Cleaning Out the DVR Pt. 22: Winter Under the Stars


cracked rear viewer

I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, and since my DVR is heading towards max capacity, I’m way overdue! Everyone out there in classic film fan land knows about TCM’s annual “Summer Under the Stars”, right? Well, consider this my Winter version, containing a half-dozen capsule reviews of some Hollywood star-filled films of the past!

PLAYMATES (RKO 1941; D: David Butler ) – That great thespian John Barrymore’s press agent (Patsy Kelly) schemes with swing band leader Kay Kyser’s press agent (Peter Lind Hayes) to team the two in a Shakespearean  festival! Most critics bemoan the fact that this was Barrymore’s final film, satirizing himself and hamming it up mercilessly, but The Great Profile, though bloated from years of alcohol abuse and hard living, seems to be enjoying himself in this fairly funny but minor screwball comedy with music. Lupe Velez livens things up as Barrymore’s spitfire…

View original post 1,088 more words

Horror Film Review: Blood Beach (dir by Jeffrey Bloom)


“Nom nom nom nom,” says that monster under the sand.

“Agck!  Agck!  Agck!  Agck!” says the people above the sand.

And that’s all you really need to know about the 1981 film, Blood Beach.

Blood Beach takes place on a beach that also happens to be a hunting ground for this mutated worm thing that lives underground.  Basically, whenever anyone takes a stroll on the beach, they get sucked down into the sand and, for the most part, they’re never seen again.  Sometimes that’s not a bad thing, as in the case of a wannabe rapist who ends up getting castrated while being pulled down into the sand.  But, far too often, the victims are innocent people who were just walking their dog, chasing after their hat, or searching for buried treasure.

The beach becomes so well-known for being a death trap that the locals start to call it Blood Beach but, for some reason, that doesn’t seem to stop people from wandering out on the sand at inopportune times.  I mean, it would just seem logical to me that if there’s a monster killing people on the beach then maybe it would be a good idea to avoid the beach for a while.  I mean, you could go see a movie or you could lay out and work on your tan in your back yard.  Believe it or not, you do have the option of not going to a monster-infested location.

Strangely, there’s one person who is always on the beach but never gets killed.  That’s Mrs. Selden (Eleanor Zee), a somewhat odd woman who always seems to be nearby whenever someone is getting dragged into the sand but who never gets attacked herself.  Interestingly, Mrs. Selden never seems to be particularly concerned by all the carnage around her.  (One victim is even killed while specifically checking to make sure Mrs. Selden is okay.)  I kept expecting some sort of major twist where it was revealed that Mrs. Selden was a witch or something but it never happened.

Now, you would think that the presence of an underground monster would be the perfect excuse to call in the national guard but instead, the local police (led by John Saxon’s Captain Pearson) handle it.  Sgt. Royko (Burt Young) heads up the monster investigation, which in this film means that he kinda of stumbles from scene-to-scene, never looking particularly impressed by or interesting in anything that’s happening around him.  If anything, Royko seems to be annoyed that he’s having to give up time that he could be using to drink beer and watch TV and that attitude makes Royke the hero of this film.  Forget the scientist who wants to understand where the monster came from.  Forget the habor cop who wants to rekindle things with an old flame.  Royko doesn’t care about science or love.  He just wants to blow stuff up, which makes him the perfect audience surrogate

Anyway, Blood Beach sounds like it should be a fun movie but it’s not.  The movie delivers a lot of beach but very little blood.  There’s a lot of “nom nom” but very little “agck!”  Blood Beach is almost as much of a misfire as spending spring break in West Texas.

Horror Movie Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street (dir by Wes Craven)


Damn, this is a scary movie.

That may seem like an obvious point to make when talking about the original A Nightmare On Elm Street but it’s still one that needs to be made.  I always seem to forget just how scary the original is.  I mean, there’s been so many sequels.  And there was that kind of silly movie where Freddy Krueger fought Jason Vooerhees.  And then there was the fairly forgettable reboot.  Freddy Krueger is something of a cultural icon.  Even people who have never watched any of the movies knows who Freddy Krueger is.  Freddy has become so well-known for his quips and his puns and his bad jokes that it’s easy to forget that the reason he put razors on his gloves was so he could kill children.

Despite the fact that Jackie Earle Haley took over the role in the reboot, Freddy Krueger will always be associated with the actor who first played him, Robert Englund.  What’s interesting is that, whenever you watch or read an interview with Englund, he comes across as being literally the nicest guy in the world.  (His autobiography is one of the most cheerful Hollywood memoirs that I’ve ever read.)  Before he was cast as Freddy, Englund was a fairly busy character actor.  It’s always a little odd when he pops up in some old movie on TCM because, inevitably, he’s always seems to be playing a nice and often kinda shy guy.  Supposedly, when Englund auditioned for the role of Freddy, he darkened his lower eyelids with cigarette ash and he purposefully said very little while meeting with director Wes Craven.  Craven, who based Freddy Krueger on a childhood bully, was impressed enough to cast this very likable actor as one of the most evil killers in the history of horror cinema.

And make no mistake about it.  In the first film, Freddy Krueger is terrifying.  He’s not the joker that he would become in later installments of the franchise. When he does laugh, it’s because he’s taunting his latest victim.  This Freddy isn’t quite as quick-witted as the Freddy who showed up in Dream Warriors and other films.  This Freddy keeps things simple, popping up in your nightmares, chasing you, and, once he catches you, killing you.  It’s not just his glove and his burned faced that makes Freddy terrifying in this film.  It’s how determined and relentless he is.  He’s not going to stop until he catches you and, seeing as how he’s already dead, there’s really not much you can do to slow him down.  Englund plays Freddy as being the ultimate bully.  The only joy he gets is from tormenting the rest of us.  It’s a testament to the strength of Englund’s performance that memories of Freddy dominate our thoughts when it comes to A Nightmare of Elm Street, despite the fact that Freddy is only onscreen for seven minutes.

It’s an effective film, not just because of the nightmare scenes but also because of the scenes that take place in the waking world.  The majority of the film follows Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), Glen (Johnny Depp), Tina (Amanda Wyss), and Rod (Jsu Garcia, who is credited as Nick Corri in this film) as they try not to die.  And let’s be honest.  None of these characters are particularly deep.  Rod’s the bad boy.  Tina’s the rebellious Catholic.  Glen’s the nice guy.  Nancy’s the good girl.  They’re archetypes that should be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a slasher film.  And yet, you really do care about them, especially Nancy and Glen.  (Admittedly, everyone that I’ve ever talked to about this film seems to care about Rod the least.)  Langenkamp, Depp, and Wyss all give such likable performances that you really do find yourself worrying about what will happen to them when and if they fall asleep.

I rewatched A Nightmare on Elm Street last night and I was shocked to discover that, even though I knew what was coming, the movie still scared me.  The sight of Freddy straining against the wall over Nancy’s head was still unbelievably creepy.  The gory scene where Freddy attacks Tina still frightened me, as did the famous geyser of blood scene.  Even the much-parodied scene where Freddy’s glove rises up between Nancy’s legs while she sleeps in the bathtub still made me shudder.

It’s easy to take for granted just how good and scary the original Nightmare on Elm Street actually is.  For horror fans, it’s a film that deserves to be watched this October season.  Just don’t fall asleep afterwards.

Italian Horror Spotlight: Cannibal Apocalypse (dir by Antonio Margheriti)


The 1980 film Cannibal Apocalypse begins in Vietnam.

Sgt. Norman Hopper (John Saxon) leads his troops into a Vietnamese village.  A dog approaches.  One of the soldiers starts to pet it.

“Watch it, asshole!” Hopper shouts.

Too late.  The dog explodes and takes the soldier with him.  That’s just the first of many explosive events in the film.  Minutes after the dog blows up, Hopper discovers two American soldiers being held prisoner in an underground cage.  One of them is named Charles Bukowski (yes, I know) and he’s played by the great Italian actor, Giovanni Lombardo Radice.  The other one is named Tommy (Tony King).

“Hey,” Hopper says, “I know these guys!  They’re from my hometown!”  He reaches down to help them out of the cage.  Charlie and Tommy promptly take a bite out of his arm….

Suddenly, Norman Hopper wakes up in bed, next to his wife.  He’s been having another nightmare.  In the years since returning from Vietnam, Hopper has married, started a family, and bought a nice house in Atlanta.  He seems to have his life together but he’s still haunted by what happened that day in Vietnam.

Charlie and Tommy are also still haunted.  Unlike Hopper, they haven’t been able to get their lives together.  Charlie’s a drifter and, when he shows up in Atlanta and calls Hopper at his home, Hopper isn’t particularly happy to hear from him.  After talking to Hopper, Charlie goes to a movie where he watches a couple make out in front of him.  Soon, Charlie is trying to eat the couple while panicked movie lovers flee the theater.  (“What type of cinema is this!?” one man cries out.)

Forced to eat human flesh while being held prisoner, Charlie and Tommy are both cannibals today.  However, as the film makes clear, cannibalism travels like a virus.  Anyone who gets bitten by Charlie and Tommy becomes a cannibal themselves.  That includes Hopper.  For years, Hopper has managed to resist the craving but, as soon as he gets that call from Bukowski, he finds himself tempted to take a bite out of his flirtatious neighbor.

With the authorities determined to eradicate not only the cannibalism plague but also those infected, Hopper finds himself forced to go on the run with Charlie, Tommy, and an infected doctor (Elizabeth Turner).  Eventually, everyone ends up in the sewers of Atlanta where people are set on fire, one unfortunate is literally chopped in half by a shotgun blast, and the rats turn out to be just as hungry as the humans….

And here’s the thing.  You’re probably thinking that this sounds like a really bad movie but it’s actually kind of brilliant.  I may love Italian horror but, for the most part, I’m not a fan of cannibal movies.  But, thanks to the performances and the energetic direction of Antonio Margheriti, Cannibal Apocalypse transcends the limits of the cannibal genre.   Obviously, gorehounds will find what they’re looking for with this movie but far more interesting is Cannibal Apocalypse‘s suggestion that war (represented by the cannibalism that Hopper, Tommy, and Bukowski bring back from Vietnam) is an infectious virus.  Once someone gets bitten, it doesn’t matter who they are or what type of life that they’ve led.  The infection cannot be escaped.

In an interview that John Saxon gave for the film’s DVD release, Saxon said that making this film actually left him feeling suicidal.  It wasn’t just the fact that the film itself presents a rather dark view of humanity.  It’s because it upset him to know that there was an audience that was as rabid for violence as Norman Hopper is for human flesh.  Saxon said that he had never seen the film and, in the interview, he had to be reminded what happened to Norman Hopper at the end of the film.  It’s a bit of a shame because Saxon gives a brilliant performance as Norman Hopper.  Saxon plays Hopper as being a sad man, a man who knows that he can’t escape his fate as much as he wants to.  There’s a tragic dignity to Saxon’s performance, one that gives this cannibal film unexpected depth.

Also giving great performances are Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Tony King.  As played by Radice, Charlie is a living casualty of war, a man who served his country and came home to be forgotten.  You understand Charlie’s anger and his resentment.  (When Bukowski finds himself in a stand-off with the police, one the cops explains away Bukowski’s actions by dismissively saying, “He’s a Vietnam vet,” a line of dialogue that not only explains Charlie’s anger at America but also calls out America for not taking care of its veterans,)  Meanwhile, Tony King gets one of the best scenes in the film when, seeing Hopper for the first time in years, he grins at him and yells, “Remember these choppers!?”

As strange as it may seem to say about a film called Cannibal Apocalypse, this is a film that will bring tears to your eyes.  It’s one of the classics of Italian horror.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Hellmaster (dir by Douglas Schulze)


Welcome to the end of the world.

Or something like that.

To be honest, it’s a bit of a struggle to say what exactly the 1992 film Hellmaster was actually about but I think it definitely had something to do with the end of the world.  John Saxon plays Prof. Jones, a sadistic eugenicist who, in the late 60s, developed a drug that he claimed would — I kid you not — “cure homelessness.”  Apparently, the drug would make the homeless so strong that they would be able to build a house or something.  Anyway, a reporter (David Emge, best known as the helicopter pilot in the original Dawn of the Dead) discovered what Jones was doing and that the drugs were actually turning the homeless into mind-controlled zombies.  Jones responded by murdering the reporter’s wife and then vanishing.

Are you following the story so far?

20 years later, the reporter is having nightmares about the homeless so he decides to start hanging out around the Kant Institute for the Gifted.  We’re told that the Kant Institute is a college.  There only appears to be one professor and a handful of students, the majority of whom appear to be in their early 30s.  I’m not really sure what’s being taught at the school.  (The only class we see features two white people debating whether or not Malcolm X hated the homeless.)  One of the students, Shelley (Amy Raasch), is apparently clairvoyant and she keeps having visions of the school’s chapel bursting into flames.

Meanwhile, there are shots of an old church bus driving down various deserted roads.  “Have a nice day” is written across the cross that hangs on the front of the bus.  On top of the bus, someone’s painted a smiley face.  The bus itself is occupied by four deformed followers of Prof. Jones.  Apparently, they’ve spent the last 20 years driving around the country and killing people.  One of them is dressed like a nun and carries several hypodermic needles.  They come across a stalled motorist and promptly kill him.  The man’s daughter (Sarah Barkoff) escapes and flees to the nearby Kant Institute.

It turns out that the bus is also heading to the Kant Institute!  Eventually, Prof. Jones pops up and explains that it took God six days to create the world but Jones believes that it will only take him one night to transform the world into Hell.  Why does Jones want to do this?  That’s not really clear.  Actually, it’s not even clear how showing up at the Kant Institute will even help Jones accomplish that goal.

Anyway, the rest of the movie is basically Shelley and the reporter and a handful of friends attempting to not get transformed into zombies by Prof. Jones.  This is easier said than done because, as we quickly discover, everyone in this movie is an idiot.

Hellmaster is one of those low-budget horror films that shouldn’t work and yet somehow, it does.  Yes, the plot makes absolutely no sense and, with the exception of genre vets Saxon and Emge, the performances are almost all terrible.  But no matter!  At its best, the film — which is full of dark hallways and deserted roads and twisty camera angles — achieves a dream-like intensity.  The zombies, with their hypodermic needles and their joyful savagery, are genuinely creepy and John Saxon is properly menacing as Prof. Jones.  It’s a relentless film, one that leaves you feeling as if anyone can die at any time and, when they do die, it’s often in the most macabre ways possible.  A crippled student is beaten to death with his own crutch.  Another is doused with acid.  And you may be asking yourself, “But why was there a big vat of acid just sitting around?” but oddly, it works within the surreal dream logic of the film.  It makes no sense and yet, it happens.  If anything, the lack of a coherent plot and the low-budget aesthetic help this film create and maintain its nightmarish atmosphere.

For all of its flaws, Hellmaster is a thousand times more effective than you might expect.

Music Video of the Day: Brando by Scott Walker + Sunn O))) (2014, dir by Gisele Vienne)


Today would have been Marlon Brando’s 94th birthday so it seems appropriate that today’s music video should be for a song that was, at least partially, inspired by Marlon Brando’s career!

In 2014 interview, Scott Walker explained the idea behind this song, saying that he found that there were several movies that features scenes of Marlon Brando being physically assaulted.  Along with detailing some of the assaults that Brando suffered on screen, the song serves as a tribute to sadomasochism in general.

In the third verse, there are several references to Brando’s films.  First there’s mention of Brando getting beat up by John Saxon in The Appaloosa.  “I took it from dad” is probably a reference to One-Eyed Jacks, the only film that Brando ever directed.  Fat Johnny Friendly was the racketeer played by Lee J. Cobb in On The Waterfront while the three vigilantes are a reference to Brando’s role in The Chase.  “I took it for The Wild One” is obviously a reference to the film of the same name.  As “Lizbeth,” that’s presumably a reference to Elizabeth Taylor, who beat Brando with a riding crop in Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Enjoy!

A Movie A Day #338: Raid on Entebbe (1977, directed by Irvin Kershner)


On June 27th, 1976, four terrorists hijacked an Air France flight and diverted it to Entebbe Airport in Uganda.  With the blessing of dictator Idi Amin and with the help of a deployment of Ugandan soldiers, the terrorists held all of the Israeli passengers hostage while allowing the non-Jewish passengers to leave.  The terrorists issued the usual set of demands.  The Israelis responded with Operation Thunderbolt, a daring July 4th raid on the airport that led to death of all the terrorists and the rescue of the hostages.  Three hostages were killed in the firefight and a fourth — Dora Bloch — was subsequently murdered in a Ugandan hospital by Idi Amin’s secret police.  Only one commando — Yonatan Netanyahu — was lost during the raid.  His younger brother, Benjamin, would later become Prime Minister of Israel.

Raid on Entebbe, a docudrama about the operation, was originally produced for NBC though it subsequently received an overseas theatrical release as well.  It’s an exciting tribute to the bravery of both the hostages and the commandos who rescued them.  Director Irvin Kershner directs in a documentary fashion and gets good performances from a cast full of familiar faces.  Charles Bronson, James Woods, Peter Finch, Martin Balsam, Stephen Macht, Horst Buchholz, Sylvia Sidney, Allan Arbus, Jack Warden, John Saxon, and Robert Loggia show up as politicians, commandos, terrorists, and hostages and all of them bring a sense of reality and humanity to their roles.

The film’s best performance comes from Yaphet Kotto, who plays Idi Amin as a strutting buffoon, quick to smile but always watching out for himself.  In the film, Amin often pays unannounced visits to the airport, where he lies and tells the hostages that he is doing his best to broker an agreement between the terrorists and Israel.  The hostages are forced to applaud Amin’s empty promises and Amin soaks it all up with a huge grin on his face.  Forest Whitaker may have won the Oscar for Last King of Scotland but, for me, Yaphet Kotto will always be the definitive Idi Amin.