Forever Young: Ingrid Pitt in COUNTESS DRACULA (20th Century Fox/Hammer 1971)


cracked rear viewer

Iconic Ingrid Pitt became a horror fan favorite for her vampire roles in the early 1970’s.  The Polish-born actress, who survived the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp as a child during WWII, played bloodsucking lesbian Carmilla in Hammer’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, based on the classic story by J. Sheridan LeFanu, and was a participant in the Amicus anthology THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD opposite Jon Pertwee in that film’s best segment. Finally, Ingrid sunk her teeth into the title role of COUNTESS DRACULA, a juicy part where she’s not really a vampire, but a noblewoman who gets off on bathing in blood, loosely based on the real life events of Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory.

Portrait of the real Elizabeth Bathory

Bathory (1560-1614) was the most infamous female serial killer in history, officially found guilty of 80 murders, yet a diary allegedly found puts the count as high as 650!…

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Embracing The Melodrama Part III #6: The Betsy (dir by Daniel Petrie)


“Wheeeeeeee!”

— Loren Hardeman Sr. (Sir Laurence Olivier) in The Betsy (1978)

Here’s a little thought experiment:

Imagine if The Godfather had starred Laurence Olivier and Tommy Lee Jones.

That may sound strange but it actually could have happened.  When Francis Ford Coppola first started his search for the perfect actor to play Don Vito Corleone, he announced that he could only imagine two actors pulling off the role.  One was Marlon Brando and the other was Laurence Olivier.

As for Tommy Lee Jones, he was among the many actors who auditioned for the role of Michael Corleone.  At the time, Jones was 26 years old and had only recently made his film debut in Love Story.  As odd as it may be to imagine the quintessentially Texan Tommy Lee Jones in the role, Coppola always said that he was looking for a brooder as Michael and that’s definitely a good description of Jones.

Of course, as we all know, neither Olivier nor Jones were ever cast in The Godfather.  Marlon Brando played Don Vito and Al Pacino was cast as Michael.  However, a few years later, Olivier and Jones would co-star in another family saga that combined history, organized crime, and melodrama.  That film was 1978’s The Betsy and, interestingly enough, it even co-starred an actor who actually did appear in The Godfather, Robert Duvall.

Of course, now would probably be a good time to point out that The Godfather is perhaps the greatest American film of all time.  And The Betsy … well, The Betsy most definitely is not.

The film’s German poster even gives off a Godfather vibe

Based on a novel by Harold Robbins, The Betsy exposes the secrets of Detroit.  Decades ago, Loren Hardeman founded Hardeman Motors and started to build his considerable fortune.  Sure, Loren had to break a few rules.  He cut corners.  He acted unethically.  He had an affair with his daughter-in-law and then drove his gay son to suicide.  Loren never said that he was perfect.  Now in his 80s, Loren has a vision of the future and that vision is a new car.  This car will be called the Betsy (named after his great-granddaughter) and it will be the most fuel-efficient car ever made.

Since the film appropriates the flashback structure used in The Godfather Part II, we get to see Loren Hardeman as both an elderly man and a middle-aged titan of industry.  Elderly Loren is played by Laurence Olivier.  Elderly Loren spends most of the film in a wheelchair and he speaks with a bizarre accent, one that I think was meant to be Southern despite the fact that the film takes place in Michigan.  Elderly Loren gets really excited about building his new car and, at one point, shouts out “Wheeeeeee!”

Middle-aged Loren is played by … Laurence Olivier!  That’s right.  Olivier, who was 71 years old at the time, also plays Loren as a younger man.  This means that Olivier wears a hairpiece and so much makeup that he looks a bit like a wax figure come to life.  Strangely, Middle-aged Loren doesn’t have a strange accent and never says “wheeeee.”

To build his car, Loren recruits race car driver Angelo Perino (Tommy Lee Jones).  Angelo’s father was an old friend of Loren’s.  When Angelo agrees, he discovers that the Hardeman family is full of drama and secrets.  Not only is great-granddaughter Betsy (Kathleen Beller) in love with him but so is Lady Bobby Ayers (Lesley-Anne Down), who is the mistress of Loren’s grandson, Loren the 3rd (Robert Duvall).

Because he blames his grandfather for the death of his father, Loren the 3rd has no intention of building Loren the 1st’s car.  Loren the 3rd wants to continue to make cars that pollute the environment.  “Over my dead boy!” Loren the 1st replies.  “As you wish, grandfather,” Loren the 3rd replies with a smile.

But we’re not done yet!  I haven’t even talked about the Mafia and the union organizers and the automotive journalist who ends up getting murdered.  From the minute the movie starts, it’s nonstop drama.  That said, most of the drama is so overdone that it’s actually more humorous than anything else.  As soon as Laurence Olivier shouts out, “Wheeeee!,” The Betsy falls into the trap of self-parody and it never quite escapes.  There’s a lot going on in the movie and one could imagine a more imaginative director turning the trashy script into a critique of capitalism and technology.  However, Daniel Petrie directs in a style that basically seems to be saying, “Let’s just get this over with.”

The cast is full of interesting people, all of whom are let down by a superficial script.  Nothing brings out the eccentricity in talented performers quicker than a line of shallow dialogue.  Jane Alexander, who plays Duvall’s wife, delivers all of her lines in an arch, upper class accent.  Edward Herrmann, playing a lawyer, smirks every time the camera is pointed at him.  Katharine Ross, as Olivier’s mistress and Duvall’s mother, stares at Olivier like she’s trying to make his head explode.  Tommy Lee Jones is even more laconic than usual while Duvall always seems to be struggling not to start laughing.

And then there’s Olivier.  For better or worse, Olivier is the most entertaining thing about The Betsy.  He doesn’t give a good performance but he does give a memorably weird one.  Everything, from the incomprehensible accent to a few scenes where he literally seems to bounce up and down, suggests a great actor who is desperately trying to bring a spark of life to an otherwise doomed project.  It’s a performance so strange that it simply has to be seen to be believed.

Tomorrow, we take a look at another melodrama featuring Robert Duvall, True Confessions!

 

Bronson One Last Time: Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994, directed by Allen Goldstein)


To quote Geoffrey Chaucer, “All good things must come to an end.”

Death Wish V: The Face of Death marked the end of the original Death Wish franchise, concluding the violent saga of Paul Kersey 20 years after it began.  It probably should have ended sooner.

After the box office failure of Death Wish IV and the subsequent bankruptcy of Cannon Films, future plans for the Death Wish franchise were put on hold.  After the collapse of Cannon, Menahem Golan started a new production company, 21st Century Film Corporation.  In 1993, needing a hit and seeing that the previous Death Wish films were still popular on video, Golan announced that Paul Kersey would finally return in Death Wish V: The Face of Death.  Charles Bronson also returned, though he was now 72 years old and in poor health.  Death Wish V would also mark the end of Bronson’s feature film career.  He would make appearances in a few television movies before subsequently retiring from acting.

Death Wish V finds Paul in the witness protection program.  His latest girlfriend, Olivia (Lesley-Anne Down), just happens to be the ex-wife of a psychotic mobster named Tommy O’Shea (Michael Parks).  Throughout the entire franchise, the Death Wish films argued that crime is so out of control that no one was safe and that Paul had no choice but to pick up a gun and shoot muggers.  But, judging from Death Wish V, Paul just seems to have incredibly bad luck.  What are the odds that a mild-mannered architect would lose his wife, his maid, his daughter, his best friend from the war, his next two girlfriends, and then end up dating the ex-wife of New York City’s craziest gangster?

The district attorney’s office wants Olivia to testify against her ex-husband so Tommy gets his henchman, the dandruff-prone Freddie Flakes (Robert Joy), to kill her.  Looks like it’s time for New York’s favorite vigilante to launch a one-man war against the Mafia!

The only problem is that New York’s favorite vigilante is too old to chase people down dark alleys and shoot them.  He has to get creative, which means using everything from poisoned cannoli to a vat of acid to take out his targets.  One gangster is killed by an exploding soccer ball!

With both Bronson and Lesley-Anne Down giving an indifferent performances, it is up to the supporting cast to keep the movie interesting.  Appearing here after his bravura turn as Jean Renault in Twin Peaks but before Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino introduced him to a whole new generation of filmgoers, Michael Parks is flamboyantly evil as Tommy O’Shea and injects the movie with what little life that it has.  Speaking of Twin Peaks alumni, Kenneth Welsh (who played Windom Earle in the last few episodes of season 2) plays this installment’s understanding police detective.  Saul Rubinek plays the district attorney who is willing to look the other way when it comes to killing gangsters.

Dull and cheap-looking, Death Wish V was a box office bomb and it brought the original franchise to a definite end.  Will the Eli Roth/Bruce Willis reboot of Death Wish also lead to a reboot of the franchise?  Time will tell!

A Mardi Gras Film Review: Mardi Gras For The Devil (dir by David A. Prior)


A maniac is holding New Orleans hostage!  He’s committed a series of savage, Satanically-influenced homicides and the police cannot seem to even slow him down!  The entire city is terrified!

Well, actually … New Orleans doesn’t seem to be scared at all.  In fact, no one in this movie seems to be all that disturbed by all of the brutal murders that are happening around them.  Some people would probably say that’s because this film takes place during Mardi Gras and everyone’s too drunk to notice.  Why worry about being murdered when all you have to do to get a bunch of cheap beads is flash a boob?  Add to that, this is New Orleans.  New Orleans is a very forgiving city.

Anyway, regardless of whether people care or not, there’s a Satanic murderer prowling through the city.  Who is the killer?  Could he possibly be that guy who always dresses in black, who has a perfectly trimmed beard, and who is always throwing back his head and laughing before doing something evil?  The guy’s name is Bishop and he’s played by everyone’s favorite Canadian character actor, Michael Ironside.  As far as Michael Ironside villains are concerned, Bishop is pretty frightening though he’s nowhere near as a frightening as Darryl Revok.  I mean, he does a lot of evil stuff but he doesn’t actually make anyone’s head explode.

Detective Mike Turner (Robert Davi) is obsessed with stopping Bishop.  Unfortunately, Detective Turner doesn’t appear to be very good at his job.  I mean, everyone he knows he keeps getting seriously injured.  His first partner dies.  His second partner gets run over by a bus.  His ex-wife (Lesley-Anne Down) ends up trapped in a pool.  His girlfriend (Lydie Denier) ends up getting tied up in a barn while a time bomb ticks down across from her.  Fortunately, a few of these people do manage to survive.  Turner may not be a very good cop but, fortunately, Bishop isn’t that good of a serial killer.

It soon becomes apparent that Bishop has a motive for all of his murders, one that goes beyond the usual serial killer weirdness.  It turns out that Bishop’s murders are actually sacrifices and he has given his soul to Satan.  Giving your soul to the devil apparently gives you the power to do whatever the script needs you to do at any particular moment in the movie.  Fortunately, it also leaves you with a weakness that can be exploited whenever the movie decides to come to an end.

Am I saying that Mardi Gras For the Devil makes no sense?  I most definitely am!  However, that’s actually the film’s charm.  The film was made with so little concern for continuity and narrative logic that it plays out like a fever dream.  The cast is surprisingly good for a film like this, which means that everyone delivers the strangest of lines with the utmost sincerity.  Michael Ironside plays his role without a hint of subtlety, which is exactly the type of bad guy that a film like this requires.  Meanwhile, Robert Davi brings a weary cynicism to his role.  You can just hear him thinking, “Satanic serial killers?  I’m too old for this shit.”  Combine that with a fiery ending that doesn’t even try to make sense and you have a movie that, perhaps through no intention of the film’s director, manages to create and sustain a very surreal atmosphere.  The film may not be any good but it’s hard to look away from.

Though the film takes place at Mardi Gras and was released, in some countries, as both Mardi Gras For The Devil and Mardi Gras Nightmare, it actually has very little do with Mardi Gras.  The opening scenes were shot during a Mardi Gras parade but that’s about it.  The film was also released under the title Night Trap, which is a woefully generic title.  You can find the movie on YouTube.

A Movie A Day #310: Hanover Street (1979, directed by Peter Hyams)


The time is World War II and, for the British, the American army is “overpaid, oversexed, and over here.”  David Halloran (Harrison Ford) is a pilot who has been stationed in England.  With no loved ones to worry about, David has no fear of flying over occupied France and dropping bombs on the Nazis below.  But then David meets an English nurse, Margaret (Lesley-Anne Down).  As David falls in love, he loses his enthusiasm for the war because he now has “a reason to live.”  The only problem is that Margaret is already married to Paul (Christopher Plummer), an officer in British Intelligence.  When David accepts an assignment to fly a British agent into France, he is shocked when the agent turns out to be Paul.  When David’s plane crashes, he and Paul have to work together to complete Paul’s mission and escape back to Britain.

Hanover Street is a very old-fashioned and very slow wartime romance.  If not for a love scene between Lesley-Ann Down and Harrison Ford, this movie could probably pass for a 1940s film, just not a good one.  The most interesting thing about Hanover Street is how awkward Harrison Ford seems to be.  Hanover Street was made shortly after Star Wars made him a sudden star and Ford still doesn’t seem like he’s comfortable with the whole idea of being a movie star.  Fortunately, for Ford, he still had Indiana Jones in his future.

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #21: I Am Watching You (dir by Maureen Bharoocha)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by July 11th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

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I was originally planning on reviewing the 21st film on my DVR yesterday evening but that was before my hometown of Dallas, Texas turned into a war zone after a sniper opened fire on a Black Lives Matter protest that was being held downtown.  From 9 pm to 5 in the morning, I was watching the news and following the story on twitter.  10 police officers and 1 protester were shot by a gunman who later blown up in the parking garage of El Centro College.    Sadly, as of this writing, five of the wounded officers have lost their lives.  It was tragic and terrifying to watch this situation unfold, especially with the knowledge that it was all happening just a few miles away from me.  Needless to say, at that moment, reviewing a Lifetime film was the last thing on my mind.  I was just happy knowing that my family, friends, and loved ones were all safe.

As I sit here writing this, the city is still in shock and large portions of Dallas are currently shut down.  (Fortunately, I was already off work for this week.)  And, oddly enough, I’m suddenly finding myself very happy that I still have 19 films left to review.  When the world gets too crazy and scary, movies can provide a needed escape and right now, I need that escape.

So, with all that in mind, let’s take a look at I Am Watching You!

There’s a scene in Joe Swanberg’s 2014 holiday film, Happy Christmas, in which Anna Kendrick encourages novelist Melanie Lynesky to abandon her pretentious and stalled literary project and instead just try to make a quick buck by writing a “mom sex” book.  “Mom sex” books (like 50 Shades of Grey, to cite the most obvious example) might not qualify as great literature but they’re full of sex and middle-aged women like to read them on the beach.  I Am Watching You tells the story of Nora Nichols (Madline Zima), a writer who specializes in writing “mom sex” books.

Nora, however, is suffering from writer’s block!  Could it be because, like all Lifetime heroines, she has recently broken up with her boyfriend and is no longer having sex?  Of course, it is!  Fortunately, Nora’s office window provides her with a perfect view of her neighbor, photographer Lucas Wheeler (Brian Ames).  Nora spends her time watching Lucas dress and undress but what Nora doesn’t suspect is that Lucas might be watching her as well.

Anyway, eventually, Nora and Lucas actually run into each other in real life and soon, they’re exploring their own 50 Shades of Grey-style melodrama.  It helps with Nora’s writing, too.  For instance, when she has to write a bondage scene, she has Lucas tie her up.

And, at first, it looks like everything is perfect!  He’s hot, he’s into bondage, he likes to watch — what could go wrong?  Well, he’s also obsessed with her and Nora soon discovers that she’s being stalked by him.  Will all of this help Nora to write a best seller?  How couldn’t it!?

Anyway, I Am Watching You is pretty much your typical Lifetime sex film.  All of the scenes are gauzy and Lucas looks good without a shirt on but otherwise, it’s pretty tame.  Even the very brief bondage scene felt more like a Chanel commercial than anything else.

But I guess my main problem with I Am Watching You is that, from what we heard in the film, Nora didn’t appear to be a very good writer.  If anything, her writing sounded like second-rate 50 Shades of Grey fanfic (which is pretty bad when you consider that 50 Shades itself is second-rate fanfic).  Considering all that she goes through to get her book written, it would be nice if the book at least sounded like it was worth reading.

I Am Watching You originally aired on Lifetime on May 15th and I’m sure it’ll probably air again many times over the upcoming year.  They usually do.