Archive for the 1970s Movies Category

Quick Cuts: GIANT MONSTER PARTY!

Posted in 1960s Horror, 1970s Movies, 2013, Giant Monsters, Godzilla, Japanese Horror, Quick Cuts with tags , , , , , on July 19, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  GIANT MONSTER PARTY!
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Mark Onspaugh, and Colleen Wanglund

pacificrim MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With the release of PACIFIC RIM (2013), giant monsters are back in the movies.  Of course, for years, the market on giant monster movies was cornered by Toho Pictures, Inc.  Toho, of course, was responsible for introducing Godzilla to the world, among others, including Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah.

L.L. SOARES:  Don’t forget my favorite Minya, who is also sometimes called Manilla. He can blow giant smoke rings you know!

ARRUDA:  He even talks in GODZILLA’S REVENGE (1969)!

Minya, son of Godzilla. But is Godzilla his mommy or his daddy?

Minya, son of Godzilla. But is Godzilla his mommy or his daddy?

SOARES: Exactly!

ARRUDA: Tonight on QUICK CUTS we ask our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters, What’s your favorite Japanese giant monster movie and why?

SOARES:  My favorite Japanese giant monster movie is and always will be WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966). It was originally meant to be a sequel to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965), strangely enough, but any connection is lost in the English translation. Featuring two monsters created from the same genetic material, Sanda is brown and lives in the mountains and is basically a gentle giant, while Gaira is green and lives in the sea and loves to eat people and spit out their clothes! When Gaira threatens to destroy Japan, Sanda steps in to protect the human race. I loved this movie the first time ever saw it, as a kid, and it still remains my favorite Japanese giant monster movie.

war_gargantuas_dvd

COLLEEN WANGLUND:  My favorite Japanese kaiju film is Ishiro Honda’s original 1954 flick GODZILLA.  Godzilla was a metaphor for nuclear weapons and still holds up as a recognizable symbol of destruction.  And even though Godzilla represents carnage, mayhem and annihilation, he is still sympathetic.

The American version of GODZILLA (1954) had footage edited down and the insertion of Raymond Burr. Find the uncut Japanese version (called GOJIRA) instead.

The American version of GODZILLA (1954) had footage edited down and the insertion of Raymond Burr. Find the uncut Japanese version (called GOJIRA) instead.

ARRUDA:  I didn’t find him too sympathetic in that first movie.  I found him terrifying.  The first GODZILLA movie still scares me.

SOARES:  Wimp! But you’re right, Colleen, that’s a great one, too. The one that started it all for Japanese giant monsters! It’s also a very solid movie in its own right, and was rightly included in the esteemed Criterion Collection a couple of years ago.

ARRUDA:  It’s a very dark movie, and I think a lot of people don’t realize this because of the way the Godzilla series went during the 1960s and 1970s, with Godzilla becoming almost a supermonster superhero.  But that first film is intense, and nothing like the sequels which came after it, at least through the 1970s, anyway.

MARK ONSPAUGH:  Michael – my favorite giant monster (other than King Kong) is actually British… It’s Gorgo! I love it because the monster they capture is a baby, and his MOTHER comes looking for him.

ARRUDA:  A monster’s best friend is his mother—. (CUE PSYCHO music.)

ONSPAUGH:  And the monsters win… Game, set and match for Gorgo and his mommy.

ARRUDA:  I like GORGO (1961) a lot too.  It has neat special effects, a decent story, and is also significant because strangely there aren’t any female roles in this one, other than Gorgo’s mom, of course.  This one’s for the guys, I guess.

gorgoSOARES: I liked GORGO a lot, too. The same British company that made that one also made a King Kong ripoff called KONGA (1961, as well), which wasn’t as good as GORGO, but it  featured the legendary Michael Gough as its mad scientist villain.,

ARRUDA: You’re right.  KONGA isn’t as good as GORGO, as the giant ape doesn’t really appear until the end.  It’s worth watching only to see Michael Gough overact as the dastardly evil scientist.

As for me, I love Godzilla, but like you. Mark, I’m partial to KING KONG, so my favorite Japanese giant monster movies would be Toho’s two forays into Kong territory, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1960) and KING KONG ESCAPES (1968).  Neither one of these two films is all that great, especially for hardcore Kong fans, but they remain for me very guilty pleasures.

kk-g-3Of course, Godzilla enjoyed a resurgence in the 1990s and 2000s, as Toho made a bunch of Godzilla movies that highlighted a seriousness not found in the Godzilla movies of old.  While this didn’t always translate into better movies, and while the man-in-suit special effects remained on the goofy side, Godzilla enjoyed some of his best moments during these two decades, and the King of the Monsters certainly was far scarier here than in his silly movies from the 1960s and 1970s.  

My favorite film from this new series is GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH:  GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (2001), affectionately known as GMK, which in spite of its silly title, is a really good movie.  It’s my pick for the best Godzilla movie in the entire series.

SOARES: I totally agree with you about the newer Japanese Godzilla movies. They’re not all great, but overall they have a much higher quality level than the movies we grew up on as kids. And some of them even have cooler monsters than we had in the old days. I really got into these flicks when they first started popping up in the U.S. in the 90s, and my favorite is probably GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989), which is interesting because the monster is actually a giant flower (!). It’s a hybrid of Godzilla’s DNA mixed with some kind of rose, and the result is a monster that is unlike anything that came before it. I just thought it was completely unique. I also really like another hybrid creature, Space Godzilla, which is the result of Godzilla’s DNA ending up in outer space (it’s a long story), which giant crystals on his back instead of spikes and more fearsome looking teeth, Space Godzilla was another formidable foe, and can be found in GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA (1994).

godzilla-vs-biollante-dvd-english-new-upgrade-0620ARRUDA: So, that’s our take on Japanese giant monster movies.  What’s your favorite?

Thanks for reading everybody!

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Mark Onspaugh and Colleen Wanglund

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Meals for Monsters: VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2013, Adult Fairy Tales, Coming of Age Movies, Foreign Films, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, Vampires with tags , , , , on April 10, 2013 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)
Review and recipes by Jenny Orosel

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS silverferox design (1) copy

You know that magic moment when you’ve discovered a hidden gem of a movie?  That moment when you see something totally different and you cannot wait to introduce your friends, your family, and random strangers on the Internet to something totally unique and unknown?  And then the feeling following when you realize, you’re not the first to discover it, not the second or third, but the nine hundred, fifty seven thousandth.  That happened with me and VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970).  It turns out this is a classic unbeknownst to me, a film that influenced many that came after it (including being the inspiration for 1983’s IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES), is currently playing on Criterion’s Hulu channel, and is taught in many college courses from Women’s Studies to Eastern European History.  I feel like my eyes have been opened, much like Valerie’s (albeit, to a much less profound degree).

For those who haven’t experienced it yet, VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS is a fairy tale from Czechoslovakia.  Not one of your Disney fables, but as they were in the Grimm days.  Thirteen-year-old Valerie is awakened from an afternoon nap when a thief steals her beloved earrings, the lone gift left by her long lost mother.  No worries, as they are returned the next day.  Only, now she begins menstruating, and when she puts the earrings back on, she can see the world as it really is.  Her suitor is now an eagle, the travelling missionary is a weasel, and her small village is overrun with vampires, from the local priest to her friend’s new husband, to her own grandmother.  The priest wants to corrupt her innocence, her grandmother wants to steal her youth, the eagle is hiding a dangerous secret, and nothing but evil seems to come from the missionary.  Can Valerie survive with her body and soul intact, or will she become yet another ‘monster’ herself?

Yes, a lot of the imagery in VALERIE is heavy-handed.  Weasels, vampires, demons…these were hardly unique in the seventies, and are even less so now.  But that hardly matters in VALERIE’s world.  The imagery is so stunning that it more than makes up for the lack of originality in the symbols.  ‘Lyrical’ is the best word I can come up with to describe the pacing.  Valerie moves through the week with such a gentle ease, despite the madness surrounding her.  And it’s hard to believe that Jaroslava Schallerova, the actress who portrayed Valerie, was only 13 herself when she made this flick.  She carries the movie, being in nearly every shot, without faltering, with a performance more nuanced than what most performers three times her age are capable of.  The only downside has nothing to do with the movie itself, but rather the DVD.  The subtitles are seriously lacking in the region 1 release from Facets Video.  It’s not quite at the “All your base are belong to us” level, but there are moments when it gets closer than it should.  From what I understand, the region 2 disc from Redemption, is much better, and I can only assume that Criterion’s streaming version is tightened and some of the grammatical issues have been fixed.

Coming up with a drink for this one was a little tricky.  In the past year, the Czech Republic put major restrictions on hard alcohol.  However, beer is more popular than ever over there.  So what would be a good beer drink to honor Valerie’s transition from childhood innocence to adulthood?  I present to you the:

BEER FLOAT

drink

Ingredients:
Fruit flavored ale
Chocolate ice cream

Directions: Feel free to adapt this to taste.  I used an apricot ale.  Strawberry ice cream was attempted, but the flavor was too light to stand up to the chocolate.

Kolaches, like VALERIE, are little bits of Eastern European deliciousness that I’ve only recently discovered. They can be made with sweet fillings or, as I used them here, with savory meat for a meal.  But they do need a vegetable side.  Boiled cabbage is a popular Czech side, but that’s not something I wanted to put people (or myself) through.  So I did the next best thing:

KOLACHES WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS

dinner

Ingredients for the Kolaches:
1 roll refrigerated French bread dough
½ Polska Kielbasa, diced
8 mushrooms, diced
½ onion, diced

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375.  Sauté the sausage, mushrooms and onion until the veggies are cooked through.  Divide the bread dough into 8 equal parts.  Flatten each piece into a disc and put onto a greased cookie sheet.  Divide the filling evenly onto the center of the discs and press down with the palm of your hand.

Ingredients (for the Brussels sprouts):
1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved or quartered (depending on the size)
Other ½ of the onion, diced.
6 slices of bacon, cut into strips.

Directions: Toss the ingredients together and put on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake both of these, at the same time, for 25 minutes.

One of the most popular Czech desserts is a pastry called a Trdelnik.  It’s an elaborate bit of sugary goodness that takes multiple risings, and has to be baked over an open fire on a spit.  As delicious as they are, it’s too much work and too much of an expense, involving equipment that you’ll maybe use once or twice again.  Instead, I took the traditional flavors of the Trdelnik and put them into a bread pudding:

MOCK TRDELNIK

dessert

Ingredients:
1 small loaf cinnamon bread, cubed
4 eggs
¾ cup milk
¼ cup sugar
1 can tart cherries (NOT pie filling, but the kind that are packed in water), drained.

Directions: Beat the eggs, milk and sugar.  Fold in the bread and cherries.  Pour into buttered baking dish (this can be done ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake).  Bake in an oven preheated to 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until done.  Can be served hot, room temperature, or cold, but best served with whipped cream.

I’ve seen my share of Female Puberty Horrors in my day. From CARRIE to GINGER SNAPS to countless others in between, the transformation from girl to woman has been done so many times as lycanthropic transformation, the emergence of witchly powers, as a sign that the demons within her has emerged with her menstrual blood.  It’s a welcome change in VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS that, it’s not the girl who is evil, but the world around her.  The added bonus is that it’s a fantastic movie that, although muddled at times, is both fascinating and gorgeous to watch.  If you’re in the same boat I was and have never seen it, do so now, and hopefully you’ll enjoy the dinner as well.

© Copyright 2013 by Jenny Orosel

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Bill’s Bizarre Bijou visits THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2013, 70s Horror, Animals Attack, Bigfoot!, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Drive-in Movies, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on February 28, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)bbbcreature

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Howco International Pictures was a small, independent film production company that was established in 1951 by Joy Newton Houck, Sr.  Based out of New Orleans, they produced little movies for the Southern Drive-In circuits, usually double features like Lash Larue Westerns or the John Agar wonder THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957).  After releasing everything from Roger Corman to Ed Wood to Ron Ormand movies, they really hit the big time with a giant hit, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972), which effectively combined documentary footage with the story of a Bigfoot-like creature called the skunk-ape.  The movie made millions and was a hit world-wide.  Hoping to play on the success of that film, Joy Houck, Jr. directed a script by his pal Jim McCullough, Jr. entitled THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976) and created the creepiest Bigfoot movie ever made.

The film begins with Joe Canton and a fellow trapper tranquilly boating through the swamps around Black Lake, checking their traps.  Suddenly, a hairy arm emerges from the water and snatches the buddy from the boat, leaving Joe Canton (played by stalwart Western veteran Jack Elam—ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, 1968 and RIO LOBO, 1970) screaming for help.  Nobody believes the old drunk except for two cryptozoology students in Chicago who read about the experience in the papers.  The two men take off in their van for Louisiana on a hunt for the monster.  Pahoo (what the hell kind of name is that for a Yankee?) is a Vietnam Vet who jokes about everything, hates chicken with a passion usually reserved for despots, and is played by Dennis Fimple (KING KONG, 1976, the MATT HOUSTON TV series, 1982, and he was Grampa Hugo in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003).  Rives is more serious and good-looking and a draft dodger, and he is played by ex-model John David Carson, who appeared in such diverse movies as EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977), PRETTY WOMAN (1990), and THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973).  Together, they encounter a hostile sheriff, who warns them to get out of town, locals who proclaim the creature a myth, a practical joke-playing waitress, and more yokel southern-fired, hee-haw stereotypes than you can shake a Confederate Flag at.

Jack Elam swears he wasn't drunk when he saw THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE,

Joe Canton (Jack Elam) swears he wasn’t drunk when he saw THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE,

Pahoo accidentally finds Joe Canton, but he loses him, but not before Rives encounters a young man named Orville Bridges, played by hawk-nosed screenwriter Jim McCullough, Jr. (the multi-talented guy also wrote and sang the songs for the movie).  Orville informs them he saw the creature when he was a toddler in a car crash that killed his parents.  Now he lives with his grandparents, and he’ll show them around if they don’t talk about Bigfoot.  They go home to a big country dinner.  Grandpa is played by Dub Taylor, from THE WILD BUNCH (1969), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), and BACK TO THE FUTURE III (1990).  The old man is a walking advertisement for hick Southern trash, wheezing and making jokes nobody finds amusing.  During dinner, a mule brays loudly, and Pahoo shouts out, “Is that him?  Is that the creature?”  Grandma goes into a PTSD inspired sobbing fit, and Grandpa kicks the two Yankees (who, by the way, both possess southern twangs) to the barn for the evening.  While getting ready for bed, they hear the howling, haunting cry of Bigfoot closer than is comfortable.  They are terrified, but not so much that they don’t pick up two pretty southern belles in the local hamburger joint and invite them to their camp for the evening.

Dennis Fimple, Jim McCullough and John David Carson commiserate in THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE.

Dennis Fimple, Jim McCullough and John David Carson commiserate in THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE.

The girls show up, and they all party a bit, playing over the recording of the Bigfoot cry.  Soon, they discover one of the girls has a father who is the sheriff – the same one who warned the boys out of town on the first day.  He hauls them into jail, where they stay the night with stinky Joe Canton, who is in the tank for getting drunk and chasing the creature with a shotgun.  Instead of heeding the sheriff’s warning, the two boys head for the woods to track the beast, which leads to a night of harrowing horror as the Bigfoot stalks them, separates them, and brutally attacks them.  These scenes are incredibly intense for a PG-rated film, never gory, but always scary and suspenseful.

The acting is good enough – nothing to shout over, but tolerable for this sort of yee-haw Southern horror tale.  Jack Elam chews the scenery with gusto, camping his drunken role up to the tenth degree.  Dennis Fimple and John David Carson make for likable heroes, and their interactions are natural and believable.  The extras and small roles are filled with people who obviously live in the town where this was filmed.  Their non-acting abilities actually lend an air of documentary-like verisimilitude to the proceedings, and the accents are to die for!

THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE benefits most, however, from the wonderful cinematography of Dean Cundy.  Cundy started his career with the exploitation circuit, lensing such films as BLACK SHAMPOO (1976), the amazing THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976), HALLOWEEN (1978), WITHOUT WARNING (1980) and ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979).  He moved on to larger pictures like THE THING (1982), WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (1988), JURASSIC PARK (1993), APOLLO 13 (1995), and THE HOLIDAY (2006).  THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is filmed in a gritty, sun-fried style, much like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), and this lends a feeling of you-are-there realness to the action.  The scenery is beautiful, but never intrusive, and the Bigfoot creature is wisely kept mostly in the shadows, so the movie is about suspense and the threat of violence more than the actual acts of violence.  This may be what makes that final fifteen minutes so disturbing and exciting.  We do care about these two men by this point, and it appears as if we are watching documentary footage of their stalking and possible killing by his monster.  The suspension of disbelief is suspended way up in the sky somewhere, never interfering with our nerve-wracking enjoyment of the movie.

One of the CREATURE's victims floats to the surface.

One of the CREATURE’s victims floats to the surface.

The movie isn’t perfect.  There’s a bit too much of the folksy humor, especially around Dub Taylor’s character, who seems like he should be plucking a banjo and attacking Ned Beatty any second.  It slows down the momentum of suspense in the film and the characters strains credibility as much as he strains his overalls.  Plus, the epilogue of the movie seems tacked on in order to pacify an audience that wanted a happy ending.  After the sheer terror of the previous night, the sun is shining and everything is just hunky-dory.  In the real world, this would have ended very differently.

But why quibble?  On the whole, THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is a wonderfully spooky Bigfoot movie, possibly the best one out there.  The scares at the end are earned, and the photography is fantastic.

I give THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE three trespassing Yankees out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Suburban Grindhouse Memories # 60 – SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 1980s Horror, 2013, Classic Films, George Romero, Indie Horror, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Witches with tags , , , , , , on January 31, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 60:
Season of the Zzzzzzzzzzz…
By Nick Cato

SeasonWitchPoster In October of 1982, fans of the HALLOWEEN series were confused about the third film, which was titled HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH. While technically it had more to do with the actual holiday than the others in the series, the film didn’t feature infamous slasher Michael Myers or star Jamie Lee Curtis. In time, the film gained a cult following and a slick blu ray edition has recently been released. But when the film was originally released theatrically, someone thought it would be slick to simultaneously repackage a 1972 film titled HUNGRY WIVES under the title SEASON OF THE WITCH and put it out the same weekend as the third HALLOWEEN film to swipe some of the successful series’ revenue (got all that?). And while I couldn’t find any proof they were successful, I can testify that the theatre I saw George A. Romero’s SEASON OF THE WITCH in (the now defunct Amboy Twin) was packed to the rafters…and the second showing sold out as well.

Despite being a huge Romero fan, I had never heard of SEASON OF THE WITCH (or HUNGRY WIVES) until I opened my local paper that Friday afternoon and saw an ad for HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH and, right across from it, and ad for another film simply called SEASON OF THE WITCH with the tagline, “An early work from the master of horror, George A. Romero!” And seeing this, I knew where I’d be that night; HALLOWEEN III was going to have to wait a day or two. I also convinced two of my buddies to put off their HALLOWEEN III screening and, knowing we were doing it for a Romero film, they joined me. In the pre-Internet days, there was no Googling to see if something was worth it or not.

I still have the black and blue-marks on my upper arms from being punched for a few hours after SEASON OF THE WITCH ended. And I couldn’t blame my friends for their anger.

The film takes forever to get moving. And, even then, it moves like a horse being dragged to the glue mill at high noon. We meet a bored housewife named Joan (Jan White) who has a husband who’s always away on business and a college-aged daughter who has the personality of a handball. Joan spends her days as a bored housewife and her nights at her neighbor’s boring parties, as well as a ridiculous amount of time walking through the woods in artistically-shot, trippy sequences. I think this was the first time I heard an audience start yelling for the film to get going so early on…maybe after fifteen minutes? As a Romero fan, I was getting annoyed at all the noise, but by the middle of the movie I had joined them.

The boredom is broken up with dream sequences of Joan being attacked in her home by a masked assailant. She seeks therapy for her nightmares but it doesn’t help and the dreams continue…as did the audience’s cheers for the masked assailant to kill her. Joan eventually visits a woman who gives her a tarot reading, and she develops an interest in witchcraft after finding out the tarot woman is part of a coven.

In the only sequence I enjoyed, Joan goes to some kind of underground hippie-owned store to purchase witchcraft supplies. I couldn’t stop laughing over a sign on the wall that said “Take Some Trash” posted over several garbage cans right inside the store! Over the years I’ve wondered if this was some kind of comment on the end of the hippie era, but now think it was just Romero tossing some goofy fun into this dreadful mess that I recently read is the only film of his even he wishes he could remake.

One amazing thing here: I don’t recall a single person leaving the theater. The film, while slow and painfully boring, does tend to keep your interest in the wake of the nightmare scenes. I think most audiences had a crazed bloodlust by the final minutes, hoping this masked intruder would finally decapitate Joan and end this celluloid torture session.

But in the “shock” ending, Joan is having another nightmare when she wakes; someone is pulling on the front door handle, trying to break in the house. She grabs a shotgun. The crowd I was part of went nuts…and I’m talking scream-out loud nuts! Most cheered for the guy breaking in to kill Joan…a few even begged her to blow her own head off! (Yeah, we New Yorkers are a happy bunch). But neither request happens. Joan ends up shooting the intruder.

And the intruder ends up being her husband Jack, back early from yet another business trip.

Boos erupted to the point I was partially deaf for a good half hour.

I still can’t remember what happens after that, but I’m pretty sure Joan joins the tarot reader’s coven. Either way, some older woman next to me said, “Man, that was really for the birds!”

And despite being a George Romero fanatic, I had to agree. SEASON OF THE WITCH (a.k.a. HUNGRY WIVES, a.k.a. JACK’S WIFE) is a slow, tedious, boring-as-you-can get feature that even the most die-hard horror fan will have trouble getting through without a fast forward button. Being in a suburban grindhouse made it kind-of fun (and barely bearable), but I’d love to know how other audiences around the country reacted to this “early work from the Master of Horror.”

I’ll take another dozen of Romero’s …OF THE DEAD films before sitting through this thing again. Until next time, I’ll be putting ice packs on my upper-arm bruises…

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

When the BEST part of a film is a slow-moving recurring nightmare sequence, you know you’re in trouble! The Masked Intruder from SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972).

When the BEST part of a film is a slow-moving recurring nightmare sequence, you know you’re in trouble! The Masked Intruder from SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972).

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Inhabits the REFUGE OF FEAR (1974)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2013, Cold War Chills, Lady Anachronism's Fallout Shelter, Post-Apocalypse Movies, Radiation, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns with tags , , , , , , on January 23, 2013 by knifefighter

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Inhabits the
REFUGE OF FEAR (1974)
By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Refugeoffear

Pull up a chair, pass around some rations, and get comfortable. Here at Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter, I’ll take you back into time, when Atomic Age cats and dolls fretted over the bomb and visions of alien invaders flickered on the big screen at the local drive-in. Technological or political developments may have made these films obsolete, but I hope you’ll join me in rediscovering forgotten Cold War-era cinema.

It’s hard to make a boring film about nuclear annihilation, but REFUGE OF FEAR (1974), which was also called CREATION OF THE DAMNED, makes surviving a nuclear holocaust seem like the dullest fate imaginable.

The bomb has already been dropped when we meet the two couples surviving underground in a sophisticated shelter. We witness the survivors—Carol (the lovely Patty Shepard) and her husband Arthur (Fernando Hilbeck), Margie (Teresa Gimpera), her husband Robert (Craig Hill) and their son Chris (Pedro Mari Sanchez) —playing billiards, chatting, and having impromptu striptease shows. There’s actually no full nudity, which means the first hour of the film is pretty boring.

Chris attempts to contact other survivors over the radio, with no initial success. The group watches a Geiger counter to see if the radiation levels go down enough to leave the shelter.

The group begins fighting, mostly over petty things. Boredom sets in. Arthur develops an addiction to pills. Carol starts taking her clothes off and dancing provocatively for the group’s entertainment.

The survivors discover their pet cat dead. Robert, being the strict military man he is, skins and cooks up the cat. They can’t afford to waste anything, he tells Arthur.

Meanwhile, Chris is able to find another faction of survivors over the radio. They keep him updated on the radiation levels. Knowing that others have survived is of little comfort. They’re unable to leave. The air is still poisonous.

Eventually, boredom and her husband’s whininess drive Carol to have an affair with Chris, who is much younger and much more studly than Arthur. Carol taunts Arthur that her period is late. Arthur puts two and two together and tells the whole group that Carol is pregnant with Chris’s child.

Things become extremely tense in the shelter, so Chris leaves for the surface. We get a brief glimpse of the impact of the bomb. Chris enters a home, only to discover the fried and decomposed bodies of the former residents. Chris succumbs to the radiation and drops dead.

Back in the shelter, Arthur dies. Robert is convinced he committed suicide over the news of Carol’s illegitimate baby. Carol thinks Robert killed him. She’s so convinced that he’s a killer that she ties him up and holds him hostage. His wife, Margie, doesn’t seem to mind any of this.

Robert escapes. The three remaining members of the group try to get along, but Robert murders Margie, leaving him alone with Carol. He tries to control her, even going as far as drugging and raping her.

Carol eventually fights back. She keeps hearing someone over Chris’s radio. The other faction of survivors comes over the airwaves to tell them that the radiation levels have improved enough for them to leave. Robert doesn’t want to leave. He’s afraid Carol will go to the authorities and tell them that he killed Arthur and Margie. He attempts to kill her, but she locks herself into a room. She finds a gun and shoots through the door, killing Robert.

In the final scene, which seems odd and out of place, we see the whole gang back before the bomb hit, having a barbecue and discussing the construction of the bomb shelter. It’s a bizarre way to end the film.

REFUGE OF FEAR drags on at times. The characters are forgettable for the most part. The film could have been about half an hour long, and it would have been much more effective. We do see some tension, but tempers never fully boil over, which would have made the movie more exciting. People mostly snip at each other and storm off. It’s almost like a feature-length Spanish soap opera.

The one interesting thing about REFUGE OF FEAR is that it is a Spanish film about a nuclear weapon striking the United States. It’s a unique choice. Other Spanish films have addressed a nuclear weapon striking Europe, including Leon Klimovsky’s far superior THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976).

Despite its failings, the film captures the very real paranoia of the United States during the Cold War. People did build underground bomb shelters. People did stockpile food and medications. REFUGE OF FEAR is a solid example of the fact that the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union troubled the whole world.

© Copyright 2013 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

QUICK CUTS: WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE GANGSTER?

Posted in 1930s Movies, 1970s Movies, 1980s Movies, 2013, Asian Gangster Films, Classic Films, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Crime Films, Cult Movies, Fugitives, Gangsters!, Garrett Cook Articles, Jenny Orosel Columns, LL Soares Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Movie History, Nick Cato Reviews, Quick Cuts, Tough Guys!, Yakuza Films with tags , , , , , , , on January 18, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS: FAVORITE MOVIE GANGSTERS
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Garrett Cook, Jenny Orosel, and Colleen Wanglund

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome everyone to another edition of QUICK CUTS.

Last Friday, January 11, the slick looking gangster movie GANGSTER SQUAD opened in theaters, starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn. So, for today ‘s QUICK CUTS column, we asked our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters the all-important question:  Who’s your favorite movie gangster?

GARRETT COOK: My favorite is one of the first and the best: Edward G. Robinson as Rico in LITTLE CAESAR (1931), an angry but vulnerable man constantly overcompensating. He’s both ruthless and heartbreaking.

Edward G. Robinson in the role that made him a star - Rico in LITTLE CAESAR (1931).

Edward G. Robinson in the role that made him a star – Rico in LITTLE CAESAR (1931).

L.L. SOARES:  Good one, Garrett. I like LITTLE CAESAR a lot, too. A really underrated movie.

My two favorite movie gangsters were both played by James Cagney.

The first is Tom Powers from THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). Whether he’s pushing grapefruit halves in dame’s faces or starting a gang war, he’s still the gold standard everyone else should be compared to. And the movie still has one of the most haunting endings ever. Boy, they sure knew how to create spooky images back in the 1930s.

The notorious "grapefruit in the kisser" scene from PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). Another gangster classic.

The notorious “grapefruit in the kisser” scene from PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). Another gangster classic.

The other one is Cody Jarrett, the mother-obsessed psychopath gangster from 1949’s WHITE HEAT. “Made it, Ma. Top of the world!” Everyone remember that one. My choices showcase Cagney’s earliest gangster with a later one.

JENNY OROSEL:  I’ve never been a big gangster movie fan, but the one I do remember liking was BUGSY MALONE (1976). Sure, looking back, it was pretty horrible. But it had the most epic pie fight ever committed to film!

A scene from the pie fight in BUGSY MALONE (1976).

A scene from the pie fight in BUGSY MALONE (1976).

NICK CATO:  My fave gangster is Paulie in GOODFELLAS (1990), played by Paul Sorvino. As the head of his clan, he got to sit back, fry sausages, slice garlic, and sip the best wine while his men did all the dirty work. And no one made a better ” sangwich” than him. He was THE MAN.

Paul Sorvino as Paulie in GOODFELLAS (1990).

Paul Sorvino as Paulie in GOODFELLAS (1990).

L.L. SOARES: I’m a big fan of GOODFELLAS, too. One of the best gangster movies ever. But I prefer Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci (as Jenry Hill and Tommy DeVito, respectively). I’ve never been a big Paul Sorvino fan for some reason. DeNiro is really good in this one, too.

COLLEEN WANGLUND:  Okay here’s my answer:

So I figure the first names that would come to mind are from American gangster films. Well since I am the Geisha, my favorite gangsters all come from Asian films.

1. Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) from ICHI THE KILLER (2001) directed by Takashi Miike. Kakihara is seriously one of the sickest gangsters I’ve ever seen on film.

So crazy he's scary - Kikihara from ICHI THE KILLER (2001).

So crazy he’s scary – Kikihara from ICHI THE KILLER (2001).

2. Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune) from the film DRUNKEN ANGEL (1948) directed by Akira Kurosawa. He is somewhat sympathetic character but a hardened gangster just the same.

3. Lau Kin-ming (Andy Lau) from INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2002) directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. Lau’s character manages to infiltrate the police department in Hong Kong for YEARS without ever getting caught. That’s pretty awesome.

L.L. SOARES:  Excellent choices! I forgot how great a long of Japanese and Hong Kong gangstgers are. I would also add Takeshi Kitano (also known as Beat Takeshi), who has played several Japanese gangsters over the years, in films he directed and films by others. My favorite gangster/Yakuza role of his was probably in his 1993 film, SONATINE.

"Beat" Takeshi in SONATINE (1993).

“Beat” Takeshi in SONATINE (1993).

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Wow, you’re really into the topic this time around!

L.L. SOARES: I sure am. I love classic gangster movies. They haven’t made a good one in awhile.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well, my favorite movie gangster would be Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER movies, specifically Parts 1 & 2.  Sure, his most famous scene is the “Fredo, you broke my heart” scene, but my favorite comes in Part 1,  where he’s confronted by his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) and she wants to know if he had his brother–in-law killed, and he says he won’t discuss the family business with her.  He then stops and says, “Just this once.  You can ask me just this once.”  So she asks him again, and he says, “No, I didn’t have him killed,” and of course, he’s lying through his teeth.  Great scene.

Not the most violent gangster on screen, but Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone is one of the coldest gangsters on screen.  Ice runs through his veins.

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER.

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER.

L.L. SOARES: Another excellent choice. Everyone in the first two GODFATHER films is pretty terrific, but you’re right, Pacino might be the best one of all. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention Pacino’s other iconic gangster role, as Tony Montana in 1983’s SCARFACE. Some people have complained Pacino is too over-the-top in the role, but I still say it’s another iconic role that most movie gangster movies these days will be compared to. Besides, I really love SCARFACE.

Al Pacino's other iconic gangster role - Tony Montana in SCARFACE (1983).

Al Pacino’s other iconic gangster role – Tony Montana in SCARFACE (1983).

MICHAEL ARRUDA: And that’s it for tonight’s QUICK CUTS.  Thanks for joining us everybody!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Garrett Cook, Jenny Orosel, Colleen Wanglund and Nick Cato

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Visits SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1970s Movies, 2012, Adult Fairy Tales, Bad Acting, Based on a True Story, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Family Films, Fantasy, HOLIDAY CHEER, Just Plain Bad, Magical Movies with tags , , , , , , on December 20, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972)

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Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

The Christmas Season is well known for its holiday music and movies, but there is a dark side to the trend of luring kids into matinees to bear witness to forced holiday cheer.  For every MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), there is a SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964).  For every IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), there’s a corresponding SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984).  Actually, there are probably more dreadful Christmas movies than good ones.  Somewhere far below the schlocky entertainment offered by the likes of serial-killer turned snowman JACK FROST (1997), the Mexican drugged-out inanities of SANTA CLAUS (1959), or the hell on earth that is JINGLE ALL THE WAY (1996), there is the cesspool entitled SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972/1970 – I’ll explain the date mix-up later).  I’ve watched hundreds of Christmas movies over the years, but this one is the true low point, lacking anything even closely resembling entertainment or Christmas cheer.  It is a gut-punch to all that is beautiful and holy.  It is the first Christmas movie made for children that seems designed to suck any happiness from every starry-eyed child in the world.

You think I am exaggerating?  Super glue your eyelids open and turn this baby on.

Behind the credits, kids dressed as elves in outfits made by the producer’s grandma sing an unintelligible song.  The only words I can make out are  “la-la-la-la-la.”  They pet toys, while the credits announce “Thumbelina Insert by B Mahon!”  One elf looks outside for Santa and spots stock nature footage of a herd of moose grazing in a summer field!  What season is this?  A female narrator who sounds like Truman Capote on downers informs us that Santa’s sleigh is stuck in the sand on a beach in Florida.  It was so hot, the reindeer have all gone away, and Santa sits in the sleigh, sweats a lot, and waves his hat in front of his face.  Sure enough, a too-skinny Santa sits in his sleigh looking around and perspiring, then sings a song through dubbing, “Woe is me…who will give me a helping hand…and get my sleigh out of the sand?”  Yep, that half inch of sand is really keeping him trapped and preventing lift-off.

Random kids are shown doing things like skipping rope, playing with dogs, wrestling like gay Greeks, and jumping off the garage roof wearing a parachute.  Then, Santa falls instantly asleep, as if his meds just kicked in.  The racially diverse group of children, resembling a Benetton ad from the late 1980s, hears an echoing Santa voice calling them and run to the sleigh.  Even Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer (and their pet raccoon on a string) steer their raft to the beach to a kazoo band playing Old Man River from the musical SHOW BOAT.

The kids rush off to find something to pull the sleigh from the half inch of sand, leaving Santa alone to sweat again for another couple of long minutes.  Santa, instead of being proactive, just sits in the sleigh bemoaning his predicament.  This guy gets around the world in one night delivering millions of toys?  I doubt he could get to the cupboard for the Doritos.

Santa and the kids strap a pig to the sleigh.

Santa and the kids strap a pig to the sleigh.

Eventually, the kids return with various animals to help pull the sleigh out of the sand.  First, a little girl brings a man in an ape suit, but the sleigh is stuck too tightly.  Then, two kids bring a mule, then a screaming pig, a terrified sheep, a brown cow, and a horse.  Then, Santa bitches for several more minutes about how he has to get out of the sand so he doesn’t disappoint the children all over the world, but he does nothing to actually escape!

The kids return, so Santa decides to tell the kids a story, and so begins Barry Mahon’s 1970, filmed at Pirate’s World Amusement Park film, THUMBELINA.  A hippie-chick with terrifying eyebrows wanders the amusement park while a whole new set of credits play again (is Santa relaying the credits to the kids in his story?).  Eventually the mini-skirted chick ends up in a room full of dioramas portraying the tale of Thumbelina, a girl no larger than a clothespin, all narrated by a disembodied voice over a PA system.  A single lonely woman goes to a witch to have a child and is rewarded with a freakishly miniscule daughter.   The tiny girl leaves her spinster-Mom’s home to get married to a horny frog.  She escapes, lives with a woman in a mole costume and eventually falls in love with a rich old mole.  They all resemble a relatively restrained furry convention.  And, yes, everyone sings a lot of dull songs on semi-professional sets.  To be honest, although THUMBELINA is pretty bad, it’s a typical kiddie matinee from the 1960s—no better or worse than most.  These things were churned out with ridiculously low budgets and actors from local amateur theater troupes all over the world.  Other examples of this odd sub-genre include THE MAGIC LAND OF MOTHER GOOSE, 1967 (directed by the Wizard of Gore himself, H.G. Lewis!), THE PRINCESS AND THE SWINEHERD, 1968, and LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AND TOM THUMB VS. THE MONSTERS, 1965, which I would love to see!  So, if you remember after the hour of Thumbelina, yes, Santa is STILL telling this story to the children on the beach!

As bad as the Thumbelina segment is, it’s like CITIZEN KANE (1941) compared to the Santa segments . . . where we are again, watching Santa sweat while the kids watch him.  Nobody seems very motivated to get Santa back to the North Pole.  Oh, to return to the cut-rate flower power hippie musical from Pirate’s World.  The one directed by Barry Mahon, yes THAT Barry Mahon, who directed PAGAN ISLAND (1961), FANNY HILL MEETS DR. EROTICO (1969), A GOOD TIME WITH A BAD GIRL (1967), THE GIRL WITH THE MAGIC BOX (1965), and THE DIARY OF KNOCKERS MCCALLA (1969).  He was the obvious choice to helm a kid’s feature based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale!  It does, however, explain the strange erotic tension between Thumbelina and Mr. Digger, the mole.

Thumbelina meets a mole woman in the "movie within a movie" in the movie SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY.

Thumbelina meets a mole woman in the “movie within a movie” inside SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY.

Back to Santa in the sand. . .

The kids suddenly run away, as if learning Santa Claus was a sex offender…or an algebra teacher.  Santa strips off his coat and belt, and an antique fire truck (helpfully pushed by a visible production assistant) driven by a guy in a cheap white rabbit suit arrives, and all the kids are piled up in back.  It’s a vision of horror as the fire truck is shoved through Pirate’s World and down to the beach.  I’m starting to see why this film was made—it’s a 90 minute advertisement for a pathetic amusement park!  Yes, this could be the best WTF! moment ever in a children’s production.  And it goes on forever!  For.  Ev.  Er.  Santa exclaims, “Why my old friend the ice cream bunny!”  The hell-spawn rabbit, which had to terrify children everywhere, gives Santa a ride in his fire truck.  Then, Santa teleports the sleigh back to the North Pole.  What?  Why didn’t he just do that at the beginning instead of complaining for what seemed like days about being stranded?  Plus, why is this an ice cream bunny?  There isn’t a scoop of ice cream to be seen!

Full of padding (including an entire film from two years previous), SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY is easily the worst Christmas movie ever made.  From the terrible direction, the lousy acting and dubbing, the bad songs, and the freaky sexy vibe between tiny hippie chicks and earth-burrowing mammals, to the ridiculous ending and scary/evil rabbit suit, this is a movie that can honestly only be enjoyed under the influence of controlled substances or while RiffTrax pokes fun at it.  There has never been another movie like this one.  Thank God!

I give SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY one closed-down amusement park out of four.

The Santa image that haunts William Carl's nightmares.

The Santa image that haunts William Carl’s nightmares.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl