Category Archives: Movies Based on Novels

Spasms (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant snake uses telepathy.

Years earlier millionaire philanthropist Jason Kincaid (Oliver Reed) got attacked by a giant serpent snake while on a trip in Micronesia. His brother, who went with him, died from the attack, but Jason survived and in the process began acquiring a telepathic connection to the snake. He pays some poachers to capture it and have it brought to his mansion. He also tries to use the services of Dr. Brasilian (Peter Fonda) who specializes in ESP research to help end the ongoing communication that the snake has with him.While Kincaid’s private lab is being constructed the snake is kept at the university lab run by Brasilian, but the reptile escapes and begins killing anyone it sees.

The film is based on the novel ‘Death Bite’ by Michael Marky and Brent Monahan, who wrote it in hopes of cashing in on the Jaws craze and having it made into a movie. The two were excited when a Canadian production company decided to produce it, but quickly became disillusioned with all the production delays and rewrites. When the original studio went bankrupt and the new one insisted on adding in a supernatural element the two writers to walk-off the set and disown the project.

Despite the film’s checkered history I found the production values to be quite impressive especially for a horror movie. The on-location shooting is varied and authentic, particularly the island setting and the main character played by Reed is less cardboard than in most other scary movies. Unfortunately the pacing is slow and not enough happens. I was expecting more scares and blood, but there really isn’t much of it.

The film’s biggest downfall is that you never get to see the snake. Initially during the attacks everything gets shown from the snake’s point-of-view by having a blue filter put over the camera lens, which doesn’t work because it’s done via a tracking shot making it look like the snake glides through the air instead of slithering like a real one would. Outside of a few seconds of seeing its head pop-up, which looks like a hand puppet, we’re never shown the beast in its entirety. Originally the idea was to use live snakes, which would’ve been great, and a 14-foot Indian Python was brought in, but this was found to be too costly and time-consuming, so it got scrapped. They then tried to use animatronics, but director William Fruet didn’t like the way it looked onscreen, so this was shelved too essentially making this a snake movie, but without any snake.

Despite being reportedly drunk most of the time during the production Reed adds a nice intensity though it made no sense at the end when he begins walking around without a cane even though he had being using one the whole time earlier. The special effects showing the victim’s arms and faces ballooning out after they’re bitten is pretty cool, but the ending is a letdown. It was supposed to feature a violent showdown between Reed and the snake, including having his arm swallowed by the beast, but director Fruet didn’t like the look of the special effects, so these scenes were cut and flashbacks showing things that had happened earlier got thrown-in simply to pad the runtime.

The big lesson here is that if you’re going to make a movie about a giant, monstrous snake then you need to at some point show it. Even if it means spending big on computer effects, or bringing in a real one, the effort has to be made. Trying to do one without actually showing the snake, as the snake here is probably seen a combined 10 seconds and never its full body, and expecting the audience to still go home satisfied afterwards is pretty absurd.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 28, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: Pan-Canadian Film Distributors

Available: VHS

The Manitou (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tumor on her neck.

Karen (Susan Strasberg) is a middle-aged woman living in San Francisco who begins noticing a lump on the back of her neck that grows at an accelerated rate. She goes to the hospital to have it checked and the doctors there, after analyzing the X-rays, believe it to be a fetus growing within the tumor. Karen’s boyfriend Harry (Tony Curtis) does some research and discovers that the growth is an Indian shaman reincarnated from a past life who’s brought back to take revenge on the white man for driving his people off of their land. When the surgery to remove the tumor goes wrong, Harry summons the help of a modern-day shaman, John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara) to help him get the fetus removed. While John has a strong connection to the spirit world he realizes that the ones he can summon are weak compared to what the spirit who inhabits the growth on Karen’s neck can bring to life.

I’ll give writer-director William Girdler credit, during his brief life and career he directed a lot of movies, 9 of them while still in his 20’s, but the quality of the output was minimal. He did achieve a few cult hits like Sheba, Baby and Abby as well as a couple that did well at the box office, Grizzlybut this one, which came in with a high budget, could be considered his worst. The cast is interesting, though they’re well past their prime, but the plot, which is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Graham Masterton, is too silly to be taken seriously.

Girdler shows more interest in capturing the San Francisco skyline, of which he does well, and some of the city’s more exotic locales, then spotting continuity errors. One of the most glaring ones is when the surgeon, played by Jon Cedar, who co-wrote the script, severely cuts his hand during the surgery, but then later he’s in a scene where his hands look fine and there’s no bandages on them. There’s also several moments where I was literally laughing-out-loud, like when an old lady, played by Lurene Tuttle, becomes possessed by the Indian spirit and begins dancing around the room and speaking in a deep voice, which looks as silly as it sounds. The seance is laughable too and since these have been parodied so much it’s best not even putting them into any horror movie that hopes to take itself seriously as it’ll just have the viewers-rolling-their eyes from the very beginning.

The main characters are a mess mainly because they don’t have much to do. Curtis plays this phony psychic who does nothing but stand around and watch Ansara do all the work to the extent that Ansara should’ve been the star and Curtis, who’s looking haggard and washed-up here, could’ve been cut-out completely and not missed. Strasberg is boring as the victim. She has this giant growth on her neck that’s expanding rapidly and yet she takes it in a ho-hum, laid-back fashion when anyone else would be stressing-out and going crazy with anxiety. There also should’ve been a specific reason why she got targeted with the tumor instead of just writing it off as a ‘random occurrence’.

The third act picks-up slightly and the birth of the Indian spirit where you see him claw his way out of the womb while still on Strasberg’s neck, is visually impressive from a special effects perspective, but once outside he looks too much like a dwarf in an Indian get-up. Having the entire floor of the hospital turn into a frozen polar zone is cool until you start looking at the ice blocks too closely and realize they’re just styrofoam. The climactic sequence in which a now topless Strasberg battles the Indian spirit using telekinetic powers while seemingly floating in outer space is too stupid for words and cements this as a complete embarrassment for all those involved.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Girdler

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

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

Assault (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Schoolgirls attacked by rapist.

One day after school Tessa (Lesley Ann-Down), a teen who attends a local British high school in rural England, decides to cut through the nearby woods as a shortcut on her way home. As she treks through the forest an unseen assailant attacks her, which leaves her in a catatonic state. A few days later, despite the warnings, another female student goes into the woods and is later found murdered. The police inspectors (Frank Finley, James Cosmo) have idea who it could be and are unable to come-up with any leads, which frustrates the local teacher Julie West (Suzy Kendall). She decides it’s up to her to nab the culprit, so she uses herself and some of her students as bait to lure the killer out. She drives into the woods in a station wagon, but then the car gets stuck. While she tries to back it out she gets a glimpse of the perpetrator’s face as he deposits another of his victims, but when she describes to everybody what he looks like, saying he has the face of the devil, everyone thinks she’s gone mad.

This is another one of those British thrillers where in an attempt to gain more interest in the film the studio would release it under different titles. In the US the film was known as ‘In the Devil’s Garden’ to take advantage of the possession craze that was occurring after the release of The Exorcist and then a few years later it got re-released under the title ‘Satan’s Playthings’ and billed as a provocative story with erotic overtones. In either case the plot, which is based on the novel ‘The Ravine’ by Kendal Young, comes-off more like a cop drama/mystery than a horror flick.

That’s not to say it’s bad as director Sidney Hayers throws in some good touches. The attack on the girl is well handled using a hand-held camera that makes it seem unrehearsed and sudden. For a British thriller it’s even kind of racy. Normally films from England are quite timid about showing nudity, blood, or violence, but this thing does push-the-envelope a bit, far more than I was expecting, while still remaining ‘tasteful’ enough not to come under the ire of the British censors. The pounding music score helps create an urgent mood and grabs your attention at the start though it gets overplayed by the end and resembles a score heard on a cop TV-show.

The acting is good, but seeing Down looking so young and appearing much different from what we’re used to seeing her now kinda threw me off as you’d almost think she’s a completely different person. Kendall, who became a British scream queen for all the horror movies and thrillers that she was in, is quite appealing and I loved seeing her in glasses, which gives her a certain sexy look. The male actors are okay, but there’s more of them than are necessary and I think this was only done to create more suspects to choose from though their 70’s haircuts complete with long sideburns gives the film a very dated quality.

I was able to guess who the culprit was with about 20-minutes to go. It’s not that hard to figure out and the film gives-off a few too many clues to the point that it would be hard for someone not to know who it is. The story itself is standard. Not much thrills or chills though the electrocution via a cable that the victim touches while climbing up an electrical tower is admirably realistic and probably the most impressive part of the movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 11, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Hayers

Studio: J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

What Became of Jack and Jill? (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Greedy couple learns lesson.

Johnnie (Paul Nicholas) lives with his elderly grandmother Alice (Mona Washbourne). He has no motivation to get a job and hopes that by staying in her good graces he can inherit her small fortune and house when she passes away. Johnnie’s girlfriend Jill (Vanessa Howard) becomes impatient waiting for the old lady to die and hopes to hasten it by hatching a plan with Johnnie where Alice will think that a youth movement has occurred where those under 30 rebel against the older generation, particularly those over 75, by taking them away to prison camps, or killing them outright. Johnnie manipulates Alice into believing that this movement has pegged her as their next victim and even stages a protest outside her home to convince her that they’re coming for her. Succumbed with fear Alice drops over with a heart attack, and the couple believe they now can get their hands on her money, but at the reading of her will they find that Alice has placed a stipulation that they weren’t expecting.

The filmed was produced by Amicus Productions, which was a British film studio that specialized in horror movies, mainly those of the Gothic variety. To keep up with changing tastes they decided to dabble in the grindhouse genre and picked this story, which was based on a novel called ‘The Ruthless Ones’ by Laurence Moody, as their first venture. They were so impressed with Vanessa Howard’s creepy performance in Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly that they signed her on as the star hoping to make her their next ‘scream queen’. Howard, who was upset at how the previous film she was in fell into obscurity, that she was happy to take on a new project that would be financed by a well know studio, which she felt would guarantee that the picture would receive strong box office appeal. Unfortunately, once the project was finished Amicus studio heads were aghast at the dark subject matter and decided not to release it causing this movie to become as obscure as Howard’s other one, which in-turn disillusioned her wit the business and causing her to retire.

The story does have its share of faults. There’s no explanation for what happened to Johnnie’s parents, or what their take is on his living situation. His ability to fool the grandmother into believing such an outrageous conspiracy theory happens too easily and is hard to believe, but the dark story elements, despite the slow pace, still holds adequate intrigue. A lot of credit goes to the performances. Howard is quite nasty, but in a different way than she was in her other movie where she behaved like she was in a trance, but here is knowingly devious while also shockingly callous. Washbourne is also terrific causing you to gain sympathy for her character and what she goes through.

The twist is good, but not a complete surprise and it takes too long to get there. My biggest gripe is that once the story shifts it doesn’t explore enough of the wrinkles that it creates. There’s a whole array of different plot threads it could’ve taken, but instead settles for the most obvious one culminating in a climax that peters itself out instead of inviting in even more twists and characters to it.

Spoiler Alert!

The stabbing scene is problematic in that the victim clothes get stained with blood, but there’s no rip in the clothing to represent where the knife was able to get through. A person can’t bleed unless a sharp object touches their skin and for that to happen it needs to be able to cut through the fabric on top of it, so to have a shot where the victim is ‘bleeding’ into their clothing, but clothing itself  isn’t ripped is illogical. Also, having the police continue to stand outside the home and politely knock on the door to be let in, after they become aware of what Johnnie has done, while he remains inside refusing to open it, got overdone. At some point the police are going to have to break down the door if the suspect refuses to come out and this should’ve been shown.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall I still enjoyed it especially the music played over the opening and closing credits and during the club scenes. I don’t know what the name of the band was, but it has a great punk band-like sound that’s distinct and hard edged. If the movie itself won’t get the proper Blu-ray release that it deserves then the soundtrack at least should.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bill Bain

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None

Incubus (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Demon being rapes women.

In a small Wisconsin town known as Galen the women are being sexually assaulted by a mysterious being with super human strength. When the victims are taken to the hospital they are seen by Dr. Sam Cordell (John Cassavetes) who notices an extraordinary amount of semen deposited that is reddish in color and doesn’t seem left by a human. Sam argues with the local sheriff Hank (John Ireland) about whether it’s a gang of men doing these crimes, or just one person. The two team-up with Laura (Kerrie Keane), a local reporter who has just moved into town and shares a striking resemblance to Sam’s former girlfriend who’s now deceased, to find the culprit. They begin to think it may be Tim (Duncan McIntosh) a young man who’s still living with his adopted mother (Helen Hughes) and has been dating Sam’s daughter Jenny (Erin Noble). Tim complains about having weird, vivid dreams and every time he wakes up a new crime has been reported, which makes Sam fear that Jenny may be the next victim.

This film approaches things differently from the conventional horror, especially those done in the 70’s, where there’s no character build-up and just jumps right into the attacks, but this doesn’t work because we have no idea who these people are nor care what happens to them making the viewer sit through the whole first half in a rather apathetic manner to what’s going on. The film also makes the mistake of not showing, with the exception of a brief second where we do see the creature’s hairy arm, of who this entity is until the very end though it should’ve been done sooner. Having some mystery is good, but a film has to keep upping the ante otherwise it will get tedious and seeing the attacks get done over and over in virtually the same manner without any new information or twists added soon becomes quite boring.

Listening to Sam and Hank perpetually argue who the culprit is for almost the entire film without much  clues being added in becomes tiresome too. The film though is helped immensely by John Hough’s direction who adds a lot of visual style including a cool tracking shot done from underneath a wheelchair.

I was unhappy though that it wasn’t actually filmed in Wisconsin, but instead Guelph, Ontario, which has homes and buildings that resemble more of a colonial style that you would find in the northeast versus the Midwest. Having movies filmed on-location that’s specific to the story can help give it an added ambiance and sometimes even work as a third character, but since this movie cheats on this we don’t get that here.

Casting Cassavetes, who is better known for directing groundbreaking, independent movies, in the lead was a novel move. His hawk-like facial features I always felt would’ve made him a good bad guy, but his unique acting approach does at least keep his scenes interesting though his relationship with his daughter does border on cringey. One shot has him viewing his naked daughter, who is 17, through a  mirror as she gets out of the shower, which seems to imply, though it never gets played-out, that he may have a perverse sexual interest in her. There’s another scene where he introduces her to Laura as simply being ‘a woman I live with’, which is a very weird way for a father to describe a daughter.

The supporting characters aren’t captivating at all. Laura, who’s supposed to be an aggressive journalist type, breaks down too easily after receiving minor blow back from the sheriff over her reporting, which made her seem too sensitive. If she’s truly the ‘fearless reporter’ as portrayed then she’d have to have a thicker skin and even expect some criticism when it comes. The Tim character is also a bore as we see him in only one emotional state, perplexed and confused, which makes him too one-dimensional.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is where things get messed-up. For one thing it tries to squeeze an elaborate explanation for what’s going-on into the final three minutes, which is too short of a time period for the viewer to digest it all, or have it make sense. What really got me though is that we find out that the incubus was actually Laura, and the film ends with Sam seeing her kill his daughter, but we never see how Sam responds, or if he’s able to defeat her, which is frustrating. So much time gets spent on the boring investigation only to then abruptly end once we finally get a pay-off.

By having Laura be the ultimate villain also goes against the film’s title. According to mythology an incubus is a male demon that tries to have sex with a female human, but a succubus is a female demon, so hence the title of the movie, the way I see it, should’ve been, when given the way it turns out, Succubus.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Hough

Studio: Kings Road Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Pluto TV, Plex, Tubi, YouTube

Diary of the Dead (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two dead old ladies.

Stan (Hector Elizondo) is married to Vera (Salome Jens) while living in a house that’s owned by Vera’s mother Maud (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Maud and Stan do not get along and she uses the fact that Stan can’t find regular employment as a means to belittle him.  She also tries to convince Vera to leave him. Stan is aware of this, but can’t seem to do much about it. Then one day Maud’s friend Ethel (Kate Wilkinson) comes for a visit. She arrives while Maud is upstairs taking a nap, and is greeted by Stan, but since she had to walk all the way from the bus station to the house and suffers from high blood pressure, she promptly collapses once she gets inside. Stand decides to use this as an opportunity to get rid of Maud by claiming to the attending physician (Austin Pendleton) that the dead body is his mother-in-law, so when Ethel is taken away for cremation everyone thinks it’s Maud instead. Stan then buries Maud’s body, who he has killed on his own, in his backyard, but this catches the eye of his nosy neighbor Walter (Joseph Maher) who had always gotten along well with Maud and feels Stan’s explanation of what happened doesn’t add-up.

The story is based on the 1971 novel ‘One Across, Two Down’ by Ruth Rendell and while the plot has a sufficient amount of twists the direction, by first timer Arvin Brown, is lacking. It’s not liked it’s bad direction, but it has no finesse and seems meant of TV.  It’s no surprise that Brown ended up doing projects exclusively for TV after this one as nothing here is cinematic and approached in such a sterile way visually that it actually detracts from the proceedings.

Elizondo gives a feisty performance that perfectly captures a bitter man going through life with a chip-on-his-shoulder. His arguments and confrontations with Maud lend for some colorful dialogue, but a meddling, cantankerous mother-in-law is nothing new and if anything seems cliched making the material come-off as second-rate and formulaic.

The crime itself isn’t elaborate. In the ‘Columbo’ TV mysteries we’d see the bad-guy pull-off the murder in a way that was carefully thought-out, so the viewer becomes intrigued trying to figure out what flaw the killer overlooked that Columbo will jump on, but here it works in reverse. The crime is spur-of-the moment with a bunch of things that could easily go wrong that will instantly get Stan caught, which isn’t as interesting. Stan is also not a pleasant person, so the viewer is not emotionally invested in him escaping the clutches of the authorities,  If anything you remain ambivalent to what happens, which are ingredients that don’t make the movie interesting.

The film does feature a twist ending, but it’s not something one couldn’t have seen coming as it goes overboard telegraphing it. As an episode of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ it would’ve worked better, but it gets stretched too thin for feature length. The should also not be confused with the George A. Romero film of the same name that came out 30 yeas later.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arvin Brown

Studio: B.S. Moss Enterprises

Available: None

Telefon (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spies hypnotized to kill.

Grigori (Charles Bronson) is a KGB agent ordered to investigate a rash of terrorist activities being done inside the US. All of the crimes are being committed by Russian sleeper agents who are hypnotized to carry-out acts via a call on a telephone where they are read a line from a Robert Frost poem, which  triggers them to act upon preordained instructions. The calls are made by a rogue agent named Nickolai Dalchimsky (Donald Pleasence) and it’s up to Grigori to stop him before it becomes an international incident. While in the US Grigori works with lady agent named Barbara (Lee Remick), who Grigori thinks is on his side, but she’s a double-agent ordered to kill Grigori once the mission is completed.

While Leonard Maltin in his review describes the plot, which is based on the novel of the same name by Walter Wager, as being ‘ingenious’ many others felt it was far-fetched. There actually has been one case in the history of crime, which occurred on March 29, 1951 in Copenhagen,  Denmark, where a man by the name of Palle Hardrup was apparently hypnotized by Schouw Nielsen to carry-out a bank robbery and this lead to two people getting killed. Both men were later convicted and the story was made into a 2018 movie called Murderous Trance. Since then though there has been no other cases on record of this type of thing occurring and many experts in the hypnotic field insist that it couldn’t making what transpires here highly speculative at best.

The issue of Grigori having a photographic memory and able to memorize the names and personal details of all the sleeper agents is questionable too. Many researchers say that this type of phenomenon is only temporary and cannot be retained over a long period. There are others that say the photographic memory is a myth altogether and like with the hypnosis angle, forces the viewer to complete shut off their skeptical side right from the get-go in order to have even a chance of enjoying the movie at all.

The only interesting aspect is Lee Remick and Bronson learning to deal with each other’s contrasting personalities, which makes great use of Chuck’s gruff and brash manner, but I felt Remick as an agent wasn’t believable. When she’s ordered to kill one of the sleeper agents inside a hospital by injecting him with a drug she gets quite nervous, but if she’s killed before, then I’d think it would be like second-nature to her and she’d be cool and calm under pressure. I also felt the film should’ve showed her fully carrying-out the killing instead of cutting away without ever seeing the actual injection.

I didn’t get why she would’ve fallen in love with Bronson as the two had nothing in common and really didn’t get along. The film seems to act off the theory that putting a man and woman together will automatically elicit romance and sexual tensions, but members of the opposite sex work together on jobs sometimes for many years where sex and romance never occurs, so having these two end up getting the hots for each other seemed forced and mechanical. Also, the fact that Remick is a double-agent and Bronson becomes aware of this would make me believe that he, being a professional spy, would never trust her enough to let down his guard to expose his softer side to begin with.

I was disappointed too that several scenes are supposed to take place in Texas, including the city of Houston, and yet ultimately all of  these get shot in either California, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco, which was the same one used in High Anxiety, or on a studio sound stage. Yet there are plenty of other scenes that were shot on-location like New Mexico , Montana, and even Finland, so if they could make it to those places then why not to Texas too?

The climactic sequence, which takes place in a backwoods bar and features a humorous performance by Helen Page Camp, as the wife of the bar owner, gets wrapped-up in too tidy of a way and doesn’t take full advantage of Pleasence, who has been very creepy in his other villainous roles, but here doesn’t make much of an impression. While the film is entertaining on a non-think level it compares poorly to other movies in the spy genre and certainly does not come close to matching many of the better ones.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Don Siegel

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

Hustle (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father searches for killer.

Phil (Burt Reynolds) is a police lieutenant who’s in love with a beautiful French prostitute named Nicole (Catherine Deneuve) and the two live together in Phil’s swanky hilltop Malibu home. Unfortunately Phil can’t handle that Nicole continues her business practice even as the two are in a relationship and this threatens their love affair. As this goes on Phil also gets embroiled in a police investigation when a group of school children find a dead body of a 20-year-old woman washed up on the beach. The victim’s father (Ben Johnson) insists it was murder even after the autopsy says it’s a suicide. Phil and his partner Louis (Paul Winfield) are ready to close the case, but when the father starts his own investigation the two  decide to pursue it further, which leads them to many unsettling conclusions including that the daughter starred in several porno films financed by the sleazy Leo Sellers (Eddie Albert) a rich older man who also happens to be a client of Nicole’s.

This film was the second collaboration between Reynolds and director Robert Aldrich as the two had just completed the highly successful The Longest Yard a year earlier. While that film met with critical acclaim this one received only a so-so reception. There were certain elements that I liked, but I did find Reynolds’ presence to be a detriment. His boyish looks where he doesn’t have the mustache or the wavy hair, which always made him look like he was wearing a wig, is a plus, but his character is too detached. It’s only after repeated cajoling by the father that he even agrees to look into the case more and the movie would’ve been more compelling had it revolved around the father from the very beginning.

Reynolds’ relationship with Deneuve is boring and the scenes between them aren’t sexy or provocative as intended. We should’ve seen how they became a couple from the start as their attachment brings out all sorts of questions that never get answered. For instance, where did they first meet? Was it during a sexual rendezvous where Burt paid for her services, or possibly a cop raid? Why did she fall for Burt as this woman had been with a lot of men, so what made him special over the others and why would a cop think getting serious with a woman who routinely sleeps with other men be a good idea, or even work?

The movie tries to be chic by creating a character who’s initially ‘open-minded’ about prostitution, but then contradicts itself by having him turn around and demand she must give it up. If this were truly a modern thinking guy he would’ve liked the fact that she was financially independent and slept with other men because she gave herself for free to him while she made the others pay. He might even get-off watching her having sex with others, as there are some husbands/boyfriends who do, and the fact that the film doesn’t think to go into this area makes it far less ‘hip’ than it thinks it is.

There’s also a very violent moment where Reynolds refuses to let her leave, physically slaps her, and even refers to her as a ‘bitch’ several times. He then pins her to the bed and forces himself onto her. While she initially resists he continues to do it until she finally gives-in and acts like she’s enjoying it. Today’s audiences will be rightly turned-off by this and it will make Reynolds, the intended ‘good guy’, look much more like an abuser. It also might allow some men to think that being violent with women is ‘okay’ as they’ll ultimately give in and ‘learn to enjoy it’, which is the wrong message to be sending.

As mentioned earlier Ben Johnson’s character is the only thing that keeps it interesting. The scene where his eyes tear-up after watching his daughter, played by real-life adult film actress Colleen Brennan, perform in a porn film is similar to the one in Hardcorebut far more impactful here. I was amused why he even took the part as he had complained about being in The Last Picture Show, which is the film he won the Oscar for as Best Supporting Actor, because of the ‘foul language’, but then he ends up swearing quite a bit in this one. In either case I’m glad he took it as his presence raises the storyline above its otherwise seedy level and even helps give it a few memorable bits.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Coma (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who’s killing the patients?

Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold) is a Dr. working as a surgeon at Boston Memorial Hospital, who learns that her best friend Nancy (Lois Chiles) fell into a coma at the hospital while having routine surgery. Susan is convinced that there must be an answer to what went wrong as Nancy was young and had no underlying health conditions. While reviewing the hospital records she finds that a high number of other patients at the hospital ended up having the same fate and all were of a similar age and body type as Nancy. Susan also notices that the patients had surgery in the same operating room and once they became comatose their bodies where shipped off to a remote facility known as The Jefferson Institute.  Susan’s boyfriend Mark (Michael Douglas), who also works at the hospital, tries to convince her it’s all a coincidence, but the more Susan investigates the more determined she is to uncover the truth even if it means putting her job and even her life on the line.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Robin Cook. Cook, a physician, decided to dabble in writing on his off-hours and in 1973 got his first novel, ‘The Year of the Intern’, published but it was a financial failure. While that book had been more of a drama he came to realize that thrillers was the genre that had the most commercial success. He studied how, in his words, ‘the reader was manipulated by the writer’, in the thriller novels that he had enjoyed and then listed these techniques on index cards and made sure to use them in ‘Coma’, which lead to that book being a best-seller. Michael Crichton, who had met Cook while he was working on a post doctorate at La Jolla’s Salk Institute, agreed to sign on as the director where he hoped to create a film that would delve into people’s fear of hospitals the way Jaws had connected to people’s phobias about sharks and swimming.

The result is a nice compact thriller that moves along at a brisk pace and takes advantage of both the director’s and author’s medical background to help keep the scenario both realistic and enlightening to the inner-workings of a hospital. There’s a couple of cool foot chase scenes with one occurring between Bujold and actor Lance LeGault inside the hospital while another happens at the ominous looking Jefferson Institute with both being quite intense.

Bujold, despite being different than the protagonist in the novel, who was described as blonde and 23 while Bujold is brunette and 35 at the time of filming, was still a perfect casting choice. I loved her French Canadian accent, which gives her character distinction, but she does appear at times to have reddish nose and cheeks making her seem like she had a rash or cold. What I didn’t like was that the feminist angle of the character, which had been so prominent in the novel, gets played-down here. In the book Susan did not know Nancy and simply took on the case through her own personal initiative to prove herself in an otherwise ‘man’s world’, which was more compelling than the pedestrian way here where she investigates the case simply because she’s heartbroken over the loss of a friend.

It also didn’t make sense to me why she was the only one upset over the deaths of these patients. The patients most likely had family and friends, so why weren’t any of them demanding answers to what happened? We live in a sue-happy culture and medical malpractices are the most prevalent lawsuits out there making me believe this racket wouldn’t have been able to survive too long as lawyers and private investigators, who would’ve been hired by the grieved family members, would’ve been on the case demanding answers from the hospital long before Susan ever even got involved.

The Susan character has the same issues as James Coburn’s did in The Carey Treatment where we have a medical professional with no background in investigating suddenly showing amazing instinct on-the-spot that you’d only expect from a seasoned detective. Having a group of people, like the grieved relatives, working together to solve the case would’ve had more interesting banter and camaraderie, which is missing here. While seeing an individual take down a mighty criminal system is emotionally gratifying it usually takes a strong team of people working in tandem to accomplish that.

Spoiler Alert!

I did find the film’s climax where Susan goes under the knife and risks being another comatose victim, to be quite suspenseful, but I found it strange why this woman, who had done all the legwork to uncover the crime, would then just hand-it-over to the creepy hospital administrator, played by Richard Widmark, to finish the job instead of her going to the police with her findings. The Widmark character displayed a lot of red flags from the start, which is obvious to the viewer, so why is Susan, who had been so super savvy the rest of the time, so dumb at the end and trust a creep like him to do the right thing?

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 6, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: MGM

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

The Great Santini (1979)

great santini

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Warrior without a war.

Bull Meachum (Robert Duvall) is a Lieutenant Colonel pilot in the marines, who enjoys much camaraderie and respect amongst his colleagues, who affectionately call him ‘The Great Santini’.  However, his home-life is a different story as Bull treats his family the same way he does those under him in the service. His wife Lil (Blythe Danner) has learned to adjust to it, but his oldest son Ben (Michael O’Keefe), who is ready to turn 18, rebels and this causes much friction between the two, which eventually boils over to the rest of the children just as the family gets ready to move into a new residence in the deep south.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Pat Conroy, who in-turn based it on his real-life relationship with his strict, militant father Donald Conroy who gave himself the nickname from a magician that he had seen as a child. While the two had a rocky relationship, much like the son and father do in the movie, the film did help the two mend some fences and his father would routinely accompany his son on book signings and they were even in attendance on the set as the movie was being shot.

While the book was well received I felt that the movie came off disjointed and had a wide-array of tonal issues. The scenes with Santini in the military are quite funny, in a raucous sort of way, but when it shifts to focus on the family life it becomes more of a hackneyed drama. There’s also a long-drawn out segment dealing with a stuttering black man named Toomer (Stan Shaw) and his late-night confrontation with a white racist (played by David Keith in his film debut) that gets quite ugly and doesn’t have either Duvall or O’Keefe in the scene and seems like something for a completely different movie. Maybe in the book, which I have not read, this all came together better, but here it’s like a movie searching desperately for its center and never finding it.

Both Duvall and O’Keefe are excellent and both got nominated for the Academy Award for their efforts, but Danner as the wife is badly miscast. For one thing she looks too young for be O’Keefe’s mother and she speaks in a weird accent where it seems like she’s trying to affect a southern dialect, but it doesn’t sound authentic and wavers throughout. I also didn’t understand why her character married Santini as the two had little in common and for the most part seems to resent his bullish behavior much like the rest of the kids do. Why does she stick with him and what did she see in him to have her fall in love with him in the first place as these things just aren’t clear at all.

Lisa Jane Persky, who also makes her film debut as the oldest daughter Mary Anne, is an odd-piece of casting as well. Her performance is okay, but she certainly does not come-off like a child dominated by a supposedly abusive, controlling parent as she routinely teases and mocks Santini right to his face and at one point the teasing gets so bad it chases him away, which hurts the film’s credibility as it makes him seem far less of a tyrant and making O’Keefe’s dealings with him seem overrated. After all if a teen girl can get the old guy to run from her why can’t he do the same?

On the technical end the movie is okay and it’s fun seeing Julie Ann Haddock, best known for playing Cindy in the first season of ‘Facts of Life’ TV-Show, playing Santini’s younger daughter Karen. Unfortunately the film is too much of a mish-mash. Has some good moments here-and-there, but overall fails to deliver any type of sustained emotional impact.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lewis John Carlino

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube