Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Real Men (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: CIA negotiates with aliens.

Insurance agent Bob Wilson (John Ritter) gets reluctantly recruited into becoming a CIA agent by another agent named Nick (James Belushi). Nick needs Bob because he looks very similar to an agent named Pillbox (Ritter) who was killed in the line of duty while going through a practice run of delivering a glass of water to some outer space aliens. The aliens had agreed to help the human race when the humans accidentally spilled a deadly chemical into the ocean that’s expected to destroy all life on earth in 5 years. The aliens give the earthlings two choices either the package that will help them clean up the toxic spill, or the other package, which is a deadly weapon that will destroy the planet. The only thing the aliens want in return is a glass of water delivered directly to them by Pillbox, but agents from other countries as well as rogue CIA members don’t want this deal to go through as they’d rather get their hands on the deadly weapon, so they kill Pillbox and now it’s up to Bob to make the water/package trade-off in Pillbox’s place, but Bob thinks Nick is crazy and doesn’t believe the story he’s telling him. Bob is also very timid and hates confrontations, so it’s up to Nick to give him the needed confidence while also stopping him from running away, which he does routinely.

Extremely odd mix of weird humor and sci-fi works for the first half before taking a completely downward spiral by the third. The script was written by Dennis Feldman, who spent years as a still photographer before deciding to try his hand at script writing after his brother Randy sold a couple of his own scripts that were made into movies. Dennis’ first one was Just One of the Guys and then his second was Golden Child, which sold for $330,000 and he was also given the opportunity to direct, but he declined the directing option feeling he wasn’t ready only to regret it when the director who ultimate was hired, Michael Ritchie, changed his story in ways he didn’t like. When the opportunity to direct came again he made sure to choose it.

Much like an indie flick the quirkiness is strong, but engaging. The humor is centered on the way it twists the logic around, so nothing works the way you’d expect while also playfully poking fun at tropes used in other spy genre movies. Ritter is terrific playing against type. Usually he’s the center of the comedy, but here he responds to the zaniness around him with perpetually nervous, shocked expressions. Belushi, with his glib responses and stoic nature where no matter how dire the situation he remains completely calm and collected, is funny as well and the two make a unique pair.

Unfortunately during the second half the chemistry gets ruined when Ritter’s character has this extreme arch where he goes from timid to overly confident. His confident side isn’t as funny and the way he’s able to beat-up anybody with just one punch gets highly exaggerated. I was okay with it occurring once or twice, but at some point his brazenness should catch-up with him. The movie acts like confidence is all you need to find success, but it can also backfire by putting one in situations that gets them way over-their-heads and for balance the story should’ve had this ultimately occur. You’d also think Ritter’s hand would be hurting, or even broken with the way he is constantly punching everybody. Belushi’s diversion into dating a BDSM queen bogs the pace down and takes away from the main action. The wrap-up offers no pay-off and the film despite its bright start fizzles.

Like with most 80’s movies it’s always fun seeing how things have changed as well as stayed the same. Humor-wise there’s a moment where at the time it was considered innocuous, but by today’s standards would be deemed offensive. It occurs when Belushi takes Ritter home to meet his parents where it’s revealed that his father (played by Dyanne Thorne of Ilsa movie fame) has had an operation to become a woman. This is spun as being ‘comically freakish’, but in today’s gender fluid culture would be portrayed differently. The element that remains the same is the portrayal of Russia, which at the time was considered the enemy and rival of the US and now even after the fall of communism and the supposed ending of the cold war, it’s still the same arch rival.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Dennis Feldman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bizarre occurrences at lodge.

Inspector Glebsky (Uldis Pucitis) is summoned to a remote winter lodge known as the Dead Mountaineers due to a climber who fell to his death off a nearby cliff and whose faithful St. Bernard sleeps underneath a portrait of him in the hotel’s lobby. Glebsky was informed from the anonymous call of some unusual activity that was occurring at the place, but once he gets there no one, including the innkeeper Alex (Juri Jarvet), know what he’s talking about. After he meets the strange collection of guests he becomes even more suspicious. Then he’s handed a note stating that Hinkus (Mikk Mikiver), a man supposedly weakened by tuberculosis, is planning to commit murder. When one of the guests, Olaf (Tiit Harm), does turn-up dead, but Hinkus is later found tied-up in his bed, so he couldn’t have done it. A avalanche blocks off all outside roads trapping Glebsky and the guests in the building where more and more weird things begin to occur until the inspector can no longer trust his senses, or even his logic.

Some people ask; what makes a great movie? And the answer is that a good movie needs a unique and distinctive image that impresses the viewer right from the start and which they can take away with them once it’s over. This film has just that image with a bird’s eye view of the hotel that’s so remote, as it’s nestled in the snowy, mountain landscape, and so small when glimpsed from high up, that at first I thought it was a prop, but it’s a real building, which makes it all the more impressive. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such an isolated place, it doesn’t even seem to have roads leading into it. This shot alone, of which it goes back to it a few times, brilliantly sets the tone for the rest of the movie where everything is totally unique and like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

The fact that this was all shot in what was then the Soviet Union, in this case what is now Kazakhstan, makes it even more jaw-dropping as productions there didn’t receive the same type of budget as a studio driven Hollywood one and yet the visual design is impeccable. The inside of the place has a pronounced, surreal look with excellent shadowy lighting and the special effects, while sparse, come into strong play during the climactic surprise ending that like with the beginning leaves an equally lasting impression. The music by Sven Grunberg has a distinct futuristic tone that helps accentuate the outer worldly quality while the sun glistening off the bright white snow during the outdoor scenes makes it seem almost like another planet.

The story was written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and based on their book of the same name. They’re better known for their novel ‘Roadside Picnic’, which was turned into the acclaimed Stalker directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Both brothers also wrote the screenplay and it pretty much stays faithful to the book though there’s a few missing characters and Glebsky’s motivation for going to the lodge is different. Here it was due a mysterious phone call while in the book it was for vacation. The plot at first gets played-up like it’s just another police/murder investigation complete with interviews with potential suspects and even Agatha Christie-like flashbacks showing what each guest was doing when the murder occurred, which had me getting bored as the movie starts out as something really different, so to have it devolve into the conventional murder mystery was disappointing, but by the second act this all changes and that’s when it gets really interesting.

The acting is solid and I enjoyed Pucitis in the lead, who despite having his voice dubbed, has the perfect chiseled features of a hardened police detective. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one and probably the only one in this potential cult classic that desperately needs more attention and a Blu-ray/dvd release, comes at the beginning during Glebsky’s voice-over narration where he speaks in the present about his time at the hotel and how during a ‘slow shift’ the events that he witnessed there comes back to haunt him. I found it hard to believe that he’d only think about this when there was nothing else to do, or in this case a ‘slow shift’, as I’d think it would be on his mind all the time to the extent that he may never be able to go back to police work again as the events would’ve been too traumatizing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 20 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Grigori Kromanov

Studio: Tallinnfilm

Available: dvdlady

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

Iceman (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Brought back to life.

Stanley (Timothy Hutton) is an anthropologist working in the arctic where his team of explorers discover a neanderthal man (John Lone) frozen in the ice from 40,000 yeas ago. The man is taken inside a block of ice to the base where he gets thawed out and resuscitated and then placed inside a simulated environment where he can be studied, but Stanley insists on treating him like a human versus a specimen. He initiates an encounter, which leads to a bonding and Stanley gives him the name of Charlie. Despite the inability to speak the same language, but through the use of a linguistics specialist who is brought in, he begins to learn more about Charlie and how he was on a lonely walk where he was trying to sacrifice himself to the gods in order to save his tribe. When Charlie sees a helicopter flying overhead he races towards it in the belief that it was the mythical god he was looking for called ‘Beedha’ and this motivates him to escape from the lab sending everyone else into a panic in an effort to find him.

Initially, the story does have a ‘roll-your-eyes’ effect with the way Charlie gets revived, which seems too effortless and causes no side effects as he becomes as ‘good-as-new’ even 40,000 years later. Outside of his face he has no body hair, in fact his skin appears baby smooth, even though the presumption would-be that men would’ve had more hair on them than they do now.

Fortunately director Fred Schepisi keeps the proceedings as authentic looking as possible, which helps overlook the story’s implausible leanings. I thought the close-ups the of the red laser cutting through the ice sheet was pretty cool (no pun intended). Filming it on-location in Churchill, Manitoba reflects the arctic climate and far better than having it done on a sound stage. Even the way their personal living quarters where furnished had a nice homey feel though I was confused why there would be a TV present in Lindsay Crouse’s room as I don’t think there’d be any TV station signals in the arctic and thus nothing to watch. (No video stores, satellite dishes, especially in the mid-80’s, or cable either.)

The acting is all-around terrific. Hutton manages to finally lose his boyish appeal that post Ordinary People he had trouble shaking. I liked the curly hair and the grungy post-graduate persona and I enjoyed the short-hair of Lindsay Crouse whose presence does not precipitate a romance, or sexual interest between the two leads. The film intimates that it’s because the Crouse character is supposedly gay, which I didn’t think was needed as it’s quite possible someone could be straight, but still not magically ‘fall-in-love’ with members of the opposite sex even if working closely with them over an extended period of time. The best performance though is that of Lone, who’s Asian, but you’d never have known it and his ability to recreate a troglodyte behavior in a way that seems quite organic is excellent.

The ending created some behind-the-scenes controversy as Schepisi agreed to film the original concept as intended, but then pulled-back on that promise and went ahead and did a different one without informing the studio, which got him canned. I’m not sure what the original ending was like, but the one that gets shown here is perfect as it keeps all the action in the arctic since moving the story off to a different location, or trying to continue the drama of having Charlie enter into modern civilization would’ve been a whole other movie into itself and made the script overly cluttered. Whether the viewer considers Charlie’s ultimate fate to be a happy or sad is up to personal perspective, but for me I found it satisfying.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 minutes

Rated PG

Director: Fred Schepisi

Studio: Universal

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

The Last Starfighter (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen recruited into battle.

Alex (Lance Guest) spends his time playing an arcade game called ‘Starfighter’ and gets so good at it that he becomes the game’s highest scorer. He’s then approached by the game’s inventor, Centuri (Robert Preston), to take a ride in his  futuristic-looking car as a prize. Alex accepts the invitation only to learn that Centuri really isn’t human, but instead an alien recruiting Alex to help them protect the frontier from Xur (Norman Snow) who has found a way to breach the forcefield that protects Rylos and the surrounding planets from invasion. The ‘Starfighter’ game was meant to be a test to find those that were good at the game and then bring them into the battle since the skills needed to win the game are the same ones needed for the battle.

While the film did quite well at the box office, bringing in $28 million from a $15 million budget, as well as spawning a novel version, a video game, and even an off-Broadway musical, I still found it to be a complete bore to watch. I don’t mind sci-fi, space-age movies, which were all-the-rage in the 80’s, but the special effects in this one are so tacky looking that I couldn’t take it seriously. This was one of the first films to use computer graphics instead of physical models, but the result makes this entire galactic war look like a video game. Maybe that was the intention, but I didn’t care for it.

The story, which was written by Jonathan R. Beutel while he worked as a cab driver, is full of too many plot holes. Having the setting inside a trailer park, which wasn’t even Beutel’s idea anyways, but instead director Nick Castle’s, is the only original thing about it. I didn’t understand though why all the people living in the trailer park would be so excited about Alex getting the high score in the game and come out of their homes to cheer him on. To them it’s just a silly kid’s game and becoming good at it doesn’t really mean much in the real-world, or lead to anything, so outside of an idle teenager with too much time on his hands, why care? It would’ve been more ironic had Alex achieved the high score with no one else around making him feel his efforts were under appreciated, only to later learn that in a far off galaxy it was anything but.

The way Centuri finds him, by literally driving up to him in the middle of the night in his snazzy car while Alex is conveniently walking alone is not interesting and this scenario could’ve been played-up in a more creative way by forcing Centuri to tour through the trailer park and visiting the many residents, which could’ve included some offbeat interactions, before he finally comes upon Alex. Also, why are these aliens forced to recruit a human teenager in their effort to save their own space fortress? Aren’t there other aliens within their own galaxy that could take-up the cause? What’s in it for Alex to get involved and put his life on the line for some distant, separate universe that he has nothing to do with and won’t directly affect his life in any way should these planets get invaded? The idea too that only two individuals, Alex and his alien pal Grig (Dan O’Herlihy), can take on this massive army and win are long odds that would only make sense in a cheesy Hollywood movie.

Guest was not the right choice for the part either as he was too old, playing a teen when he was already 23 at the time of filming and looking it. The part should’ve been played by a 12-year-old especially since the storyline is at a bubblegum level that only a preteen would be able to buy into. Preston is certainly a great actor, but I didn’t understand why his character felt the need to wear a human mask to disguise his alien face when all the other aliens freely showed who they were. It’s disappointing too that Norman Snow, who gives an campy performance as the villain, disappears too soon, but I really did like O’Herlihy, who’s completely unrecognizable underneath all of the make-up, and the only thing that makes watching this dopey thing slightly worth it.

The one aspect of the plot that is amusing is the Beta Alex that’s put in Alex’s place to help disguise that the real Alex is missing. These scenes, where the Beta learns to adapt to the human culture in awkward ways, are the only original bits in the film and where filmed after production had already finished when test audiences reacted favorably to the character forcing Guest to return to shoot the added scenes, but because he had already gotten a haircut by this time, the Beta Alex is then seen wearing a wig. Outside of these moments though I found the film to be pretty flimsy especially on the logical end and one of the weakest entries of the 80’s sci-fi craze.

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My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Nick Castle

Studio: Lorimar Film Entertainment

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

Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tarantulas take over town.

Rack (William Shatner) is a veterinarian residing in a rural Arizona town who gets a call one day from a local rancher (Woody Strode) complaining that his prize calf has come down with a mysterious illness. Rack examines the animal, but can’t come to any conclusion so he sends the animal’s blood sample off to a university lab. Diane (Tiffany Bolling) a arachnologist then arrives telling him that the animal was killed by a massive dose of spider venom. At first Rack does not believe her, but as more animals and then eventually people start to fall prey to the same aggressive spiders the two soon pair up to help try to save the rest of the town and themselves.

Over $50,000 of the film’s $500,000 budget was spent on procuring 5,000 tarantulas for the film’s shoot, but personally I didn’t think it was enough. Shots showing the spiders ‘invading’ by having them lining the town’s roadways weren’t really all that frightening because there was still ample space between the spiders that a person could easily step around them and not get bit. The spiders are also very slow, so a potential victim should have plenty of time to get out of the area once they saw them converging.

The idea that the spiders are doing this is because of the heavy use of pesticides doesn’t logically work. For one thing spiders are not like ants and do not create working colonies. They are anti-social and do things alone. They can even be cannibalistic, which is why the production crew was forced to keep each of the 5,000 tarantulas in separate containers to avoid having them eat each other. With this all in mind why then would they begin behaving in ways that’s so unnatural to their species? Being desperate for a new food source is one thing, but how could the spiders communicate with each other to get them all to work together that are completely alien to their nature? Sometimes it’s very hard to get humans to work together even when they know it’s in their best interests, so suddenly getting an anti-social species to do it is breaking astronomical odds.

Another issue is how do these spiders suddenly get so smart? For instance the spiders sneak onto a crop duster plane and kill the pilot (Whitey Hughes) who was going to spray down a pesticide that would’ve destroyed their spider hills, but how would spiders have the sophistication to know that was what he was doing? Spiders cannot speak or understand English, so it’s not like they could’ve ‘overheard’ what the people were planning to do and then went on the counter-attack though that’s ultimately what the movie tries to convey happened.

The film is too dependent on viewers being creeped out at the sight of spiders and hoping that will be enough to carry through for the entire movie as pretty much nothing else happens that’s genuinely scary. Just a lot of shots of spiders slowly moving around while the actors scream in horror and try to flick them off and that’s about it. The ultimate irony is that tarantula bites are not lethal and will cause only a minor irritation similar to that of a bee sting.

Spoiler Alert!

I did however like the film’s ending which has the spiders covering the entire town with a giant cobweb. While it’s obvious that the shot of the cobweb over the town is clearly that of a painting I still felt it was a cool concept, but this needed to come in to play during the second act. Showing how the people fought through this new dilemma would’ve given the story a more creative direction instead of just waiting to the very finish to introduce it and then abruptly ending just when it finally started to get interesting.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 24, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John ‘Bud’ Cardos

Studio: Dimension Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Psychic Killer (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killing through astral projection.

Arnold (Jim Hutton) finds himself behind-bars for a murder he did not commit. He conveys his dilemma to fellow inmate Emilio (Stack Pierce) who informs Arnold that he has special powers that can help Arnold get out of his predicament and once Emilio dies he promises to transfer those powers to him. Then 2 days later Emilio jumps to his death and later Arnold receives a small box that has an amulet inside of it. Arnold puts the amulet necklace on and discovers that he now can kill his enemies through astral projection without him having to be present when it occurs. Police Lt. Jeff Morgan (Paul Burke) suspects what Arnold is doing, but can’t seem to prove it.

The script, which was written by Greydon Clark, who went on to write scripts for many other interesting low budget films, has definite potential and I liked the idea, but the concept isn’t thought through well enough and ends up leaving many more questions than answers. For instance how is Arnold able to know where his victims are when he tries to kill them? All of the killings take place with Arnold sitting in the comfort of his own bedroom in a comatose state, but if that’s the case then what signals him to make the automobile one of his victim’s is driving in go haywire, so that it crashes? How would he know that the victim was for sure driving in it when he mentally causes the car to go bonkers?

How was Arnold able to learn the art of astral projection so quickly? This seems like something a person would have to hone their skills a bit to completely master and yet Arnold acts like a pro at it instantaneously. Also, if Emilio initially had the amulet with all these massive powers then why didn’t he use it to get himself out of jail instead of wasting away in a cell when he really didn’t have to?

With the exception of a death that occurs inside a butcher shop the rest of the killings aren’t all that impressive or gory and in many ways cheesy stuff better suited for a TV-Movie. This could be better categorized as a tacky sci-fi flick than a horror one anyways especially when one the deaths, where a man gets crushed by a giant cement block, gets played-up more in the comical vein.

Ray Danton, a former actor turned director, manages to keep it somewhat lively by introducing a variety of different settings, which is good. However, the outdoor shots get compromised by looking like they were filmed in some studio backlot, which includes a scene where a rich elderly man (Whit Bissell) takes a young chick (Judith Brown) to his isolated cabin hideaway, but cabin’s front yard looks like a giant gravel pit that nobody would either build or buy a place with that type of outdoor eyesore.

While I enjoyed Della Reese and the verbal sparring that she has with Neville Brand inside a butcher shop, the rest of the acting, which gets made up entirely of B-actors on the decline of their careers, isn’t too interesting. Hutton’s presence though is an exception. He had been a rising star in the 60’s doing light comedies, but here he takes a stab at something much darker and he delivers. I thought this would’ve helped him get more movie offers, but instead he got relegated to TV assignments afterwards before eventually dying just 5 years later from cancer at the age of only 45.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ray Danton

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Man with Two Brains (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Brain in a jar.

Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) is a world famous brain surgeon who accidentally hits Dolores Benedict (Kathleen Turner) one day while driving his car. He immediately does surgery on her and during the recovery the two get married. However, Dolores is only interested in Michael’s money and continues to see other men behind his back. Michael on-the-other hand  meets with Dr. Alfred Necessiter (David Warner) who keeps live brains in jars in his condo. Michael (Steve Martin) begins communicating with one of the brains (voice of Sissy Spacek) via telepathy and decides it is she that he really loves. When he becomes aware that the brain will not survive much longer on its own he desperately tries to find a suitable body to transplant it into.

This Steve Martin/Carl Reiner production, which is their third project together, certainly has its moments and I particularly liked the the mysterious elevator killer although once his identity is finally revealed viewers today will have no idea who that person actually is. However for the most part the film is highly uneven. Having it centered as a horror movie parody would’ve given it better focus and the jokes more of a point-of-view instead of just throwing in any haphazard gag it wants many of which have nothing to do with its already paper thin plot.

I realize this is all meant to be a very silly comedy, but having two victims get hit by a vehicle, once with Turner and then later on with Stephanie Kramer, in her film debut, where neither victim shows any sign of blood, scratches, or bruising is a bit ridiculous. This is where if it had been approached as a horror/comedy then they could’ve thrown in some gore, but in an over-the-top goofy way, that would’ve allowed a new dimension for laughs while also given it just a smidgen of reality to it, which otherwise is lacking.

Martin’s ability to have a conversation with a brain in a jar without any special apparatus connecting the two is equally ridiculous. The excuse is that it’s ‘telepathy’, but why is he able to communicate with just the one brain when there are many others that are also in the room? What special ability does this brain have over the others and why is Martin the only one that can hear it and no one else?

Having Martin hear Spacek’s voice as her thoughts come into his brain doesn’t make sense either. The definition of telepathy is the  communication of thoughts and ideas other than the known senses, but nothing to do with voices. Thoughts in themselves don’t have a distinct voice connected to them unless the brain is attached to a voice box, which this one isn’t.  It is true that thoughts going on in person’t own head may have that person’s voice, so Martin should actually be hearing his own voice as his brain deciphers the messages being sent to it from the other one much like if he were reading out loud a note that had been written by someone else.

This also marks an odd career choice for Turner who burst onto the scene with her sexy performance in Body Heat . I realize that in her effort to avoid typecasting she wanted to do something that was completely different from her first film, but her character is too campy and one-dimensional and she ends up getting completely upstaged by Martin in every scene they’re in. The role also has a creepy foreshadowing as her character gains a lot of weight much like she has in reality due to her rheumatoid arthritis. In real-life it’s the drugs and chemo that caused the weight gain while here it’s created through make-up and a body suit and intended for comical effect.

There’s also an interesting behind-the-scenes story dealing with a scene involving a 5-year-old girl, played by Mya Stark, who must verbally repeat back to Martin from memory a very complicated set of directions that he had just told her. Since she was too young to read no cue cards were used and director Reiner figured it would take all day to film the scene convinced that many retakes would inevitably be required for her to finally get the lines right, but instead to his shock she repeated the lines back correctly the very first time. Then 30 years later in 2012 Reiner was standing in line at a store when a female business executive approached him and introduced herself. She stated that they had met many years before, but Reiner didn’t recognize her until she told him that she was that little girl now all grown up.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 3, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Heartbeeps (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robots fall in love.

Val (Andy Kaufman) and Aqua (Bernadette Peters) are two robots who meet one day at the factory while awaiting repairs. They quickly fall in love and decide to escape out into the wilderness while bringing alone Phil a small robot who does not speak as well as Catskill (voice of Jack Carter) a robot made to resemble a cigar smoking vaudeville-type stand-up comedian. However, two employees from the factory, Max (Kenneth McMillan) and Charlie (Randy Quaid) go on a pursuit to retrieve them. There’s also the malfunctioning law enforcement robot known as Crimebuster who also chases after the robots and will stop at nothing to bring them back.

This is a highly unusual film in that it uses robots as its main characters and has their point-of-view the whole way through. Other films have had robots of course, but they are put in supporting roles to the humans.  Here director Allan Arkush was determined to keep it authentic to the ‘robot experience’, by implementing a computer-type logic to everything that goes on, which creates  some surreal moments, but ultimately falls flat.

To be a successful film you still need to have characters that the viewer finds relatable and the robots are too, pardon the pun, mechanical. They never say anything that is interesting or funny and while they at times have an endearing child-like quality they do not create any emotional bond with the audience.

There still needed to be a human as the centerpiece, maybe someone the robots met during their escape, who takes them in and helps them in their quest to hide from those that are after them while also having the robots in some way help their new human friend in whatever personal challenges or battles they were going through.  They are a couple of times that the robots do come into contact with people with one occurring when they crash a party at a swanky hilltop resort with Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov playing two of the partiers, but the guests at the party are broadly played caricatures and the scene itself too brief. They also later meet-up with a couple, played by Melanie Mayron and Christopher Guest, who run a junkyard, but this occurs too late in the movie and should’ve been introduced earlier.

While the wilderness setting is scenic it fails to add much in the way of either excitement or comedy. Having the two escape into a big city would’ve been more compelling. The crimebuster robot that chases after them is too goofy and offers no tension or intrigue. Sometimes even in a comedy it’s good to have a little bit of that, or at least a bad guy that is competent enough to make the viewer wonder, if even for a second, whether our heroes are going to safely outsmart him or not, which doesn’t occur here.

It would’ve been nice too had there actually been some genuine laughs. The only attempts at humor are when Catskill cracks one of his long line of incredibly dumb jokes, which are intended to be lame, but having a few that were actually clever, would’ve helped. Even the talented Kaufman flounders as he uses the same accent of his famous foreign man character that he did during his stand-up routines as well as in the TV-show ‘Taxi’ ultimately making it seem like Latka in a robot disguise.

The make-up effects by Stan Winston are impressive especially the opening credit sequence at the beginning where the camera focuses onto the robots’ various parts close-up. Winston used a gelatin substance that gave off a authentic looking metallic appearance versus how it had always been done before where it had been painted on. However, two holes where created around the robots eyes, which gives it a mask-like appearance and ultimately ruins the attempt although it gets kudos for at least making a strong effort. I also liked the  clicking sound effect every time one of the robots blinked their eyes, which resembled the noise of a camera taking a picture. but it’s not consistent as it’s heard during the first half, but not during the second part.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 18 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Allan Arkush

Studio: Universal

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