Black Brigade (1970, directed by George McCowan)


During the closing days of World War II, General Clark (Paul Stewart) wants to capture a Nazi-controlled dam and he thinks he’s found just the man for the job.  Captain Beau Carter (Stephen Boyd) is a tough and good with a knife and a gun.  Carter is sent to take command of a ragtag group of soldiers who have spent the last three years waiting for combat.  The only catch is that the soldiers are all black and Captain Carter is a racist redneck.

This was an Aaron Spelling-produced television movie that was originally broadcast under the name Carter’s Army.  When it was released on video, the name was changed to Black Brigade, probably in an effort to fool viewers into thinking that it was a cool blaxploitation film instead of a simplistic TV movie.  The film has gotten some attention because of the cast, which is full of notable names.  Roosevelt Grier plays Big Jim.  Robert Hooks is Lt. Wallace while Glynn Turman is Pvt. Brightman (who keeps a journal full of the details of the imaginary battles in which he’s fought) and Moses Gunn brings his natural gravitas to the role of Pvt. Hayes.  Probably the two biggest names in the cast are Richard Pryor as the cowardly Crunk and Billy Dee Williams as Pvt. Lewis, who says that he’s from “Harlem, baby.”

Don’t let any of those big names fool you.  Most of them are lucky if they get one or two lines to establish their character before getting killed by the Germans.  The movie is mostly about Stephen Boyd blustering and complaining before eventually learning the error of his ways.  The problem is that Carter spends most of the film as such an unrepentant racist that it’s hard not to hope that one of the soldiers will shoot him in the back when he least expects it.  The other problem is that, for an action movie, there’s not much action.  Even the climatic battle at the dam is over in just a few minutes.

There is one daring-for-its-time scene where Lt. Wallace comes close to kissing a (white) member of the German Resistance, Anna Renvic (Susan Oliver).  When Carter sees him, he angrily orders Wallace to never touch a white woman.  Anna slaps Carter hard and tells him to mind his own goddamn business.  It’s the best scene in the movie.  Otherwise, Black Brigade is forgettable despite its high-powered cast.

Horror Film Review: Firestarter (dir by Mark L. Lester)


Adapted from Stephen King novel, 1984’s Firestarter is a film about a girl with a very special power.

Back in the day, a bunch of college students needed weed money so they took part in a government experiment.  Half of them were told that they were being given a placebo.  The other half were told that we would be given a low-grade hallucinogen.

Surprise!  The government lied!  It turns out that everyone was given the experimental drug!  Some of the students ended up going crazy.  One unfortunate hippie clawed his eyes out.  Meanwhile, Vicky (Heather Locklear) gained the ability to read minds.  She also fell in love with Andy McGee (David Keith), a goofy fellow who gained the ability to mentally control people’s actions.  They married and had a daughter named Charlie (played by a very young Drew Barrymore).  Charlie, it turns out, can set things on fire!  She’s a firestarter!

Well, of course, the government can’t just leave the McGees out there, controlling minds and setting things on fire.  Soon, the McGees are being pursued by the standard collection of men in dark suits.  Vicky is killed off-screen, leaving Charlie and Andy to try to find some place where they’ll be safe.

Good luck with that!  This is the government that we’re talking about.  The thing with films like this is that the government can do practically anything but it never occurs to them to not all dress in dark suits.  I mean, it just seems like it would be easier for all of these secret agents to operate if they weren’t automatically identifiable as being secret agents.  Anyway, Andy and Charlie are eventually captured and taken to The Farm, a really nice country estate where Andy and Charlie are kept separate from each other and everyone keeps talking about national security.

Running the Farm is Capt. Hollister and we know that he’s a bad guy because he wears a suit and he’s played by Martin Sheen.  Working with Hollister is John Rainbird (George C. Scott), a CIA assassin who kills people with a karate chop across the nose.  When Charlie refuses to show off her firemaking abilities unless she’s allowed to talk to her father, Rainbird disguises himself as a custodial engineer and proceeds to befriend Charlie.  Of course, Rainbird’s plan is to kill Charlie once she’s displayed the extent of her powers….

Stephen King has written that he considers this film to be one of the worst adaptations of one of his novels but, to be honest, I think the movie is actually a bit of an improvement on the source material.  Firestarter is probably the least interesting of Stephen King’s early novels.  Supposedly, Charlie was based on King’s youngest daughter and, reading the book, it’s obvious that everyone’s fear of Charlie is mostly a metaphor for a father trying to figure out how to raise a daughter.  Unfortunately, instead of concentrating on those primal fears, the book gets bogged down in boomer paranoia about MK-ULTRA experiments.

The movie, however, is just silly enough to be kind of charming.  For example, consider the way that Andy grabs his forehead and bugs out his eyes whenever he uses his powers.  Andy’s powers may be slowly killing him but he just looks so goofy whenever he uses them that you just can’t help but be entertained.  And then you’ve got Drew Barrymore sobbing while setting people on fire and George C. Scott growling through all of his dialogue and even Martin Sheen gets a scene where he gets excited and starts jumping up and down.  (And don’t even get me started on Art Carney and Louise Fletcher as the salt-of-the-Earth farmers who try to protect Andy and Charlie….)  Some of the special effects are a bit hokey, as you might expect from a film made in 1984 but occasionally, there’s a good shot of something (or someone) burning up.  It’s all so over-the-top and relentlessly dumb that you can’t help but be entertained.  You can even forgive the fact that basically nothing happens between the first 10 and the last 15 minutes of the movie.

Firestarter‘s silly but I liked it.

Horror on the Lens: Haunts of the Very Rich (dir by Paul Wendkos)


Today’s horror on the lens is a 1972 made-for-TV movie, Haunts of the Very Rich!

What happens when a bunch of rich people find themselves on an airplane with no memory of how they got there?  Well, first off, they land at a luxury resort!  But what happens when the resort suddenly turns out to be deserted and the guests discover that there’s no apparent way out!?

You can probably already guess the film’s “surprise” ending but Haunts of the Very Rich is still an entertaining little film.  You can check out my more in-depth review here!

Enjoy!

That’s Blaxpolitation! 12: SHAFT (MGM 1971)


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“That Shaft is a bad mother…”

“Shut your mouth!”

“But I’m talkin’ about Shaft”

“We can dig it!”

  • – lyrics from Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from SHAFT

1971’s SHAFT, starring Richard Roundtree as “the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks”, is the movie that kicked off the whole 70’s Blaxploitation phenomenon.  Sure, Mario Van Pebbles’ indie SWEET SWEETBACK’S BADASSSSS SONG was released three months earlier, but it’s X-rating kept younger audiences out of the theaters. SHAFT reached more people with it’s R rating, and the publicity machine of MGM behind it. In fact, John Shaft not only saved the day in the film, but helped save the financially strapped MGM from bankruptcy!

The opening sequence alone makes it worth watching, as the camera pans down the gritty mean streets of New York City (42nd Street, to be exact!) and that iconic funky theme song by Isaac…

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A Movie A Day #203: Heartbreak Ridge (1986, directed by Clint Eastwood)


The year is 1983 and things are looking bad for the Second Marine Division of the U.S. Marine Corps.  The officers are almost all college graduates like Major Powers (Everett McGill) and Lt. Ring (Boyd Gaines), men who have never served in combat but who are convinced that they know what it means to be a Marine in the 80s.  Convinced that they will never have to actually fight in a war, the latest batch of recruits is growing soft and weak.  All of the slackers have been put in the Recon Platoon, where they are so undisciplined that they think that wannabe rock star Cpl. Jones (Mario Van Peebles) is a good Marine.  MARIO VAN PEEBLES!

They haven’t met Sgt. Highway yet.

Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway (Clint Eastwood) has seen combat, in both Korea and Vietnam.  He drinks too much.  He fights too much.  He has chased away his wife (Marsha Mason), despite his attempts to understand her by reading Cosmo and Ladies Home Journal.  Major Powers may think that Highway is a relic but Highway knows better than to worry about what a college boy thinks.  The Recon Platoon may think that they can defy him but that haven’t seen Highway throw a punch yet.  Everyone may think it’s a waste of time to learn how to fight but little do they know that America is about to invade Grenada.

Heartbreak Ridge is all about Clint Eastwood.  Without Clint Eastwood, it would just be another basic training film.  With Clint Eastwood, it is a minor masterpiece and a tribute to America’s fighting spirit.  In 1986, no one was better at glaring at a young punk or glowering at a clueless superior officer than Clint Eastwood.  Even the running joke of Highway reading women’s magazines works because it is impossible not to laugh at Clint Eastwood intently studying an issue of Cosmo.   Clint may have been 56 when he directed and starred in Heartbreak Ridge but he was still believable beating up men who were less than half his age.  (Mario Van Peebles thinks he’s going to be able to stand up to Clint Eastwood?  Get outta here!)  There is never any question that Highway is going to able to whip everyone into shape.  The only question is how many terse one-liners are going to be delivered in the process.   By the time Highway and his platoon reach Grenada, everyone is ready to watch Clint put the communists in their place and Clint does not disappoint.

Reportedly, the U.S. Marine Corps. initially supported Heartbreak Ridge but, in case of life imitating art, disowned the finished picture, feeling that the film’s portrayal of The Corps was inaccurate and the sergeant’s “training” methods were too old-fashioned to actually be effective.

Thomas Highway would disagree.

One final note: Bo Svenson has a small role as the man trying to steal Marsha Mason away from Clint.  If you have ever wanted to see Dirty Harry and Buford Pusser fight over the Goodbye Girl, here’s your chance.

Insomnia File #27: Remember My Name (dir by Alan Rudolph)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble sleeping last Tuesday, around one in the morning, you could have turned over to TCM and watched Remember My Name, an odd and sometimes frustrating little thriller from 1978.

Remember My Name opens with Emily (Geraldine Chaplin) showing up in a small town in California.  From the minute we first see and hear Emily, something seems to be off about her.  She views the world through suspicious eyes.  Whenever anyone talks to her, you’re never quite sure whether she’s going be friendly or if she’s going to lash out.  When she speaks, there’s something weird about her vocal inflection, as if she’s always struggling to figure out what she’s supposed to say.  She seems to be separated from the world, almost as if she’s walking through a living dream and only talking to figments of her imagination.  There’s nothing about her that feels at all authentic.

She moves into a small apartment and enters into a relationship with her handyman (Moses Gunn), a relationship that seems to be largely defined by her refusal to open up about herself.  She gets a job at a grocery story that’s managed by a Mr. Nudd (Jeff Goldblum).  Mr. Nudd mentions something about Emily knowing his mother.  Apparently, they met in prison.

Soon, Emily is stalking a construction worker named Neil Curry (Anthony Perkins).  When Neil spots her, he calls out her name and Emily runs away.  And yet, Neil doesn’t bother to tell his wife, Barbara (Berry Berenson), about Emily.  Soon, Emily is even breaking into the Curry home, silently shadowing Barbara as she walks through the house.

I described Remember My Name as being a thriller and I guess that, technically it is.  There are a few moments of tension, especially when Emily is stalking Barbara.  However, the film itself is directed in a detached manner by Alan Rudolph.  Rudolph was a protegé of director Robert Altman (who also produced Remember My Name) and Rudolph’s approach is very Altmanesque, often to the detriment of the film.  (Chaplin and Jeff Goldblum had both appeared in several Altman films, most famously in Nashville.)  Though the film is dominated by Chaplin and Perkins, it’s still very much an ensemble film and the action plays out in a deceptively casual, almost random manner.  It tries so hard to be Altmanesque that Remember My Name gets a bit frustrating, to be honest.  Chaplin gives such a good and memorable performance and she works very hard to make Emily a character who is both frightening and, at times, surprisingly sympathetic but, for the most part, Rudolph’s technique makes it difficult to get emotionally involved in any of the action unfolding on-screen.  Rudolph observes the action but refuses to comment on it.  As a result, Remember My Name is occasionally intriguing but, just as often, it’s rather boring.  Just like real life, I suppose.  And, just like real life, it’s not for everyone.

That said, it was interesting to see Anthony Perkins playing a role other than a knife-wielding inn manager.  Without resorting to any of the familiar tics or the neurotic speech patterns that typecast him forever as Norman Bates, Perkins plays Neil as just being a regular, blue collar guy and he actually does a pretty good job.  Watching the film, I got the feeling that this was perhaps Perkins’s attempt to change his image.  (Whenever Neil appears shirtless, both the film and Perkins seem to be saying, Check out this physique!  Would someone only capable of playing a psycho have abs like this?)  Neil’s wife, Barbara, was played Perkins’s wife, Berry Berenson.  Neither one of them is with us any longer.  Perkins died of AIDS in 1990 while Berry Berenson was on one of the planes that flew into the World Trade Center on 9-11.  They both did good work in this film, as did Chaplin and Goldblum and, really, the entire cast.  It’s just a pity that the film itself isn’t as good as the performances. 

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Amityville II: The Possession (dir by Damiano Damiani)


amityville_ii_the_possession

Agck!

The 1982 “prequel” Amityville II: The Possession is a film that is so grimy and icky and yucky and disgusting that you’ll want to take a shower right after you watch it.  And then you’ll probably end up taking two more showers, just to be sure that you’ve washed the film away.

Seriously, this is an amazingly disturbing film.

Claiming to show how that infamous house in Amityville, New York came to be haunted in the first place, this film opens with The Montelli Family moves into a big house with quarter moon windows.  The family patriarch is Anthony (Burt Young), a former cop who walks with a cane.  Anthony is an angry monster, an abusive husband, and a terrible father.  His wife, Dolores (Rutanya Alda), lives her life in denial, insisting that a new house means a new beginning and continually praying that her family will find peace.  Anthony and Dolores have four children.  The two youngest are at the mercy of their angry father.  Teenagers Patricia (Diane Franklin) and Sonny (Jack Magner) are both looking forward to the day that they can escape their family.

As soon as the Montellis move in, strange things start to happen.  It turns out that there’s a strange tunnel in the basement, one that appears to lead to nowhere.  When obscene messages appear on the walls of the house, Anthony starts to beat the youngest children but, fortunately, Sonny grabs a rifle and points it at his father’s head.  When the local priest, Father Adamsky (James Olson), shows up to bless the house, he ends up getting so disgusted at Anthony that he leaves without finishing.

In fact, Father Adamsy is a remarkable ineffectual priest.  When he attempts to talk to Sonny, he simply assumes that Sonny isn’t talking because he’s rude.  What Adamsky doesn’t suspect is that Sonny’s being rude because he’s been possessed by a demon for the basement!  When Patricia confesses that she and Sonny have been having sex, Adamsky doesn’t do anything about it.  When Patricia tries to call him to let him know that her brother appears to be possessed, Adamsky refuses to answer the phone and instead goes skiing for the weekend.

And, of course, while Adamsky is gone, Sonny grabs that rifle and, in a nightmare-inducing series of scenes, kills everyone in the house…

Of course, when Father Adamsky returns, he feels guilty and he decides to perform an exorcism.  MAYBE HE SHOULD HAVE DONE THAT EARLIER!  But no … he had to go skiing…

Anyway, Amityville II: The Possession is a deeply icky film.  It’s undeniably effective and has a lot of scary moments but it’s not an easy film to sit through.  Between Anthony beating his family and Sonny walking into Patricia’s room and asking her to “play a game,” this is a film that really gets under your skin.  You’ll never forget it but, at the same time, you’ll also never want to watch it again.

Interestingly enough, Amityville II was directed by Damiano Damiani, an Italian director who is probably best known for movies like A Bullet For The General and Confessions of a Police Captain, genre films that often featured a subversive political subtext.  Though Amityvile II is not overly political, the film’s portrait of the suburban Montelli family as a ticking time bomb does definitely fit in with Damiani’s other work.  Damiani reportedly set out to make the most disturbing film that he possibly could and he succeeded.