Category Archives: Movies with Nudity

The Last House on the Beach (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbers hold nun hostage.

Aldo (Ray Lovelock) leads a gang of three robbers who stage a bank robbery in broad daylight, but things go wrong and lives get lost. During the getaway their car breaks down and they’re forced to hideout in a nearby home that sits next to a beach. Inside the home is Sister Christina (Florinda Bolkan) a nun who takes in wayward teen girls and helps them find their way. She was in the middle of rehearsing a play with them when the men break-in. The thugs soon takeover, raping two of them while terrorizing the rest. At first the women are compliant, feeling they have no other choice, but eventually they decide they’ve had enough and turn-the-tables on their captors.

While this film will initially come-off as just another Last House on the Left rip-off the production values are much better than most American low budget cheapies and the location quite scenic. The place didn’t look like any type of religious school to me and more like an ocean front pad for a rich person, it was more than likely the home of one of the film’s producers who decided to use it in place of a real school to save money, but the setting ultimately still works. Too many other horror movies feel the need to go for the cliché, like having things take place at night in some abandoned building, or rundown home, so having it work against this is a refreshing change. In some ways it makes it even scarier because it shows that bad things can happen even in the affluent suburbs and that nobody is truly immune from crime and violence.

I liked the way the bad guys were all good-looking too especially Aldo whose face could be on the cover of  teen heartthrob magazine. Again, other horror films feel the need to make the killer look menacing, disfigured, or creepy in some way, but working against this stereotype makes it more unsettling by showing that anyone can harbor evil. The women are all good-looking too with great figures, but in this regard it doesn’t work as it didn’t seem realistic that only women who looked like models would join this school and there needed to be at least one plain-looking, overweight one to give it balance.

The set-up happens a bit too quickly. It would’ve been more frightening if things had been shown at the start from the women’s perspective, rehearsing for the play, and then having these robbers burst in unannounced versus showing the robbery, which ends up getting reshown through flashback later on anyways, and everything from the men’s perspective. Horror works when there’s a surprise and in that regard this film misses a prime opportunity early on.

However, once it kicks in I was surprised how compelling it was. There isn’t a lot of violence, but when there is it’s bloody and pretty graphic, even the injury that one of them receives (Stefano Cedrati) looks quite realistic, and shown close-up, and I liked how this becomes and on-going part of the plot and doesn’t just magically heal and get forgotten.

The film also features two prolonged rape segments with the first one done in slow motion. Some may say this is exploiting the situation, but ultimately it ends up making it even more unsettling. The second rape  is equally disturbing as it features a woman (Sherry Buchanan) being violated by a wooden cane and done from her point-of-view.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending for me was the best part. Rape and revenge flicks have been done a lot and there’s also been films like Straw Dogs where a wimpy guy ultimately turns violent through necessity, but this film does it better than those. Seeing the angry looks on the once tranquil women’s faces as they take turns beating the man to death was actually pretty shocking as you’re not quite expecting it. It successfully hits-home the fact that anyone can be provoked into violence even those that deny they have that ability and gets the viewer to realize they harbor that tendency too since these guys were so vile you actually end-up enjoying seeing their comeuppance.

Alternate Title: La Settima Donna

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Francesco Prosperi

Studio: Magirus Film

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

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

The Fifth Floor (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Institutionalized against her will.

Kelly (Dianne Hull) is a young adult just starting out by working at a local disco bar while trying to save up enough money to go to college. While at the disco she sips a drink that was meant for somebody else and in the process ends up going into seizures. After she gets rushed to the hospital it is found that the drink had been laced with strychnine, but the doctors feel she took the drink knowing it was poisoned in an attempt to kill herself, so she is directed to spend 72 hours at the hospital’s psyche ward, which is on the fifth floor. It is there that she can be monitored by the trained staff to make sure she will not try to kill herself again. Unfortunately one of the orderly’s who works there, Carl (Bo Hopkins), takes a sexual interest in Kelly and uses his authority to try and force her into compromising situations.

The film starts out okay, which is mainly due to Hull’s performance, who is able to create enough of a three-dimensional character that you see her as a real person and care about her fate. Although she has not been in anything since 1991 and has since then spent her time working as an acting coach, she did do a lot of good performances in other films during the 70’s including her work in Aloha Bobby and Roseso it’s no surprise that her presence here would help lift up the material. I was particularly impressed with the seizures she goes through on the disco floor, which looked quite genuine, and the way she allowed herself to be put in some very vulnerable scenes that would be hard for other performers to do including where she is naked while her captor isn’t and who then proceeds to carry her around.

Unfortunately once things pivot over to the psych ward it goes downhill completely. Instead of raising the tensions it just gets boring. Sharon Farrell gives a strong performance as one of the other patients, in fact it is her image on the film’s promotional poster seen above and not Hull’s even though Hull was technically the star, but the rest of the people stuck there seem too normal and too nice. It becomes almost like Hull finding a new clique of friends. She actually comes off more frazzled when she’s on the outside then when she’s actually at the hospital where for the most part she bonds well with the other patients. I also thought it was ridiculous that these patients were allowed to go to a zoo and able to mingle with the public with only light supervision. If these people are deemed so ‘dangerous’ that they must be institutionalized then I would think they shouldn’t be allowed out into the public at all.

The film’s biggest failing though is that it acts like what we see here is provocative and shocking when it really isn’t. Too many other films have been done involving the same dark side of insane asylums that what happens here adds nothing new to the discussion. In fact it ends being quite predictable and cliched instead.

The only redeeming aspect is Hopkins who is quite effective. Every time you seem him you cringe, but not so much because he overplays it, but instead by doing the exact opposite. He’s more just your rural hayseed looking too take advantage of the situation to satisfy his basic carnal instincts behaving more like a typical thug you could bump into anywhere than an over-the-top psycho, which is why it works. You feel like there’s probably a lot more just like him out there, some even working in ‘respectable’ positions, who are just waiting to exploit the situation the minute nobody is looking, which in the end is the one true horror you get from the film that actually succeeds.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 15, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Howard Avedis

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: YouTube

I Dismember Mama (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He only likes virgins.

Albert (Zooey Hall) hates his rich mother (Joanne Moore Jordan) and at one point attempted to kill her, which got him institutionalized, but he manages to escape and is now back on the streets attempting to kill her once again. When he arrives at his old residence he meets Alice (Marlene Tracy) who’s now working as his mother’s maid. He promptly kills her, but then Alice’s 11-year-old daughter Annie (Geri Reischl) arrives asking for her. Albert is immediately taken in with the child’s innocence and purity and becomes determined to ‘save her’ from the jaded world around them. He concocts a story that her mother suddenly got sick and had to go to the hospital, so the two spend the day frolicking around at a park and later take part in a mock wedding, but by nightfall Albert’s dark urges return and this time his target is Annie.

This is yet another example of an underground 70’s exploitation flick that promises to deliver shocks via its provocative storyline, but ultimately has hardly any. The pacing is poor and filled with talky scenes that get extended far longer than they should. The dialogue lacks bite and there needed to be more action. For instance Albert’s attacking his mother should’ve been shown possibly as a flashback and not just talked about in passing. Albert’s overpowering of a hospital attendant (James Tartan) in order to escape from the institution doesn’t get shown either we just see the guard’s dead body after the carnage is over while in-between we get treated to a long extended conversation between Albert’s mother and his psychiatrist (Frank Whiteman), which is both boring and pointless.

Hall is poor in the lead and unable to convey more than one facial expression or voice tone. I didn’t like the way Reischl’s character gets written either as she’s portrayed as being too innocent and naïve. Sure kids will be more sheltered to real-world horrors than adults, but they’re not stupid and have a fear instinct like anyone else. When a creepy guy unexpectedly answers the door the warning flags would be going off for any typical 11-year-old, which was the age she was when this was filmed, and her character should’ve, and most likely would’ve been in reality, far more defensive and cautious.

I was also confused why Reischl, who is better known as being the ‘fake Jan’ who replaced Eve Plumb in the short-lived ‘The Brady Bunch Variety Hour’, got listed in the credits under the title of being ‘introduced’ like she was brand new to the film scene when she really wasn’t as she had already appeared in another horror flick The Brotherhood of Satan, which had been filmed in 1969 and released to theaters a full year before this one.

When I first watched this movie back in the summer of 1987 it had what I considered at the time one of the dumbest segments I had ever seen. It features Albert walking into a pool hall eyeing an attractive woman (Rosella Olsen) and telling her how rich he is, which is enough to get her to dump the boyfriend (Robert Christopher) she is out on a date with and immediately jump into Albert’s arms, which to me was just to heavy-handed to believe. (If picking up women could only be this easy.)However, after seeing it a second time I now consider this as attempted satire, but the segment should’ve had  a better payoff. Instead of the jilted boyfriend later crying over her dead body, after Albert had killed her, he should’ve laughed and considered it ‘sweet revenge’ for her having publicly dumped him in humiliating fashion earlier.

The film has come under attack by some for its perceived pedophilia storyline. Critic John Kenneth Muir in his review stated that watching it made him ‘feel dirty’ and the pedophilia theme ‘went too far’ for a film that had ‘no aspirations to be anything but entertainment’. Personally I found this take to be virtue signaling and disagree with it on several points.

First I don’t think this was ever meant to be ‘entertainment’. Instead it was intended like a lot of other underground flicks at that time to shock and appall and then bank on the morbid curiosity of people to fill the theater seats simply to see ‘what all the fuss is about’.

Most importantly I don’t think Albert initially saw Alice as a sexual conquest, but more as someone he wanted to protect from the awful world around them. He wanted to save her innocence instead of taking it away. Yes, it’s true there is a scene when she is sleeping in a hotel room and he starts to have impulses to deflower her, but he fights them off and then goes out to a bar where he attacks another woman who is well over 18. The perceived pedophilia theme lasts for only a couple of minutes and really doesn’t take up the bulk of the runtime like some critics seem to think it does, or want you to believe.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Alternate Title: Poor Albert & Little Annie

Released: April 1, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Leder

Studio: Valiant International Pictures

Available: DVD

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

Island of Blood (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer stalks film crew.

The cast for an upcoming horror film travel to an island where the film is to be made. Since the film’s producer and director won’t arrive until the next day they get ready for their parts, but find that each of them is getting offed one-by-one by a mysterious killer that they cannot see, but who leaves a portable tape player hanging near the body of his latest victim that plays a rock song with violent lyrics.

This low budget attempt had potential, but goes about it in all of the wrong ways. One of the things that really stood out to me since I’ve worked as a crew member on several low budget films myself is that the characters here act in a completely opposite way from how a cast and crew would normally behave on a real set. I have found most people when thrown together onto a crew of people that they do not know would make attempts to form friendships and potential contacts with their fellow crew/cast members. Here though the cast members, who are made up of young adults, act like they’re still in high school and more concerned with putting up pretentious facades to prove how ‘cool’ they are while putting down everyone else around them.

I also couldn’t believe the amount of open apathy these same characters show the screenwriter when he hands out the script and describes to them what the plot is about. Someone should’ve advised these ‘up-and-coming’ young starlets that when you’re starting out in the business it might be a good idea to at least fake enthusiasm for what you’re going to be working in, or it just might be the last film you’ll ever be asked to be in. Word-of-mouth travels fast in this business and if you get a reputation of being someone who really doesn’t care to be there then you’ll never get hired again as there’s plenty of other people out there willing to take your place.

As for the killings they’re not very impressive although the shot of a dead woman with nails going through her forehead, via a nail gun, would’ve been creepier had her eyes remained open instead of closed. The fact that we never see the killer does actually make it a little bit scarier simply because it’s completely left up to the viewer’s imaginations about who this person is. The chase sequences though don’t work as they all take place in these darkened buildings, the result of a power outage, so you really can’t see exactly what’s going on. I also thought that having the arriving producer die by having his boat explode, which was apparently caused by the killer, was a bit ridiculous because how could the killer go from being on an island one minute to on a boat at sea the next in order to plant the bomb?

The film does have a twist ending, which reviewers over at IMDb seemed to like and while it is a surprise to some extent it really doesn’t completely work. Way too many unanswered questions and loopholes get thrown in that never get explained.

The concept would’ve worked better, and been ahead-of-its-time, had it taken the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT  approach where a centralized cast member would film the behind-the-scenes action of this upcoming production and interview the other cast members as they got ready for it. She could then use her camera later on to do detective work to try and catch the killer.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 9, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: William T. Naud

Studio: Action International Pictures

Available: Amazon Video

Long Weekend (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review:  A couple battles nature.

Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) are a young couple who are constantly at odds with each other. To help smooth things over they decide to take a trip into the wilderness and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. Along the way they accidently hit and kill a kangaroo with their vehicle. This sets off a chain-of-events that puts them under the increasing attack of various animals. First Peter must fight off an angry eagle who swoops down at him without warning. Then a possum and even a sea cow who stalks Peter while he is swimming. The two decide they must leave the area in order to save their lives, but everywhere they turn there’s another animal waiting for them.

The story idea is certainly an interesting one, but the concept is too wide-open. Scriptwriter Everett De Roche stated that the premise was all about how Mother Earth had her own auto- immune system and when humans started acting like cancer cells she’d attack, which is great, but why just this couple? There are millions of people who behave just like them, so why don’t they end up getting the same treatment?

The plot needed an extra spin to hold it all together, but it never comes. Having this small remote place hold a mystical power that allowed animals to behave differently than they would normally do elsewhere would’ve at least given it some needed focus. Perhaps a backstory too where other people would’ve gone to this same locale and complained about being attacked. Any extra plotline would’ve helped because the idea that these animals would just randomly attack a generic couple in some isolated moment in time that they never did before or after just doesn’t cut-it.

I didn’t like either that the couple bicker right away, but then later on become lovey-dovey only to proceed back to bickering, which is too bipolar. A better approach would’ve had them getting along at the start and then with the stress of the animal attacks tear their relationship apart, which would’ve created a more interesting character arc, which otherwise is non-existent.

I would’ve preferred that the lead characters been played by macho men who arrogantly tear up the wilderness with their SUV’s and kill the animals for shameless sport. Watching these ‘tough guys’ then unravel once the animals went on the offense turning them into sniveling, frightened cowards would’ve been far more of an entertaining payoff while hitting-home the importance to respect nature  in a more stark way.

The animal attacks aren’t all that riveting and take up very little of the runtime, but the creepy atmosphere is amazing. Filmed on the island of Tasmania I enjoyed the point-of-view shots of the SUV driving through the long, tangled unique looking trees that grow down there where when captured at night and through the beams of the vehicle’s headlights come off looking like gnarled fingers protruding from the ground. The intense music and haunting call of the sea cow are also quite unsettling and get even more so as the couple continues to hear it, which helps to make this a memorable horror flick despite the few drawbacks and a great example at how strong directing can help overcome a flat script. Remade in 2008.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Colin Eggleston

Studio: Hoyts Distribution

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Spanish), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Silent Scream (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family’s dark secret exposed.

Scotty (Rebecca Balding) is a student away at college who finds nearby housing at a large stately mansion owned by Mrs. Engels (Yvonne De Carlo) and her son Mason (Brad Reardon). When Scotty moves in she meets three other college students (Steve Doubet, Juli Andelman, John Widelock) who are also living there, but during the next couple of day those other students start turning up dead. Scotty fears she may be the next victim and suspects the killings may have something to do with the mysterious person that’s hiding in the attic.

In the summer of 1977 Denny Harris, who was at that time a successful commercial director who owned his own studio, decided to take a try at directing a horror movie and he put down $450,000 of his own money to do it. Unfortunately when production wrapped the footage shot was deemed unreleasable, so Jim and Ken Wheat, two brothers, were brought in to try and salvage it, but instead decided to completely rewrite the script and reshoot almost the entire film leaving only 12 minutes of the original footage in the final cut. This includes a scene where the Mason character watches what looks to be a soft core porn flick on his TV in his bedroom, but was actually a scene from the original version with Susan Backlinie, the lady who got attacked by the shark in the opening bit of Jawsplaying one of the characters.

It would be interesting if a Blu-ray could be issued that would show the version that Harris shot alongside the Wheat brother’s one because I suspect it might not have been any worse than what we end up getting here. For one thing the plot is too skimpy and the pacing slow. Too much extraneous footage of Scotty looking for an apartment and conversations she has at a bar with friends, and even her making love with Jack that doesn’t help build the tension at all and should’ve been cut out.

When the ‘scares’ do come they’re not all that great. The stabbing sequences are particularly annoying because the same Bernard Herrmann-like score that was used in Psycho gets played here making it all seem quite cliched. The blood is another issue as it conveniently collects on a hanging white sheet as the victim gets pummeled with a knife as well as a pool of it on the floor, which our protagonist somehow misses seeing when she goes to investigate. Yet I’ve watched enough true-life crime shows to know that blood splatter doesn’t work that way, but instead sprays out all over with droplets of it splattering on the walls, ceiling, and other appliances until it would be quite obvious to anyone entering a room that a murder had occurred there and unlike what happens here.

Spoiler Alert!

The flimsy plot gets played-out too quickly. In a matter of just two days of staying there the dark family secret and all the ugliness behind it gets completely revealed, which makes for an anti-climactic feeling when it’s over. The protagonists seem to be nothing more than dressing with have very little to do as they ultimately stand helplessly on the sidelines while the bad guys kill-off each other, which isn’t very gripping.

A better idea would’ve been to have the villainous family, which are far more interesting and better acted than any of the college kids, be the stars of the film. Then having the film show how they bring in tenants through the years to help defrays costs, but reluctantly forced to kill them when they get too noisy, only to ultimately meet their match with one of them similar to how What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? was structured.

The only riveting moment in the movie comes when a young woman, played by Tina Tyler, tries to hang herself via a noose hung from a light fixture in her bedroom. Most of the time hangings in films are either shown from the waist up or down, but here we get a bird’s eye shot where her feet clearly leave the floor with the rope around her neck and nothing else to support her making it seem like she really is hanging herself especially as her body begins to struggle, which is impressively graphic.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Denny Harris

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Long Goodbye (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: His cat is hungry.

One night detective Phillip Marlowe (Elliot Gould) is visited in his home by his long time pal Terry Lennox (Jim Boulton), who informs Marlowe that he’s had a fight with his wife and asks him if he can have a ride to the Mexican border, which he obliges. When he returns home he is met by two cops (Jerry Jones, John S. Davies) who bring him into the station with questions about the whereabouts of Lennox whom they insist has just killed his wife. When Marlowe refuses to divulge anything he gets put into jail only to released 3-days later when it’s reported that Lennox has killed himself. Marlowe becomes suspicious about the suicide and determined to do his own investigation while also getting involved with Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) and her alcoholic, writer husband Roger (Sterling Hayden) both of whom may hold the secret to Lennox and what really happened.

By the early 70’s only two of Raymond Chandler’s novels had yet to be filmed, this one and ‘Playback’. United Artists agreed to finance the film and commissioned Leigh Brackett, who had been the screenwriter for another Chandler novel turned into a movie 1946’s The Big Sleep, to write the screenplay for this one. Robert Altman was later approached to direct it and while he was not a fan of the Phillip Marlowe character, whom he labeled as being a ‘loser’, he agreed to take on the project due to the unexpected ending, which had not been in the novel, but that Brackett had added into the screenplay.

While Altman may have seemed an odd choice, he never even read the source novel of which the film is based, the eccentric little sidelights that he adds into the proceedings make it worth it. Some of the movies that he did towards the late 70’s became a bit too undisciplined where his films would go off on tangents with stuff that had very little to do with the main plot, but here the story is strong, so the little detours that Altman adds in helped to playfully accentuate the plot instead of drowning it out.

Some of my favorite Altmanisms included  Marlowe looking for food to feed his hungry cat, who I might add for an animal gives a spectacular performance, and how a stocker that he meets at the grocery store while searching for cat food he ends up meeting again at random at the police station. The next door female nudists, who are also into yoga and attract the attention of both the police and the bad guys who come to Marlowe’s place, are fun too.

There’s some marvelous framing by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond including capturing Roger and Eileen having an argument inside their home, which was filmed at Altman’s Malibu residence, through a glass patio door while at the same time in the reflection you see Gould walking along the beech. Later while Eileen and Marlowe are having a conversation by an open window you can see in a distance, which the other two are unaware of, Roger walking into the ocean in an attempt to kill himself.

Spoiler Alert!

The film also features what I feel is one of the most shocking and disturbing scenes that I’ve ever seen put into a movie and that’s a statement that I don’t use lightly. I’ve seen hundreds of gory horror films, but what happens here I’ve found far more unsettling. I think the reason is because it’s completely unexpected as it features the character played by film director Mark Rydell smashing a glass coke bottle onto the face of his girlfriend who just seconds earlier he had stated that he was deeply in-love with. Hearing her scream out in unending pain while cupping her hands over her face as blood spews out makes it come-off as very real. Even more amazing is that the part of the girlfriend was played by an amateur named Jo Ann Brody who never appeared in any other film and was a waitress that Altman and Brackett met when they went out to dinner while working on the script and who they asked on-the-spot if she’d like to be in their movie.

Altman admitted that he knew this violent scene, which had not been in the book, would upset some fans, but he felt it was important to bring the viewer back to the reality that these were violent characters at heart. This could also be seen as a foreshadowing to the surprise ending when Marlowe finds Lennox still alive in Mexico and then unexpectedly shoots him. In the novel Marlowe allows Lennox to walk away unharmed, but Altman liked the violent twist.

Personally I was ambivalent with the ending here and might actually have preferred the way it was done in the book. My main issue though with it is that Eileen spots Marlowe leaving the place where Lennox was just shot and since she was in a relationship with Lennox and also had strong criminal connections I’d think she’d end up, one way or another, going after Marlowe once she realized he had killed her lover causing the ending to leave open too many potentially interesting tangents that should’ve been followed through on.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Bell Jar (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She suffers from depression.

Based on the semi autobiographical novel of the same name by Sylvia Plath, the story centers around Esther (Marilyn Hassett) who suffers from various mental health issues and can’t seem to relate to the world around her. After graduating from college she goes off to work at a women’s magazine in New York, but finds that the demands and inevitable compromises of being a writer for a big city publication are not for her. She returns home to her mother (Julie Harris) only to find her emotional situation deteriorating even more. She’s eventually sent to a mental hospital where she goes through treatment.

In 1975 Hassett was picked from over 500 other actresses to play the part of paralyzed skier Jill Kinmont in the film The Other Side of the Mountain. The movie became a big hit and lead to her marrying the film’s director Larry Peerce.  While that film was a decent heartfelt story their attempts to bring Plath’s complex, multi-faceted novel to the big screen was clearly an overreach.

The major reason this doesn’t work is because of Hassett. During the early 70’s she had a youthful appeal, but by the time this was filmed she had hit 30 and no longer looked like a recent college grad in any way. For the story to work it hinges on the viewer seeing this person as someone who is young, innocent and vulnerable and unable to deal with the harsh realities of the young adult world that she’s experiencing for the very first time, but Hassett looks and in many ways behaves like a world-weary middle-aged person, which then loses the intended effect.

The portrayal of the central character is a weak point as well. In the similar themed film I Never Promised You a Rose Gardenwhich came out around the same time, the director of that flick did a good job of getting inside that character’s head and allowing the viewer to see the thoughts and fears that she had, but here we get none of that. We are left with no understanding about what’s really bugging Esther and why she behaves the way she does. Instead of us feeling for her we end up finding her off-putting, confusing and at times just downright selfish and bizarre.

The film does still manage to have a few interesting moments. I liked the scene with Jameson Parker, in his film debut who later went onto fame in the TV-show ‘Simon & Simon’, playing Esther’s fiance who strips in front of her so she can see what a naked man looks like upfront for the very first time. The erotic threesome between Hassett, Robert Klein, and Mary Louise Weller is interesting too as is the segment where Hassett is sitting alone at a late night diner and comes into contact with a disturbed, homeless man (Nicholas Guest) who comes in off the street and begins shouting nonsensical things for no reason, which can be a common, frightening reality living in the big city and not tackled enough in most movies.

While the movie stays pretty much faithful to the book it approaches the material in a shallow, mechanical way that offers no insight into the characters or situations and elicits no emotions from the viewer. It also takes some liberties with the material entering in elements that were never in the novel, or only vaguely touched on like the character of Joan, played by Donna Mitchell, being explicitly portrayed as a lesbian while in the book it had been only implied. She’s also shown making a suicide pack with Esther that was never in the original story. This was enough to get Dr. Jane Anderson, a Boston psychiatrist, to sue the film stating that she had been the Jane character in Plath’s novel, but because the movie distorted the truth it had harmed her reputation and career and she ended up winning a $150,000 settlement.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS