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Stupid, yet vaguely entertaining
C.H.O.M.P.S. is very much like any number of cheesy late 70s Disney family comedys-The Cat from Outer Space or Unidentified Flying Oddball, for instance. Utterly devoid of anything creative, beating the same cliches to death, yet vaguely entertaining in a mindless sort of way. The actors won't win any awards, nor will the director, writer, or FX crew, but in its inoffensive ness and bland predicatability there is some vague entertainment to be had. The idea of the robot dog as security system is so full of holes you could use it as a colander. The incredibly repetative disco soundtrack will stick in your head, so beware.
Endangered Species (1982)
TV-movie feel-spoilers ahead
This film has a typical early-80's "crisis" TV-movie feel-the sort of TV-movie that ordinarily would deal with toxic waste dumping and a conspiracy to cover it up. Here its cattle mutilations and secret para-military biological weapons programs. Yep, that's right, a splinter group of right wing mercenaries is developing biological weapons and testing them on cows (only slight reasons are given as to why they don't just buy cows and use them on their own land). Robert Urich is the big city cop with domestic problems and a "cute" alcohol habit whom is the only one who can solve these mutilations-don't expect Jo-Beth Williams relatively competent country cop to pull it off. Its pretty by the numbers, and you can guess 90% of the plot from the opening on screen blurb about the Congress mandated end of biological and chemical weapons tests in 1969. The film has a good supporting cast-Hoyt Axton, Harrey Carrey Jr., Paul Dooley, and hey, even the leads do a good job of acting-too bad this is just a glorified tv-movie. Look for the evil trucks that have a soundtrack cue that sounds like it was stolen from Jon Carpenter.
The Spiral Staircase (2000)
Why remake "The Spiral Staircase", which is no classic but a good little thriller for TV? Why change around the story in ways which only hurt the production? I'm refering to the move of the events of the story to an island, the subtraction of one pivotal character and the addition of a second, the move of time period from the Victorian era to the modern day (as the original was a period piece you could have just left it there). Having Helen arrive during the story, rather than having her be a well established and beloved member of the household really hurts the story. Taking out her love interest, the doctor, from the original story also muddles up things considerably. Adding on the ridiculous "secret passage through the house" only hurts the film, as does changing the killer's motive from psychosis to money. The original film also had a much better cast, all around. Finally, why is it that so many writers feel that to update a movie, you need to make all of the characters more vulgar and unlikable? Sure, we might swear a bit more now, but I wouldn't say that the porportion of jerks is quite as high as it is in this film.
My advice to anyone contemplating seeing this film is to skip it and seek out the original. You'll get a better acted, directed, lit, scored, and written film.
The Terror of the Tongs (1961)
Very bland, generic
This film is a solid (decent pacing, some action, okay acting) Hammer entry. Lee plays a slightly toned down version of his Fu Manchu character-being in charge of a tong rather than a world threatening organization. His chief opponent, a rather clueless and lucky ship captain calls to mind many third rate serial heroes who are constantly being bailed out by others. A couple of amusing cast notes-we've got the Jon Pertwee "Master" villain from Doctor Who in here as Lee's right hand man, and the french lead from "Brides of Dracula" gives another lousy performance, here as a doomed half-chinese concubine.
Which brings me to the chief value of this movie-it really gives one a good insight into English attitudes towards the Chinese and their colonial possesion, Hong Kong. First is the fact that there are no major chinese characters *played* by chinese actors-not an uncommon occurance in this era, to be sure (John Wayne, for example, as Ghengis Khan!). Second, the chinese rarely take any direct action in this film, and they need a western "man of action" to get the people to topple the tongs. Third, Lee and many other characters are extremely fatalist. I do not believe the film was *meant* to come off as racist as it now feels-but that is a function of the times. This film is basically a rather dull adventure film, with a huge imperialist subtext, if anyone cares to notice.
Chu ba (1973)
This film was not made in 1998-it was probably made in the late 70's or early 80's. It was released by everyone's favorite bargain basement martial arts video rip off artists "Arena Home Video". The copy I had included an "exclusive" John Woo interview that was cleary just taken off of TV. That interview, while providing no insights into Woo's work other than an early love of film, some creative use of a flashlight and glass slides, and his belonging to a high school newspaper's film club, is the best part of the tape. "Hong Kong Face-Off", whatever the real title is, might as well be called "Hong Kong Rip-Off". Any price higher than the 99 cents I paid for it out of a bargain bin would be too dear. The film is basically just a mish mash of kung fu and western cliches. The main character is sent from a police academy to clean up a small town ruled by a criminal who killed the cadet's father. He fights the criminal's men and falls in love with a blind girl. The blind girl's family is slaughtered in the course of the film, and our hero, eventually, defeats his enemies and promises to return to the town after he brings his criminal to jail. That's it. There's some truly awful comic relief, *very* uninspired direction (Woo, to his credit, does *try* some new techniques-unfortuantely, they all come off badly) but mostly there is some of the worst acting I have yet seen in a kung fu film. I mean, this film's acting and kung fu was so bad, it had me pining for the less straightforward and more amusing (in a so-bad-its-good way) "Sun Dragon" or "Soul Brothers of Kung Fu". The only redeeming thing about this garbage was that it gives us a chance to see John Woo, ever-so-fitfully developing his (overrated) style. The oh-so-honorable hero is there (Woo did not have the wisdom to inject any sort of ambiguity into his hero as he would do later, so the guy comes off as a cowboy mantinee idol), there's a disabled heroine, poorly developed romanctic sub plot, loyal and honorable but overpowered older sidekick (see the Killer for more of this). Whew. Avoid unless you simply *have* to see all of John Woo's films.
The Black Cobra 2 (1989)
If you'd like to see the most generic "buddy" cop movie possible, but with very low production values and a style that screams "Made without Care in Italy", then Black Cobra 2 is your film. Fred starts off with the same flat delivery of lines he had in the first (and much worse) Cobra film, then mysteriously puts a little feeling in in the second half. There's cliches galore here, from the chief yelling at Fred's cop to a pick pocket who got his scam from "Casablanca". Iranian terroist oil men are the villains, there's one of the least convincing hostage rescue sequences ever, and the disposable girlfriend comes in handy to drive Fred into "hero rage". The single stand out, laugh out loud scene in the film is when Fred loses a car race game to a kid, great for humilation ala the argument scene in "Mitchell".
This film, while no film great (or even genre giant), is oddly entertaining. The acting and direction are pure mid-to-late-80's B-movie cheese, but somehow the ridiculously convoluted plot and hysterical performance by George Kennedy make this film a good time waster-especially if you've got a few friends who appreciate this sort of crap.
The Hand (1981)
Horror film that tries to be more and fails
The Hand is a very poor film. It is not, like some poor films, suffering from inept direction, low budget and untalented actors-instead, what we have here is a very Sidomak "is it supernatural or is it in the protaganist's head?". Unfortunately, this film's poor script, glacier pacing, unlikable characters make the whole Sidomak concept fail. Also, as a movie made in the early 80's, "The Hand" did not have to operate on the sort of restrictions that made Sidomak adopt his "is it or isn't" plots in the first place. Also, this idea was very tired, tv-movie material by the eighties (or by the end of the forties, for that matter). This film suffers, I feel, from similar problems that plague horror films made by "serious" filmmaker's-they just can't accept that they're making a simple genre picture, and instead try to elevate it with a bunch of "psychological" horror. I'm not saying one can't make a meaningful horror film (look no further than Night of the Living Dead for a horror film with a message)but that too often a "serious" filmmaker will f-up a horror flik with his condescending attitude towards the genre. "The Hand" is one example of this.
Mr. Mean (1977)
One would think that a Fred Williamson star vehicle, with Fred having the director's chair and the Ohio Players on the soundtrack would be a highly entertaining film. One would be wrong. This film is cluttered, boring, incredibly poorly acted. The villain is one of the least menacing I've ever seen-he's basically a pudgy shmuck. The only redeeming scene in the whole film involes Fred's giant medallion saving his life.
Mekagojira no gyakushu (1975)
Much maligned Godzilla flick
As a longtime fan of Godzilla movies, I'm at a loss to explain why this film in particular is so hated. I loved this film as a child (perhaps I was already moving towards my love of tragedy), partly due to the coolness of the original Mechagodzilla, partly due to the fact I thought Titanosaurus was cool. There was also the part where I dug the little story of the mad scientist bent on his revenge for being laughed out of academia, and the whole love story angle between the scientist and the mad scientist's daughter. As you can see, there's a lot going on in this film, probably too much, but I enjoyed the attempt to have a more serious subplot going on in a Godzilla flick. The line from the horribly cut American version "But I can't love you, I'm a cyborg", is highlarious. Anyways, I finally tracked down a subtitled, uncut copy, and I was amazed to discover that the american distributors cut the scenes that explain a major character's sacrifice of her life-in the american version it just seems a senseless act. Anyways, don't expect much except a goofy star crossed lovers plot combined with a mad scientist plot and kaiju beating on one another and enjoy.
Caboblanco is a really, really bad film, that loses many points for its feeble attempts to evoke the classic "Casablanca". I feel sorry for Jason Robards and Bronson, both of whom give decent performances on this film's lousy script. I'm sorry, but the story of various low lifes and politicos vieing over suken treasure (with a crappy romance sub-plot thrown in for good measure) cannot compete with Casablanca's story of sacrificing love for the greater good. Also, this film lacks Casablanca's wonderful supporting cast and great dialogue. Judged by itself, this film is paced far too slowly, and too little occurs. The ending, though, is what mainly draws my ire-"I put a bomb in the jukebox" indeed! Avoid.
Anatomy of a Psycho (1961)
Slow, no budget junk
This film, marketed as a horror flick, is in fact nothing but a very slow moving JD film. The film is deficient in every aspect-direction, budget, acting, plot, dialogue. Some may enjoy it's campiness, but that wore thin for me very fast as there really wasn't much to this slow crapfest. I only wish I had held out for a DVD of "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" that did not contain this fetid film.
The Phantom of the Opera (1962)
Terrence Fisher, whose movies I usually enjoy a great deal, real let out a stinker with this one. Please, do yourself a favor-get a copy of the Lon Chaney silent version (with a good soundtrack, orchestra over organ) and watch it instead-that film is a better movie all-around, including the makeup. The only redeeming part of this film, is, as is so often the case, Michael Gough. The man is a genius-I could watch him chew scenery for hours. Also, a side note, what is it with Fisher and straying as far as possible from the original plots of books? His Dracula had Mina and Lucy's roles switched (for little conceivable reason).
Dr. Renault's Secret (1942)
Strangely watchable and engaging
I don't know if it was the spectacle (for me anyways) of seeing J. Carroll Naish in something that wasn't "Frankenstein vs. Dracula" (my all-time favorite so-bad-its-good film), Naish's decent "pitiable villain" or the rather flimsy "Island of Dr. Moreau" reworking, but somehow this movie really held my intention. It's mercifully short (any longer would've been far too much), and fairly typical of horror films of its day. Definitely takes a page out of Wells' book, although the action this time has been relocated to France. There are definite signs of its era and its budget-very set bound, french accents that come and go, random Euro-sounding accents instead of french accents, the "monster" that redeems himself in the end, the odd (and racist, if we want to get all PC, which I don't usually bother for a film of this era that isn't being deliberate about it's racism) notion that a man from Java and an ape made to look like a man would be indistinguishable. Leaving all of these criticisms aside, if you're a fan of horror films, whose interested in the history of the genre and not just in the latestest "Scream" knock-off or still hoping they'll come out with a tenth Friday the 13th or a similar sequel machine, I say check it out. If you're into B-pictures of the era, check it out. It shows the general qualtity of studio horror films of the era, and its got a little something extra I can't put my finger on.
Tired, very tired
I'm not sure if I missed something, or if the lousy condition of the video I rented or the fact that it was not widescreen is to blame, but, in my opinion, this film was very tired. The plot, which revolves around a ridiculous "murderer musical"'s cast being stalked by a mad killer is almost non-existant. Basically-madman escapes, madman stalks isolated group of people, madman kills them (with various handy household items), actors try to escape/fight back, "final girl" finds the bodies of everyone, manages to survive, and comes face to face with a shocking "twist" ending. Sound familiar? Maybe because that's the same formula most slashers have followed since "Halloween". The film does keep one of the things I like about "Halloween"-that the killer does not have a reason, and you know who he is the whole time. But the "shock ending" really doesn't measure up.
Now, I know what you're saying-"Doc, we don't watch *slasher* films for the plot". Well, if you in it just for the gore, this movie is for you. If you're in it for the familiarity, this will do, mostly. In my opinion, and remember, we're talking junky old pan and scan video tape here, this movie lacks style, a semblance of acting, decent sets, decent props, likeable/semi-realistic (i.e. way to much "who the hell would do that?") characters and the ending is just ludicrous. So, next you tell me, "The director's *playing* with the genre's conventions", "The movie is deliberately surreal, blending fantasy and reality" or "It's a spoof". Well, I didn't find it amusing as a spoof, the new "spins" on the formula didn't work, and the "blending" was just lame.
The Big Bird Cage (1972)
Fairly amusing for a WiP flick...
I got a hold of this one mainly for the presence of Pam Grier. Needless to say, I was surprised at just how amusing this one was. Although it contains its share of exploitation elements, large sections of this film are really tongue-in-cheek and pretty damned funny actually. Sid Haig and Pam Grier are great as revolutionaires, and there are a sprinkling of decent character actors that round out the cast for a decent outing. The ending is chock full of early 70's combat sequences and wonderfully photographed burning buildings. Actually, I was also impressed by the director's good use of scenery; I hate to admit it, but the backdrop (jungle and mountains) were actually breathtaking in parts.
The Cosmic Man (1959)
Dull, lifeless, generic sci-fi
For once Maltin has reviewed something correctly: The Cosmic Man is a sad Day the Earth Stood Still rip-off. We have the alien representative who disguises himself as a human and befriends an intelligent, open minded scientist and a single mother and her child, we have the closed minded military men who want to capture and question the alien to gain his knowledge, and we have the "fantastic" special effects. Only the acting, fx, and dialogue don't quite measure up to The Day the Earth Stood Still. A key example of this is the kid in this: apparently being a child wasn't enough, but instead they had to make him a cripple to heighten the messianic qualities of the alien. I say watch "The Day the Earth Stood Still" instead, and all you'll miss is a standard Carradine performance.
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)
Why, lord why? Why can't someone, just once, produce a version of the Island of Dr. Moreau that is even slightly faithful to the original (and may I say excellent) book. Why does every version have to have a love interest? Why do they leave out the main character's descent into madness when he is left on the island by himself and sees the beastmen degenerate into animals? Where's the social criticism, by the way? That having been said, this film isn't entertaining on *any* level. It's slowly paced, nothing ever really happens, inexplicably Dr. Moreau attempts to turn Michael York into an animal, and ultimately the film goes no where. On the small plus side? The film does have decent make up and acting by York and Lancaster. What is the law? To stop making crappy movies out of good books.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS Willard is a very slow moving character study. It is not, as it is billed, a horror film, unless you have a phobia relating to rats. Yes, scenes with the rats can deliver a gross out, but that's about it. The only really horrifying thing in the film is the way the rest of the cast (excluding Sondra Locke's character) treat Willard. Basically what we have here is the story of a shy man, suppressed by his overbearing mother and without his father who is put upon by everyone. He withdraws so much that his only friends are rats. At various points in the movie he uses the rats to ruin his bosses party, steal money, and finally murder his boss. All of the acting is good, and Borgnine is excellent as Willard's creepy boss. But this can't save the film from its glacier pacing and inappropriate music. Ultimately the film is a let down because nothing really happens. I do not recommend this film unless you really like slow paced character sketches or are afraid of rats.
The Man with Bogart's Face (1980)
Man with Bogart's Face without Bogart's Charisma or Style
The Man with Bogart's Face sets it self up to mine the viewers nostalgia for the late 30's-late 40's film era. It fails miserably for several reasons. First, Sacchi, while looking reasonably like Bogart and even speaking like him on occassion and using his mannerisms, completely lacks any of Bogart's charisma or acting ability. This is really apparent whenever Sacchi is not clearly imitating a scene from one of Bogart's films. Second, the film does not have the first rate character actors Bogart was able to work with. There are no Peter Lorre's or Sydney Greenstreet's in this one, folks. Sure we are treated to performances by Victor Buaeno, Olivia Hussey and George Raft amongst others, but they just aren't of the same caliber (or aren't given enough screen time or are miscast). Third, the attempts at "modern" humor all fall through. All of the underwear jokes, having Marlowe almost *never* remove that damn hat and trench coat (even though Bogart would have), etc. just aren't funny and really pull down this film. Fourth, I've never heard a goofier theme song this side of Mitchell. Finally, the film's false reverence for Bogart (and other classic actors work) is truly irritating. Bogart almost *never* played a straight hero, on those occasions he was a hero. He played complicated characters. This movie makes Bogart out to be a trigger-happy, moralistic do-gooder. While this may have been true about some film characters, Bogart's characters rarely fit that bill. It's movies like this that make people unexposed to the cinema of the past think that all of it is hokey, "good guy beats the bad guys and gets the girl" crap with low production values.
House of Horrors (1946)
Routine Horror/Thriller with, how shall I put this, "interesting" casting.
This is a typical late Universal Horror flick: its technically comptent, if by the numbers, with a cookie cutter plot and some serious overacting. The most interesting part of this film is its stunt casting of Rondo Hatton, a man with a bone disease as the film's "monster". Its sad to see this man exploited, but he probably made good use of the money they paid him. Hatton is less horrifying than the studio hoped, as I more often felt pity over fear or even loathing. Martin Koslack is on board as the film's mad artist, and he is very amusing in this part. I for one enjoy seeing Koslack in just about anything; for some reason the man amuses me. The only other part of the film that entertained me is the film's absurd take on the art world. Here we are shown evil art critics who revel in their ability to break artists; this is side by side with the film's male "hero" who is an "artist" who paints...get this...pin up girls. Somehow our hero's work is reviewed side by side with the villan's absurdist sculpture. Also amusing is the film's chief nasty critic, who at one point claims that he despises the hero's pin up art because "women like that don't exist" to which our heroine replies with an assurance that the critic just doesn't get out enough. Finally, there's a bit of a subplot about the heroine's (who is an art critic herself) domestication by the leading man....completely anti-feminist and ridiculous to witness. Overall this film is a rather mediocre picture with a few amusing elements.
The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)
Who would have thought.....
....that a movie with an all midget cast could be so incredibly boring. I knew it was a late 30's western-musical, probably the most boring genre mankind has created, but I figured this would be balanced by the fact that it had an all-midget cast. The problem was that this film was *supposed* to be a comedy...this meant plenty of unfunny sight gags and slapstick. At the same time it tried to be a serious drama, but the sound was so bad that I could just barely make out what the actors were saying. This didn't have a whole lot of impact on my ability to understand the plot, since the plot was very ripe. Everything in it I had seen before, albeit with full size actors. Ordinarily I would have been amused by the grade school level acting and campy plot, but overall I found the film to be just too incompetent to be enjoyable. It was like watching a grade school play with midgets in the place of children...I think this film would be more appealing and amusing with an all child cast rather than an all midget one. Anyways, there are a few comedic scenes, such as the aforementioned midgets going under hitching posts, riding Shetland ponies and stagecoaches pulled by ponies, etc.
Predictable, cliched, boring
I remember seeing this movie in 94' when it came out. I was bored as hell and my only entertainment came from heckling the lame dialogue and predicting the cliched plot twists. One thing I noticed was that many of the situations that occur in this film also occured in a mid 70's disaster spoof "The Big Big Bus". If a movie can be successfully parodied by a movie 20 years its senior, its a damned cliched film.
The Flesh Eaters (1964)
This is an early gore flick and is moderately amusing as both a horror film and unintentional comedy. The dialouge is ridiculous tripe, the actors aren't actually capable of acting, and the character's schemes are chock full of holes but this film manages to pull off some good old school gore (especially the scenes where the mad doctor gets it and the pilot's leg starts to get chewed off. The pacing isn't too bad, but overall this film just doesn't leave much of an impression.
The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973)
Amusing Bad Movie
Another crapfest from the great Nathan Juran (also known as Nathan Hertz, as in "So bad its Hertz") the director of Attack of the 50 foot Woman and the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Drawn out story of a kid whose father has become a werewolf and who can't get anyone to believe him. Hilarious hippy cult leader sequence. Basically a crappy, but amusing film. If you like bad movies, wallow in this one's crapulence and you'll be glad you did.