Tag Archives: Mary Woronov

Night of the Comet (1984)

night-of-the-comet-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Comet wipes out humanity.

A comet passes by earth, which kills off everyone that was outside watching it. The only people that survive were those that remained inside rooms incased by steel. Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and her sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) are two of the survivors. As far as they know they are the only remaining inhabitants, but then a secret group of scientists track them down pretending at first to be their friends, but in reality they are after the two for their blood as the researchers were inadvertently tainted by the comet’s effects and now need a fresh blood supply from those that were not exposed in order to remain alive, but will the two sisters catch onto their ruse before it’s too late?

This film, which has become a major cult hit, starts out sharply and could’ve been a really great picture had it kept the dry, quirky humor that it has at the beginning. Unfortunately it devolves too much into a drama that loses its momentum and becomes draggy. I enjoyed the scenes showing Los Angeles as a deserted wasteland and these moments were apparently shot in the early morning hours during the minutes when the cars where stopped at traffic lights, which made it all the more impressive and I wished the movie had more of these scenes as it gives the film a surreal quality.

The two female leads are fantastic. Stewart is not only really beautiful, but her acting is excellent and I liked the fact that when she gets attacked by a zombie she doesn’t break out into a scream like is the clichéd reaction of most female characters, but instead keeps her composure. The film would’ve been far stronger had these two remained the sole cast as the implementation of the Hector (Robert Beltran) character does not help things and in fact weakens it as it makes it seem that a man is necessary in order to save them since apparently females are not strong enough or smart enough to do it themselves. The evil scientists are uninteresting as well and outside of seeing Mary Woronov playing a more serious role their time on the screen is quite boring.

The story does not take enough advantage of its quirky concept and misses the chance for a far more original scenario. Adding in zombies is a downer as there are already way too many zombie flicks out there and this one adds nothing to the mix. Seeing two valley girls learning to ‘toughen up’ and survive by solely using their own wits would’ve been the best story angle.

The film is also too tame. When the Hector character does appear Samantha becomes jealous when he chooses Regina over her, but why couldn’t they just do a ménage-a-trois? Since there is no other people around, or very few, that means societal conventions no longer necessary, but for some strange reason the characters here become more ‘civilized’ as the story progresses when in reality the exact opposite would likely occur.

There are also too many logic loopholes that never get addressed. For instance why does the electricity remain on when most likely employees working at the power plants would’ve disintegrated along with everyone else? If the power goes out how are they going to store food in order to keep it fresh or cook it for that matter? These questions along with a variety of others helps knock down what is initially a great idea and impedes this cult flick from living up to its reputation.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Thom Eberhardt

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Cannonball! (1976)

cannonball-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: An illegal car race.

Wacky participants convene in Santa Monica to take part in an unsanctioned cross country car race. All drivers are accountable for any speeding tickets or injuries that they may accrue and the only rule is that the first person to arrive at a designated spot in New York City wins. Yet the race’s top driver Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman (David Carradine), who is on parole, risks being sent back to prison if he crosses the state line, but he decides to proceed any ways despite the objections of his lawyer girlfriend (Veronica Hamel) who eventually rides along with him.

This film is based on the same real-life race that inspired The Gumball Rally, but critic Leonard Maltin incorrectly states in older versions of his book that this film plagiarizes that one, which isn’t true as this movie came out first and adds in many different story angles.

Despite the fact that the production is plagued with the typically cheap Roger Corman look and seems more like an extension to Death Race 2000 I still preferred this to Gumball. Both films have characters that are decidedly cartoonish and neither film makes any attempt to recreate what really happened, but this movie has a darker edge and most thankfully a better soundtrack that doesn’t have a kiddie-like melody.

This film also reverses the race’s starting and end points. In both the real-life event and in Gumball the starting point was New York, but here it’s California, which is actually a plus. In Gumball the drivers seemed to go from the Big Apple to the desert southwest in a matter of only a few minutes, which made no sense. Here the film crew is allowed ample time to take advantage of the closed desert roads to do their car stunts, which aren’t bad, and it also sets up an ending in which driver Mary Woronov arrives in New York, but then gets lost in the congested traffic and can’t find the finish line, which is the film’s funniest bit.

The cast is much more eclectic. I really enjoyed Judy Canova in her final film appearance as her facial expressions are a hoot especially as she has her car gets rear-ended by Carradine’s. Dick Miller is entertaining as a man that tries to rig the race and Bill McKinney is very effective as the bad guy. Director Paul Bartel and producer Roger Corman have bit parts as does Carl Gottlieb the man who penned the screenplay for Jaws. Other directors make cameo appearances including Jonathan Kaplan, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante and even Martin Scorsese.

Yet what I really liked is the massive car pile-up that occurs near the end that features car after car crashing into an already existing accident and then exploding one after another into a ball of flames. This was considered quite controversial amongst the crew and star Carradine tried to convince Bartel not to put it in, but he insisted and I’m glad he did. Yes it’s morbid, but it helps put a touch of reality into the whole thing. The ‘70s were filled with a lot of silly car chase movies all with the running theme that people needed their ‘freedom’ and having a speed limit takes away all the ‘fun’, but there is a reason why those rules were put into place as what starts out as a good time can easily turn into something horrific in a matter of seconds. To me this was Bartel’s way of spitting-in-the-face at all those other inane road race movies that always took an innocuous angle while conveniently ignoring the ugly realities that existed just beneath the surface.

cannonball-2

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 6, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Bartel

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Chopping Mall (1986)

chopping mall

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer robots on prowl.

A new high-tech shopping mall installs robots as their night security team. They are programmed to apprehend and subdue any intruders, or anyone not showing them their security badge. A bunch of teenagers who work at the mall during the day decide to hang out and party there at night, but find that the robots have run amuck and are now trying to kill them. Locked into the place for the whole night the teens try fighting them off while desperately looking for a way out.

This was writer/director Jim Wynorski’s second feature and the beginning of an almost assembly line string of direct-to-video/B-movie features that of this writing now equals 94 and many of them done under a pseudonym. Wynorski shows some flair by injecting comedy into the proceedings including an engaging opening sequence done over the credits that includes a lot of sight gags and a good up-tempo synthesized score that fits the mood and action. There are also some fun cameos including Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov who appear at the beginning and recreate their roles from the hilarious cult hit Eating Raoul. You can also spot Mel Welles from Little Shop of Horrors fame as well as perennial B-movie favorites Dick Miller as a janitor and Gerrit Graham as a technician.

It was filmed at an actual mall in Sherman Oaks, California, which makes for an interesting backdrop and good authenticity. I also liked how the teens, both the men and women, are very resourceful and come up with different and elaborate ways to combat the robots. The female cast is attractive with a decent amount of nudity. The special effects aren’t bad either. I was impressed with the exploding head sequence as well as the burning body moment. My only quibble in this area is that they were able to break the glass of the storefront windows, which happens several times during the course of the film, much, much too easily.

The biggest problem with the film is that it just isn’t scary or suspenseful enough. The only time there was any real tension is towards the end when the Kelli Maroney character hides underneath some shelves at a pet store and is forced to keep quiet from the lurking robot while a  snake and spiders crawl all over her. Despite some interesting directorial touches it still comes off as mechanical and formulaic and even though the running time is short I still found myself getting quite bored with it. There is also never any explanation for why the robots go haywire, which I felt was a major oversight.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 17Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jim Wynorski

Studio: Concorde Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube