Horror Scenes That I Love: The End of The Original Invasion of the Body Snatchers


This is from the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  This is how director Don Siegel wanted the film to end, with Kevin McCarthy vainly warning drivers that they’re coming for them.  The studio, however, insisted that Siegel add a scene that suggested that the authorities might be able to stop the invasion.

Incidentally, Don Siegel was born 108 years ago, today!  He was one of the great American genre directors.  Unfortunately, he didn’t really do enough horror films for me to devote a 4 Shots from 4 Films post to him but, that being said, it’s impossible to keep track of how many subsequent horror films would be influenced by Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Horror on The Lens: Invitation to Hell (dir by Wes Craven)


Today’s horror on the lens is a made-for-tv movie directed by Wes Craven.

First televised in 1984, Invitation to Hell is a wonderfully over-the-top depiction of what happens when an engineer (Robert Urich) sells out and goes to work for a big evil corporation.  Long story short, Satan (in the form of Susan Lucci) takes over his family.  Admittedly, this film does start slowly but, in the end, it’s a lot of fun.

Horror Film Review: Twilight Zone: The Movie (dir by John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller)


1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie is meant to be a tribute to the classic original anthology series.  It features four “episodes” and two wrap-around segments, with Burgess Meredith providing opening and closing narration.  Each segment is directed by a different director, which probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Unfortunately, Twilight Zone: The Movie is a bit of a mess.  One of the episodes is brilliant.  Another one is good up until the final few minutes.  Another one is forgettable.  And then finally, one of them is next too impossible to objectively watch because of a real-life tragedy.

With a film that varies as wildly in tone and quality as Twilight Zone: The Movie, the only way to really review it is to take a segment at a time:

Something Scary (dir by John Landis)

Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd drive through the desert and discuss the old Twilight Zone TV series.  Brooks claims that the show was scary.  Aykoyd asks if Brooks wants to see something really scary.  This is short but fun.  It’s tone doesn’t really go along with the rest of the movie but …. oh well.  It made me jump.

Time Out (dir by John Landis)

Vic Morrow plays a racist named Bill Connor who, upon leaving his local bar, finds himself transported to Nazi-occupied France, the deep South, and eventually Vietnam.

How you react to this story will probably depend on how much you know about its backstory.  If you don’t know anything about the filming of this sequence, you’ll probably just think it’s a bit heavy-handed and, at times, unintentionally offensive.  Twilight Zone often explored themes of prejudice but Time Out just seems to be using racism as a gimmick.

If you do know the story of what happened while this segment was being filmed, it’s difficult to watch.  Actor Vic Morrow was killed during filming.  His death was the result of a preventable accident that occurred during a scene that was to involve Morrow saving two Vietnamese children from a helicopter attack.  The helicopter crashed, killing not only Morrow but the children as well.  It was later determined that not only were safety protocols ignored but that Landis had hired the children illegally and was paying them under the table so that he could get around the regulations governing how many hours child actors could work.  It’s a tragic story and one that will not leave you as a fan of John Landis’s, regardless of how much you like An American Werewolf in London and Animal House.

Nothing about the segment feels as if it was worth anyone dying for and, to be honest, I’m kind of amazed that it was even included in the finished film.

Kick The Can (dir by Steven Spielberg)

An old man named Mr. Bloom (Scatman Crothers) shows up at Sunnyvale Retirement Home and encourages the residents to play a game of kick the can.  Everyone except for Mr. Conroy (Bill Quinn) eventually agrees to take part and, just as in the episode of the Twilight Zone that this segment is based on, everyone becomes young.

However, while the television show ended with the newly young residents all running off and leaving behind the one person who refused to play the game, the movie ends with everyone, with the exception of one man who apparently became a teenager istead of a kid, deciding that they would rather be old and just think young.  That really doesn’t make any damn sense but okay.

This segment is unabashedly sentimental and clearly calculated to brings tears to the eyes to the viewers.  The problem is that it’s so calculated that you end up resenting both Mr. Bloom and all the old people.  One gets the feeling that this segment is more about how we wish old people than how they actually are.  It’s very earnest and very Spielbergian but it doesn’t feel much like an episode of The Twilight Zone.

It’s A Good Life (dir by Joe Dante)

A teacher (Kathleen Quinlan) meets a young boy (Jeremy Licht) who has tremendous and frightening powers.

This is a remake of the classic Twilight Zone episode, It’s A Good Life, with the difference being that young Anthony is not holding an entire town hostage but instead just his family.  This segment was directed by Joe Dante, who turns the segment into a cartoon, both figuratively and, at one point, literally.  That’s not necessarily a complaint.  It’s certainly improvement over Spielberg’s sentimental approach to the material.  Dante also finds roles for genre vets like Kevin McCarthy, William Schallert, and Dick Miller and he provides some memorably over-the-top visuals.

The main problem with this segment is the ending, in which Anthony suddenly reveals that he’s not really that bad and just wants to be treated normally, which doesn’t make much sense.  I mean, if you want to be treated normally, maybe don’t zap your sister in a cartoon.  The teacher agrees to teach Anthony how to be a normal boy and again, what the Hell?  The original It’s A Good Life worked because, like any child, Anthony had no conception of how adults felt about him.  In the movie version, he’s suddenly wracked with guilt and it’s far less effective.  It feels like a cop out.

Still, up until that ending, It’s A Good Life worked well as a satire of the perfect American family.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (dir by George Miller)

In this remake of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, John Lithgow steps into the role that was originally played by William Shatner.  He plays a man who, while attempting to conquer his fear of flying, sees a gremlin on the wing of his airplane.  Unfortunately, he can’t get anyone else on the plane to believe him.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is the best of the four main segments.  It’s also the one that sticks closest to its source material.  Director George Miller (yes, of Mad Max fame) doesn’t try to improve on the material because he seems to understand that it works perfectly the way it is.  John Lithgow is also perfectly cast in the lead role, perfectly capturing his increasing desperation.  The one change that Miller does make is that, as opposed in the TV show, the gremlin actually seems to be taunting John Lithgow at time and it works wonderfully.  Not only is Lithgow trying to save the plane, he’s also trying to defeat a bully.

Something Scarier (dir by John Landis)

Dan Aykroyd’s back as an ambulance driver, still asking his passenger if he wants to see something really scary.  It’s an okay ending but it does kind of lessen the impact of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

 

Terminator Redux: Eve of Destruction (1991, directed by Duncan Gibbins)


When Eve VIII (Renée Soutendijk), a robot that has been designed so that she can pass for a human, is taken on a test run though the city, things go terribly wrong when she gets caught up in a bank robbery.  When one of the robbers shoots her, it scrambles her circuits and causes her to switch into combat mode.  For some reason, someone thought it would be a good idea to install the equivalent of a nuclear bomb inside the robot so now, Eve VIII is wandering around the city, killing anyone who shes views as being a danger, and threatening to send both herself and everyone up in a nuclear fireball.

Realizing that Eve VIII’s test run has become a national emergency, the military calls in the best operative they’ve got and he turns out to be … Gregory Hines!?  The legendary Broadway song-and-dance man plays Colonel John McQuade, a special operative who has seen action in all of the world’s hot spots.  McQuade works with Eve VIII’s creator, Dr. Eve Simmons (also played by Renée Soutendijk) to try to track down the robot before it’s too late.  In a move that makes as much sense as installing the equivalent of a nuclear bomb inside of her, Eve VIII has also been programmed to have the same traumatic memories as her creator.  When Eve VIII destroys a cheap motel that Eve Simmons used to wonder about, McQuade announces that the key to trapping the robot is for Dr. Simmons to reval all of her “teenage sexual fantasies!”

The idea of a robot having and acting upon all of the repressed memories and desires of its creator is a good one but Eve of Destruction doesn’t do much with it.  Once McQuade and Dr. Simmons head off in pursuit of Eve VIII, it becomes just another low-budget Terminator rip-off.  Gregory Hines deals with being miscast by yelling all of his lines.  Renée Soutendijk does better as both Eve VIII and Dr. Simmons and even manages to generate some sympathy for the killer robot.  Interestingly, Soutendijk is best known for her work with Paul Verhoeven, whose RoboCop was an obviously influence on Eve of Destruction.

Eve of Destruction is a forgettable killer robot film from an era that was full of them.  Most disappointing of all is that Barry McGuire is nowhere to be heard.  If you do see the film, keep an eye out for the great Kevin McCarthy, playing yet another befuddled victim and, for some reason, going uncredited.

Shattered Politics #20: The Best Man (dir by Franklin J. Schaffner)


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“Does The Best Man Always Get To The White House?” asks the poster for the 1964 film, The Best Man.

Of course, nowadays, that question seems incredibly naive.  Of course the best man doesn’t always get to the White House!  Some of my friends are Republicans and some of my friends are Democrats and a lot of my friends are Libertarians but they all have one thing in common: the belief that at least half of the past 4 elections were won by the wrong man.

But, as anyone who has done their research can tell you, 1964 was a far different time from 2015.  In general, people had greater faith in both government and their elected leaders.  Ineffective leaders and corrupt authority figures were viewed as being the exception as opposed to the rule.  We’re a lot more cynical now and, when we see political movies from the early 60s, all of that optimism and idealism often make them feel very dated.

Another big difference between the middle of the 20th Century and today is that, when it came to presidential nominating conventions, there was actually the potential for some suspense regarding who would win the nomination.  Occasionally, it took more than one ballot for a candidate to be nominated.  Last minute deals often had to be made and convention delegates were actually selecting an ideology along with a candidate.  Political conventions were contests and not coronations.

Again, it’s obvious that times have changed and, as a result, a film like The Best Man, which may have seemed very provocative and shocking in 1964, feels a bit like an antique today.  That doesn’t mean that it’s a bad film.  In fact, The Best Man is an interesting time capsule of the way things used to be.

The Best Man takes place at a presidential nominating convention.  The party is not specified but it feels like a Democratic convention.  There are several candidates competing for the nomination but the two front-runners are former Secretary of State William Russell (Henry Fonda) and Senator Joe Cantwell (Cliff Robertson).

Much like the character that Fonda played in Advise & Consent, Russell is an intellectual, a calm and rational liberal. Much like Spencer Tracy in State of the Union, Russell is separated from his wife (Margaret Leighton) but the two of them are pretending to be a happy couple for the sake of the campaign.

Meanwhile, Joe Cantwell is a paranoid and ruthless opportunist, a former war hero who will do anything to win.  The only person more ruthless than Joe Cantwell is his brother and campaign manager, Don (Gene Raymond).

(For those who enjoy history, it’s interesting to note that John F. Kennedy was a war hero-turned-senator who had a ruthless brother who doubled as his campaign manager.)

Both Cantwell and Russell come to the convention hoping to get the endorsement of former President Art Hockstader (Lee Tracy).  While the pragmatic Hockstader cannot stand Cantwell personally, he also views Russell as being weak and indecisive.

However, both Russell and Cantwell have secrets of their own.  When Cantwell discovers Russell’s secret and threatens to leak it, Russell has to decide whether or not to reveal Cantwell’s secret.

The Best Man was based on a stage play by Gore Vidal and the actual film never quite escapes its theatrical origins.  And, in many ways, it feels undeniably dated.  But it’s still a well-acted film, one that will probably be best enjoyed by political junkies and students of history.  Before watching the movie, be sure to read up on the 1960 presidential election and then see if you can guess who everyone is supposed to be.

Horror on The Lens: Invitation to Hell (dir by Wes Craven)


Much like yesterday’s offering of Summer of Fear, today’s horror on the lens is a made-for-tv movie directed by Wes Craven.

First televised in 1984, Invitation to Hell is a wonderfully over-the-top depiction of what happens when an engineer (Robert Urich) sells out and goes to work for a big evil corporation.  Long story short, Satan (in the form of Susan Lucci) takes over his family.  Admittedly, this film does start slowly but, in the end, it’s a lot of fun.

Back to School #30: My Tutor (dir by George Bowers)


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It’s the house.

I was recently trying to figure out what it was exactly that I enjoyed about the 1983 teen comedy My Tutor and I finally realized that it all came down to the house.  Like almost every other teen film released in the 1980s, My Tutor is about rich people.  The main character, recent high school graduate and frustrated virgin Bobby Chrystal (Matt Lattanzi), lives in an absolutely gorgeous house.  There’s a huge pool in back and even the guest house appears to be bigger than any place that I’ve ever lived.  Bobby lives in the type of mansion that I’ve always wanted to live in.  For me, the best parts of My Tutor are the scenes that simply follow Bobby as he walks around the grounds of his home.

I just like seeing where people live.

I first came across My Tutor about two years ago when I got the Too Cool For School DVD box set from Mill Creek Entertainment.  My Tutor was one of the 12 movies included in the box set and it was one of the first that I watched, just because the title seemed to promise all sorts of sordid fun.  Looking back on the first time that I ever watched the film, my main impressions were that the film’s central plot — the affair between Bobby and his French tutor, Terry (Caren Kaye) — was actually handled with a surprising amount of sensitivity, that the great Kevin McCarthy was ideally cast as Bobby’s wealthy but sleazy father, and that the house was really nice.

Is that really proper teacher attire?

Is that really proper teacher attire?

When I rewatched the film for this review, I quickly discovered that I had either forgotten or managed to block from my mind about 5o% of the movie.  Because, before Bobby and Terry take the fateful midnight swim that leads to their affair, the movie largely focuses on the efforts of Bobby and his friend Jack (the reliably weird and nerdy Crispin Glover) to each lose his virginity.  The first half of the film is pretty much dominated by cartoonish scenes of Bobby passing out drunk at a brothel and Jack and his brother Billy (Clark Brandon) trying to pick up two female mud wrestlers.  (If you have bondage fantasies about Crispin Glover, I guess this is the film to see.)  At one point, all of the film’s action stops so that Bobby can have an elaborate fantasy about having sex with a girl that we’ve barely seen before and will never see again.

Bobby has problems beyond just his virginity.  A recent high school graduate, he still has to retake and pass a French exam if he’s going to have any hope of getting into Yale.  (Yale was where his father went to college.  Bobby says he wants to go to UCLA and study the skies, even though he doesn’t ever say anything about astronomy beyond that he wants to major in it.)  Bobby’s father hires him a tutor.  Terry is only ten years older than Bobby and has just recently broken up with her boyfriend.  She enjoys nude midnight swims, riding on motor scooters, and aerobic exercise.  Before you know it, Terry and Bobby are having an affair, Bobby’s father is hitting on Terry, and Terry’s ex-boyfriend keeps coming up to the house searching for her.

The perfect couple

The perfect couple

And what’s surprising is that, once Bobby and Terry become lovers, the film changes.  Well, it changes a little.  Don’t get me wrong — it doesn’t suddenly turn into a great (or even a good) movie or anything like that.  But the film really does make an attempt to realistically deal with the relationship between Bobby and Terry.  Terry doesn’t suddenly abandon her dreams or her plans just because she’s now secretly sleeping with Bobby.  Instead, Terry remains just as independent as before and, unlike a lot of films of the period, the film doesn’t condemn her for wanting a life of her own.  If anything, the film chastises Bobby whenever he gets overly possessive of her.  In the end, the movie suggests that the most important lessons Bobby learned weren’t about sex but instead, were about Terry’s right to live her own life.

Oddly enough, hiding within this typical teen comedy, there’s a surprisingly bittersweet film.  Perhaps less surprisingly, this film — like The Young Graduates, The Teacher, Trip With The Teacher, Coach, and Malibu High — was yet another teacher-student-sex film produced by Crown International Pictures.  Nobody handled potentially icky exploitation with quite the wit and grace of  Crown International.

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6 More Trailers: The I Am Woman Hear Me Roar Edition


It’s the weekend and that can only mean that it’s time for another installment of my favorite grindhouse and exploitation trailers.  This installment is devoted to films about women kicking ass.

1) Faster Pussycat!  Kill!  Kill!

From infamous director Russ Meyer comes this classic drive-in feature.  I just love that title, don’t you?  This was the original cinematic celebration of women kicking ass.  As the lead killer, Tura Satana has to be seen to be believed.  Whenever I find myself struggling with insecurity or fear, I just call on my inner Tura Satana.  (All women have an inner Tura Satana.  Remember that before you do anything you might regret later…)

2) Vixen

This is another one of Russ Meyer’s films.  Released in 1968, Vixen is best remembered for Erica Gavin’s ferocious lead performance.  For me, the crazed narration makes the entire trailer.

3) Coffy

I love this movie!  Pam Grier battles the drug trade and kills a lot of people.  When we talk about how a film can be both exploitive and empowering at the same time, Coffy is the type of movie that we’re talking about.

4) Kansas City Bomber

Before there was Ellen Page, there was Racquel Welch.  Playing her boyfriend/manager in this film is Kevin McCarthy who was the lead in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  My mom used to love this movie.

5) Shock 

This was the last film that Mario Bava ever directed and it’s one of my personal favorites.  In the lead role, Daria Nicolodi gives one of the best performances in the history of Italian horror.

6) Let’s Scare Jessica To Death

This is one of the greatest horror movies ever made and it reamins sadly neglected.  You must see this film before you die (which, hopefully, will not be for a very long while).