Rabid (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Graft patient craves blood.

Rose (Marilyn Chambers) becomes the victim of a horrible accident when the motorcycle she goes riding on with her boyfriend (Frank Moore) crashes and she gets pinned underneath the burning wreckage. Fortunately for her the accident occurs near a clinic that specializes in plastic surgery. The head surgeon (Howard Ryshpan) is able to perform an experimental procedure on her that helps graft her burned skin back to normal, but in the process creates a strange orifice in her armpit that sucks blood from everyone she attacks. Her victims then become possessed by a rare form of rabies that sends the city of Montreal into a panic as the authorities try to control the outbreak while also trying to figure out the cause.

This marked director David Cronenberg’s third feature film and from a low budget standpoint the results are impressive. I was especially amazed by some of the car stunts including having an out-of-control vehicle jump a guard rail and crash onto a highway below where a large semi then rams into it. His ability to somehow hire an entire fleet of squad cars is admirable too as most budget-challenged films will make do with just one police car when having authorities investigate the scene of a crime/accident even though in reality there are usually many especially if the crime or accident is severe like here.

I also loved the way he captures the gray/bleak Canadian landscape, which helps supplement the film’s dark and moody tone as well as the bits of dark humor that gets implemented into the story that made me wish the whole thing had been approached as a black comedy from the start.

The horror though isn’t all that much and genuine scares are light including the scenes showing rabid people attacking others, which becomes both clichéd and redundant. The orifice itself looks like an asshole and similar to the giant one that Cronenberg created many years later for his equally provocative film Naked Lunch.

Unfortunately porn star Chambers doesn’t have the presence or talent for mainstream film work. She broke into the business years earlier with a bit part in the Barbra Streisand movie The Owl and the Pussycat, but to her surprise other film offers didn’t follow, which eventually forced her into the X-rated business, which included starring in the cult classic Behind the Green Door, but she always held out hope to one day breaking back into mainstream movies and finally got it here, but it never propelled her further.

Part of the issue is her voice which is abnormally high-pitched and at times sounds like that of a very young child’s. In certain scenes it’s worse than others, but I found listening to her speak to be disconcerting and distracting although she does still look great naked.

The somber, downbeat ending is unusual for a horror film and it might’ve had more impact had the main character been given more depth. The viewer though learns little about her and she fails to have a distinctive personality, which limits the film’s ability to be anything more than just a curio.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 8, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Cronenberg

Studio: Cinepix Film Properties

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

Dead & Buried (1981)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead people terrorize town.

Dan (James Farentino) is the sheriff of a sleepy New England town called Potter’s Bluff. Normally his days are routine but suddenly he finds himself investigating a bizarre case where a group of people murder a visiting photographer by burning him at a stake for no apparent reason. Soon other strange murders begin occurring and his peaceful little town as well as his own life gets turned upside down as neither he nor the town’s coroner (Jack Albertson) can come up with any answers especially as the dead victims start to come back to life.

The film, which was directed by Gary Sherman, starts off well as the big band era music and picturesque small town scenery makes it seem like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Sherman went to great lengths to keep every scene consistent with a gray color tone including having a giant flag hung over a cliff in order to block out the sunlight during outdoor scenes and keeping everything looking like it was under a continual foggy haze.

The story though can’t match the atmosphere and the interest level wanes pretty quickly. The dead coming back to life angle has been used too often and is no longer novel to the point that it’s now almost boring. There’s no consistent protagonist either. The sheriff eventually becomes one, but there are long breaks where the film follows other characters including a young family, who come into contact with the killers, but they’re not that interesting and it becomes difficult for the viewer to connect emotionally with anyone on the screen.

For years Dan O’Bannon was credited with creating the story and many movie posters advertised this due to his success with Alien, but O’Bannon later stated in a 1983 interview that he actually had nothing to do with the script and disown the film. Ronald Shusett apparently wrote the entire thing, but in order to get it sold he felt a big name writer needed to be attached to it, so he promised O’Bannon that they would implement some of the ideas that he had into the final revision in order to allow them to use his name on the credits, but when the film eventually came out none of O’Bannon’s suggestions had been used.

The film’s tone is yet another issue. Sherman had wanted to approach it as a dark comedy, but one of the film’s investors PSO International pushed for the gore to be emphasized more. The result is jarring as half the time it’s this quant atmospheric chiller while at other points it becomes without warning graphically gory.

Farentino is good, but Melody Patterson, who was 17 years younger than him in real-life, is miscast as his wife. Jack Albertson is the best thing in the movie. Initially I feared that his part was too small, but he comes on strong at the end, which is great and I was also happy to read that despite the fact that he was dying of cancer while the movie was being made he still remained alive long enough to attend its premiere although he had to do it while being in a wheelchair and connected to an oxygen tank.

If you’re looking for a horror movie that emphasizes atmosphere and an offbeat touch then this may hit-the-spot, but the plot needed to encompass a broader time frame as it didn’t seem believable that so much of the town’s people could be in on this secret without the sheriff becoming suspicion of things much sooner than he does. The twist ending is weak too as it’s full of loopholes and creates way more questions than it answers.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gary Sherman

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Blood Rage (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homicidal twin frames brother.

In the summer of 1974 while his mother (Louise Lasser) watches a movie with her new date at a drive-in 10-year-old Terry (Mark Soper) kills a young couple with a hatchet and then pins the murders on his brother Todd. Todd is sent away to an asylum while Terry goes on living with his mother. 10 years later Todd escapes from the mental hospital and Terry uses this as an excuse to murder people at the apartment complex that he and his mother live at while again trying to make it look as though Todd is the culprit.

The film was directed by John Grissmer who in the early 70’s produced The House that Cried Murder an interesting horror flick and a clip from that one gets shown here. He also later directed Scalpel and although that was not perfect it’s still better than this, which outside of some very gory special effects is about as routine and boring as a slasher film can get.

The identical twin/murder storyline, which has been done many times before, is a the biggest problem because even in the most extreme cases you can usually tell one twin from the other and therefore having a plot where people can easily mix the two up is just not realistic. What makes things worse is that one of the twins has curly hair while the other one’s hair is straight and combed back, so the fact that people can still somehow get the two confused is ridiculous.

The film also has too many unexplained plot holes like why is Terry so homicidal in the first place? Does mental illness run in his family, or is there something else that triggers it? And why does Todd so passively allow himself to put into an institution without protest and only after 10 years does he finally begin to profess his innocence?

The film was shot in Jacksonville, Florida, but the places used for the setting are deadly dull visually especially what was then known as the La Miranda apartment complex. This might’ve been done for budgetary reasons, but apartments are cramped places with unimaginative architecture so filming the majority of a movie inside one gives the film a flat, one-dimensional look and the exteriors, which were shot at the University of Northern Florida, were too limited and the action goes back several times to the same spots already used before like a nature bridge, which gives the film a redundant feel.

The acting is poor with the worst coming from Julie Gordon who plays Karen. I’ll admit the dialogue that she is given is pretty stupid anyways, but still watching her pathetic attempts at running or even screaming is so bad that you just wish the bad guy would kill her to put us the viewer out of our misery of having to watch her and the more she stays on the more unbearable the film gets.

The film’s only saving grace is Louise Lasser who helps bring some quirky depth into it. She’s unquestionably a unique talent that can sometimes give a brilliant performance if given the right material. Her neurotic persona and ad-libs add a terrific edge and just seeing her reactions is more fascinating than anything else in the movie. The film might’ve had a chance had she been in every scene and the stupid teen cast scrapped, but unfortunately she appears only sporadically, which just isn’t enough to mask the otherwise threadbare material.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: Nightmare at Shadow Woods

Released: March 29, 1987 (Filmed in 1983)

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Grissmer

Studio: Film Limited Partnership

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

Piranha (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mutant fish attack swimmers.

When two teenagers disappear late one night while swimming in a pool inside an abandoned military complex it’s up to Maggie (Heather Menzies) a professional skip tracer to find them. She recruits Paul (Bradford Dillman) a drunken backwoods loner to serve as her guide. As their investigation continues they learn that the swimmers were killed by some mutant fish that had been created by the government to be used as a weapon during the Vietnam War. Now that the war was over they were being kept inside a secret underwater tank, but when Maggie inadvertently drained the tank in order to search for the bodies she released the fish down the river where they are set to attack a children’s summer camp of which Paul’s daughter Suzie (Shannon Collins) is in attendance.

This is billed as a spoof of Jaws and supposedly according to Leonard Maltin’s review loaded with in-jokes, but to me I saw very little that was humorous and in many ways this film could work as a legitimate horror film on its own. The only amusing moments I found are when Maggie plays a Jaws video game near the beginning as well as a female beachgoer who is spotted reading ‘Moby Dick’, but otherwise the chuckles are light unless you count Dick Miller as an overzealous promoter who is indeed pretty funny.

The film starts out like I wants to be different from the typical horror film and initially I was intrigued particularly with the two protagonists. Normally the female/male leads in these types of films consist of good-looking teens/college aged kids, but here we get a guy who was near 50 and a female, who although being quite attractive has more of a take-charge attitude that is usually seen in a guy. Having the film play against gender stereotypes was for me the best thing it had going for it and I really liked the way the awkward relationship between Maggie and Paul initially developed.

Unfortunately it doesn’t stay that way and by the halfway mark Paul is the one taking control while Maggie is just tagging along, which I found disappointing. It also tries to sneak in a romance angle, which is ridiculous since the guy was clearly old enough to be her father. Paul is also seen continually drinking alcohol, but he never shows any signs of being inebriated and I realize alcoholics have a higher tolerance to the stuff, but still I doubt he would’ve been able to stay so sharp and heroic as he ends up being while still under the influence as he supposedly is.

The fish attacks become monotonous and consist of the same shot of rubber fish put on strings shown swimming towards their prey and the sound effects used for the fish when they start biting was performed by underwater dental drills, which to me sounded cheesy. There are a lot of pools of blood that form around the victim as he/she are being bitten, but not much else in the way of special effects. Only at the end does it get gorier and there’s even a shot of one of the fish coming straight towards the screen with its toothy mouth wide open, but I felt this should’ve been put in earlier.

The supporting cast of eclectic B-movie stars is interesting but underused and this also marks the final film appearance of Barry Brown who at the age of 27 killed himself just two months after the film wrapped shooting and was already dead by the time it was released to theaters. Overall though, the whole thing, which was remade in 2010, is watchable but disappointing. The humor and offbeat elements should’ve been played-up much more and the characters made to be more eccentric especially the two leads. In the end it becomes just another routine horror flick that’s no better or worse than the hundreds of others that are already out there.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 3, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: New World Pictures

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

Night Warning (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His aunt is crazy.

Billy (Jimmy McNichol) has been orphaned since age 3 ever since his parents died in a tragic car accident. For the past 14 years he’s been living with his neurotic aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell), but now that he’s turning 17 he’s ready to move-out. Cheryl though doesn’t want Billy to leave her as she harbors dark incestuous feelings for him and will do anything, even kill in order to keep him with her.

The film was directed by William Asher, who mainly worked on family oriented material like the TV-show ‘Bewitched’ and the beach party movies from the 60’s, so doing this was a stretch for him, but results aren’t bad. Although there’s little gore the well-shot opening sequence in which the father gets decapitated by driving into a truck hauling wooden logs is impressive and more than makes up for it and it even gets shown twice.

The big payoff though is Susan Tyrrell’s performance, which gets completely off-the-charts. She had a love-hate relationship with her real-life mother and the two spent many years not talking to each other and I think this as well as some of the treatment that she received in Hollywood particularly with her working relationship with director John Huston while doing Fat City she used to channel the anger and rejection of her character and it really works. Watching her become more and more unhinged as the film progresses and her increasingly odd facial expressions and voice tones is a treat onto itself and makes catching this otherwise hard-to-find flick worth it.

McNichol’s acting unfortunately cannot match hers and I was shocked to see that he got top billing over her as his talent level, pedigree isn’t even close. His character though is even more annoying as I found it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have seen red flags to his aunt’s mental illness far sooner. The film makes it seem that he had no concerns about his aunt until he turned 17, but I would think living with her for 14 years there would be signs of it earlier. It’s also hard to feel for someone who is so painfully naïve and walks into his aunt’s devious traps when anyone else would’ve know better. It’s dubious too that the aunt would wait until the kid was 17 before making sexual overtures, but I suppose that’s a whole other issue.

Bo Svenson’s as a brash, unethical cop who is profoundly racist and homophobic becomes a strain too. I’m sure at the time this was considered simply ‘soft satire’ that lightly pokes fun at the bad cop stigma, but now it comes off as dated and unpleasant and probably the whole reason why the film hasn’t received a DVD/Blu-ray release.

Julia Duffy, best known for playing Stephanie on the TV-show ‘Newhart’ is on hand in support and although she was already 30 at the time plays Billy’s teen girlfriend and even appears topless, which may interest the voyeurs. However, any story that hinges on one of the characters being put on trial and then found not guilty by a jury due to temporary insanity I just can’t buy into and I don’t think has ever happened at least not in this country. There’s also too much ‘scary music’ that gets played particularly during scenes inside the house that just isn’t needed and almost becomes a distraction and I wish directors and producers would realize that the quiet/natural ambience can be far creepier than any soundtrack.

 

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Alternate Title: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker

Released: January 1, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Asher

Studio: Royal American Pictures

Available: VHS

The Fog (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghostly fog haunts town.

As the town of Antonio Bay gets ready to celebrate its 100th year of existence a mysterious fog creeps into the area at midnight and then strange unexplained events begin to occur. The town’s priest Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) finds a secret diary detailing how 6 of the town’s founders intentionally sank a ship 100 years earlier. Now the ship’s ghostly victims have returned seeking revenge by insisting that 6 people from the community must die in order to make-up for the 6 that originally killed them.

John Carpenter’s follow-up to his highly successful Halloween has gained a fervent following, but in the end it really doesn’t amount to much. Maybe my expectations were too high as I had a friend who talked this up as being great, but the scares are lacking despite a good first act that nicely builds the atmosphere and has some effective visuals particularly the shots of the fog rolling in.

The interesting premise though gets ruined by having things explained too quickly. Sometimes a little mystery can go a long way and not knowing what’s causing the strange occurrences and only having it answered at the very end, or possibly not at all, would’ve made it scarier and more intriguing. The backstory makes the ghosts come off like sympathetic victims looking for justice and therefore less threatening. Instead of being this entity with no known boundaries they become logical, emotional beings that makes the scenario too contained and civilized and less intense than it could’ve been.

You wait for things to finally gel, but it never really does. The victims get attacked in a matter of seconds and the camera then quickly cuts away before any blood or violence is shown. The ghosts aren’t seen much either and amount to shadowy figures from a distance when they are with occasional glowing red eyes, but otherwise they lack visual flair.

Having three heroines was a mistake especially since Jamie Lee Curtis seems bored in her role and almost like she didn’t even want to be there. Her real-life mother Janet Leigh conveys far more energy and she could’ve easily been the star with Curtis cut out completely. The two do share a few scenes together, but frustratingly never any lines of dialogue.

Adrienne Barbeau, who at the time was Carpenter’s wife, is okay as a late night DJ working out of a lighthouse, but her over-the-air pleas to her young son Andy (Ty Mitchell) to get out of his house to escape from the ghosts came off as unintentionally funny. The simultaneous climaxes that occur at two different locations with some cast members fighting off the ghosts inside a church while Barbeau does the same inside the lighthouse doesn’t work and if anything the finale should’ve happened completely inside the lighthouse since that was a more unique setting.

The direction is competent and it’s not like this film, which was remade in 2005, is a bad one it’s just not particularly exciting or interesting. The horror needed to be amped up and the pacing quicker particularly as it got into the second act. The only moment in the film that impressed me had nothing to do with the horror, but instead was the shot showing Barbeau walking down a long, winding outside stairwell to get to the lighthouse, which was filmed on-location at the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse in Marin County, California.

 

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

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

The 7th Annual Horrorween Film Festival: October, 2018

We’re proud to announce for the 7th straight year our annual Horrorween Film Festival here at Scopophilia where we scour the dusty VHS bins to find you the most obscure, the most bizarre and hopefully the scariest horror movies around from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Some of them you might never of heard of while others you might’ve forgotten about. This year we go all over the globe to find lost gems not only from here in the states, but from Australia and even a couple Italian giallos. Whether it’s a slasher film or a thriller, or just a good old fashioned ghost story we try to keep the variety coming. Hopefully we’ll find a few good ones in the process, but like in past years there’s no guarantee.

Blazing Saddles (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Black man becomes sheriff.

Classic western parody centers on a new railroad being built during the 1870’s and how an attorney general named Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) connives to have it run through a town called Rock Ridge, but in so doing devises a plan to have the residents run out, so the railroad can be put in. He hires a bunch of outlaws to ride into the town and terrorize the people hoping they’ll be scared off and move, but instead they put in a request to the state’s governor (Mel Brooks) for a sheriff. The inept governor gets tricked into hiring a black man named Bart (Cleavon Little) to act as the sheriff, which sends the racist residents of Rock Ridge into an outrage.

The film was known at the time for its outlandish humor, which thanks to political correctness is now considered even more outrageous and would most likely have no chance of being made today. The film’s biggest sticking point deals with its excessive use of the N-word, which writer/director Brooks was pressured to take out by the studio executives (along with many other things), but he resisted insisting that co-writer Richard Pryor and star Little had their blessing to keep it in and that most of the letters he received that were critical of the word being used were from white people. Personally I felt that it was realistic for its setting, which was supposed to be 1874, so in that regard it worked.

The stuff that got on my nerves was the constant anachronistic jokes dealing with people that weren’t even alive when the film’s setting took place. This type of humor gives the film too much of a campy feel and should’ve been scrapped. I was also disappointed when Gene Wilder talks to Little about his past and how he was accosted by a gun-toting 6-year-old, but the film doesn’t cut away to a reenactment of this, which would’ve been hilarious to see, even though it does do this when Little talks about his own past.

The funniest bits that I did find myself laughing-out-loud to where the ones involving Brooks as the cross-eyed governor, but I was frustrated that the streaming video that I watched did not have the scene where Brooks goes to the town of Rock Ridge and mistakes the wooden dummies that are there as being real-people. I remember this scene vividly when I watched it on network TV back in the 80’s and thought it was hilarious, but apparently this segment is only available on the Blu-ray version.

The acting by the supporting cast is great with Korman getting the best film role of his career. Liam Dunn is memorable as the town’s pastor and I got a kick out of Jessamine Milner as a racist old lady who later tries to make amends with Bart, but only under certain conditions. Madeline Kahn is quite good too in a send-up of Marlene Dietrich and rumor has it that she intentionally gave a bad performance in Mame, which was filming at the same time, just so the director would fire her, so she could then get the part here, but still be paid for that one as her contract stipulated guaranteed pay as long as she was terminated and didn’t quit.

The only bad performance comes from Little, who is just too serene and laid back almost like he’s treating the whole thing as a joke and doesn’t get into his part at all. I would’ve expected to see some anger from his character over the way he had been treated by white folks, but none is conveyed and instead he comes off like some guy picked off the street who mouths his lines and that’s about it. The part was intended for Richard Pryor who would’ve given the role the extra edge that it needed.

Spoiler Alert!

As controversial as the film is it’s the bizarre ending that has always had me the most baffled as it breaks the fourth wall and has the characters without warning go from the western time period into the modern-day. When I first saw this years ago I thought it was the weirdest thing I had ever seen and didn’t like it as I felt it ruined the story as I was enjoying seeing the town’s residents take matters into their own hands by literally beating up the bad guys as well as realizing that their racist ways were wrong. Having them suddenly thrown onto a Hollywood backlot made it too gimmicky and took away any possibility for some minor depth/message that the story might otherwise have had.

In retrospect I can only conclude that Brooks did this to show that these characters were never meant to be a part of the true west. In fact the whole reason that attracted him to the project, which was based off of an idea by Andrew Bergman, was because of its so-called ‘hip-talk’, which had 1974 expressions done in an 1874 setting.

If this was the case then the film should’ve started out with the characters in the modern day and then transported them via a time machine into the old west. The movie is so goofy anyways that I can’t see how this funky added element could’ve hurt it and then at the end when they return to the present it would’ve seemed more fluid and less like a cop-out where the writer’s ran out of ideas, so they decided to just go weird.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mel Brooks

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Lost and Found (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting keeps couple together.

Adam (George Segal) is a college professor vacationing in France whose car collides with that of British divorcee Tricia (Glenda Jackson). He tries to get her to write a letter admitting that she was at fault, but she instead writes the exact opposite while doing it in French, so he wouldn’t know. When he finally catches on to this he tracks her down at the ski resort and again collides with her this time on skis. Eventually they find a way to reconcile and even fall in love before finally marrying yet when they return to the states they start fighting again over just about anything until it seems that is all that they do.

Sloppy, poorly structured romance should’ve never been given the green light. The characters are bland and one-dimensional and the humor cartoonish while the couple’s relationship is strained to the extreme. The story has no momentum and the inane fighting seems put in simply to give it some comical conflict that leads nowhere and eventually becomes tiring.

The main problem is that the two reconcile too quickly. Viewers who watch these types of films enjoy wondering whether ultimately the couple will get past their differences and tie-the-knot, which is what compels them to keep watching, but here any suspense of that is ruined when they get married within the first half-hour and thus the arguments that they have afterwards is anti-climactic. The film would’ve worked better had the two remained antagonistic. The conflict could’ve started in the French Alps and then continued onto the college campus by having the Jackson character work as a prof in the same department as Segal and had their animosity only slowly melt away when they’re forced to work on some project together with the wedding bells then coming in only at the very end.

What makes this movie odd is that it reteams Jackson and Segal as well as the writer/director team of Melvin Frank and Jack Rose who all did A Touch of Class together just 6 years earlier. One would presume that this would be a sequel to that one with Segal and Jackson playing the same characters that they did before, but that’s not the case. In retrospect that’s how it should’ve been played and it would’ve then avoided having to show the dumb, over-the-top way that the two meet here, which is so forced and corny that it cements this has being a bad movie before its even barely begun.

The supporting cast manages to add some life. I got a kick out of Maureen Stapleton as Segal’s free-spirited, hippie-like mother, but she was only 52 at the time and didn’t even have any gray hair making her look much too young to have given birth to a middle-aged man in his 40’s and was in fact only 9 years older than Segal in real-life. Paul Sorvino is amiable as a talkative cabbie and the segment where he and Jackson try to resuscitate Segal after a failed suicide attempt is the only mildly amusing bit in the film.

The ski resort scenery is picturesque although it was actually filmed at Lake Louise in Albert, Canada and not in the French Alps like the movie suggests. You also get to see John Candy in a brief bit and Martin Short in his film debut, but everything else falls painfully flat and I couldn’t help but feel that the entertainment world had passed both director Melvin Frank and Jack Rose by. They had written and directed many successful comedies during the 40’s, but what passed off for funny back then now seemed seriously dated and it should be no surprise that they both only did one more movie after this one.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Melvin Frank

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Big Jake (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Grandfather tracks grandson’s kidnappers.

In 1909 a group of outlaws led by John Fain (Richard Boone) raid the McCandles homestead and kidnap their grandson (Ethan Wayne). Martha (Maureen O’Hara) is the home’s matriarch who decides that the help of the army and Texas Rangers just won’t do and the family’s estranged grandfather, Big Jake McCandles (John Wayne) will. Big Jake, who was once a legendary gunfighter in his day has been roaming the west alone for many years, but once he gets word that his grandson has been kidnapped he snaps into action using the help of an old Apache associate named Sam (Bruce Cabot) to help track where the kidnappers are.

This another film where in Leonard Maltin’s review book he gives two different takes of the film depending on which version, older vs. newer, that you have. I realize Maltin does not review all of the movies that are in his book, but whoever reviewed this movie in the older versions gave it only 2-stars and describes it as an ‘uneasy combination of a traditional Wayne western and a Butch Cassidy-type spoof’. In the newer versions Maltin or whoever did the review now suddenly likes it and gives it 3-stars calling it ‘an underrated western that’s well paced and handsomely shot’. The only consistency between the two is that both consider Boone’s performance as being ‘especially good’.

For me the original review is far more accurate. Although the film does start out with a rather offbeat, Avant-garde opening everything that comes after is formulaic and mechanical. The plot is too basic and not all that exciting or gripping you never see or learn much about the boy who has been kidnapped and therefore one’s concern for his safety wanes. It starts out right away with the violent kidnapping without any backstory and then deviates into a lot of side-story adventures until you almost forget about the kidnapping plot completely only to finally come back to it with a so-so shootout finale. In a lot of ways the kidnapping theme could’ve been excised completely as the only time it gets amusing is during Wayne’s bantering with his co-stars as they ride around looking for the bad guys, so everything should’ve centered on that while possibly changing the plot around to them looking for gold or lost treasure instead.

Wayne’s presence is the biggest detriment as he has played this domineering, stubborn old codger for far too long and there needed to be a fresh new spin put on it, but none is supplied. I was hoping for one brief moment that the arrogant, brash Wayne character might be proven wrong at something, or forced to swallow his immense pride just to keep things balanced, but of course its only everyone else that has do that while the mystical Wayne proudly plods on like he can do no wrong.

I thought the introduction of the automobile into the plot, where some of the men decide to ride in those while Wayne stubbornly sticks with his horse, might offer this by having the old-fashioned character eventually forced to modify his thinking and embrace change and modernization. In reality everyone must eventually have to do this at some point in their lives, so The Duke should too, but instead here the reverse occurs, where those that adapt to change are made to look foolish while the hard-headed Wayne rides off unblemished, which to me made it too agonizingly predictable.

Having Wayne’s real-life son Patrick playing Big Jake’s feisty and rebellious son is fun, but I wanted their confrontations to be played up more. Christopher Mitchum is okay too as Big Jake’s other kid who rides a motorbike and this was the last movie that Mitchum did with Wayne because afterwards he quit speaking to him due to Wayne’s right-wing leaning politics, which I found ironic since 25 years later he ran for a California congressional seat as a conservative republican.

O’Hara is sadly wasted and seen only during the film’s first 15 minutes and then that’s it. Singer Bobby Vinton also appears at the beginning, but his acting is terrible and fortunately for the viewer his time on the screen is brief.

The only thing that I liked about the movie is the gorgeous view seen outside the ranch home in the opening scenes and I wished that the entire story had taken place in the home so we could keep enjoying its breathtaking surroundings, which was filmed on-location in the Mexican state of Durango. Otherwise everything else is a bore.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated G

Director: George Sherman

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video