Category Archives: Offbeat

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

Crash! (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wife has occult powers.

Kim (Sue Lyon) and Marc (Jose Ferrer) are a married couple with a 30-year age difference between them. Initially they were a happy twosome, but then Marc got into a car accident that left him bound to a wheelchair and the passion between them lessened. Now Marc resents the fact that Kim no longer seems to love him and worries that his attractive and much younger wife will go off and find another suitor. He plots to have her killed by having his trained doberman jump into her car as she’s driving and attack her. While the dog does injure her it’s not enough to kill her. As she lies in her hospital bed Marc sneaks in and disconnects her from her intravenous tube, which he hopes will be enough to end her life, but he fails to notice that she’s clutching in her hand an artifact that she had bought earlier at a flea market, which gives her special psychic abilities. These powers allow her to terrorize Marc even when she’s not there by making inanimate objects, including both her car and his wheelchair, come to life and begin attacking him. 

This was the first feature length film directed by Charles Band, who has gone on to have a long career both producing and directing B-horror films some of which have been successful. This one reveals his producer mentality by keeping the flimsy plot moving by adding in a lot of action, in this case tons of car stunt footage, to the mask the fact that the story itself doesn’t have much going for it. To a degree the car crashes are well choreographed, but there’s too many shots of police cars getting destroyed, which is reminiscent of the car chase action comedies making this seem more like a silly comedy than a would-be horror film.

The most impressive thing is the driver-less car. This is similar to the concept used in cult flick The Car, but that automobile had a roof over it and darkened windows, so you presumed that a stunt driver was inside controlling it, but here this vehicle is a convertible and there’s no one sitting in it even as it careens down the road. How they were able to pull this off I don’t know, but this fact alone makes it far more interesting to see than the other one even though that one, for whatever reason, received more attention and fanfare despite both coming-out at around the same time.

I was willing to give this 6-points, but then Band makes the misguided mistake of repeating near the end the car crash explosions we’ve seen before making it seem like a ‘highlight reel’. I’m not sure for the reason other than alluding to the mysterious occult power communicating to  Kim about what has gone on while she was in the hospital bed, but it was unnecessary and comes-off like amateurish film-making to the extreme.

The eclectic cast of familiar faces who were once A-list stars, but now forced to accept B-grade material in order to stay busy, is interesting and helps save it a little. I was particularly impressed with Ferrer who gives a convincing performance and doesn’t just ‘phone-it-in’ despite the otherwise subpar quality of the script.

Lyon’s appearance here is intriguing as well as she shot to fame back in 1964 as the beautiful teen Lolita in the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name and was considered one of the most stunning stars of the decade, but here she plays a part that ends-up making her look quite ugly. Not only is her face bandaged up through most of it, but when they do finally come-off she is shown to be full of garish scars. There’s also scenes where her eyes are blazing red and resembling that of a demon. I’m not sure if she took this role to play against her beauty stereotype, which she reportedly was not a fan of anyways, or she just accepted the offer because she needed the work, but the things she does here is about as far removed from Lolita as one could possibly get, so watching this simply for that reason may make it worth it to some.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 24, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Band

Studio: Group 1 International Distribution

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Tubi, Amazon Video

Disconnected (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Receiving harassing phone calls.

Alicia (Frances Rains) is a young adult woman who brings an elderly man (William A. Roberts) up to her apartment one day so that he can use her phone to make a call. However, once he leaves she begins receiving odd calls at all times of the day and night where loud unexplained sounds emit from the receiver. She also gets a call where she overhears a conversation between her boyfriend Mike (Carl Koch) and twin sister Barbara-Ann, who are apparently are seeing each other behind-her-back. She then breaks up with Mike and begins dating Franklin (Mark Walker) whom she met while working at a video store. Franklin seems nice at first, but she’s unaware that he’s also the notorious serial killer who has been murdering young women in her area.

This horror oddity is the product of Gorman Bechard, who while still a film student decided to make a movie on his own with the low, low budget of only $40,000 and filming it almost entirely inside his tiny one-bedroom apartment. While it’s not a complete success it’s offbeat enough to hold your attention and guaranteed to keep you guessing to the very end.

The scenes inside the video store I enjoyed the most particularly Franklin’s complaints at how it didn’t have enough foreign films, or older movies, which was always the criticism I had of my local video stores too. The dark humor of Franklin hanging a crucifix over his bed where he commits the murders and the little prayer he does before he offs his victims I found amusing. Bechard’s odd camera shots including one segment done with black-and-white, freeze-frames is another asset that keeps it inventive.

The performance by Raines, who is beautiful, is excellent and I felt she would’ve had a long career ahead of her had she not giving up acting in order to raise a family. I was not as enamored though with the two guys playing the cops who lend a cartoonish flair that was not needed. I didn’t like too that one of them gets interviewed by someone sitting behind a camera that we don’t see and asking a bunch of questions almost like it’s a documentary, which begs the question as to who this person was and why does he just interview the cops, but no one else?

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest problem though is that it gets rid of the Franklin too quickly without playing up that scenario as much as it could’ve. It also cuts away without ever showing how the cops are able to subdue him, or how Alicia is able to get away, which seems like a standard scene that a horror movie fan would want to see and not just have discussed later.

The weird calls ultimately become boring. It also takes Alicia too long to figure out that maybe a good way to stop them would be to unplug the phone from the wall, which she finally does at the very end, but most other people would’ve done it a hell of a lot sooner.

The twist ending where the old man that was seen at the start, but then disappears only to return and be shown walking out of her apartment makes no sense. Some viewers have speculated that maybe he was a ghost of some kind, but that’s not made clear. My personal feeling is that there was no meaning to it and it’s intentionally left vague, so the individual viewers can read into it whatever they want, but it’s not a satisfying way to end almost 90-minutes of viewing and in many ways, despite the interesting bits, makes it quite annoying. A better, more focused conclusion would’ve certainly helped.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gorman Bechard

Available: VHS, Tubi, Blu-ray (Limited Edition only 2,000 copies printed) 

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t say ‘cleaning woman’.

It’s the 1940’s and private investigator Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) gets a visit from Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) who wants him to investigate the mysterious death of her father, which she believes to have been murder. Rigby’s investigation turns up two lists both showing names of people who were either friends or enemies of a person named Carlotta. As Rigby continues his research he becomes menaced by a man who shoots him and steals the lists forcing Rigby to interview a wide array of different people in order to get to the truth.

In the spring of 1980 Martin got together with Carl Reiner and screenwriter George Gipe to go over his next movie project idea. He had just gotten done starring in Pennies from Heavena 1930’s period musical, and wanted to do another film from that era, a comedy that was entitled ‘Depression’. While going over the plot he mentioned using a clip from an old movie and splicing it into his film and making it a part of the story. This gave Reiner the idea of doing an entire movie centered around old movie clips ultimately leading to them using footage from 19 vintage films from Hollywood’s golden era with most of them being dramas that were meant to be taken seriously, but with Martin’s character responding to the lines mentioned by the actors in the clips in such a way that it becomes funny.

Incorporating a plot completely around old movies is certainly an inspired idea, but the result is only so-so. On the technical end you can clearly tell when an old film is spliced into the scene because it’s footage is much grainier than when it shows Martin or Ward. Having it all filmed in black-and-white helps a little but the new footage is too pristine and intentional scratches should’ve been added to make it better match the old stuff.

As for the story, well, it works for awhile, but then starts to get downright boring by the third act. There are definitely some laugh-out-loud moments, but the concept wears itself out. Some have called this a one-joke movie, but I would describe it more as a joke that gets told over-and-over again until it’s predictable and redundant. Having old film clips put in during a certain part of the movie, but then focusing on other comedy angles during the rest of it would’ve worked better. Had it spliced-in only 1 or 2 other movies and with a smaller character count would’ve created less of a diluted effect as ultimately there’s just too many people to keep track of and the plot itself is too fabricated to hold much interest.

Martin is excellent and the fact that he didn’t watch any movies from the 40’s in order to prepare for the role as most other actors would’ve done, was a wise decision as he ends up creating his own style instead of coming-off like he’s imitating somebody else. Ward is good too and while she isn’t particularly funny she does make for a excellent straight-man, which is what a solid comedy needs by having a normal person play-off the other wackiness around them. Carl Reiner is engaging in a send-up of Erich Von Stroheim and it’s interesting seeing Reni Santoni appear here as he played a young Reiner 15 years earlier in the movie Enter LaughingThe characters though are flat and never evolve, which like with the other issues described above, make this movie a novelty experiment that never fully gels.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Shirley Thompson Versus the Aliens (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lonely girl meets spaceship.

Shirley Thompson (Jane Harders) is an alienated young adult living in 1956 Australia who one day makes contact with a group of aliens. It happens while her and her biker gang sneak into Luna Park after dark, which is a amusement place for children and when they go into after it’s closed they can go on the rides for free. It’s while doing this that Shirley sees a spaceship and starts communicating with it while the rest of the gang gets scared and leaves. The aliens within the ship tell her that they plan on invading earth and it’s up to her to warn the others of their intent, but if she does it right they’ll reward her with ‘power’, which is what she’s always wanted as she’s felt insignificant otherwise. The aliens then produce a massive rain storm that creates much damage and then the next day they interrupt a radio broadcast to proclaim what they’ve done, but no one believes them especially Shirley’s parents (Marion Jones, John Llewellyn) who thinks it’s a joke. Everyone else responds to Shirley’s alien warnings like she’s a kook, which ends up getting her committed to the mental institution where she then recounts her tale to a cynical staff.

This is the first feature length movie directed by Jim Sharman better known to American audiences for having helmed Rocky Horror Picture Show and to Australians for his work in experimental theater of which he is highly regarded. This film works in line with many of his other Avant Garde efforts where the emphasis is more on the imagery than the story. For mainstream audiences though it may be considered inaccessible as it bucks all areas of conventional storytelling including having it alternate between black and white and color with each scene. There’s also very little dialogue with the focus more on mood. The film does have its share of interesting moments, but how much one appreciates it is completely up to one’s own temperament.

I was struck by how similar the theme was to Sharman’s later film The Night, The Prowler with both movies dealing with an alienated young adult woman still living at home with her parents who feels that no one can understand her and has inner anger/disdain at the world around her. It also has shades of Liquid Skywhich came out 11 years later and dealt with a young woman who befriends some aliens, but instead of being scared of them like everyone else she has a special connection to them and feels as much like a stranger on this planet as they do.

If you’re looking for a typical sci-fi flick then you’ll be sorely disappointed as you won’t even end up seeing any aliens or spaceships. I’m not sure if this was due to budgetary restraints, but in any event the camera stays fully locked on Shirley and becomes more of a satire on life in the burbs and in that regard it succeeds. While not a perfect movie it does have its share of memorable moments especially the ending where Shirley gets strapped to a spinning hospital bed while laughing maniacally.  Why I found this part to be so cool I don’t know, but that’s how the movie works. You either go with the flow or you don’t, but those who are game may find it a fun ride. It’s certainly different than anything you’ll find released today and could only have been made in the early 70’s.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 6, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 11 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jim Sharman

Studio: Kolossal Piktures

Available: None

The Stoolie (1972)

stoolie1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Con man heads south.

Roger (Jackie Mason) is a small time crook who works with Police Detective Alex (Dan Frazier) to trap other thieves by using bait money that Alex gives to him in other to set-up criminal deals that will eventually lead to their arrest. Roger though feels he’s shown little respect giving him the gumption to take the bait money and run off with it to Miami. Alex relentlessly chases after him, but finds many obstacles while Roger meets-up with a lonely woman named Sheila (Marcia Jean Kurtz) who was ready to jump off a bridge until he talked her out of it. The two eventually fall-in-love and get married only to have Alex appear at their door demanding his bait money back, which Roger has already spent forcing him to come-up with other underhanded ways to steal it back.

This was Mason’s film debut in what has amounted to being a very short-lived film career with only two other starring vehicles to his resume that were spread far apart and include the critically panned Caddyshcack II in 1988, and then Goldberg – P.I. in 2011. While Mason was already an established nightclub comedian at the time his foray into television had been rocky including the infamous ‘Middle Finger incident’ on the October 18, 1964 live broadcast of the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ that got him banned from appearing on it and effectively blacklisted from going on other shows or movies. While his humor and outspoken politics have made him an acquired taste he comes off here as not only likable, but genuinely endearing. Director John G. Avildsen manages to use Mason’s frumpy physique to his advantage creating a lovable loser type that makes the viewer want to cheer him on from start to finish and really the only reason why this otherwise oddball film is able to work.

Initially I wasn’t sure if the love angle that gets thrown-in halfway through would appeal quite as well, but fortunately Kurtz acts as Mason’s female counterpart even sporting the same curly mop-top making their romance seem organic. I enjoyed too that the after their first meet it doesn’t suddenly cut to showing them immediately in bed together like in so many other 70’s movies, but instead having them touring a parrot farm. In fact the Florida locations get captured well here as Avildsen stays away from the chic side while delving more into it’s emptiness where lonely souls come looking for some happiness.

Frazier is effective and the second act in which the film cuts back and forth between Mason living it up and Frazer doggedly chasing after him is where it gels, but the minute the two get back together it bogs down as there’s no chemistry between them. Mason becomes too much of a passive observer watching Frazier doing all the scheming, but the hero needs to be the one propelling the action. While the charm remains it’s not as strong by the end and the film would’ve been better served had it stayed with the cat-and-mouse theme.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 17, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John G. Avildsen, George Silano

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video