Category Archives: Obscure Movies

Three (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two guys one chick.

Taylor (Sam Waterston) and Bert (Robbie Porter) are two college chums spending their summer traveling through Europe. When they get to Italy they come upon a free-spirited young woman named Marty (Charlotte Rampling) who agrees to become their traveling companion, but underlying sexual tensions soon rise to the surface. Both men want to make a play for her, but resist because they fear it will ruin their friendship yet as the trip progresses the temptations get too strong to ignore.

Normally I enjoy a film with a laid back pace as I feel American movies tend to be too rushed and leave the viewer no time to allow the characters, story, or imagery to sink in. However, here it’s too slow with plot and character development at a minimum. The extraneous dialogue is not interesting and too much footage is given to capturing the Italian countryside, which makes this seem more like a travelogue.

Waterston is transparent as usual, which makes me wonder how he has managed to have the long career that he has had. Porter, who is better known as a composer, is better looking and much more dynamic and I was surprised that Rampling’s character doesn’t just gravitate towards him immediately as Waterston is dull and wimpy and not what most attractive women would want to consider.

Rampling is great and gives each scene an extra kick, which makes sitting through this meandering production slightly worth it, but the sexual tension is lacking. Supposedly this is what it’s all about, but for the most part it shies away from examining it even though it should’ve been constantly reinforced either through imagery, flashback or dialogue instead of being largely forgotten until the very, very end when it no longer mattered.

This was writer James Salter’s one-and-only foray behind the camera and it’s no surprise he never directed another one as he clearly shows no ability or understanding for pacing.  The characters are not unique enough to be captivating and one eventually begins to wonder why they’re bothering to watch it or what point the filmmakers had for even making it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 23, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated M

Director: James Salter

Studio: United Artists

Available: None at this time.

Circle of Power (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Weekend retreat becomes brutal.

Executives of a company spend a weekend at a hotel where they’re a part of a large group awareness training that will better prepare them to achieve their full potential in both their business and personal lives. The encounter group is headed by Bianca Ray (Yvette Mimieux) who implements disturbing activities for the participants to go through that become increasingly more abusive and degrading.

This film is based off of the non-fiction novel ‘The Pit: A Group Encounter Defiled’ by Gene Church which documented a 1972 four day encounter group of top executives from the Holiday Magic company and many of the outrageous activities they were required to go through all under the cloak of learning to ‘bring out their inner dynamic’. Many of the activities that the characters in the film are forced to perform are similar to the ones depicted in the book, but amped up for the sake of drama. Some definitely get disturbing including having one participant, played by Walter Olkewicz, forced to strip naked in front of the group and then told to stand on a chair while the others mock his overweight body before having him locked into a cage and feed scraps of food that he must eat up directly from the floor.

Unfortunately the shock value gets muted by having characters that are too cardboard.  The viewer ultimately has no emotional bond to any of them and therefore the increasingly degrading circumstances that they go through achieve no profound impact. It also happens much too quickly as right from the start they are asked to do crazy things. I have no doubt that these encounter groups can sometimes go too far and there have been documented evidence of some even resulting in deaths, but it occurs gradually. A level of trust needs to be achieved to the point that the participants let down their guard and then the darker and twisted stuff gets introduced instead of just having it from the beginning like it gets played here, before any of the people have been psychologically ‘neutered’.

There is also no background given, or at least not a sufficient one, to the people who run the encounter group who are portrayed in a very one dimensional, creepy way that quickly becomes boring.  The issues of how did they decided to get into this line of work and what makes them so brazen to think they can get people to do these outrageous acts and get away with it is never addressed.

The ending is limp. What happens to the employees once they return to work is never captured nor the fate of the people running the retreat and whether they were ever sued or arrested. The idea is an intriguing one and there’s a potential for a really interesting movie to be had, but the plot needed more context and the characters to be better fleshed out.

Alternate Titles: Brainwash, Mystique, Naked Weekend

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 19, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bobby Roth

Studio: Ambassador Film Distributors

Available: VHS

Hands of Steel (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s made of steel.

Paco (Daniel Greene) is a man who gets injured in an accident and then rebuilt as a cyborg in an operation financed by evil industrialist Francis Turner (John Saxon). Paco is then programmed to assassinate the head of a competing faction, but at the last second he is unable to do it, due to still harboring a conscience from his human side. He then hides out at a desolate Arizona hotel/bar run by the attractive Linda (Janet Agren) who he soon forms a bond with, but Turner and his men track Paco down and are determined to enact revenge for his disobedience.

The storyline could best be described as a variation to the Six Million Dollar Man. In that one a man was rebuilt to help the secret service on missions for ‘good’ while here the protagonist is programmed to carry out evil tasks, but refuses. It all might’ve been more interesting had it not been produced by an Italian film company where all the speaking voices are dubbed, which gives it an amateurish quality.

The isolated desert location only helps to make an already visually boring film even more so and the place certainly gets a lot of customers for being stuck literally in the middle-of-nowhere. The action is passable, but relies heavily on arm wrestling matches (yes you read that right) that are not exciting at all.

The plot features many logical loopholes that make little sense if you start thinking about it. For instance the cyborg gets shot at in close range, but he does not get injured or killed, but you would think the metal, circuitry or the skin surrounding it would still be affected or damaged. Later on when the bad guys are chasing him down in the desert by shooting at him from a helicopter the cyborg ducks out of the way from the bullets as if he fears getting hit by them, but why since we’ve seen earlier that they have no effect?

Greene’s performance is incredibly one-note and one of the main reasons the film is so boring. John Saxon is the only recognizable face in the cast although there is also George Eastman who played one of the killers in Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs and appears as a similar type of baddie here. However, that film was way better than this one and more worth your time to watch.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 29, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Martino

Studio: Almi Pictures

Available: VHS

Mind Trap (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Avenging her father’s murder.

Shana (Martha Kincare) is an actress who stars in low budget action flicks. Her father works at a secret lab where they do experiments in areas of holograms and mind control, which elicits the attention of dangerous foreign agents who want to use these experiments for their own nefarious gain. They end up killing not only Shana’s father, but her sister and mother too and forcing Shana to pledge a vendetta on all those who murdered them while using what she has learned from being in action films to take them down.

Even though this is nothing more than a mindless actioner it does manage to have a few unique scenes, which is the film’s only saving grace. The opening one features a woman getting attacked while inside a trailer home that is set onto a moving truck. The bit featuring a room equipped with the old clapper light switch in which simply clapping one’s hands will force the lights to turn on or off and then having a ‘battle’ where one person claps for them to go on and another immediately claps to have them shut off, which continues on for a couple of minutes, is amusing.

Another segment has a woman (Jacquie Banan) getting gang raped by the bad guy, but then Shana mocks the man’s ability to ‘get-it-up’ and makes him so self-conscious that he is unable to achieve an erection and thus unable to complete the intended assault.

Overall though the film is flat and forgettable and the star Martha Kincare, who depending on the camera angle resembles a young Justine Bateman, is not believable at all. Just because one may perform in action movies does not mean that person knows the first thing about handling a real gun or taking on real-life secret agents, which makes the already flimsy plot completely absurd.

Dan Haggerty and Lyle Waggoner are given top billing, but seen only briefly while playing characters that have little to do with the main story. Maureen LaVette, who portrays the Russian agent, but was born in Iowa puts on such an over-the-top Russian accent that it becomes annoying and enough to force some viewers to watch the film with the sound turned down, which really wouldn’t be a problem since the banal dialogue sucks anyways.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eames Demetrious

Studio: AMI Video

Available: VHS

The Promise (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl gets new face.

Michael Hillyard (Stephen Collins) is from a rich background and set to take over his family’s thriving business. He wants to marry Nancy (Kathleen Quinlan) who has a troubled past, but Michael’s mother (Beatrice Straight) does not approve and tries to prevent it. Michael and Nancy decide to proceed with their wedding plans anyways, but then get into a car accident that completely disfigures Nancy’s face. While Michael lies comatose his mother makes a deal with Nancy; she’ll pay for a plastic surgeon (Laurence Luckinbill) to repair her appearance as long as she agrees never to make contact with Michael again. Years later as Nancy becomes a successful photographer Michael by chance meets up with her and wants to use her photographs as part of his business. Nancy’s face is now different and her name has been changed so Michael does not know it is really her. Will the two be able to rekindle their relationship and will Nancy ever confide in him her secret?

The biggest loophole is with the plastic surgery. Face reconstruction even in this technology advanced age is still a very complex thing and most people that receive ‘new faces’ after an accident still look a bit ‘off’ and you can tell it’s not their natural one. Rich woman who pay plastic surgeons millions to look younger many times end up appearing disfigured instead and that’s after using some of the best surgeons they could find, so how then in the year 1979 could some doctor not only make a woman’s newly constructed face look completely natural, but actually even better than the original one?

Nancy’s face doesn’t really change either. No make-up effects are used on Kathleen Quinlan’s appearance to manipulate her looks outside of giving her a different hairstyle. She also speaks with the SAME voice, so Michael should still be able to recognize her when she spoke, so then why doesn’t he?

Michael’s character has issues too. When he comes out of his comatose state his mother informs him that Nancy was killed, but wouldn’t you think that after he recovered he would want to visit Nancy’s gravesite and when he couldn’t find it he would become suspicious that she really wasn’t dead?

Also, later on in the film Nancy decides to go to a spot in a park where the couple had years earlier hidden a necklace underneath a rock as a sort of symbolic gesture that the two would remain loyal to one another until death. When Nancy arrives she finds the necklace gone and then Michael walks out from the trees holding it like he was waiting for her to arrive, but the two hadn’t been speaking to each other, so how would he know that she was going to return there? Was he simply going to stand there for days, weeks, months holding that necklace and waiting for a chance encounter that at some point she might decide to come by?

The script also lacks conflict. The mother’s vindictiveness needed to be amped up. Michael and Nancy should’ve also formed other relationships and thus created more difficulties when they tried getting back together. Instead everything conforms to a chick-flick formula with an uninspired script that telegraphs it all from the get-go.

Even romantic diehards may have a hard time with this one, which includes an achingly awful opening song that for some weird reason was nominated for an Academy Award even though it may be enough to make some turn the film off even before it has begun. From a trivia angle I found it interesting that Carey Loftin, who played the mysterious truck driver who terrorized Dennis Weaver in Duel, plays the truck driver here as well who crashes into their car in a visually impressive fashion that is the movie’s only convincing moment.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: March 8, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gilbert Cates

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS

Willy Milly (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl turns into boy.

Milly (Pamela Adlon) is a teen who dreams of one day becoming a boy. One day she purchases a magical potion from a kid named Malcolm (Seth Green), which promises to make her wish come true as long as she takes it during the next solar eclipse, which she does. Now as a boy she changes her name to Willy, but finds mixed reactions from those around her. Her father (John Glover) likes the change, as he always wanted a son, but her mother (Patty Duke) doesn’t. He/she starts going to a different school, but finds that both genders have their equal share of problems.

Although the storyline may sound novel it really isn’t and this thing suffers from being just another generic ‘80s teen movie. The humor of having Milly suddenly waking up with a penis and the shocked reactions of her family and friends is not played-up enough while the myriad of issues that this sort of change would produce gets woefully underexplored. Instead it devolves into the typical teen dramas that we’ve seen done before and no need in seeing again.

The most annoying aspect deals with the proverbial bully storyline. I realize every school has got one, but it would be refreshing to have a high school movie that didn’t feel the need to always have to take this redundant route. This one, which gets played by an actor named Jeb Ellis-Brown, is particularly dull and what’s worse is that he looks scrawny and could be easily be beat-up by the kids he is supposedly intimidating.

Adlon’s performance, who gets billed under the last name of Segall, is irritating and a major detriment. For one thing she looks a bit androgynous from the start and then when she does turn into a boy all she does his cut hair short and that’s it even though her voice stays high pitched and her mannerisms remain girly making it seem more like just another female with short hair. There are a few good moments with Glover as the father as he tries to ‘train’ her to be more like a ‘man’, but Duke is horribly wasted in a small and forgettable supporting part.

The material is dated and these days this same storyline could be used minus the magical potion and instead tackled as a storyline dealing with a transgender teen. I also had problems with the Eric Gurry character who plays a teen friend to Willy that is stricken to a wheel chair. Initially I thought it was great that they introduced a character who had a handicap, but then it gets treated as being nothing more than a psychosomatic condition, which demeans all those victims of spinal cord injuries who are permanently paralyzed and unable to walk ever even if they wanted to.

There’s a film called Just One of the Guys that came out around the same time as this one and had a similar theme, but in that one the teen character only pretended to be a guy and it was much funnier and more perceptive.

Alternate Title: Something Special

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Paul Schneider

Studio: Concorde Pictures

Available: VHS

Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Five minutes of fame.

A bar on the outskirts of a nameless small town becomes the social setting for a group of everyday people who flock to it one night in hopes of winning an amateur act contest. Every one of the contestants is fighting some inner demon or insecurity and critiqued by a judge (Henry Gibson) that is being bribed by different parties to choose their candidate over the others. There’s also a dangerous serial killer lurking about known as the Disco Killer, who has shot up several other venues in the area and may be eyeing the Dixie bar as his next target.

This TV-movie, which was written and directed by Joel Schumacher, seems way too similar to Robert Altman’s Nashville to be considered original. Clearly that film was this movie’s inspiration and this one does not go far enough with the concept and would’ve been better had its runtime been extended and the characters more fleshed out. Certain actors, such as Don Johnson and Candy Clark, are underused and there’s not enough of an understanding of the town that the bar was in. Some shots of rundown buildings in an isolated area would’ve helped give the viewer a better feel for how bored these people were and why they would be motivated to go on stage and essentially make fools of themselves just for the lofty chance at somehow escaping their otherwise hopeless existence with a small shot at fame.

What I did like is that the entire story takes place in one setting. The only time the camera ventures outside of the cramped place is when it goes into its parking lot for brief periods, but otherwise this bar is the center of the universe for these characters, which for many small town people, especially before the advent of the internet, is what bars such as these represented.

The stage acts themselves were a bit disappointing and could’ve been played-up more as I was expecting something a little more along the lines of stuff seen on the old Gong Show or stupid human tricks from David Letterman. The scene where a big fight breaks out in a dressing room that is far more exciting than anything occurring on stage does allow for some irony and the part where actor Rick Hurst attempts to crack open a coconut by using nothing more than his bare teeth is engaging, but more acts in this vein was needed.

Having Tanya Tucker appear as this shy woman who lacks confidence despite possessing the talent and walks off the stage in humiliation at the start only to redeem herself later, is too manufactured. I much preferred Pat Ast as this homely, overweight woman who unexpectedly wows everyone with some rousing showstopping numbers that should’ve made her the winner instead. I also felt that the so-called prize, which was simply the privilege to appear on stage at that same bar for two straight weeks, was too skimpy. People have bigger dreams than that even in a dusty small town and want more of a reward like  a trip to Hollywood, New York or a contract with an agent in order for them to be excited enough to go through what they do.

There is also no payoff to the Disco Killer storyline. He gets discussed quite a bit and there are even TV news reports about him, but then he never appears, which feels like a letdown. I’m not saying there needed to be a bloody sequence where a killer shoots people dead, but maybe a scenario where the contestants, who are quite competitive with one another otherwise, manage to come together enough to subdue the bad guy, or some other lighthearted element that would’ve at least brought a conclusion to the subplot instead of just letting it hang.

Sheree North as an embittered alcoholic easily steals it and has some of the best lines. There is also a long tracking shot in which the camera starts out at the back of the bar and then slowly weaves its way up onto the stage that is great too. The film certainly has its share of moments and as a TV-Movie it’s impressive, but lacks finesse for the big screen.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 8, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

Say Yes (1986)

say-yes-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Marrying for the money.

Luke (Art Hindle) is set to receive a very large inheritance from his recently deceased grandfather (Jonathan Winters) who was the owner and founder of a prosperous toy company. The problem is that the will stipulates that he must marry within 24 hours, or the money will go to his father (Logan Ramsey) instead. Luke isn’t even dating anyone and so he must immediately go looking for a virtual stranger who’s willing to marry him on-the-spot simply for the profit. He finds that person in the form of Annie (Lissa Layng) who is a country girl visiting the big city and who Luke finds to be more down-to-earth than his other past girlfriends who now want to marry him simply so they can get their lecherous hands on his newfound fortune, but as they move ahead with their impromptu wedding his father tries everything in his means to put a stop to it.

Writer/director Larry Yust rose to some prominence in the film scene with his controversial film short The Lottery, which was based on the Shirley Jackson short story about a small town who stones one member of their community each year after their name gets randomly picked from a lottery. He followed it up with the Blaxploitation favorite Trick Baby and after that the offbeat horror flick Homebodies. While none of these films were masterpieces they still showed flair and creative potential, so why he would end up helming this dud, which is his last film to date, is a mystery, but the humor in this thing is excessively lame and the storyline utterly ridiculous.

Hindle makes for a very transparent and bland lead, but my real qualm came from his costar Layng who is a complete turn off in every way. I really hated her rural sounding accent and her phone conversation with her mother, who has even more of one, gets particularly annoying. Why Luke would choose her at random and become so very attached to her so quickly when a horde of other woman are chasing after him is never made clear and doesn’t make much sense.

Winters is the only good thing about this otherwise forgettable flick and it’s a shame he wasn’t made the star, but his ad-libs actually manages to elicit a few chuckles and what he does with his tongue at one point is rather obscene looking. I also enjoyed Logan Ramsey as his son even though in real-life he was four year older than Winters.

A slightly surreal segment where they go into a factory where workers are conditioned to crack open eggs in unison, which eventually leads to an egg throwing fight is the film’s one-and-only highpoint and even this isn’t much. I also got a kick out of the scenes with Anne Ramsey playing the part of a street preacher who tries to marry the couple first on the back of a speeding junk truck and then later while the three are floating in water with lifejackets on.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Larry Yust

Studio: Cinetel Films

Available: VHS

A Fan’s Notes (1972)

fan-notes

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He writes about himself.

Exley (Jerry Orbach) is a loner residing in and out of mental institutions. He imagines having conversations with beautiful women, but is rarely able to approach them in real-life. He also obsesses over New York Giants running back Frank Gifford and wishes one day to achieve that same type of success, but fears that he’ll be a spectator in life just like he is in sports. He decides to begin writing about his nomadic existence in hopes that it will be a cathartic effort only to find that too harbors its own share of frustrations.

The film is based on the Frederick Exley novel of the same name, but despite the filmmaker’s best efforts it’s not able to achieve the book’s cult potential and in fact Exley himself stated that the movie “bore no relation to anything that I had written”. The idea of trying to somehow visualize a story that was never meant for the big screen is the film’s biggest issue and one that it cannot overcome no matter how hard it tries. The pacing is poor and tries awkwardly to make profound statements while at other points being zany and absurd, which is off-putting.

Orbach does well in the lead and helps hold it together. This also marks the official film debut of Julia Anne Robinson who appeared in only one other movie King of the Marvin Gardens before she tragically died in a house fire at the young age of 24. Like in that movie her acting is poor, but here it works in the positive because it makes her character seem transparent and accentuates the dream-like theme. The segment where she dresses up like a nun and then later as a street hooker, as part of Exley’s sexual fantasy, is fun as is his visit with her quirky parents (Conrad Bain, Rosemary Murphy).

Burgess Meredith appears only briefly, but practically steals it with his outrageousness. Watching him lie down on the floor in an effort to look up a blind woman’s skirt is a real hoot as is his ability to walk on his hands across the edge of a sofa.

Had the film stuck solely with the goofy comedy it might’ve worked and there are indeed a few memorable bits. The part where Exley punches an obnoxious woman (Elsa Raven) in slow motion is arresting and the segment where he imagines himself inside a scene of a his favorite soap opera where he directs the cast to strip off their clothes and have sex right in front of the camera is pretty funny too, but the best moment is the telephone conversation he has with a couple where he pretends to be a lawyer pleading with them to take-in the husband’s mentally unstable brother.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Eric Till

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: YouTube

Racquet (1979)

racquet-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tennis champ gets old.

Tommy Everett (Bert Convy) is an aging tennis star who is learning to accept that he no longer has the skill that he once did. His life though is not in order and he needs money so that he can purchase his own tennis court and use it to give lessons to the rich clientele of Beverly Hills. Since he doesn’t have the capital for a down payment he sleeps with Leslie (Edie Adams) who is the wife of Arthur (Phil Silvers) a rich financier. During their lovemaking he asks her for the cash and she initially agrees even though she doesn’t intend to come through with it. In one last attempt to prove his virility he decides to take on tennis great Bjorn Bjorg in a televised match that he hopes will prove that he still has what it takes.

This so-called comedy is so frighteningly unfunny that you have to wonder why anyone would’ve been paid to write-it as its desperate attempts at humor are downright embarrassing. The script went through many rewrites and it shows as there is no cohesion and the action meanders badly until it all becomes quite pointless.

Supposedly this was an attempt to cash-in on the success of Shampoo, which was far better and so superior to this one it’s isn’t worth trying to compare except to say that was a classic and this isn’t. The jokes here are too strained and the innuendoes so juvenile that it makes sitting through not worth it on any level. The movie would’ve been improved had it stayed focused on the tennis angle, but instead it goes off on Convy’s romances and sexual conquests until you completely forget about the tennis part until it finally goes back to it at the very end.

Convy’s presence, especially in the lead, makes things even worse. He was a great game show host, but in the acting realm he was a hack to the point that he comes off looking like he never had even a day of acting training.

The supporting cast if filled with an array of familiar faces, but due to the script’s limitations end up being badly underused. Susan Tyrrell’s take of a snobby real estate agent should’ve been great, but isn’t. Tennis legend Bobby Riggs is fun, but not funny and Dorothy Konrad gets a few laughs, but it all comes at the expense of her obesity, which is tacky.

Phil Silvers is the only good thing in the movie and he even manages to elicit a few chuckles especially the part where he dresses and acts like a giant turkey. Yet even this, like with everything else in the film, is pretty sad and only proves to what pathetic extent it was willing to go to just to get a cheap laugh.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: June 7, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Winters

Studio: Cal-Am Productions

Available: None at this time