Horror on TV: Ghost Story 1.12 “Creature of the Canyon” (dir by Walter Doniger)


On tonight’s episode of Ghost Story, Angie Dickinson plays a widow who is haunted by the ghost of her late husband’s Doberman.  Agck!  I’m scared enough of real Dobermans without having to deal with one that is undead!

This episode originally aired on December 15th, 1972.

Horror on the Lens: The Norliss Tapes (dir by Dan Curtis)


The Norliss Tapes (1973, dir by Dan Curtis)

Today’s Horror on the Lens is The Norliss Tapes, a 1973 made-for-TV movie that was also a pilot for a television series that, unfortunately, was never put into production.

Reporter David Norliss (Roy Thinnes) has disappeared.  His friend and publisher, Stanford Evans (Don Porter), listens to the tapes that Norliss recorded before vanishing. (Stanford Evans, it must be said, is a great name for an editor.)  Each tape details yet another paranormal investigation.  (Presumably, had the series been picked up, each tape would have been a different episode.)  The first tape tells how Norliss investigated the mysterious death of an artist who apparently returned from the grave.

For a made-for-TV movie, The Norliss Tapes is pretty good.  It’s full of atmosphere and features a genuinely menaching yellow-eyed zombie monster. The film was directed by Dan Curtis, who was responsible for several made-for-TV horror films and who also created the deathless TV show, Dark Shadows. Curtis also directed a few feature films. Burnt Offerings, for instance, will be forever beloved for its scene of annoying little Lee Montgomery getting crushed by a chimney. If you ever get a chance to listen to the director’s commentary that Dan Curtis recorded for the Burnt Offerings DVD release, you must do so. Curtis comes across as the crankiest man on the planet and it’s actually kind of fascinating to listen to. His irritation when Karen Black keeps asking him if he knows the name of the actor who played the ghostly chauffeur is truly an amazing thing to here. (For the record, the actor’s name was Anthony James, he also had important supporting roles in two best picture winners — In The Heat of the Night and Unforgiven — and yes, he was one of the best things about Burnt Offerings. Karen Black knew what she was talking about.)

But back to The Norliss Tapes!

Admittedly, this is not the first Halloween in which I’ve shared The Norliss Tapes with our readers. Back in 2015, The Norliss Tapes was one of our “horrors on the lens.” Unfortunately, there’s only so many good quality, public domain horror films available on YouTube so, occasionally, a movie is going to show up more than once over the years. But, as long as it’s good film, who cares?

Enjoy The Norliss Tapes!

Film Review: The Chase (dir by Arthur Penn)


The Chase, a small-town Texas melodrama from 1966, opens with Robert Redford escaping from prison.

Redford is playing Bubber Reeves. Bubber, we’re told, has spent the last few years in a tough Texas prison, convicted of a murder that he didn’t commit. Now, he’s on the run and he’s probably returning to his hometown. His wife, Anna (Jane Fonda), still lives there, though Anna is now having an affair with Jake Rogers (James Fox). Jake is the son of the most powerful man in town, Val Rogers (E.G. Marshall). Jake also used to be Bubber’s best friend but now, he’s wracked with guilt about his affair with Anna.

Meanwhile, the townspeople are all worried that Bubber is going to seek revenge on the people who were responsible for him going to prison. Some of them know that he was actually innocent and some of them think that he’s actually the killer that he’s been made out to be but what they all have in common is that they’re worried about what Bubber’s gong to do when he shows up. Maybe they should have thought about the possibility of him getting mad and vengeful before they gave him a nickname like Bubber.

Anyway, Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) is convinced that Bubber is innocent but the townspeople still want him to allow them to gun Bubber down as soon as they see him. Sheriff Calder, however, is determined to keep the peace and make sure that the law prevails. He’s a man of unimpeachable integrity, working in a town full of people who are too cowardly to concern themselves with doing the right thing.

As everyone waits for Bubber to arrive. tempers come to the surface, a good deal of alcohol is consumed, and secrets are revealed. It all ends in tragedy, of course. One of the final scenes clumsily recreates the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald. The Chase wouldn’t be an achingly self-serious film from 1966 if it didn’t.

There’s a few obvious problems with The Chase, the main one being that Robert Redford, who was 30 years-old when The Chase was released, looks surprisingly good for someone who has spent the last few years locked away in a tough Texas prison. Redford manage to escape from prison and run through a swamp without getting one single hair out of place. There’s nothing particularly dangerous about Redford in this film, which is surprising when you consider that The Chase was made just three years before Redford’s convincing turn as a laconic (if charming) killer in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. For The Chase to work, Bubber Reeves would have to be a force of nature but, whenever Redford’s on screen, you just find yourself wondering how someone who looks that good got stuck with a nickname like Bubber. The townspeople talk about Bubber like he’s a wild outlaw but Redford is just too laid back to pull it off. He comes across less like a wanted criminal and more like a California surfer who has somehow found himself in rural Texas.

As for the rest of the cast — well, there’s a lot of them. It’s a big ensemble film and good luck to anyone trying to keep track of who is related to who. Surprisingly enough, Marlon Brando is very convincing as a Texas sheriff, never allowing Sheriff Calder to turn into a stereotype. Less surprising is the fact that Robert Duvall, playing an frustrated husband, is also convincing in his role. Brando and Duvall, of course, would both go on to co-star in The Godfather. (Supposedly, when shooting of The Godfather began, Duvall was the only member of the cast with no fear of joking around with Brando, largely because they had bonded while working on The Chase.) Unfortunately, as good as Brando and Duvall are, they’re both let down in the hair department. Brando gets stuck with a hairpiece while Duvall is forced to go with a comb-over.

Some of the other performers are good and some of them are bad but none of them are particularly convincing as the residents of a small Texas town. James Fox, for instance, is very British. Jane Fonda and Angie Dickinson (cast as Calder’s wife) seem to be bored. E.G. Marshall is believably rich but never believably Southern. The other performers all tend to overact, especially once the people in town start drinking, shooting, hitting, and, in some cases, dancing. Somehow, Shelley Winters is not in the film, even though it seems like she should be.

The Chase was directed by Arthur Penn and written by Lillian Hellman. (The screenplay was based on a play and novel by Horton Foote.) Penn would follow up The Chase with Bonnie and Clyde and Alice’s Restaurant, two films that also dealt, for more successfully, with The Chase‘s themes of violence, community hypocrisy, and outlaw romanticism. Jane Fonda would go on to play Lillian Hellman in the 1977 film, Julia. For Julia, Fonda was nominated for an Oscar. For The Chase, she was not.

The Chase is one of those films that wants to say something important but doesn’t seem to be quite sure what. It’s a long and dramatic movie that doesn’t really add up to much. In the end, I think the main lesson to be learned here is not to allow your children to get a nickname like Bubber. There’s just no escape from a bad nickname.

The Love War (1970, directed by George McCowan)


 

Two warring alien races are settling their conflict in California.  Two teams of three have been sent down to Earth.  Though they may appear to be human, their true form is revealed whenever anyone looks at them while wearing a special pair of glasses.  (Yes, just like in They Live.)  Kyle (Lloyd Bridges) is the last surviving member of his team but, even if his side has lost two battles, Kyle is still determined to win the war.

After killing one of his opponents in Los Angeles, Kyle hops on a bus and heads to a small town.  While he’s on the bus, he’s approached by Sandy (Angie Dickinson).  Though Kyle tries to avoid talking to her, Sandy manages to break down his defenses because she’s Angie Dickinson.  If 70s era Angie Dickinson started talking to you on a bus, would you be able to ignore her?  When Kyle reaches his destination and gets off the bus, Sandy decides to follow him.  Even after Kyle explains that he’s an alien and allows her to see his true form, Sandy says that she’s in love with him.  Kyle starts to fall in love with her too but what will he do when the other aliens show up in the town, looking to kill him?

Even though this made-for-TV movie’s 70 minute runtime makes it feel more like an extended episode of The Outer Limits than an actual movie, The Love War makes good use of both its intriguing premise and its two lead actors.  Lloyd Bridges and Angie Dickinson might not be the first two actors who come to mind you think about who could credibly play an alien and the woman in love with him but they both pull it off.  The Love War works because it takes its premise seriously.  I can only imagine how audiences in 1970 reacted the film’s ending, which is hardly typical of the type of feel-good stuff that we usually associate with 70s television.

The Love War has never officially been released on DVD but it can be viewed on YouTube.

You Have To Pay The Bills Somehow: The Maddening (1995, directed by Danny Huston)


Because her husband’s a dick who spends too much time working and not enough time taking the day off, Cassie (Mia Sara) grabs her five year-old daughter, Samantha (Kayla Buglewicz) and heads off for her sister’s house.  When Cassie stops at a gas station to fill up the car, she’s spotted by seedy Roy Scudder (Burt Reynolds!).  Roy puts down his cigar long enough to tamper with her car.  When it breaks down a few miles down the role, Roy drives up and offers Cassie and Samantha a ride back to his place, where he can fix her car or where she can at least call for hep.  Not realizing that she’s in a direct-to-video horror movie, Cassie accepts.

Big mistake!  Roy’s wife, Georgina (Angie Dickinson!), has not been the same since the mysterious death of her son and Georgina and Roy’s other child, Jill (Candace Huston, daughter of the film’s director and granddaughter of John Huston), needs a playmate.  Roy has decided that Samantha fits the bill.  Cassie is locked in a room while Samantha is turned into Jill’s slave and Roy deals with the angry ghost of his abusive father (William Hickey!).

You have to feel bad for Burt Reynolds.  He made this film at a time when his career was in decline.  His TV show was no longer on the air.  Boogie Nights was still two years away.  The man had bills to pay.  Can you blame Burt for accepting any role that came his way, especially if it meant a chance to co-star with Angie Dickinson and be directed by the son of John Huston?  Reynolds was famous for hating even his good films so you can only imagine what he must have thought about The Maddening.  Fortunately, since Burt was playing a total psycho in The Maddening, he could at least channel his feeling into the role.  Throughout ever minute of The Maddening, Burt is totally and thoroughly unhinged and angry in the way that only the former number one star in America could be upon having to settle for a role in a direct-to-video horror film.  He yells at his ghost father.  He slits throats.  He beats people into unconsciousness.  He does everything that a normal movie psycho does but, when he does it, it’s even more memorable because he’s Burt Reynolds.  Burt and Angie Dickinson playing the type of role that Bette Davis would have played for Robert Aldrich in the 60s are not just the main reasons to watch this movie.  They’re the only reasons.

This was Burt’s only horror film and it’s too bad that it couldn’t have been a better one.  But if it helped Burt keep the lights on during the lean years of the early 90s, good.

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt. 23: Spring Cleaning Edition


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Continuing my quest to watch all these movies sitting in my DVR (so I can record more movies!), here are six more capsule reviews for you Dear Readers:

FIFTH AVENUE GIRL (RKO 1939; D: Gregory LaCava) – A minor but entertaining bit of screwball froth revolving around rich old Walter Connolly , who’s got  problems galore: his wife (the criminally underrated Veree Teasdale) is cheating on him, his son (Tim Holt in a rare comedy role) is a polo-playing twit, his daughter (Kathryn Adams) in love with the socialism-spouting chauffer (James Ellison ), and his business is facing bankruptcy because of labor union troubles. On top of all that, no one remembers his birthday! The downcast Connolly wanders around Central Park, where he meets jobless, penniless, and practically homeless Ginger Rogers, and soon life on 5th Avenue gets turned upside-down! Ellison’s in rare form as the proletariat Marxist driver, 

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Captain Kirk vs. Sheriff Taylor: Pray For The Wildcats (1974, directed by Robert Michael Lewis)


The year is 1974 and there’s nothing more dangerous than being a hippie in Baja California.  That’s because psychotic business Sam Farragutt (played by Andy Griffith!) is on the loose.  Sam likes to describe himself as being a hippie himself.  “A hippie with money,” Sam puts it as he waves a hundred dollar bill in the face of a hippie without money,

Actually, there is one thing more dangerous than being a hippie in Baja California and that’s being an ad executive.  Once again, Sam Farragutt is to blame.  He’s willing to give his business to three ad execs but first they have to agree to go down to Baja and ride around with him on their motorcycles.  The three ad execs are Terry Maxon (former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner!), Paul McIllvain (former Brady Bunch star Robert Reed!), and suicidal burn-out Warren Summerfield (William Shatner!).  Warren is having an affair with Paul’s wife (Angie Dickinson!) but he’s still planning on committing suicide in Mexico.

However, going to Mexico gives Warren a new lease on life.  After Warren discovers that Farragutt is responsible for the death of two hippies, he becomes determined to make sure that justice is served.  Soon, Andy Griffith (!) is chasing William Shatner (!) across the Mexican desert.  Someone’s going to die.  Is it going to be Sheriff Taylor or Captain Kirk?

Pray For The Wildcats was a made-for-TV movie that aired the same year as Savages.  Both movies were a part of Andy Griffith’s attempt to change his image after playing the folksy Sheriff Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show.  Griffith is a good villain but the main appeal of Pray for the Wildcats is the chance to see William Shatner doing his thing.  Shatner has a juicy role here, playing a man who is at first suicidal and then righteously indignant.  He overemotes with the self-serious intensity that was Shatner’s trademark in the years before he finally developed a sense of humor about himself.  The movie itself gets bogged down with unnecessary flashbacks and dated dialogue but the spectacle of Griffith vs. Shatner makes it all worth it.

Slashed To Thrill: Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL (Filmways 1980)


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Brian De Palma was a big deal back in the 70’s and 80’s, and his films like CARRIE, SCARFACE, and THE UNTOUCHABLES are still discussed. Yet works such as SISTERS, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, OBSESSION, BLOW OUT, and BODY DOUBLE seem unjustly neglected today, and some critics deride him for his over the top sex and violence. DRESSED TO KILL finds De Palma in full Hitchcock mode, an homage to PSYCHO that The Master of Suspense himself cited as more like a “fromage”, but one I find still entertaining.

The film begins with a sizzling hot shower scene with Angie Dickinson as Kate Miller, remarried mother of  science nerd Peter  (Keith Gordon, CHRISTINE ). Kate has problems in her marriage and with her own mom,  not to mention being a nymphomaniac! She’s seeing psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine ), but seemingly getting nowhere. We follow her to  New York’s…

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Boldly Going Indeed! : PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (MGM 1971)


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Gene Roddenberry’s post-STAR TREK career  had pretty much gone down the tubes. The sci-fi series had been a money loser, and Roddenberry wasn’t getting many offers. Not wanting to be pigeonholed in the science fiction ghetto, he produced and wrote the screenplay for PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, a black comedy skewering the sexual revolution, with French New Wave director Roger Vadim making his first American movie. The result was an uneven yet entertaining film that would never get the green light today with its theme of horny teachers having sex with horny high school students!

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All-American hunk Rock Hudson was in the middle of a career crisis himself. After spending years as Doris Day’s paramour in a series of fluffy comedies, his box office clout was at an all-time low. Taking the role of Tiger McGrew, the guidance counselor/football coach whose dalliances with the cheerleading squad leads to murder…

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Bravo for RIO BRAVO (Warner Brothers 1959)


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If there’s such a thing as the quintessential “John Wayne Movie”, RIO BRAVO may very well be it. Producer/director Howard Hawks created the perfect blend of action and humor, leading an all-star cast through this tale of a stand-off between the good guys and the bad guys. RIO BRAVO’s theme has been done over many times, most notably by John Carpenter in 1976’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Hawks himself remade the film, with Wayne again starring, as EL DORADO and RIO LOBO, but the original remains the best of the bunch.

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The plot itself is pretty basic. When disgraced deputy Dude (called Borrachon, Spanish for ‘big drunk’) walks into a saloon looking for booze, no-good Joe Burdette tosses a silver dollar into a spittoon for kicks. Sheriff John T. Chance stops Dude from embarrassing himself, only to receive a whack in the head for his efforts. Dude goes after Joe and a fight breaks out, and Joe kills…

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