Tag Archives: Christopher Lee

Airport ’77 (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plane crashes into ocean.

Rich tycoon Philip Stevens (James Stewart) invites his high society friends to his home in Palm Beach, Florida by flying them over on his luxury jet. Unfortunately a gang of hijackers have decided to use this opportunity to steal some expensive artwork, which is also on the plane, by rigging the venting system with sleeping gas, which temporarily knocks-out the Captain (Jack Lemmon) along with all the passengers. Then as everyone sleeps the thieves steal the artwork while the co-captain (Robert Foxworth), who is in on the crime, pilots the plane, but while going into some heavy fog the plane grazes an offshore oil rig that sends the craft and everyone on it into the ocean forcing the panicked people to figure out some way to signal those on the ground that they need help.

Although Airport 1975 did well at the box office it was critically maligned and producer Jennings Lang wanted to come up with some way to keep the theme fresh and inventive. In most ways the film succeeds and can be considered an admirable sequel as the silly humor from the first two is taken out and the audience gets left with a high adrenaline disaster flick that is convincing and compelling.

Unfortunately the first 35 minutes almost kills it as the film is too intent on setting up contrived soap opera-like storylines for all of its characters. The lovesick gaze that Kathleen Quinlan gives to blind musician Tom Sullivan as he plays a romantic tune on the piano is sappy enough to make some viewers want to turn the movie off completely. The side-story dealing with Lemmon’s relationship with head stewardess Brenda Vaccaro was not needed, although the way he rescues her at the end is quite cool, and is too similar to one between Dean Martin’s and Jacqueline Bisset’s characters in the first film. Lee Grant can play a bitch with a capital ‘B’, but here it gets over-the-top making her so unlikable I didn’t care if she lived or died. I was hoping that, through the course of the film, her character would be forced to show a sympathetic side at some point, but she never does.

If you can get past the clunky beginning then you’ll be rewarded with a genuinely exciting and tense second-half. The special effects are well done and watching the cast, who bravely did most of their own stunts, get doused with gallons of rushing water inside the plane is a tense and impressive moment.

Lemmon is excellent and his presence helps elevate it from just being a cheesy disaster flick. Christopher Lee is good in an uncharacteristically sympathetic role making me believe that maybe he should’ve played more of these types of parts in his career. Foxworth is also effective as the duplicitous co-pilot. He’s played bad guys before, so watching him become evil wasn’t a stretch, but I enjoyed how the camera cuts back occasionally to show his guilt-ridden face as he watches the others struggle to survive.

Screen icon James Stewart is wasted in a part that gives him very little to do other than standing around with a perpetually concerned look on his face and it would’ve been more interesting having him on the plane with the others. George Kennedy gets his token appearance as Joe Patroni the only character to appear in all four Airport films, but it hardly seems worth it. His caustic, brash personality that made him so engaging in the first movie is completely lost here making him dull and transparent and virtually pointless to the main story.

While it does seem a bit too similar to The Poseidon Adventure it still has some great underwater footage particularly when the rescue naval crew puts balloons underneath the craft in an attempt to lift the plane out of the water, which is unique and not shown in any other movie and makes this worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerry Jameson

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Wicker Man (1973)

the wicker man 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pagans on an island.

Police sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) receives a letter stating that their daughter named Rowan Morrison (Gerry Cowper) has disappeared and it compels him to travel by plane to an obscure island village off the coast of Scotland to find her. Once he arrives he finds nothing but resistance from the people and everyone denying that she even exists. He also learns that the people practice a pagan type of religion and begins to suspect that the girl’s disappearance may have something to do with the upcoming harvest celebration and decides to infiltrate the proceedings in order to weed-out the culprits and find the girl.

The film, which was inspired by the 1967 novel ‘Ritual’ by David Pinner, manages to be quite intriguing despite being material better suited for a short story. The whole concept is woven around the big twist that occurs at the end and everything that occurs beforehand is simply a lead up to that, which could’ve been a stretch for feature length but director Robin Hardy’s tight editing and deft use of atmosphere keeps things permanently lodged in the creepy and compelling even though I did figure out at around the 60 minute mark where it ultimately was headed. The film’s original length is supposedly longer than the 1Hour 28Minute release that is currently available, but to be honest I felt this was a perfect runtime for this type of story and stretching it out further would’ve simply been diluting it.

Edward Woodward, who later became familiar to American audiences with his starring role in the TV-show ‘The Equalizer’, is terrific in the lead and I liked that fact that the character wasn’t a completely ‘nice guy’ either, but instead rigidly entrenched in his Christian religious beliefs and arrogantly convinced that his spirituality was superior to anyone else’s. Christopher Lee again makes a good nemesis even though his mod hair style looks a bit goofy. Britt Ekland is on hand as well singing a weird song and even doing a provocative dance although the nude scenes of her from the waist down were done by a body double.

the wicker man 2

The only issue that I had with Anthony Shaffer’s script is the fact that the sergeant must go back to the mainland to get more men from the force to help him search for the girl, which to me was a bit of a loophole because I would think he could’ve just gotten on a phone and called in for more backup without arduously having to travel back. The facts that no one else knows where he is seemed a little implausible as well as most people working on the force have a supervisor that they must report to and who is at least somewhat aware of what case they are working on and where they are traveling to do it.

The ending though, which features an actual giant wicker man made of wood is an amazing site. When it gets set on fire with the victim and even some animals trapped inside of it is quite exciting and I liked how the point-of-view shifts between the people who view it from the ground as well as the victim seeing the people on the ground from inside the burning structure.

I remember seeing the 2006 remake starring Nicholas Cage in the theaters. While the details of it are vague I do recollect coming away from it finding grossly inferior in literally every way to this one and something that should be avoided at all costs.

the wicker man 3

the wicker man 4

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robin Hardy

Studio: British Lion Film Corporation

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

To the Devil a Daughter (1976)

to the devil a daughter 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He sacrifices his daughter.

Father Michael (Christopher Lee) is an ex-communicated priest who runs an offshoot religion called Children of the Lord that seems connected to the Catholic Church on the outside, but underneath the façade it is actually a cover for a group of Satanists. Henry (Denholm Elliot) is the father who signs over his daughter Cathrine’s (Nastassja Kinski) soul at her birth which stipulates that on her 18th birthday she will become the devil’s representative here on earth. Yet as that date approaches Henry begins to have second thoughts and hires occult novelist John Verney (Richard Widmark) to steal Catherine away from her captors and take her away to his place to hide, but Father Michael uses the power of black magic to hypnotize Catherine and force her to return to him while John tries everything in his power to stop it.

One commenter on the IMDB message boards claims this is ‘one of the worst movie to come out in the 70’s’, which only proves that he must not have seen a lot of ‘70’s movies as there is far worse stuff from that decade than this. Although it is certainly no classic it’s still not bad on the technical end and even rather slick. I enjoyed the on-location shooting done in Europe particularly the scene showing a drawbridge that could be lowered and raised manually by one person. The gore and scares are skimpy, but the scene where Kinski dreams of having the devil fetus crawl up her body and she then proceeds to stuff it into her vagina is certainly worth a few points.

Kinski’s presence is the best thing about the movie and the film became notorious in its day for showing her in full frontal nudity even though she was only 14 at the time. However, what surprised me even more was how confident she looked when she did it without any of the expected nervousness or shyness. I felt that because she was the daughter of actor Klaus Kinski and had to learn to group up fast she had a higher level of maturity than most other teens her age and therefore the scene wasn’t as awkward for her as it might otherwise have been.

Lee’s great as always as the bad guy and I particularly enjoyed his facial expressions. However, Widmark  was miscast as he was too old and I didn’t understand why being only a friend of the family he would take such an invested interest in their daughter and such personal risks to get her out of the cult, which I felt would’ve been better suited to the role of the father and cutting out the Gurney character altogether.

This was the last horror film to be produced by Hammer and for the most part it plays like a cheesy rip-off of The Exorcist, but still has enough of a budget and a capable enough cast to keep it mildly enjoyable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Sykes

Studio: Hammer Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video