Film Review: There’s Always Vanilla (dir by George Romero)

You can probably guess how you’ll react to the 1971 film, There’s Always Vanilla, by seeing how much the title annoys you.

To some people, a title like There’s Always Vanilla may sounds innocuous and even a little innocent.  After all, vanilla is a flavor and it will always exist and the movie has to be titled something, right?  On the other hand, people like me see a title like There’s Always Vanilla and we just cringe because it’s such a cutesy collection of words.  We see the title and then we see the fact that the film was made in 1971 and we immediately assume that the film must be some sort of annoying-as-Hell counter-culture romance.  There’s Always Vanilla just sounds like something someone would say while trying too hard to be profound.

And we’re right.

There’s Always Vanilla tells the story of Chris Bradly (Raymond Laine), who is an annoying-as-Hell freeloader who the audience is supposed to find to be charming.  There are several scenes in which he talks directly to the audience, which is a technique that has always been annoying but which is somehow even more annoying than usual in this film.  Chris has just gotten out of the army and now he’s drifting around the country.  He makes his money through doing odd jobs.  Sometimes, he works as a pimp.  Sometimes, he works as a guitar player.  Do you remember when you were in college and there was always this kind of annoying 30-something dude who wanted to hang out on campus with all the students and he never seemed to realize how creepy everyone thought he was?  Well, that’s Chris.

Anyway, Chris’s father owns a factory that makes baby food because, in 1971, movies always featured people having important jobs that sounded slightly silly.  Chris’s father wants him to work at the factory.  Chris wants to wander the country being annoying.  The movie seems to think that we should, at the very least, understand where Chris is coming from but you know what?  BABIES NEED FOOD!

Anyway, Chris eventually meets a beautiful model named Lynn (Judith Ridley, who also appeared in Night of the Living Dead) and he moves in with her.  They have a falling in love montage where they run through the park and eat ice cream together.  Unfortunately, Lynn knows that Chris is an irresponsible freeloader and, when she gets pregnant, she knows that Chris will be a less than satisfactory father.  But, in 1971, getting a safe and legal abortion isn’t really an option either.  (There’s an effectively unsettling scene where Lynn meets a back alley abortionist who isn’t willing to take no for an issue.)  Lynn is forced to make a decision about her future and Chris is forced to realize that, while life offers up several different flavors of ice cream, there’s always vanilla….

So, this film is a bit infamous because it was directed by George Romero.  It was one non-horror film and it’s also a film that he practically disowned.  Apparently, it stated out as a 20-minute acting reel for Raymond Laine, which explains all the time that he spends talking to the audience.  There’s some disagreement  as to who exactly decided to extend it to being a feature film.  It’s been suggested that Romero didn’t want to get pigeonholed as being just a horror director after the success of Night of the Living Dead but Romero said, in numerous interviews, that There’s Only Vanilla was only something he directed as a favor to some friends and that he didn’t even consider it to be one of his films.

Of course, a lot of the dispute about who is responsible for There’s Always Vanilla is probably the result of the fact that it’s not a very good film.  It’s not as terrible as you may have heard but it’s definitely not good.  Judith Ridley gives an excellent performance as Lynn and the scenes that satirize advertising have a real bite, probably due to the fact that they spoke to Romero’s own background.  Unfortunately, almost all of those good things are eliminated by just how annoying the character of Chris was.  There’s Always Vanilla is one of those counter-culture films that tries to be progressive (for instance, Chris briefly goes into advertising but refuses to do a commercial for the Army) but which still displays an unmistakable streak of misogyny.  Chris is basically an irresponsible jerk who freeloads off of everyone but yet we’re still expected to feel sorry for him when Lynn quite reasonably decides that she needs something better in her life.

Anyway, there’s always vanilla and, fortunately for Romero fans, there’s always Martin as well.



4 Shots From 4 Films: Special George Romero Edition

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today would have been George Romero’s 80th birthday.

Now, those of you who have been reading us since the beginning know how important the work of George Romero has been to this site.  A mutual appreciation of Night of the Living Dead is one of the things that first brought many of us together.  It’s a film that we watch ever Halloween and Arleigh’s review of the original remains one of our most popular posts.  If this site had a patron saint, it would probably be George Romero.

And yet, Romero wasn’t just a director of zombie films.  He made many films, dealing with everything from hippie lovers (There’s Always Vanilla) to wannabe vampires (Martin) to government conspiracies (The Crazies) and eccentric bikers (Knightriders).  George Romero was one of the pioneers of independent films and today, on his birthday, we should all take a minute to consider and appreciate the man’s cinematic legacy.  It’s not just horror fans who owe George Romero a debt of gratitude.  It’s lovers of cinema everywhere.

With that in mind, here are….

4 Shots From 4 George Romero Films

Night of the Living Dead (1968, dir by George Romero)

The Crazies (1973, dir by George Romero)

The Amusement Park (1973, dir by George Romero)

Martin (1978, dir by George Romero)

Horror on the Lens: Night of the Living Dead (dir by George Romero)

Happy Halloween everyone!

Well, as another horrorthon draws to a close, it’s time for another Shattered Lens tradition!  Every Halloween, we share one of the greatest and most iconic horror films ever made.  For your Halloween enjoyment, here is George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead!

(Be sure to read Arleigh’s equally famous review!)

6 Trailers For Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Well, the big day is finally here and that means that it’s time for a special Halloween edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse Trailers!  Below you’ll find the trailers for some of my favorite horror films!  Let’s take a look!

  1. Suspiria (1977)

That I picked this trailer to start off this special edition should come as a surprise to no one.  While I don’t think the trailer really does the film justice, Suspiria is still one of my favorite movies of all time.  Don’t talk to me about the remake and we’ll get along just fine.

2. Zombi 2 (1979)

Also known as Zombie Flesh Eaters!  This is the Lucio Fulci-directed classic that launched the Italian zombie boom!

3. The Beyond (1981)

And, as long as we’re talking about Fulci, there’s no way that I could possibly leave The Beyond‘s trailer out of this post.

4. Martin (1978)

Some people, undoubtedly, will say, “Martin but no Night of the Living Dead?”  Well, we’ll be featuring Night of the Living Dead later today.  Martin is one of George Romero’s best films and it’s still criminally unknown.  Check out the trailer but definitely be sure to track down the film as well.

5. Halloween (1978)


6. The Shining (1980)

Stephen King might not like it but Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining remains one of the best horror films ever made.  It’s one of the few films that continues to scare me after multiple viewings.  (It’s those two little girls in the hallway.  They freak me out every time!)

Happy Halloween!

4 Shots From 4 Films: The Call of Cthulhu, The Descent, Land of the Dead, Wolf Creek

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, we’re using 4 Shots From 4 Films to look at some of the best years that horror has to offer!

4 Shots From 4 2005 Horror Films

The Call of Cthulhu (2005, directed by Andrew Leman)

The Descent (2005, dir by Neil Marshall)

Land of the Dead (2005, dir by George Romeo)

Wolf Creek (2005, dir by Greg McLean)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Dawn of the Dead, The Grapes of Death, Halloween, Martin

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, we’re using 4 Shots From 4 Films to look at some of the best years that horror has to offer!

4 Shots From 4 1978 Horror Films:

Dawn of the Dead (1978, dir by George Romero)

The Grapes of Death (1978, dir by Jean Rollin)

Halloween (1977, dir by John Carpenter)

Martin (1978, dir by George Romero)

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1970s

David Niven at the 1974 Oscars

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1970s.

Dirty Harry (1971, dir by Don Siegel)

“Well, I’m all torn up about his rights….” Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) says after being informed that he’s not allow to torture suspects for information.  Unfortunately, in this case, the Academy agreed with all the critics who called Harry a menace and this classic and influential crime film was not nominated.  Not even Andy Robinson picked up a nomination for his memorably unhinged turn as Scorpio.

Carrie (1976, dir by Brian DePalma)

The Academy liked Carrie enough to nominate both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.  The film itself, however, went unnominated.  It’s enough to make you want to burn down the prom.

Suspiria (1977, dir by Dario Argento)

In a perfect world, Goblin would have at least taken home an Oscar for the film’s score.  In the real world, unfortunately, Argento’s masterpiece was totally snubbed by the Academy.

Days of Heaven (1978, dir by Terence Malick)

If it were released today, Terence Malick’s dream-like mediation of life during the depression would definitely be nominated.  In 1978, perhaps, the Academy was still not quite sure what to make of Malick’s beautiful but often opaque cinematic poetry.

Halloween (1978, dir by John Carpenter)

“The night he came home!” should have been “The night he went to the Oscars!”  The film received no nominations and it’s a shame.  Just imagine Donald Pleasence winning for his performance as Loomis while John Carpenter racked up almost as many nominations as Alfonso Cuaron did this year for Roma.

Dawn of the Dead (1978, dir by George Romero)

If the Academy wasn’t willing to nominate Night of the Living Dead, there was no way that they would go for the film’s longer and bloodier sequel.  But perhaps they should have.  Few films are cited as an inspiration as regularly as Dawn of the Dead.

Up next, in about an hour, the 1980s!