Category Archives: Offbeat

Nekromantik (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: They like dead bodies.

Rob and Betty (Robert Schmadtke, Beatrice Manowski) are a couple into necrophilia. Rob’s job as a street sweeper allows him to steal human body parts, which he brings home and stores in jars. One day he is able to sneak home a decomposed body and his wife makes love to it, which makes him jealous. Then he loses his job causing his wife to leave him and forcing him into an even darker mental spiral.

Director Jorg Buttgereit has stated that he never intended to be a serious filmmaker and made this simply as a means to rebel at the German film rating system, which would routinely edit out violent scenes from their films and ‘to shock as many people as possible.’ In that category it does succeed, but what I got most out of it was how funny it is with the ‘romantic’ sequence where a couple throws a severed head back and forth between each other in  a sort of playful, loving way while soft, romantic music plays in the background being the funniest.

There’s also an interesting film-within-a-film concept here where it makes pointed observations on the effects of horror movies on the general public while using its characters to inadvertently convey that message. The best scene here involves Robert going to a horror movie inside a theater, which shows  a woman onscreen getting ambushed by her attacker and then cut up by his knife, but the camera then cuts back to the movie audience and observes their detached and ambivalent  expressions even as the screams of the woman continue on the screen, which to me was the film’s most frightening and revealing moment.

The gore factor is of course quite high uses the technique first done in Cannibal Holocaust  where it cuts back and forth between an actual animal killing to that of a human getting cut open until you can no longer differentiate the real from the fake. The special effects are quite authentic looking despite the minuscule budget and even features a cat death although thankfully I think that one was improvised.

The acting by Manowski is excellent as she shows no hesitation or restraint with her role in a demanding part most other actresses would’ve refused. Her onscreen presence adds erotic energy and it’s too bad she didn’t remain in it for the whole duration as it’s only when the two leads interact that it gets  the most interesting. In fact a backstory showing how they first met and what started them off into their sick habit would’ve been nice.

If you’re into trashy gore this flick is for you although it’s more sickening than scary and in fact I don’t consider it a horror movie at all, but more a dark comedy, a very dark one. This was followed 4 years later by a sequel, which continues the story right where this one leaves off,  has the same director and star, and I’m told is even more graphic.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 19, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 15Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jorg Buttgereit

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube

It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer babies shipped away.

Stephen Jarvis (Michael Moriarty) is the father to one of the mutant babies who agrees to have his child shipped away under a court order to a deserted island where it can live freely among the other mutant babies while no longer being a threat to the rest of society. 5 years later Stephen is then asked to join in on an expedition by a group of doctors who want to go to the island to monitor the growth of the children, but when they arrive the children overpower them and force Stephen to return to the mainland in order to meet-up with Stephen’s wife Ellen (Karen Black) who gave birth to one of them years earlier.

Larry Cohen has stated that he wanted to take the theme to its logical conclusion and see what the babies would become like when they grew older, but it was the killer baby plot-line that is what made it so unique and by his point it no longer represents what it initially did. Now they look like overweight versions of the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the setting like a whacked-out revision of The Island of Dr. Moreau and instead of being a horror film it’s more like a sci-fi flick and not a particularly good one at that.

It’s only mildly interesting when it’s on island anyways, but surprisingly the story doesn’t remain there and the  ill-advised humor that gets thrown in does nothing but make this already silly idea seem even sillier. We do however get to see more of the babies than in the first two installments, but this doesn’t help because they end up resembling second-rate clay animation figures, which looks tacky as hell.

Moriarty elevates it with a much needed edge and the fact that he’s staunchly pro-life in real-life gives the part an added layer of genuineness.  The only problem is that the character has the same arch as the father’s in the first two films had, which makes it redundant.

Black isn’t in it much, but manages to come on strong at the finish. I was perplexed however as to why in all three films it was the father who went on a crusading mission to save the babies and never the mother. Why couldn’t the wives/mothers have worked with their husbands as a team on this endeavor and the fact that they don’t seems sexist.

Per Leonard Maltin’s review there’s some ‘serious comments’ here on many modern-day social issues, but when it’s as cheaply made as this you really don’t care. There’s also too many tangents including a poorly staged street gang fight that is unconvincing. The first film was a novelty with a few redeeming qualities, but the  sequels do nothing but drive that original idea into the ground and turn the entire concept into a laughable, forgettable grade-Z farce.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

It’s Alive (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Newborn is a monster.

Frank (John Ryan) and Lenore (Sharon Farrell) are excited about the birth of their second child, but during the delivery they find to their horror that the newborn is a freakish monster who kills all the doctors in the delivery room and then escapes out onto the streets. The police try to track it down while Frank initially avows to kill it himself, but when his paternal instincts eventually set in he has second thoughts.

This is for the most part a fascinating, offbeat look at the abortion issue that seems to be a continuing theme with writer/director Larry Cohen who also co-scripted Daddy’s Gone-a-Hunting. In many ways it’s less of a horror film and more of a character study as the main focus is on Frank and the way his feelings on the baby change during the course of the story. In fact it’s Ryan’s intense performance that’s the film’s mainstay and what really propels it.

The baby itself offers intrigue and I liked how his appearance is kept mostly a mystery throughout, which helps build even more fear, but then we never end up getting to see it up close, which is a big letdown. Instead it’s just fleeting long distance shots and even then that doesn’t happen until the very end. The only reason to see a movie like this is to get a genuine look at the thing and when that only gets teased it’s a rip-off.

The baby’s super intelligence had me confused too. Supposedly it’s deformed due to the mother taking some contraceptive pills, but how does this make the child super smart to the point that he is able to find the school that Frank and Lenore’s child goes to, in crowded L.A. of all places and then eventually Frank and Lenore’s house? This thing is just a few days old, so how is it able to read street signs and find places and be ‘pre-programmed’ as it were to know which school/house to go to?

I was also confused at how the baby was able to attack people by biting into their necks. If it’s a crawling baby shouldn’t the feet and ankles of the victim be the place that suffers injury? And how was the baby able to kill all the doctors and nurses in the delivery room? If he was attacking one of them couldn’t the others have ganged up on the little guy and overpowered him or even just ran out of the room and yelled for help or did they all just stupidly stand there as if frozen while the baby jumped onto each Dr. and bit into them one-by-one?

Never getting a clear consistent view of the baby, nor properly explaining what the ‘logic rules’ were was a big turn-off for me when I first saw this decades ago and I came away considering it a Grade-B schlockfeast with little redeeming value. Upon second viewing I’ve softened on it a bit and appreciated Cohen’s efforts especially on such a limited budget, but the screwy loopholes and flimsy effects ultimately hurts it either way.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 26, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She performs daily chores.

This is a highly unusual film which analyzes in minute detail the monotonous tasks that a single mother performs throughout her day and was apparently inspired by writer/director Chantal Ackerman growing up with a mother who suffered from obsessive/compulsive disorder. The story centers on Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig) a woman raising a teenage son while living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Belgium. During the day she entertains various men with sexual services and uses the money that she receives for this to help maintain things for both herself and her teenage son Sylvain (Jan Decorte). When she is not working as a prostitute she is busily cooking and cleaning, but as each day passes her routine becomes sloppier, which is a subconscious signal that something is bothering her and only at the very end does the viewer find out what it is.

Some have hailed this as a masterpiece including being listed among the ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ by Steven Schneider. Normally I enjoy films that buck the conventional narrative and trying to learn about a character through the way she performs her daily routine as opposed to doing it the standard way through dialogue and action is commendable, but the cinematic flair is missing making this seem more like ‘monotonous task porn’ than a movie.

For instance when we watch Jeanne wash her dishes the camera does it in a very static way from behind her instead of doing something flashy like a close-up of the water glistening of the dish, or from some other provocative angle. Akerman has stated that she took this approach in order to show respect to her character’s ‘personal space’, but this only ends up giving it a closed-circuit TV feel.

Nonetheless I still remained strangely intrigued, but I’m not sure if this was because of some reviews I read beforehand where I was told that about the ‘surprise/shocking ending’ that would somehow make what I was watching all seem worth it, or because of what I was actually going on. I’ll agree that seeing the way she prepares and cooks her various meals is fascinating, but it’s for all the wrong reasons as you become more caught up in the task itself than the character and to say that one’s mind doesn’t eventually begin to wander after 3 hours and 20 minutes of this would be an understatement.

The 3-day arch that she goes through from where she performs her tasks proficiently on the first day only to screw them up more and more by the third one needed to be much more apparent as her ‘screw-ups’, like dropping a newly washed spoon on the floor, are too subtle and not enough of a payoff. Cinema is still a visual and dramatic art form and yet this film runs away from that at every conceivable turn making it seem more like an assault on one’s stamina instead.

Spoiler Alert!

The only true cinematic moment comes at the very end when Jeanne kills one of her male clients, but there’s no reason given for why she does this or what the aftermath will be. To have to sit through all that comes before it just to walk away with unanswered questions is frustrating and almost like being told a joke where the punchline is not an equal payoff to the long, tangent-filled set-up that it took to get there. I like the concept, which is intriguing, but it could’ve been accomplished in half the runtime making this an interesting experiment that can be appreciated as an oddity, but nothing more than that.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 14, 1975

Runtime: 3Hours 21Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Chantal Ackerman

Studio: Olympic Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Devil comes to town.

Based on the John Updike novel of the same name, the story centers on three single women (Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer) living in the town of Eastwick, Rhode Island who are also witches, but don’t yet realize it. All three want to meet up with the man of their dreams, which ushers in Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson). He is a rich playboy that buys the town’s landmark home the stately Lennox Mansion. The three women are initially seduced by his powers only to realize later that he is actually the devil incarnate and spend the rest of the time conjuring up a spell that will send him back to where he came from.

After achieving so much success with The Road Warrior franchise Australian director George Miller decided to take a stab at something completely different, but had to deal with studio politics during the production, which made the final product disjointed. However, despite an array of confusing plot points the offbeat elements are enough to hold your attention and keep things interesting.

The creative special effects add an imaginative flair, but tend to get overdone. I enjoyed the scene where Veronica Cartwright vomits out cherry seeds all over her house, which leaves an indelible impression, but then Nicholson does the same thing later inside a church where it becomes redundant and gross. Watching a floating tennis ball defying gravity is amusing, but not needed. This scene, where all four get together to play a game of tennis, should’ve instead focused on the underlying tensions between the characters, which would’ve given the movie some needed nuance.

I enjoyed Sarandon, who goes from being a repressed nerdette to sexual vamp, but overall the efforts of the game cast are wasted as there’s not enough distinction between the women’s personalities making them seem almost like the same person. The only female that is distinct and memorable is Cartwright who’s campy, over-the-top portrayal of a paranoid religious woman hits-the-mark and should’ve been enough to give her more screen time and at least one scene where she confronts Nicholson directly.

I would’ve preferred also that the women been aware right from the start that they were witches, which would’ve made them immediate adversaries to Nicholson instead of these dopey pawns that passively allow him to seduce them one-by-one in long drawn-out segments that become quite strained. In contrast Nicholson could’ve preyed on the other women in town while these same witches spent their time coming up with ways to stop him and thus creating more of a theatrical battle.

Nicholson is great, but his character like with the others is poorly etched. At the beginning he’s a conniving player who possesses the ability to manipulate these women almost seamlessly, but then during the second half this all changes, but with no clear explanation as to why. His speech though inside a church expounding on man’s ever daunting task to tap into the female’s psychic is priceless:

“Do you think God knew what he was doing when he created women, or do you think it was just another one of his minor mistakes like tidal waves?…If it was a mistake maybe we can do something about it; find a cure, then a vaccine, build-up our immune systems.”

The biggest issue though is that the film needed to be genre specific and played more like a horror movie with dark comical undertones instead of a serene/hybrid comedy. The New England setting is picturesque, but not right for this type of story. A better location would’ve been a town that was mostly cloudy and gloomy while containing buildings that were old and gothic, which would’ve helped to create an eerie atmosphere that is otherwise sorely lacking.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Miller

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Mr. Majestyk (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t touch his watermelons!

Vince Majestyk (Charles Bronson) is a Colorado watermelon farmer who gets into a conflict with Bobby (Paul Koslo) who wants to force Vince to use unskilled drunks to harvest his crop instead of migrant workers. When Vince successfully forces Bobby and his crew off of his property Bobby then goes to the police with assault charges, which lands Vince in jail. It is there that he comes into contact with Frank Renda (Al Lettieri) a notorious hit man. While the two are being transferred by bus to another prison Renda’s men attack it in a shootout, but when the driver is killed Vince takes control of the bus and drives it off into the Colorado wilderness. There he holds Renda hostage while trying to broker a deal with the police where he’ll ‘trade’ Renda for his freedom, but things don’t go quite as planned.

Many people don’t realize that during the ‘70s Bronson did quite a few offbeat films with St. Ives and From Noon Till Three being his two biggest, but this one comes in as an honorable mention. I’ve watched a lot of movies in my lifetime and can usually guess where they’re going, but this one kept me genuinely intrigued most of the way. The script is enlivened with its vivid on-location shooting done mostly in La Junta, Colorado, which includes a well-staged shootout done in the center of town as well as a car chase that takes advantage of an area with scenic rock formations.

The biggest surprise though is Bronson. Sometimes he comes off as stiff and wooden, but here he’s engaging and even reveals a playful side. His character also makes a few miscalculations, which helps him seem more human as opposed to the standard rugged good guy who is always able to think-on-his-feet and constantly able to achieve miraculous split-second decisions.

I was disappointed though with Al Lettieri. He was so effectively nasty in The Getaway that I didn’t think it could be topped or even attempted and yet just two years after that one he again gets cast in virtually the same type of role making it seem like typecasting to the extreme. I was hoping that he would expose a softer side to his persona at some unexpected moment, but it never occurs and he just proceeds to being one mean, angry s.o.b. which quickly becomes boring and one-dimensional.

Lee Purcell though is terrific as his girlfriend. She had played only rural, country girl types before this, so it was great seeing her portray someone more sophisticated and despite her young age, only 26 at the time, she shows great composure alongside her much older male co-stars. Her cool, collected manner makes for an intriguing contrast to Lettieri’s hyper one and should’ve been explored more.

Linda Cristal as Bronson’s love interest is less impressive. Playing a feisty Hispanic woman comes off almost like a cliché and their relationship is forced. She does come in handy as the getaway driver, which I feel is the only reason her character was put into the story to begin with.

Despite the unpredictable touches the beginning is quite contrived, which includes an opening title sequence better suited for a TV-show. The script was written by Elmore Leonard, which made it disappointing as I was expecting there to be some sort of subtext to it, but in the end it’s rather run-of-the-mill with the offbeat elements not enough to make it anything more than a transparent diversion.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Polyester (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban housewife has problems.

Francine Fishpaw’s (Divine) world is crumbling. Not only must she endure constant protests in front of her suburban Baltimore home dealing with people upset with her husband (David Samson) running an adult theater, but she must also deal with his affair with his sexy secretary (Mink Stole) as well. Her teenage son (Ken King) is terrorizing the city by intentionally stomping on the feet of every woman he sees and her daughter Lu-Lu (Mary Garlington) wants an abortion. She then meets the dashing Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter) and the two immediately fall-in-love only to find that he too has a dark-side.

This was John Waters’ first studio backed film and the first to garner an R-rating while the others had been X. While the budget is an improvement and its technicallys more polished the edginess is lost. The humor and satirical potshots don’t have the same zing and are lacking in originality and outrageousness. The gimmick of passing out a scratch-and-sniff cards where audiences could sniff the scents being smelled by the film’s main character seems excessively juvenile and the film begins with a campy scientist (Rick Breitenfeld) talking about it, which sets the tone too much on a silly/cartoonish level.

Divine’s presence helps, but she isn’t as made-up or as flashy as she was in her past films and looking much more like just some fat guy wearing a lady’s wig. I liked that her character was consistently normal for the most part as in the other films she behaved more erratically although what she goes through here is so unrelentingly traumatic that it borders on being almost cruel to laugh at. It’s also not completely easy to sympathize with her quandary as her kid’s behavior is so outrageous you have to question her parenting skills and whether she’s partially to blame for the bad things that they do.

Edith Massey is funny as a poor woman who wins the lottery and now acts a bit nouveau riche about it. It’s also fun seeing the two teens go through a Jekyll and Hyde transformation, but Tab’s appearance adds little although he does sing a decent opening title tune.

The broad humor for the most part is dumb, but I still found myself laughing-out-loud at some of it, which I suppose is a part of Waters’ ‘charm’ at getting you to laugh at things you otherwise wouldn’t. Some of the moments that had me chuckling were: a ‘nice’ picnic that gets ruined by ants and a skunk. Pregnant young women forced to go on a ‘happy hayride’ in the cold rain by two fascist nuns and the pet dog who commits suicide by hanging himself along with leaving a note saying ‘Goodbye cruel world’.  The part where overweight Jean Hill hijacks a bus and chases down a group of teens who assaulted her on the street and then bites into their car tires to disable their vehicle is pretty wacked-out too.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Waters

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Killing Kind (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Always a good boy.

Terry (John Savage) is an angry man suffering from the inner torment of being sent to prison for a gang rape he was forced to participate in. Once he gets out he moves back in with his oppressive mother (Ann Sothern) who dotes over him and ignores all the troubling signs that he clearly displays. Instead of getting a job he spends his time exacting revenge on those who wronged him and then sets his sights on an attractive young lady (Cindy Williams) who has rented a room in his mother’s house. When Terry ends up murdering her his mother decides to help him cover it up because in her mind he will always be a ‘good boy’ no matter what he does.

The film is cheaply made with faded color, grainy film stock and an annoying humming sound that is apparent throughout, but Curtis Harrington’s direction gives it life and keeps you intrigued with its offbeat approach. It reminded me a lot of Paul Bartel’s Private Parts particularly with its emphasis on voyeurism especially how Terry secretly watches their tenant while the neighbor lady (Luana Anders) does the same to Terry.

Unfortunately there’s not enough of a payoff. The action is spotty and the gore is kept at a minimum. It starts right away with the gang rape, but then steps back with the shocks and pretty much implies all the other dark aspects of the story without showing it. The characters are molded into caricatures and more subtlety could’ve been used as to their intentions particularly the repressed neighbor lady blurting out her inner desires and thoughts to Terry without ever having spoken to him before.

Sothern is impressive especially since she was from Hollywood’s Golden Age and spent years working with sanitized scripts, so seeing her jump into such tawdry material with seemingly no hesitation is interesting. Savage’s performance I found to be frustrating as he seems to play the role like someone we should sympathize with, which is hard to do when he kills so many people.

Williams is the standout. Her murder scene is memorable as she struggles quite a bit and then forced to stay still in stagnant water with the same facial expression for several minutes. Later she’s shown lying in a junkyard as rats crawl over her, which proves she’s a dedicated to her craft to allow herself to go through that.

The ending fizzles and seems almost like a cop-out while not taking enough advantage of the other offbeat scenarios that it introduces. Had I directed it I would’ve done it differently. In my version the nosy neighbor lady, would threaten to go to the police about the crime, which she sees, but says she won’t if Terry, who had rejected her advances earlier, agrees to have sex with her. She then forces both his mother and her wheelchair bound elderly father (Peter Brocco) to watch, which would’ve given this potential cult classic the extra oomph to the dark side that it needed instead of coming tantalizingly close, but never truly delivering.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 23, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: Media Cinema Group

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Devil Times Five (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Children terrorize the adults.

Two couples (Sorrell Booke, Shelley Morrison, Taylor Lacher, Joan McCall) visit the winter retreat ranch run by rich businessman Papa Doc (Gene Evans). They are expecting a pleasant wintry getaway, but instead find terror when a group of five children arrive (Leif Garrett, Gail Smale, Dawn Lyn, Tierre Turner, Tia Thompson). The children state that they were lost in the cold wilderness and simply there to seek refuge, but in reality they are psychotic and have escaped from a nearby asylum after the van they were riding in overturned on the icy roads. Now the adults find themselves getting mysteriously bumped off one-by-one. At first they think it’s only an accident and then realize it’s by some ‘unforeseen predator’, but fail to realize it’s actually the ‘innocent-looking-kids’ until it’s too late.

This cheaply made production has problems right away starting with the van accident. To a degree I thought it was cool seeing it overturn several times in slow-motion after it slides off the road, but I found it preposterous that none of the kids were injured and escape from the wreckage without a single scratch despite the adult driver getting badly banged up. In retrospect it would’ve worked better had this scene not been shown at all and left the viewer in the dark about what the true intentions of these kids were only to slowly unfold the truth to the audience just like it does to the adult characters.

The killings are pretty tacky as well. The scene where one of the victims gets set on fire is disturbing, but the rest doesn’t add up including when one child manages to somehow hold their adult victim underwater by using only one hand. There are also several instances where the victim dies right away when in reality they would’ve most likely only been injured including a fall through a window and another one dealing with a stabbing by a small ax. In both cases I think the person could’ve survived the initial blow and simply be writhing in extreme pain, but I presume the filmmakers felt that watching someone squirming around on the ground screaming in endless agony would be considered ‘too horrifying’ for most audiences so they went with the ‘clean-kill’ option, but unfortunately the one-blow-and-then-they’re- immediately-dead concept looks fake.

The pacing is also poor and the tension badly botched. One bit has the kids killing a man in slow motion and done through a black-and-white filter, which despite going on a bit too long is effective. Yet whatever tension gets achieved by watching that is immediately sapped when the next scene shows a drawn out session of one of the adult couples making love, which looks better suited for soft corn porn flick. The music is equally screwed-up as it sometimes sounds creepy while at other points like something heard in an elevator.

I found it interesting that it was directed by Sean MacGregor, or at least for the first three weeks of production before he got fired, as he had previously written the screenplay for Brotherhood of Satan, which had the same ‘creepy kids’-like theme. There’s also the novelty of seeing Dawn Lyn, who was 10-years-old at the time, taking part in her own mother’s murder, who plays one of the adults. Although overall it’s pretty spotty with majority of it being rather flat and forgettable.

Spoiler Alert!

I was also confused at how during the final credits it says ‘The Beginning’ instead of the usual ‘The End’. I presume this was the filmmakers attempt at being ‘clever’ by intimating that these young kids would now go on to murder many more people throughout the countryside, but since they had already killed quite a few it would’ve been more apt to say ‘The Middle’.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Peopletoys, The Horrible House on the Hill

Released: May 31, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sean MacGregor, David Sheldon (Uncredited)

Studio: Cinemation Industries

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Americathon (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Time for a telethon.

The year is 1998 and the nation is suffering from an oil shortage, which forces everyone to get around using bikes and roller skates while cars are now nothing more than immobile objects lived in by those with little money. Due to the energy crisis President Jimmy Carter and his administration are lynched by an angry mob and replaced by a young, new-wave type politician named Chet Roosevelt (John Ritter). Chet’s first order is finding a way to save the country from bankruptcy and he decides to do it by broadcasting a national telethon hosted by B-celebrity Monty Rushmore (Harvey Korman).

The film is based on a skit done by The Firesign Theatre, which was a popular satirical group that poked fun of the politics and issues of the day by performing live action stories with a stream of consciousness narrative. The group was made up of four men who wrote all of their material together and no line of dialogue, or joke was allowed to be included in their scripts unless all four of them agreed on it.

While much of what they did was original and cutting edge this movie fails to capitalize on it. I was confused as to what the intended focus of the parody was supposed to be on. It seemed to be aiming for light satire, but the references and potshots that it does take in connection to politics, television and celebrities are quite sterile and the film is in desperate need of more edginess.

The pacing is also quite poor. The characters are nothing more than broad caricatures and the plot too over-the-top to take seriously, so the emphasizes is clearly on the humor, but the jokes needed a rapid-fire delivery like in Airplane to work instead of gags that are so subtle and drawn out that you barely even notice them.

The casting is off too. John Ritter is an engaging actor, but here he displays no energy at all and comes off like he’s been tranquilized with some sort of drug. Harvey Korman is talented in a sketch comedy setting, but annoying as a lead. The film seems to be aiming for the college crowd and 20-somethings, so why cast someone like Korman, who was in his 50’s at the time, and considered completely out-of-touch with that generation?

I did like Peter Riegert, who is appealing simply because he plays the only normal person in the cast, which should’ve been enough reason to give him the most screen time, which he doesn’t get, in order to help offset the misplaced ‘zaniness’ around him. I was also confused why George Carlin narrates the film instead of Riegert since he seems to be speaking through Riegert’s character.

Out of the entire runtime there are only two segments that are actually semi-funny. One includes a bit where Meat Loaf takes on a driverless car and defeats it like a matador battling a bull. Jay Leno plays a fighter in another segment who takes part in a boxing match against his own mother who continually taunts him by calling him ‘poopy butt’. Unfortunately everything else falls flat and nothing is worse than a comedy that thinks it’s being ‘hip’ and ‘edgy’ when it really isn’t.

Strangely both IMDB and Wikipedia list Cybill Shepherd in an uncredited role as the ‘Gold Girl’, which is very brief. Although the woman playing the part certainly looks and sounds a bit like Cybill I’m convinced that it really wasn’t her.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Neil Israel

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube