Tag Archives: Paul Bartel

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

The Longshot (1986)

longshot

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betting on a horse.

Four middle-aged losers (Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Ted Wass, Jack  Weston) who’ve spent years attending the racetrack and betting on horses, but never making any money off of it, finally get a tip from an insider. Santiago (Jorge Cervera Jr.) tells them to place a bet on a horse with a longshot of winning because he will feed the animal a certain drug, which will make him run faster. Since the four do not have any funds of their own they decide to borrow the money from a local gangster (George DiCenzo) who gives them $10,000, but with heavy interest added. The men are convinced that they will be able to easily pay it back, but then just as the bet is placed they find out that it’s been a set-up, which sends the four into a panic.

The screenplay was written by Conway who has been an avid horse racing fan for years and even considered becoming a jockey before entering into acting. Like with his other films that he also scripted it is poorly paced with long stretches where nothing much happens. Very little of the runtime is spent on the actual plot and the majority of the film instead deals with meandering conversations and wacky/sketch-like comedy that has nothing at all to do with the main story.

Some of it is mildly amusing like with different euphemisms the men use to describe the male sex organ, but overall it’s pretty desperate. Some of it is too dumb to be believable: for instance what sort of person in their right mind, even a complete idiot, would light a grill inside a parked car with the windows up and not expect problems? The scene dealing with Conway’s rendezvous with the Stella Stevens’ character inside her hotel room is needlessly prolonged and pointless and the segment where Korman eats his beef stew while making loud slurping noises is gross sounding and should’ve been cut out completely.

The one thing that I found interesting is the fact that this film is a bit edgier than most of Conway’s other ones. During the ‘70s he was locked into perpetually G-rated material, but here it gets more PG-13 with one character even using the F-word and Conway close to using it himself a couple of times. He also plays more of a normal person instead of the vapid, dopey one that he usually does. Instead Ted Wass handles the duties of the numskull and in many ways is much funnier with it.

The supporting cast is the only thing that saves this otherwise limp excursion. Anne Meara is great as Conway’s sarcastic wife and Jack Weston becomes a scene stealer as his pal. Other familiar faces pop-up in minor bits including Frank Bonner as a real estate agent, Susan Tolsky as a would-be topless waitress, Jonathan Winters as a pick-up truck driver and Eddie Deezen as a carhop. Edie McClurg is seen briefly as Korman’s wife and Paul Bartel, who has the dubious honors of directing this flick, can be spotted as a racing spectator during the opening credits.

Conway fans will most likely be more forgiving, but others beware. If you do watch it you’ll be treated to an opening rap duet between Conway and Ice-T, yes you read that right, and a closing song done by Irene Cara.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 17, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Paul Bartel

Studio: Orion 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

Private Parts (1972)

private parts 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He likes to watch.

Cheryl (Ayn Ruymen) is a teen who cannot get along with her sister and boyfriend and decides to move out of their apartment and into a seedy hotel run by Martha (Lucille Benson) a very strange old lady. Here she lives next to voyeuristic photographer George (John Ventantonio) who has a big sex doll fetish. Cheryl secretly spies on George having sex with his doll and starts to get off on it. George becomes aware of Cheryl spying on him and likes it, which causes them to form an odd relationship and that is when things really get weird.

The film’s intrigue comes from the way it see-saws between being a perverted character study, horror film, and dark comedy. Director Paul Bartel makes great use of lighting, setting, and camera angles. There is also one truly odd and memorable sequence involving Ventantonio filling up his sex doll with water and then pumping it full of his own blood. The story is subtle enough to keep you involved and guessing and may even take a couple of viewings before you truly ‘get it’.

Much like with his later and better known film Eating Raoul Bartel examines the psychological complexities that make up people’s sexual nature and how perversions and fetishes are a normal part of it. The mindset is that everyone probably has a weird fetish of some kind and the open minded approach is what ultimately makes it refreshing and intriguing.

Although the film teases you with some sex and violence it never really goes all out. By dancing the line between being a horror film and a sex flick it fails to make a lasting impression despite a few good moments.

This is an interesting curio for sure and for its time was really pushing the envelope, but suffers from a low budget and isn’t scary or gory enough. However, George’s sex doll is unforgettable and watching it fill up with his blood is one of the damnedest looking sights ever put on film.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Bartel

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video