Tag Archives: Brandon Maggart

Hail (1973)

hail 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The President goes nuts.

The President of the United States (Dan Resin) is going insane and it has become painfully obvious to all those around him. He wants to suspend congress and elections and has created concentration camps where hippies and other ‘liberal subversives’ are taken and he even drowns mice in buckets of water for relaxation. His staff decides it is up to them to take him out before he puts the country at risk. They hold a gumball lottery and whoever picks the gumball that has the number one on it will be chosen to carry out the assassination. The oldest member of the group who is 90 gets it, but when he chokes on the gumball while chewing it before putting in his dentures it is then up to the Secretary of Health (Richard B. Shull), but the President has spies that have infiltrated the group and is fully aware of what they are trying to do and has a secret plan of his own.

This film is satire the way it should be. It makes fun of both sides and manages to get more hits than misses. It was made in an age before political correctness and wasn’t afraid of who it might offend and thus throws it all out there in a creatively reckless and experimental fashion making it enjoyable all the way through. The pace is breezy and a terrific time capsule to a bygone era.

There are some unique scenes here that you won’t see anywhere else. Some of the highlights include a 4-man ‘hand band’ where a group of men get together to play ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’ for an audience by cupping their hands together. The scene where the President’s army attacks and beats hippies at a commune that is done in slow motion and to the tune of ‘Amazing Grace’ by Judy Collins is effective and the twist ending involving a wooden leg isn’t bad either.

Director Fred Levinson shows great potential. The variety of camera angles, stylish editing and knowing humor are all first-rate and should have been the start of a great career. Unfortunately the rumor is that Richard Nixon didn’t like the film and considered it a personal insult and used his connections to put pressure on the studios not to distribute it, which eventually led to it falling into complete obscurity. The only other thing that Levinson did afterwards was directing the famous Hertz commercials that featured O.J. Simspson sprinting through an airport terminal, which is a real shame and waste.

Gary Sandy, who later became famous for playing Andy Travis in the classic TV-series ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ is highly engaging as a radical hippie leader who disguises himself as an army general. Brandon Maggart is also amusing as a nervous National Guard Sergeant.

The only weak link is Resin as the President. He is probably best known for playing the Tidy Bowl man in some TV-commercials during the 70’s. Here his performance is sterile and one-note. Shull and Dick O’Neill come off as much more interesting simply because they are far better actors.

The film is dated, but in a fun way. It brings back to life the chaotic atmosphere of the era and makes you feel like you are being thrown into the middle of it. The film is extremely rare and hard-to-find, but worth a look if you can locate it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Alternate Title: Hail to the Chief

Released: July 27, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Fred Levinson

Studio: Cine Globe

Available: None at this time.

You Better Watch Out (1980)

you better watch out

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: This Santa isn’t jolly.

As a young boy Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) witnessed his mother being groped by Santa Claus, which was apparently his father in the disguise, but it nonetheless created a disturbing image in his mind that shattered the ideal he had for the mythical man. Years later as an adult working a thankless job at a toy factory Harry starts to believe he is Santa Claus and even spies on the neighborhood children to see which ones have been naughty or nice and keeps meticulous records on each. Then on Christmas Eve he dresses up as Santa and delivers presents to some needy kids at a hospital, but also comes into contact with a group of condescending people outside of a church who he then kills. This sends out a police alert where everyone in the city including the regular townspeople is on the hunt for him and Harry tries to avoid them while continuing to deliver his gifts.

For some reason this film never created the controversy of portraying Santa Claus as a killer like Silent Night Deadly Night did even though this film came out 4 years earlier.  Critic Leonard Maltin came down hard on that one in his book, but seemed to like this one, which is the whole reason I gave this one a chance 25 years ago, but I remember disliking it. Since this film has managed to inspire a small cult following I decided to give it another chance, but I didn’t like it any better.

Part of the problem is that it is very slow and plodding with the majority of the film focusing on Harry as he goes through the daily routines of his pointless and lonely life. Nothing that he does is compelling and sometimes it is even confusing. It is hard to call this a horror film even though that is what it is considered because there are really no scares at all and the gore is at an extreme minimum. Maggart gives a solid performance in the lead, but as my acting teacher in school once said a good actor cannot save a weak script, or as he put it ‘you can’t shine shit.’

There are only two killings and neither of them is effective. The killing done outside a church is captured in a choppy editing style with bloody special effects that look fake and it is carried out by Harry while using a toy ax, which seemed ludicrous. I also didn’t think it made a lot of sense for the victims to have such a snarky and sarcastic behavior especially when they were just coming out of a church service. What is worse is that when the victims are killed no one comes to their aid to see if they can save them they just stand on the church steps and stare at their lifeless bodies. An APB is also put out which is broadcast on the TV news stating that the killer escaped in a white van with Christmas sled painted on its side, which is distinct enough that somebody somewhere would have spotted it and yet Harry continues to drive around unheeded.


The ending is the weakest part. For one thing some townspeople recognize Harry as being the killer Santa and chase him down through the neighborhood streets while carrying torches, but just where in this modern day and age are people going to find torches? Some fans of the film insist that this is homage to the film Frankenstein, but to be clever it still has to make sense and this doesn’t.  There is also the issue of when Harry drives his van off a bridge instead of going into the river below it instead flies off into the sky like Santa on his sled. Now, since the majority of the film was done from Harry’s perspective this might simply be his last delusional moment before he dies, but the film needed to confirm this and doesn’t, which makes it more annoying than anything.

Writer/director Lewis Jackson has stated in later interviews that he got the idea for this movie while smoking a joint and I think he was still smoking them when he made this thing. The majority of people come away from this thing feeling the same way about it that I did, but I know there are a few that insist it is ‘brilliant’ and if you are one them feel free to leave your comments below and let me know what it is you think I am missing because after two viewings I just don’t see it.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Alternate Title: Christmas Evil

Rated R

Director: Lewis Jackson

Studio: Edward R. Pressman Productions

Available: VHS, DVD (Special Edition and in 3D), Amazon Instant Video