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

Andy Hardy Goes To Hell, Or: Speaking of Full Circles…

A horse is a horse, of course, of course…

The fun 1937 musical comedy Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry popped up today on TCM and while I usually don’t go out of my way to watch many Mickey Rooney films, this one was quite interesting because it nicely bookends with a certain later TV show. Some of you know where this is going, so just smile and nod, please.

Anyway, I got to laughing at one point for a few key reasons. One being the scene below where after teaching a kid the ropes of riding a race horse, Mickey’s character Timmie Donovan later takes the kid back to his room and attempts to give him a vigorous rubdown, which is unintentionally and hilariously suggestive, as is the previous horse scene.

While this is happening, a young Judy Garland pops up to interrupt things by playing the guitar and singing a catchy song about her new shoes. Don’t believe me? See for yourself, ahem (and just what the heck is going on here?):

“I got my horse right here, his name is Paul Revere…”

Th other funny thing was I immediately thought of The Twilight Zone episode” Last Night of A Jockey”, which was a total solo showcase for Rooney written by Rod Serling. He plays an angry disgraced jockey named Michael Grady who’s accused of horse doping and banned from racing. While in his shabby room, he talks to himself until his alter ego appears and grants him one wish which amusingly enough, goes exactly as planned after he’s reinstated and can start racing again:

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat…”

Anyway, you can pick up the film though Warner Archive here and it’s worth a watch, as it’s the first of eight films Rooney made with Garland, so that’s also important in cinematic as well as historical terms. See, folks- movies like this can also be quite educational when they need to.

-GW

Review: Scandal (1950)

Yes, it’s a Christmas movie.

All Ichiro Aoye (Toshirō Mifune) wanted was to get his latest painting done while up in the mountains. But a chance encounter with famous singer Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi) leads to an innocent motorbike ride past a bus with a pair of nosy magazine photographers looking for an exclusive interview with her. They don’t get it, but manage to snap the two seemingly sharing a room (they’re not). Once the photo arrives back at Amour Magazine, a salacious story gets written and both Ichiro and Miyako deal with the resulting fallout, even though they both temporarily benefit from career boosts due to the resulting gossip.

Thus begins Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal, which manages to poke a finger in the eye of celebrity worship and the often lousy and slanderous “journalism” that comes with it. The film is also has bits of comedy, does double jury duty as a decent courtroom drama and you’ll also find the old heart string tugboat towing the SS Kleenex for good measure. There’s a big slice of mundane, but honest sentimentality here that still resonates more with age and for me, it’s Kurosawa’s most “American” film, despite the Japanese setting.

in Japan, extreme painting is a spectator sport.

Ayoe goes to the magazine’s office, slugs the article’s writer and tells them he plans to sue. Later, he’s approached at his home by a somewhat disheveled lawyer, Hiruta (Takashi Shimura) who gives him his business card and asks to represent him at the upcoming trial. Ayoe says he’ll give it some thought, but his friend Sumie (Noiriko Sengoku) comments on Hirata’s smelly feet and warns Ichiro about his choice. The next day, Ichiro visits Hirata’s rundown home to accept but meets his bedridden young daughter, Masako (Yōko Katsuragi), who’s had tuberculosis for five years, but still greets him with a joyful smile and shows Ichiro what’s currently keeping her happy: an intricate wedding outfit her mother has made that’s to be delivered the next day to a future bride. That old tugboat is puffing out gently scented tissue smoke right about now.

I am the law?

Inoue also stops by Hinata’s cluttered “office”, a tiny shack on the roof of a building that looks as it it was built by the lawyer himself where he finds some bike racing forms and a photo of Hinata’s daughter tacked up near the door where she’s standing up and still bearing that warm smile. Ichiro leaves a chalkboard note saying he wants to retain the lawyer and leaves. The film gets busy touching on that period between Christmas and New Year’s Day where there are some laughs to be found and you realize that drunken revelers are the same almost everywhere. Hinata’s plans to one-up the magazine by secretly revealing his trial plans to its shady publisher backfires badly and he eventually takes money to gamble on the races, where he seems to keep losing.

See, I told you this was a Christmas movie!

Everything culminates in quite the ending that’s guaranteed to get that tugboat huffing out more tissue smoke of course, but with Kurosawa, it’s in for a penny, in for a few pounds. there are a few ways to watch this from poorly subtitled versions posted online to the far superior Criterion Collection box set you can get here that gets you five of the director’s post World War II films. Whichever way you choose, you’re in for quite a holiday.

-GW

Review: Once Upon A Time In The West

They don’t shoot horses, do they?

An intentionally slow moving, deliberately paced epic “western opera”, Sergio Leone’s now classic Once Upon A Time In The West wasn’t exactly a huge hit back during its 1969 North American release. The film, which was edited for some content (since restored) was probably still somewhat lengthy for audiences of the era and the film’s somewhat glacial pace will be a bit much for some new and impatient viewers.

Interestingly enough, the film is a sweeping and meticulous love letter to the western genre, featuring major and minor visual and aural tips of the hat to many previous westerns. It’s also Leone doing remarkable work with his camera using carefully crafted sets and locations in Spain and some prime locations in Monument Valley to grand effect. There’s also spring loaded tension throughout, such as the brilliant opening sequence where three duster-clad gunmen wait impatiently for a late train to arrive just so they can kill a man (Charles Bronson). Leone uses some humor here to break that tension, having a common fly and dripping water torment two of the men as they wait.

No, he doesn’t do requests…

The would-be assassins fail, save for wounding their target and the film cuts to a man named Brett McBain and his young son hunting birds before taking their catch back home to a ranch named Sweetwater, where the entire McBain family is in turn brutally dispatched by a man named Frank (Henry Fonda!), Then we move to Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) arriving via train to the town of Flagstone, where no one is there to meet her (thank to Frank and his men). After the buggy she’s hired to take her to her new home makes an unscheduled stop, we then meet Cheyenne (Jason Robards), an outlaw who’s just escaped from jail and ends up at that spot where he meets his gang. Cheyenne meets a recuperating Bronson, who he dubs “Harmonica” upon seeing and hearing him play while wondering if he can shoot as well. Harmonica initially thinks Cheyenne sent his three of his men to kill him earlier because of the dusters they wear, but he’s soon convinced otherwise. Jill eventually makes it to her new home where we see the bodies of the family laid out and a small group of neighbors waiting to give her the sad news. Before the funeral, evidence of Cheyenne’s involvement in the murders is revealed, but Frank is actually responsible.

The next time he rode a train, he made sure no one would shoot him.

It turns out Frank is working for a very wealthy man named Morton, who’s got a disability and travels in a specially customized train. Morton admonishes Frank for killing the family instead of scaring them off, to which Frank coldly replies: “People are only scared when they’re dying”(ouch). Morton wants Sweetwater for its proximity to the railroad and its water source, both of which will add to his wealth, but he doesn’t realize Frank also has his own plans for the property. Meanwhile, Jill is the sole owner of Sweetwater now that her family has been killed and yes, Frank has plans for her as well. Both Cheyenne and Harmonica figure out what Frank is up to, but both men have their own plans for dealing with him and fate also drops into the picture. The theme of water plays so heavily here that I thought of Chinatown for a moment once the overall story was finally revealed. This is a film that takes its sweet time to fully display its plot, using Bronson’s character as the near-silent observer/detective and his reason for being a bit vengeance minded is finally revealed after a trio of initially hazy flashback sequences are spread throughout the film that eventually tell a tragic tale.

John Ford was here…

There’s a lot more, but we’ll talk instead about how Leone’s superb attention to detail in everything from the sets to costumes to his work with composer Ennio Morricone that make this a film worth watching. The scope of the film is constantly amazing down the finest details to the dozens of extras in full costume for a single scenes. Jill’s arrival in Flagstone goes from crowd shot to crane shot to show of the dusty non-splendor of the growing railroad town and as expected, Leone gets in some truly outstanding closeup shots. Morricone has a theme for each of the four main characters and there’s a few uses of sound design in lieu of score, like how the film opens using a mix of insects, a constantly squeaky windmill and other amplified bits. The film stretches scenes and can be deliberately confusing in spots, but that’s Leone wanting viewers to figure out things out as Harmonica does.

Oh don’t you know, that’s the sound of the men working on the train gang?

In other words, take the time to watch this and you’ll be surprised at how well this film works not only as western, but also as a homage to other past westerns. Hey, if you sat through a three hour Batman film, this will be a cakewalk, right? Cheyenne says make a fresh pot of coffee and have it handy (you’ll get the reference from watching the film). by the way, this post is part of The Foreign Western Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini. Pop on by and take a peek at the other submissions for other genre faves!

-GW

Random Film of the Week Quickie: DEAD END

dead end 02

“I hear the marinara sauce is good in this joint…”

Dead End 1937 MPI love Dead End for a few reasons. It’s a great film based off a stage play that yep, both looks and feels stagey, but that works highly in its favor. It’s a classic Old New York City film just for the location it presents and the feeling that, staging aside, that place actually existed. It also marked the debut of The Dead End Kids who’d later morph into The Little Tough Guys, then The East Side Kids and then into The Bowery Boys with a total of close to 50 audience-pleasing fluff comedies made between 1937 and 1958. To some non-fans of the Boys, this only proves the law of diminishing returns should have been more strictly obeyed and enforced (ha and ha). But, I digress.

It also has Humphrey Bogart in an early knockout role as a slickly dressed but menacing thug who returns to his old stomping grounds with a brand new facelift for mixed results. Finally, it’s a nicely directed “message” film by the great William Wyler that works on many levels, some of which soak in only after a second or third viewing. Go grab your popcorn, pal. I’ll wait. Oh, you’re making it on the stove the old-fashioned way? Good. I’ll go get a bowl and meet you back here in five.

dead end 04

Bogie lets McCrea know he can’t wear a hat AND a bucket at the same time.

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Whatever Will Be, Will Be

(Thanks, ukwebwonders!)

My first memory of Doris Day was her long-running TV series that ran on CBS from 1968 to 1975, which I understand she initially wanted no part of. Although I can’t recall a single episode (I was four years old when it premiered) other than each one I saw being as blandly wholesome and clean-cut as it gets with the usual sitcom of the era comedic flourishes (well, up until the last two seasons when network programming drastically changed).

Still, I did have “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” embedded in my brain for years (it’s still there) and yes, automatically associated it with Day, which ended up making my first viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s excellent 1956 “remake” of his 1934 film, The Man Who Knew Too Much even more entertaining.

That song gets sung twice during the film, but as I’m betting a penny some of you haven’t yet seen this classic, I’ll let you go watch the film and see how well it’s used.
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Oh, The Horror! Severin Films Remasters The Horror of Party Beach

(Thanks, SeverinFilmsOfficial!)

 

HoPB_MPYes indeed, it’s a hot summertime thing from 1964 and it’s BACK. Well, it’s back on August 28, 2018, but you can pre-order this slice of not too scary sea life NOW.  Now, don’t get me wrong, people. The Horror of Party Beach is kind of bad. How bad? Well, I did a review a few years back noting it wasn’t all that good, if that helps. That said, in retrospect, its heart is definitely in the right place, the film is actually terribly funny and campy as hell, and will indeed make you laugh if your funny bone is in good working order.

I’d prattle on some more, but YOU, dear reader? You have some pre-ordering to do if this spiffy new 2K restoration floats your particular boat. Get the bundle! Or get the Blu-Ray by itself! Or get the DVD if you don’t have a BR player yet! You can also get the enamel pin and/or Beach ball from the bundle separately and make believe you bought the bundle (er, if that’s your thing).

Uh, if you only have a VHS or (eek!) Betamax player, you’re kind of out of luck, sorry!

-GW

Random Film of the Week: Alien Resurrection

(Thanks, Forever Horror!)

 

alien_resurrection_V2So, I think it was around spring 1997 and I’m sitting in a movie theater when “surprise!”,  that teaser trailer above for Alien Resurrection pops up like a chestburster squeezed into a jack-in-the box. I recall some people in the theater being either not too thrilled or just plain shocked that there was another film on the way. I also recall my eyeballs didn’t pop out like they did when I saw the ALIEN³ teaser trailer six years previously, but I think my new-ish eyeglasses kept them from ending up on the floor. Actually, I was more amused than shocked by what I saw (so there!).

I saw the first ALIEN back in 1979 at age 15 (in dangerous Times Square, baby!), ALIENS was a day one view when it premiered in 1986 (there’s a funny story about screening that I’ll tell one day). The third film was, I thought, going to be the last one when it landed in 1992 and yes, I bade the franchise a fond farewell thinking it had run its course. Welly-well-well, imagine my surprise when 20th Century Fox trundled out the ALIEN name for one more installment that turned out to be less scary than the others and actually somewhat more amusing while unsettling on a few fronts in terms of the visual vibe it delivered. How the heck does that work and how the heck did I find myself bopping into a theater in November 1997 with a wry grin not expecting anything other than to be somewhat giddy partly because I knew some in the audience wouldn’t appreciate this Resurrection at all?

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Loving The Alien: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

 

The best film directors are master manipulators who can magically transform an entire theater audience into a group of happy to sappy sapient lemmings or wide-eyed marionettes easily controlled from start to end credits. Their best films have the masses cheering the heroes, hissing at the bad ones, empathizing with the downtrodden and generally feeling whatever emotion a scene calls for. Yes, there are exceptions to this non-rule (too-likeable villains, swapping out all attempts at sympathy for more explosions and eyeball rolling plot twists you can see coming 20 minutes before they occur). But when you get right down to it, you know your cinematic needs are being taken care of when certain directors are at the helm.

Or, as an old friend once said:

(thanks, svofski!) 

In other words, this is a Spielberg film, folks.
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Alien: Covenant Does The #TBT Thing A Day Early


 

Well, well. Referencing that infamous dinner scene from the original ALIEN, this “Last Supper” prologue also manages to give an idea of how close to the vest Alien Covenant is going to be playing a few of its cards. Granted, I wasn’t expecting anything revolutionary with the upcoming film, so this clip does indeed hit the right notes. I liked what I saw, although that larger crew means a lot more victims which will hopefully not translate to the film feeling repetitive. Eh, I’m not really worried much, though.

aliencovenant-header 

Oh, by the way, when you go to that site link above and register, make sure you mess with the MU/TH/UR 6000 computer interface for a bit of fun. Ask it some questions that are ALIEN-related, if you need a hint.

-GW