Category Archives: Offbeat

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

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 Candy Snatchers (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen is buried alive.

Jessie (Tiffany Bolling), her brother Alan (Brad David) and their mutual friend Eddy (Vince Martorano) kidnap 16 year-old Candy (Susan Sennett) on her way home from school and then bury her alive inside a coffin that is connected with a pipe for air. They then call what they think is her father Avery (Ben Piazza), who’s a jeweler, and demand he deliver them jewelry in exchange for her safe return. The problem is that Avery is only her stepfather and has been looking for a way out of his hapless marriage to Candy’s alcoholic mother (Dolores Dorn) for some time. Candy’s set to inherit quite a bit of money once she turns 21, but in the event of her death Avery will receive half of that, so her early demise is something he relishes and therefore he refuses to pay the ransom. To further the complications a toddler named Sean (Christopher Trueblood) secretly sees the three bury Candy and tries his best to get her out and find her help.

This is the rare horror movie where it’s the writing that makes it interesting. Most horror films rely on atmosphere, scares, and gore to make it work, but here it’s the constantly winding scenario that keeps it intriguing. Writer/director Guerdon Trueblood had a background in writing scripts for TV-shows, such as ‘Adam-12′, before he broke into movies and his ability to come-up with clever and unexpected twists is fully evident and if anything it never gets boring.

The story was inspired by the real-life case that occurred on December 17, 1968 when Barbara Jane Mackle, the 20 year-old daughter of a wealthy real estate magnate, was kidnapped by a couple near Duluth, Georgia, who put her inside a fiberglass coffin that had an air pump, a battery powered lamp, and some food and water. They then buried the coffin in a shallow grave and held her for a $500,000 ransom. While there are many differences to the real-life event and the movie the one similarity is that there were unforeseen complications in retrieving the ransom money. The two were eventually caught and Barbara was found alive and freed. She went on to write a book about her experience that was made into a TV-movie entitled ’83 Hours Til Dawn’. Her kidnapper, Gary Steven Krist; also wrote a book about it ‘Life: The Man who Kidnapped Barbara Jane Mackle’.

While the plot is captivating the characters and their backgrounds are quite poor. I did enjoy the casting of Martarano, who got the part because he was a college buddy of  Trueblood’s and who looks like the spitting image of Ernest Borgnine and could’ve easily been either his son, or younger brother. A backstory though to their motives was needed. When did they come-up with this plan and who in the group though it up? Why did they choose this young lady to kidnap as there were hundreds of other kids of rich folks to apprehend, so why this one? Their nervous looking reactions and expressions doesn’t help the tension either because they come-off looking like amateurs in way-over-their-heads that are just waiting to screw-up versus cunning, cold-blooded killers who are a legitimate threat.

I will give actress Susan Sennett, who later went on to marry musician Graham Nash, credit for allowing herself to be put into a tiny box and then allowing dirt to be thrown over it, but her Candy character is too much of a sweet and innocent caricature. She should’ve been well aware that her step father didn’t love her and might not pay the ransom and alluded this to her captors. It’s also hard to believe that living in such a broken-home environment that she’d be so prim and proper. Most teens that come from a bad home-life become rebellious, angry and sometimes even anti-social, which is what she should’ve been more like.

Ben Piazza, who was married to Dolores Dorn in real-life, which is probably why he got the part, is completely miscast. He’s a competent character actor in his other roles, but here he looks too young and with his constantly pouty expression more like a spoiled rich kid straight out of college than a jaded, middle-aged adult. The part should’ve been played by someone looking well into his 50’s with a receding hairline, wrinkled, worn face that could visually give-off the impression of a man run over by the rat race and suburban life and searching for any way out.

Spoiler Alert!

Christopher Trueblood, who was the real-life son of the director, gives an amazing performance when you factor in that he was only 2 when it was shot. However, his inability to say anything, or show any emotion is problem, which keeps the viewer from fully being able to bond with him. The abusive things that his mother, played by Bonnie Boland, says to him is unsettling and the fact that he witnesses a rape is disturbing. I presume that his reaction shots were edited in later and he wasn’t really in the room when the sexual assault was played-out, but still having a kid see that, as the movie implies that his character does, would be very traumatic and make most kids scream and cry, which this one doesn’t. There’s also the issue that his parents both have brown hair while he’s a blonde making it look like he’s not really their kid.

The constantly shifting script goes a bit overboard to the point that it writes itself, no pun intended, into a hole with a ending twist that while being offbeat isn’t very satisfying. The majority of the characters are unlikable and the few that are sympathetic are seen too little. It’s basically a mean movie for the sake of meanness with no other point, or message to it. The ending is a bit confusing as well as we hear a gunshot go off, but don’t know what that represents. If it’s meant to intimate that the kid killed his mother then that’s something we need to see especially since she was such a nasty lady witnessing her going down would’ve been a dark payoff.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Guerdon Trueblood

Studio: General Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Grotesque (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Punks versus deformed boy.

Lisa (Linda Blair) invites her friend Kathy (Donna Wilkes) over to her remote parent’s cabin for the weekend to help her get over a recent painful break-up. Lisa’s father Orville (Guy Stockwell) is a famous special effects artist for horror movies and the home is filled with all sorts of spooky masks and props. Unfortunately a gang of punks lead by Scratch (Brad Wilson) invade the home looking for money. Lisa’s parents are brutally murdered as well as Kathy. Lisa manages to get away, but eventually chased down outside in the snow. Yet the punks do not realize that another person is in the home, Patrick (Robert Apisa), who resides in a hidden room. He’s a boy with massive facial deformities that the parents kept in a secret room, but who is able to escape after the massacre. He then chases the punks down and begins offing them one-by-one while the police and Orville’s brother Rod (Tab Hunter) also go after the punks.

Filmed on-location in Big Bear Lake the film has a similar storyline to the Canadian cult classic Death Weekend and while that one had its share of faults it’s still far better than this, which has so many issues it’s had to know where to begin. The overly exaggerated performances of the punks, particularly by their leader who acts like he’s consumed way too much caffeine, is one of the bigger problems. There’s also no explanation for how they manage to find Orville’s very remote house especially since their van breaks down on the way. They try to ask Lisa for help, but she drives on, so who eventually came to their rescue to get them back on the road, or did they walk there and if so that should’ve been shown. It’s also irritating how they’re shown outside the home one second and then magically inside the place the next, but with no explanation for how they get in.

Linda Blair is certainly a fine actress, but she gets partially to blame for this monstrosity since she also co-produced. Donna Wilkes is quite appealing as usual and had she stayed in it the whole way and became the heroine I would’ve given it more points, but once she goes down it really gets bad. I felt the idea of having her sleep in the same bed with Lisa in Lisa’s bedroom looked a bit odd. If they were 8-year-olds on a sleepover that might be fine, but adult women, who were not in an intimate relationship, would most likely want more privacy and the home from the outside looked to have three stories, so you’d think there would be an extra spare bedroom, or two.

I didn’t like the addition of the Patrick character at all. Patrick gets mentioned briefly by Lisa and her mother, but I felt the viewer needed to be more fully aware that there was a secret room and someone in it long before the punks arrive. I didn’t understand why this deformed individual had such amazing strength either. If he had been cooped-up in a tiny room his whole life then I’d think the reverse would be true. His muscles would atrophy due to under use and he’d be weaker than normal instead of stronger.

Spoiler Alert!

The addition of the Tab Hunter character I actually liked. He plays a rugged, macho guy who tries to single-handily hunt down the punks and plays it with a fun style. I could’ve even tolerated the one twist ending that revealed Patrick to be his son and that Hunter himself was deformed and only able to hide it by wearing a plastic, form-fitting mask created by his brother. What I couldn’t stand was the double-twist, which has the whole thing being a movie created by Orville and as everyone is sitting in the theater watching it the film reel inside the projection booth gets messed with by a wolf man and Frankenstein, who then proceed to scare everyone out of the cinema when they walk in.

There’s no way anyone would get scared by two idiots that look to be wearing a tacky Halloween get-up and to give the whole thing a comical ending when the rest of it had been played-up as being serious is quite jarring. Normally after watching a bad movie and I feel disappointed, but in his case I was angry. It’s a genuine insult to have to sit through this and I honestly felt the writer-director should’ve been punished for having the audacity to make it and think anyone would be stupid enough to enjoy it.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: September 9, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joe Tornatore

Studio: Empire Pictures

Available: DVD, Fandor, Plex, Tubi, Amazon Video

An Average Little Man (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father avenges son’s death.

Giovanni (Alberto Sordi) is an accountant who’s ready for retirement. His son Mario (Vincenzo Crocitti) is following in his father’s footsteps by becoming an accountant as well. He has passed all of his exams and fully qualified, but competition is tough, so his father tries to use his leverage to get his son hired there, or at least have his name pushed to the top of the list. Unfortunately on the morning of the interview Mario is killed by a stray bullet from a bank robbery that was occurring across the street. Giovanni is devastated and the news is so shocking to his wife Amalia (Shelley Winters) that she has a stroke and is no longer able to speak, or walk, or even feed herself. Giovanni doesn’t trust the system to bring the killer (Renzo Carboni) to justice, so he decides he must do it himself by stalking the man and then eventually kidnapping him.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘A Very Normal Man’ by Vincenzo Cerami, who also wrote the screenplay, is filled with many memorable moments. I got a kick out of Giovanni’s tiny car that looked like something he could wear instead of ride and the way he gets around a traffic jam by driving it on the sidewalk. The mounds of paperwork in his office where no one can see each other because they’re literally swallowed up by them is a funny visual as is Giovanni’s supervisor (Romolo Valli) who cleans the dandruff off of his hair and onto his desk. There’s also a scene that is both darkly humorous and highly disturbing where because the cemeteries are filled to capacity the remaining dead bodies must be stored inside a warehouse with each casket put one on top of the other. Families and mourners crowd in to find which one has their loved one in it, but because of the gas coming out of the decomposing bodies that create sporadic explosions that cause the caskets to go tumbling.

The appearance of American actress Shelley Winters is another shocker in that she’s dubbed with an Italian speaking woman. Hearing her in a voice that is clearly not her own is at first disconcerting, but she gives a brilliant performance nonetheless. Normally she’s known for her talkative nature, both for the parts she plays in front of the camera, but also in her real-life interviews, yet she reflects a comatose woman quite convincingly and her facial expressions, particularly when she’s brought into the cabin to observe the killer’s torture, are excellent.

Sordi, a well known Italian film star and comedian, does well too and it’s interesting seeing his hair go from salt-and-pepper to fully gray as the movie progresses. His character though isn’t exactly likable. While he sees himself as being ‘selfless’ as he sacrifices everything, and potentially breaking the rules, for the love of his son, he seems more selfish because why should his son get a unearned break over all the other candidates? While he has his funny share of moments he’s also a bit unhinged even at the beginning with his almost naive belief that a system he knows is corrupt is now somehow ‘morally’ obligated to give him and his son a favor. Maybe this was the intended ironic point, but it would’ve played better had the son been less of a vapid, empty shell.

Spoiler Alert!

What makes this film stand-out from virtually any other is its extreme shift in tone where it starts as a satirical comedy, but ends as a grim thriller. Many script experts will insist this ‘can’t be done’ and in Hollywood would be considered forbidden. It also doesn’t have the inciting incident occur until an hour in even though books like ‘Save the Cat’, which is the ‘screenwriter’s bible’, will tell you it must happen within the first 5 pages of any script. There’s also no forewarning to the killing it’s just a completely random event with no connection to anything that came before, which again most people in the movie business will say is a ‘mistake’.

While I might’ve done it slightly differently by having Giovanni go insane when one of the supervisors refuses to hire his son after promising him they’d do it and then kidnapping that individual to make it seem a little more connected to the first half, I’m still impressed with how effectively it all works either way. It literally breaks every screenwriting rule and still succeeds and should be used as an example to anyone insisting that movie scripts that don’t stringently conform to the Hollywood formula will fail as this one clearly doesn’t.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mario Monicelli

Studio: Cineriz

Available: DVD-R (Italian with English Subtitles) (Moviedetective.net)

Deadly Weapon (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Geek acquires lethal laser.

Zeke (Rodney Eastman) is a high school student frequently picked-on by his jock classmates as well as an abusive alcoholic father. As a refuge he imagines that he’s secretly an alien from another planet and writes stories about it. One day he comes upon a military weapon in a river bed near his home that landed there when the train it was being carried on crashed. He takes it home and begins using it to scare away all of those who harassed him and this catches the attention of Traci (Kim Walker) who used to date the jocks, but now finds Zeke and his newfound laser gun far more interesting. However, Lieutenant Dalton (Gary Frank) is the military official assign to retrieve the weapon and he’ll stoop to any low ball tactic to get it back.

This was another Charles Band production who was notorious for making a lot of low budget sci-fi/action flicks during the 80’s/90’s that were of a dubious quality. This was originally intended to be a sequel to Laserblast, a much maligned bottom-of-the-barrel stinker from the 70’s, but budgetary reasons caused them to pull back on that idea and turn it into a separate story. For what it’s worth this is far better than that one and surprisingly has enough of a budget to mask its shortcomings and even comes-off like it could’ve been Hollywood studio produced. There are though some over-the-top moments like a one-eyed vice principal who beats Zeke with a paddle inside his office and a cliched drunken father who acts like a stereotypical hayseed straight out of the local trailer park that made it seem like it either wanted to be a campy comedy, or unintentionally funny, but it’s hard to tell which one.

The script isn’t realistic as the kid is able to open up the crate that houses the gun with his bare hands without having to use a crowbar even though you’d think such a dangerous weapon like this would be packaged more securely and not so easily accessible to just anyone. Zeke is also able to figure out how to operate it much too quickly. Again, such a dangerous weapon should have a safety feature to make it difficult for unauthorized personal to use, such as having to put in a secret code before it’s operational.

The segment where Zeke and Tracy force four men into the trunk of their car and drive around with them as hostages is kind of funny, but the two able to open the trunk door from the outside too easily. If the men are truly locked into the trunk then a key must be placed into the keyhole to open it, but instead they’re able to raise the door open with their hands and not having to bother to unlock it, which means the men inside should then be able to easily kick the door open and escape.

The film is mostly known for the two stars who are more famous for their appearances in two other cult hits. For Eastman his best remembered for playing Joey in the Nightmare on Elm Street series while Walker’s signature role is that of the snotty Heather Chandler in HeathersWalker is the more interesting of the two as she performs her role in a duplicitous fashion where you’re not sure if she’s a genuinely nice person trying to help Zeke, or just a narcissistic brat looking for attention and escape. Her character though is poorly fleshed-out as she sees Zeke blow-up a building with his gun, which scares off the other jocks, one of whom she is dating, but she then invites Zeke into her car, but how would know she could trust him and he wouldn’t use the gun on her? Why too would this beautiful teen be into a geek like Zeke anyways? To have it make more sense she should’ve been a nerd, who had been bullied by the cool kids and now connected with Zeke’s need to ‘get back’ at them.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s best moment is the ending, which has a surprisingly surreal vibe as Zeke sees the lights of the military vehicles and thinks it’s from the mother ship of some outer space aliens and goes towards it like they’re going to ‘take him home’ and away from earth where he doesn’t feel he belongs. While this intriguing theme has strong similarities to Liquid Sky and Shirley Thompson versus the Aliens it doesn’t fully gel. Had it been approached with a better realized manner of what genre it wanted to be (satire/sci-fi/action/dark comedy) then it might’ve succeeded, but trying to juggle all four genres together gives it a convoluted feel that’s not quite able to cross the finish line and be fully satisfying.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Michael Miner

Studio: Empire Pictures

Available: dvdlady

Figures in a Landscape (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chased by a helicopter.

Ansell (Malcolm McDowell) and MacConnachie (Robert Shaw) are two men on the run in the middle of a bleak, desolate desert. What they are escaping from is never clear, but they’re constantly hounded by a helicopter that seems intent at stopping them. They come upon a small village and steal food and supplies and then continue on their escape, but find trying to get along with each other is just as challenging as avoiding the copter.

I’m a big admirer of Joseph Losey’s films and I also enjoy movies that have an air of mystery and don’t feel the need to have to explain everything, but this attempt at avante garde doesn’t work. The Barry England novel or which this is based and received high critical praise when it came out in 1968 at least made it clear that these two were soldiers who were deserting for whatever reason, but the movie doesn’t even mention this. We’re simply left with a nothing-burger of seeing two guys we have no emotional connection with scurrying around the countryside, which gets old fast and has nothing to keep it compelling though the bird’s eye shots of them on the ground looking like dots as they run at least allows it to live up to its title.

Fans of the film will admit that the story is lacking, but the helicopter sequences and stunt work more than makes up for it, but I found this aspect to be underwhelming. The camerawork of showing the copter bearing down on them while splicing in shots from the pilot’s point-of-view is well handled, but it’s not as exciting as could’ve been because when the pilots have a chance to shoot the men they don’t. McDowell’s character explains that they (the helicopter pilots) are just ‘toying with them’, but the viewer can’t be expected to get wrapped-up in a silly cat-and-mouse contest that has no life or death consequence.

Much of the blame for why this comes-off more like a misguided experiment than an actual movie, can be attributed to Shaw, who was given permission to rewrite the script and promised to have it completed by the time shooting began, but didn’t. Apparently revisions were being made on a daily basis and no one knew where the plot was going, or how to end it, which ultimately makes for a flat and detached viewing experience.

The two leads do quite well with McDowell interesting as the younger of the two, but still more emotionally mature. Shaw is equally fine giving off a maniacal laugh that I’ve never heard him do before. Their bout with diarrhea at a most inopportune time is amusing. While some may find it gross it’s something that could happen to those who haven’t eaten in awhile and feeding off canned food, so in that way the movie tackles a realistic subject other escapees-on-the-run movies shy away from though the shaving aspect was a problem in reverse. I didn’t understand why Shaw would feel it’s so important for them to remain clean shaven when they’re just trying to survive and there’s no explanation for how they were able to remain without beards at the beginning when they were running around with their hands tied behind their backs.

In any case the movie desperately needed a conclusion as way too much is left open-ended. There should’ve been a final twist, like in an episode of the ‘Twilight Zone’ that makes sitting through it worth it. Ultimately it lacks focus with a concept better suited for a novel and never should’ve been made into a movie in the first place.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Losey

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Double Deal (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Double crossing each other.

Christine (Angela Punch McGregor) is a young model married to Peter (Louis Jourdan) a much older man. While Peter is rich and they live in a big house their marriage lacks passion and Christine becomes bored with her existence while Peter continues to have a long-running affair with his secretary Miss Stevens (Diane Craig). One day while out shopping Christine meets a handsome young man (Warwick Comber) on a motorbike. Even though she doesn’t know his name she becomes entranced with his good looks and carefree demeanor. He’s the exact opposite of the stuffy and exacting Peter, so she decides to run-off with him. The two go on many quirky adventures including robbing a grocery store while in clown make-up not so much because they need the money, but just for the thrill of it. They then plot a scheme where the man will pretend to have kidnapped Christine and insist that Peter relinquish his prized opal gemstone in order to get her back. Peter complies, but in the process sets off an array of unexpected twists where nothing is as it seems.

Normally I like films with an offbeat slant and this one certainly has its moments, but the characters aren’t well fleshed-out, which makes for a placid experience. A good case-in-point is the way Christine comes upon the young man, which is while she’s in a shopping center parking lot. Having found that someone has double parked their car behind hers she patiently waits for the owner of the vehicle to come out and move it, but in the process the young man comes along, and noticing that the keys of the car are still in the ignition, jumps into the car and drives away with it while also following Christine home. Once there the two proceed to tear up the place before she packs her bags and runs off with him onto the open road without ever even learning what his first name is.

While as an actress McGregor is quite competent she doesn’t have the looks of a fashion model, which she herself admitted to, and her role and that of the secretary should’ve been reversed with Diane Craig looking far more the model type especially with her piercing blue eyes. Comber is a bit off as the handsome stranger as well. He certainly has a hunky build and chiseled face, but his droopy eyelids give him a odd, sad eye appearance. I also got tired of seeing him constantly wearing a silver bike riding suit that seemed to resembled more of an outfit worn by someone on a spaceship.

Jourdan’s presence helps a lot. This was at the twilight of his career where he was no longer getting leading man roles in his home country of France and therefore open to accepting offers abroad, which is what lead to him traveling to Australia to do this. The filmmakers wanted a big name star to help give the production stature and the movie definitely works better with him in it though the scene where he and McGregor are in bed together was reportedly quite awkward for the two stars given their wide age difference of almost 33 years and took many takes to film.

There are a few memorable moments with my favorite being the grocery store robbery, which occurs in a small outback town, where Christine accidentally releases the money they have just stolen into the air as she gets into the getaway car causing the store owners, who had just been robbed, to run out and busily try to recollect the money blowing in the wind. However, the story lacks soul. The twists get thrown in for the sake of being offbeat, but the characters never grow, or resemble real people in any way. The winding plot ultimately burns out and ends with a fizzle.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 15, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Brian Kavanagh

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: dvdlady.com

The Chair (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The prison is haunted.

Dr. Langer (James Coco) is a psychiatrist who decides to reopen an abandoned prison with the help of his assistant, the beautiful young Lisa (Trini Alvarado). The problem is that the warden, Ed (Paul Benedict) is plagued by nightmares of a prisoner uprising that he had to deal with many years earlier, that cost the life of his friend Joe who he abandoned when he tried to go for help. While he lay hidden Joe was dragged by the prisoners to an electric chair and killed. Now, years later, the prison has become haunted by Joe’s spirit, but Dr. Langer refuses to believe this until he comes face-to-face with the ghostly presence forcing him to apologize to the prisoners who he had initially disbelieved, but the prisoners are seething from a lack of a working fan, caused by the ghost, and the heat in their cells has become stifling and motivates them to take out their frustrations on the defenseless Langer.

This film, which was directed by a man better known for his work in industrial films, is an odd mix of quirky comedy and surreal horror. The first act works as a soft satire to the new wave of ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ psychiatry that has its share of mildly amusing moments. James Coco is perfect as a Dr. who seems confident and in-control to his prisoners, but deeply out-of-control when dealing with his personal life. Had the movie centered solely on Coco, a highly talented character actor whose obesity was the only thing that held him back from receiving better roles, it might’ve worked.This though will be turn-off to the regular horror fan who will likely find the broadly comical overtones as the beginning off-putting and even confusing as at times, at least initially, it doesn’t seem like a horror flick at all.

The second-half gets darker and even features a few deaths though it cuts away too quickly, particularly with the scene featuring the guard named Wilson (Mike Starr) who gets electrocuted in gruesome fashion, but no follow-up scenes showing how they removed his mutilated body, or who discovered him. The flashbacks dealing with the uprising don’t happen until 55-minutes in, which is too long of a wait to be introducing something that’s an integral element to the plot. There’s also numerous shots of an image of an eyeball appearing inside a light bulb, which becomes redundant and isn’t scary.

The man who gets electrocuted on the chair, and whose name doesn’t appear in the credits, is seen too little and needed to have a bigger part onscreen. The shift in tone from playful camp to gory effects is jarring and makes the whole thing seem like it was done by amateurs who had no idea what they were doing. It also features a completely impotent ‘hero’, played by Gary McCleery, who gets for some reason trapped in his cell when everyone else is able to escape and thus cannot not stop, or prevent any of the violence that happens, which makes him a completely useless character that had no need being in the story at all. If anything Coco, who’s fun despite the anemic material, should’ve been the protagonist and having him disappear before it’s over was a mistake.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending features Lisa marrying Rick, but this gets explained through a newspaper headline even though movies are a visual medium and thus should’ve been shown. The twist of some real estate developers deciding to turn the place into a senior citizen center, is novel, but having this occur at the beginning would’ve been better, as watching a bunch of old-timers fighting off the ghosts would’ve been far more entertaining than anything else that goes on.

Alternate Title: Hot Seat

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Waldemar Korzeniowsky

Studio: Angelika Films

Available: VHS, DVD (Import Reg. 0)

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family plays weird games.

Sonny (Howard Trevor) and Girly (Vanessa Howard) are brother and sister who live with their mother (Ursala Howells) and nanny (Pat Heywood) in a large stately mansion in rural England. Despite both being adolescents they still sleep in cribs and behave as if they’re only 5. They enjoy playing what they call ‘The Game’, which is bringing home strangers, usually homeless men that they’ve met at a park, and forcing them to dress in a schoolboy’s outfit and compelled to behave like a child. If they refuse they are then ‘sent to the angels’.

The film was a product of famed British cinematographer Freddie Francis who wanted to make a movie inside the Oakley Court, which is a castle built in 1859 that overlooks the River Thames. He commissioned his friend Brian Comport to write the screenplay with the only condition being that the action had to take place on the Oakley Court property. Comport decided to revolve the plot around a play called ‘Happy Family’ written by Maisie Mosco, which dealt with a family that got involved with role playing games. Both Francis and Comport disliked the play, but were intrigued with the concept and decided to turn it into the genesis for a horror movie.

The film can best be described as experimental and has an intriguing quality to it, which holds your interest for the first 30-minutes, or so. One of the best elements is the alluring performance of Vanessa Howard, who’s able to mix her beauty with that of an evil mischievous nature. In fact the entire cast does an exceptionally fine job despite the material not offering much in the way of characterizations. The cast gives off an energetic zeal that keeps you compelled even as very little else happens. I kept thinking how sad it was that these actors put so much effort into a movie that fell into obscurity almost right away and this it turns out was the very reason why Howard left the profession just a few years later.

Outside of the acting there’s little else to recommend as the flimsy plot gets stretched far more than it should. There’s also no normal character that the viewer can relate to. Initially I thought it would be Michael Bryant, who plays a middle-aged male prostitute that they bring back to their place as one of their ‘new friends’, but he ends up behaving almost as weirdly as the rest. There should’ve been some outside force that intervened like a police inspector that would come to the castle to investigate the disappearance of one of the prostitute’s female clients, played by Imogen Hassall, that he and the two teens kill when they push her off a slide, which could’ve added tension and nuance that is otherwise lacking.

The film is also too skittish with the shocks. It’s supposed to be a horror movie, but there’s barely anything in it that’s all that disturbing. Sure, it does imply some dark things, but it doesn’t show any of it. The victims die too easily to the point that the death scenes aren’t any fun to watch. The part where a woman falls from a children’s slide at a playground and dies instantly is ridiculous as it wasn’t a high enough for the fall to have been fatal.  Another scene is the discovery of a severed head inside a boiling pot of water, but it never  gets shown, which comes-off as a total cop-out. I realize this was made in the 60’s in England where the culture was quite prudish to gore and violence, hence the creation of the infamous ‘video nasties’, which was a list of banned horror movies that came out about a decade later, but if you’re going to create a story that is dark and edgy, such as this one, then you should have the balls to push-the-envelope in order to give it a payoff, which this thing is ultimately devoid of.

Alternate Title: Girly

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Freddie Francis

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporations

Available: DVD, Amazon Video