Random Film of the Week: Topkapi

Topkapi_DVDHaving had items stolen from me in the past, I’m not at all a fan of thievery as a *proper* lifestyle choice (grrr!). That said, it’s hard to pass up a good (fake) crime caper and Jules Dassin’s  wonderful, amusing 1964 film Topkapi has been a favorite of mine for decades ever since I saw it as a kid. There’s just something magical about Dassin’s work here. It was his first color film and boy, does he blow the doors out right from the near seizure-inducing start (you’ll probably wince/squint a few times with all those color filters and such coming at you full tilt), and it’s also a film that gets you grinning from start to finish.

It’s more or less the flip the switch to comic tone version of Dassin’s bleak but brilliant 1955 film Rififi with a more varied cast and an even better lengthy heist scene. It’s also a film that’s since inspired a few directors to steal liberally from it (to varied effects), but that’s another discussion for another day. Here, you get Melina Mercouri, smoky voice and all as the lovely Elizabeth Lipp, who has the grand idea to steal a jeweled dagger from Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. She seeks out an ex-lover (Maximilian Schell) who just so happens to be a thief of some renown and the pair plan out their caper with the intent to use nothing but amateurs unknown to any authorities who come sniffing around after the crime has been committed.

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Blu-Ray Review: Spider Baby

Spider Baby Arrow CoverJack Hill’s amusing and mildly disturbing 1964 horror classic Spider Baby finally gets the feature-packed Blu-Ray treatment is deserves courtesy of Arrow Video and MVD and it’s a must for fans of the formerly forgotten flick that became a cult classic. “The maddest story ever told” still holds up today as quite the viewing experience as well as on original little low budget flick that still packs quite a kick in a few places.

The story of the Merrye family’s twisted offspring and their strange caretaker Bruno is, for all the creepy, unsettling antics taking place, quite an emotional tale at heart. Three siblings Virginia (Jill Banner), Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) and Ralph (Sig Haig) live with Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) in a decrepit mansion well off the beaten path with a few other relatives. Thanks to inbreeding among the family, all suffer from a genetic condition that makes them regress mentally into primitive states that make them more than a little dangerous to be around. Bruno does his best to keep his unbalanced charges in line, but after a mailman (Mantan Moreland) is killed and distant relatives arrive to claim the mansion and surrounding property for themselves, things take a turn for the darkly comedic worse. Continue reading

A Birthday? Greeting of Sorts.

Happy Birthday to Me MP 

It seems that yet another year has passed and I get to wake up and trip over stuff on the way to the bathroom before my morning coffee before dinking around as normal because I don’t run out naked and yell at the top of my lungs that it’s my special day. Whee. Actually, I was thinking yesterday about the best advice I’d ever gotten on my birthday (as that’s the most important thing you get after a certain age, folks) and I laughed because it was from a really drunk guy outside a bar I was walking past a long time ago. I’d just run into a friend leaving that bar who wished me a happy birthday and as I’m thanking him, that drunk popped up from the doorway he was in and yelled out to me “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MAN!”

As we didn’t see him there until he yelled, the two of us pretty much jumped out of our skin as he grinned like a rather too happy Cheshire Cat. As we was putting ourselves back together I nodded out a thanks to my new “friend” who then decided to offer me some advice. “If you ever try anything you don’t like, man… make sure to do it TWICE (pause…) because YOU NEVER KNOW!” I gather he was speaking from too much experience in trying all sorts of things more than twice, but his words did stick with me from that point on. Granted, I haven’t tried a lot of things ONCE yet. But I guess that’s another reason people celebrate their birthdays. Eh, it’s been a fairly quiet day here so far. I had to work on my laptop (as in getting it back to working) and that turned out well enough that I’m doing this late post. I also see I got a lot of facebook greetings, so I’ll need to respond to those at some point. Well, some of you can consider this post a general response for now. I’ll take care of you all personally via fb reply in a bit.

For now, I need to stick my head in the oven and get that chicken I put in there out to cool. That bird is going with some rice and black beans I made and after that, I’m going to run like the wind (or walk quickly, as I hate running) down to Starbucks because I’d forgotten until just now that I get a free beverage on my birthday and I may as well take advantage of that. Of course, they’ll toss me out before I order because I never buy anything like the over-sweetened fancycchinos they sell to the masses who just don’t want an ordinary cuppa joe and my brain will lock up looking at the menu. Eh, I’ll just tell the barista I’m trying something new and it may need to be twice before the night is through. Yeah, I lead a reltively dull life these days, people. I’m saving my energy for potential future naps.

Random Film of the Week: Strait-Jacket

Strait-JacketSomething has always bugged me about the 1964 William Castle horror/thriller flick Strait-Jacket ever since I first saw it as a kid. Nope, it’s not the too close to Psycho plot points courtesy of writer Robert Bloch (who also wrote that classic). And it’s certainly not Joan Crawford’s wide and wild-eyed performance as Lucy Harbin, the freed after twenty years in an asylum ax murderess now going through a potential relapse victim as the bodies start piling up again. It’s also definitely not Castle’s direction that downplays some of the camp potential of the material and goes for a handful of genuinely nifty 60’s era shocks.

Nope. What bugged me about the film that still bugs me today is how the hell George Kennedy’s creepy farmhand Leo painted three quarters of a car with the smallest damn can of paint and what looks like a two or three-inch wide brush. HOW DID HE DO THAT?!!
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Random Film of the Week(end): The Horror of Party Beach

 (thanks, Tommy Retro’s Blast From The Past!)

horror of party beach MPAs it’s almost (but not quite) beach season (unless it’s summer when you’re actually reading this, then BEWARE!) here’s a cautionary tale for you hep cats and hip chicks looking for some fun in the soon to be summer sun: DON’T DO IT! Hell, I mean between the assorted oil and chemical spills and their assorted hasty to long term cleanups that just add MORE nasty chemicals to the waters around everywhere, you’re only bound to run into something monstrous coming out of the water (or heck, just IN the water) that wants to EAT. YOUR. FLESH! (Mua-ha-ha-ha-haaaaa!, but somewhat true! Eeeek!).

Anyway, 1964’s Horror on Party Beach kind of predicted this modern age of old-school waste making hasty retreats for beaches everywhere, but the film was SO bad that no one listened because they were busy laughing their bottoms off as this bottom of the fish barrel “Z”-grade spook-tacular stunk up a theater near them… Continue reading

Random Films of the Week: Some Unconventional Holiday Movies? Sure, Why Not?

Topkapi_steal bigSo, I was sitting around with a few friends a few weeks back talking about movies and such when the subject of Christmas and holiday-themed movies came up and yes, everyone agreed that It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story and a few other classics were all going to be watched at some point during the Season of Greetings. Interestingly enough, a few very unconventional titles got mentioned during this conversation to the point that I decided to toss a few of these films at you in a post and see what you think.

For some strange (well, not so strange) reasons, there are a lot of very non-holiday films on some people’s Holiday viewing schedules with most set during the winter or with cold weather as a big part of their plots (but not always). Anyway, as I see you’re wearing those dodgy jammies and overly fuzzy slippers you got yesterday as gifts and have that cup of “eggnog “at the ready, let’s get started with three or four for now and pick up some others in a future post…

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DVD Review: Here’s Edie – Early 60’s Time Capsule Makes A Mostly Glorious Return To Earth…

Here's EdieI had an English teacher in high school who was obsessed with Edie Adams to the point that he actually stopped a fight in class by singing part of a Muriel Cigars commercial that made the two girls fighting stop and stare at him as if he were completely insane. Of course, by then I’d seen some reruns of The Ernie Kovacs Show on PBS and had a whisper of an idea of what he was going on about. However, I also recall bumping into him during a lunch break (he was outside smoking a Muriel Air Tip, of course) and hearing tales of a TV series starring Edie that no one else I asked seemed to have a clue about.

It turns out what I thought was one man’s fantasy life getting a wee bit too real was actually a real TV variety show. MVD Visual is about to unleash Here’s Edie, a 4-disc set of her 21 half-hour specials unseen anywhere since they first aired. After spending some quality time this past weekend with this incredible lady and her talented friends, I can very safely say that fans of classic variety TV will absolutely want this one in their collections… Continue reading

Random Film of the Day*: First Men in the Moon

*For the next few days, I’m going to add a random film the great Ray Harryhausen worked on. The legendary special effects MASTER passed away on May 7, 2013 at age 92 in London and yes, the film world has lost a true giant as well as a fine and talented gentleman…

First Men in the MoonIt’s actually pretty fun to watch early 50’s to mid-60’s sci-fi films for their historical as well as entertainment value because the space race was in full blast and Hollywood was finding out fast that NASA was making most of what they were doing obsolete. Granted, other than the opening few minutes, Nathan Juran’s excellent First Men in the Moon doesn’t need to juggle much in the way of realism other than making sure its 1964 astronauts (made up of members of UN countries!) making that moon landing were wearing gear that at least looked up to date.

Once that’s out of the way, the film lets the imaginations of H.G. Wells and Ray Harryhausen (interpreting the author’s words into Dynamation) take over as the story shifts back in time to 1899 and tells the tale of man’s “real” first trip to the moon. Juran’s direction and his solid cast provide the proper Victorian tone and Harryhausen’s great effects add the perfect amount of rustic charm that propel the films wildly fanciful “science” into the plane of believability…
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Random Film Of The Week: The Flesh Eaters

 

An old favorite of mine from the days when it was in near constant rotation on Chiller Theater (on Channel 11, WPIX), The Flesh Eaters manages to mix campy humor and skin-crawling (albeit cheesy by today’s standards) shock effects. The script, by DC and Marvel Comics writer Arnold Drake, manages to be weird, funny and unsettling as it tells the tale of three people stranded on a small island after their small plane flies into a bad storm and is forced to land. They meet a German-accented mad scientist working on a rather nasty little project in the form of a massive bacteria colony that can dissolve flesh within a few seconds of contact. Unfortunately for the travelers, the doc has unleashed his experiment into the water around the island, making enjoying a quick swim kind of a no-go.

While the trio is trying to figure out how to get off the island and the doc is scheming away, they run into a shipwrecked beatnik who adds some comic relief to the proceedings. He’s also the victim of one of the surprisingly gory (for the time) death scenes, but I’ll let you check that out yourself. Anyway, things come to a head as the survivors need to deal with the mad scientist AND getting the hell off the island as one of their plans to destroy the microbes actually make it much stronger. Memorable cinematography and extremely well composed scenes give the film the look of a horror comic book, and at a relatively quick 87 minutes, this is one of those films that’s worth checking out if you’re curious about “B” movies of the era, the evolution of special effects or even how well a comic book author could do at scripting a film.