Category Archives: Obscure Movies

I Start Counting (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She suspects her brother.

Wynne (Jenny Agutter) is an adopted 14-year-old teen who begins to have romantic feelings for her 32-year-old stepbrother George (Bryan Marshall). However, she finds some troubling signs, like scratches on his back and blood on a shirt she gave him, which makes her believe that he may be the killer that has murdered several teen girls in the area.

This is one of the earlier films directed by the gifted David Greene who went on to helm some amazing films including the TV-movies Roots and Fatal Vision, but here he still seems to be searching for his rhythm. The story, which is based on the novel of the same name by Audrey Erskine Lindop, has some potential, but the pacing drags and there’s too much emphasis on a panning camera that seems to want to pan to different points on the screen in literally every shot. The soft, melodic music is more liable to put the viewer to sleep than create any tension.

Not enough emphasis is put on the murders or the investigation. We see the face of one dead body underneath the water and then that’s it. The killings become almost like an afterthought that gets briefly mentioned here and there, but fails to build up any fear in the viewer and at times becomes almost forgotten. The story instead focuses on the inner thoughts and feelings of Wynne and meanders between her fearing her brother to being in-love with him until she seems weirder than he is.

Agutter gives a great performance and helps hold the thing together, which would’ve become a limp, unfocused bore otherwise. Simon Ward, especially with his facial features makes for a good creepy bus conductor, but Marshall’s flat performance as the brother does not help to the point where the viewer doesn’t particularly care if he is the killer or not.

The only time that there is any true tension is at the end when the killer’s true identity gets exposed and he tries to kill Wynne in a dark, isolated building, but even here things get botched as the film makes it too obvious who the killer is too soon, which then lessens the film’s final twist. Certain other aspects like a flashback sequences dealing with Wynne’s troubled childhood doesn’t add up to much. In fact the only thing that I found even mildly diverting was Wynne’s relationship with her competitive best friend Corinne (Claire Sutcliffe), which brought to mind the old adage: with friends like these who needs enemies.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 27, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Greene

Studio: United Artists

Available: None at this time.

Raw Courage (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Harass the marathon runners.

Three male friends (Ronny Cox, Art Hindle, Tim Maier) decide to challenge themselves by running through a 72-mile span of the New Mexico desert. Along the way they come into contact with a right-wing militia known as The Citizen’s Brigade that is headed by Colonel Crouse (M. Emmet Walsh). Initially the military unit toys with the runners making them a part of their exercise, but when one of the runner’s insults their members things turn ugly and the three friends find themselves running for their lives amidst the harsh terrain and from soldiers better conditioned to handle the elements.

The script, which was written by Ronny Cox and his wife Mary, has such a stupid premise that it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Aren’t there parks or a contained outdoor survival course that the men could take where they could still prove how ‘tough’ they were without throwing themselves into the barren wide-open desert? The men bring along NO FOOD, I repeat NO FOOD is brought along on this 72-mile trek by foot and their water bottles are so puny that they wouldn’t last them 10 miles let alone 70. These suicidal men don’t need a nutty right-wing militia to end their lives as they seem quite capable of doing it just fine all by themselves.

The second-half drags as the runners evade the militia while occasionally coming into contact with them and having very fake looking fights. The militia members are extreme caricatures that border on unintentional camp and Walsh, who has had a great career playing colorful character roles, is not effective as the menacing colonel

The climactic finish in which a large crowd of observers stand at the finish line waiting for the three runners to appear has to be the dumbest part of the movie. Why are all these people so excited to see who wins when they hadn’t seen any part of the race as it was run nor where there when it began? Who’s sponsoring this race and where the participants required to sign a legal waiver before they joined? What kind of a race has no checkpoints that the runners are forced to pass through to make sure that they hadn’t cheated? What’s to say they couldn’t have jumped into a car when no one was looking and drove the whole way and then when they neared the finish line they simply got out of the car and acted like they had run it when they really hadn’t?

Watching the men hobble to the finish looking all beaten down from their self-imposed foray into the harsh desert didn’t seem ‘courageous’ at all, but instead incredibly moronic. A better title for this film would be RAW INSANITY.

Alternate Title: Courage

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert L. Rosen

Studio: Adams Apple Film Company

Available: VHS

Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fashion model is troubled.

Lou Andreas Sand (Faye Dunaway) was a once famous fashion model who now sits in an isolated seaside cabin telling her life story to Aaron (Barry Primus) who records her conversations which he plans to use as a basis for an upcoming film. Through her stories she describes of being molested at the age of 15 by a much older man, her bouts with drugs and alcohol, her time spent inside a mental hospital and how she jilted her fiancé (Roy Scheider) by running out on him on their wedding day.

This film marks the directorial debut of Jerry Schatzberg who up until that time was best known as a still photographer and having captured the cover of Bob Dylan’s seventh album Blonde on Blonde. The inspiration for the movie was the life of model Anne Saint Marie who Schatzberg interviewed much the same way that the Aaron character does in the movie.

Unfortunately the director clearly doesn’t understand what makes his main character tick as she comes off as this one-dimensional, self-destructive cliché whose perpetually sad tales of woo become increasingly more contrived as the film goes on. We get no insight as to why she behaves the way she does turning her into a maddening caricature that frustrates the viewer and allows for no empathy.

A great deal of effort was put into the film’s visual style and on that level it’s a fascinating achievement. Adam Holender’s cinematography is quite vivid and makes you feel like you’re right there in the same room with the characters, but the fragmented narrative that comes with it is unappealing. Certain interesting dramatic moments get dropped and never gone back to, or readdressed at a much later time long after the viewer has lost interest. I suppose this is the reason that the word ‘puzzle’ gets used in the title as we are supposed to ‘piece together’ this woman’s life and personality through the erratic bits that she gives us, but she only succeeds at becoming an enigma.

Dunaway is a great actress, but tends to do better in parts calling for strong or emotionally ambivalent women. Playing the roles of vulnerable people is definitely not her forte. She’s managed to do it a few times, but it’s not easy for her and here she fails at it completely as she doesn’t understand her character’s motivations any better than the viewer.

The one actress that does do well here is Viveca Lindfors who was a beauty in her day, but by this time was already aging into her later years and yet she commands the screen with the brief time that she is on it and had she been seen more she might’ve saved it. However, the story lacks substance fails to be compelling and leaves the viewer with a lot of fleeting, fragmented images and nothing more.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jerry Schatzberg

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2), Blu-ray (Region B/2)

If Ever I See You Again (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rekindling an old romance.

Bob Morrison (Joe Brooks) is a successful composer of commercial jingles, but despises the many compromises he is forced to make in order to please his clients. He wants to write a film score and his agent Mario (Jimmy Breslin) gets him a meeting with some movie producers in Hollywood and while there he decides to look up Jennifer (Shelley Hack) his former girlfriend while in college. He finds that she still has feelings for him and they begin dating again only to have her, like in college, back off when the relationship starts to get too serious.

Brooks was coming off great success with the box office hit You Light Up My Life that won him the Grammy for song of the year (1977) the Academy Award for best original song as well as the Golden Globe and the ASCAP award. His over-confidence though exceeded his talents as he followed it up with this trifling mess that reeks of self-indulgence and is so unrelentingly schmaltzy that it will make even the most die-hard of romantics feel like gagging.

The film starts out okay as it analyzes the rigors of the music business and its overly demanding clients. You even get to listen to some cheesy jingles that he is forced to write, which are kind of funny. Had it stayed as a behind-the-scenes look at the commercial jingle world it might’ve been passable

The romantic storyline though kills it. The idea that this beautiful woman would have no other male suitors and simply jump back into the arms of a dopey guy that she had dumped years before is ridiculous.  At least having her married or in some other relationship would’ve made it realistic and allowed for added drama, which is lacking and the love songs that are played during this segment sound worse than the goofy jingles.

Brooks had no acting experience, but casts himself in the lead anyways, which was a terrible mistake as he mumbles his lines and shows no emotion or inflection. His hair looks disheveled and with his glasses off like a beady-eyed, would-be stalker. The character is portrayed too ideally turning the production into a narcisstic foray instead of a story.

The supporting cast is filled with non-actors as well including newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin and author George Plimpton who are just as blah and my guess is that Brooks did this to make his own bad acting seem not quite so glaring by comparison. Hack for her part is okay and at least has a beautiful face although I wished she hadn’t covered it up with her big, bulky glasses.

The most interesting aspect to the film is what occurred behind the camera as Brooks was nothing like the sentimental songs he wrote or lovable guy that he tried to play. Instead his friends labeled him an egomaniac and his daughter, actress Amanda Brooks, accused him of abusing her as a child while his son Nicholas was convicted of murder in 2013. Brooks himself was accused of raping over 13 women whom he had lured to his apartment through Craiglist ads under the disguise of being a film producer looking for fresh young talent. In 2011 while awaiting trial he killed himself, but not before becoming one of the creepiest looking guys you’ll ever see (pictured below).

Capture 282

However, the biggest irony is that in 2005 he wrote and produced a play about a woman with OCD who is brought together with a man who suffers from Tourette’s by a jingle singling God, which Playbill descried as being ‘one of the strangest shows to ever grace the Broadway stage.’ and even though it clearly sounds absurd I’d still take it over this crappy film any day.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 24, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Brooks

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS

Murder Elite (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sisters feud over estate.

The story centers on Diane (Ali MacGraw) who moves in with her sister Margaret (Billie Whitelaw) at the family’s estate in England. Diane has frittered away her inheritance while living in America and now comes to Margaret in a near penniless state. Margaret expects Diane to ‘earn-her-keep’, but Diane resists doing any farm work and instead schemes at how to take control of the family’s fortune while having a fling with one of the farmhands named Ron (Ray Lonnen). She realizes that if Margaret dies then the estate will go to her, so she convinces Ron to kill Margaret when she goes out for one of her late night walks and then blame the death on a mysterious lady killer who has been terrorizing the countryside. However, things don’t go as planned as Diane and Ron soon find themselves being the ones in danger.

The film works as a weird hybrid between a slasher flick and an old-fashioned Agatha Christie-like mystery. The only interesting element is MacGraw’s presence who seems completely out-of-place in the English setting. This could easily be described as her career swan song as she never starred in another theatrical film after this one. In fact she only did four more movies, two of them being TV ones, and no film appearances at all since 1997. Usually when someone’s acting career has nosedived they turn to overseas projects, which is exactly what this was as she hadn’t had a hit movie in 13 years and was well over 40, so in many ways she had no choice, but to take it.

It might’ve worked had she had genuine acting talent, but it becomes painfully clear in her scenes with Whitelaw that she’s being seriously upstaged by a far more superior actress. Casting MacGraw as antagonist doesn’t gel as she’s unable to convey the necessary evilness. As sisters the two look nothing alike and Whitelaw is supposed to be ‘way older’ than MacGraw, but in reality they look practically the same age. During the early ‘70s Ali had long hair that came down to her waist and it looked great, by the later part of the decade she had cut it real short and it was okay, but her she wears it shoulder-length, which isn’t sexy at all.

The plot is only mildly intriguing and all the action takes place on the drab estate, which quickly becomes dull visually. There are a few twists to keep it watchable, but the one that comes at the end, which reveals who the true killer is, is full of loopholes making this little known mystery excursion come-off as flat and pointless.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Claude Whatham

Studio: Tyburn Entertainment

Available: VHS 

Fatal Games (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Javelins can be deadly.

Student athletes with promising futures are suddenly turning up dead at the hands of a mysterious killer who pierces their bodies with a javelin that he is able to expertly throw from a far distance. Authorities fear that time is running out as more of them are killed and no witnesses or clues to identify the culprit.

Many consider this to be a rip-off of Graduation Day and while both films aren’t very good this one at least starts out better. I enjoyed the lighthearted comedy used at the beginning and how a formal dinner meeting turns into a big food fight and then a group tug-of-war. The film also keeps it realistic by showing the athletes actually training and conditioning.

In fact it really doesn’t start to go downhill until it reverts into a horror movie mode and dwells almost religiously in all the formulaic clichés seen in every other ‘80s slasher flick. The killings aren’t as novel as they sound and eventually become quite redundant. They are also lightly sprinkled in-between long, drawn out dramatic segments dealing with the characters relationship struggles and pressures to perform until you almost forget that this is supposed to be a slasher film at all. Most ‘80’s horror movies will have boring extraneous dialogue at the start to help create ‘character development’, but once the killings get going they will usually drop the other stuff and stick just to the scares while also picking up the pace, but this one just keeps the stale drama going, which along with its synthesized music score gives it a very amateurish quality.

The acting by the young cast isn’t as bad as the adult actors who speak like people under a trance. The film’s director Michael Elliot who plays a doctor who secretly gives them team members some ‘retardation shots’ (no joke that’s what they call it) and the movie’s screenwriter Christopher Mankiewicz who plays the coach give the two worst performances in the movie. Even Sally Kirkland, who plays the team trainer is bad and seems to be playing down to the level of the material.

The female cast is attractive and there is an abundance of nudity including one segment where the killer chases a fully nude Angela Bennett down the darkened hallways of the school. However, the film’s cute and perky star, Lynn Banashek, was too shy to take off her clothes and so in the scene where she gets a rub down by Kirkland scream queen Linnea Quigley was used as her body double.

The identity of the killer was a bit of a surprise and something I hadn’t expected and I’m pretty good about guessing these things, so in that regard it’s kind of original, but it’s still not worth sitting through as everything else is by-the-numbers.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: March 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Elliot

Studio: Impact Films

Available: VHS

Rituals (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nightmare in the woods.

Five middle-aged doctors (Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane, Robin Gammell, Ken James, Gary Reineke) take a trip into the Canadian wilderness in what they hope will be a fun weekend retreat, but soon bizarre things begin to occur including having all of their hiking boots stolen from them in the middle-of-the-night. It eventually becomes clear that they are being stalked by an unforeseen adversary who’s intent on playing mind games with them while slowly picking them off one-by-one.

This was Canada’s answer to Deliverance and while great effort was made to lift it above the usual mindless slasher film level it still doesn’t work and remains flat and predictable all the way through. One of the things that I really liked about Deliverance was that it was filmed on-location in the Georgia backwoods and this film takes the same approach by being shot in the dense forests of northern Ontario, but the result isn’t as satisfying. In Deliverance the location becomes like a third character while here it amounts to being just a backdrop.

The film has too much of a creepy musical score that makes it clear that it wants to mold it into a horror film and only helps to give it a formulaic feel. Deliverance was never mechanical and instead came off more like a drama that suddenly turns ugly without warning, much like life sometimes, while this thing seems more staged and rehearsed.

The cast is top-notch and puts great effort into their roles and the rigorous requirements of doing all of their own stunts. Yet the result is shallow as there’s no distinction between the characters who come off as stereotypically jaded middle-aged businessmen. Watching their personalities unravel as the grueling journey proceeds isn’t riveting since they seemed broken from the beginning and the viewer doesn’t care if any of them survive it or not.

The tension is minimal and the nemesis never gets revealed until the very end. At points I felt that having a bad-guy wasn’t needed and the story could’ve been stronger had it focused around the men getting lost in the woods through no one’s fault but their own and then their ultimate struggle with the elements. The mountain man (Michael Zenon) is much too crafty anyways and pulls off things that no normal person could making the culprit seem like a mysterious enigma that transcends the bounds of reality and makes the film too unbelievable to take seriously.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Carter

Studio: Canart Films

Available: None at this time.

Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for spouse’s killer.

Jerry Green (Jeff Bridges) is a frustrated, would-be crime novelist who spends his days working as a clerk at a toy store while dictating to himself crime scenarios he plans on using in his stories that no one ever reads. One day he spots a beautiful woman named Jenny (Farah Fawcett) and he starts up a conversation with her, which quickly leads into a relationship. The problem is that she is already married, but that doesn’t stop the two from pledging that they’ll get married anyways until the husband turns up dead and they go on a mad search to find who did it before the police find out and accuse them of the crime.

This film was supposed to be Fawcett’s break-out role that was going to lead her into big-screen stardom, but it was such a disaster that it pretty much killed her aspirations before they even began. A lot of it is her fault as she got out of her ‘Charlie’s Angels’ contract after only one season, which enraged the show’s producer Aaron Spelling who threatened to sue any studio that offered her a film role, so she lost out in getting the starring part in Foul Play and was forced to accept this uninspired thing on the rebound.

She comes off looking like someone not ready for the big-time and in serious need of more acting training. Bridges is the far better performer and the only one that breaths any energy into it to the point that it would’ve been more entertaining had he been alone and Fawcett not appeared at all.

The romance itself is so corny and clichéd it’s embarrassing. Bridges falls in love with her the second he sees her and then after only a few minutes into their first date the two are already expressing their undying love for the other. I was also confused about why the Fawcett’s character would have married her husband (Laurence Guittard) to begin with as he is an arrogant prick of the highest order. My only guess is she did it because he had a lot of money and if that is the case then she shouldn’t act all that surprised or dismayed with what she ended up with.

Director Lamont Johnson had done some reasonably competent stuff in the past as did screenwriter Reginald Rose, who in better times penned the screenplay for Twelve Angry Men, but this thing looks like it was done by clueless amateurs. The first half-hour is so flatly photographed that I was surprised it didn’t immediately raise alarm bells from the studio heads while they watched the daily rushes.

The mystery angle allows for modest interest, but it ends up getting overly convoluted and culminates in a chase through a department store that is too dark and shadowy it’s hard to follow what is going on. Apparently the industry execs thought Fawcett’s celebrity status at the time, as she was coined as being ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’ by one mag, would be enough to smooth over the film’s glaring faults and still attract moviegoers, but in hindsight it should’ve never have been released as the box-office-bomb red flags are quite apparent right from the start.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lamont Johnson

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: None at this time.

Special Delivery (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stolen loot in mailbox.

Jack Murdock (Bo Svenson) manages to pull off a daring bank robbery, but in an effort to elude the police he stashes the bag of money inside a mailbox and then waits for the late night mailman to open it up, so he can retrieve it. In the meantime he must deal with ditzy Mary Jane (Cybill Shepherd) who resides in an apartment just across the street from the mailbox and witnesses what Jack has done. She agrees to help him, but only if she can get a part of the take. They also must deal with a local bartender named Graff (Michael C. Gwynne) who is also aware of what Jack did and becomes determined to get at the cash before they do.

Although the film is labeled as a comedy it really isn’t. There are a few quirky conversations between Jack and Mary Jane, but it’s not much and most of the movie is quite gritty and tense. Watching the men trying to escape from the police by precariously climbing up the side of a building using nothing but a rope is realistically done and had me on the edge-of-my-seat. The scene where Mary Jane gets surrounded by a gang of bikers who try to rape her borders on being quite unpleasant and should’ve been excised as it adds nothing to the story, but in either case it solidifies this has being a hard-edged action flick that is anything but funny.

The plot is solid for the most part with my only complaint being that I’ve never seen, in any city that I’ve lived in, an outdoor mailbox with a late night mail pick-up of Midnight, or in this case 11:45 PM. Most mail boxes list 5 or 6 PM as the latest pick-up time and it would’ve worked better had it been earlier anyways as the darkness takes away a bit from the action. I also wanted the mailbox location to have been on an actual street corner and not a studio backlot as it would’ve given the film a more genuine atmosphere.

Svenson is amiable in the lead and seeing this really big, physical guy being so relatively soft-spoken creates a likable character. I also enjoyed the line he says to a group of bikers that he decides to single-handedly take on: “There’s one of me and only three of you.”

Shepherd is also quite good. I know I’ve bashed her in some of other film roles, but here her personality fits the part as she creates a kooky lady with a nice balance between being both eccentric and conniving.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending though is the one time that the film sells itself out as it features the two driving in a van that goes off a cliff and bursts into flames. The bad guys think Jack and Mary Jane were killed, but they managed to somehow escape it before it went over, but the film never shows us how this was done, which is a cop-out.

There is also a tacked-on twist that features the couple, having now successfully eluded both the bad guys and authorities, vacationing on a cruise ship where they catch the attention of two women, one of whom is the wife of the manager (Sorrell Booke) of the bank that Jack robbed. The women plot to make a play at Jack because they can tell from the outfit that Mary Jane is wearing that they are rich and therefore want to get at their money, but why reintroduce a character like the bank manager into the story when he was only seen briefly at the beginning and had very little to do with the main plot? And for that matter why should a wife of a bank manager plot to rob somebody else as she should be living an affluent lifestyle to begin with?

End of Spoiler Alert

Overall I found this to be a surprisingly fun movie that enters in just enough offbeat ingredients to make it original, but keeps the action consistently coming, which should be enough to please those that like excitement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Wendkos

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS

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.