Review: The Uncanny (1977)

It’s both catty and batty, but a fun watch, as long as you don’t take it seriously.

As a horror anthologies go, The Uncanny starts out strong, but it ends with a few eye rolls and a twist when it doesn’t exactly stick the landing in terms of storytelling prowess. The basic setup has Peter Cushing as Wilbur Gray, a superstitious feline-fearing writer who arrives at book publisher Frank Richards’ (Ray Milland) home one night and tries to convince him to print his book about a trio of cat-related homicides that happened over decades. Naturally, abundant skepticism abounds, but Wilbur does his best to back up his tales of terror with plenty of evidence that he relays in three episodes, the first of which in the best in the film, in my opinion.

Ever have one of those nights?

In London, 1912, Susan Penhaligon plays Janet, maid for an elderly woman, Miss Malkin (Joan Greenwood!) who’s rewritten her will and left her entire fortune to her cats, shutting out her only surviving relative, Michael (Simon Williams). Of course, Janet and Michael are canoodling and in cahoots to conspire copping that kitty from those kitties because what use do cats have for cash money, right? Let’s just say things go all sorts of wrong for Janet after she offs her employer and tries to get her paws on that will. Instead, the cats get their paws on her and munch on Miss Malkin in the process. Nicely done, overall with just a bit of gore where expected.

The next segment takes place in Quebec 1975, where a young girl named Lucy (Katrina Holden Bronson) is adopted after her parents die in a plane crash by a family that’s not much into cats at all. Lucy just so happens to bring along her black cat, Wellington along with a bunch of books and notes about witchcraft, which belonged to her late mother. Hmmm… you can guess what happens next (mostly). While her new father is initially accepting to Lucy and her cat, both her new mom (Alexandra Stewart) and stepsister Angela (Chloe Franks) are hostile to Lucy and want to get rid of the cat almost immediately. Angela even flies a radio-controlled plane after Lucy and Wellington in one scene (clearly a North By Northwest in-joke).

“Look, I pain-ted a cat!”

Anyway, their plan to have Wellington disposed of works and Dad shuttles the cat off to be “taken care of”. Lucy finds out, but Wellington returns (I guess he’s been eating 9 Lives) and you guessed it, it’s revenge time in a sequence that combines bits of The Incredible Shrinking Man and some interesting use of a spell which probably wouldn’t work outside of this segment (or, don’t try this at home, folks). The main issue here is yes, the child acting, where every line sounds over-enunciated and frankly, the adults aren’t much better. The funny thing for me was remembering Chloe Franks’ performance in 1970’s The House That Dripped Blood, where she shows a bit more range. At least she’s got a memorable ending here straight out out of an EC Comics horror tale.

“Ham, ham, ham, ham”

The final episode takes place in Hollywood 1936, where hammy horror actor Valentine De’ath Donald Pleasence kills his wife with a guillotine (he’s replaced the rubber blade with a real one) and convinces the studio to hire his new girlfriend Edwina (Samantha Eggar!) as a suitable replacement. Things go from bat to verse when we find out not only that Edwina can’t act to save her life, she’s an awfully awful screamer as well, not a good thing for a horror film. The cat angle comes into play when De’ath tries to dispose of his ex-wife’s cat, then finds out the cat is female and has had a new litter, whereupon he has the babies cruelly dispatched, setting up the revenge part.

Almost everyone camps it up here, to varying degrees of success. Pleasence channels a bit of Vincent Price and even wears a toupee (or is it two?) over his real hair at one point. The main issue for me is the episode seems as if someone gathered whatever spare costumes were leftover from another “period” film and crafted a script around them. When Edwina paraphrases Tweety Bird at one point and is briefly seen reading a modern comic book (likely the same one from the last episode), that “1936” thing gets a tad sketchy. David Ogden Stiers even shows up a few times, but its almost as if he’s acting in another movie, as he mostly plays it seriously while he’s onscreen. The most mind boggling thing, however, occurs right as the chapter starts and we see a photo of Pleasense as Blofeld along with his white cat, which probably cost the studio more to use than the entire episode to shoot. Granted, I did get a laugh at this intro, but I can see some not getting the gag at all in they’re not aware of the link.

“Does he, or doesn’t he?…”

The ending wraps things up for Cushing in a somewhat predictable manner, with kind of a circular, vengeful kitty squad sort of thing happening. Milland has a sort of last laugh (is he on the cat side here?) and the film clocks out at a tidy 88 minutes, which isn’t too bad at all. Your mileage may vary, of course. But on a foul weather weekend, this isn’t a bad choice at all for a double feature starter flick. Amicus lite, if you like that sort of anthology thing happening here.

-GW

Review: Cul-De-Sac (1966)

“It’s only an island from the water…”

When I was about 14 or so, I finally noticed that the local public television station had been showing a load of old foreign and domestic films from the late evening into the early morning hours. While I can’t recall the exact date they started, I can remember seeing classics like Seven Samurai, Metropolis, a few Godard films and the occasional silent movie, usually to the effect of me falling asleep on the sofa (hey, not too many kids start out liking everything they watch). It was definitely an eye-opening experience except for me occasionally falling asleep, not really from boredom, but from the films all starting well past my normal bedtime. At least back then, school nights were unaffected by this new hobby although I was pretty useless when I stayed up too late watching all those movies.

“I’m mean, I’m mean, I’m mean – you know what I mean…”

Anyway, one evening I turned the TV on and just missed the opening credits to one film, so all I recall before I passed out about 15 minutes later was a burly guy with a bandaged hand pushing a car down a long road with a seemingly sick or injured passenger inside. The man ends up leaving his passenger alone while he checks out a small castle-like house atop a hill, sneaks in and helps himself to whatever food he can scrounge, including a raw egg. A few years later, I found out that was Roman Polanski’s 1966 film Cul-De-Sac and I ended up tracking the film down at a rental shop here that specialized in obscure films. I also discovered Donald Pleasence in a really quirky role, no truly likeable characters among the main cast and a plot that was a mix of dark comedy and psychological drama which is, of course, better appreciated at an older age.

George (Donald Pleasence) and Teresa (Françoise Dorléac) are a married couple living in a remote island area well off the beaten path (Lindisfarne in Northumberland, according to Wikipedia). As George is entertaining some annoying guests, Teresa is doing her fling with a man who’s not her husband. The odd thing is, George seems a bit intentionally oblivious to this for some reason, but things are about to be shaken up somewhat after his guests leave. That man pushing the car is a gangster named Dickie (Lionel Stander) and he’s come to George’s home just to make a long distance call. It’s a home invasion film of sorts, with Dickie locking the couple in their room while he waits for aid to arrive from a mysterious Mr. Katelbach, who seems to be Dickie’s employer.

“It’s only a flesh wound..

The next order of business is retrieving Albie (Jack MacGowran), Dickie’s literal partner in crime, before he drowns in the stolen car he’s trapped in. This surprises Dickie as well as Albie, as they doesn’t realize they’re on a small island where the tide isolates the area for a few hours each night. We also learn the unseen crime they were paired up for went south quickly before the film begins. Dickie gets wounded in the wrist, while Albie was shot in the stomach and spends his remaining time in the film hallucinating (he thinks George in makeup is his wife at one point) and later, dies from his wound. Dickie initially starts digging a makeshift grave, but Teresa escapes from the room she’s locked in with George and ends up digging willingly for Dickie after offering him some of her homemade vodka. George eventually wakes up to find Teresa free and Dickie forces him to finish the job. George soon ends up as Dickie’s drinking buddy after he’s coerced into a few drinks (and he doesn’t drink at all, which makes him a bit of a mess when he does imbibe).

Just as you’re getting the idea that this odd and temporary friendship may be a way out of sorts for everyone, things go completely awry (even more so than you’d prefer).

“Somebody put something in my drink…”

To add to the madness, a surprise arrival shakes things up when the expected guests aren’t expected at all (or: hell is indeed other people) and Dickie needs to play servant to the couple to keep a ruse going. Jacqueline Bisset gets a tiny cameo, but an increasingly more unhinged George kicks his new guests out and Dickie gets some more bad news after he fixes the telephone and attacks Teresa after she plays a trick on him. George, now nearly completely out of his mind, gets to prove some sort of manhood to his wife as the film takes itself to its bleak conclusion, but you’re treated to an ending that adds at least one final question if you look carefully, guess that a mind was changed and yes, George probably is in for a even ruder awakening than even his now destroyed mind can imagine. I’m not one to rate a film with a proper score these days, but for it’s unusual plot presentation, Gil Taylor’s great black and white cinematography and Krzysztof Komeda’s jazzy score, this one gets a Recommended mention from this end.

It’s a bit twisted in a few ways…

In case you haven’t guessed, this post is part of The Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon hosted by Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews and other entries can be found at both links starting on October 28, I’m posting a bit early due to some medical stuff coming up ths month, so enjoy my scribbling and please poke at the other posts!

-GW

Upcoming: “You’ll Hear The Drums & The Brush of Steel”

“There’s only ONE way to deal with tumbleweeds”

Well, that’s more than enough time to give the Blu-ray of Sergio Leone’s rather epic western Once Upon A Time In The West I just ordered a spin or three for Moon In Gemini. I may try another, as the subject this time is more than broad enough to perk my interest in contributing a few reviews. Better yet, I’d bet a few of you out there that blog a bit on film may want to get in on this as well. Side note: I’ve actually scribbled a few reviews in the past on certain films mentioned on Debbie’s site, so feel free to check out my takes on Outland, Battle Beyond The Stars, and Day of Anger, if you like.

-GW

(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Night Tide (1961)

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Sirens go off: A figure of speech, as it were.

night tide mpSpoiler Theater: In Curtis Hanson’s beautiful, haunting and unsettling romantic thriller, it’s a case of Boy meets Girl, Boy gets Girl and Boy, Oh Boy, does Boy lose Girl, But That’s Sort Of A Good Thing?  Night Tide is a dark and moody film set by the Pacific, with an old pier carnival and its seaside surroundings as the main setting and what could be seen by some today as a few problematic elements in some of its troubled characters. I still think it’s an excellent film, mind you. But after watching it with a few friends recently, I see it’s also a film where some viewers applying more modern thoughts to its story may find an issue with their overall enjoyment. You’ll see.

A young sailor on leave named Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper) goes to a seaside amusement park at night. He pops into a jazz club where he sees a lovely woman (Linda Lawson) sitting alone enjoying the music. He crosses the room, asks her if he can sit at her table because he can’t see the musicians from where he is, then proceeds to sit facing the woman, not the musicians. He tries to strike up more conversation, but she asks him to let her listen to the tunes instead. He then tries to buy her a drink twice, but she refuses both times. Suddenly, a strange, middle-aged black-clad woman (Marjorie Cameron) comes into the club, approaches the other woman and starts speaking an untranslated foreign language (Greek?) to her. The young woman is upset by this and quickly hands Johnny some cash to pay for whatever she was drinking and rushes out of the club.

 

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(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Fast Company (1979)

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I’m still waiting for the Slow Company movie,  but I’m patient…

fastco mpI think it was around 1983 or so and I’d seen four or five films by David Cronenberg when I found out he’d made the 1979 drag racing centered “B” movie Fast Company. At the time I had to search around for a video store that carried it because in the US, it wasn’t readily available as far as I was seeing. A friend of a friend got a copy of the film from one of his sources not too long afterward because he was just as curious as I was and its funny how that sort of thing works out, isn’t it? I recall liking the car stuff, but not liking the plot much, but overall it was a decent popcorn flick provided you didn’t take the story at all seriously.

Watching it again more recently reveals it’s still a pretty pedestrian (ha-ha) movie with a some great car action, a touch of sex and nudity not uncommon to the era and if you didn’t know it was directed by Cronenberg, you’d think you’ve gotten a pretty good made for cable flick from a time capsule. It’s not a badly made film at all, though. In fact, some of the drag race scenes and a later car reconstruction scene benefit from Cronenberg’s attention to detail and his real-life obsession with the sport. Hey, everyone needs a hobby, right? You could say “All body horror and no play make Jack a dull boy”, but that’s not true if you stop and think about it. Still, variety is indeed, the spice of life, so this one’s special like that.

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Trips With Words, Small Steps First

Okay, I just finished up a couple of guest posts for two different blogathons in March, but I may submit another post for one thanks to discovering an old draft that fit the theme of one and just needs to to be completed and a few screen grabs gotten. We shall see.

 

I also have a few reviews to tackle this week, but we’ll get to those as we can. one is a film review that’s part autobiographic, but I need to look and see if In can find some very old artwork because that’s part of the review, those receipts. I can do the review without the art, but it’s a case where mabe an eyebrow or two will be lifted without that proof. SUSPENSE!

-GW

(Not-So) Random Film of the Week: Barry Lyndon

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Where it all begins for one Redmond Barry.

Barry Lyndon is a story which does not depend upon surprise. What is important is not what is going to happen, but how it will happen.

Stanley Kubrick

barry_lyndon_ver1_xlgMy first introduction to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon was via the most likely means most 11-year olds with little to no interest in certain three-hour plus films made by somewhat visionary directors had at the time: MAD Magazine. I do recall that particular issue was confiscated from the classmate who owned it later in the day by a somewhat strict English (Literature) teacher who didn’t appreciate his not paying attention during her class. Fortunately, the magazine was returned the following day with a note that student had to take to his parents about his reading habits during class and oddly (or not so oddly) enough, a public library copy of The Luck of Barry Lyndon for him to read, write a book report on and return to the teacher. It turned out the teacher was a big fan of Kubrick’s film but had never read the MAD version, so she took it home, read it and liked the parody. Thus the somewhat unusual  temporary gift and form of “punishment”.

You gotta love good teachers, friends. Go and hug one today (er, with consent, of course).

I’ve had the feeling for some time that I may have wished for such a tremendous fate back then, as it took quite a few years more for me to actually read the book Kubrick adapted and altered somewhat using groundbreaking lighting techniques and some of the most gorgeous and true to life costume recreations ever put on film. It’s also a film where you can practically hear its director chuckling as he reworked the book into his own style that in my opinion, fits in well with Thackeray’s original writing. Droll, deadpan humor is laced throughout the dramatic scenes, all of which are masterfully composed shots that may have you pausing the film to admire a landscape or painterly composition (of which there are many). Excellent performances from the cast all around also help, as does realizing that Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal) isn’t supposed to “act” here in the sense of a person throwing himself into a part and chewing up the scenery. He’s perfectly cast as a man in a particular point in history where both good to terrible things happen and he reacts as he sees fit (which isn’t always accordingly).

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(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Slipstream (1989)

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This one’s a real woozy-doozy, folks. But an innnnteresting woozy-doozy.

Welcome to this latest installment of VSAH, folks! Definitely check out this month’s other reviews from Todd at Cinema Monolith, Mike at Mike’s Take on the Movies, and Sir Wolf (you’ve been knighted, pal) over at Wolfman’s Cult Film Club.

slipstream 1989Ambition can be a weird and wild thing at times, particularly when it comes to film production whether it be a big deal studio film or tiny independent flick. Taking a pack of awesome ideas and turning them into reality (well, of the cinematic kind) while keeping an audience hooked into the world you’ve created it a risky business, specifically when it comes to fantasy and science fiction.

Granted, the actual “science” in most sci-fi is at best, suspect and at worst, more than enough to yank a viewer clean out of the experience and leave them scratching their heads raw (ow!) while they try and figure out what the hell is going on in some scenes as they miss an important plot point or three in the process.  On the other hand, a film like Steven Lisberger’s (TRON) absolutely ambitious 1989 film Slipstream isn’t going to be one where you question the science all that much (if at all) because you’ll likely be questioning a few other more important things from parts of its plot to some offbeat cameos that may add to the star power, but come off a bit too much like stunt casting or a few folks popping in for a fast paycheck.

slipstream pax

Bill Paxton, doing his best Bill Paxton doing Christian Slater look, circa 1989.

The film certainly kicks off ambitiously enough with a properly bombastic Elmer Bernstein main theme and a wonderfully shot flying sequence using one of a few of the custom made aircraft created specifically for the production. That plane is carrying the somewhat cantankerous “peacekeeper” Will Tasker (Mark Hamill) and his able-bodied assistant Belitski (Kitty Aldridge) and said plane is chasing a man in a nice suit (Bob Peck) running away from them to no avail. He’s caught up with and captured by the pair who plan to take him to some faraway location to be tried and executed for the murder he’s committed. Unfortunately for them, their nattily dressed prisoner is swiped by Matt Owens (Bill Paxton), a genial illegal arms dealer looking to make a big score when he discovers how valuable that prisoner is before he decides to try his hand at kidnapping.

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(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Smash Palace

Smash PalaceThanks to a few oddball decisions (some made by people connected with his first film) Roger Donaldson’s second feature film, 1981’s Smash Palace almost didn’t get made. I’ll let you go check out the excellent making of feature on the Arrow Academy disc for the full story, but let’s just say everything worked out in the end and we have a strong followup to Sleeping Dogs to chat about for a spell. Donaldson’s film is a wrenching, raw look at a marriage fallen apart thanks to a lack of communication and what happens when decisions made by the adults in the room spiral past the point of reasonable discourse.

Al Shaw (Bruno Lawrence), a former race car driver looking to restart his career is married to Jacqui (Anna Marie Monticelli), a former nurse he met while recuperating in France after an accident that took him off the track. They eventually wed and moved to a remote spot in New Zealand where Al runs the titular wrecking company. Jacqui despises the run-down location and dull (to her) lifestyle, berating Al for not taking  a solid ongoing offer to sell the business. Despite the tension, love for couple’s daughter, Georgina (Greer Robson), or Georgie, keeps things mostly in check. Unfortunately, Al’s best friend, local cop Ray Foley (Keith Aberdein) catches Jacqui’s eye and ear (Al talks a lot, but tends to ignore his wife because he’s happy in his work) and the two get romantically involved. When Al discovers this, he lashes out (in a hard to watch scene) and yes, Jacqui leaves him for Ray, taking Georgie with her.

 

(Thanks, Arrow Academy!)

 

Things go sideways and downhill from that point on even though Al gets back on the race track with a car he spent a year building. Recklessly, he makes a series of somewhat terrible decisions, some of which where his hand is forced and others where he just reacts out of pure but flawed human instinct.

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(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.

 

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