Tag Archives: Sandy Dennis

976-Evil (1989)

976-evil-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nerd becomes demon possessed.

Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) is a socially challenged high school loser living at home with his religious fanatic mother (Sandy Dennis) and longing to one day become as cool as his neighbor Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) who gets all the hot chicks. Then one day Hoax calls a phone number that promises to supply him with his daily horoscope but instead gives him demonic powers that allow him to get revenge on all of his bullies.

This is the first of only two theatrical features that actor Robert Englund has directed and the visual results are impressive. I enjoyed the set pieces that have a garish over-the-top quality to them and helps give the film a comic book-like look. Although the gore is limited I did find some of the other special effects to be cool including the final sequence where Hoax’s home turns into the gateway to hell.

The script has a lot of in-jokes, which keeps the proceedings on an amusing level, but it takes too long for the actual plot to get going.  The nerd-on-revenge theme has been done a million times before and ultimately makes this film come off as clichéd and derivative.

Having Hoax’s looks change into resembling a demon backfires as it reminded me too much of the Freddy Kreuger character particularly with the long fingernails on one of his hands and his deep voice, which even  starts to crack  Freddy-like one-liners. Whether this was intentional is open to debate, but it does drive home how uninspired this film ends up despite an opening that showed promise.

The best thing it is the presence of Dennis who plays an extension of the wacky, eccentric character that she did in a classic episode of the 80’s version of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’. The only difference is that there her character owned even more cats and spoke in a more bizarre way, but the variety of wigs that she wears here makes up for it. Also what happens to her corpse after she is killed is the film’s most shocking moment.

976-evil-2

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 24, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Englund

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

COME BACK TO THE FIVE & DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN, Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, 1982, (c) Cinecom Pictures

COME BACK TO THE FIVE & DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN, Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, 1982, (c) Cinecom Pictures

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Disciples of James Dean.

Twenty years after his untimely death five women (Cher, Sandy Dennis, Karen Black, Kathy Bates, Marta Heflin), who were big fans of James Dean and called themselves his disciples, decide to hold a reunion at a thrift shop in a small town not far from Marfa, Texas where the film Giant was made. However, the reunion is not a happy one as old wounds and secrets come to light that forces the women to analyze themselves and their lives in uncomfortable and unpleasant ways.

One of the things that really annoyed me about this movie and at times just downright confused me is that the characters show no signs of aging at all as it shifts between 1955 and the present day of 1975. Twenty years is a significant period of time and most everyone will show some signs of age, or at least changes to their hairstyle and outfits and yet with the exception of the Joe character there is no distinguishable differences between the others from one period to the next. The Cher character was particularly perplexing as her hair remains jet black for two decades and even the same exact style. One could argue that maybe she dyed it, okay, but she also manages to somehow retain her same girlish figure, which is even less likely.

I also found it hard to believe that she could afford to make a living by working at little thrift store for 20 years, or that she would even be needed as the place was small enough for one person to run and through the course of the entire movie never once does a single customer even enter the place. Her character was attractive enough to find a man, get married and run off to another town or place that had more potential. We learn through the course of the movie that she was married at one point, but then dumped, however I would think she would’ve been able to find someone else in a 20 year time span especially since she was still quite good looking.

Keeping all of the action inside the thrift store makes the film seem almost claustrophobic. I realize this was based on a stage play, but most plays that get transferred to film will have certain scenes, or cutaways added in to avoid this feeling. Even having some outdoor shots done over the opening credits would’ve given it a little more of a visual variety.

The performances are the best thing about the movie and probably the only reason to see it. All three leads recreate their parts from the stage version. Cher is sensational and in my opinion gives the best performance. Dennis is solid doing her patented fragile caricature and who displays some interesting emotional eruptions at completely unexpected times. Black is excellent as well. Usually she plays flaky types, but here is more reserved and steely. Bates is good as a loud and abrasive woman and Sudie Bond lends fine support as the shop’s overtly religious owner.

The script is passable, but the revelations that come out are stuff you’d find on a second-rate soap opera. I also found it hard to believe that these women would get together after 20 years and not have other things to talk about. Usually when people meet after not seeing each other for an extended period of time there’s always a lot of ‘catching up’ to do where they talk about all the things that have happened to them since, but here there’s none of that. Instead they come off like people frozen in time clinging to bygone issues that just about anyone else would’ve moved on from long ago.

The film ends with several shots of the store shown in an abandoned and rundown state, but with no explanation of what time period it was taken in. At first I thought this meant that maybe the reunion had never occurred. That maybe it had just been imagined, which is a concept that I liked and would also have filled in some of the gaping plot holes that I’ve described above, but then I saw the reunion banner still hanging in a tattered state from the ceiling. Others on IMDb have debated that it may represent the reunion that they had planned for 1995 that never came about, which is a good guess, but with business being as slow as it  was at that place I think it would’ve been abandoned long before 1975 let alone 1995.

come back 1

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Cinecom Pictures

Available: DVD

Mr. Sycamore (1975)

mr sycamore 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mailman becomes a tree.

Bored with his job as a mailman and unhappy in his marriage John Gwilt (Jason Robards) decides one day to turn himself into an oak tree. He digs a hole in his backyard and ‘plants’ himself into it where he stands there day and night waiting to become a tree while his wife Jane (Sandy Dennis) tries desperately to talk him out of it, his neighbor Fred (Robert Easton) laughs at him and his minister (Mark Miller) tries to have him committed.

The film, which is based on a 1942 Broadway play, has a certain whimsical tone to it that might be pleasing to some if in the right mood and there is a certain strange intrigue at wondering just how this thing will end and whether he will eventually turn into a tree or not. However, the material would be better suited as a film short and the offbeat quality gets lost in a script that deals solely with a long parade of people who come into contact with John and their predictably shocked and confused responses when finding out what he is trying to do. The low budget is also an issue and outside of showing the inner-workings of a mail processing machine at the beginning there is no visual style at all.

Robards is a natural for the part, but he had already played a nonconformist looking to drop out of society earlier in the film and stage play A Thousand Clowns making his appearance here seem almost like typecasting. Jean Simmons gets wasted in a small bit as John’s secret love interest. Dennis, who usually plays kooky characters, becomes the most rational one here, which ultimately is the film’s weirdest element.

This definite curio does have a few amusing moments, but it lacks a second act or interesting side story and eventually talks its strange concept to death until it becomes boring.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated G

Director: Pancho Kohner

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: VHS

Parents (1989)

parents

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Are his parents killers?

Young 10-year-old Michael (Brian Madorsky) begins to think that his ‘perfect’ and wholesome parents (Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt) are psychotic murderers and that the meat they are cooking on their backyard grill may actually be human.

Unlike some of the other silly B-horror films from the 80’s era this one doesn’t just play it for laughs. There are some genuinely creepy undertones including a scene where the boy imagines himself falling into a giant pool of blood. The killings are also all done in slow motion, which is pretty cool and the film photographs food in such a way that it will make you hungry.  The movie also keeps the viewer guessing as to whether the parents are really killers or it is all a part of the boy’s already overactive imagination.

Sandy Dennis is given a supporting role that is much too undistinguished for an actress of her caliber and yet she is still able to make the most of it. She has a real nice stylishly short and curly haircut and she looks probably better here than she ever did. It is almost hard to fathom that just three years later she would be dead and this would be her second-to-last movie.

The kid is the one who actually ends up being creepier than any of the adults and it is no surprise that he never acted in anything else. He has a real big gloomy pair of eyes and blurts out strange things and mumbles them in a way that makes him hard to understand.

I felt for the most part that actor Bob Balaban’s directorial debut was imaginative and interesting, but there are certain elements that could have been played up more. The most infuriating thing though is the fact that it never makes it clear whether the parents really were killers or it was just made up.

On the whole the film has a little bit more going for it than most B-horror films from the 80’s and it does manage to keep you guessing. However, the nebulous ending is frustrating and the child actor playing the part of the kid is not a very good performer and at times even annoying.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: January 27, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 21Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Balaban

Studio: Vestron Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Nasty Habits (1977)

nasty habits 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Watergate in a convent.

It’s the Watergate scenario all over again only this time inside a convent with nuns. It’s a unique idea for sure that unfortunately doesn’t work because the screenplay by Robert Enders, which is based on the novel by Muriel Sparks keys in on only one angle and then plays it out until it’s boring. It’s a one-joke movie with nothing standing out as funny. There is also no action to speak of and the dialogue is too dry to elicit even a chuckle.

The once in a lifetime cast is wasted. Dame Edith Evans, in her last film appearance, gets hit the worst as she is given the typical old lady treatment and shown for only a few minutes looking feeble and then promptly dying. Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Rip Torn, and Eli Wallach are on so briefly that their appearances seem almost non-existent.

Glenda Jackson comes off best as she manages to give her character an added dimension. The forcefulness of her personality comes through quite clearly for the viewer. However her adversary, which is played by Sue Penhaligon, doesn’t have that same type of strong presence and therefore there is no chemistry or confrontation between the two.

Even the always reliable Sandy Dennis becomes a problem. They have her playing a sort of extended version of her tipsy persona from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but her off- key voice and overall kooky behavior gets overplayed and eventually becomes annoying.

The electronic music score by John Cameron is obtrusive. The pacing is terrible and the lack of momentum will have people turning this off long before it is over, which is good since the climactic sequence falls horribly flat.

There are a few surprise cameos. One is by the late newscaster Jessica Savitch another by former talk show host Mike Douglas, but nothing that helps make this entertaining or memorable.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 18, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Studio: Brut Productions

Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg

Studio: Brut Productions

Available: VHS