Archive for the Fugitives Category

FRESH MEAT (2012)

Posted in 2013, Cannibals, Crime Films, Dark Comedies, Family Secrets, Film Festival Movies, Fugitives, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, New Zealand Horror with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2013 by knifefighter

FRESH MEAT (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Fresh-MeatAfter recently getting some buzz at the Tribeca Film Festival (I didn’t think they even showed horror movies there), the New Zealand film FRESH MEAT (2012) got a small theatrical run and popped up on cable OnDemand. So I wanted to check it out for CinemaKnifeFight.com.

The basic plot, of criminals on the lam ending up in a house where things go from desperate to worse, has been done several times before, in movies such as Xavier Gens’ above-average scare flick FRONTIER(S) in 2007. Unfortunately, right off the bat, we get some comedic elements, as each member of the family which will later be taken hostage by criminals is introduced with “witty” comments onscreen, like the fact that over-achieving college student Rena Crane (Hanna Tevita)’s main interest in “Girls.” Or that her dad, Hemi (Temuera Morrison) is a college professor and author of several books, all of which are sadly unpublished. Are you laughing yet?

The onscreen words get even more clever when the bad guys are introduced. This begins with a prison truck carrying some dangerous criminals, including Ritchie Tan (Leand Macadaan) whose crimes include not just murder but “selling fruit without a license.” His rescue team, including his girlfriend Gigi (Kate Elliott), brother Paulie (Ralph Hilaga) and hired gun Johnny (Jack Sergeant-Shadbolt), shows up at a gas station where the prison van has stopped. After Johnny completely screws up with some dynamite trying to blow the truck’s doors open, and almost kills everyone involved, we learn via his onscreen intro that he is the “explosives expert.”

Escaped convict Richie is injured and has a broken/bleeding hand after Johnny’s attempt to “rescue” him, and his gang brings him to their car and takes off after a shootout with the prison guards. They then tear up the asphalt as they are part of a high-speed chase, being pursued by a police helicopter.

The fleeing criminals end up in a densely populated neighborhood and when they see the door to the Crane family’s garage is open, they drive in, to avoid being detected by the helicopter, and then proceed to take the family members inside hostage.

Meanwhile, Rena is home for school vacation and learns the troubling news that her dad and famous cooking show host mom Margaret (Nicola Kawana) have had a major epiphany and now are part of a cannibal cult that worships a boy prophet named Solomon Smith. Well, Dad seems obsessed with Smith and his teachings (that eating human flesh makes you immortal) and Mom just seems to find the meat especially delicious, and a key ingredient for some great recipes she’s trying out. They have also indoctrinated Rena’s brother Glenn (Kahn West) into their new lifestyle.

So it’s the criminals versus the cannibals. But where a movie like FRONTIER(S) took this subject matter into some pretty dark territory, FRESH MEAT can’t seem to decide whether it wants to have fun with it all, or take it seriously, which results in an uneven tone throughout. Some directors are great at combining comedy and horror, but for people who think it’s an easy trick to master, you could not be more wrong. Most people who attempt it, mess it up. And the director here, Danny Mulheron, gives us a mixed bag of presents – some we want, and some we could do without. Mulheron’s previous directing work was mostly in television, but one of his bigger credits was for being one of the writers and stars of Peter Jackson’s MEET THE FEEBLES (1989).

Let’s look at the pluses first. The cast for this one is pretty good. I especially liked college girl Rena and badass girl with a shotgun, Gigi, who slowly start to fall for one another (Gigi has a great look, with shorts and especially sexy stockings to match that pump-action shotgun of hers). Gigi might just be my favorite character here, and actress Kate Elliot previously had roles in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (which was shot in New Zealand), as well as several New Zealand television series. In fact, most of the cast come from New Zealand TV (and it’s amazing how many of them had roles in one of the many POWER RANGERS franchises, which I’m guessing were also shot on location there).

Badass criminal Gigi (Kate Elliott) just might be my favorite character in FRESH MEAT (2012).

Badass criminal Gigi (Kate Elliott) just might be my favorite character in FRESH MEAT (2012).

Maori actor Temuera Morrison, who plays Rena’s increasingly insane father, is kind of New Zealand acting royalty, having previous starred in the amazing 1994 drama ONCE WERE WARRIORS (which I suggest you seek out instead). He may be more recognizable to American audiences as the cloned warrior who became Boba Fett in the most recent STAR WARS movies EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002) and EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005). Morrison is a plus in FRESH MEAT, until his character gets more and more over-the-top in his behavior, becoming so unbearably unbelievable in the final act of the film, when he completely loses his mind, as to border on irritating.

There’s little suspense as the criminals invade the house and think they have the upper hand. We know it’s only a matter a time before the flesh-hungry family turns the tables on them. By the time geeky next door neighbor Shaun (Will Robertson) pops in, because he has a thing for Rena, and is invited to share the family dinner by Hemi, and then the cops show up, things degenerate from clever and well-acted to chaotic and just plain silly.

In FRESH MEAT, the family taken hostage is more dangerous than the criminals. (from left to right, Nicola Kawana, Temuera Morrison and Kahn West)

In FRESH MEAT, the family taken hostage is more dangerous than the criminals (from left to right, Nicola Kawana, Temuera Morrison and Kahn West)

With a more assured hand to keep things sharp and smart until the end, FRESH MEAT could have been a tasty morsel for those who enjoy cannibal movies (there sure seem to have been a lot of them in recent years). As it is, it’s a clever, fun movie that runs out of ideas in the final act, and goes for complete anarchy instead of a satisfying conclusion.

I’m not really sure how this one got selected for the Tribeca Film Festival, but its festival pedigree made me expect something a lot better, and I was pretty disappointed with this one.

Not a complete loss, but not a complete success, either. I give this one two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives FRESH MEAT ~ two and a half knives!

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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

DEADFALL (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cop Movies, Crime Films, Fugitives with tags , , , , on December 11, 2012 by knifefighter

DEADFALL (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Deadfall_poster

The new heist thriller, DEADFALL, is currently playing in limited release in cities throughout America, and going in, I was wondering why it didn’t have a wider release.

In it, Eric Bana is a guy named Addison. And as the movie begins, Addison is in a getaway car with his partner and his sister, Liza (Olivia Wilde) in the back seat. Liza is counting the money they got from a bank heist they just pulled off, when they have a car accident, flipping them off the road and into the snowy embankment below.

Addison’s partner, the driver, is killed immediately, but he is able to get out. As he’s struggling to free his sister, who is strapped in with her seatbelt, a cop shows up to investigate. Addison is afraid the man will arrest them, so he shoots him in cold blood. Addison and Liza then split up the money. He tells her to go out onto the highway and get a ride. He’ll plod on through the snowy woods, and they’ll get in touch later on, when he calls her on his cell phone. Then they’ll get across the Canadian border together.

But the thing is, it’s winter: the temperature is dropping below freezing, and there’s a blizzard on its way.

Liza finds someone to pick her up right away, an ex-con named Jay (Charlie Hunnam) who is on his way to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner. He’s an ex-boxer who got involved in some shady business with the mob  to get a shot at a title bout. Or something like that. Not only was he in prison, but he has been estranged from his father (Kris Kristofferson) for years. So it’s probably going to be an uncomfortable holiday. Oh, and Jay is also on the run from the cops after he clobbered his former manager and left him for dead.

Meanwhile, the local cops are on Addison’s trail. Led by Sheriff Becker (Treat Williams, who plays the role as a real ball-buster), the squad includes his daughter, Hanna (Kate Mara) who wants to join the FBI, and just passed the exam, but she’s been paying her dues on the local police force in the meantime, being treated like crap by her dad, who clearly wanted a son.

Hanna is friends with Jay’s parents, and they invited her to Thanksgiving dinner, since her only family is her ogre of a father. And of course, Jay’s parents’ house is in the same direction Addison is headed, as he evades police and racks up more bodies. And Jay and Liza are headed there as well, leading to a great big scene where all of the main characters are sitting around the table, preparing to eat the goose that Daddy shot.

The cast is pretty good here. I’ve liked Bana since the Australian prison movie, CHOPPER (2000), where he played the vicious killer, Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read. You might also remember him as the first Bruce Banner in a feature film, playing the role in Ang Lee’s HULK (2003), before Edward Norton or Mark Ruffalo got to take turns with the role. He was also very good in Steven Spielberg’s MUNICH (2005). And he’s good here, and believable as a cold-blooded killer, even if his accent is a bit uneven at times.

Olivia Wild is good here as well, as Liza. You might recognize her from movies like TURISTAS (2006), TRON: LEGACY (2010) and, more recently, COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011) and THE CHANGE-UP (also 2011). She’s sexy and vulnerable and often effective here as well.

Charlie Hunnam as Jay is also really good here. He’s best known as playing Jax on the FX biker series, THE SONS OF ANARCHY.

Another highlight is Sissy Spacek as Jay’s mom. She’s tough and smart and one of the better characters in the film. Kris Kristofferson, an actor I’ve always admired, is pretty much stuck in a thankless role here as a bitter, stoic old man. There’s not much for him to do except sit around brooding.

Kate Mara is good as Hanna, and I almost thought they were going for a kind of younger version of Frances McDormand’s character from the Coen Brothers’ FARGO (1996), except without the Minnesota accent, but the truth is, Hanna isn’t as developed as she could be. We know her father treats her awful. We know she’s a good person. That’s about it. And Treat Williams is pretty much one-note as her sheriff father, but it’s not like he has a lot to work with, either. He does what he can with an underwritten role.

So how is DEADFALL? Well, despite the solid cast I mentioned, it’s sadly not very compelling. Along with the bland title, it’s also got a pretty generic script. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, many times, and done better. Fugitive-on-the-run movies are a dime a dozen, and DEADFALL doesn’t do a whole helluva lot to stand out among the rest. And suddenly I realized why this movie is in limited release. Because, despite the talented people involved, it’s not all that memorable.

Director Stefan Ruzowitzky does a serviceable job. He previously directed the German films ANATOMY (2000) and THE COUNTERFEITERS (2007), but it’s hard to determine how talented he is based on DEADFALL, since screenwriter Zach Dean’s cliché-ridden script leaves a lot to be desired. Despite good performances, there’s nothing all that original about these characters, or the plot. And frankly, I was a little bored at times, especially in the middle. Not a good sign for an action/heist movie. The big finale at Jay’s parents house is good, but not good enough to make DEADFALL something special.

I give DEADFALL, two  and a half knives. Wait for it to come to Netflix or cable. It’s not horrible, but it’s also not worth the price of a movie ticket.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives DEADFALL~ two and a half knives

The Remote Outpost Looks At THE INVADERS (1967 – 1968)

Posted in 2012, 60s Television, Aliens, Classic TV Shows, Fugitives, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, TV Shows, UFOs with tags , , , , , , on August 15, 2012 by knifefighter

THE REMOTE OUTPOST…. Written by Mark Onspaugh
This week we look at: THE INVADERS, in color!  Tonight’s episode: Pinkies of Doom!

You find yourself on a barren and desolate world, light years from anything or anyone you know… Without much food or water, your oxygen running low, you strike out for the distant mountains… After days of torturous climbing, you see an oasis below. An installation of quonset huts bedecked with hundreds of television antennae. Congratulations, Traveler, you’ve reached… THE REMOTE OUTPOST.

****

While we’re waiting for the next crop of science fiction and horror series to debut on network and cable, I thought we’d stroll through the musty and parasite-infested archives of the Outpost. N… O… P… Q. Hmm… Quark, Quasar, Quigley – ah, QM.

Back in the 60s and 70s, one of the more successful television producers was Quinn Martin (1922-1987). Martin was born in New York, but raised in Los Angeles. He attended Fairfax High and then UC Berkeley, but quit and got an editing job with MGM. (His father was also a film editor—always good to have connections!)

Martin rose up the production ladder and would eventually executive produce a number of television classics: THE UNTOUCHABLES (1959-1960), The Fugitive (1963-1967), Twelve O’Clock High (1964-1967), The F.B.I. (1965-1974), Cannon (1971-1976), The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1977) and Barnaby Jones (1973-1978). QM also produced the Burt Reynolds series DAN AUGUST (1970-1971) and the short-lived (8 episodes) TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED (1977). One of Martin’s few forays into cinema would be the memorable THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971), where Alan Alda (of all people) makes a deal with the Devil and lives to regret it. (Note to self: cancel deal meeting with Beezlebub.)

Quinn Martin Productions were known for having a lavish guest star budget and high production values. Another trademark was that each show would feature a title sequence, then a narrator would intone “With guest stars…” and “Tonight’s episode: ‘Pardon My Murder!'” (Actually, that’s a joke from MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 [1988-1999], but it certainly captures the flavor of QM titles.) Episodes were divided into acts and ended with an epilog. It all helped to establish the QM brand, and no other series looked or sounded like QM productions.

This whole period was a golden age for character actors, as there were many anthology series and dramas needing guest stars to round out the cast. Familiar faces like Ed Asner, Suzanne Pleshette, William Windom, Michael Rennie, Susan Oliver, Harold Gould and John Larch (among many, many others) would make the rounds, often appearing on two different QM shows simultaneously. A good character actor could often work nearly year-round in those days.

Quinn Martin produced one of my favorite science fiction shows, THE INVADERS which ran on ABC from January 10, 1967 to March 26, 1968. ABC was the last network to adopt color programming, so the network would run bumpers that would say, “Next, The Invaders… In color!”

A departure from QM’s police procedurals, many thought THE INVADERS was a riff on THE FUGITIVE. However, Larry Cohen, the series’ creator, drew his inspiration from the films INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), INVADERS FROM MARS (1953), and from the Alfred Hitchcock trope of “the wrong man.”  The hero of the series was David Vincent, an architect who becomes lost and stops to sleep on a deserted road. That night, he sees a UFO land. When he returns the next day with the sheriff, all traces of the UFO and its visitors are gone.

This would be a central thread in most episodes: David Vincent would try to warn people of an Invader scheme, but no one would believe him. The Invaders themselves were aided by the fact that they looked human (unless undergoing “regeneration”) and they vaporized when dying, leaving just a pile of ash. They also had little discs that, when placed on a human, would cause death by cerebral hemorrhage. The Invaders did not bleed, did not feel pain, rarely exhibited emotion and had a mutated little finger that could not bend. Often only David Vincent would notice such clues, and he was often considered dangerous and/or crazy.

David Vincent was played by Roy Thinnes, a handsome young actor who had done well in soaps and was part of QM’s rotating troupe of guest stars on previous series. As with David Janssen in THE FUGITIVE and Bill Bixby in THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1978-1982), he had sufficient charisma to carry the show. As I mentioned, Quinn Martin did not skimp on budgets for his productions, not on effects or guest stars, which may explain why his shows had a richer look than those of Irwin Allen or even the original STAR TREK. Quinn Martin also strove for realism, nothing too far out like Space Cowboys or a Nazi planet.

The iconic theme was by Dominic Frontiere, who did the amazing theme for THE OUTER LIMITS (1963-1965). THE INVADERS also had a dynamite voice-over lead-in, which is one of my most favorites, following THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1964), THE OUTER LIMITS and STAR TREK (1966-1969):

First, you hear Hank Simms, who announced all of Quinn Martin’s series – series name, stars, guest stars and title:

“The Invaders – a Quinn Martin Production! Starring Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent.”

Then, a gravelly bass voice takes over (my research shows this is supposed to be William Woodson who also did CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER FRIENDS in 1978, but it sure sounds to me like William Conrad, who starred in the QM series CANNON, but was also the voice of Marshall Matt Dillon on radio):

“The Invaders, alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: the Earth. Their purpose: to make it their world. David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed, deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now, David Vincent knows that The Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow, he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun!”

(Check out THE INVADERS opening credits for yourself, here)

After that, Hank Simms would tell you who was guest starring and the name of the episode. THE INVADERS had great episode titles like “Beachhead,” “The Experiment,” “Doomsday Minus One” and “Quantity: Unknown.”

Wooo-eee! I’ll tell you, friends, if you were a kid who loved science fiction liked me, this show grabbed you from the get-go. Sure, the effects are primitive by today’s standards, but were top-notch for television of the day. And writerly contrivances like disappearing alien corpses and mutated pinkies just added to the nightmarish and surreal predicament in which David Vincent found himself. It made you wonder what you would do under similar circumstances, and made you regard some adults with suspicion… Just why does my British aunt keep her pinky up at tea time?

For his part, show runner Larry Cohen did much to infuse The Invaders with layers, making it a metaphor for the Red Scare and the dehumanizing influence of mindless conformity. He had similar thoughts for BRANDED (1965-1966), the Chuck Connors (western) series he had created as an allegory of Hollywood’s blacklist. An interesting note is that we never learned much about the aliens, only that they came from “a dying world.” We never learned what that world was called or what they called themselves, nothing about their culture or beliefs. There seem to be only two episodes where we got the briefest glimpse of their true shapes, amorphous blobs in solution (which makes our water-rich planet ideal).

Sadly, THE INVADERS only lasted two seasons, and I am not certain why it was canceled. However, the series did take a turn in the second season, where certain people (“The Believers”) begin to trust David Vincent and worked to help eradicate the aliens. For me, this was far less satisfying than a single man alone against terrible odds, and I began to lose interest. I imagine others did, too. It’s like a “will they or won’t they” couple in a sitcom… As long as Sam is pursuing Diane, or Jack and Sawyer are pursuing Kate, there is a natural tension, one that gives the series some weight. Once a couple marries or becomes exclusive, that tension is gone. Also, a lone wolf or fugitive in the series is like a secret friend—someone only we understand and appreciate… Once they become accepted, they are no longer alone (but we are). REMOTE OUTPOST—we don’t just analyze television!

Larry Cohen went on to do low-budget horror faves like IT’S ALIVE (1974) and Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982). An Invaders mini-series with Scott Bakula was attempted in 1995, with Roy Thinnes reprising his role as David Vincent, handing off the torch, as it were. It was not picked up for a series… I guess those alien bastards won this round…

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh

 

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Discovers THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE (1961)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 60s Movies, Action Movies, Atomic Accidents, B-Movies, Fugitives, Gangsters!, Lady Anachronism's Fallout Shelter, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns with tags , , , , , , on August 8, 2012 by knifefighter

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter
Discovers THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE (1961)
By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

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.

Atomic blasts are prominently featured in many films of the 1950s and 1960s. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in most people’s minds. That fear and paranoia is evident in the cinema of the time, particularly under the threat of the Soviet Union’s perceived nuclear arsenal.

The MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE (1961) is just this sort of film, but it brings a little something extra to the table. It’s a mobster tale for the Atomic Age.

The film opens to some tough, well-dressed men discussing Eddie Candell (Ron Randell), who has escaped on his way to death row at San Quentin. Candell led this criminal syndicate before being falsely convicted of murder, convicted in no small part through the testimony of his former underworld pals. Andy Damon (Anthony Caruso) has taken over Eddie’s role as mob leader, and he’s also stolen away his girl, Linda (Debra Paget).

Everyone is scared that Candell is coming for them, but Linda is particularly afraid. She not only testified against her man, but she’s also sleeping with his replacement. Linda is the type of insufferable bird-brain that makes viewers root for her horrible demise, but more on that later.

We then see Eddie Candell stumbling through the desert, hands still cuffed, dressed impeccably in a suit and tie. Who knew that San Quentin inmates were transported dressed to the nines? He has wandered onto an atomic testing site, and the scientists notice him too late. He is blown away by the atomic bomb, which is apparently strong enough to knock off his suit jacket but not strong enough to touch his tie! It does rip his shirt sufficiently to give us a glimpse of his strong, impenetrable chest. The researchers discover that he has survived from a recording of the blast.

Dr. Meeker (Tudor Owen), an egghead scientist, demonstrates to a couple of police officers, Capt. Davis (Morris Ankrum) and Lt. Fisher (Gregg Palmer), that the atomic blast didn’t kill Candell but made him indestructible. He does this by demonstrating on produce! He shows them a watermelon that was hit by the same atomic blast. I have no idea why a watermelon was on the testing site, but it serves as a convenient example. The half of the watermelon facing the ground seems normal. It can be cut away with ease. The other half, however, bends the knife. The bomb was comprised of something called Cobalt Element X, which is not quite as deadly as Uranium 235, according to our scientist. Candell’s insides have been fused with steel. Using egghead logic, Meeker tells the officers that Candell could be the most dangerous man alive unless he is apprehended and studied immediately.

Candell steals a dynamite truck and, of course, heads to the home of his former crony Andy Damon. He catches Linda on her way out the door. She’s a blithering nincompoop who pleads with Candell to spare her. She only testified against him, she says, because Damon forced her to. She’ll do anything he wants! She’ll run away with him! She’ll go straight to the district attorney and tell the truth! A group of Damon’s henchmen catch him in the act of roughing up Linda, and they start shooting at him. Candell and the bad guys discover that his body simply absorbs the bullets.

Candell runs away with Linda, hoping to get her to go to the district attorney and help him proclaim his innocence. He also hopes to use Linda as a pawn to get Damon to confess that he lied on the witness stand. Candell’s motivation remains true throughout the film. He never wavers in his desire to have his name cleared.

He drives to the home of his protégé and love interest Carla Angelo (Elaine Stewart). Linda is left in the dynamite van while Candell visits Carla. Carla is clearly smitten with Candell. She sees his horrible condition and wants to selflessly save him. It seems interesting that Carla’s character is the polar opposite of the opportunistic Linda.

The police come to the door while Candell is at Carla’s home, urging her to come with them to a secure location. She agrees to come along, but not before telling Candell to slip out the back. It’s all a setup, however, and the police surround the dynamite van once Candell gets in with Linda. The van will blow and take down innocent people, Candell shouts to the coppers, like the poor man’s James Cagney. Clearly the police in this film were not trained in hostage negotiations. Candell takes off with Linda, and no one bothers to give chase.

Meanwhile, Damon has found himself another dame in record time, and he starts thinking of alternative methods of annihilating his nemesis since mere bullets won’t do. They devise a plan to throw him out the window of their high-rise apartment. It’s brilliant! An atomic bomb won’t kill him, but a 20-story plunge to the sidewalk just might do the trick!

The plot is quickly ruined when Candell comes to the apartment and knocks two of the henchmen out the window instead. Talk about instant karma!

Damon gets to Carla and, in an extremely racy scene for the era, attempts to rape her. The plot is foiled by a passing police officer, and Carla makes off with the gangster’s car.

Carla goes right away to Dr. Meeker. She’s obsessed with saving her lover. Candell’s health is deteriorating. She and the doctor make a trip to her apartment, where they find Candell. He is afraid of what’s happening to his body. He doesn’t want to deal with the doctor. He wants to deal with Damon on his own terms. Perhaps he realizes his time is limited.

In a showdown at the same atomic testing range that sealed his fate, Candell gets his vengeance against Damon and goes down in a blaze of glory. Thankfully, Linda gets her comeuppance as well. For her support and love, Carla is spared.

This was the final film for 1920s director Allan Dwan, the man responsible for such classics as ROBIN HOOD (1922) and THE IRON MASK (1929). THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE certainly not without its flaws, but it’s an action-packed, engaging spin on the classic mobster tale.

© Copyright 2012 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Eddie Candell (Ron Randell), left, gets his revenge on slimy mobster Andy Damon (Anthony Caruso) in THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE!

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Meets SWAMP GIRL (1971)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Crime Films, Drive-in Movies, Exploitation Films, Fugitives, Melodrama, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on July 5, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

SWAMP GIRL (1971)

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 mercury went all the way up to 104 degrees today, and the humidity rose right along with it.  Therefore, we’re continuing with our swampy movies marathon, with a look at a drive-in classic from 1971, SWAMP GIRL.

In a hauntingly beautiful opening shot, a young blond girl rows a small boat through a brightly colored, sunset-laden swamp to the accompaniment of sad guitars.  When night falls, a couple of poachers show up and discover the boat she left behind along with a man nearly dead from cottonmouth bites.  They catch a glimpse of the girl as she creeps away.

Ferlin Husky, the great country western singer and star of HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967) is the Swamp Ranger, and he’s introduced singing a lovely song about the girl on his porch.  His rich baritone rings out,

“Or can it be, you really live, that the stories told are true,

Out in that dark and mysterious swamp, there’s an angel such as you?

Swamp Girl, Swamp Girl, run away,

But there will come a day when your heart will say that it’s time to go,

When your heart will tell you so.”

The ranger interviews the men who discovered the body, and these guys are certainly real life locals.  This isn’t acting; it’s tragic verisimilitude with scary rural accents.  After they claim they’ve seen the elusive swamp girl (who is she, Bigfoot?).  The ranger takes out his airboat to find the mysterious girl.  Is it me, or does everyone in every swamp movie have an airboat?

That Ferlin Husky sure sings up a storm in SWAMP GIRL!

Cue five minutes of well-shot nature footage, lots of scenery and dangerous-looking reptiles.

Eventually, Ferlin Husky spots Swamp Girl, and he follows her.  Luckily, she’s wearing a bright pink and white dress and her hair is so shiny, you just have to wonder where she buys her hair care products out there in the boonies.  Our stalker gets his foot caught in a bear trap, and the girl has to help him.  “If I could find all these traps,” she says, “I’d just throw ‘em all in the water.”  He’s slightly injured, so she takes him to her cabin where she makes him dinner and introduces him to her “Pa,” an African-American man who takes care of her.  The warden tells her that the swamp, that nature itself, is disappearing and one day she would have to go out into the real world.  The thought terrifies her.  He swears to return the next day to hear if she wants to live in the civilized world.

Swamp Girl, or Janeen, is played by the lovely Simone Griffeth when she was about twenty years old.  I adore Simone Griffeth, and not just because we share a birthday, but she’s a pretty good actress in some favorite movies of mine.  She went on to star in DEATH RACE 2000 (1975), HOT TARGET (1985), and television shows from HART TO HART to STARSKY AND HUTCH to a recurring role on TJ HOOKER.  In SWAMP GIRL, she’s playing a fragile innocent, and she plays it very well.

Pa (played nicely by Lonnie Bower) tells her he isn’t her actual “Pa,” that he needs to tell her a story and his name is actually Nat.  Begin exposition.

Turns out, he was lost in the swamp, and he was rescued by a doctor who performed illegal abortions in the middle of the wilderness.  Janeen’s Ma was too far along, so he let her stay until she had the baby.  See, old Doc would send the boy children back with their Mammas, and the girl babies were sold into white slavery to Arab sheiks!  WHAT?!!  Okay, pass the popcorn.  Turns out, Janeen was special to Doc and Nat.  She was also a friend to the animals and all nature (MESSAGE!  MESSAGE!).  Doc sent Nat to visit Lake Turner, who runs a snake farm and procures young girls.  It’s a living.  While Nat’s gone, Doc tries to sell Janeen, but he gets drunk and greedy and asks for double the usual amount.  The white slavers kill Doc and shove the girl into a croaker sack.  Nat slaughters the two men with a hatchet and the girl gets dropped and bitten by a rattlesnake! Luckily, Nat’s there and he sucked out the poison.  After that, he raised her as his own.  Now, she must decide whether to remain in the Okefenokee Swamp, living illegally with her Pa, or should she go with the ranger and find her way in the world?

Simone Griffeth in SWAMP GIRL.

Two bank robbers on the lam, a man and a woman,  abandon their car and attempt to trek to the next state through the swamp.  They discover Pa and Janeen’s cabin, and they make themselves at home after blasting Pa with both barrels in a shockingly violent scene.  They force Janeen to guide them out of the swamp to Florida, so she leads them, forgetting to meet poor love-struck Ferlin Husky.  Swamp Girl has her own plans for this couple, and she knows all the pitfalls and deadly animals in the area.

Meanwhile, one of the robber’s parents just happen to show up, looking for their daughter!  The swamp rats, who hate the sheriff and his pinko liberal environmentalist ways of taking care of the wildlife refuge, accompany the robber’s father into the Okefenokee to search for the missing thieves.  Don’t ask how, but this leads to a guy being swung over a pit of cotton mouths until he tells them where the old cabin in the swamp is located.

Will Janeen lead the Bonnie and Clyde wannabes out of the swamp into safety?  Will the sheriff get to her in time?  Will she head for civilization or remain in the wilderness? Before we know the answers, there will be quicksand, gory deaths, an anti-gun speech (Ya ain’t so tough without yer shotgun, are ya?”), a catfight in the mud (!), two alligator attacks, a cotton mouth trap, and more singing by Ferlin Husky.  And wait till you get a load of the insane twist ending!

Ferlin Husky as the “Swamp Ranger.”

The music, which is so integral to the mood of the movie, is by Gene Kauer, who composed the scores for scores of movies, including THE ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY (1975), THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961), MONSTER (1980), and all three FACES OF DEATH movies (1978, 1981 and 1985).

SWAMP GIRL was directed by Donald A. Davis, who also made FOR SINGLE SINGERS ONLY (1968), THE MUTHERS (1968), MARSHA: THE EROTIC HOUSEWIFE (1970), and the delightfully named DIAL-A-DEGENERATE (1972).  Most of his films were “nudie cuties” or adults-only sex comedies, so SWAMP GIRL is fairly unusual in that it’s rated PG, despite the hatchet murders, abortions, child prostitution, murders, alligator killings, snake bitten children, etc.  It was obviously made for the Southern Drive-In circuit, and it works well for what it is.  There’s so much going on that there’s never a dull moment, and the swamp photography is quite beautiful and must’ve looked great on those giant outdoor screens.  Those authentic accents also add to the fun, creating a nice, if fairly mild hicksploitation hit.  In a few more years, Claudia Jennings would star in the similar, and much more exploitive (and therefore much more popular) GATOR BAIT (1974).

SWAMP GIRL is a fun little movie with no pretensions, a good little performance from the super sexy Simone Griffeth, pretty scenery, and more plot than you could usually fit into five flicks.  Something Weird DVD has it on a terrific double bill with SWAMP COUNTRY (1966), starring Lyle Waggoner.

I give SWAMP GIRL two and a half Arab white slavers out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Available as part of a DVD double-feature with SWAMP COUNTRY from Something Weird Video.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes a Swim in SWAMP WATER (1941)

Posted in 1940s Films, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Crime Films, Fugitives, Killers, Melodrama, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on June 21, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

SWAMP WATER (1941)

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!

It’s ninety-five degrees outside as I write this, and it’s so humid you could cut the air with a knife.  Therefore, the weather is dictating my summer choice of a trilogy of swamp movie reviews over the next month.  What better time to remember the great swamp pictures than when they used to be shown at the local drive-ins, complete with terrier-sized mosquitoes (unless you bought one of those coiled smoke thingies)?

Jean Renoir was the son of famous Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir, and he was also considered France’s greatest living director in the 1930s.  He directed, and most often wrote, one masterpiece after another, films that would still be studied and adored in the next century, films like BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING (1932), THE LOWER DEPTHS (1936), LA GRANDE ILLUSION (1937), and LA BETE HUMAINE (1938).  In 1939, he made THE RULES OF THE GAME, a comedy of manners and a harsh indictment against the bourgeois and pretty much any other class system.  The film infuriated the French, who truly take their cinema to heart, and it also disturbed the Nazis, who occupied the country at the time, with its left-wing politics.  The film was a flop, and Renoir decided if he was going to keep making movies, he would immigrate to America, thus escaping the Nazis’ condemnation, while still retaining his director’s chair, only this time in Hollywood.  He arrived in New York City with his wife and the author of “The Little Prince,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  Within weeks, he was in Hollywood, signed to Twentieth Century Fox by Francophile Darryl F. Zanuck.  What would be his first film in the United States?  A great war film?  An ant-Nazi drama?  A brilliant, elegant comedy?  No, it was a swamp picture: SWAMP WATER (1941) written by Dudley Nichols, who had just had several hits like BRINGING UP BABY (1938) and STAGECOACH (1939), and based on the Saturday Evening Post pot-boiler by Vereen Bell.

In the Okefenokee Swamp, 700 miles of marsh and cypress, Dana Andrews (LAURA – 1944 and CURSE OF THE DEMON – 1957) is Ben, a young man who loses his dog, Trouble (uh-oh, foreshadowing?) while searching for a couple of missing trappers on the edge of the swamp.  Not finding him, he returns home to his father Thursday (Walter Huston of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE – 1948 and THE FURIES – 1950) and his stepmother Hannah, played by Mary Howard (LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY – 1938 and ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS – 1940).  Trouble hasn’t returned home, but when Ben says he’s going into the swamp to find Trouble, his Pa goes plumb crazy, shouting and telling him if he goes into the swamp he shouldn’t ever come home again.  He would be disinherited (from what, I wonder, the old shack they live in?)  On his way, he runs into Mabel, his girlfriend, a high-falutin’ woman who yearns for a better life, played by Virginia Gilmore of THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942).  He gets supplies at the general store, where we meet the rest of the town . . . Marty, who owns the store (the great Russell Simpson of THE GRAPES OF WRATH – 1940 and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS-1954), two nasty characters, the Dorson Brothers, on their way to drown a bag of kittens (!) played by Ward Bond (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – 1946 and THE SEARCHERS – 1956) and Guinn Williams (a heavy in many Westerns, including THE ALAMO – 1960) and a beautiful, wild young woman, the ward (or slave) of the shopkeeper.  Played with a great naiveté by Anne Baxter (ALL ABOUT EVE -1950 and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS– 1956), Julie is a wildcat, a girl abandoned by her father: a convicted murderer who fled into the swamp and is presumed dead.   It’s a rough bunch.

The haunting opening shot from SWAMP WATER (1941)>

Our hero goes on his search for his missing dog into the heart of the swamp, and Renoir actually filmed this on location, unheard of in a film of this time.  The cypress trees, the algae, the water, the sweat, the alligators, and the beautiful play of light on everything is simply gorgeous and stifling.  I can almost feel the fecund air until Ben comes across, who else, Julie’s father, the escaped killer Tom Keefer, played by three time Oscar winner Walter Brennan (STAGECOACH – 1939 and THE WESTERNER – 1941.)  Trouble, it seems, has taken a shine to old Tom, who is hiding out in the deep swamp from the law, but the old man can’t let Ben go back to civilization and reveal where he is.  He ties the boy to a tree and prepares to kill him, but he’s bitten in the face by a cottonmouth, and he falls unconscious.  Ben decides to bury the man, the only proper thing to do, when the old escapee revives.  “If I’da let them things kill me,” he says.  “I’da been dead a long time ago.”  For the young man’s kindness, Tom shows Ben the way out of the swamp.

Fugitive Walter Brennan hiding in the SWAMP WATER.

Meanwhile, local horndog Jesse Wick, played by John Carradine (hundreds of movies) is hitting on Hannah while her husband’s looking for Ben.  His father beats the hide off of him, so Ben takes up in a shack near the general store, where he starts to become closer to the wildcat Julie and makes a living by trapping furs in the Okefenokee.  This, of course, infuriates Mabel, who decides to go to a dance with a Dorson Brother.  Ben accompanies Julie, who cleans up really well!  Ben informs her that her father’s alive, so she starts keeping house for him.

Jesse tries to rape Hannah, but is almost caught by Thursday, who blames his wife.  She can’t say who it is, because she knows Thursday will kill him and she doesn’t want the guilt.  Thursday goes on a quest to find out who his wife is protecting.

It doesn’t take long before the wicked Dorson Brothers and the jealous Mabel get Ben in a headlock and try to drown him, until he tells them Tom is hiding out in the Okefenokee.  Turns out, they know more about the murder than anyone thought, and they go into the swamp to kill Tom Keefer and shut him up.  They’re followed by the sheriff and a posse as well as Ben and Jesse.  The manhunt through the darkened swamp is creepy and quite terrifying.  Will Ben get to Tom in time to warn him?  Will Tom believe the young man or blame him for the men tracking him through quicksand and gator nests?

I won’t give away the ending, but after ninety minutes of dark drama and suspense, it comes out of left field to please wartime audiences.  Zanuck didn’t think anyone would want to see a realistic ending, so he tacked on a sunny bit that seems awfully unrealistic, but it does still work.  Zanuck must have known what he was doing.  Despite his tampering and Jean Renoir’s dissatisfaction with his whole Hollywood experience, SWAMP WATER was one of the five top grossing movies of the year.  Renoir would return to some of the same themes in THE SOUTHERNER (1945 ) and get nominated for an Oscar.

Even with all the cornpone dialog, SWAMP WATER is filled with terrific performances, especially the luminescent Walter Brennan, who just owns every scene he’s in and Anne Baxter, who plays the feral Julie in a way that makes you want to protect her yourself.  Dana Andrews is a bit hopeless at the beginning as an innocent young man, but he evolves into a full grown adult whose heart is too big for the small town he lives in.  The transformation is subtle, but quite wonderful.  John Carradine turns in a performance full of terror and shame, a man who can’t help what he is and is too frightened of life to change.

Dana Andrews comes across an angry Walter Brennan in SWAMP WATER.

The photography is brilliant black and white, with long depths and wavering firelight or dappled sunlight on everything.  Cinematographer J. Peverell Marley (HOUSE OF WAX-1953 and THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES-1939) uses Renoir’s trademark long takes and constantly moving camera.  As beautiful as it is, Marley was a replacement for original photographer Lucien Ballard (THE WILD BUNCH and TRUE GRIT – both 1969), who was fired.  It looks like an art film but it has the Tobacco Road plot of a Southern exploitation hit, so SWAMP WATER is an odd flick, but extremely moving and beautiful piece of Faulkneresque Southern gothic.

Twilight Time has released a limited edition Blu-Ray of this classic swamp picture, and it’s a lulu.  You can see every bead of sweat on every characters mug, every bug flying near the fires in the swamp, every grain of wood on the sad-looking shacks.  It’s a magnificent restoration, and you can even isolate the musical score by David Buttolph (KISS OF DEATH -1947 and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS – 1953), which samples the haunting Red River Valley.  They only made 3,000, so if you want one, you need to hurry.

I give SWAMP WATER three and a half kittens in a bag out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl