but surprisingly the movie doesn’t have this part either. You would think that they would since action makes for a good visual, and I’m not sure for the reason why it was left out/revised except that Bertolucci may have feared it would be too similar to the finale in Bonnie and Clyde and didn’t want to seem like he was replicating that one.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall despite these deviations I still found it impactful particularly the ambush scene on a lonely road, which was the one thing that I remembered about the movie after having not seen in for several decades. The strong performances help too especially Trintignant’s brooding portrayal though being French born he spoke his lines phonetically without knowing what they meant and then later had them dubbed by Sergio Graziani in post production. The two lead actresses are splendid too and although the parts were originally offered to the more famous Brigitte Bardot and Anouk Aimee I felt it came off better with the then unknowns particularly Sandrelli who’s energetic and almost child-like at the beginning only to behave like jaded, middle-aged woman by the conclusion.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Savage Weekend (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first slasher movie.

Maria (Marilyn Hamlin), who has a very contentious relationship with her ex-husband Greg (Jeff Pomerantz), but who is now in a relationship with Robert (Jim Doerr) a successful businessman, decides to take a weekend trip with some friends to upstate New York. Robert is having a large boat built there and wants to see its progress. The quiet country atmosphere seems like the perfect spot to getaway until a masked killer shows up killing each of them one-by-one.

While Halloween typically gets credited as being the forerunner to the modern day slasher film it’s actually this one that was the first and don’t let the release date fool you. This was filmed in the summer of 1976, a full two years before Halloween came out, but was shelved by its distributors as they thought the concept of a mysterious masked killer was ‘too weird’ and wouldn’t catch on only to eventually release it to theaters once they saw the success of Halloween.

The concept for this came about completely by accident. Writer/director David Paulson was originally hired to write a screenplay for a completely different type of movie, but the investor then retracted the majority of the money he promised leaving Paulson with a mere $20,000 to work with. He decided with such little funds he’d be forced create a story that required a single setting and then came up a scenario that would make the characters stay there and thus the killer-on-the-loose idea was born.

The critics were originally not kind: TV Guide subscribed this as a ‘reprehensible exploitation film’ and ‘the gore effects are extremely gruesome’, which just isn’t true. At best the blood is quite minimal especially when compared to today’s slashers. In fact you’ll find more explicit gore in modern dark comedy films like Shaun of the Dead than you will here.

Critic Joe Baltake criticized the Nicky (Christopher Allport) the gay character stating that he ‘set gay rights activism back several decades’, which I totally disagree with. I actually liked Nicky and was impressed at the way he walked into a backwoods bar and when the rednecks tried to hassle him he single-handedly kicked their asses, which to me worked completely against the gay stereotype.

Through the years critics have become much kinder to this film and its attained a strong cult following and deservedly so. Despite being made 4 decades ago it actually comes off as fresh and inventive because it’s not stifled by the conventional ‘rules’ of the formula, which we’ve become so accustomed to now. I liked how the film opens with a point-of-view shots of our heroine running madly through the forest making the viewer feel they’re the ones being chased.

The fact that the majority of it takes place during the daytime actually makes it scarier especially with it’s weird yellowish tint that permeates every shot. I’m not sure if this was intentional or just a poor film transfer, but it helps to create a surreal look. I also really loved seeing the skeleton of the large boat that was being built inside an abandoned shed. I presume with the low budget this was not made for the story and instead simply worked into the script when the producers came upon it while scouting for locations, but the effect is cool especially when the cast walks around inside it.

The soundtrack is way different from the conventional horror film as well with a country tinged sound and at one point even a classical dance piece, but after watching soooo many scary movies with the same old Friday the 13th-like sound I was more than happy to hear something different. The characters are also multi-dimensional with distinctive personalities. Usually I more than happy to see a cardboard slasher film cast get hacked-up, but here I kind of wanted them to stay around as they were interesting. The murders also don’t work in a mechanical way, but instead start occurring suddenly to the shock of everyone else, which gives it more of a real-time feel.

The only real negative is that despite having a strong beginning and ending the middle part is slow. There’s still enough interactions between the characters to hold mild interest, but there’s no running tension. A good horror movie should be creepy to some degree from beginning to end, but the second act veers off too much making it at times seem more like a soft core porn flick, but overall for the horror connoisseur I’d still recommend this.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Paulsen

Studio: Cannon Group

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region 1), Amazon Video

Island of Death (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple on killing spree.

Christopher and Celia (Robert Behling, Jane Lyle) seem like a nice young couple just looking  for a little vacation as they travel to a Greek island. Yet once there they begin killing anyone who they deem ‘perverted’. First it’s a man who makes a pass a Celia, then it’s a gay couple, and a bartender who’s outed as a lesbian. Not only do Christopher and Celia kill their victims with glee, but they also enjoy taking pictures of the carnage, so that Christopher can use them for sexual arousal later.

In 1974 Nico Mastorakis, who at that time was working as an investigative journalist and before that was a popular radio DJ, became impressed with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the amount of money it brought in. He was convinced that making exploitation flicks was a profitable venture and proceeded to create a film that would be as shocking as possible simply for the money benefits it would bring in. The film has certainly achieved a strong cult status and has been one of the most widely banned films in the world.

While its reputation is quite notorious I actually found the violence to be nothing special. There’s one segment where a man gets his hands nailed to a cement ground, which is pretty nasty and the killing of a baby goat, which Christopher then proceeds to have sex with is quite disturbing too, but everything else, at least gore-wise, is run-of-the-mill. The one segment that did get a bit difficult to watch simply because it gets more prolonged than the other killings and therefore makes it seem more real was when Christopher tries to force the lesbian bartender (Janncie McConnell) to swallow a bottle of hard liquor, which she repeatedly chokes on.

On the perversity level the film still scores strongly even after all these years. One of it’s more outlandish moments is when Christopher gives an unexpected golden shower to a 60-year-old woman (Jessica Dublin) who at first reacts in disgust, but then eventually gets into it. The real shocker though for me was the final twist, which I hadn’t seen coming and as jaded as I’ve become with years of watching these underground 70’s flicks, had my mouth agape.

Mastorakis shows good command with solid pacing and a script that continuously reveals many sick twists as it goes. The slow start works in its favor as it creates a romantic feel, especially with its sweet sounding score and picturesque backdrop of Mykonos, which allows for the viewer to let down their guard and then when the shocks gets going it makes it even more emotionally horrific. I also enjoyed Mastorakis use of the hand-held camera and wide angle lens something that only came into vogue many decades later.

Overall I commend the production for going all in. Too many other horror flicks, especially from the 70’s, promised exploitation, but ultimately  delivered little. It seemed like despite their provocative storylines they would end up chickening-out, so it’s nice to see one hyper-focused to truly push the envelope. Obviously this won’t be everyone’s cup-of- tea many, but if you’re compelled to make a truly underground feature then alienating some viewers is a prerequisite.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Nico Mastorakis

Studio: Omega Pictures

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

Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bio of Joe Orton.

This film, which is based on the biography of playwright Joe Orton that was written by John Lahr, has two diametrically different story lines going on at the same time. One part has John Lahr, played in the movie by Wallace Shawn, going around interviewing people that knew Orton when he was alive, which includes Orton’s theatrical agent Peggy Ramsey (Vanessa Redgrave). The other part delves into Orton’s (Gary Oldman) relationship with his Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) showing how it began and then eventually ending in tragedy.

The film, which was directed by the usually reliable Stephen Frears, starts out right away with the murder scene showing Halliwell covered with blood as he stands over Orton’s body that he has just killed, which to me was a mistake. Sometimes using flashbacks in films can help accentuate the story, but here it gives too much away way too soon. What’s the point of continuing to watch the movie if the viewer knows exactly how it will end? Even if one such as myself was aware of Orton’s demise, which occurred on August 9, 1967 in Islington, England, it still should’ve approached the material in a linear way having the murder occur at the very end after we had gotten to understand and feel for the characters and therefore making the act all that more impactful.

The story should’ve started with the scene, which doesn’t occur until 30 minutes in, where Halliwell and Orton are attending a acting improv class, which is where the two first meet and the funniest moment in the movie. In the scene the students are instructed to pass around a make-believe cat and when this invisible cat gets handed to Halliwell, and to the shock of the other students, but to the amusement of Orton, he kills it and then hands it back to the instructor.  This moment also perfectly reflects the black humor that became so apparent in Orton’s plays as well as conveying the weird dynamic that the two had.

When the film focuses solely on the two lead characters and their love-hate relationship it is quite interesting. Molina gives a powerhouse performance and dominates every scene that he is in. His mental deterioration is both vivid and horrorifying and  leaves a lasting impression. Yet there are also other moments where you feel sorry the guy and it helps to make sense of what lead to the tragedy as you see how Orton, who is much younger and better looking, openly have trysts with other men that he randomly meets while Halliwell, fully aware of what is going on, gets pushed into the background and unable to do anything about it.

The film is also filled with some memorable imagery. The scenes where Orton and sometimes Halliwell would pick up strangers for indiscriminate sex, like in dingy public restrooms with the lights turned off and even at times inside the bathroom stalls themselves while constantly in fear of getting caught and arrested, is well captured. The tiny room that the two lived in for years, with pictures that cover every inch of the walls, gets recreated to a perfect tee. Based on images of the actual room found on Google it looks exactly like the one in the movie and its claustrophobic dimensions hits home making it seem amazing that such significant long lasting stage plays, that were later made into movies, could’ve been written in such an insignificant space that seemed no bigger than someone’s walk-in closet.

The opening bit that focused on Orton’s agent and having her reminisce about her experiences dealing with him is boring and should’ve been taken out of the final cut. Viewers come into this wanting to learn more about Orton and his relationship with Halliwell and that’s where the film should’ve started and stayed. I admit Redgrave gives a very good performance as the agent, so having brief scenes with her in them that intercut between the ones dealing with the lovers might have been interesting, but too much time gets spent on the side characters that almost dismantles the entire rest of the film.

Spoiler Alert!

I didn’t like how loud crashing music gets abruptly played during the murder sequence either. The soundtrack had been quite subtle up until then, so having it suddenly get loud is jarring and goes against the tone of the rest of the film. It also puts too much of a theatrical quality to the murder that was not needed. The  visuals are all that is needed to show the shocking and gruesome nature of the act without music needing to be any part of it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 17, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stephen Frears

Studio: The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Available: DVD