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The Devil and Daniel LaRusso
I must have seen this movie fifty times as a kid I liked it so much. For some reason lost to family history it was one of the few movies we had in our limited VHS collection. Now I just saw it again for the first time since those halcyon days of yesteryear and I'm more than a little underwhelmed. Sure Joe Seneca is great. He could read the phone book and make it interesting. (That's something we used to say back in the day, kids.) Ralph Macchio, however, is terrible. The part isn't written great but man oh man does he poop the bed here. The other big negative is that for a movie about a blues legend there's remarkably little blues in it. The final showdown that's supposed to be between two blues masters is instead a game of H-O-R-S-E between classical and heavy metal guitarists. Steve Vai?!? Really, guys?
Anyway, it's not a terrible movie just not as enjoyable as I remembered. The plot is predictable, the characters thin, and the music utterly forgettable. Nostalgia glasses don't help much with this one. See it for Joe Seneca and the crossroads flashbacks which are nicely done.
Pleasant little movie about a cranky old cuss
The Seventies were full of "get back to nature" films of varying degrees of quality. If nothing else they were always good for some lovely wilderness footage. The same is true here in this low budget movie about a mountain hermit who has a lot of feelings about civilization. Basically "he ain't fer it he agin' it," as Grampa Simpson would say. The scenery is nice to look at and the whole thing has a folksy charm about it. It's narrated by the title character, voiced by Gene Evans but played onscreen by another actor. Outside of the narration I don't think there was a line spoken by anyone in the whole movie. There really isn't much of a story here but it moves along at a brisk pace and I found myself thoroughly enjoying it all. That is until the ending which is something along the lines of Iron Eyes Cody weeping over the trash-strewn highway. Still that bit of raw corn doesn't detract from an otherwise pleasant ninety minutes. For some it might even add to it.
My Chauffeur (1986)
"There's no such thing as a bad titty."
One of several 80s comedies that reminds me of the old screwball classics of the 30s and 40s updated to the modern day with nudity and swearing. Deborah Foreman is a likable lead who gets good support from vets like Sean McClory, E.G. Marshall, and Howard Hesseman. Penn and Teller are less obnoxious than usual in their film debuts. Sam Jones plays arguably the most divisive character for modern viewers. I won't say why; you'll figure it out. Perhaps the most memorable part of the movie for many is the crazy rocker Catfight, played by Leland Crooke. He has the movie's most memorable line ("I want them panties!"). He was actually the one part of this I remembered in the thirty plus years or so gap between viewings. Nice soundtrack of songs by the band The Wigs. Never heard of them before but they did good work here. There's also a lovely violin piece that's used frequently. It almost seems out of place for a comedy but it really elevates the film.
I saw this movie as a kid many times on VHS. Then it seemed to vanish from my mind for decades until I rediscovered it. This is a real hidden gem for people of my generation and the younger set that still has a sense of humor. It's a fun movie that would probably be considered offensive to today's audience. But then again what isn't?
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
"He's the first time happy in his life!"
The fourth in Universal's classic Frankenstein series is the first that feels less important and artistic and more something for the Saturday matinee crowd. That isn't to say it's not fun, just that it's not as impressive creatively. This time the Monster is awakened from its sulfuric tomb by frightened villagers trying to rid their village of the "curse of Frankenstein." Ygor takes his revived friend to yet another son of Frankenstein (just how many kids did he have?) and implores him to restore the creature to his former glory.
Playing the Monster this time is Lon Chaney, Jr. He does fine, better than the two that follow him but a far cry from Karloff. From this point on in the series the Monster is little more than a mindless shambling brute. Reprising his role from Son of Frankenstein is Bela Lugosi as the resilient hunchback Ygor. Ygor was one of Bela's best roles and he continues to impress here. He rarely seemed as lively and fun as when playing Ygor. Lionel Atwill also returns, playing a different role than that of the memorable Inspector Krogh he played in Son. He always shines especially when playing a villain. Sir Cedric Hardwicke is all class as the "other son of Frankenstein." He also appears as the original Dr. Frankenstein in a ghostly vision, despite footage from the first Frankenstein with Colin Clive being used in the film. Fresh off The Wolf Man and reuniting with Chaney and Lugosi are Evelyn Ankers and Ralph Bellamy in vanilla roles. Dwight Frye, who played Frankenstein's assistants in the first two films, here is just a nameless villager that gets one line ("We'll blow it up!").
The scenes with the Monster and little girl are cute but he's no big teddy bear; he kills without hesitation. I found the father defending him in the courtroom scene to be a nice touch. The laboratory scenes with Hardwicke and Atwill are more subdued than I like my mad scientists but enjoyable nonetheless. The sets are good, as is the makeup and effects. Of course the music is great. There are some atmospheric moments that one expects from a classic Universal horror picture. This is probably the least of the Frankenstein series for me. I still enjoy it a great deal. How can you not enjoy Lugosi as Ygor? It's a fun movie that most Universal horror fans should like.
This Island Earth (1955)
"Exeter isn't exactly conventional in his hiring methods."
What a fun 1950s science fiction film. One of my favorites. Exeter, the Interocitor, Metaluna, the Mutants...so many cool things come from this classic. Love the Technicolor, the effects, the sounds, Meacham and Ruth and all the cornbread elements...movies like this just make me smile. Definitely recommended for anyone who isn't a snarky a-hole. All of those guys can eat Zagon dirt.
Premature Burial (1962)
Ok Corman flick
This is a not so bad but not so great Roger Corman picture made for American International at a time when he was doing a lot of movies with Edgar Allan Poe titles that had little or nothing to do with Poe. The biggest problem with the movie is that you know from the start the title situation is going to occur so it's just a matter of waiting. Filling time until the big moment is a lot of the main character worrying and other people arguing with him about his fear. It gets a little old if I'm to be honest. You also know one of two or three other characters, or some combination, is going to be responsible for the guy being buried. There really isn't much suspense. Still it's an alright movie, helped by a nice cast and Corman's steady direction. I do have one big question about the ending though. If the sister suspected what the wife was up to the whole time, why did she allow them to bury her brother?
Scream of the Wolf (1974)
Byron always had a big thing about arm wrestling...
One of Dan Curtis' most disappointing efforts. A werewolf movie without a werewolf. Instead we get a variation on The Most Dangerous Game with Clint Walker's psycho hunter squaring off against his friend played by Peter Graves. There's some talk of gay subtext in this from certain corners. From what I could see the only thing that might qualify for that is the way Graves' character fawns over his friend's machismo early on. But at least that's something to look for that might make this more interesting than it really is. Walker does a good job but his character is very obviously guilty from the beginning. The only twist is that there is none. So there's no suspense and no horror. It's just flat like Graves' monotone acting here.
Tower of Evil (1972)
Horror on Sex Island
Stinker of a horror film that spends more time on sex and people talking about sex than it does on trying to scare anyone. After an atmospheric opening my hopes for discovering a hidden gem were dashed when it became clear all the filmmakers cared about was titilating (with rather small tits too). Look, I get it. When this was made, sex and nudity being allowed to be shown onscreen was still a relatively new thing. But that's no excuse for spending so much of the movie on naked hippies flirting and swinging. For crying out loud they aren't even very attractive!
I Love Trouble (1948)
"Oh Bailey you're about as subtle as a Mickey Finn."
Ok film noir that has a plot similar to that of dozens of other noir and B detective pictures: private eye is hired to find a dame and twists ensue. There's nothing inherently wrong with this movie. It's actually pretty solid. But it's very familiar territory and the script isn't as snappy as I would like. Franchot Tone is also a bit flat. I doubt it would be a blip on anyone's radar if not for it apparently being considered lost for decades. Amusingly this was written by Roy Huggins, the creator of TV shows like Maverick and The Fugitive. He would use the character played by Tone to greater success later in 77 Sunset Strip.
The Long Night (1947)
Looks great but that's all
Nice cast and direction. Beautiful cinematography. But this is just a ho-hum noir with no standout moments and a stupid ending. And that's coming from a guy who likes happy endings. This one isn't earned though. I felt no real sympathy for anyone in the movie. Even the blind guy. Going back to that ending, she won't wait for him. Did anybody believe that?
Trading Places (1983)
They definitely don't make 'em like this anymore
Classic 80s comedy from John Landis. One of his best. A movie I loved as a young lad for one scene has grown into a movie I love as an approaching middle-aged man for many scenes. It's essentially a then-modern take on the old class comedies of the 1930s, where streetwise guys and gals gave some comeuppance to the stuffy upper crust types. They updated it with an added racial component and of course some nudity and lots of swearing. Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd are terrific. Next to Beverly Hills Cop and Ghostbusters respectively, this is my probably favorite movie in their careers. Jamie Lee Curtis also shines in her first notable role outside of horror films. The scene stealers of the picture are screen legends Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche, former stars during the Golden Age period I mentioned above, and the great Denholm Elliott who could do no wrong. It's a very funny movie that flies by. You never get bored or tired of the characters.
To any reviewers saying they need to remake this: no, they don't. I can't even imagine how terrible a remake of Trading Places would be. The first thing they would do is take out all the stuff that's deemed offensive today. The things played for laughs here are just so deadly serious today. You even try joking about anything this movie jokes about and some busybody armchair activist is going to come for you. Then they would cast actors, probably gender swapped just because, that have a fraction of the talent of any of those involved here. Also there would be lots of upbeat pop songs at random moments because that's a thing that every movie has to have now. Last but not least it would all be glossy and shiny and everyone would look perfect at all times. Vomit. Just vomit.
DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)
It's got babes but not much else going for it
Cheesy action movie based off a video game I never played. Its main selling point is the sex appeal of the actresses, most of whom fight in bikinis at least once. I'm particularly fond of the volleyball scene and the fight in the rain with my personal favorite actress in the film, Sarah Carter. The dialogue is weak, the characters are thin, the wire work crappy, the fight scenes unimaginative, and the CGI is poor. Don't get me started on the nanobots or those silly sunglasses. Also every male actor in the movie is embarrassingly bad, save for Sir Eric Roberts and pro wrestler Kevin Nash. They're not great either but at least they're having fun. And the movie does try to be fun. Unfortunately, it fails in most respects. I would say see it for the safe-for-work eye candy but you can just search online for pics and clips of that.
Tim Daly Hits the Jackpot
Tim Daly plays a man who saves a beautiful young woman in distress. In return she cures his back pain, cleans his house, and bangs his brains out. But uh oh turns out she's a witch and her witch friends are after her. Yeah I don't see the problem either. I'd fight a hundred witches for a woman as hot as Kelly Preston. She wouldn't have to clean my house either. I'll even forgive her crappy taste in music. This is essentially a TV movie script helped out greatly by a pair of likable leads, some much-appreciated nudity from Kelly Preston, and an unintentionally funny ending. Also Shang Tsung from the Mortal Kombat movie plays a cop.
Night Life of the Gods (1935)
"You have a date with me and...science."
Quirky fantasy adapted from a novel by Thorne Smith, who had more successful adaptations in Topper and I Married a Witch. This isn't bad though. The sci-fi and fantasy elements are good. Alan Mowbray and Peggy Shannon are having a lot of fun. There's a little too much whimsy and the ending is a cop-out, but there are lots of funny lines and moments. I wonder how much those statues cost.
"It's certainly a most unusual way to make an acquaintance."
After being revived by grave robbers, Larry Talbot seeks out the gypsy Maleva to find a cure for his werewolfism. She takes him to the village where Frankenstein did all his business years before. Unfortunately he's long since dead and his scientist sons are missing. But Larry does find a female Frankenstein, a journal full of Frankenstein's notes, and a certain monster trapped in ice.
Universal's first monster rally film that serves as sequel to both The Wolf Man and Ghost of Frankenstein is a fun classic that is sure to please all worth pleasing. Lon Chaney, Jr. continues to elicit sympathy in his signature role. Maria Ouspenskaya also reprises her role of Maleva from The Wolf Man. Ilona Massey plays the newest Frankenstein heir, the granddaughter of the original. She's certainly the prettiest Frankenstein yet but also the least interesting. Screenwriter Curt Siodmak missed the boat by not having her as an evil lady scientist. Still she has great taste in night gowns. Perennial also-ran Patric Knowles plays the scientist this time around, a shrink who tracks down Talbot because he wants to help him, then gets his inner mad scientist on when he reads the late Frankenstein's notes. Lionel Atwill, who played different characters in the last two Frankenstein films, plays the role of the village mayor this time. Dennis Hoey plays the police inspector investigating Talbot early in the film. He's Inspector Lastrade from the Sherlock Holmes films in everything but name. Dwight Frye makes his final appearance in a Universal horror film, as one of the villagers. He died that same year.
Poor Bela gets the short end of the stick following wonderful turns as Ygor in the last two Frankenstein films and Bela the gypsy in The Wolf Man. If you'll recall, Lugosi's character Ygor had his brain put into the Monster's body in Ghost. So here he's finally playing the role that he turned down all those years before, which set him on a different career path than Boris Karloff. This could've been a chance to turn things around or at least guarantee himself steady work at a decent studio for a few years longer so he wouldn't have to "Monogram it up" so much. But it wasn't to be. Due to decisions beyond his control his performance is reduced to staggering around with no lines.
The opening few minutes is among the best from any movie ever made. Admittedly after the atmospheric opening things settle down for awhile, but the film wraps up well with the titular monster meeting and fight. The werewolf parts are all great. The beginning and ending are the highlights, but the middle has some good stuff too. The festival musical segment is far better than some critics give it credit for. It isn't done for the same commercial reasons so many of the Abbott and Costello comedies have musical numbers. Here the music actually serves a purpose to build tension with the lyrics about death having an unsettling effect on Talbot. Plus it's a catchy little tune!
The continuity is a little spotty, with some parts meshing nicely with previous films and others not so much. Part of this is laid at Siodmak's door, since he can't even be bothered to remember elements from his own previous scripts let alone this one. For example, the villagers hate Frankensteins yet throw a party for one. But part of the blame also lies with whoever at Universal decided to eliminate the Frankenstein monster's dialogue and any reference to his being blind from the last film. The result is a Monster with closed eyes shambling around with his arms outstretched, an image that would carry over into the Glenn Strange films and be parodied for years to come.
It's a beautiful looking film, well-paced and extremely entertaining. This first-of-its-kind meeting of the monsters would set the pattern for the remaining Universal horror line and create generations of fans arguably more than any one solo monster picture. Some look down on these movies, and I understand the reasons why, but for me they're undeniably fun and exciting.
Coming Soon (1982)
John Landis directs this compilation of trailers of classic Universal horror films. It's a neat little curiosity hosted by a young and very cute Jamie Lee Curtis. See her today and then watch this and it will depress you. Time really kicks the snot out of us doesn't it? Anyway it's worth a look for the trailers and Jamie Lee walking around on Universal sets that have probably long since been demolished or remodeled beyond recognition.
"Welcome earthling. I am the Bishop of Battle, master of all I survey."
Anthology horror film with one truly memorable segment and three other decent ones. The first story is a take on a very familiar urban legend. Christina Raines plays a smoker who goes to pick up some cancer sticks, despite reports of an escaped maniac being loose in the area. This segment also features Larry minus his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl. It's an enjoyable enough story.
The second story is the one this movie is probably best remembered for. Emilio Estevez plays a young jerk who desperately wants to beat an arcade game called The Bishop of Battle to prove he's the best. We get some awesome cheesy 80s computer effects in this one. I like this story a lot and it's easily my favorite of the whole movie.
The third story is a weird one with Lance Henriksen as a priest who has lost his faith. On a road trip to think things over he's attacked by a demonic pickup truck. I have no clue what the point of this story is but it's a fun watch if you like movies like Duel and The Car. A little too short though.
The final story is about a family terrorized by a giant rat. It's better than it sounds but it's probably my least favorite segment of the film. Gotta love that hokey ending.
This movie reportedly began as a TV pilot. It definitely feels like it was made for TV. It's entertaining, don't get me wrong. None of the segments is bad. But there is a feeling that more could have been done with most of the segments if this had been a proper theatrical film all along.
The Old Dark House (1932)
James Whale classic about travelers seeking shelter from a storm at a creepy family's old house. Very Whale with lots of dry humor and bizarre characters. It honestly took me a few viewings over the years to fully appreciate this one. I first saw it when I was about fourteen and I hated it. I think the reason was I had discovered it from a book that talked up the horror aspects but neglected to mention the humor. Today I find it a fun film with a first rate cast and a lot of atmosphere and glorious weirdness to appreciate. The picture quality now is marvelous, by the way. If you haven't seen it in recent years do yourself a favor and check out the blu ray.
House of Dracula (1945)
"Strange business if you ask me."
The last and arguably least in the Universal "shared universe" monster series (not counting the comedies later). This one avoids continuity altogether, ignoring the fates of the three monsters in House of Frankenstein. This time around Dracula (John Carradine) turns to a scientist (Onslow Stevens) for help curing his vampirism. Then after that's dealt with the movie basically becomes a Jekyll & Hyde story. A mustachioed Lon Chaney, Jr. reprises his role as Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man. Jane Adams is sympathetic as a female hunchback. Lionel Atwill appears in what must be his fifth different role in any of the movies featuring the Frankenstein monster. Scar-faced Skelton Knaggs has all the creepiest scenes as the leader of the requisite village mob.
There's a lot of focus on Onslow Stevens' mad scientist character in this one, much to the disappointment of many fans who would have preferred the monsters get more attention. I certainly can't argue against that. But for all the faults this picture might have it is never boring and I enjoy it on its own merits, independent of the other films. The sets, the music, the effects all add to that signature style Universal perfected in their horror films. Do I wish the monsters interacted and got more to do? Yeah of course. But that's not the movie we got. Judging the one we got on the basis of its own qualities I think it's a fine if unspectacular entry into one of the best film brands of all time.
House of Frankenstein (1944)
"Increase your megavoltage to a hundred thousand."
Follow up to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man has Boris Karloff returning to the Frankenstein series. Not as the monster but as an evil scientist escaped from prison who sets out to get revenge on those who wronged him. It's a movie of two halves - the first dealing with Dracula (John Carradine), the second with the Wolf Man, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and the mostly unconscious Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange). Karloff and his hunchbacked assistant (J. Carroll Naish) are the characters that link the two halves. In addition to the stars there's nice support from Lionel Atwill, Sig Ruman, and even George Zucco in one cool scene. Peter Coe is the latest in a long line of weak romantic leading men in the Universal horror series. Elena Verdugo plays the flirtatious Gypsy girl that falls for Larry Talbot. She looks like a brunette Vivian Vance.
This is one of those movies where you watch it and are entertained but afterwards you start thinking of all these nitpicky things you would change and suddenly your opinion sours on the movie. Why is that? I think we focus too much on the things these movies don't do; the missed opportunities and what if's. They aren't perfect films but they're a lot of fun. This one is especially neat thanks to Karloff and Naish, beautiful sets, and that wonderful atmosphere all the best Universal horror movies had. This is not the last in the monster series but the last to attempt any continuity. The next one just does its own thing with no attempt to connect it to the ending of this picture.
Dead of Night (1977)
One of my favorite TV movies
Dan Curtis is awesome for the few of you who don't already know that. This wonderful made-for-TV anthology horror film is further proof of his awesomeness. The movie opens with a piece that is actually not a horror story. It's a lovely fantasy about a man (Ed Begley Jr.) with a love for classic cars who rebuilds a Jordan Playboy roadster and somehow drives it back in time to 1926. I love this opening story so much. I have a special place in my heart for nostalgic stories like Somewhere in Time and Walking Distance and this reminds me of those. Gentle, leisurely paced, romantic time travel tales get me every time. Plus any movie that shows proper respect and love for the Playboy and its iconic advertisements is aces in my book.
The second story is a fun one. I won't spoil it for you but it stars Patrick Macnee and Elisha Cook, Jr. and centers around a woman being targeted by a vampire. This segment is the shortest but thankfully so since the plot is pretty thin. The third and final story is a nerve-wracking one about a grieving mother turning to black magic to bring back her dead son. It's basically one of those "be careful what you wish for" stories. Joan Hackett gives a gripping performance as the mom and young Lee Montgomery is pretty creepy as the son. It's intense stuff. This is likely going to be the favorite segment for most viewers as it's the only one that's truly horror. But as I said the first one is my personal favorite.
Overall Dead of Night is another feather in the cap of the great Dan Curtis. Despite being mostly limited to television he did more for onscreen American horror in the 1970s than pretty much any other filmmaker. Some may have had more important single films but he had the most consistent output. This is one of his more underrated efforts and I would recommend anyone who enjoys his other work check it out. In my opinion it's even better than his more famous anthology, Trilogy of Terror.
Million Dollar Mystery (1987)
Nothing great but I've seen worse
Watchable It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World wannabe starring Tom Bosley (briefly), Rich Hall, the guy who did the voice for the nerdy kid in Polar Express, and a bunch of other forgettable faces. There isn't much creativity in this and even less originality, but the whole thing moves along quickly and I was grateful for that. It's nothing I would seek out but if it's something you stumble upon it's not a terrible way to kill some time.
The Catman of Paris (1946)
"I don't think one's fiancé has a right to come between two friends."
Spoken like a true Frenchman. This is the story of an author who is suspected of being the title killer. He spends all of the movie talking and talking and talking until you just want someone to put a silver bullet in his head. But unfortunately that never happens. The movie has a cool premise and even a halfway decent makeup job on the "catman," but very little time in this is spent on that. Most of it is the lead character whining about everything especially his love life. I honestly hate the guy. This movie stinks. Cool poster though.
Cobra Woman (1944)
Fun bit of silliness from Universal starring Maria Montez and Jon Hall. The biggest selling point is attractive Montez in Technicolor. The adventure and fantasy of it all is nothing much to get worked up over. Hall does fine. He's like a poor man's Tyrone Power. Sabu stinks up the joint as usual. He had a likable screen presence for sure but his line delivery was always dreadful. Then there's good old Lon Chaney Jr. It never ceases to amaze me how he was used at Universal during this time. One movie he's a star and the next he's playing a henchman. The same year this was released he was starring in the Inner Sanctum series as well as reprising his signature role as Larry Talbot in House of Frankenstein and playing Kharis for the final time in The Mummy's Curse. He certainly deserved better than roles like this one. Speaking of deserving better, Robert Siodmak directed this the same year he made three legitimately great films for Universal. Directors today could never. The main reason Cobra Woman is remembered at all is for Montez's campy performance. It's the stuff of legend. See it for her and the wonderful sets and costumes all in beautiful Technicolor.
My Dinner with Andre (1981)
The Art of Blather
Well I never thought I would enjoy a movie that was just two guys having a conversation but I did like this. I've seen it twice now in the past year and it has managed to pull me in both times despite my resistance. I find little relatable about either the characters or the topics they discuss, but somehow I can't look away. Despite being a movie that's literally nothing but talking I wouldn't describe the movie as talky. The dialogue has action of its own. It helps that these are two good actors and there are no long lulls in the conversation. Honestly the film just breezes by once you get into it. I didn't want to watch it for years because the concept just sounds so artsy and pretentious, but I'm glad I finally gave it a chance.