Tag Archives: David Huffman

St. Helens (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Codger refuses to evacuate.

Art Carney plays Harry Truman, an 83-year-old man who refused to evacuate from his lodge at the base of Mount St. Helens even as experts warned that the volcano, which had been inactive for 123 years, was ready to explode. Tim Thomerson is the local sheriff who tries to convince him to change his mind and David Huffman is a volcano scientist who travels to the area to study the potential eruption. Initially he tries to get Harry to leave too, but eventually decides to stay, so he can record the eruption from what he believes will be from a safe distance.

The film is based on the actual event which began on March 20, 1980 when local wildlife was observed behaving erratically, and ends with the climactic eruption, which happened on May 18th. I was alive when it occurred and the film manages to correctly reflect the energy of the period where people where both fearful, but also excited. Not everyone though was happy with the movie, David Johnston’s parents were not pleased by the portrayal of their son, played by Huffman who goes by the fictional name of David Jackson, nor 36 other scientists who knew Johnston in real-life and signed a letter of protest.

Since I didn’t know Johnston myself I’ll reserve judgement, but I was not happy about a dumb secondary storyline dealing with a helicopter pilot, played by Ron O’Neal, flying into a flock of quail, which forces him to drop a log that his helicopter was carrying onto a group of men below and almost killing them. Bill McKinney, better known for playing the mountain man in Deliverance, thinks the pilot was intentionally trying to injure them and has his buddies harass and eventually attack the pilot, but this didn’t seem necessary. The men on the ground should’ve easily seen the birds fly into the copter, as it wasn’t that high up, and when it lands there’s clearly blood and feathers on the windshield, which is spotted immediately by the sheriff therefore making the fight scene, which is what it leads to, completely pointless and just put-in as mindless action.

Carney, who was ironically Harry Truman’s favorite actor in real-life, plays the part in a highly entertaining way and helps give the film humor and human interest. Truman really did drive a pink Cadillac and swore a lot, which he does here, but he also owned 16 cats, but the film changes this to him having a dog even though the 16 cats would’ve been far more fun. I couldn’t help but wonder though with the scene where Harry talks to a group of reporters about the greatness of the US constitution and how USA was the ‘greatest country in the world’, which got the reporters to cheer, but today those same statements might give him the derogatory label of ‘nationalist’ and push-back from the reporters instead of applause.

The film is also notable for having two of its stars, who are adversaries here, meet tragic ends in real-life. For Huffman he was stabbed to death in February, 1985 when he tried to chase down a mugger and for Albert Salmi, who portrays a bar owner who plays down the fears of the volcano, ended up, in 1990, killing his wife of 26 years when she filed for divorce, before then turning the gun on himself. I’ve seen Huffman in other films and came away feeling he was a rather bland actor though here he displays a little more spunk. Salmi’s acting is okay, but I didn’t understand why he’s shown working two jobs as he’s a manager of a bar at one point and then supervisor of a saw mill at another. Since the bar he runs is apparently ‘the only one in town’ and seemed packed with people I didn’t get the need for an extra income.

We know how it’s going to end right from the start, so it’s important that the climactic eruption come-off impressively. They do cheat by showing the same footage of the side of the mountain exploding over and over as well as cropping in animated volcanic ash creeping in, which looks tacky. Off-screen wind fans were clearly used to blow dust over the actors and create a white-out effect, but overall it wasn’t too bad and I liked the final shot of a small tree sprouting up amidst the ash. For those who were living during the event, or just curious about the history of it, this is an adequate recreation.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 18, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ernest Pintoff

Studio: Parnell Films

Available: DVD

Blood Beach (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Beachgoers get sucked away.

Something is lurking beneath a Southern California beach and it’s not human. People and even animals are being sucked underneath the sand and disappearing, never to be found again. Lifeguard Harry (David Huffman) tries to do some investigating while starting up a relationship with the daughter (Marianna Hill) of one of the victims, but his efforts prove futile, so the police are called in, but do no better.

One of the nice things about this movie is that unlike most other horror films from that era it actually has a pretty decent budget and distinctive music score. The beach location, which was filmed at Santa Monica, makes for a pleasant diversion from the usual horror settings and the one thing I came away liking most about the movie.

Huffman, who ended up becoming a homicide victim himself in real-life only a few years after this was filmed, is bland to the point of being completely forgettable. However, the much more talented supporting cast gives the film some life. John Saxon is great as a brash and gruff police captain. Burt Young and Otis Young are amusing as police detectives with completely contrasting styles with Otis playing an amusing extension to the character that he did in The Last Detail where he tries earnestly to reel in his more undisciplined partner.

The film’s weak point is the second act that stalls without enough new twists being brought in. Seeing people constantly being swallowed up by the sand becomes monotonous and it takes way too long before we finally get an understanding to what is causing it. The film also has some quick cutaways showing what happens to the people once they are underneath the sand, which looks like it was spliced in from a cheaper film stock with tacky special effects that may simply be a product of the ‘Complete and Uncut’ version that I saw, but should’ve been avoided.

The attempt at doing a Jaws formula storyline on land instead of the water doesn’t work and only helps make the original seem all that much better. Had this been done as a parody might’ve helped it.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest letdown is the ending that never fully explains what this creature is and only gives the viewer a brief glimpse of it during the film’s last few minutes, which is disappointing. The story then goes full circle by showing the sand ready to swallow up more unsuspecting beachgoers while making the viewer feel like they’ve wasted 90 minutes of their time watching a film that doesn’t progress anywhere.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 28, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes (‘Complete’ cut)

Rated R

Director: Jeffrey Bloom

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Available: DVD

Wolf Lake (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: He doesn’t like deserters.

Charlie (Rod Steiger) is a hard-bitten conservative man who lost his 23-year-old son in the Vietnam War. He likes to vacation with a couple of his middle-aged buddies Wilbur (Jerry Hardin) and George (Richard Herd) at a remote Canadian hunting lodge. However, this time when they arrive they find that the regular lodge owner is not there and instead it is being run by a young man named David (David Huffman) and his pretty girlfriend Linda (Robin Mattson). Charlie and David almost immediately are at odds as they both share a wide variance in age and political leanings. What is worse is the fact that David is a war deserter and once Charlie finds out about this he flies into a rage of psychotic proportions, which culminates in a violent night of terror for both David and his girlfriend.

The film was written and directed by the normally reliable Burt Kennedy who is better known for doing westerns. After watching this I think he should have stayed in that genre as this film is too formulaic and one-dimensional. There seems to be too much emphasis to conform to the horror movie/slasher style formula of that era with a plot set-up that is too brief and character development that is almost non-existent. The story shows its cards too quickly and then proceeds to just plod on and on until it climaxes with a predictable and boring finish.

Charlie and David’s arguments and confrontations fail to elicit any type of tension. Their shouting matches are rhetorical and redundant and their points-of-view are handled at a superficial level that allows for no new insight, or intellectual debate. Charlie is so limited in his stubbornness that he becomes annoying instead of threatening, or scary.

The final 25 minutes when the two sides wage a proverbial war between their two cabins is the only time that there is any action. However, by then I was completely bored with the proceedings and so emotionally detached from the third rate material that it was a strain just getting through it. The film’s ultimate message is heavy-handed and done so much better in other films on the same subject that it renders this excursion as pointless.

Steiger is wasted. The character he plays is poorly defined and doesn’t allow him to take full advantage of his acting abilities. He gets stuck with another one of his many wigs this one looking like the same type of gray haired rug that actor Ray Milland used to wear in his later years. The producers should have just allowed him to appear bald as it would have fit this type of part better and even made him look creepier and more menacing.

Huffman is the best thing about this movie and it is a shame that his life and career were cut short when he was murdered in 1985 while trying to chase down a suspected purse snatcher. His performance here is nicely understated, which helps carry the picture as he is the only character that is multi-faceted.

Although the story takes place in Canada and the landscape certainly looks Canadian I was surprised to learn that it was actually filmed near the city of Creel in Chihuahua, Mexico, which due to its high elevation has a climate that is more similar to the North’s.

SPOILER ALERT

There are actually two different versions of this film. There is this one and another one entitled The Honor Guard. In that one there are no flashback scenes like there are here and in the end Charlie ends up killing David and his girlfriend while in this version Linda shoots Charlie before falling over dead herself. I actually liked the flashbacks that are used as it gives the film what little suspense it has and also shows a bit of cinematic flair. However, the scene where Linda miraculously comes up with a gun and killing Charlie before keeling over looked cheesy and clichéd and I might actually have voted for the alternate ending.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated R

Director: Burt Kennedy

Studio: Melvin Simon Productions

Available: VHS