Horror On TV: One Step Beyond 2.1 “Delusion” (dir by John Newland)


On tonight’s episode of One Step Beyond.

A young woman (Suzanne Pleshette) desperately needs a blood transfusion.  Fortunately, the police have managed to track down one of the only people to share her blood type, an accountant named Harold Stern (Norman Lloyd).  Harold seems like a nice, rather mild-mannered guy and he has a long history of donating blood.  However, when the police approach him, Harold refuses to donate.

“What type of crumb are you!?” the police demand.

Harold explains that, whenever he gives someone blood, he develops a psychic connection with that person.  He can see their future.  And that’s simply a burden that he can no longer shoulder….

This episode of One Step Beyond originally aired on September 15th, 1959.  Norman Lloyd, who plays Harold, got his start as a member of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater and he also played the villain in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur.  (Speaking of Hitchcock, Suzanne Pleshette played the doomed school teacher in The Birds.)  When Lloyd appeared in this episode of One Step Beyond, he was 44 years old.

Today, Norman Lloyd is 103 years old and guess what?  He’s still acting!  He had a role in Trainwreck and still occasionally appears on television.

Enjoy!

Film Review: My Little Sister (dir by Roberto and Maurizio del Piccolo)


If there’s anything that I’ve learned, from my long history of watching horror films, it’s that only fools go camping.  Seriously, nothing good ever comes from wandering around in the woods or sleeping in a tent.  Inevitably, you’re either going to attacked by a zombie while you’re skinny dipping in the nearby pond or a man with a machete is going to show up while everyone’s busy having sex in a tent.  In short, nudity and the great outdoors equals death.

And really, it makes sense.  When you’re camping, you’re in an isolated place and you are totally at the mercy of the elements, the killers, and occasionally the zombies.  There’s a reason why so many horror films center around unlucky campers.  Because, seriously, camping is terrifying!

Just check out My Little Sister, for instance.

My Little Sister is the latest film from directors Roberto and Maurizio del Piccolo.  It opens in the wilderness, with shots of an old woman wandering through the woods.  The old woman looks happy but it’s a disturbing sort of happiness.  First off, she’s wearing a nightgown, which isn’t exactly the most practical wandering around in the woods outfit.  Secondly, her wrists are heavily bandaged.  And finally, she doesn’t really seem to have an easily identifiable reason for being out there in the woods.  She spends a while picking up leaves and smiling at them.  Occasionally, she crawls around in the dirty.  As we watch her, we occasionally cut to black-and-white photographs of an unhappy looking family and headlines about missing tourists.

While the old woman plays with leaves, something far more disturbing is happening in a nearby house.  In one room, a bound and terrified woman (Sofia Pauly) watches as her boyfriend is murdered and another woman is killed with a weed whacker.  Doing the killing is a hunched over, grunting man (Saverio Percudani) who appears to be horribly disfigured…

In another room of the house, an unmoving figure sits in front of a TV and watches grainy footage of a young girl holding an older man a bottle of what appears to be water.  The man pours the liquid on his face and suddenly starts to scream.  Hmmm…apparently, it wasn’t water…

Meanwhile, in the woods, campers Sheila (Holli Dillon) and Tom (Mattia Rossellini) watch as the old woman plays with the leaves and they laugh at her, which may seem mean but I think most of us would probably do the same thing.  Sheila and Tom are supposed to meet up with their friends but their friends are nowhere to be seen.  Instead, there’s just an empty campsite and an eccentric woodsman (David White) warning them to beware of someone that he calls the little sister…

Of course, all of these storylines converge but I’m not going to tell you how.  You may think that you’ve figured out some of it just by reading the review up to this point but My Little Sister has a few surprises up its sleeve.  There’s a little twist at the end that my horror-loving soul absolutely loved.  Let’s just say that, in this film, no one is every truly safe.

My Little Sister plays out like a mix of Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and — believe it or not — Sinister.  At its best, My Little Sister achieves a dreamlike intensity.  The wilderness is filmed to look both beautiful and threatening at the same time and the scenes in the house, in particular, are pure nightmare fuel.  When it comes to a film like this, the effectiveness depends on how much you care about the potential victims and fortunately, both Holli Dillon and Sofia Pauly give totally believable, sympathetic, and relatable performances.  As I watched them try to survive, I kept wondering what I would do if I found myself in the same situation.  I doubt it would end well.

Finally, there’s no way I can finish this review without making a special mention of Lucia Castellano, who gives a really good and genuinely surprising performance as the crazy old woman in the wilderness.  She is both frightening and sympathetic at the same time.

My Little Sister is a brutally effective and entertaining horror film.  Keep an eye out for it!

Lisa Watches The Oscar Winners: The Apartment (dir by Billy Wilder)


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After the Nun’s StoryI continued to experience TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar by watching the 1960 best picture winner, The Apartment.  The Apartment is unique among Oscar winners in that it’s one of the few comedies to win best picture.  (Though, in all honesty, it would probably be more appropriate to call The Apartment a dramedy.)  It was also, until the victory of The Artist, the last completely black-and-white film to win best picture.

(And, as long as we’re sharing trivia, it was also the first best picture winner to feature a character watching a previous best picture winner.  At the start of the film, Jack Lemmon deals with insomnia by watching Grand Hotel.)

The Apartment tells the story of C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon), an anonymous officer worker who is determined to climb the corporate ladder despite not being very good at his job.  However, Baxter does have one advantage over his co-workers.  He’s single and therefore, his apartment has become the place to go for corporate executives who need a place where they can safely cheat on their wives.  Bud spends his day trying to coordinate who is going to be in his apartment and when.  Meanwhile, he spends his nights exiled from his own home and wandering around New York.  In fact, the only beneficial thing about this arrangement is that all of Bud’s supervisors have been giving him good evaluations in return for using his apartment.  (Well, that and Bud’s neighbor, played by Jack Kruschen, is convinced, based on the thinness of the apartment walls, that Bud must be a great lover.)

When Bud finally does get his promotion, it’s only because the personnel director, Jeff D. Sheldrake (an amazingly sleazy Fred MacMurray), wants to use Bud’s apartment.  Bud celebrates his promotion by finally working up the courage to ask out Fran (Shirley MacClaine), an elevator operator who works in the office.  What Bud doesn’t realize is that Fran is also the woman who Sheldrake wants to bring to the apartment….

Fran is convinced that Sheldrake is going to leave his wife for her.  What she doesn’t realize — and what Fred MacMurray’s performance makes disturbingly clear — is that Jeff Sheldrake is basically just a guy having a midlife crisis.  He’s the type of middle-aged guy that every woman has had to deal with at some point, the guy who pulls up next to you in a red convertible and stares at you from behind his sunglasses, attempting his best to entice you into helping him relive the youth that he never had.  When Fran eventually learns the truth about Sheldrake, it leads both to near tragedy and to Bud having to decide whether he wants to be a decent human being or if he wants to keep climbing the corporate ladder.

When one looks over a chronological list of all of the best picture winners, it’s a bit strange to see The Apartment listed in between Ben-Hur and West Side Story.  As opposed to those two grandly produced and vibrantly colorful films, The Apartment is a rather low-key film, one that devotes far more time to characterization than to spectacle.  And while both Ben-Hur and West Side Story are ultimately very idealistic films, The Apartment is about as cynical as a film can get.  The Apartment may be a comedy but the laughs come from a place of profound sadness.

Because it’s more interested in people than in spectacle, The Apartment holds up better than many past best picture winners.  We’ve all known someone like Bud.  We’ve all had to deal with men like Sheldrake.  And, in one way or another, we all know what it’s like to be someone like Fran.  The Apartment remains a truly poignant and relevant film.

Shattered Politics #40: The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington (dir by William A. Levey)


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“God bless you, Ms. Hollander!  You have saved us from recession!”

— Dialogue from The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington (1977)

Le sigh.

The things that I do for this site!

If I wasn’t currently in the process of watching and reviewing 94 films about politicians and politics, I can guarantee that I would never have watched The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington.  However, while I was looking for films to review for this series, I went over to Netflix and did a search on “Washington.”

Guess which film came up first?

If you guessed The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington, you would be correct!  And you know what?  I watched this movie with an open mind.  As anyone who has read this site knows, I have never been shy about my love of old exploitation films.  The fact of the matter is that some of the most imaginative films ever made were low-budget grindhouse movies.  Nothing angers me more than elitist film bloggers who dismiss a film just because it originally played in grindhouse cinema.

But, honestly, The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington is just bad.  It’s boring.  The acting is terrible.  The jokes fall flat.  The attempts at political satire are about as clever as what you’d find on any site trying to read like the Onion without actually being the Onion.

In the Happy Hooker Goes To Washington, Joey Heatherton plays Xaviera Hollander, a former madam who is now a businesswoman, magazine publisher, and sex advise columnist.  She is apparently the world’s leading authority on sex.  We know this because, when she first appears, she’s surrounded by reporters.  “When sex is news, you’re news!” one of them tells her.

Xaviera has been called to testify in front of the Senate Committee To Investigate Sexual Excess In America.  And goddamn, this movie is stupid.  But anyway, Xaviera goes to Washington to stand up for sexual freedom.  Accompanying her is an attorney named Ward Thompson (George Hamilton) and, quicker than you can say “Fifth place on Dancing With The Stars,” Ward is explaining to Xaviera why her testimony is so important.

“We’re heading right into the teeth of a new puritanism,” he tells her.  “Under the new puritanism, there won’t be any happy hookers!”

Anyway, Xaviera testifies in front of the committee and we get a few flashbacks to some of Xaviera’s past accomplishments.  And then she gets recruited by a dwarf (Billy Barty) and is sent to seduce an Middle Eastern ruler and … well, it just keep going and going.  This is one of the longest 84-minute films ever released.

Anyway, this movie sucks.  (And so does Xaviera!  That’s the level of humor that you can expect when you watch The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington.)  It’s still lurking around Netflix.  Avoid it at all costs.

Shattered Politics #15: Sunrise at Campobello (dir by Vincent J. Donehue)


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I can still remember that day like yesterday.

I was either 10 or 11 and I was at a big family gathering in Arkansas.  I was at my aunt’s house.  My great-grand uncle was sitting in a corner of the living room and watching the TV.  Because he was nearly blind, only an inch or two separated his face from the screen.  And, because he was almost deaf, the television was blaring.  When we first arrived, he was watching what sounded to be a cartoon but, after a few minutes, he changed the channel.

Apparently, whatever channel he was watching was showing a program about the Great Depression because my great-grand uncle snorted a little and yelled (not because he was mad but because he was deaf), “Some people like Roosevelt!  I say he was a dictator!”

That blew my young mind.  It wasn’t because I necessarily knew that much about Franklin D. Roosevelt, beyond the fact that he had been President.  Instead, it shocked me because that was the first time that I had ever heard anyone call a U.S. President a dictator.  It was the first time that I truly understoodd that not everyone shared the same opinions, especially when it came to politics and history.

Looking back, so many of the things that define me as a person — my skepticism about conventional wisdom, my mistrust of authority, and my tendency to dismiss “experts” — are the result of that day, that documentary on the Great Depression, and my great-grand uncle’s opinion of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

(Want to know why I hate it when the headlines of clickbait articles say stuff like, “Neil deGrasse Tyson gave his opinion on the movies and it was glorious?”  Blame me great-grand uncle.  Nobody was going to tell him FDR wasn’t a dictator.  Nobody’s going tell me what’s glorious.  I’ll make up my own mind.)

And, let’s face it — FDR is a controversial figure.  Most of what you read about Roosevelt is positive but if you glance under the surface, you realize that the legacy of the New Deal is far more ambiguous than most people are willing to admit.  You realize that there are serious questions about whether Roosevelt knew about the upcoming attack on Pearl Harbor.  You discover that Roosevelt wanted to reform the Supreme Court so that it would be a rubber stamp for the executive branch.  And, of course, his decision to run for a third term set up exactly the type of precedent that — if not for a constitutional amendment — could have been exploited by the wrong people.

And, yet, as ambiguous as his legacy may be, how can you not be inspired by FDR’s personal story?  He went from being a dilettante who was often dismissed as being an intellectual lightweight to being four-times elected President of the United States.  In between running unsuccessfully for vice president in 1920 and being elected governor of New York in 1928, Roosevelt was crippled by polio.  It’s always been a huge part of the Roosevelt legend that his battle with polio transformed him and made him into the President who led the country during the Great Depression and World War II.

It’s an inspiring story, regardless of what you may think of Roosevelt’s political ideology or his legacy of government intrusion.

It’s also a story that’s told in our 15th entry in Shattered Politics, the 1960 film Sunrise at Campobello.  This film opens with FDR (played by Ralph Bellamy) as an athletic and somewhat shallow man who, while on a vacation with his family, is struck down my polio.  The film follows he and his wife, Eleanor (Greer Garson), as they learn how to deal with his new physical condition.  Throughout the film, Roosevelt remains upbeat and determined while Eleanor remains supportive and eventually — after being out of the public eye for three years — Roosevelt gets a chance to relaunch his political career by giving a nominating speech for Gov. Al Smith at the Democratic National Convention.

(A little bit of history that everyone should know: Al Smith was the first Catholic to ever be nominated for President by a major political party.)

Sunrise at Campobello is one of those films that tends to show up fairly regularly on TCM.  It’s a well-acted film with Ralph Bellamy and Greer Garson really making the aristocratic Roosevelts into sympathetic and relatable characters.  At the same time, whenever I’ve watched the film, I’ve always been struck by how long it seems.  (The movie itself is only 144 minutes, which means its shorter than the average Christopher Nolan flick but it’s one of those films that seems longer than it actually is.)  Sunrise at Campobello was based on a stage play and it’s directed like a stage play as well, with little visual flair and emphasis on dialogue and character.  The end result is a film that I can’t really recommend for the casual viewer but one that is, at the very least, interesting for students of history like me.