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.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #38: The Baby (dir by Ted Post)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Thursday, December 8th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

poster_of_the_movie_the_baby

On October 30th, I recorded The Baby off of TCM.

First released back in 1973, The Baby is a seriously strange little movie.  It’s about a 21 year-old man named Baby (played by David Manzy).  Why is he called Baby?  Because he lives in a crib.  And he wears a diaper that occasionally needs changing.  And he sounds exactly like a baby.  (Whenever he opens his mouth, the sound of an actual baby is dubbed in.)  When he’s alone with his babysitter, he eagerly sucks on her breast, half-nursing and half-perving.

Baby is the only son of Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman, giving a chillingly evil performance).  Mrs. Wadsworth was abandoned by her husband shortly after Baby was born and the film implies that she’s taken a lot of her hatred towards her ex out on her son.  Despite not liking her son, Mrs. Wadsworth is determined to hold onto him.  She gets a weekly welfare check from the state.  The money is supposed to be used to take care of Baby but Mrs. Wadsworth uses it to take care of herself and her two daughters.

Who are her daughters?  Alba Wadsworth (Suzanne Zenor) is an implied nymphomaniac who has a way with a cattle prod.   Germaine Wadsworth (Marianna Hill) is an actress and model who, it’s suggested, has incestuous designs on her brother.

That’s right — they’re a messed up family!  However, they do throw great parties, the type that are full of all the typical characters who you would expect to appear in a low-budget film from 1973.  Hippies, hipsters, aspiring disco dancers, they all show up.  Michael Pataki shows up as well!  You my not know the name but if you’re a fan of 70s exploitation films like me, you’ll immediately recognize Michael Pataki.

In order to continue receiving money from the government, the Wadsworths have to impress their case worker.  They’ve moved through several social workers and, for the most part, they’ve survived by being so strange that no one wants to spend too much time dealing with them.  However, their case has just been assigned to Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) and she actually takes an interest in Baby and his life with the Wasdworths.

Ann says that she thinks Baby could benefit from going to a special school.  The Wadsworths suggest that she mind her own business.  Ann, however, has no intention of doing that.  Ann refuses the give up on giving Baby a chance at a better life.

Sounds heart-warming, right?

Well, no.

At first, Ann seems like just another concerned do-gooder.  But, at the film progresses, we start to suspect that Ann might have some secrets of her own.  We’re told that she lost her husband in a car accident but the details are left intentionally vague.  What we do know is that Ann lives in a huge house with her mother-in-law (Beatrice Manley Blau) and we find ourselves wondering why, if her husband is gone, are the two of them still living together.

We also fin ourselves wondering: Does Ann have Baby’s best interests in mind?  For that matter, does anyone?

Being a 70s movie, it all ends with a violent home invasion that’s followed by a surprise twist.  The twist caught me totally off-guard and forced me to reconsider everything that I had previously seen.  It was shocking, it was borderline offensive, it was just a little bit ludicrous, and it was rather brilliant in its odd way.

The same can be said for The Baby as a whole.  This is one weird movie and you’ll never see another like it.  For that reason alone, The Baby is worth seeing at least once.

Shattered Politics #36: The Godfather, Part II (dir by Francis Ford Coppola)


Godfather_part_ii

Believe it or not, The Trial of Billy Jack was not the only lengthy sequel to be released in 1974.  Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II was released as well and it went on to become the first sequel to win an Oscar for best picture.  (It was also the first, and so far, only sequel to a best picture winner to also win best picture.)  Among the films that The Godfather, Part II beat: Chinatown, Coppola’s The Conversation, and The Towering Inferno.  1974 was a good year.

Whenever I think about The Godfather, Part II, I find myself wondering what the film would have been like if Richard Castellano hadn’t demanded too much money and had actually returned in the role of Clemenza, as was originally intended.  In the first Godfather, Clemenza and Tessio (Abe Vigoda) were Don Corleone’s two lieutenants.  Tessio was the one who betrayed Michael and was killed as a result.  Meanwhile, Clemenza was the one who taught Michael how to fire a gun and who got to say, “Leave the gun.  Take the cannoli.”

Though Castellano did not return to the role, Clemenza is present in The Godfather, Part II.  The Godfather, Part II tells two separate stories: during one half of the film, young Vito Corleone comes to America, grows up to be Robert De Niro and then eventually becomes the Godfather.  In the other half of the film, Vito’s successor, Michael (Al Pacino), tries to keep the family strong in the 1950s and ultimately either loses, alienates, or kills everyone that he loves.

During Vito’s half of the film, we learn how Vito first met Clemenza (played by Bruno Kirby) and Tessio (John Aprea).  However, during Michael’s half of the story, Clemenza is nowhere to be seen.  Instead, we’re told that Clemenza died off-screen and his successor is Frankie Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo).  All of the characters talk about Frankie as if he’s an old friend but, as a matter of fact, Frankie was nowhere to be seen during the first film.  Nor is he present in Vito’s flashbacks.  This is because originally, Frankie was going to be Clemenza.  But Richard Castellano demanded too much money and, as a result, he was written out of the script.

And really, it doesn’t matter.  Gazzo does fine as Frankie and it’s a great film.  But, once you know that Frankie was originally meant to be Clemenza, it’s impossible to watch The Godfather Part II without thinking about how perfectly it would have worked out.

If Clemenza had been around for Michael’s scenes, he would have provided a direct link between Vito’s story and Michael’s story.  When Clemenza (as opposed to Frankie) betrayed Michael and went into protective custody, it would have reminded us of how much things had changed for the Corleones (and, by extension, America itself).  When Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) talked Clemenza (as opposed to Frankie) into committing suicide, it truly would have shown that the old, “honorable” Mafia no longer existed.  It’s also interesting to note that, before Tessio was taken away and killed, the last person he talked to was Tom Hagen.  If Castellano had returned, it once again would have fallen to Tom to let another one of his adopted father’s friends know that it was time to go.

Famously, the Godfather, Part II ends with a flashback to the day after Pearl Harbor.   We watch as a young and idealistic Michael tells his family that he’s joined the army.  With the exception of Michael and Tom Hagen, every character seen in the flashback has been killed over the course of the previous two films.  We see Sonny (James Caan), Carlo (Gianni Russo), Fredo (John Cazale), and even Tessio (Abe Vigoda).  Not present: Clemenza.  (Vito doesn’t appear in the flashback either but everyone’s talking about him so he might as well be there.  Poor Clemenza doesn’t even get mentioned.)

If only Richard Castellano had been willing to return.

Clemenza_and_Vito

Clemenza and Vito

 

But he didn’t and you know what?  You really only miss him if you know that he was originally meant to be in the film.  With or without Richard Castellano, The Godfather, Part II is a great film, probably one of the greatest of all time.  When it comes to reviewing The Godfather, Part II, the only real question is whether it’s better than the first Godfather.

Which Godfather you prefer really depends on what you’re looking for from a movie.  Even with that door getting closed in Kay’s face, the first Godfather was and is a crowd pleaser.  In the first Godfather, the Corleones may have been bad but everyone else was worse.  You couldn’t help but cheer them on.

The Godfather Part II is far different.  In the “modern” scenes, we discover that the playful and idealistic Michael of part one is gone.  Micheal is now cold and ruthless, a man who willingly orders a hit on his older brother and who has no trouble threatening Tom Hagen.  If Michael spent the first film surrounded by family, he spends the second film talking to professional killers, like Al Neri (Richard Bright) and Rocco Lampone (Tom Rosqui).  Whereas the first film ended with someone else closing the door on Kay, the second film features Michael doing it himself.  By the end of the film, Michael Corleone is alone in his compound, a tyrant isolated in his castle.

Michael’s story provides a sharp contrast to Vito’s story.  Vito’s half of the film is vibrant and colorful and fun in a way that Michael’s half is not and could never be.  But every time that you’re tempted to cheer a bit too easily for Vito, the film moves forward in time and it reminds you of what the future holds for the Corleones.

So, which of the first two Godfathers do I prefer?  I love them both.  If I need to be entertained, I’ll watch The Godfather.  If I want to watch a movie that will truly make me think and make me question all of my beliefs about morality, I’ll watch Part Two.

Finally, I can’t end this review without talking about G.D. Spradlin, the actor who plays the role of U.S. Sen. Pat Geary.  The Godfather Part II is full of great acting.  De Niro won an Oscar.  Pacino, Gazzo, Lee Strasberg, and Talia Shire were all nominated.  Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, and John Cazale all deserved nominations.  Even Joe Spinell shows up and brilliantly delivers the line, “Yeah, we had lots of buffers.”  But, with each viewing of Godfather, Part II, I find myself more and more impressed with G.D. Spradlin.

Sen. Pat Geary doesn’t have a lot of time on-screen.  He attends a birthday party at the Corleone Family compound, where he praises Michael in public and then condescendingly insults him in private.  Later, he shows up in Cuba, where he watches a sex show with obvious interest.  And, when Michael is called before a Senate committee, Geary gives a speech defending the honor of all Italian-Americans.

G.D. Spradlin as Sen. Pat Geary

G.D. Spradlin as Sen. Pat Geary

But the scene that we all remember is the one where Tom Hagen meets Sen. Geary in a brothel.  As Geary talks about how he passed out earlier, the camera briefly catches the sight of a dead prostitute lying on the bed behind him.  What’s especially disturbing about this scene is that neither Hagen nor Geary seem to acknowledge her presence.  She’s been reduced to a prop in the Corleone Family’s scheme to blackmail Sen. Geary.  His voice shaken, Geary says that he doesn’t know what happened and we see the weakness and the cowardice behind his almost all-American facade.

It’s a disturbing scene that’s well-acted by both Duvall and Spradlin.  Of course, what is obvious (even if it’s never explicitly stated) is that Sen. Geary has been set up and that nameless prostitute was killed by the Corleones.  It’s a scene that makes us reconsider everything that we previously believed about the heroes of the Godfather.

For forcing us to reconsider and shaking us out of our complacency, The Godfather, Part II is a great film.

(Yes, it’s even better than The Trial of Billy Jack.)

 

Shattered Politics #27: Medium Cool (dir by Haskell Wexler)


Film_Poster_for_Medium_CoolFor the past few days, I’ve been chronologically reviewing 94 films about politicians and, to a lesser extent, politics.  Four days ago, I started in on the 60s by taking a look at Sunrise at Campobello, one of the most traditional-minded and pro-American movies ever made.  And now, I’m closing out the decade by taking a look at 1969’s Medium Cool, a film that is — in style, ideology, and content — the exact opposite of Sunrise at Campobello.

I should admit that I’m cheating a bit by including Medium Cool in this series of reviews.  When I first started Shattered Politics, I said that I would be reviewing films about politicians.  While Medium Cool is a fiercely political film, there are few elected officials to be seen on screen.  That said, it was shot during the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention and, as such, the politicians are present regardless of whether or not they’re seen.

Plotwise, the film follows a news cameraman, John (Robert Forster), and his sound guy (Peter Bonerz) as they go around Chicago, searching for stories.  Along the way, they interview the disturbingly cheerful owner of a gun club (played, in his film debut, by Peter Boyle), several people who volunteered on Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign, and, in one of the film’s best and most awkward scenes, a group of Black Panthers.

Throughout the first half of the film, John remains detached from the stories that he covers.  He’s more concerned with getting the footage and getting a good soundbite than in really listening to what anyone is saying.  (In many ways, he’s like a less sociopathic version of the character played by Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler.)  It’s not until John discovers that his station is sharing his footage with the FBI that John finally starts to show some political awareness.  Unfortunately, he also shows some anger and ends up losing his job as a result.

Now unemployed, John meets Eileen (Verna Bloom), a single mother who has recently moved to Chicago from West Virginia.  Now that he’s free from the detachment of his job, John actually starts to develop feelings for both Eileen and her son, Harold (Harold Blankenship).  When Harold runs away, Eileen and John search Chicago for him.  Unfortunately, their search happens at the same time as the 1968 Democratic Convention.  While John and Eileen search, the Chicago police are busy beating protestors in the street.

(The video below is long, but worth watching, as is the entire film.)

Now, I know that, in the past, I’ve been critical of many of the counter culture films of the late 60s and early 70s, describing their politics as being shallow, trendy, and faux Leftist.  (And if you doubt me, read my reviews of Getting Straight, Zabriskie Point, and R.P.M.)  However, Medium Cool is an exception to those films, in that it actually works.  Medium Cool was directed by famed cinematographer, Haskell Wexler.  Wexler began his career shooting documentaries and, in many ways, that’s exactly what Medium Cool is.  Though Robert Forster may be an actor, many of the people that he interviewed in the film were not.  When he talks to the former Kennedy campaign workers, he’s talking to actual volunteers and getting their true feelings, as opposed to something written for them by an out-of-touch screenwriter.  When we see John and Eileen trying to survive the violence outside the Democratic Convention, we’re also seeing Robert Forster and Verna Bloom attempting to do the same thing.  The protestors being attacked were real.  The cops doing the attacking were real.  The violence was real.

And, considering that Medium Cool was released 46 years ago, the issues raised by the film are still real.  When the Black Panthers suspiciously view John and his sound guy, we’re reminded of the protestors in Ferguson demanding that the national media get out of their way.  When we see the protests outside the 1968 Democratic Convention, how can we not compare them to the protests that we still see every day?  When the cops line up in military precision and we hear that orders must be followed, are we watching Medium Cool or are we watching CNN?

During one of Medium Cool‘s better known moments, an off-screen voice is heard to shout, “Look out, Haskell!  It’s real!,” warning director Haskell Wexler that the violence he’s filming is actually happening.  And that’s a warning that’s still appropriate and relevant today.  We may be watching from the safety of our homes but it’s still real.

(Of course, it should be mentioned that, according to Wexler himself, “Look out, Haskell!  It’s real!” was actually added to the scene in post production.)

It’s perhaps indicative of how much American culture changed in the 60s that a decade that started with Ralph Bellamy playing Franklin D. Roosevelt would end with Medium Cool.  Fortunately, Medium Cool gives us plenty of evidence about how that change happened.