Category Archives: Obscure Movies

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)

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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)

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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

Buddy Buddy (1981)

buddy-buddy-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suicidal man hampers hit.

Trabucco (Walter Matthau) checks into a hotel intent on completing a hit by shooting a mob informant before he can testify at trial. He’s already killed the two other informants with relative ease, but now finds this one to be much more complicated due to having to deal with Victor (Jack Lemmon) who resides in the adjoining room. Victor is upset that his wife Celia (Paula Prentiss) has left him for a sex therapist (Klaus Kinski) and proceeds to try to hang himself by tying the noose around the water pipes in the bathroom, but all he succeeds at doing is busting the pipes and creating a flood. Trabucco decides to ‘befriend’ the man in order to keep an eye on him and prevent him from trying to kill himself again, which he feels will only lead to unwanted attention from the authorities. However, Jack causes more problems for him than the police ever could.

This was the last film directed by Billy Wilder who stated in more than a few interviews that he considers this movie to be his poorest effort and his least favorite. Matthau and Lemmon have pretty much said the same thing as well. The film was a critical flop and lost 3.5 million at the box office, which helped to prevent Wilder from ever helming another movie again.

However, I was delightfully surprised at how funny I found this movie to be. It’s not exactly laugh-out-loud hilarity, but on a low-key level it works. The part where Lemmon gets tied to a chair and his mouth gagged while he screams at an ambivalent housekeeper (Bette Raya) to free him is quite good and the part where the two men going gliding down a clothes chute is fun too.

The whole thing is a remake of the French film A Pain in the A__, but it implements changes to the plot that improves it from the original. For one thing the dialogue is funnier, the two men have more genuine conversations and they even develop a bit of a bonding. The film adds more characters too like the beleaguered Captain Hubris played by Dana Elcar who tries in vain to protect the witnesses from Trubacco, but with little success. The distinctive musical score by Lalo Shifrin is also big improvement.

Lemmon is quite funny as he plays a sort-of hyped-up version of his Felix Unger character. Matthau seems a bit stymied in a role that allows for very little expression, but he still manages to make the most of it. My favorite performance though was that of Kinski who takes a rare comic turn and utters the movies best line: “Pre-ejaculation means always having to say you’re sorry.”

Having the two actually work together to complete the hit and then make an escape from the cops is good and something that did not occur in the original. The resolution, which takes place on a tropical island, is a bit of an improvement over the first one though it’s still not perfect. In either event it’s a relatively solid comedy that offers a few good laughs and deserves more attention especially for fans of Lemmon/Matthau.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Billy Wilder

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS

A Pain in the A__ (1973)

pain-in-the-ass-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Loser irritates hit man.

Ralf (Lino Ventura) works as a hit man and is hired to assassinate Louis Randoni (Xavier Depraz) who plans to testify against the mob. Ralf checks into a hotel room and plans to shoot Louis as he tries to enter the courthouse from his hotel window, which sits across the street from the court building. As he prepares for the hit he becomes distracted by Francois (Jacques Brel) in the neighboring room who attempts to kill himself after his wife leaves him. Ralf is concerned that Francois’s actions will elicit unwanted attention, so in an attempt to quiet him he ‘befriends’ him, which leads to many ironic scenarios.

The film was written by the prolific Francis Veber and based on his play. Ultimately it’s just a one-joke premise, but what makes it work are the two characters particularly the hit man who is portrayed in a serious way and never once betrays the essence of who he truly is, which is that of a cold blooded killer intent on doing his job and then moving on to his next. The comedy comes from his perturbed reactions at having to deal with a loser that despite his best intentions he can’t seem to ever get rid of.

Famous singer Brel does quite well as the clingy pest who is so wrapped up in his own personal quandaries that he fails to notice that his new ‘friend’ really isn’t his friend at all. Brel’s boyish looks plays well off of Ventura’s constantly stern expression and the plot becomes almost a constant play on errors as each one misreads the other.

The overall set design though is boring and the majority of action takes place solely inside the two hotel rooms, which eventually makes the proceedings quite static. It would’ve been nice to have had more of a conversation between the two as Brel does almost all of the talking while Ventura simply remains quiet while looking bored and angered, which is fun for a while, but more of a character arc could’ve been implemented.

The ending is a cop-out and not satisfying at all. I also felt Ventura was a bit too old and the character would’ve been more intimidating had it played by someone younger and more rugged although for the record Ventura plays the role perfectly especially when he gets injected with a drug that makes him tired and reluctantly  dependent on Brel’s guidance.

In 2008 Veber directed a remake of this film, which met with some success. Also in 1981 director Billy Wilder did an American version of this with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau playing the two leads. That film ended up adding a few changes and will be reviewed tomorrow.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 20, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Edouard Molinaro

Studio: Mondex Films

Available: VHS

Midnight (1989)

midnight

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Horror hostess is goofy.

Midnight (Lynn Redgrave) is a Goth dressing host of a late night TV-show where she rises from a coffin to help introduce a bad B-movies. She has managed to attain a strong cult following and Mr. B. (Tony Curtis) the head of the TV-station where she works wants her to sign over the syndication rights, but she continually refuses. She then meets Mickey (Steve Parrish) and the two get into a relationship, but when he proves to be unfaithful dead bodies begin turning up including that of Mr. B.’s. Is Midnight the killer, or is she being framed by someone else lurking in the shadows?

There are a few snappy lines here and there, but overall this thing is a complete bore and too poorly paced to be entertaining. The film shifts so clumsily between comedy, satire and horror that it becomes hard to figure what audience the filmmakers where attempting to draw-in.

Redgrave’s send-up of Elvira and Vampira misses the mark completely. The wacky outfits that she wears is indeed eye-catching, but the camp level gets played up too much and the fact that she continues to display the same goofy persona that she has in front of the camera even while at home gets overdone and eventually quite annoying.

Curtis is far more entertaining and should’ve been giving a larger role. His hanging death in which he struggles in mid-air with a rope around his neck is actually impressive, but I did spend most of the film thinking about the white mop that was on top of his head and wondering if it was his real hair, or a wig. Parrish, as the young love interest, is thoroughly dull and drains what little energy this film has right out with his presence.

The strangulation death that occurs under water deserves some merit and I did enjoy the exteriors of Mr. B’s mansion as well as Midnight’s, but the attempts to satirize the behind-the-scenes wheeling’s-and-dealings of the entertainment world fall horribly flat and eventually becomes a joke onto itself.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Norman Thaddeus Vane

Studio: Kuys Entertainment Group

Available: VHS

Till Death (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: His dead wife returns.

Paul (Keith Atkinson) marries Anne (Belinda Balaski) only to have her perish on their wedding night. When he goes to visit her at her crypt he hears her wails and breaks into her coffin where he finds her to be alive. They spend the rest of the night talking until supernatural events begin to occur, which convinces Paul that things aren’t quite what they seem.

This very low budget film sat on the shelf for 6 years and it was for good reason. It is boring and uneventful and at times down right hokey. The sappy opening title tune is the most horrifying thing about this turkey and has no place in a horror film or any other movie for that matter. The car crash borders on being laughable. There is a shot of Balaski being quite literally swallowed out of the car with an over-the-top panicked expression while Atkinson, with an equally over-the-top panicked expression, tries to save her. The shot is quick and might have passed had it only been shown once, but the director keeps going back to it almost repeatedly until it becomes both corny and annoying.

The second half is about as static as you can get. Atkinson releases Balaski from her crypt and then the two have one long, sterile conversation that goes nowhere.  Since the woman was supposedly thrown from a car one would expect her to be a mangled up mess, but when the coffin gets opened there is not a scratch on her. The payoff for sitting through this thing is nothing as there is no interesting twist of any kind. It’s a dud from start to finish and filled with a lot of clichéd foggy atmosphere that’s supposed to be creepy, but wouldn’t scare a first-grader.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Walter Stocker

Studio: Cougar Films

Available: None at this time.

Offerings (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mute killer sends gifts.

As a child John Radley (Richard A. Busewell), who is mute, gets bullied by the neighborhood kids and the only one that befriends him is Gretchen (Loretta Leigh Bowman). Years later after he escapes from the mental institution, where he resides for killing his emotionally abusive mother (Rayette Potts), he returns to the same town while taking revenge on those kids who are now teens by hacking up their bodies and then packaging their body parts into little ‘gifts’ that he sends to Gretchen as a token of the ‘love’ that he feels for her.

Making a successful low budget horror movie requires one to pretty much follow the same formula as Sam Raimi did with The Evil Dead, which is to emphasize the gore, special effects and atmosphere while keeping the pace fast and cerebral. This movie unfortunately proceeds in the exact opposite direction with scenes that go on too long and dialogue that is extraneous. If you cut out all the needless footage and just kept the moments that actually helped propel the story you’d be left with literally only 8 minutes of its otherwise 94 minute runtime.

The murders are few and far between and its cheesy soundtrack is a complete rip-off of Halloween’s. Watching a guy getting his head squeezed inside a vice is the only killing worth catching and even this one isn’t all that great and as it’s seen via a shadow on the wall with apparently a watermelon used in place of an actual head. The film’s humor is equally sporadic and not enough to save what comes off as just another mechanical slasher retread.

There are problems with the killer a well as he’s barely seen and never says anything, which ultimately makes him quite transparent. How he is able to climb an electric fence without being electrocuted or get shot at and still keep walking is never explained. The fact that he has a severely deformed face and moves like a zombie would easily attract other people’s attention and they would report his whereabouts to the police who most likely would have the guy apprehended before he was even a few minutes outside of the mental hospital’s grounds.

There is also a scene where Gretchen and her friend Kacy (Elizabeth Greene) watch a horror movie on TV and they make fun of how ‘dumb’ the victims are in their attempts to escape from their killer even though these women end up doing many of the same stupid things. If you’re going to mock other movies then you better make sure your film is an improvement, which this isn’t.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Christopher Reynolds

Studio: Arista Films

Available: DVD