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

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

Review: Nightmare at Noon (1988)

Home, James

So, if good guys wear black, I guess, uh…

NAN.BR.Cover.72dpiWhile it’s absolutely packed to the hilt with stunts, thrills, and explosions galore (and how!), Nico Mastorakis’ 1988 flick Nightmare at Noon isn’t exactly the brain food of action movies. In fact, if you go in expecting even a decent plot to speak of, your brain may beat you somewhat senseless about two minutes in and turn itself off so it can enjoy the wild ride without you gargling on about what small amount of plot there is. Basically, if you miss the opening credits, there goes the story, and there’s not much there to begin with (and even less if you’re looking).

All you need to know is a secret scientific agency (or not so secret, as they roll around in two black custom vans with their agency’s name on them!) has chosen a small US town to experiment with some nefarious goings-on and it’s up to a handful of gun-totin’ tourists and local heroes to make things right.  So you get Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins, and Kimberly Beck starring with George Kennedy and Kimberly Ross versus that town full of newly green-blooded raging townspeople and a bunch of well-armed bad guys. A strangely silent Brion James kicks the flick off as the mysterious Albino, but despite all his evil machinations, his total lack of dialog actually hurts the film despite the nearly non-stop action that follows. I gather he was paid enough for bleaching his hair and wearing some contact lenses to make him look albino and decided to charge by the word for dialog or something?

(Thanks, ScreamFactoryTV!)

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Random Film of the Week: Shin Godzilla

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They’re going to have a meeting about having a meeting, most likely.

shin gojira

Sometimes, a kick to the Shin works.

Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi’s Shin Godzilla is, for all intents and purposes, more of a grand live action anime because it translates much of its visual style and energy rather successfully from some of both of its creators’ previous well-known animated works. It’s also a sly poke at Japanese government bureaucracy where every decision has to go up a few ladders and lengthy meetings are constantly being held even as a horrific, mutating monster makes its radioactive presence known.

As a reboot of the classic franchise it works excellently in delivering a new and more terrifying Godzilla that mutates from a googly-eyed giant, arm-less gilled beast that flops and slides along because its body can’t hold it up, to a 400-foot tall nuclear blasting fiend that requires a lengthy cooldown after it uses its powers. This isn’t a Godzilla who’s a kid-friendly lizard who punches other monsters in the face and goofs around. Nope, the film takes it back to the more horror-laced 1954 original in terms of tone, laying on a modern plot where every decision made needs discussion and division heads and other leaders change into fancy jumpsuit ensembles just to look official while executive orders are issued.

(Thanks, Funimation!)

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Random Film of the Week: The Sailor Who Fell With Grace From The Sea (1976)

sailor 01

Just another day at the beach…

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This isn’t Altman’s Popeye, to say the least.

I first saw this film on network TV some decades ago and don’t remember much except that I later realized it was edited within an inch of its life, as when I saw it the next time in my teens on cable, the film had a load of stuff I missed plus stuff I understood better, but still missed because of the TV version’s heavy censoring. That said, I’m gathering that over that first network airing, the nudity was chopped out as much as possible and anything overtly sexual didn’t make the cut except for brief flashes. As for violence, I remember the infamous scene with the cat (more on that below) was also chopped down, but you still got the idea of how horrifying it was.

Anyway, flash forward to seeing the film again recently, and while The Sailor Who Fell With Grace From The Sea is both beautiful to look and quite haunting, it’s also going to be for some viewers (as I found out when I recommended it to some friends), a “pretty repellent film” when all is said and done. Two tastes that don’t taste great together for some, but at least the tagline on the poster is quite applicable. It’s got memorable performances, lovely cinematography, direction, and so forth and so on, so I can’t and won’t complain about any of that. I think the issue with some viewers is with the original Yukio Mishima story it was based on and the film not changing its tone into a more kinder one, although it shifts what some say are morally questionable characters and plot to a breezy, stunning English seaside setting instead of its original Yokohama location. But this wasn’t meant to be a film that bent itself to a particular set of generic movie rules.

(Thanks, MADWORLD1247!)

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Video Store Action Heroes: Streets of Fire (1984)

SOF_01

Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) and two of The Attackers, about to get attacked (and lose, badly).

Video Store Action Heroes - Banner 9 finalIt’s that time again, folks. You’re likely trapped inside like me for a spell, so I have your attention (at least for a few minutes before you try and sneak out). Say, look what the cat dragged in after a bit of a hiatus. This post is hopefully, virus-free and entertaining (or at the very least, one of those).

streets_of_fire_ver1_xlg

When I first saw Walter Hill’s “Rock & Roll Fable” Streets of Fire way back in 1984, I can honestly say that I really didn’t like it much. Yet, there was a certain “je ne sais pas quoi” about it that made it quite magnetic. I went back at least four or five times to see it afterward probably in the hope it would get better with each viewing and even saw it a few more times on cable over the decades. Despite the ridiculously simple comic book style plot and one-note characters, the film’s super stylish looks combined with the genre and 1950’s/1980’s era blending made for a unique visual experience. Storytelling? Eh, there’s not so much to be thrilled over. Personally, I feel the film hasn’t aged well, original to modern cult following aside. But at least it gets straight to the action stuff if you just want that and well, you get your money’s worth if you go in totally blind expecting exactly what’s onscreen.

Plot-wise, it’s all this and no more, but I’m going to over-explain a tad here: During a concert in her hometown, singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is kidnapped by a biker gang and held hostage in another part of a fictional city.  A fan (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) calls in her tough guy ex-soldier brother Tom Cody (Michael Paré), who was previously romantically involved with Ellen, to go rescue her. He initially turns down the request, but (duh!), why else would he make the long trip back home? He ends up teaming up with Ellen’s new and wealthy jerk boyfriend/manager (Rick Moranis) and another ex-soldier he meets in a dive bar (Amy Madigan), and for a $10,000 fee, rescues Ellen, who thinks Tom only saved her for the money.

SOF_02

Duck Tales! Ooo woo ooooo!!!

That mostly turns out to be false, and Tom later takes on the gang leader Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe, in too small of a role for a film’s main villain) in a fight with custom made sledgehammers where the outcome is more predictable than you’d think. While the end result is beautifully stylish and super easy to follow, for my tastes it’s too basic of a plot with no surprises or big twists. While the film packs in a lot of flash and neon-soaked noir-ishness, it ends up being up far too predictable despite that flashiness that it’s a bit disappointing.

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

night tide 01

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: The Flesh Eaters (1964)

THE FLESH EATERS

Cheesy, but very perfectly so.

TFE_adI think about Jack Curtis’ exceptionally cheesy but really awesome sci-fi/horror hybrid The Flesh Eaters maybe a bit more than I should, but there’s a good reason for that. It was one of the many fright films I grew up watching on television so many times that its unnerving 91 minutes were engraved in my brain for decades. While I’d seen many other horror/sci-fi films as a kid, this particular one stood out for the unsettling for a kid gore factor and overall tone that screamed EC Comics-style nightmare fuel.

I found out later in my teens that it was written by very prolific DC, Marvel and other publishers comics writer Arnold Drake who also made storyboards for the film to assist the director. It’s also by location, classifiable as a New York-based film because it was partly shot in Montauk, New York. The plot kicks off as a small seaplane takes off from Manhattan, runs into a bad storm, and is forced down on a small island in the area with, let’s just say, some rather interesting results in store for all involved.

 

 

On that plane are faded starlet and professional drinker Laura Winters (Rita Morely), her lovely but very harried assistant Jan Letterman (Barbara Wilkin), and debt-ridden pilot for hire Grant Murdoch (Byron Sanders), all of whom survive the in-flight stormy surprise landing. They soon meet a German-accented marine biologist Professor Peter Bartell (Martin Kosleck) who’s all by himself on the island save for his little microbial friends whom we will soon find out more about. The not so good Professor has taken up some evil WWII experiments in breeding nasty little bacteria who need fresh flesh to thrive, and between the human and many more fish skeletons that start turning up in the troubled waters around the island, everyone is in for quite a bad time if something REALLY stupid happened to that plane, right?

TFE_Hello There

It’s too bad the folks on that plane didn’t see the beginning of the film as the in-flight movie, as they kind of missed out on a few important things…

Guess what happens to the plane? Free popcorn to the winning guess!

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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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