Category Archives: Obscure Movies

Off Beat (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not really a cop.

Joe (Judge Reinhold) works in the basement of a library. While he doesn’t hate his job he’s still looking for direction in life and feels he has missed his calling though he’s not really sure what that is. He’s friend with Abe (Cleavant Derricks) who is a New York City cop. One day Joe inadvertently messes-up a criminal sting that Abe was working on and in an effort to make it up to him Joe agrees to volunteer for a charity event that will require him to do ballet. It’s part of a city wide effort to get one policeman from each precinct to take part and Abe was chosen by his supervisor, but he has no interest, so he gets Joe to take his place while Joe pretends that he’s a cop in order to qualify for the audition. Joe is convinced he won’t make the cut, but when he meets the beautiful Rachel (Meg Tilly), who’s a cop that’s also trying out for the performance, he decides to press-on with it and in-turn finds that dancing gives him the interesting challenge that was otherwise missing in his life as well as a romantic relationship with Rachel. 

One of the things that really hurts the film right from the start is the totally wacky premise that seems to stretch all credibility. I found it very hard to buy into the idea that a policeman would be obligated, and in some ways almost forced, to get involved in a charity event that would take-up so much of his free time and require an extraordinary amount of rigorous training for no pay. Asking some cops to spend a few hours on one weekend at a soup kitchen passing out meals to the homeless is more reasonable, but pushing people into ballet that have no skills, or business in doing is just plain far-fetched. I felt too it was testing the friendship to obligate Joe in what turns out to being a very time consuming endeavor. Granted he learns to enjoy it, but upfront I can’t expect anyone to go that out of their way, even for a friend, over some simple mistake that the made earlier. Originally, and I can’t remember where I read this, the premise was for the characters to be prisoners and getting involved in the dance charity event would allow them the potential of getting their sentences shorten, which made much more sense, but the producers wanted to take advantage of the spate of comical cop movies that were popular at the time and therefore changed the characters into cops, but this just makes it dumb. 

The attempted comedy doesn’t gel either. It starts out at a park with undercover cops secretly listening into a conversation of two people, which seemed to have been taken right out of the opening scene in the far better movie The Conversation. It’s not made clear if that was meant to be an attempted parody of that one, but it doesn’t work either way and it’s best not to imitate a classic if you can’t improve on it as it ends up reminding one of that movie and how much more entertaining it was than this one. Later on there’s a bank robbery segment, which again seemed strikingly similar to another 70’s classic Dog Day Afternoonand again it’s not clear if this was intentionally stealing from that one in an effort to be amusing, but it doesn’t click either way. 

Reinhold shows why his Hollywood leading man career never lasted. He’s just not funny and all he seems good at is having that wide-eyed deer-in-headlights look and not much else. Other talented actors like Joe Mantegna, as Reinhold’s dance rival, and John Turturro, as Reinhold’s obnoxious boss, don’t get enough screen time and the friction that their characters create isn’t played-up enough, or results in any interesting confrontation. I did though really like Meg Tilly, who plays against type, as she’s usually cast as soft-spoken, flighty characters, but here plays someone who is tough and outspoken and does quite well.

The script, which was written by Mark Medoff, who had better success penning stageplays like Children of a Lesser God and When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?, does have a few heartfelt moments and having a main character feeling lost and directionless in this confusing world will be easily relatable to many, but there are just too many segments where the comedy misses-the-mark. The scenes where Reinhold is forced to try and chase down a thief and another moment where he has to arrest someone, but because he’s not a trained cop he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, could’ve been comical gold, but the film doesn’t play it out enough to be effectively hilarious. It peters-out with a fizzle by the end making it a definite misfire that didn’t do well with either the critics, or at the box office. 

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 11, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Dinner

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)

The Projectionist (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Projectionist escapes into fantasy.

Chuck McCann plays a man named Chuck McCann who works in a projection booth of a New York theater. He spends his isolated days winding the film reels and putting them into the film machines so that they can be broadcast onto the big screen. He finds his job boring and he does not get along with Renaldi (Rodney Dangerfield) who is the head usher at the theater and routinely chews him out for minor infractions. To escape his mundane existence he imagines himself the star of his own movie playing the superhero Captain Flash who helps save a beautiful damsel in distress (Ina Balin) while also fighting-off the evil villain known as The Bat, which he sees as being Renaldi and his way of getting ‘back at him’ without having to do it in real-life.

Writer/director Harry Hurwitz, who appears as an usher who visits Chuck in his film booth, had some creative movie ideas during his career though most of the movies he made were hampered by a low budget and not fully realized enough to break-out and gain mainstream attention. This film, which was his first, is generally considered his best. It was shot in September-October of 1969, at the same time as Myra Breckenridge, with both movies being credited as the first to use superimposition of older movies, known as Hollywood’s Golden era, into the main story. Some of the clips, which features everything from old cartoons to news reel footage, is fun and even at times provocative. The Captain Flash segments, which are filmed in a grainy black-and-white to replicate the other older clips, are amusing and I really enjoyed seeing actual photographs of Chuck when he was younger, from infancy to a teen and then young adult, over the opening credits. There’s even some cool surreal moments where he walks out of the theater he’s working in and on the marquee is advertised the film we’re watching as well as a segment where Chuck the actor walks down the red carpet at the premiere of this film while talking about playing Chuck the character.

McCann, who’s probably best known for co-starring with Bob Denver in the 70’s children’s TV-show ‘Far Out Space Nuts’, reveals definite talent particularly his spot-on impressions of famous stars making you wonder with that much talent why does this character not make an attempt to go on stage at a local amateur night and show his stuff to an audience instead of hiding it away to himself. If the character has stage fright, or social anxiety, and that’s why he’s so shy and lonely then that needs to be brought out, which it isn’t, making the character poorly fleshed-out and in-turn makes the film less interesting.

The segments examining Chuck’s day-to-day activities, between the old film clips, are dull and have low energy. It’s like the production was completely dependent on the old footage to save it, which is not how a good movie works. ALL the scenes in a successful film need to be captivating in some way and a great number of them here fall flat. The character does not grow, or change in any way. In would’ve been fun to see Chuck confront Dangerfield in real-life instead of just fantasizing about it, or making an attempt to ask-out the beautiful woman instead of dreaming about her from afar.

Dangerfield, in his film debut, plays against type. Normally he’s the loser taking-it to the oppressive authority figure, but here he’s the heavy and helps keep it engaging. Ina Balin, on the other-hand, is beautiful, but I found it frustrating that she wasn’t given a single thing to say.

The story doesn’t evolve and ultimately comes-off as an experiment that fails to click. I was also surprised with the dark nature of  some of the old clips including bits with Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, the Klu Klux Klan and even one recreating the assassination of Lincoln, which didn’t have anything to do with the main theme and not sure why they were put-in.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 17, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Harry Hurwitz

Studio: Maron Films

Available: DVD-R

Bum Rap (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: 72 hours to live.

Paul Colson (Craig Wasson) seems to have very little luck. While he works during the day as a New York cab driver he longs to be an actor and he practices his craft while alone in his cab as he waits for a customer. During his free time he attends auditions, but routinely finds himself being turned down for the part. His love life isn’t much better as he’s constantly getting stuck in the ‘friend zone’ with all the eligible women that he meets. Now things have turned even more sour when he goes to a Dr. about a ringing in his ear only to diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that will kill him in only 72 hours. Will Paul find any meaning and happiness with the time he has left? He isn’t sure, but becomes determined to find out by getting together with his friends and parents (Barton Heyman, Augusta Dabney) for one last goodbye while doing so with the company of Lisa (Blanche Baker) a street prostitute he has picked-up and agrees to go along with him for his last hurrah while also harboring the same ambitions of becoming an actor.

The film seems to want to tap into the indie vibe of Stranger Than Paradise, a quirky independent, cult hit that sent it’s writer/director Jim Jarmush into stardom. It even starts out in black-and-white like that one and there are a few keen moments here. When I was younger and just out of college I attended a few acting auditions like this character and found the same thankless experiences as he did; getting turned down not so much for a lack of talent, but more because he auditioned with someone who was sexier and better looking, so naturally they get all the attention and he doesn’t. His dating quandary where he treats the women real nice, and they get along well, but in the end they still chase after a married a man who treats them poorly can be a testament to what happens to a lot of single nice guys and in this area, examining the basic struggles of an ordinary life, it hits the bullseye.

Unfortunately the film fails to gain any momentum, or move along with an intriguing pace. The scenes lack energy and in certain instances, like when he invites his friends over for a game of cards, get bogged down with archaic chatter that does not propel the plot, or reveal anything about the characters. The disease, where the doctors can pinpoint exactly what hour the person will die and in what way, comes-off like something out of a sci-fi movie and hard to take seriously. I didn’t get why it shifts from black-and-white to suddenly color after he gets the grim diagnoses. You’d think it should work in reverse, be colorful when he still thinks he’s got his future ahead of him, only to turn black-and-white when he realizes his time is very limited, or at the very least don’t have it turn color until the very end when he’s learned to accept his condition and die gracefully, or leaves to enter some sort of afterlife

Wasson, who hasn’t appeared in a movie since 2006 and now makes a living as a audio book narrator, has stated that this was his most favorite movie that he was in and it’s easy to see why as he basically propels it along particularly with his impressions of famous actors, but his character’s transition through the 5-stages of grief is much too quick. It’s odd too that he chooses not to tell any of his friends or family that he’s dying as I’d think most other people in the same situation would want to say what’s going to happen to them if for anything to look for some comfort as they grieve.

Blanche Baker, the daughter of legendary actress Carroll Baker, is a good actor, but her character is cliched. As a street prostitute she lets down her guard too easily and quickly. For all she knows this guy could be lying to her about having a terminal illness in order to gain some cheap sympathy and since she’s been a hooker for awhile and spent time with other guys of a dubious quality, I’d think her opinion of men would be pretty low and she’d not be so trusting of Wasson when he tells her his situation and instead be cynical. This idea that all prostitutes have a ‘heart-of-gold’ if you just get past their rough exterior is a stereotype as some of them due to the harsh life on the streets can be genuinely embittered. Having Wasson deal with a more hardened one would’ve not only made it more realistic, but given the scenes some pizzazz as they could bicker and argue, versus having it get so sappy that it becomes cringe-worthy.

I suppose if you give it enough time it does have a way of growing on you emotionally, but the overly choreographed ending takes away all realism. Ultimately it’s a potentially interesting idea that thinks it has a deeper message and statement than it really does.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Danny Irom

Studio: Light Age Filmworks ltd.

Available: None

Rapists at Dawn (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen boys assault women.

Rubiales (Manuel de Benito), Quinto (Daniel Medran), Rafi (Bernard Seray), Cana (Cesar Sanchez) and Cana’s pregnant sister Lagarta (Alicia Orozco) roam the streets of Barcelona, Spain looking for young women to assault. The boys live on the poor side of town and are from abusive home lives with little future except working boring, low paying jobs. Feeling that society has ‘discarded’ them they they take out their hostilities on the pretty women that they meet. They pick their victims at random usually as they spot them getting out of their cars and go walking into their schools many times while in front of the victim’s family member who’ve just dropped them off. They then take the women to an isolated area and proceed to gang rape them while Lagarta acts as the look-out. The police are aware of the crimes, but seem helpless to do much about it. When they catch the boys in the act and try to arrest them the boys manage to escape making them confident that they can’t be stopped.

While films like I Spit on Your Grave and Irreversible get all the attention as being the ‘last word’ in rape movies, this one, if it was better known and more attainable, would trump those. The rapes here are graphic, prolonged and quite violent. Some will complain that it’s exploitative while others will argue that if you’re going to show rape for the violent crime that it truly is then it must be captured in all of its unpleasantness and toning it down for the sake of good taste does a disservice. Personally I found the brutal nature to be effective as I came away feeling really sorry for the victims, as it’s captured in such a real way you can barely see the acting and instead start to consider it more like a graphic documentary.

This movie also handles the aftermath in an interesting way by examining the debilitating effect the crime has on the victim psychologically and how they become like a different person. They’re outgoing and well-adjusted beforehand and then afterwards depressed, angry, and even ashamed. They turn sullen and anti-social to both their friends and family making it seem like they’ll never be the same again. The film also analyzes what happens when one of the women becomes pregnant, something that I don’t remember being touched upon in other rape films, and how the mother of the victim insist, due to religious reasons, that she keep the baby and not abort it, making her seem as cruel as the gang.

The thuggish boys are portrayed in an intriguing multi-dimensional way too. While they’re cocky when out and about they recoil and become like victims themselves when at home and dealing with their abusive fathers. I did like too that in their own twisted way they have ‘limits’ or  a ‘code of morality’ albeit a very weird one. A great example of this is when Lagarta becomes shocked when the boys continue to penetrate one of the victims even after she has clearly died. Normally Lagarta had no problem seeing them violently molest the women, but when one of them actually gets killed during the attack and the boys continue the assault it’s only then that she feels things have ‘gone too far’.

It’s hard to say what genre to put this one into. It’s not really a horror film as none of the women become Rambo-like by packing a big gun and going on a revenge tour against their assailants, which although emotionally satisfying isn’t realistic If anything it brings out how there are no easy answers, which makes it even more horrifying, but still thought provoking.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ignacio Iquino

Studio: Ignacio Ferres Iquino

Available: DVD-R

Hysterical (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghostly witch haunts lighthouse.

While Casper (Bill Hudson) has had success writing racy novels he longs to author something of a serious quality and thus uproots out of New York and drives across the country to Oregon where he takes-up residence in a town called Hellview. It is there that he rents a lighthouse as he feels it’s secluded locale will give him the quiet that he needs to complete his book. However, he’s unaware that the place is haunted by Venetia (Julie Newmar) a woman who committed suicide at the lighthouse 100 years earlier. She now sees this as an opportunity to resurrect Captain Howdy (Richard Kiel) a man she was in-love with, but who she killed when he threatened to dump her and return to his wife. As Casper notices more and more bizarre occurrences happening at his place he requests the services of Dr. Paul Batton (Mark Hudson) and his assistant Fritz (Brett Hudson) to aid him in solving the supernatural mystery.

This was the one and only film to feature the Hudson Brothers, which were a famous teen idol band who rose to fame in 1974 when they were a summer replacement series for the ‘Sonny and Cher Show’ only to get enough good ratings that they were offered their own Saturday morning show ‘The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show’ during the 1974-75 season. The brothers came from humble beginnings born in Portland, Oregon and raised by a single parent mom after their father announced one day, when they were quite small, that he was ‘going out to get some cigarettes’, but then never returned. They formed their band when there were still just kids and first called themselves the My Sirs and then The New Yorkers followed by Everyday Hudson and then just Hudson. Their biggest success came during the mid-70’s where they had a couple of top 40 Billboard hits including ‘So You Are a Star’ and ‘Rendezvous’  though by the end of the decade their fame had significantly faded and their final studio album ‘Damn Those Kids’, which was released in 1980, failed to sell at all.

The fact that these guys were no longer a big act makes is surprising that they would’ve been given the funding to make this film, which was shot in the fall of 1981 as they were clearly on a career decline. The script is credited as being written by the three brothers with help from Jeffrey Ganz who got brought in as a ‘comedy consultant’. The humor derives almost exclusively  as a collection of gags that poke fun of famous scenes from popular horror movies of the day. Unfortunately none of it is funny and results in coming-off as quite cheap and cheesy. It’s also not clear what age group they were going with here as the band, during the 70’s, was quite popular with children and the film does have a lot of silly, cartoon-like bits that they would enjoy, but it’s also laced with stuff more attuned to older adolescence and even one moment that features a topless woman. The special effects are corny and having the victims of Captain Howdy turn into zombies the second they’re killed isn’t very inspired. Since they become zombies after getting axed to death you’d think they’d have obvious flesh wounds and missing limbs, but here they don’t just faces that become pale white and regurgitating the phrase ‘What difference does it make?’ and that’s it.

The film’s only cool moment is when the zombies do a rap song and dance, which is amusing, making me believe this would’ve worked better as a horror musical like Rocky Horror Picture Show. I was surprised too that the brothers never break-out into their old rock routine especially since it’s built into the script that the zombies respond well to music. The brothers don’t even do the film’s opening and closing song, which is instead sung by a female performer named Harriet Schock.

The cast is filled with a lot of familiar character actors, with some of them, like Bud Cort as a lispy mad scientist, doing okay. It’s funny seeing Murray Hamilton playing a mayor who’s reluctant to close the beaches since that’s the exact same role he played in Jaws, but this irony quickly wears thin. Robert Donner, doing a send-up of Crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th, where he proclaims “You’re doomed” to everyone he meets gets old real fast. Other actors like Keenan Wynn, who was related to the Hudson family through marriage and appeared here in a small and insignificant role as a favor, gets completely wasted.

Today this film sits in absolute obscurity and deservedly so. The Hudson Brothers themselves, though all still living, are relics of the past as well. Lead singer Bill is probably better known as being married to Goldie Hawn and the father of actors Kate and Oliver Hudson.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Chris Bearde

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R

A Tiger’s Tale (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Falling for girlfriend’s mother.

Bubber (C. Thomas Howell) is a high school student who’s dating Shirley (Kelly Preston) yet becomes more interested in Rose (Ann-Margaret) Shirley’s mother. The problem is Rose is an alcoholic and scared of snakes, which Bubber has as a pet and tigers, which Bubber also has as a pet. Despite all this the two slowly hit-it-off while keeping it a secret from the increasingly suspicious Shirley. Eventually she catches them in the act when she sees the two running naked at a drive-in where they tried to make love outside, but got attacked by fire ants. To get revenge Shirley pricks a hole in Rose’s diaphragm, so that she gets pregnant with Bubber’s baby. Bubber though intends to move-in with Rose to help her raise it, but Rose considers an abortion.

It’s impossible to say where this movie goes wrong mainly because it never gets going in the first place. It’s based off of the novel ‘Love and Other Natural Disasters’ by Allen Hannay III, who was paid $80,000 to have the rights to it sold to Vincent Pictures, which was owned and run by Peter Douglas, the third son of Kirk Douglas and brother of Michael. Peter then converted it into a screenplay, but without having read the book I couldn’t help but feel that something got lost in the transition. This is a big problem when novels get turned into movies as films don’t have as much depth to the story and characters as books typically do, which is why most people who enjoyed the story in book form usually end up disappointed when they see it as a movie. The elements are there for something potentially interesting, but Douglas, who also directed, doesn’t have the ability to put it altogether, which is probably a good reason why he’s never written, or directed any movie since.

I liked the setting, filmed in Waller County, Texas, but it doesn’t give the viewer enough feel of the region. Just showing the exterior of the homes and the drive-in isn’t enough. We need to see the town that they live-in in order to understand the characters and learn what makes them tick and the environments they are brought up in can have a lot to do with that, but when that environment gets captured in an ambiguous way, like here, it doesn’t help.

The story seems to want to tap into the themes of The Graduate, but that was a brilliant film and if you can’t top that, or at least equal it, then it’s best not to even try. Ann-Margaret is supposed to be an alcoholic, but we only see her with a drink in her hand at the start and then the rest of the time she seems quite sober. I also didn’t like the way she see-saws between being vampish at one moment and then a mature adult who gets real preachy with Bubber the next. It’s like someone with a split personality who isn’t fleshed-out and the same can be said for Howell’s character too.

There was potential for some funny bits like when Rose goes over to Bubber’s house and tells him she’s really frightened of snakes and then gets undressed and into bed with him. The camera then pans down to show a snake slithering under the covers and I thought this was the beginning of a really hilarious moment, but then the film cuts away. Later on Rose is shown to be comfortable in the presence of Bubber’s snake, but we never witness her transition, which was a missed opportunity for character development.  The scene where Rose and Bubber going running naked at the drive-in is dumb too because apparently only Shirley notices them even though with the screaming that the two were making it would’ve made anyone at the drive-in look-up and not just her.

Even the reliable Charles Durning gets wasted and becomes as dull as the rest. In fact the only thing that  I did enjoy was the tiger. I must commend Howell for being willing to get into a cage with it and stick his hand inside it’s mouth, but I was confused why the tiger is playful one second and then proceeds to try and attack Howell the next. Also, why would Howell want to get back into the animal’s cage later after he almost got his leg bite-off before? Even with that in mind I still felt the tiger was cool, the scene where he kills and eats a pooch of some customers that were just passing through is amusing in a dark sort of way and when he’s eventually set free is the only memorable moment in what is otherwise a misfire.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Douglas

Studio: Vincent Pictures

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

The Sunday Woman (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murdered by phallic object.

Based on the novel of the same name by Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini, the story centers on the investigation of the murder of Mr. Garrone (Claudio Gora). Garrone is found bludgeoned to death inside his apartment by a giant penis statue. Garrone was a well known architect and a lecherous ladies man who couldn’t help but make unseemly passes at every woman he came by. Commissioner Santamaria (Marcello Mastroianni) is put in charge of the case, which has many suspects. Two of the biggest ones are Anna Carla (Jacqueline Bisset) and her platonic male friend Massimo (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Anna had written a note, found by her hired help the next day, stating her desire to ‘eliminate’ Garrone. Anna, who’s quite wealthy, insists that it was all a innocent misunderstanding and Massimo backs her up, but Massimo, who has an alibi, is reluctant to divulge it because it would require him to admit that he’s gay and at Lello (Aldo Reggiani) his lovers’ house. Santamaria begins looking into other potential suspects as does Lello who wishes to get his boyfriend cleared, but the deeper Santamaria gets into the case the more he connects with Anna and despite their age difference they begin to have a romantic relationship all while she remains at the top of his suspect list.

The film, on the technical end, is well done. Director Luigi Comencini nicely captures the visual beauty of the Italian landscape and the posh older homes of Turin a city in northwest Italy where it was filmed. The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone has a nice bounce that keeps the film moving along even while not a lot is happening. There’s an array of suspects and enough red herrings to keep it intriguing and impossible to guess who’s the true culprit.

The story has its share of offbeat moments though it’s disappointing that the funniest character, Garrone, ends up getting killed as he was amusingly sleazy enough to have kept things consistently comical. While the death by giant penis statue, if memory serves me correctly, had already been used in A Clockwork Orange, it’s still a novel idea and it’s funny how Santamaria visualizes each suspect he meets bashing Garrone over the head with it as he interviews them. Traveling to the shop where the statues are made and being surrounded with hundreds of them is certainly good for a chuckle, but outside of this there wasn’t all that much that stood out, or made this any better than any other murder mystery. The ingredients are good enough to keep sufficient interest, but nothing the makes it really memorable.

I was most disappointed that Bisset wasn’t in it more. She’s fabulous, as she is in most of her movies, and though I suspect that her voice, where she speaks fluent Italian, is dubbed, I still felt she gives a spectacular performance. Mastroianni on the other hand looks tired and worn-out and like his peak years of being a international sex symbol had passed. Yet when he’s together with Bisset it clicks and Jacqueline’s superior acting camouflages their extreme age difference making them seem more like a perfect couple than it should. The two should’ve investigated the case together and become a team, as every second Bisset is not seen it flatlines. Had the two shared the screen this might’ve been special, but ultimately it misses-the-mark and never fully gels.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Luigi Comencini

Studio: Fox-Lira

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com) (Italian w/English subtitles), Amazon Video (English subtitles)

The Money (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kidnapping kids for ransom.

Roland (Graham Beckel) is an out-of-work slacker who’s always looking for the easy-way-out. He’s dating Lucy (Regina Baff) who babysits for Richard (Laurence Luckinbill) and his wife Ellen (Elizabeth Richards). Despite living in a posh neighborhood Richard is having problems of his own. His business isn’t doing well and he needs a loan, but his wife, who does have a large sum stashed away, refuses to give him any financial assistance. When Roland goes with Lucy to look after Richard’s kids (played by the real-life children of the director) he comes up with the idea of kidnapping them for ransom as he mistakenly presumes Richard must be ‘loaded’. Once Richard realizes that his kids have been taken he instructs his wife not to call the police and instead convinces her to take out the money she has in savings to pay for the ransom. Richard though uses this money for the loan while offering Roland only a small portion of it. Roland refuses the offer and the two bicker while the kids remain locked inside a car outside in a parking lot with the temperature nearing a 100 degrees.

The mark of a talented director isn’t how good they are when given a big studio contract and all the money they need, but instead what they can do when on a shoestring budget. Make no mistake this thing on a technical level struggles, but much can be blamed on the extremely poor transfer that’s streaming on Amazon Prime where they apparently found a very grainy video print and made no attempt to clean it up. The result is faded, scratchy, and at certain points even shaky similar to back in the 70’s (if you’re old enough to remember) when a teacher would show a movie in school and film would begin to jump and the image onscreen would get blurry. Fortunately the shaking bit here is only temporary, but Amazon should’ve had better standards before they offer a film up for streaming. Granted it’s nice to see a hard-to-find obscure flick, but at least some effort should’ve been given to restoring it.

Anyways, if you can get past all of this, it does have its share of intriguing elements. I loved the way it captures the Jersey boardwalk scene of the era and juxtaposes between the rich and poor and how both sides seem to be desperate in their own unique ways. There’s no ‘good guy’ here. Everyone is screwed-up and filled with human foibles.  The amusement comes with seeing just how corrupt they can become without totally falling over-the-edge.

Beckel is excellent. This was only is third feature film appearance after debuting in The Paper Chase yet he comes into his own here and exudes the perfect caricature of a down-and-out, irritable young man who wants no part of the system and only looking for ways to cheat it. Luckinbill isn’t as strong and the ultimate confrontation between the two doesn’t work though you do get to see Danny DeVito in an early role as a bartender as well as George Hearn, who later became a big Broadway star in the play ‘Sweeney Todd’, as a bank manager. A young Josh Mostel, who later reunited with the director in the film Stoogemaniahas a really amusing bit as a wheel-of-fortune arcade operator who inadvertently lets down his guard and gets taken advantage of by Beckel.

Spoiler Alert!

What I didn’t like was the ending. The whole film, up until that point, was filled with a lot of delicious twists, but once it gets to the finale it had no idea where to go and falls completely flat. Granted having the kids die in a car from heat stroke would be way too severe for a playful dark comedy, but ultimately there’s no cause and effect. Intriguing ideas get entered in, but then quickly forgotten. At the end everything goes back to normal like everything we watched didn’t have an impact on any of the characters. In a good story the characters are expected to grow and change during the course of a movie and I really didn’t see that here especially with Richard.

Having Beckel act like he had now ‘made it’ simply because he’s got $10,000 in his pocket from the kidnapping was unrealistic. Even if you add in the gold watch and fancy car, which Richard also gives him, it would still not be enough to retire on especially with the way Beckel spends it. I was expecting to see him back in a desperate situation as he was clearly not going to be living high-on-the-hog for that long and having the movie stop while he’s ‘living-it-up’ is a cop-out. It’s also not clear if his girlfriend Lucy was in on the kidnapping plot, or not. During the movie it’s made to seem like she was a victim too as she’s found in the home tied-up, but then at the end she meets Beckel at the fancy hotel he’s staying-at. If she was in cahoots with him the whole time that should’ve, at the conclusion, been better confirmed as just having her show up at the hotel doesn’t mean she was a part of the plan and may have just went there because he told her that’s where he was staying.

Alternate Title: Atlantic City Jackpot

Released: June 10, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Chuck Workman

Studio: Independent-International Pictures

Available: Epix, Amazon Video

The Exorcist: Italian Style (1975)

exorcist3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mayor’s family becomes possessed.

Mimmo Baldi plays a 10-year-old boy named Luigi who comes upon a small amulet lost in a field while playing soccer with his friends. He puts it into his pocket and then begins to behave in unusual ways including assaulting a young woman he meets while walking home. His father is Pasquale (Lino Banfi) who’s the mayor of the town and running for reelection. He and the rest of the family notice the increasingly odd behavior of their son and decide to call-in a doctor (Gigi Bonos), but when he’s unable to do anything they get desperate and ask for the services of a local demon hunter known as L’Esorciccio (Ciccio Ingrassia) who’s reputed to have an ability to exorcise demons, but in reality is a fraud. When he tries to do a fake exorcism on the child nothing initially happens, but when the amulet falls out-of the child’s pocket and onto the ground the child is considered ‘cured’. However, his older sister Barbara (Barbara Nascimben) then retrieves it and soon begins acting in the same dangerous way. Their father wants to keep this issue as far away from the press as he can for fear it will hurt his reelection chances only for him to eventually come into procession of the amulet himself where his wild and shocking behavior gets put on full display for everyone.

While this film has been seen in a better light in recent years it was considered when it first came-out as ‘the worst movie of all-time’ by the Italian public and lambasted as such even decades later. Ciccio Ingrassia, who was a much beloved comedian, who had been starring in comedy films for the past two decades, became shaken by the response and harsh criticism and vowing he’d never direct another movie again and while he did continue to star in them through the 90’s he kept  to his promise and never directed any others.

It’s hard to say where the film, which is clever at times, went wrong for the moviegoers as the comedy is there if you’re patient. I’ll admit the special effects are scant and not too impressive. The film tries to emulate the classic one of which this is a parody by putting-in most of what that one was known for into this story though it does compromise on some of it. For instance during the exorcism the bed that the girl is on begins to levitate, but the projectile vomit is not done. They do have her spit something at them, but in parody it’s always good to go overboard and the film missed a prime opportunity to do something visually hilarious like drowning the exorcist and his assistant in a mound of green muck that flies out of her mouth, or something to that effect. The swivel head doesn’t get done either, at least not with the girl victim, but instead it’s saved for later when the father becomes possessed, but the effects here look cheap and not believable.

In some ways this is a smart movie as it doesn’t just depend on a barrage of gags to keep it going, but instead creates an actual character driven story where they react to the craziness going on with a befuddled amusement, which to me was the best element. Banfi is very funny as the conniving husband/father who’s convinced that these satanic events are just something that his political opponent (Tano Cimarosa) is behind, so that he’ll lose the election. Ingrassia has his moments too and there were some parts that had me laughing-out-loud though the sped-up running, where the son chases the father around their yard looks cartoonish and should’ve been avoided. The soundtrack is also a problem as it’s blaring and doesn’t give-off a creepy vibe. Even if it’s just parody when it involves a famous horror movie it’s good to at least play along and give a spooky facade to it, which with the music selected here doesn’t do that.

Spoiler Alert!

The wrap-up where seemingly everyone in the town, while attending a public event, becomes possessed, at least for a few minutes, as they randomly pick-up the amulet that gets passed around from one person to another becomes dizzying and silly. Having the story center on the family characters was when it worked and that’s where it should’ve stayed. While certain segments could’ve been played-u more there’s enough here to be enjoyed as long as you accept it as a simple comedy done on a shoestring.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 11, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ciccio Ingrassia

Studio: Dear International

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

Deadly Games (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid versus Santa Claus.

Thomas (Alain Lalanne) is a 10-year-old who’s a wiz with computers and technology. Not only has he set various booby traps throughout the large mansion that he lives in with his mother (Brigitte Fossey), but he can fix cars and even drive them. Despite being super smart he still believes in Santa Claus while his friend Pilou (Stephane Legros) tries to convince him that he isn’t real. Thomas goes on the computer in an attempt to communicate with Santa, but instead gets a vagrant (Patrick Floersheim) on the other end pretending to be the jolly red fellow. He gets Thomas to give out his address and also reveal that his mother is a rich corporate CEO. The vagrant goes to his mother’s company and gets a job as a Santa, but is soon fired by her when he slaps a child. In revenge the vagrant, still in his Santa costume, goes to Thomas’ house where he plans to kill him, but Thomas uses his technical ingenuity to set a trap.

The film is an unusual hybrid between playful children’s comedy, a holiday film, and a slasher horror, which only could’ve been made in France where filmmakers aren’t under a repressive studio system that forces all scripts to conform to a cookie-cutter formula and here allows them to deviate between genres. Many have labeled this the original Home Alone and in-fact writer/director Rene Manzor threatened to sue John Hughes, who had directed the other one, insisting that he had essentially remade his film without permission. There are though quite a few differences between the movies to the extent that I didn’t think it was an unauthorized remake at all. If anything it reminded me more of another French classic Le Joutabout a rich kid living in a big place with a wide assortment of toys. This is also the best of the killer Santa movies as You Better Watch Out and Silent Night, Deadly Night took themselves too seriously while this one has a playful edge that manages to be both amusing and tense.

The kid certainly has an engaging quality and his love for his elderly grandfather (Louis Ducreux) is quite endearing, but he’s also just a bit too smart. I was okay with him being keen on the gadgetry, but having him get underneath a car and able to not only fix it, but also drive it was going too far. I wasn’t sure that a 10-year-old could reach the pedals with his feet and still be able to see over the dashboard. Part of what makes horror movies intense is having a victim appear vulnerable, but right away with the kid being so incredibly ingenious it makes the odds stacked against the killer and thus their cat-and-mouse game not as intriguing. I also really couldn’t stand the kid’s mullet haircut.

The home is over-the-top as well. It gets referred to as a mansion, but really seems more like a castle that’s bigger than anything I’ve seen anyone else, even the billionaires and celebrities, reside in. It doesn’t even seem like a real place, but instead, in certain shots, a miniature model and at other points a painting. All the secret rooms gets a bit dizzying including the hidden one that can be entered via an old refrigerator (are they really expecting us to believe that a 10-year-old kid, no matter how smart he is, could build that?). Another moment has Thomas getting trapped inside a life sized maze, but who the hell would take the time and effort to build a maze in their very own home, which again ends up getting too creative for its own good and negates the tension instead of enhancing it.

The Santa character is a boring. Usually horror movies make an effort to give the psycho, whether it’s through flashback or dialogue, some sort-of backstory, but here this guy pops-up without any idea of who he is, where he’s from, or why he’s so crazy. There’s also a few segments where he gets caught in a trap, like when he falls through a trap door and stuck in a net, but no shot showing how he got out of the predicament. Seeing how he gets himself out should’ve been shown each time (it’s shown in a few scenarios, but not all) in order to make the plot seem more reality based and less cartoonish.

Overall, despite the over-direction, it’s still a fun, wild ride that could be enjoyed by the whole family. It does get a bit intense at times, but the quick-thinking kid always seems to be pretty much in-control. Outside of the pet dog getting stabbed none of the other killings are seen and only the feet of the dead bodies are captured on camera to represent their demise, which should make it palatable for most kids to sit through without having nightmares afterwards.

Alternate Titles: 36.15 code Pere Noel, Game Over

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 18, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Rene Manzor

Studio: Deal

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)