Coming Down The Mountain: Runaway! (1973, directed by David Lowell Rich)


Runaway! begins with a train starting a slow descent down a snowy mountain.  On board the train are collection of skiers, gigolos, conductors, and engineers.  One couple discusses their upcoming divorce.  An athletic father tries to bond with his less-athletic son.  A slick con artist tries to convince a depressed young woman not to throw herself from the train.  A group of skiers put on an impromptu concert, banging on their suitcases like bongo drums.  They get so loud that the conductor doesn’t even hear the engineer desperately trying to contact him.  What none of the passengers realize is that the train’s brake engines have frozen and the train is about to start hurtling down the mountain.  Unless the chief engineer can figure out a way to stop the train, everyone’s going to die!

Made for television in the year between the release of The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, Runaway! is a low-key but entertaining disaster movie.  With a running time of only 70 minutes, Runaway! doesn’t waste any time getting down to business and, even if it is a low-budget movie, there’s no way that an out-of-control train racing down a mountain can’t be exciting.

Compared to the other disaster movies of the era, Runaway! does not exactly have an all-star cast though there are some familiar faces.  Vera Miles and Ed Nelson are the divorcing couple while Martin Milner is the father who puts too much pressure on his son.  Ben Murphy is the gigolo who refuses to pay for a ticket on general principle while Darleen Carr is the woman who wants to jump to her death.  Most of them are just there as placeholders.  It’s obvious from the start that the real stars of the film are going to be the train and the mountain.  However, the famously gruff character actor Ben Johnson manages to make an impression just by being Ben Johnson.  Johnson plays the chief engineer and, as long as he’s manning the engine, you know that the train’s passengers are in good hands.

Runaway! has never been released on DVD or even VHS but it is currently available on YouTube.

Back to School Part II #19: Girls Just Want To Have Fun (dir by Alan Metter)


Girls_just_want_to_have_fun

For our next film in this series of Back to School reviews, we take a look at 1985’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun!

And you know what?

It’s true — we do just want to have fun!

The fun in Girls Just Want To Have Fun is pretty much defined by dancing, which is okay with me because I love to dance.  However, Girls Just Want To Have Fun had the misfortune to be made in the mid-80s.  I have lost track of many 80s films that I’ve watched but I’m still always shocked at how undanceable most 80s music truly was.  This film, of course, does contain a cover version of the famous song by Cyndi Lauper and that’s actually a pretty good 80s song.  However, the rest of the music (and, by that, I mean the music that everyone in the movie is actually dancing to) is incredibly bland in the way that only music from the decade of We Built This City could be.

As for the film itself, it takes place in Chicago.  Janey Glenn (Sarah Jessica Parker) is the newest student at the local Catholic girls school.  Janey’s overprotective father (Ed Lauter) is in the army and Janey has lived all over the world.  Despite that, Janey is not at all worldly.  In fact, when she tries to introduce herself to her classmates, all she can get out is that she’s a gymnast and she loves to dance. (When we actually see Janey dancing or doing any sort of gymnastics, Sarah Jessica Parker’s hair always seems to fall in her face, which is certainly one way to hide a stunt double.)

Janey makes one friend at the school.  Lynn (Helen Hunt, looking like a teenager but already sounding like a hung over 40 year-old) is about as wild as a girl can be in 1980s PG-rated film.  That’s to say, she wears a leather skirt when she’s not in school and, when she babysits, she orders pizza and then allows the baby to sit on it.  (Ewwwwwww!  There’s a reason why babies wear diapers….)  Lynne and Janey are automatically BFFs because they both love Dance TV!

That’s right — it’s DTV!  I wonder what that’s supposed to be based on…

It turns out that DTV is having a contest to pick two new dancers!  Disobeying her strict father, Janey sneaks out of the house and joins Lynn in auditioning!  Lynn’s partner turns out to be so spastic that Lynn doesn’t make the semi-finals.  Later, Lynn discovers that her partner was bribed by rich bitch Natalie Sands (Holly Gagnier).  I’m not sure why Natalie felt the need to do that since Lynn wasn’t that impressive to begin with.  She’s about as good a dancer as you would expect Helen Hunt to be.

However, Janey does make it to the semi-finals, where she’s partnered with Jeff.  Jeff is tough and blue-collar and, at first, it doesn’t seem like he and Janey will get along.  So, of course, they end up falling in love and, of course, Natalie’s father tries to force Jeff out of the contest by threatening to put his father out of work.  Jeff, incidentally, is played by Lee Montgomery.  Years before appearing in Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Montgomery played the little kid who gets crushed by a chimney at the end of Burnt Offerings.  Burnt Offerings is a really crappy film but I watch it every time that it comes on TCM just so I can see that chimney crush Lee Montgomery.  That said, Montgomery actually does a pretty good job of Jeff.  You never quite buy him as a rebel without a cause but he still seems like an authentic and likable teenager.  Jeff and Janey are a cute couple and that’s all that really matters.

Just as Janey has a best friend, Jeff also has a best friend.  Drew Boreman (Jonathan Silverman) talks too much, tries to sell t-shirts from the trunk of his car, and there’s also a scene were he grabs a random girl’s breasts and makes a comment about using her nipples to tune a radio.  Drew is annoying and, once you get over the fact that she’s being played by a young Helen Hunt, so is Lynn.  Watching the movie, you kind of want to tell both of them to just calm down for a few minutes.

But you know who is not annoying?  Jeff’s younger sister, Maggie, who is played by none other than a very young Shannen Doherty.  Maggie was my favorite character because she alone seemed to understand how stupid everyone else in the film was.  And she was willing to call them out on it.

ANYWAY — Girls Just Want To Have Fun is one of those movies where next to nothing actually happens.  There is an extended sequence where our heroes destroy Natalie’s snooty party with the help of a bunch of punks and female body builders but otherwise, it’s remarkable how little actually happens.  That said, some of the dancing is good (even if most of the music is totally bland in the way that only 80s music can be) and it’s interesting to see Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt when they were young.  Sarah Jessica Parker actually gives a surprisingly likable performance here, even if it is often way too obvious that a body double is doing the majority of her dancing.  That said, you really can’t get any further away from Carrie Bradshaw than Janey Glenn.

Girls Just Want To Have Fun is a time capsule of the decade in which it was made and that is definitely the main reason to watch it.  Until time machines are a reality and we can experience the past firsthand, we’ll just have to keep getting our information from movies like this one.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #67: Split Image (dir by Ted Kotcheff)


Split_Image_VHS_coverUnlike Desperate Lives, the 1982 melodrama Split Image is available to be viewed on YouTube.  In fact, you can watch it below and I suggest that you do so.  It’s a pretty good film and, apparently, it’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray and it’ll probably never be available on Netflix either. So, if you’ve ever wanted to see Peter Fonda play a cult leader, your best bet is to watch the video below.

But before you watch the video, here’s a little information on Split Image, one of the best films that you’ve never heard of.

Essentially, the film follows the same plot as the Canadian film Ticket To Heaven.  A college athlete (played by Michael O’Keefe) starts dating a girl (Karen Allen) who is a member of a sinister religious cult.  Soon, O’Keefe is a brainwashed member of the cult and only answering to the name of Joshua.  (The head of the cult is played, in an appropriately spaced-out manner, by Peter Fonda.)  His parents (Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Ashley) hire a cult deprogrammer (James Woods) to kidnap their son and break Fonda’s hold on him.  However, it turns out that Woods’ methods are almost as psychologically destructive as Fonda’s manipulation.

Even if it’s not quite as memorably creepy as Ticket To Heaven, Split Image is still a well-made film, featuring excellent performances from Dennehy, Woods, O’Keefe, and Fonda.  However, for me, the most interesting thing about Split Image is that it was largely filmed and set down here in Dallas.  Just watch the scene where Woods and his men attempt to kidnap Michael O’Keefe.  It was shot on the campus of Richland Community College, which is one of the places where I regularly go to run.

(Interestingly enough, 33 years after the release of Split Image, Richland still looks exactly the same!)

You can watch Split Image below!

 

Horror On The Lens: Burnt Offerings (dir by Dan Curtis)


To be honest, I really don’t like Burnt Offerings, a 1976 film about what happens when an odd family moves into an even odder house.  I find it to be slow and predictable and, to be honest, the only part that really works are the flashback scenes that feature a skeletal Anthony James playing a sinister chauffeur.

However, I’ve discovered that there’s a lot of people online who disagree with me and who consider this to be one of the best haunted house movies ever!  So, in the spirit of agreeing to disagree, here is Burnt Offerings

(If nothing else, the film is worth it for the chance to see Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, Anthony James, and Burgess Meredith all in one film together.)