Tag Archives: Cult

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.

SPOILER ALERT!

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

Lord Love a Duck (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She wants it all.

If you ever wondered where political correctness got its start it was probably southern California in the mid 60’s. Here everything is neutralized and modified so as to ‘keep up with the times’. There’s even a drive-in church where the minister proudly exclaims that the Lord answers every prayer because “whatever happens is the answer”.

Tuesday Weld plays teenager Barbara Ann Greene who can’t be happy unless she has it all. She meets fellow high-schooler Allan Musgrave (Roddy McDowell) who because of his super intelligence is able to figure out ways for her to get what she wants. Yet the more she gets it the more unhappy she becomes.

It’s a satire on our consumer driven society, but it is too restrained and soft. A supposedly cutting edge film looking at our modernized world should have been filmed in color and not black and white. It also should have been faster paced with a heavier emphasis on the zany and outrageous. Instead we only get hints of this with a lot of slow segments and even some clumsy drama. The funny offbeat bits are spread out to thin and do not make up for the other parts that are boring and contrived.

There are some technical problems too including a lot of ‘outdoor’ shots that were really filmed indoors on a soundstage. They fortunately don’t do this anymore, but when they did it looked tacky. There is also a boom mike that is very obvious to see in several shots.

McDowell is not eccentric, nor unique enough for such an offbeat character. Although perpetually boyish looking he was way, way too old to be playing a high school student as he was 37 when this was filmed. Out of all the performers Harvey Korman comes off as the most amusing playing the overtly congenial school principal.

This film does feature an attractive cast. Of course Weld is always alluring, but she has competition from Jo Collins who was Playboy Playmate of 1965. There is also Lynn Carey daughter of the late actor MacDonald Carey from ‘Days of Our Lives’ fame. She is exceptionally good looking and watching here gyrate in a bikini to the latest dance craze is damn near pornographic. For her age Lola Albright, who plays Weld’s mother, is an absolute knockout and she can officially be crowned as a ‘milf’.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 21, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated: NR (Not Rated)

Director: George Axelrod

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD

Maniac (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He wants their hair.

A loner (Joe Spinell) terrorizes New York City by killing young women and scalping them. He then takes their hair, brings it home, and places it (actually he nails it) onto the heads of some mannequins that he has.

In a lot of ways this is the same old mechanical slasher flick as it has all the predictable characteristics of the others that dominated the early 80’s. The story is simple and strung along by long, drawn-out murder sequences. There is some suspense, but it is minimal since we know exactly what is going to happen. The victims are young, good looking women, who are clueless to the dangers that are lurking until it is too late. One segment in particular features a nurse getting off of work late at night, who mentions her fear of the killer and yet for some reason she still foolishly refuses a ride home from her friend and instead walks down a dark, lonely street and into, of course, eventual carnage.

There are also some rather glaring technical errors. One features a woman (the same one who refused a ride) running from the killer by going into an empty subway. Although isolation is the whole factor here there is one shot, taken from inside a departing subway car that clearly shows a whole bunch of people standing just across from her on the other side of the tracks. There is also a segment where Spinell takes his girlfriend to his mother’s grave. When the car pulls up to the cemetery it is a nice, bright afternoon, but when they reach the actual grave it has become pitch black with a strange unexplained fog that has rolled in. Lastly there is the ending. This is a man that has terrorized a whole city and yet only two policemen in an unmarked squad car come to his residence and when they do they don’t even bother to secure the site.

Despite the low-budget problems there are a few things that raise this slightly above the rest. One is the fact that it actually manages to get inside the killer’s head. You hear the inner conversations between his ‘good’ side and his ‘bad’ side. Of course this only touches the surface of a true schizoid personality, but it does offer a little more depth than most. It also helps create a good portrait of a tormented soul and you end up feeling more sadness than fear for the man. The film also consistently has a dark, grainy look, which helps accentuate the ugly theme. Having it take place in New York City gives it a little more distinction and atmosphere.

The special effects are good. The part where he blows a man’s head off, through a car windshield, looks very realistic and has become the film’s most famous scene. The surreal ending, where the mannequins all come to life and exact a sort of revenge, is also well-handled and imaginative. Makeup artist Tom Savini, who also appears as the character of ‘Disco Boy’, has had a lot of success, but the stuff here may be his best.

Director William Lustig shows some panache and Spinell, who also co-wrote the screenplay, gives a surprisingly strong performance, but their attempts at creating a better understanding of a crazed killer prove placid and simply done for shock value.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 26, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Not Rated (Graphic Violence, Brief Nudity, Language, Adult Theme)

Director: William Lustig

Studio: Magnum Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (30th Anniversary Edition)

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Thanksgiving on the road.

This movie’s plot, which is threadbare , deals with a middle-aged businessman named Neal Page (Steve Martin) who is trying desperately to get home to Chicago to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with his family. During his trip he inadvertently meets Del Griffith (John Candy) an overweight, slightly obnoxious shower curtain hanger salesman. Neal initially cannot stand the man, but is forced to sit with him through his plane flight when he is not able to get the first class seat that he had reserved. Unfortunately due to a snowstorm their flight is rerouted to Wichita, Kansas and the two men find themselves paired together again as they try any means of transportation possible to get themselves to the Windy City. Along the way they begrudgingly start up a friendship.

Martin is okay as the exasperated businessman. This film marked a transition for him as he was now moving away from roles where he played clownish, vapid, but lovable idiots and more into crusty and curmudgeon middle-aged men. He is basically used for his annoyed reactions at all of Candy’s crazy antics and for that part he is fine, but there are a wide assortment of other actors that could have played the part just as well if not better. Martin at times still goes back to some of his old shtick like the dopey way he puts on a clenched teeth grin when he is trying to run real fast, which I never found to be particularly funny when he was doing it way back with skits on Saturday Night Live and still don’t find it funny when he continues to do it now.

Candy is by far the best thing about the film and ends up saving the movie from being an uninspired, goofy mess. The character does at times border on being a caricature, but fortunately writer-director John Hughes pulls back just enough to let you see him as a real person. He does indeed have some laugh-out-loud moments. I chuckled at the way he tries to clear his throat when the two men are stuck in a motel room together. The part where he manages to get both his coat sleeves stuck on some car seat levers and he is forced to drive the car with his two legs is hilarious. I also liked the way he gyrates to a Ray Charles song that he listens to while driving and the conversation that he has with a policeman (Michael Mckean) when their burned out shell of a car gets pulled over is a classic.  I thought the idea of having him be a salesman for shower curtain hangers hit just the right note of absurdity and the fact that he carries around a little box displaying all the different types of hangers he has was novel. The only thing I didn’t like about the character is that at the end we find out that he is somehow rendered homeless simply because his wife died 8 years before. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, for one thing he seemed to have a lot of success selling his merchandise, so I’m sure he had money and for another thing there are many men and women whose spouses end up dying, but that doesn’t mean they no longer have a home to go to. To me it just ends up being a cheap excuse for a sloppy sentiment and it should have been avoided.

The late John Hughes’s writing and directing leaves a lot to be desired especially for the sophisticated viewer. The humor that is used is extremely broad and many times downright cartoonish. He seems to be either not confident in himself as a filmmaker, or in the intelligence of his audience to ever be subtle and subdued, but it would have been nice if a little bit of that had been thrown in. He also uses way too many poor plot devices that are simply used to propel the paper-thin story along and would be considered hack writing at most and something that a third grader could come up with. For instance why does the engine of train that the two men are riding in suddenly break down? No logical explanation is given and what are the odds of that happening as well as having Neal’s rental car missing when all the rest of the cars are there. There is also the cab driver named Wolf who decorates his cab with all sorts of pornographic pictures and other provocative ornaments, which is at first funny until you realize that he supposedly works in Wichita, which is a small conservative city and no one would be riding his cab for long and he would be out of business. If there is no truth to the joke then the joke will fail, which it does here. The same goes for the crude, gross, and very hick pick-up truck driver that relies way too heavily on stereotypes and seems to be put in solely as filler.

I did like the fact that it was filmed on-location as the stark wintry like landscapes does indeed put the viewer in the holiday frame of mind. I also liked the fact that for the most part real snow is used. I was born and raised in Minnesota and I can spot the fake stuff right away and I always find it annoying. I liked that many performers from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off appear in brief cameos including: Ben Stein and Edie McClurg although it would have been nice if they were given a little more to do. Kevin Bacon also appears as does William Windom who is amusing as a one of Neal’s clients who can’t decide on what photo layout to use. I was disappointed that he wasn’t given any lines of dialogue, but the fact that he does reappear at the very end after the credits  makes up for it a bit. I also must mention the burned-out skeleton car that the two men drive in, which is the damnedest looking thing since the bus filled with bullet holes in The Gauntlet.

The music score is awful. It has too much of that tinny, synthesized 80’s sound that is unoriginal and does not fit the mood, or tone of the picture in any way. It also gets overplayed in certain scenes and hurts the film’s overall enjoyment.

I would say this movie would be great for the whole family as it does rely a lot on the broad, fast paced humor that most kids love. However, there is one scene where Martin goes into a long, F-word laden rant with McClurg when he can’t find his rental car. The rant in itself is funny, but some might say it is not appropriate for children. Of course these days I have heard kids as young as six, or seven using the word and I have also heard it used just in casual conversation by people I pass by while walking the streets of Indianapolis, so trying to shield the child from it may be futile and they will all sooner or later hear it in abundance anyways.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 25, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG: (Adult Language, Crude Humor)

Director: John Hughes

Studio: Paramount

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

The Longest Yard (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Prisoners play football game.

            Burt Reynolds is Paul Crewe a down-on-his-luck former professional football player who was kicked out of the league due to a point shaving scandal. After going on a long car chase with police he is thrown into the Georgia State Penitentiary where the crooked warden (Eddie Albert) tries to get him to coach the prison football team. Initially he refuses, but after some ‘convincing’ he eventually agrees to play in one game that will feature the guards versus the inmates. The prisoners use this contest as a way to get back at the guards and their brutal treatment of them while the guards approach it as a way to instill their authority.

Some consider this one of the best sports movies of all-time and I would have to agree it is up there. One of the things I liked about the movie is the way it taps into the emotional aspect of not only playing the sport, but watching it. There can be deep seated psychological reasons for why a spectator, or fan, roots for one team over the other.  The prisoners that cheer on their team use the game, as fleeting as it may be, as a sort of equalization and revenge factor to the guard’s authority and corruption. Watching the scenes showing the prisoners cheering their team as they score a touchdown is almost as emotionally charging as the action itself.  Director Robert Aldrich does a great job of using the prison setting and the game as a microcosm of 70’s society and the conflict between the counter-culture and the establishment as well as the haves and have-nots.

The game is nicely choreographed.  The hits look real and the plays are shot in a bird’s eye view just like watching an actual game on TV. The action is easy to follow and it is evident that the filmmakers have a good understanding and appreciation for the sport.  Outside of the final play that is done in slow motion there is none of the fluky, theatrical stuff thrown in that you usually see in most other films of this type. I found myself getting emotionally tied into the action even though I had seen the film many times before.

The only misgiving I had was the segment where the Richard Kiel character slams an opposing player to the ground and announces “I think I broke his fucking neck.” Of course this has become one of the film’s most popular lines and is made funnier when other players and even the game announcer repeats it several more times, but when the injured player is unable to come-to even after being given smelling salts and is carted off motionless from the field it starts to seem cruel to be laughing.

Another scene that I found surprising and had almost as much impact as the climatic contest is at the very beginning when Paul is shown arguing with his girlfriend Melissa (played by Anitra Ford one of the original models on ‘The Price is Right’ game show). She calls him a whore, which has to be the first and only time in film history that a woman has called a man that, but what is even more amazing is when he violently slaps her and knocks her to the floor.  I don’t think I can remember another time where a protagonist male character has done that to a female and yet the audience is still expected to sympathize with the male, which is interesting. The ensuing car chase is one of the better ones you’ll see and the part where he drives the car into a lake while the song ‘Saturday Night Special’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd is playing on the car’s radio and gets muffled as it goes under the water is cool.

Burt is perfect for the role. I love the glib way he delivers his lines and his laid back persona. The fact that he is an anti-hero with obvious personal flaws makes him even more fun. He seems right at home in the southern setting and filming it at an actual state prison gives the film a nice gritty subtext.

The supporting cast is unique. John Steadman as Pop, one of the prison’s oldest members, is memorable and he is the only other actor with a nose big enough to rival that of Karl Malden’s. It is nice to see Richard Kiel, one of the tallest actors you will ever see, with a speaking role.  The part where he starts to cry when he gets hit in the nose is funny.  Charles Tyner is perfectly creepy as Unger and Michael Conrad is compelling in his role as Nate Scarboro. This is also a great chance to see Bernadette Peters in an early career role as the warden’s ditzy and amorous secretary Miss Toot. She wears one of the worst looking beehive hairdos you’ll ever see although there probably isn’t a beehive hairdo that looks good anyways. Former football player Joe Kapp is good as one of the evil guards.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 30, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 1Minute

Rated R: (Adult Theme, Language, Violence)

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming

Tetsuo, The Iron Man (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man turns into metal.

This is one of the most bizarre and fascinating films ever made. It reminded me a lot of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, but with a little more linear storyline and engaging tongue and cheek humor.  It all depends on one’s tolerance as to how much they will enjoy it. Some will find it weird and alienating while others will insist it’s brilliant.

The story centers on a very strange man, played by the film’s director Shinya Tsukamoto, who has a freakish compulsion to stick scraps of metal inside his body.  He cuts his leg open and crams a metal pipe inside of it, which causes him excruciating pain.  He runs through the streets screaming and is hit by a car driven by a man (Tomorowo Taguchi) who is never given any name.  The driver and his girlfriend think that they have killed him and decide to dump the body along a riverbank and then make love in front of it. The next day the man notices while shaving that a metal nail is protruding out of his cheek. Soon metal parts start to grow from every part of his body until he is completely unrecognizable.

Despite being made over twenty years ago I found the special effects to be awesome and able to stand-up to today’s standards. The opening part where the man stuffs a metal pipe into his cut open leg appears so real that it made me cringe. The amount of metal growing out of the main character’s body becomes almost mind boggling and has to be seen to be believed.  The immense metal suit that the actor ends up wearing and having to walk around in is massive and I wasn’t sure how he could even move in it as it looked incredibly heavy.  The stop-action photography is fluid and watching the metal metamorphose in different and imaginative ways is fun. I found the grainy black and white photography to be highly effective and it helps accentuate the nightmarish vision of the story.

The story also features dreamlike segments while although not always making sense and sometimes jarring to the story, still are memorable. The scene where the main character is chased through the catacombs of an isolated train station by a woman who has turned into a robotic mass of metal is cool.  There are a few kinky elements that are shocking, tasteless, and hilarious all at the same time. They include the man’s girlfriend with a mesmerizing stare who becomes a zombie during one of these visions and rapes him with a metal pipe that has sprouted out of her vagina.  Then, a few scenes later, he turns around and rapes her with his penis that has turned into a giant whirring drill.

Although I applauded the film’s no-holds-barred creativity that seemed years ahead of its time, I did feel that it was confusing and disconcerting.  There are too many jump cuts and wild images thrown at the viewer without any explanation. It does finally come together at the end, which is good, but I would have liked a better set-up. I wanted to see more character development, which basically is none and some explanation for why all of this was happening.  A little more conventional narrative could have gone a long way. I also felt that it became too one-dimensional. Metal grows into more metal that grows into yet even more metal until it becomes almost boring. Although the running time for the picture is only 64 minutes I felt that this was actually too long and I would have wanted it shortened even more as the story seems to play itself out and have nowhere to go.

(Spoiler Alert)

Fortunately it is saved by a very satisfying over-the-top ending that nicely brings it all together.  The strange man inexplicably comes back to life and the two duel things out in the vacant city streets. The apocalyptic over-tones here are terrific and the last sequence where the two fuse together to form one giant metal mountain has to be one of the most extraordinary images ever to be put on celluloid.  Their final conversation is insanely funny.

(End of Spoiler Alert)

Again, as I stated before, this is not going to be for everyone. There is a real underground look and feel here that is going to offend some while amaze others. Nonetheless it has justifiably acquired a large cult following that seems to never stop growing and it has spawned several sequels that have all been done by the same director. This one though is still the best of the series. I recommend it to those with perverse, offbeat tastes and an extremely dark sense of humor.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 7Minutes

Rated NR (Intense Imagery, Rape, Graphic Violence, Language)

Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Studio: K2 Spirit

Available: VHS, DVD (Special Edition)

Eating Raoul (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Get rid of perverts.

Paul and Mary Bland (Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov) are a very conservative couple that do not approve of open sexuality. They live in an apartment that is filled with swingers and spend most of the time trying to avoid them while abhorring their behavior.  Their dream is to purchase a large house in the countryside and convert it into a restaurant.  The problem is they have bad credit and are unable to secure any type of loan, so they decide to run an ad in the newspaper promising to fulfill and play-out people’s sexual fantasies. They insist everyone must pay in cash and then lure them to their apartment where Paul hits them over the head with a frying pan and kills them. That way they are able to collect the money they need while ridding the world of all the ‘perverts’.  However, a local con-man by the name of Raoul finds out about their act.  He is a young, good looking, self-described ‘hot-blooded Chicano’ who has the hots for Mary.  He allows them to continue with their scheme as long as he can have the dead bodies afterwards, which he then sells to a company who uses them to make dog food. Things go well for a while, but then complications ensue and that’s when it really starts to get crazy.

Paul Bartel’s hilarious script was initially rejected by all the studios and he spent six futile years trying to get it financed. It was only after his parent’s sold their house and gave him the money that he was able to get the film produced. It definitely has a very low budget look with a grainy film stock that gives it almost a home movie feel. However, this is a perfect example where a creative script can help overcome the film’s other shortcomings.  There are some genuinely funny moments the best is probably the swinger’s party and the infamous hot tub scene. This is the one thing that I remember most vividly about the film when I first saw it decades ago. I knew it was coming and still found myself laughing out loud when it did.  The swingers themselves are an obnoxious riot and you actually find yourself looking forward to seeing them get killed.

Writer, director, and star Bartel continues with his theme that perversion is a normal part of the human makeup.  Everyone has their own private sexual fetishes and fantasies that is unique only to them and may not be understood by others. He started this philosophy with his short film Naughty Nurse in 1969 where an otherwise respectable doctor and nurse would spend their lunch hour playing weird sex games. He continued it with his initial feature film Private Parts in 1972 that had a handsome young man who enjoyed having sex with a doll that he could fill up with water over real women and the weird relationship that transpired with the teen girl who lived next door and got-off watching him do it.  Here it continues with the sexual fantasies of Paul and Mary’s customers that become increasingly more outrageous (and hilarious) as they go on. Even the very strait-laced Paul and Mary have their own perversions. They dislike the actual act of sex and never do it. Instead they sleep in separate beds and cuddle with stuffed animals instead of each other, which is just as funny in the other way.

When I initially saw the film I thought Bartel was having a major ego trip by casting himself as being married to a very attractive lady like Woronov. He was a pudgy and bald man who in real-life would most likely not be able to attain such a woman. Upon second viewing I ended up liking the odd casting and felt it helped make the film stronger.  Usually beautiful women are shown as simmering with sexuality and even sex symbols, so I appreciated the way it went against type. It also helped to define how Paul and Mary had a very special understanding with each other that did not conform to conventional wisdom, which sometimes happens. I also enjoyed the way Mary stays true to Paul even when she ends up being severely tested.

I admired Woronov’s performance the second time around as well. She was majoring in sculpting in 1963 at Cambridge University when her class decided to take a field to the Andy Warhol factory. She became so impressed with the place that she stayed while the rest of the students went back.  She starred in some of his experimental films and now 80 independent/underground films later she has become a major cult icon.  I was only 18 when I first viewed this and at the time my hormones where more fixated on her sleek body as she does have a few good, but brief nude scenes. Her acting though indeed helps carry the film.

Successful Latino actor Robert Beltran is good in his part as Raoul, which also marked his film debut. I enjoyed the contrast of his aggressive, streetwise character against the stifled Blands. There is also shades from Roman Polanski’s classic Cul-de-sac where a coarse stranger disrupts the unique chemistry of an otherwise isolated couple.

Susan Saiger is fun as Doris the Dominatrix. I felt it was nice how the film starts out with her as a kinky woman with a whip at a party, but then turns around with a scene showing her as an everyday housewife and raising a kid during her off hours. I liked how Paul and her managed to get past their differences and form an interesting friendship.

Famous character actors pop-up in amusing cameos. Ed Begley Jr. is an over-the-top hippie sex freak. Edie Mclurg appears near the end of the film as one of the swingers. Famous dwarf actor Billy Curtis is one of the customers and has a pet Doberman that is bigger than he is! The best cameo goes to Buck Henry who plays an amorous bank manager who makes advances towards Mary and then the funny way he tries to back-track when he gets caught.

This film has acquired a major cult-following that seems to grow by the year.  Yes, there are some flaws. The beginning is a bit cheesy and awkward and it took me about 20 minutes before I could get into it. I also wondered, with so many people being killed, why the suspicions of the police, or anyone else, was never aroused. There is also the fact that not everyone would get killed by being hit over the head with a frying pan, some might just get knocked unconscious. Still, I found myself laughing at a lot of places. I think people who are fans of black humor will enjoy this especially since it doesn’t sell itself out and stays true to form the whole way.

Sadly Paul Bartel died in 2000 from cancer and I felt his full potential was never fully realized. This became is most popular work and although he did several films afterward, none of them were as good.  Mary Woronov continues to be quite busy even at the age of 68. A documentary about her life and career is set to be released later this year and I look forward to seeing it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 24, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Bartel

Studio: Films Incorporated

Available: VHS, DVD

Deep End (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He will have her.

This is a moody drama detailing the story of a 15 year old boy named Mike (John Moulder-Brown) who goes to work at a public bath in London.  There he meets an alluring red-headed woman named Sue (Jane Asher).  She begins flirting with him, which causes him to become infatuated with her.  He starts following her around and even tries to scare off her two boyfriends as she is seeing both a man her own age as well as an older, married one.  Sue, who seems to enjoy manipulating all the men in her life, treats it all like it’s a silly game that ultimately ends with tragic results.

One of the things that really helps this film stand-out is the believability of the Mike character.  It was fascinating seeing all the different sides to his personality and I felt each one rang true for a boy his age.  There are times when he seems streetwise and even savvy and then there are other moments when he is immature, irresponsible, and emotionally out-of-control.  Although his obsession with Sue borders on being frightening I did like how he comes up with clever ways to help her like the ingenious way he finds her diamond that fell from her ring and into the snow.  I also liked how he becomes shocked at seeing a semi-nude poster of Sue outside a club, as she works as a stripper part-time, and how he steals it away in order to ‘protect her honor’.

Sue on the other hand seems almost all bad with very little good traits, but still equally believable.  She is mean and catty with everyone, abuses animals, and comes up emotionally hollow at every turn.  However, I could see how a young man of his age could become trapped by her seductive ways and perceived ‘maturity’, which makes the obsession itself as intriguing as their personalities.

Acclaimed writer/director Jerzy Skolimowski seems very much in control here and what buttons to press and when to do it.  I liked the color schemes especially his use of the color red. Having Cat Stevens do the music score gives the soundtrack and nice distinction.  I also liked how he foreshadows the film’s final shot several times during the movie.

I did end up having a few qualms with the film.  I wanted Mike’s initial interactions with Sue to be a little more extended than just the brief flirting that is shown.  The film takes place in buildings that are all old, rundown, and murky, which in some ways is good because it helps reflect the murky personalities of the characters.  Yet I wasn’t sure if this was all intentional or just the result of working on a low budget.  I would have liked a few scenes done against a more appealing background just to allow for  more visual variety.

The ending, especially the final shot, is very provocative and perverse.  It reminded me in a way of Nicholas Roeg’s excellent film Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession (1980). Everything gets played out in such an odd way that it keeps you guessing until the final second as to what happens, which ends up staying with you long after the film is over.

Diana Dors, who was a popular British actress during the 50’s and 60’s and even considered a sex symbol for a time, gets a great cameo bit here that has to be seen to really be appreciated.  She plays a sexually frustrated middle-aged woman who rents a room at the public bath and then tricks Mike into coming into the room with her. She grabs his hair and shakes his head while describing a sexual fantasy that she has going on in her head.  When she is done she throws him back to the floor and says “You can go now, I don’t need you anymore.”

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 1, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R (Sexual Situations, Adult Theme, Brief Nudity)

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Import)

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fast cars fast women.

During the 70’s car chase movies were all the rage.  Smoky and the Bandit, Convoy, Vanishing Point, and Two-Lane Blacktop were just a few.  Most of these films followed the comedy adventure blueprint closely resembling the politics of the time where the police were the befuddled authority figures and those being chased symbolized the downtrodden masses looking to break free from the values and customs of yesteryear and find their own identities. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is pretty much the same as the rest with a few notable exceptions the biggest being its very downbeat ending, which was quite talked about at the time of its release and one of the main reasons this film continues to have a strong cult following today.

The story is based on the novel by Richard Unekis called The Chase. It involves an out of work race car driver named Larry and his mechanic (Peter Fonda, Adam Roarke) who decide to rob a grocery store to make ends meet. Much to their dismay they are accompanied by a hooker named Mary (Susan George) and the three spend the rest of the film riding in Larry’s Dodge Charger with a powerful V-8 engine and avoiding the relentless pursuit of the police.

The screenplay follows the book pretty closely, but does make a few ill-advised changes. One is that in the book the two leads characters were career criminals who robbed for a living. I thought this made more sense and gave the characters a little more grounding.  I didn’t understand why a race car driver and his mechanic would suddenly be pushed to robbery, or what lead them into their fix. The robbery is executed in much too sophisticated a way for a pair of novices as they kidnap the store manager’s wife and daughter and then threaten to harm them unless the manager opens up the store’s safe. They also rig his home phone up to a tape recorder device so every time he calls home he hears the voice of the two and thinks they are still there even though they had already hit the road.  Criminals who had done this all their lives would be brazen enough not only to come up with this idea, but to also pull it off.  People with no background in robbery most likely would not.  There is also no explanation as to why they chose this store and how they planned the whole thing out, which would have helped.

Another change that was made was the addition of the Mary character.  In the book it was just the two men, which made it more gritty.  Although easy on the eyes the character serves no fundamental purpose to the story line.  All she does is have very redundant arguments with Larry that quickly become tiring.  I began to realize that these shouting matches were put in solely as filler material and it ends up getting inane.

Although I have like Peter Fonda in other films, most notably Easy Rider, I did not feel his laid back persona fit this part.  Larry is indeed a potentially interesting character as it is a person who can only find solace when he is taking extreme risks and driving real fast, but Fonda seemed unable to bring out this edginess effectively and his incessant gum chewing ends up becoming real annoying.

Vic Morrow probably gives the film’s best performance as the sheriff.  Normally the police are portrayed as bumbling idiots in this type of genre, but here they were a little more human and I liked the way that he was a bit of a non-conformist himself in the relentless way  he pursued the trio.

I also liked the attempt by the film makers to put in more realistic elements to a car chase that is never shown in most movies. One particular scene involves a pick-up truck that has nothing to do with the chase pulling out and getting side-swiped by Larry’s car.  For a minute the film becomes somber as they think they may have killed the other driver, which is good. Too many chase films always show other drivers and pedestrians miraculously getting out of the way and never being hit or injured even though in reality a lot of them probably would. The subject of seat belts also comes up, which is another pet peeve that I have with these films.  The occupants of these cars are never shown wearing them and with the stunts that they do they would all end up injured and killed without them.  They don’t wear them here either, but at least Larry does mention to Mary that she should put one on and there is also an amusing scene where a big yellow billboard stating ‘There is only one word for people that don’t wear seatbelts…STUPID’ which is shown briefly just before one of the out-of-control police cars goes careening through it.

Of course the best thing about the film and the one thing that has made this film so famous is the notorious ending, which is a downer for sure. If you consider this a spoiler then please don’t read any further, but the truth is when I first saw this film many years ago I already knew it was going to have a downbeat ending, but it kept me more intrigued because I didn’t know how it would happen.  Unless you count the film’s opening shot there is no foreshadowing of it and it happens very suddenly where the victims end up not knowing what hit them, which is also realistic.  Personally I loved it and most other viewers seem to also.  Too many chase movies have the good guys being able to escape one close call after another when in reality the odds will catch up with you sooner or later and with this film that is what happens, which in some ways can be considered ‘refreshing’. The scene is captured well and features one of the best explosions I have seen and without any of that tacky computerized special effects. I also liked the way the film ends very abruptly after it happens without any denouncement.

Normally I argue against Hollywood remakes, but this is one instance where it would be a good thing.  One of the main problems here is the film’s low-budget.  Although I felt they captured the central California countryside nicely (it was filmed in and around Stockton) the indoor sets are quite bland and dull. A bigger budget, tighter script, and some flashy camera work could work wonders here.  Too many times Hollywood seems driven to remake films that were already good the first time and only ends up tarnishing the original instead of remaking films that didn’t quite work on the first run and trying to make them better.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 17, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Hough

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Rock ‘N’ Roll High School (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: They like The Ramones.

Vapid, schlocky nonsense about high school students rebelling from an oppressive new principal named Miss Togar (Mary Woronov) with the help of the punk rock band The Ramones.

The film was produced by Roger Corman, who was known to be quite stingy with his budget, and it shows. As a joke the crew put in birds in the background to chirp ‘cheap, cheap’ over the credits.

There really is no storyline here. It is just a rapid-fire parade of one corny, lame gag after another that gets progressively worse as it goes along. Despite being labeled a teen comedy the humor is embarrassingly kiddie with the expected sex jokes and innuendos at a minimum. Normally, even in the worst of comedies, I can usually find a few lines, or scenes, to be funny, but here I found nothing that was amusing, or even halfway clever.

What is worse is the fact that there is no nudity! What kind of self-respecting teen comedy doesn’t have nudity? Not that a few fleeting naked bodies would have saved it, but at least it would have helped.

P.J. Soles won a cult following for her rambunctious performance as the student leading the rebellion, but her acting is very hammy. Vincent Van Patten, son of actor Dick Van Patten, is cast against type as the good-looking blonde All-American, who seemingly can’t get laid. Unfortunately, he has always had a very blank, ‘deer-in-headlights’ stare and I find his acting follows in the same suit.

Woronov is ineffective as the heavy. She is just not mean, or repressive enough and stupidly falls for all the dumb tricks that the students play on her. Her character should have been played-up more and her evilness more accentuated, which would have, even on a minor level, allowed for more tension and made the film seem less one-dimensional.

If I liked anybody here it would be Dey Young, who is the younger sister of actress Leigh-Taylor Young and the two look a lot alike. She is real cute, but in a nice natural way that is not overdone. She seems to be having a good time throughout and I enjoyed her spontaneity. Male viewers may also like her revealing gym outfit.

The punk band The Ramones appear as themselves. Initially the producers had wanted singer Todd Rundgren, who would’ve been better, but he refused. They then tried to get Van Halen, but backed down when they heard they were wild and too hard to control. For a while they even considered bringing in a disco band and calling it ‘Disco High School’.  For what it was worth I was not into their music, or at least from what I heard here, as their songs sounded too much alike with no harmony, or melody, and a beat that was too repetitive. Also, their vocals sounded more like shouting than singing. They showed no screen presence and reportedly their acting was so bad that the majority of their lines were cut. For the record though their lead singer Joey looks almost exactly like radio personality Howard Stern.

Sometimes, if done right, teen comedies can be fun because they allow one to harken back to their own high school years and bring back fond memories like John Hughes’s Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club do. However, those films at least had some shred of reality to them while here the characters and situations are too cartoonish and over-the-top. Nothing is relatable and even for satire it goes overboard. It’s a ‘bomb’ in every respect.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 24, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Allan Arkush

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray