An Offer You Can Refuse #5: The Happening (dir by Elliot Silverstein)


The 1967 film, The Happening, opens with two “young” people — Sureshot (Michael Parks) and Sandy (Faye Dunaway) — waking up on a Florida beach.  The previous night, they attended a party so wild that the beach is full of passed out people, one of whom apparently fell asleep while standing on his head.  (It’s a happening!)  From the dialogue, we discover that, despite their impeccably clean-cut appearances, both Sureshot and Sandy are meant to be hippies.

After trying to remember whether or not they “made love” the previous night (wow, how edgy!), Sandy and Sureshot attempt to find their way off of the beach.  As they walk along, they’re joined by two other partygoers.  Taurus is played by George Maharis, who was 38 when this film was shot and looked about ten years older.  Taurus is a tough guy who carries a gun and dreams of being a revolutionary and who says stuff like, “Bam!  Et cetera!”  Herbie is eccentric, thin, and neurotic and, presumably because Roddy McDowall wanted too much money, he’s played by Robert Walker, Jr.

Anyway, the four of them end up stealing a boat and talking about how life is a drag, man.  Eventually, they end up breaking into a mansion and threatening the owner and his wife.  Since this movie was made before the Manson murders, this is all played for laughs.  The owner of the mansion is Roc Delmonico (Anthony Quinn).  Roc used to be a gangster but now he’s a legitimate businessman.  The “hippies” decide to kidnap Roc because they assume they’ll be able to get a lot of money for him.

The only problem is that no one is willing to pay the ransom!

Not Roc’s wife (Martha Hyer)!

Not Roc’s best friend (Milton Berle), who happens to be sleeping with Roc’s wife!

Not Roc’s former mob boss (Oscar Homolka)!

Roc gets so angry when he find out that no one wants to pay that he decides to take control of the kidnapping,  He announces that he knows secrets about everyone who refused to pay any money for him and unless they do pay the ransom, he’s going to reveal them.  We’ve gone from kidnapping to blackmail.

Along the way, Roc bonds with his kidnappers.  He teaches them how to commit crimes and they teach him how to be anti-establishment or something.  Actually, I’m not sure what they were supposed to have taught him.  The Happening is a comedy that I guess was trying to say something about the divide between the young and the middle-aged but it doesn’t really have much of a message beyond that the middle-aged could stand to laugh a little more and that the young are just silly and kind of useless.  Of course, the whole young/old divide would probably work better if all of the young hippies weren’t played by actors who were all either in their 30 or close enough to 30 to make their dorm room angst seem a bit silly.

It’s an odd film.  The tone is all over the place and everyone seems to be acting in a different movie.  Anthony Quinn actually gives a pretty good dramatic performance but his good performance only serves to highlight how miscast almost everyone else in the film is.  Michael Parks comes across like he would rather be beating up hippies than hanging out with them while Faye Dunaway seems to be bored with the entire film.  George Maharis, meanwhile, goes overboard on the Brando impersonation while Robert Walker, Jr. seems like he just needs someone to tell him to calm down.

But even beyond the weird mix of acting style, the film’s message is a mess.  On the one hand, the “hippies” are presented as being right about the establishment being full of hypocritical phonies.  On the other hand, the establishment is proven to be correct about the “hippies” being a bunch of easily distracted idiots.  This is one of those films that wants to have it both ways, kind of like an old episode of Saved By The Bell where Mr. Belding learns to loosen up while Zack learns to respect authority.  This is an offer that you can refuse.

And that’s what’s happening!

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight

Cinemax Friday: Stranger By Night (1994, directed by Gregory Brown a.k.a. Gregory Hippolyte a.k.a. Gregory Dark)


Detective Bobby Corcoran (Steven Bauer!) is a cop with an anger problem.  Whenever he and his parter, Troy Rooney (William Katt!!), catch a criminal, Bobby just loses control.  Since, for some reason, they seem to catch a lot of criminals on rooftops, this often leads to Bobby threatening to throw someone over the edge.  Even when his boss, Detective Larson (Michael Parks!!!) tells Bobby to stop trying to kill all of the suspects, Bobby still struggles to control his rage.  He’s seeing a Dr. Anne Richmond (Jennifer Rubin!!!!), a psychiatrist, about his anger issues but since their sessions usually get interrupted by bouts of soft-core, saxophone-scored sex, it is debatable how much time they actually spend digging into the roots of Bobby’s problems.

Bobby also suffers from frequent blackouts.  While he’s unconscious, he’s haunted by black-and-white memories of his abusive father (J.J. Johnston) beating up his mother.  When he wakes up, he’s often in a different room from where he blacked out.  Anne says that Bobby must be sleep-walking.  Bobby says that he’s not sleep walking because he’s stubborn and doesn’t feel safe letting anyone into his mind.  Lately, whenever Bobby passes out, a prostitute ends up dead.  An unknown killer is stalking them and chopping off their ears.  Bobby, with his anger issues and his dislike of prostitutes, is an obvious suspect.  Is Bobby the killer or is he being framed?

Stranger By Night‘s credited director is Gregory Brown, who is better known as Gregory Dark.  Dark is one of the best-known of the directors who specialized in erotic thrillers in the 90s.  Dark was responsible for some of the classics of the genre but, unfortunately, Stranger By Night is not one of his better efforts.  The action frequently drags and, with the exception of Bobby’s black-and-white flashbacks, Stranger By Night has none of Dark’s usual visual style.  The film looks and feels flat and the plot is never feels as involving as it should.  The discovery of the killer’s identity inspires not shock but an indifferent shrug.

On the positive side, it’s got a cast of skilled genre vets and all of them do what they can to elevate the material.  William Katt is jittery and frequently funny while Jennifer Rubin, who deserved to have a much bigger career, is as sultry as ever.  (Rubin brought both intelligence and sex appeal to almost every role that she played and it made her one of the best genre actresses around.)  Steven Bauer, another actor who probably deserves a bigger career than he’s had, does a good job in the lead role.  Bobby isn’t always a likable character and Bauer doesn’t try to make him one.  On the other hand, it’s frustrating that Michael Parks does not get to do much, other than frown.  There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a film that doesn’t take full advantage of the casting of Michael Parks.

Stranger By Night does seem to have a serious subtext.  It tries to deal seriously with how Bobby’s abusive childhood has scarred him and there’s a lengthy scene where Bobby finally talks to his aged father.  The scene is played straight and it’s not the sort of thing that you’d normally expect to see in a direct-to-video erotic thriller.  (It’s a good example of what set Gregory Dark apart from some of the other directors churning out these type of films in the 90s.)  For the most part, though, Stranger By Night is a forgettable trip to the world of late night Cinemax.

18 Days of Paranoia #3: The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (dir by Larry Cohen)


The 1977 film, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, opens in 1972.

J. Edgar Hoover, the much-feared and long-serving director of the FBI, has just been found dead at his home and it seems like the entire city of Washington, D.C. is scrambling.  Not only are people jockeying for Hoover’s job but they’re also wondering what might be found in his secret files.  As quickly becomes apparent, Hoover had a file on everyone.  While Presidents lauded him and the press portrayed him as hero, Hoover spent nearly 50 years building up a surveillance state.  Hoover said it was to fight criminals and subversives but mostly, it was just to hold onto his own power.  Even President Nixon is heard, in the Oval Office, ordering his men to get those files.

Hoover may have known everyone’s secrets but, the film suggests, very few people knew his.  The film is narrated by a former FBI agent named Dwight Webb (Rip Torn).  Dwight talks about how he was kicked out of the FBI because it was discovered that he not only smoked but that he was having an adulterous affair with a secretary.  “You know how Hoover was about that sex stuff,” he says, his tone suggesting that there’s more to the story than just Hoover being a bit of a puritan.

We flash back to the 1920s.  We see a young Hoover (James Wainwright) as a part of the infamous Palmer Raids, an early effort by the Justice Department to track down and deport communist subversives.  Though Hoover disagrees with the legality of the Palmer Raids, he still plays his part and that loyalty is enough to eventually get him appointed, at the age of 29, to be the head of the agency that would eventually become the FBI.  Hoover may start out as a relatively idealistic man but it doesn’t take long for the fame and the power to go to his head.

Hoover (now played by Broderick Crawford) serves a number of Presidents, each one worse the one who proceeded him.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Howard Da Silva) is an avuncular despot while the Kennedy brothers (William Jordan as John and Michael Parks as Bobby) are two rich brats who think that they can control Hoover but who soon discover that Hoover is far more clever than they realize.  Hoover finds himself a man out-of-place in the 60s and the 70s,  Suddenly, he’s no longer everyone’s hero and people are starting to view the FBI as being not a force for law enforcement but instead an instrument of oppression.

Through it all, Hoover remains an enigma.  He demands a lot of from his agents but he resents them if they’re too successful.  Melvin Purvis (Michael Sacks) might find fame for leading the manhunt that took down Dillinger but he’s driven to suicide by Hoover’s cruel treatment.  Unlike Clint Eastwood’s film about Hoover, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover suggests that Hoover was not gay but that instead, that he was so repressed that he was essentially asexual.  When one woman throws herself at him, he accuses her of being a subversive and demands to know how anyone could find him attractive.  He’s closest to his mother and when she dies, he shuts off his emotions.  His own power, for better and worse, becomes the one thing that he loves.  He’s married to the FBI and he often behaves like an abusive spouse.

The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover is an interesting film.  It’s an attempt to do a huge American epic on a less than epic budget.  At the start of the film, the low budget is undeniably distracting.  The 1920s are essentially represented by a back lot and two old cars.  The scenes of the FBI dealing with gangsters like Dillinger and Creepy Karpis feel awkward and slapdash.  But, as the film’s timeline gets closer to what was then the modern era, the film’s story tightens up and so does Larry Cohen’s direction.  (One get the feeling that Cohen was, perhaps understandably, more interested in the Hoover of the 60s and the 70s than the Hoover of the 20s and 30s.  There’s a sharpness to the second half of the movie that is just missing from the first half.)  Broderick Crawford gives a chilling performance as a man who is determined to hold onto his power, just for the sake of having it.  The scenes were Hoover and Bobby Kennedy snap at each other have a charge that’s missing from the first half of the film.  Michael Parks does a great job portraying RFK as basically being a spoiled jerk while Crawford seems to relish the chance to play up the resentful, bitter old man aspects of Hoover’s personality.  The film ultimately suggests that whether the audience previously admired RFK or whether they previously admired Hoover, they were all essentially duped.

Though the film never quite overcomes the limits of its low budget, it works well as a secret history of the United States.  In 1977, it undoubtedly took guts to make a film that portrayed Roosevelt and Kennedy as being as bad as Nixon and Johnson.  (It would probably even take guts today.  One need only rewatch something like The Butler or Hyde Park on Hudson to see the ludicrous lengths Hollywood will go to idealize presidents like Kennedy and dictators like FDR.)  While this film certainly doesn’t defend J. Edgar Hoover’s excesses, it often suggests that the president he served under were just as bad, if not even worse.  In the end, it becomes a portrait of not only how power corrupts but also why things don’t change, regardless of who is nominally in charge.  In the end the film’s villain is not J. Edgar Hoover.  Instead, the film’s villain is the system that created and then enabled him.  The man may be dead but the system remains.

Previous entries in the 18 Days of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau

 

The Hitman (1991, directed by Aaron Norris)


When cop Cliff Garrett (Chuck Norris) gets shot by his corrupt partner, Ronny Delaney (Michael Parks), he dies and nearly gets to go to heaven.  However, at the last minute, the doctor’s manage to bring Cliff back to life.  Since everyone believes Cliff to be dead, his superiors come up with a brilliant plan.  What if Cliff changes his name to Grogan, grows his hair long, and goes undercover as a hitman?

Cliff’s up for it and is soon working for an Italian mobster named Marco Luganni (Al Waxman).  Marco wants to eliminate all of the other mobsters in town but he also has to deal with a bunch of drug-dealing Iranians who are trying to move in on his territory.  Cliff soon works his way into the inner circle and plays all sides against each other.  What’s strange is that Cliff manages to fool everyone into thinking that he’s Grogan despite the fact that all he’s really doing is wearing his hair long.  In fact, the only person who he doesn’t fool is his former partner, Delaney.  Delaney is not happy to discover that Cliff is still alive and sets out to take him out once and for all.

Because this is a Chuck Norris film, there’s a subplot where Cliff helps a bullied youth named Tim (Salim Grant) learn how to stick up for himself.  One thing that set Chuck Norris apart from other 80s action heroes is that Chuck always tried to teach all the kids in the audience of his R-rated films a good lesson about staying off drugs, standing up to bullies, and not doubting the American way.  I always have mixed feelings about this aspect of Chuck’s films because the message scenes usually don’t fit in with the rest of the narrative and it’s always questionable if a film featuring Chuck killing people is the right place for a wholesome life lesson but, at the same time, Chuck is so sincere that these scenes usually feature his best acting.  When Tim beats up a bully and then Chuck beats up the bully’s father, it really makes you realize that someone missed an opportunity by not making a movie where Chuck Norris played a computer science teacher who prepared his students not just for a career in STEM but also taught them how to put the members of football team in their place.  In the case of The Hitman, the crime subplot and the bullying subplot come together when Delaney decides to use Tim to strike at Cliff.

The Hitman is one of Chuck’s later films, which means the budget is lower than the films he did for Cannon and the action scenes are not as elaborate.  Chuck’s brother, Aaron, directs and he does okay but he’s no Joe “Missing In Action” Zito or Menahem “Delta Force” Golan.  The fight scenes are competently done in a workmanlike manner but they’re never as exciting as what we’ve come to expect from the Norris brand.  The main appeal here is to see Chuck Norris and Michael Parks in the same movie.  Chuck, as always, underplays while Parks, as always, overplays and it’s always entertaining to watch them go at each other.  Otherwise, The Hitman is for Chuck completists only.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Deceiver (dir by Jonas Pate and Josh Pate)


I have long contended that the most annoying serial killer of all time was Paul Michael Stephani, a resident of Minneapolis who killed three women in 1980.

Stephani was known as The Weepy-Voiced Killer.  (Even his nickname was annoying.)  Whenever Stephani committed a murder, he would promptly call 911 and confess while sobbing.  As you might expect would happen to someone who was enough of a dumbass to call the police right after murdering someone, Stephani was eventually captured and convicted.  Sentenced to 40 years, Stephani died of cancer while in prison and nobody misses him.

Unfortunately, because all of Stephani’s 911 calls were recorded, he’s recently become a very popular subject for true crime shows.  It’s not there’s anything particularly interesting about Stephani’s crimes.  It’s just that it’s easy (and cheap) to build a show around the sound of him whining on the phone.  As someone who probably spends too much time watching true crime realty television, I’ve had to listen to Stephani’s voice more than anyone should ever have to.  Making it even worse, there’s currently a show called Evil Calls, which uses a recording of Stephani in its commercials.  I’ve actually stopped watching Investigation Discovery just because I’ve gotten so sick of hearing that loser whining, “Please don’t talk, just listen… I’m sorry I killed that girl. I stabbed her 40 times…”

However, the Stephani tapes do provide one valuable service.  The sound of Stephani’s pathetic voice reminds us that most serial killers are not the urbanely witty and intelligent figures that we’ve gotten used to seeing in the movies.  Most real-life killers are whiny losers who kill for very basic reasons and who are stupid enough to call 911 and confess.  Movie killers are a different breed all together.

Take the 1997 mystery Deceiver, for instance.

In Deceiver, Renee Zellweger plays a world weary prostitute.  We only see her in flashbacks, largely because she was murdered before the film’s opening scene.  Her name was Elizabeth, which brings to mind Elizabeth Short, the legendary Los Angeles murder victim who is better known as the Black Dahlia.  Much like the real-life Black Dahlia, Elizabeth’s body was cut into two pieces and left in a park.  (According to the film’s imdb trivia section, Elizabeth was also named after Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist who pioneered the study of false memories.)

Suspicion immediately falls on James Walter Wayland (Tim Roth).  The youngest son of a wealthy and powerful South Carolina family, Wayland is an infamous alcoholic.  Wayland admits that he knew Elizabeth.  He even took Elizabeth with him to a fancy party, all the better to offend his parents.  Wayland may be a black-out drunk with a history of erratic behavior but he also swears that he didn’t kill Elizabeth.

Two detectives are determined to trick Wayland into confessing.  Detective Edward Kennesaw (Michael Rooker) is a respected veteran, the type of detective who can get a confession out of almost anyone.  His partner is Detective Philip Braxton (Chris Penn), who is a bit less impressive.  As we’re informed early in the film, Braxton graduated at the bottom of his high school class and has been waiting for a promotion for quite some time.

From the minute that Kennesaw and Braxton start to interrogate Wayland, it becomes obvious that Wayland is hardly your typical murder suspect.  He’s certainly more impressive than the Weepy-Voiced Killer.  He’s witty.  He’s smart.  He’s cocky.  He admits to being an alcoholic and to suffering from black outs and seizures but he also claims that, unlike every other man who Elizabeth dealt with, he actually cared about her.  Wayland also reveals that he knows some details about Kennesaw and Braxton.  He knows about Kennesaw’s troubled marriage to a woman (Rosanna Arquette) who has a history of cheating on him.  He knows that Braxton is in debt to a local bookie (Ellen Burstyn).  And, as the interrogation continues, Wayland starts to suggest that one of the interrogators is hiding an even darker secret.

Deceiver‘s a frequently fascinating film to watch, even if it’s not always easy to follow.  If there’s any film that would seem to demand multiple viewings, it’s this one.  The majority of the movie takes place in one darkened room and directors Joan and Josh Pate do a wonderful job capturing the claustrophobia of that setting.  (Fortunately, there’s enough flashbacks to keep the film from getting too stagey.)  Roth, Rooker, and Penn all give intensely stylized performances.  They may not feel realistic but they fit in perfectly with the fever dream atmosphere of the film.  Roth, in particular, gives a performance that is both mannered and intriguing.  It even feel appropriate that his Southern accent is in no way convincing.  It just makes sense that Wayland wouldn’t sound like anyone else in the world.

It’s a heavily stylized film, full of odd dialogue and skewed camera angles.  It’s a film that often feels like a journey right to the center of an extremely twisted mind.  (Of course, the movie is designed so that you’re never quite sure whose mind you’ve entered.)  There’s nothing realistic about it but that’s okay.  It’s certainly preferable to watching a movie about The Weepy-Voiced Killer.

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!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Nightmare Beach, a.k.a. Welcome to Spring Break (dir by Harry Kirkpatrick and Umberto Lenzi)


Did Umberto Lenzi direct the 1989 film, Nightmare Beach?

That’s a question that Italian horror fans have been debating for a while now.  The film’s credited director is Harry Kirkpatrick.  Due to the fact that Kirkpatrick has no other known credits, it’s generally agreed that Kirkpatrick was a pseudonym.  But was it a pseudonym for Lenzi, screenwriter James Justice, or both of them?  In an interview for the book Spaghetti Nightmares, Lenzi said that he was originally hired to direct but, at the last minute, he changed his mind because he felt the film was too similar to his 1972 giallo, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids.  Lenzi says that he withdrew from directing but that he remained on set to provide technical assistance to the film’s actual director, “Harry Kirkpatrick,” who Lenzi also says co-wrote the script.  That may sound simple enough but skeptics point out that worrying about repeating himself didn’t dissuade Lenzi from following up Eaten Alive with Cannibal Ferox.  (Add to that, would Lenzi really have been concerned about duplicating a film that he made 17 years previously?)  As well, James Justice only has two credits listed on the imdb, one for writing this film and one for 2006’s Lesser Evil.

(For the record, I did a google search on James Justice and I didn’t find much.  However, I did comes across several Scientology sites that featured testimonials from “James Justice, screenwriter.”)

As for what the film’s about, it’s a strange combination of genres.  It starts out with a prisoner named Diablo (Tony Bolano) being sent to Florida’s electric chair.  Diablo was the leader of an infamous motorcycle gang.  He was convicted of murdering a teenage girl but, as he dies, Diablo yells that he’s been framed and that he was innocent.

However, no need to worry too much about Diablo!  No sooner has Diablo been sent to the chair then suddenly, Nightmare Beach turns into a spring break comedy!  Teenagers and college students are flooding the beaches of Florida and all they want to do is have a good time!  The local fire-and-brimstone preacher (Lance Le Gault) can’t stop the party, no matter how many times he says that everyone’s going to Hell.  The police chief (John Saxon) puts extra patrols on the beach.  The local doctor (Michael Parks) prepares to treat a hundred cases of alcohol poisoning.

The beach turns into a huge party!  Bands play.  T-shirts get wet.  For some reason, one dorky frat boy does the whole pretending to be dead while floating in the pool routine.  A young woman tries to stay in a hotel for free without getting caught.  Meanwhile, two college football players, Skip (Nicolas de Toth) and Ronny (Rawley Valverde) roll into town.  Skip is depressed because he lost the big game but Ronny is determined that his best friend is going to have a good time and get laid!  Whenever Skip gets depressed, Ronny pelts him with condoms.

It’s Spring Break!  Everyone’s going to have a good time…

Except, suddenly, a mysterious figure on a motorcycle rolls into town.  He never speaks.  He never takes off his helmet.  However, he does electrocute everyone that he meets.  Sometimes, he uses live wires and sometimes, he just has them sit on the back of his motorcycle, which has been designed to act as an electric chair.  Could it be the ghost of Diablo, seeking vengeance?  When Ronny disappears — NO!  NOT COMEDY RELIEF RONNY — Skip is determined to find out what’s going on.  Working with him is Gail (Sara Buxton), the sister of the girl that Diablo was convicted of murdering…

One reason why so many Italian horror aficionados are convinced that Umberto Lenzi must have directed Nightmare Beach is because, with its odd mix of genres and its weird combination of comedy and extreme gore, it just feels like an Umberto Lenzi film.  Add to that, around the same time that Nightmare Beach was filmed and released, Lenzi also filmed and released another film about teenagers being murdered during spring break, Hitcher In The Dark.

Because it’s such a strange mix of genres, Nightmare Beach is a much more interesting film than Hitcher In The Dark.  The motorcycle-driving killer is somehow both ludicrous and frightening at the same time. Plus, how can you resist a movie with both John Saxon and Michael Parks as ineffectual authority figures?  It just can’t be done.

One Hit Wonders #3: LONG, LONESOME HIGHWAY by Michael Parks (MGM Records, 1970)


cracked rear viewer

Did you know the late actor Michael Parks (1940-2017) once reached #20 on the Billboard charts with the song “Long, Lonesome Highway”:

Parks was appearing at the time in the NBC-TV series THEN CAME BRONSON, a sort of ROUTE 66 on two wheels, riding his Harley across America in search of meaning. The show aired during the 1969-70 season, and was a nod to the counterculture movement going on at the time. THEN CAME BRONSON had some good writing and featured guest stars both established (Iron Eyes Cody, STAR TREK’s James Doohan, LA Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale, Beverly Garland, Gloria Grahame, Jack Klugman, Fernando Lamas, Elsa Lanchester, James Whitmore) and up-and-coming (Dabney Coleman, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Penny Marshall, Kurt Russell, Martin Sheen, folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie), but lost it’s ticket to ride because of CBS’s ratings powerhouse HAWAII FIVE-O, and was cancelled after 26 episodes.

The song was written by James Hendricks (not…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: RIP Michael Parks (1940-2017)


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking. Cult actor Michael Parks died yesterday at the age of 77. In honor of his passing, here’s a visual look at the films and TV appearances of Michael Parks:

Bus Riley’s Back in Town (1965, D: Harvey Hart)

Then Came Bronson (TV series, 1969-1970)

Twin Peaks (TV series 1990-1991)

From Dusk to Dawn (1996, D: Robert Rodriguez)

Thank you, Michael.

 

TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.13 “Checkmate” (directed by Todd Holland)


Welcome back to Twin Peaks!

This episode starts with Major Briggs (Don S. Davis) explains what happened the night that he disappeared.  He says that he remembers “stepping from the flame, seeing a vague shape in the darkness, and then nothing until I found myself standing next to the cooled remains of our campfire the next morning.”  While Briggs is saying this, he’s sitting on a stone throne in the middle of what appears to be a lush rain forest.  Briggs says that hypnotism will not help him conquer his amnesia because his memories are “immune to regression.”  He does, however, remember seeing a giant owl.

Suddenly, Briggs is in the conference room at the sheriff’s office, describing the owl to Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), Doctor Hayward (Warren Frost), and Harry (Michael Ontkean).  Harry asks Briggs what exactly his work involves.  Briggs replies that information is classified but some information has to be revealed for the good of the soul.  Briggs asks if they are familiar with Project Blue Book, the Air Force investigation into UFOs.  Briggs explains that Project Blue Book was officially disbanded in 1969 but it still continues in an unofficial capacity.  Briggs says that they are looking for a place called “The White Lodge.”

At that exact moment, two MPs step into the room and announce that they have arrived to take the major back to the base.  “Colonel O’Reilly’s orders,” they say.  (Colonel O’Reilly or The Cigarette Smoking Man?)  Despite Harry’s objections, Briggs leaves with the MPs.

In another office, Denise (David Duchovny, who would later continue the work of Project Blue Book in Twin Peaks‘s spiritual successor, The X-Files) is pressuring Ernie (James Booth) to make the call to Jean Renault.  Cooper comes in and eats doughnut while Ernie finally makes the call.

(This episode was directed by Todd Holland, who also directed several episodes of another show famous for its David Duchovny guest spots, The Larry Sanders Show.)

With the call having been made, Cooper checks with Lucy (Kimmy Robertson), who says that she checked all of the personal ads in all of the national newspapers that Cooper listed and she did not find any mention of Windom Earle or any chess moves.

At the diner, Ed (Everett McGill) gives Norma (Peggy Lipton) a five dollar tip and also slips her a note telling her that they need to talk.

At the Johnson house, Leo (Eric Da Re) is still spitting up on Shelly (Madchen Amick) and Shelly is still complaining to Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) about having to do all the work.  Bobby tells Shelly that she is looking at Ben Horne’s new apprentice and that he has better things to do than hang out with her and give Leo bubble bath.  Shelly slaps him.  Bobby leaves.

As the Marsh house, James (James Marshall) finally calls Ed and lets him know that he’s okay.  James says that he needs a favor.  As Evelyn (Annette McCarthy) listens, James says that he needs Ed to get all of the money out of his savings account.

“That’s only $12, James,” Ed says.

Once James has arranged to receive all twelve of his dollars, Evelyn asks him to tell her about his life in Twin Peaks.  James talks about Laura and, how after she died, he felt as if she had stolen his life.  James and Evelyn kiss and James notices that Evelyn is wearing sunglasses to hide a bruise on her face.  Evelyn tells James that she needs his help.

Back at the diner, Nadine (Wendy Robie) sits down at the counter next to Mike (Gary Hershberger) and asks him if he wants to share a piece of cherry pie with her.  “Oh Lord!” a horrified Mike shouts.  Mike explains that he wants nothing to do with Nadine.  He doesn’t want to talk to her.  He doesn’t want to walk with her.  He doesn’t want to see her.

Nadine replies with, “Mike Nelson, you are the handsomest boy I know and I would really like it if you and I could go out on a date.”  She kisses him, leaving Mike stunned.

After being questioned by a suspicious Hank (Chris Mulkey), Norma leaves to see Ed.

Harry comes to the Martell house and demands to know why Josie (Joan Chen) did not move into his place and why she is working as Catherine’s maid.  Josie says she is no good for Harry.  Harry disagrees and soon, they’re kissing as passionately as Nadine tossing a teenager at wrestling practice.

At the Great Northern, Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) discovers Ben (Richard Beymer) on the floor of his office,  wearing a gray Confederate uniform and recreating the Civil War with miniature army men.  Ben explains that a war has broken out between the States and that he can not do anything until the war is over.

Norma arrives at the Hurley house and tells Ed that he is the last thing she thinks of before she goes to bed and the first thing that she thinks of when she wakes up.  She wants to be with him.  Ed has no problem with that.

At the Sheriff’s station, Cooper and Harry watch as Hawk (Michael Horse) gets Ernie wired up for his meeting with Jean Renault.  Ernie talks about serving in the Korean War.  Cooper tells him to focus on the here and now and they talk about how they’re going to set up Jean Renault.  Cooper says that he wishes he could take part in the operation but he’s been suspended by the FBI.  Harry deputizes Cooper.  Denise steps into the office and is now wearing a suit.  “You can call me Dennis,” he announces.

Andy (Harry Goaz) and Dick (Ian Buchanan) are breaking into an orphanage, searching for information on Little Nicky’s parentage.  Dick finds Nicky’s file but then a happy couple step into the office.  They are the Burnstons and they have arrived to see Donnie, the child that they will be adopting.

“Where is Donnie?” Mr. Bursotn asks.

“Little Donnie is dead,” Dick replies.  “Dead-tired, I mean!  I’m afraid Little Donnie isn’t feeling up to snuff.”

Andy suggests that maybe they should leave but Dick insists on “helping out these nice people.”

While this is going on, Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) is knocking on the door of the Hurley house.  When Ed answer, Donna says that she needs his help.  She says that she can’t find James.  Ed says that James has left town but not to worry because he will soon have $12.

Donna leaves and then Norma slips out the back door.  No sooner has Ed finished saying goodbye to Norma then Hank pops up and punches Ed.  Nadine comes home from cheerleading practice, just in time to see Hank beating up Ed.  Since Nadine is now She-Hulk, she has little difficulty beating the crap out of Hank.

At the Great Northern, Ben is discussing Confederate war strategy with Bobby.  Bobby leaves the office and tells Audrey that her father has gone insane.  Audrey says that Dr. Jacoby is going to see Ben tomorrow.  “Don’t worry, baby,” Bobby says, “Bobby’s on the case.”  While they talk, Catherine sneaks past them and enters Ben’s office.  Ben recognizes Catherine and asks if she’s come to gloat.  “Well, go ahead and gloat,” Ben says, “I have defeated General Meade.”  Catherine says that, despite the whole attempted murder/insanity thing, she still loves Ben.

At the Marsh mansion, James reveals that he has fixed Evelyn’s car.  They drink champagne to celebrate.  Evelyn tells James that she can always tell what he’s thinking and then asks him for his plans.  She asks where he will go and James says he doesn’t know.  Evelyn tells him not to leave.  They kiss, with James not realizing that they are being watched by Evelyn’s brother, Malcolm. (Nicholas Love).

Outside of a farmhouse, Cooper watches through a pair of binoculars as Ernie and Dennis talk to Jean Renault (Michael Parks) and Preston King (Gavan O’Herlihy).  Renault notices that Ernie is sweating, like a man wearing a wire.  Ernie explains that he is naturally a heavy sweater.  However, the sweat causes the wire to short circuit and soon, smoke is coming from Ernie’s shirt.

Realizing that Cooper is watching, Renault comes out of the farmhouse, holding Dennis and Ernie as hostages.  He demands that Cooper show himself.  When Cooper steps out from hiding, Renault demands safe passage across the border.  Cooper offers a trade.  If Jean releases Dennis and Ernie, Cooper will agree to take their place as the hostage.  While this goes on, Harry orders Hawk to call in the state police.

That night, at the Marsh mansion, Evelyn leaves behind a sleeping James and goes to Malcom.  “How’s our baby boy?” her brother asks, “Lucky baby boy.  Lucky lucky lucky lucky lucky lucky….”

Back at the hostage standoff, the state police have arrived and even Andy is aiming a gun at the farmhouse.  Inside the farmhouse, King tells Jean that he wants to make a deal and then make a run for it.  Cooper, who has been beaten up, replies that the police will not make a deal and they will not let them run.  Surrender is the only option.

“Okay,” Jean says.  The only question is whether they give up quietly or if they kill Cooper first.

“Then we both die,” Cooper says.

Jean says he doesn’t care if he dies.  He just wants to avenge his two brothers.  He explains that everything was quiet until Cooper showed up.  After Cooper showed up, Bernie was shot in the woods and Jacques was smothered in a hospital.  Jean knows that Cooper did not kill either one of them but he suspects that Cooper brought “the nightmare” with him.  Maybe, Jean explains, the nightmare will stop if Cooper dies.

King says that he doesn’t know what Jean’s talking about but that they have a problem and it has to be solved.  King looks outside and sees a waitress approaching the farmhouse.  Is it Norma?  Could it be Shelley?  No, it’s Denise and, as soon as she entered the farmhouse, she reveals that she has a gun in her garter.  As Denise slams King against the wall, Cooper grabs the gun and kills Jean.

At the Johnson house, Shelly lies on the couch while the power goes on and off.  When Shelly gets up to investigate, she discovers that Leo is not in his bed or his wheelchair.  Instead, Leo’s standing in a corner, smiling at her and saying her name.  Shelly screams as the lights go out.

At the Sheriff’s office, Cooper, Harry, Hawk, and Andy arrive and Lucy tells them that someone called in to say that there was a bomb hidden in the woods.  Then there was a huge explosion and all of the lights went out.  As Hawk goes to turn on the backup generator, Cooper steps into the darkened station.  Using his lighter for illumination, Cooper discovers something.  He calls Harry into the station and tells him to come alone.

In Harry’s office, a dead man (played by Kyle MacLachlan’s brother, Craig) has been propped up in front of Harry’s desk.  On the desk, in front of the man, is a chess game.

Windom Earle has come to Twin Peaks!

This was an okay episode.  I can’t bring myself to care about anything that’s happening with James but “Checkmate” did a good job of wrapping up the Jean Renault plot and setting up the show’s next big storyline, Windom Earle.  Again, I was surprised to see that the whole Nadine goes to high school subplot holds up a lot better than I thought it would.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back with “Double Play,” in which the history of Windom Earle will be revealed!

Previous Entries in The TSL’s Look At Twin Peaks:

  1. Twin Peaks: In the Beginning by Jedadiah Leland
  2. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.1 — The Pilot (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  3. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.2 — Traces To Nowhere (directed by Duwayne Dunham) by Jedadiah Leland
  4. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.3 — Zen, or the Skill To Catch A Killer (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  5. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.4 “Rest in Pain” (dir by Tina Rathbone) by Leonard Wilson
  6. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.5 “The One-Armed Man” (directed by Tim Hunter) by Jedadiah Leland
  7. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.6 “Cooper’s Dreams” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  8. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.7 “Realization Time” (directed by Caleb Deschanel) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  9. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.8 “The Last Evening” (directed by Mark Frost) by Leonard Wilson
  10. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.1 “May the Giant Be With You” (dir by David Lynch) by Leonard Wilson
  11. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.2 “Coma” (directed by David Lynch) by Jedadiah Leland
  12. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.3 “The Man Behind The Glass” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Jedadiah Leland
  13. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.4 “Laura’s Secret Diary” (dir by Todd Holland) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  14. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.5 “The Orchid’s Curse” (dir by Graeme Clifford) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  15. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.6 “Demons” (dir by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Leonard Wilson
  16. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.7 “Lonely Souls” (directed by David Lynch) by Jedadiah Leland
  17. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.8 “Drive With A Dead Girl” (dir by Caleb Deschanel) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  18. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.9 “Arbitrary Law” (dir by Tim Hunter) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  19. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.10 “Dispute Between Brothers” (directed by Tina Rathbone) by Jedadiah Leland
  20. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.11 “Masked Ball” (directed by Duwayne Dunham) by Leonard Wilson
  21. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.12 “The Black Widow” (directed by Caleb Deschanel) by Leonard Wilson