(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs ArrowBased on the novel Smith’s Dream by C.K. Stead, director Roger Donaldson’s 1977 film Sleeping Dogs is not only a remarkable first feature film, it’s shockingly prescient on a number of fronts. Before I get to the film proper, I’ll note that I chose neither this nor Donaldson’s outstanding second feature, 1981’s Smash Palace because of their implied or direct relevance to some of today’s often depressing news. My movie backlog is just so huge that I decided to grab two films off the top of the stack and these Arrow Academy releases were right on top of that stack. Boo-yah, I guess? Additionally, I’d heard good things about both a while back from a few people who didn’t spoil the stories for me other than to note that both were important films from New Zealand that would be well worth watching. Those people were correct, as these two films are simply superb despite their less than Hollywood budgets.

The government in New Zealand is under chaos after oil talks break down, gas is severely rationed and it seems civil unrest is brewing partly as a result of a rather stubborn prime minister determined to keep the peace (or what he sees as peace) at any cost. Meanwhile, rudderless after breaking up with his wife, a man named Smith (Sam Neill) is driving down a highway when he spies a small island in the distance. At a tiny village’s tinier restaurant, he inquires about the ownership of the island and is given directions to a house owned by two Maori men and is told to bring a bottle of whiskey with him. Smith trades the bottle for the island and run-down house on it, but the motor boat he needs to get there? That costs him his car. Well, at least he gets a free cute dog out of that part of the deal, as it’s forced on him during the trade.

 

Continue reading

Advertisements

(Not So) Random Film of the Week: The White Buffalo

It’s that time again, folks (Dangit, we need a THEME SONG):

Video Store Action Heroes - Banner 9 final

Go get that popcorn going, this one’s quite a doozy.

The Whire Buffalo (Kino)While it’s not that much of an “obscure” film these days thanks to a few DVD and Blu-Ray disc releases over the years, J. Lee Thompson’s wild fantasy/horror western The White Buffalo goes way the hell out of its way to be as surreal as possible (well, within the confines of a Hollywood studio film, circa 1977). If you’re allergic to allegory and go in expecting it to be a more typical manly-man weekend special Charles Bronson flick, it may likely baffle you with its mystical and more surreal elements even though it definitely delivers the goods on the action front.

If anything, this Dino De Laurentis produced follow up to 1976’s (not quite as classic as the true classic) remake of King Kong suffers from too little scope due in part to a lower budget that, combined with a script that’s not fully fleshed out in spots, doomed it to death by a thousand critics slicing away with pen-knives and audiences who likely were expecting a more commercial flick. Today, it’s a different story as the film has garnered a bit of a cult following, warts and all.

Bronson and Buffalo

One of these hairy dudes is Bronson, the other looks more like a hippie jackalope. Uh, wait. a sec…

Still, it’s an excellent showcase for Bronson, as he completely inhabits the role of an ailing James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok (or, James Otis as his alias here), who, after having recurrent nightmares about the titular creature terrorizing his mind, sets out to kill the beast but good. His competition for the prize: Crazy Horse (Will Sampson), whose infant daughter has been killed along with many of his tribe after a bloody rampage by the seemingly unstoppable, mountain wrecking, avalanche-causing monster.

In a kooky way, it’s more or less Ahab (from Moby Dick) meets Quint (from JAWS), but I don’t want to get too far with the literary or cinematic references even though the film is based off the novel by Richard Sale (who also wrote the screenplay). Let’s just say not every idea gels here, and to quote the late Milton Arbogast,

“You see, if it doesn’t jell, it isn’t aspic, and this ain’t jelling.”

That said, when it does gel, it’s like that time you used three boxes of gelatin and too little water and got something sweet you could bounce a silver dollar off of and have it hit you in the eye (ouch). Painfully palatable is a good description.

Continue reading

Beefarino Get! Or: Coming Attractions

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

I guess there was a mild white earthquake while some person was laying out text for this DVD cover artwork. Check out the original poster for a clue as to what’s what.

So, yeah. I needed to snag a film for a blogathon and as I’m on a budget these days (well, I’m always on a budget!), I ended up picking us a little addition to the library that, along with a bunch of other films I own just so happen to be from South Korea. Everyone needs an odd obsession or three that’s legal yet somewhat comical and one of mine is legal variants of films that come from other countries. I need to do a post on this at some point I guess.

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

Yes, the subtitles are optional. I like the clean animated menu design here (which makes me wonder if the US release uses the same one).

As you can see, the film runs fine (on a Blu-Ray, a PS4, PS3 and standard DVD player from my quick tests). Quality-wise, it’s acceptable, but definitely not anything close to a Criterion Collection remaster.And before you ask “How’s the film?” I’ll tell yoy now that you’ll have to wait with bated buffalo breath for my verdict until next month’s installment of (shameless plug time:) Video Store Action Heroes to find out.

Video Store Action Heroes - Banner 9 final

So shameless… yet so pluggy.

-GW

Blu-Ray Review: Scalpel

Scalpel BRJohn Grissmer’s 1977 film Scalpel is a pretty neat psychological thriller that also works as an entry level ‘light’ horror flick for those skittish types not quite ready for gore galore, but who won’t mind a tiny bit of depravity in the plot.  Arrow Video has not only put out a stellar restoration, they also got respected cinematographer Edward Lachman to supervise am equally gorgeous second transfer that’s been color corrected back to his original theatrical version.

While there are some flaws in the storytelling, it’s a solid enough film to recommend thanks to the no-nonsense performances and relatively brief 95-minute running time.  Having the choice to see both versions on a single disc along with some very nice bonus features makes this yet another Arrow you’ll want to add to your quiver.

When plastic surgeon Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Richard Lansing) encounters a badly beaten stripper with a completely ruined face, he comes up with a plan to reconstruct her to look exactly like his missing daughter (Judith Chapman) in order to claim the $5,000,000 inheritance denied him, but given to her by her grandfather.  He’s also got more disgusting designs on his mind, but you’ll have to see how that plays out.  After the young woman is out of surgery and healing up, Reynolds takes her out of the hospital and to his home, eventually telling her his plan and offering to split half the money with her.  After some weeks of coaching, the girl is ready for her close up with Reynolds’ extended family.  While their ploy succeeds to some extent, things get a wee bit complicated when Reynolds real daughter (also played by Chapman) shows up shortly thereafter. Oops, and yep, the plot thickens.

Continue reading

Blu-Ray/DVD Review: Satan’s Cheeerleaders

SC_VCI9032If you’re of a certain age (mine or slightly younger), you’re probably not watching Satan’s Cheeleaders for the acting (which is hammy bologna on white bread) or the old movie stars slumming for their paychecks. You’re very likely watching this slice of American cheese for the titular cheer squad and maybe to see where this Satan stuff goes with a cast partly made up of well-known actors close to the ends of their careers and partly made up of new to the business nubile tart types and a few unsexy dudes who pop up that are supposed to be on a college football team.

Well, friends – you get a proper dosage of tame 70’s nudity, but nothing at all indecently overexposed, a paper-thin plot that doesn’t hold up to a soft breeze and some muddling around with mysticism before a somewhat crummy finale that leaves a few things hanging. The sole notable things here are those slumming for paychecks stars (John Ireland, Yvonne DeCarlo, John Carradine) who have not much else to do except hit their marks and react to whatever they need to react to. That said, the film seems to aim for more of a campy feel that keeps things light and airy (or air-heady), and that’s fine with me.

Well, to a point.

Continue reading

Blu-Ray Review: The Zodiac Killer

Zodiac Killer BR Ha. Way back in 1970 or so, someone should have told newbie director and pizza shop maven Tom Hanson that the Zodiac Killer has a far better chance to be caught alive during a screening of Dirty Harry than dead asleep at Hanson’s eyeball-rolling (yet pretty potent on occasion) The Zodiac Killer. While the film has some genuinely scary moments in replicating some of the more infamous murders, it’s also loaded with chuckle-worthy performances and a couple of hilarious made-up deaths that might have you choking on your popcorn.

Make no mistake, ladies and gents. This isn’t a “great” film by any means. But thanks to AGFA and Something Weird Video, we have a nice 4K restoration that still retains a certain grainy, grimy charm. Well, about as “charming” as you can get in a film explicitly meant to taunt and catch a notorious serial killer.

Continue reading

READS: Star Wars Works Spectacularly As A Scrolling Infographic

SWANH_start

Many movie fans all know what follows this memorable opening image, but thanks to Zurich-based artist Martin Panchaud, we now have quite possibly the best illustrated retelling of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope to date. While not flawless (there are a few incorrectly translated lines), the scrolling infographic absolutely nails the storytelling beats, but from a top down perspective and using colored dots for human and alien characters. If you’re a big enough fan of the film, I’d bet you’ll be hearing that phenomenal John Williams score in your head at all the right moments. Go check it out (if this hasn’t been forwarded to your own inbox already today).

Also, someone call Guinness (no, not the ghost of Alec, silly!)- I think at 123 meters (or 403.543307 feet), it just may be the longest infographic you’ll see for a while. Anyway, go revisit a classic film from 1977 in a whole new way.

Blu-Ray Review: Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive AV015While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was (and still is) a memorable horror film experience, Tobe Hooper’s follow up, 1976’s Eaten Alive (released in 1977) was and is memorable for entirely different reasons. While it’s got a compelling and frightening performance from Neville Brand and that bathed in red sound stage set makes the film even more frightening, there’s a “too many hands” feel to the production process that makes the film more of a “B” than it deserves to be. That said, it’s yet another excellently produced Arrow release that’s worth a buy for the solid 2K restoration job and copious special features as well as the chance to see a film you may not have heard of previously (or had forgotten entirely).

Then again, given the incredibly sleazy origins of the “allegedly based on actual incidents” story here, Eaten Alive also works quite well as a pure “B” flick. Running a tidy 87 minutes, no time is wasted here as Brand’s psychotic veteran motel keeper, Judd, kills off a local lady of the evening after a tryst gone wrong at a brothel nearby sends her scampering for the hills after the madam (Carolyn Jones) gives her the boot. Judd runs the Starlight Hotel (one of the film’s many alternate titles along with Death Trap, Legend of the Bayou, Starlight Slaughter and Horror Hotel) which also happens to have a live crocodile as an attraction living in a penned in “swamp” outside. You know that Judd and his “pet” are going to be pretty busy as the film progresses and the victims show up as if there’s a massive magnet yanking their cars in that general direction. Continue reading

Today’s Mystery: The Case of the One-Winged Chicken

Right Winger Right Winger (2)

One more reason to cut certain foods out of the diet, I suppose. But also a big little mystery that needs solving, so I’m (kind of) on the case. I defrosted a whole Purdue chicken and put it in a simple salt water brine overnight. As I tend to handle raw proteins as little as possible, I didn’t realize until this morning that the chicken ended up in the store sans one wing. Eek. From what I recall, chickens don’t fly very well at all, so this couldn’t be the result of the one I was about to cook being gimped because it wanted to go all Freebird from wherever it was raised.

“It’s a factory second!” was a guess tossed into the hat I wasn’t wearing. But that wasn’t the case, as it was a full price chicken with a clipped wing and someone out there walking around with it in a pocket as a good luck charm. Or something a lot less disgusting. Speaking of disgusting, as soon as I saw that missing wing, I had a serious Eraserhead flashback. You know the scene: “Just cut them up like regular chickens!”:


Yuck. Anyway, a coin was flipped and it was decided to not waste a good and already brine-soaked bird. So a bit of Madras Soul (TM!) spice blend and a good shake in a plastic bag later, into the oven it went. As it’s meant to be split with a friend going through some bumpy times of late, I decided to keep the wingless half for myself. There’s nothing like having to answer questions about what happened to that missing flapper on a gift half chicken. Some questions weren’t made to be answered without a legal team handy. Or at least the Scooby Gang. Anyway, it’s a sunny Sunday and too nice outside to dwell on a dead (now twice dead) piece of poultry. That said, guess who will be pickin’ chickens a lot more carefully from now on. Or a lot less carefully because I’ll have changed my dining options.

Then again, having tried faux poultry on a few occasions, I can very safely say that every one has had missing wings, legs, thighs and bones. That’s not a mystery at all other than why some of those ersatz birds sometimes end up in assorted poultry shapes. Then again, if it were a tofu bird with a missing wing? Well… THAT would be even more creepy.

Random Film of the Week: HOUSE (1977)

(thanks, tubesoda!) 

HOUSE MP JapanOne of the most unusual “mainstream” horror films you’ll ever see, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 film HOUSE is one of those inventively crazy movies that will stick in your head for a long while after those end credits roll.

Paradoxically, it’s tricky to talk about the film in detail and not give a lot away. But on the other hand, you could go in knowing the entire story and what happens to every character in the film before you see it and still have your mind completely blown by the bizarre visual effects and how the tone switches from comic to horror (and back and forth at that) at the drop of a hat.

Or drop of the head, in this case… Continue reading