Category Archives: Movies with a Hotel setting

Under the Rainbow (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drunk dwarfs vandalize hotel.

In 1938 an audition is held at the Culver Hotel in Hollywood for Little People to play the part of Munchkins for the upcoming movie The Wizard of Oz. Studio assistant Annie (Carrie Fisher) is put in charge of casting 150 dwarfs for the part. Meanwhile German secret agent Otto (Billy Barty), who is also a dwarf, has been sent by Hitler to California to seek out a Japanese spy who will supply him with top secret maps of American defense systems. Also coming to the hotel is secret service agent Bruce (Chevy Chase) who has been assigned to protect an Austrian Royal Duke (Joseph Maher) and his wife (Eve Arden) from assassination and when all these different forces come together in the same place massive calamity ensues especially as the dwarfs get drunk and proceed to tear the place up.

Director Steve Rash and screenwriter Fred Bauer gained a lot of critical success with The Buddy Holly Story and it got them a contract with Orion Pictures where they signed on to direct a movie that would star Chevy Chase. Inspired by a long-running rumor that dealt with dwarfs getting drunk and rowdy while auditioning for the Munchkin roles at the Culver Hotel, where this film was actually shot, and they decided this would make a funny idea for their next project. The concept might’ve worked had they centered it around the dwarfs, but instead they’re treated as secondary players with no discernable personalities, who behave more like children instead of adults with a physical growth handicap.

Throwing in Chase was a bad idea. He had just signed a three picture deal with the studio, so was obligated to take the part when it was given, but he has later described this as ‘one of the worst movies ever made’ and in interviews, most notably on ‘The Tonight Show’, so has Carrie Fisher. I didn’t understand why the three different story threads were needed as it dilutes the plot, but apparently director Rash didn’t think people would come to see a movie that starred dwarfs, so Chase was added in to compel audiences to the theater, but he’s aloof and not funny and looking genuinely uncomfortable the whole way through.

The spy/espionage angle needed to be thrown out and instead everything centered around Fisher and her struggles in maintaining order throughout the audition. The dwarfs needed more of a dramatic presence too with some serious undertones put in showing the challenges of being a small person, which would’ve given the movie some depth that is otherwise missing. I did enjoy Billy Barty, but everything else is a shambles, which justifiably caused it to do poorly with both the critics and box office.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Rash

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Lookin’ to Get Out (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding out in Vegas.

Alex (Jon Voight) is a high stakes gambler in debt for $10,000. Joey and Harry (Allen Keller, Jude Farese) work with the syndicate and when they come around to collect their debt from Alex he escapes out of the city with his pal Jerry Feldmen (Burt Young) where they go to Las Vegas in hopes of recouping the money by playing blackjack. Alex employs the services of Smitty (Bert Remsen), an expert card counter, to help him at the dealer table, but just as he and Jerry think they’ve got their situation solved Joey and Harry reappear and chase the two through the hotel demanding that the debt be repaid immediately.

The script was written by Al Schwartz who based it on some of his own life experiences as he struggled to make it in the entertainment world. While working as the business manager to singer/songwriter Chip Taylor he showed him the script to get his opinion and Chip suggested that Al send it to Jon Voight, Chip’s brother, and when Jon read it he purportedly ‘fell in love with it’ within the first 30 pages. The story is a bit different as the situations itself aren’t necessarily funny, but instead it relies on the desperate nature of the characters and the way they interact with each other for its humor.

It was filmed at the MGM Grand Hotel, which at 6,852 rooms is the largest single hotel in the United States and third largest in the world. The ambience of the place is well captured and reminded me of the atmosphere of a lot of casinos I’ve stayed at where everyone is looking to ‘get lucky’ while in the process living very much on the edge. Having the plot that place over only a two-day period nicely reflects how gamblers live for the moment without any concern for either the past or future. It’s all just about the risk and excitement of beating the odds, which on that level, the film captures admirably well.

The acting helps, particularly from Voight who gives a souped-up rendition of his more famous Joe Buck character from Midnight Cowboy, playing a clueless schmuck who believes he can con his way out of anything and it’s also great seeing him share a scene with his real-life daughter Angelina Jolie, who at age 4 makes her film debut, appearing briefly as Alex’s daughter near the end and to date has been the only project that the two have done together. Young is also quite good as his more sensible friend and to an extent that he becomes the person the audience connects with. Remsen has a few key moments too playing a character that initially seems insignificant to the story, but slowly begins to have a much more meaningful presence by the end. As a buddy formula it works, but throwing in Ann-Margaret as Alex’s former girlfriend who comes back into his life, doesn’t gel and she should’ve been left out.

The foot chase where Alex and Jerry try to outrun Joey and Harry by dashing throughout the hotel is the film’s single best moment and I was impressed with how unlike other movie chases scenes there were no jump cuts and you can visually follow the action even as it shifts between different rooms. The other segments though get overly drawn-out. While his trademark was a slower, more subtle pace, which worked in his previous movies, director Hal Ashby would’ve been wise to have paired this one down. The plot isn’t intricate enough to justify the long runtime and a 90-minute version would’ve been ideal. The original theatrical cut was 105 minutes, which had issues too, but the longer director’s edition isn’t perfect either and in this instance less definitely would’ve been more.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1982

Runtime: 2 Hours (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Payday (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A self-destructive singer.

Maury Dann (Rip Torn) is a popular country singer who performs at many clubs throughout the southeast. While he is loved by his many fans he routinely takes advantage of those around him including sleeping with married women while openly seducing the others even when it’s right in front of his current girlfriend Mayleen (Ahna Capri). When Maury is confronted by the father (Walter Bamberg) of one of the young women he’s seduced they get into an ugly fight and Maury accidently ends up killing him, but since he’s so used to exploiting others he asks his loyal limo driver Chicago (Cliff Emmich) to take the blame for him.

The film, which was directed by Daryl Duke, is a masterpiece in penetrating drama to the point that I’m surprised that Duke, who had only directed TV-shows before this, didn’t go on to have a long career in making Hollywood movies instead of going right back to doing episodic TV-work after this. The script though, which was written by Don Carpenter, is completely on-target as it paints a very trenchant, no-holds-barred portrait of the seamier side of show business life and most importantly the people who work in it.

The atmosphere of the smoke-filled bars/nightclubs is vividly captured and the dialogue has a nice conversational quality that makes its point, but never in too much of an obvious way. The characterizations though are the most revealing and include Maury’s loyal manager Clarence (Michael C. Gwynne) who secretly despises Maury and is well aware of his many faults, but does whatever he can to cover them up to the adoring public.  Cliff Emmich as the faithful limo driver, who secretly aspires to be a gourmet chief, is terrific too. He doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s always quite interesting and his facial reactions are great.

My favorite characters though were Maury’s two girlfriends particularly the young, wide-eyed Rosamond (Elayne Heilveil in her film debut) who excitedly jumps into bed with Maury as his new star crush groupie only to become more apprehensive about things, which get revealed through her wonderfully strained facial expressions, the ugliness that goes on around her. Since her character has the most obvious arc I thought she should’ve been the story’s centerpiece.

Capri is quite enjoyable as well playing on the opposite end of the spectrum as a jaded woman who’s been in the groupie scene too long, but desperate enough to stay in it. The film’s most memorable moment is when Maury kicks her out of his limo, without any money, in the middle of a cornfield. She’s able to find another ride quickly, but I would’ve liked seeing a scene later on showing where she ultimately ended-up, or having her return to the story near the end where she could’ve had a climactic final confrontation with Maury, which is what her character deserved.

The only thing that I didn’t like was Maury himself. Torn plays the part in a masterful way, although his singing over the opening credits, which he insisted on doing himself, isn’t so spectacular, but his acting is. The only problem is that his character is just too much of a jerk. Supposedly it’s loosely based on Hank Williams and I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to it, but it would’ve been nice had there been at least one fleeting moment when he did something redeeming as his constant jerkiness becomes almost an overload for the viewer making it border on being too obnoxious to watch, but it’s so well crafted in every other aspect it’s still a worthwhile view.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 22, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Daryl Duke

Studio: Cinerama Releasing

Available: DVD

Eaten Alive (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Feeding a hungry crocodile.

Loosely based on the exploits of serial killer Joe Ball, who owned a bar in the 1930’s in Texas that had a alligator sideshow connected to it and it was rumored that he fed some of his victims to the beast though it was never proven.  The story here centers around Judd (Neville Brand) a backwoods redneck who owns a rundown hotel in the swamp lands where he brings in unsuspecting guests that he feeds to his Nile Crocodile that he has swimming in a pond behind the building.

This film was director Tobe Hooper’s third full-length feature and the first to be financially backed by a studio after the success of The Texas Chain saw Massacre although the bigger budget doesn’t help. I didn’t like that everything gets filmed inside an indoor studio, in this case The Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles as the outdoor scenes look artificial, and the strong red glow, which I couldn’t figure out if it was supposed to be from the sun or a neon sign, gives it too much of a surreal look. Hooper stated that this is the effect he wanted, but it causes the viewer to feel that this is something that is happening in some other planet and for something to be scary one should feel that what there seeing could happen here and to them instead of in a bizarre world far removed from this one.

I had issues with the rundown Starlight Hotel too. It certainly looks spooky, but in a cliched way and that’s the problem. Nobody in their right mind would ever stay overnight there. It looks like a place that might not even have indoor plumbing or electricity. This coupled with Judd the owner, who looks creepy and acts weird, would immediately scare anyone away and the fact that the characters here aren’t bothered by any of this makes them seem too stupid to be believed.

The acting helps especially Brand. He burst onto the film scene in 1949 with many good performances including an acclaimed one in the landmark drama Riot in Cellblock 11, but his rugged appearance made it hard for him to find leading man roles relegating him to supporting parts. By the mid-70’s he admitted in interviews that  he had spent most of the money he had made and was suffering from alcoholism, which forced him to take any role that was offered including some really bad ones. This film though was an exception and a good example of how to make a killer more interesting by not having him behave in a one-dimensional threatening way, but instead show at various times some unexpected traits like fear, confusion, and even sadness.

The supporting cast is great too especially Carolyn Jones as a brothel owner. She looks light years removed from her most famous role as Morticia in ‘The Addams Family’ TV-Show as she walks around with a noticeable hunch and has make-up on her face, which gives her a very wrinkled appearance. William Finley and Marilyn Burns, who famously starred in Hooper’s earlier hit film, are intriguing too as this freaky couple who check into the place, but it’s never sufficiently explained why her character is initially seen wearing a wig, or why Finley talks about losing one of his eyeballs when he clearly hasn’t.

My favorite part though was that of Kyle Richards who plays this 6-year-old girl who manages to escape from the killer and hide underneath the property in a crawlspace. Watching her being chased through the crawlspace by Judd is intense and if the film had focused solely on her it could’ve been a winner.

Unfortunately the other characters aren’t likable and elicit no emotion from the viewer. The plot is thin and offers no unexpected twists or surprises. Hooper seems to be going too much to the same well as his chain saw flick including a foot chase sequence that gets choregraphed in the exact same way as the one between Leatherface and Marilyn Burns. Too much emphasis on atmosphere and grisly violence while an interesting plot-driven story gets forgotten, which is the reason why this production only halfway succeeds.

Alternate Titles: Death Trap, Starlight Slaughter, Legend of the Bayou, Horror Hotel

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tobe Hooper

Studio: Virgo International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crazy lady kills guests.

Evelyn (Anna Chappell) has just been released from a mental institution and gone back to running a rural motel. One day she finds her daughter Lori (Jill King) practicing witchcraft in their basement. Evelyn becomes so enraged by this that she ends up killing her daughter with a garden sickle. The police believe her story that it was simply an accident that happened outside in their garden and do not arrest her, but the voices inside Evelyn’s head convince her that everyone else is out to get her. This madness sends her on a killing spree at her hotel in which she is able to enter each person’s room through a trap door in their bathrooms that is connected to an underground tunnel.

The film did only moderately well when it was released to regional theaters and then ultimately nationally in 1986 and a lot of the problem could reside around its promotional poster seen above, which seems to imply that this is a campy horror comedy, which it is not. It also features a completely different woman posing as Evelyn that is not the same one who plays her in the film.

As for the film itself it starts out okay. I liked how it comes up with this very offbeat premise about an old lady killer, but then approaches in a realistic way. Nothing gets jazzed-up for the sake of horror and everything gets handled with a slow deliberate pace including a drawn out scene showing an ambulance crew trying to resuscitate her daughter. The on-location shooting, which was filmed in an around Oil City, Louisiana in March of 1983 gives the viewer an authentic view of the winter landscape in the south and the hotel itself, which was shot at an abandoned fishing camp that sat on Cross Lake in Shreveport, helps add a rustic flair.

The cast of victims are much more diverse than in most slasher movies and fortunately doesn’t just feature teenagers or college kids. I was especially impressed with Major Brock, who plays Crenshaw, who had worked for 31 years as a baggage handler at Delta Airlines, but was convinced by the film’s director to take on the role despite having no acting experience, but he does really well, he even sleeps convincingly, and I enjoyed the character’s no-nonsense attitude and wished he had remained in it the whole way.  I was actually disappointed to see any of them die and instead wanted to see how they could get past their contrasting personalities to work as a team to overcome the crazy lady, but that doesn’t happen.

The killings though are quite boring and the idea that a sickle would be able to kill people so easily with just one swipe after spending most likely years being used in the garden, which would’ve dulled its blade, is just not believable. The victims are also too passive and just stand there when the lady attacks them instead of fighting back. The killer is after all an elderly woman, so you’d think these younger people could’ve overpowered her by even just kicking at her, which would’ve slowed her advance.

The climactic battle inside the underground tunnel offers some tension, but it seemed weird that when the people would open up the trap door that lead to the tunnel there would be this bright ray of light that would spew out making it seem like the tunnel was well lit, but then when they’d get down there the only source of light would be their lanterns, so if that’s the case were was the initial ray of light coming from?

The film would’ve worked better had it not given it all away right at the start. The identity of the killer should’ve been kept a secret until the very end and Evelyn should’ve initially been portrayed as this sweet old lady who you’d never suspect. The tunnel should not have been made known until later either and thus made it more intriguing for the viewer in trying to figure out how the dead bodies of the victims were disappearing out of their rooms.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 15, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jim McCullough Sr.

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Death in Venice (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man obsesses over boy.

Based on the Thomas Mann novel of the same name, the story centers around Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) a composer in the decline of his career and suffering from ill health. To recuperate he travels to the Grand Hotel des Bains in Venice, Italy, but finds his relaxation cut short when he becomes infatuated with Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen) a 15-year-old Polish boy who’s staying with his family. Gustav can’t seem to keep his eyes or mind off of him, but never physically approaches the teen or makes any attempt to communicate with him. While his fixation grows so does the cholera epidemic that is gripping the city, which may end up taking both of their lives.

Like with most of director Luchino Visconti’s films the pace may be too slow for some viewers, but I found it to be fascinating right from the get-go. One of the aspects that really stood out is Visconti’s ability to recreate a period atmosphere. Nothing seems stilted or rehearsed. Visconti wisely pulls the camera back and allows things to happen naturally. The people in the background don’t seem like film extras at all, but real people going about there lives that Bogarde just happens to be in. It’s also really cool that it was shot at the Grand Hotel des Bains where author Mann stayed in 1911 when the real incident that the story is based on occurred.

I liked too that Gustav does not play-out is mental fantasies and remains at a comfortable distance from the boy at all times. Too many other movies give off this impression that everyone who obsesses over somebody else immediately goes after the person they’re attracted to when in reality many don’t. For some they realize things would never work out with whoever they’re attracted to as well as the legal ramifications, or because of the fear of rejection they prefer to keep it at a fantasy level. While they may still figuratively stalk the person, or observe them intently, it never goes beyond this point. In fact the ones that do aggressively go after their target are more the exception than the rule although in the movie world you’d think the opposite was true, so it’s nice to have at least one film that takes this topic in a different direction.

The fact that its based on a true story that Mann eventually fictionalized in his novel makes it all the more interesting. According to Mann’s wife Katia in a 1974 memoir she describes how her husband kept staring at a young boy he saw at the hotel whom she described at being 13 and was portrayed in the movie as being 15, but in reality was only 11. She stated that he kept gazing at the boy the whole time and always thought about him during their vacation.

The actual source of Mann’s attraction was later discovered to be Baron Wladyslaw Moes who was on vacation with his three sisters and had no idea that he was being observed. In fact Moes only became aware that he’d been the inspiration for the book when he saw the film upon its released in 1971. The biggest irony is that Moes looked nothing like the Tadzio character in the movie as evidenced by the below photo of him (blue circle) taken in 1911 the same year as when Mann spotted him.

The biggest issue that I had was seeing Tadzio making eye contact with Gustav like he’s aware that he’s being watched. Initially when I saw this in the theaters many years ago I took this eye contact thing to being a point-of-view fantasy of Gustav, but upon second viewing it seems the intention was different. Personally I don’t like this idea because at the age of 15 I don’t believe the teen would’ve been able to handle this behavior from an older man and would’ve either confronted him about it, or told someone else. Maybe if Tadzio had been older, like in his 20’s, and use to being seen as an object then maybe, but since he was so young this would’ve been all new to him and thus making him very uncomfortable very quickly and causing him to ultimately unravel.

Andresen’s performance is rather poor to boot. There were other good looking young actors who could’ve easily played the part in a more interesting way, but apparently Visconti was looking for a very specific type of look, but Andresen  appears uncomfortable throughout and has stated in interviews that his experience on the set was not a happy one. Bogarde in turn does quite well as he’s able to create a riveting performance despite having very little dialogue.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1971

Runtime: 2 Hours 10 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Luchino Visconti

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Snowball Express (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family rehabilitates rundown hotel.

Johnny (Dean Jones) works as an accountant in New York, but is bored with his job and looking for a way out. He finds his escape with an inheritance that he receives naming him the beneficiary of the Grand Imperial Hotel in Colorado that he’s promised can bring in $14,000 a month. He immediately quits his job and moves his reluctant family to the snowy Rockies where they find the hotel to be in bad shape, but Johnny is determined to still make a go of it and turns the place into a ski resort. At first they have some success with it, but calamity strikes, which destroys the place and forces Johnny to enter into a snow mobile race where he hopes to be the winner and use the earnings from the prize to rebuild the place.

There were aspects to the film that I liked. For one I felt Jones was quite engaging here. Usually his performances in some of his other Disney films were flat and one-dimensional, but here his resiliency had an emotional appeal. I also liked how even though the film is aimed for kids it still dealt with real-world adult issues like going to a bank to get a loan and then how to allocate that money to build equity. Even though children may be too young to grasp all of it, it’s still good to condition them into working world scenarios and what it takes to create a business from the ground up.

The story though lacks the physical comedy that is so prevalent in other Disney comedies. It does have a scene where Jones skis down a hill backwards while knocking over everyone else that is in his way, which is funny, but then the film repeats this same scenario two more times until it’s no longer funny and instead just boring. The scene where Harry Morgan’s character accidentally crashes his logging engine through the hotel is more depressing than funny since the family had spent so much time rebuilding it it was frustrating seeing it get destroyed for such a silly reason.

The climactic snowmobile race is okay and I liked seeing some of the wipeouts, which I wished there had been more of. However, having this really old guy played by Keenan Wynn beating out everyone else year after year as the snowmobile champion seemed weird. Granted he was actually only in his 50’s at the time it was filmed, but with his gray beard and hair he looked to be more in his 70’s, so it seemed a bit goofy why such an elderly guy, who was nothing more than a bank manager during the day, would have such an ability to always beat out everybody else.  Why the race required two men on each snowmobile didn’t make much sense either. I was born and raised in Minnesota and say a few snowmobile races in my time and they had only one person on each vehicle, so I couldn’t understand why it was necessary to have a second person behind the driver since they did nothing but  act like a spectator while holding for dear life as the driver cruised through the snow.

The film needed a more aggressive bad guy. Disney films from the 70’s were fun because the villains were usually so colorful, but here Keenan Wynn just sits behind his desk for most of the film and does nothing more than deny Jones a loan. It would’ve been better had Wynn instead sneaked around behind the scenes doing things that hurt Jones’ business, which would’ve created more of an antagonistic feeling from the viewer and thus made the final confrontation between the two, which gets underplayed anyways, more interesting.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Agatha (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Agatha Christie runs away.

Despondent over her husband’s affair famous British novelist Agatha Christie (Vanessa Redgrave) decides to go away for a while to collect her thoughts. She then gets into a car accident while on the road and having her car disabled she first takes a train and then a cab to the Old Swain Hotel where she registers there under an assumed name. The police find her disabled car and fear that Agatha may have drowned in a nearby lake, been kidnapped, murdered by her husband Archie (Timothy Dalton) or committed suicide. A nationwide search begins that encompasses thousands of volunteers that scour the nearby countryside for clues. Meanwhile American reporter Wally Stanton (Dustin Hoffman), working off of  a tip from Agatha’s secretary, decides to check into the same hotel and begins following Agatha around where he keeps notes on everything she does while also falling in love with her in the process.

The film is loosely based on Agatha Christie’s real-life 11-day disappearance that occurred in 1926. No explanation was ever given for the reason nor was it even mentioned in her autobiography. Had there been some actual research about what might’ve transpired during those 11-days then this would be worth a look, but, as the film plainly states at the beginning, it is simply an ‘imaginary solution to an authentic mystery’, so then what’s the point?

Most likely it was nothing more than a woman looking to escape to some quiet location for a short respite that unfortunately due to the press getting wind of it, spiraled quickly out-of-control. The film’s low point comes in the side-story dealing with Agatha’s attempts to kill herself through a jolt of electricity from sitting in a Bergonic chair, but is saved at the last second by Wally who grabs her from the chair just as she’s shocked. Yet as he lays her limp body on the floor he doesn’t perform CPR, but instead shouts at her to ‘breath’ several times and despite no scientific study proving that this ‘technique’ can actually work she still miraculously begins breathing again anyways.

I have never read a biography on Christie, so I have no idea what her real personality was like, but the film portrays her as being a complete wallflower lacking any type of confidence and so painfully shy it’s pathetic. The character is so transparent it’s almost like she’s not even there. Hoffman’s character was completely made-up and the way he chain smokes reminded me too much of the character that he had played in Midnight Cowboy. His growing ‘love’ for her and the way he later expresses it is extremely forced and corny. Also, why is Hoffman given top billing when the main subject is Agatha?

Johnny Mandel’s soothing score is the best thing. I also liked the shot of the thousands of volunteers searching for her along the vast countryside, but everything else about the movie gets either under cooked or overbaked. The scene where Agatha tries to do a triple bank shot while playing pool gets badly botched. We initially see it captured from above where the entire pool table is in view. The pool ball banks off the side and rolls towards the corner pocket, but then it slows up and it becomes clear that it won’t make it to the pocket, so director Michael Apted cheats by cutting to a close-up of the ball and having it magically regain speed, which easily makes it into the corner pocket. The attempt was to ‘trick’ the viewer into believing that this was a continuation of the same shot but any halfway savvy person will realize this close-up was shot later and edited in.

The film’s poster tells us that ‘What may have happened during the next 11 days is far more suspenseful than anything she ever wrote’, but it really isn’t and in fact it’s not even close. The original intent by screenwriter Kathleen Tynan was to make this into a documentary after researching the true facts of the case, which would’ve been far better than the flimsy fanciful thing we get here.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Apted

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Motel Hell (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Farmer Vincent’s tasty fritters.

Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) run a motel out in the sticks, but their main income comes from Vincent’s delicious meat fritters that he sells to the community. No one knows that the meat is made from humans who he gets by setting traps on a nearby road that sends the vehicles of unsuspecting motorists careening out of control. Once the cars have crashed Vincent removes their bodies from the wreckage and plants them in his hidden garden while also severing their vocal chords, so they cannot yell for help. Then once they are ‘ripe’ he slices up their bodies and uses them for his product.

This is yet another rendition of Ed Gein, the Plainfield Wisconsin farmer who dug up dead bodies from a nearby graveyard and used them for all sorts of sick purposes. While there have been many other films on the topic this one nicely steps back from the shock angle and instead injects dark humor that manages to make the story both funny and involving.

The original script, which was co-written by two brothers, was darker and intended for Tobe Hooper to direct, but when he pulled out of the project and Kevin Connor was hired he insisted that all of the ‘crudeness’ be excised. The result is an agreeably quirky take on the Gein legend that lacks scares, but makes up for with style and atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed the bird’s eye view of Vincent’s and Ida’s backyard lake as well as the surreal-like hum of the sunlamps that Vincent shines on his human victims at night.

Aging cowboy star Calhoun does quite well and out of all the actors who’ve attempted to play Gein it’s Calhoun that actually comes closest to the way he really looked and spoke. The only problem was that he was clearly much older than both Parsons and Paul Linke who play his siblings and no explanation for why the parents would have kids so far apart, or even if that would be possible as in reality Calhoun was 20 years older than Parsons and 26 years older than Linke.

The climatic chainsaw duel, which was thought up at the last minute and took 5 12-hour days to film, is fun. The kinky couple (Elaine Joyce, Dick Curtis) who visit the motel under the mistaken impression it’s a hotbed for swingers and allow themselves to get tied-up thinking it’s all a part of a sex game are funny too in a film that manages to be quirky without ever getting too campy.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Kevin Connor

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Comedians (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life under Papa Doc.

Based on the novel by Graham Greene the film centers on Brown (Richard Burton) an emotionally detached British hotel owner residing in Haiti. He has spent years avoiding the political turmoil of the region and the Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier regime, but finds now that the walls may finally be closing in. He must deal with the suicide of a government official that occurs on his grounds in his pool as well as a visiting American couple (Paul J. Ford, Lillian Gish) with strong political connections. His ongoing affair with the wife (Elizabeth Taylor) of a South American diplomat (Peter Ustinov) risks him further trouble as does his friendship with an illegal arms dealer (Alec Guinness).

The film ebbs-and-flows unevenly and isn’t compelling despite some strong moments here and there. What grabbed my attention was the vivid on-location shooting that gives the movie an interesting visual appeal. Because of the political environment going on in Haiti the producers were not allowed to film there and instead choose the small African country of Benin, which was still called the Republic of Dahomey at the time, as their substitute setting. The contrast of the serene tropical landscape juxtaposed with the abject poverty of its citizens is stunning with the most impactful moment coming when they visit Duvalierville a planned city with expensive buildings and homes being constructed with poor homeless people scurrying around begging for money as the structures go up.

The acting though by Richard Burton is atrocious and a major hindrance. I like Burton and consider him in most productions that he has been in to be a very strong actor, but here he doesn’t seem into the part at all. His presence is quite aloof and conveys little emotion to the point that he seems to be just walking through his role and mouthing his lines.

Taylor on the other hand is quite strong and manages to speak with an authentic sounding German accent. She made many bad film choices later her in career that ended up stigmatizes her acting reputation, but if given the right script and a competent director she could clearly convey an onscreen brilliance, which she does here. Unfortunately she is not seen enough and appears only sporadically throughout. If this is supposed to be a Taylor/Burton picture then the two needed equal screen time and prominent roles instead of one being relegated to what seems like only a minor part.

The supporting cast is excellent and this is a great chance to see up-and-coming African American actors when they were just starting out including: Raymond St. Jacques, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, George Stanford Brown, and Zakes Mokae.  Gish and Ford offer a surprisingly profound moment when they follow a procession of singing happy young children into a forum for what they think will be a religious ceremony only to find to their shock that everyone is there to witness a firing squad execution instead.

The story has its moments, but I would’ve preferred if it had been a little more focused. At times it is compelling, but it drifts back and forth between too many different story threads and never comes together as a whole not to mention a limp ending that leaves no impact.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 31, 1967

Runtime: 2 Hours 31 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Peter Glenville

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Box Set), Amazon Video, YouTube