A Movie A Day #308: Number One With A Bullet (1987, directed by Jack Smight)


Number One With A Bullet is the story of two cops.  Nick Barzack (Robert Carradine) is so crazy that the all criminals have nicknamed “Beserk.”  (Who says criminals aren’t clever?)  Nick’s partner, Frank Hazeltine (Billy Dee Williams) is so smooth that jazz starts to play whenever he steps into a room.  Nick keeps a motorcycle in his living room, wants to get back together with his wife (Valerie Bertinelli), and has an overprotective mother (Doris Roberts).  Hazeltine is Billy Dee Williams so all he has to worry about is being the coolest man on Earth.  Their captain (Peter Graves!) may want them to do things by the book but Nick and Hazeltine are willing to throw the book out if it means taking down DaCosta, a so-called respectable citizen who they think is actually the city’s biggest drug lord.

It is natural to assume that, because of the whole crazy white cop/centered black cop storyline, this movie was meant to be a rip-off of a well-known film starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover but actually, Number One With A Bullet was released a week before Lethal Weapon.  As well, while Carradine’s Nick is almost as crazy as Mel Gibson’s Riggs, it is impossible to imagine Billy Dee Williams ever saying that he’s “too old for this shit.”  Williams is having too good a time listening to jazz and picking up women.  Whenever Hazeltine shows up, Number One With A Bullet feels like a Colt 45 commercial that somehow costars Robert Carradine.  Whenever the film is just Carradine, it feels like an unauthorized sequel to Revenge of the Nerds where Lewis gets really, really pissed off.

Number One With A Bullet is a Cannon film and entertaining in the way that most late 80s Cannon films are.  There is a lot of action, a little skin, and some dated comedy, much of it featuring Robert Carradine having to dress in drag.  There is also a mud wrestling scene because I guess mud wrestling was extremely popular back in the 80s.  They may not be Gibson and Glover but Carradine and Williams still make a good team and they both seem to be having a ball.  For fans of cheap 80s action films, there is a lot to enjoy in Number One With A Bullet.

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Horror on the Lens: Scream of the Wolf (dir by Dan Curtis)


For today’s horror on the lens, how about a little werwolf action?

In the 1974 made-for-TV movie, Scream of the Wolf, Peter Graves is a writer who is asked to help solve a series of mysterious murders.  The fact that both human footprints and wolf tracks have been found at each murder scene has led some people to assume that the killer must be a werewolf!  Will Graves be able to prove them wrong or will it turn out that they are right?  Graves calls in a famous hunter (Clint Walker) to help track down the killer but it turns out that the hunter has secrets of his own.

I’m going to guess that, like Baffled!, Scream of the Wolf was a pilot disguised a movie.  I assume that the hope was that the movie would lead to a series where Peter Graves would solve a different paranormal mystery every week.

Well, that series never materialized by Scream of the Wolf is still an enjoyable film.  The screenplay was by none other than Richard Matheson while made-for-TV horror specialist Dan Curtis sat in the director’s chair.

In the end, Scream of the Wolf is only 72 minutes long and I know for a fact that you don’t have anything better to do right now.  I watched this movie two months ago with Patrick Smith and the Late Night Movie Gang and we had a blast.

Have fun!

A Movie A Day #50: Survival Run (1979, directed by Larry Spiegel)


This poster for Survival Run reflects absolutely nothing that happens in the movie.

This poster for Survival Run reflects absolutely nothing that happens in the movie.

“We are young/ We are free/ Anyone know a better place to be?/ Takin’ it easy/ My baby and me….”

So goes the deceptively mellow opening theme song of Survival Run.  In this one, teenager Chip (Vincent Van Patten) and his five best friends take off for the weekend.  When their van breaks down in the middle of the desert, they light a campfire, sing a song, and have sex.

Takin’ it easy, my baby and me.  

When they later decide to search for help, they stumble across a group of men in the valley.  The men are being led by Peter Graves, who tosses one of the teens a beer and says, “This’ll put hair on your chest, kid.”  The kid looks down at his chest, says, “Where’d it go!?,” and then touches him armpits.  “There it is!” he says.

We are young, we are free

The men say they’re prospectors but they’re actually drug smugglers.  When the same teen who couldn’t find his chest hair is murdered, a fight for survival begins.  Despite that killer opening song, Survival Run takes forever to get started, the action scenes are poorly directed, and the teens are too stupid and poorly written to be sympathetic.  However, Survival Run does feature Peter Graves and Ray Milland as the two most unlikely drug smugglers in the world.  Peter Graves wears a red ascot and an all khaki outfit with rapidly spreading sweat stains.  Ray Milland wears a suit while sitting out in the broiling desert.  Milland, who was 72 at the time, spends most of the movie sitting.  One of the teenage girls thinks he’s intriguing.

Dangerous international drug smugglers Ray Milland and Peter Graves

Infamous international drug smugglers Ray Milland and Peter Graves

When I was growing up in Baltimore, Survival Run used to frequently come on TV in the afternoon.  I’m still not sure why but I imagine a lot of fans of the Biography Channel were tricked into tuning into this one, just to watch in shock as Peter Graves killed teenagers in the middle of the desert.  Ray Milland did this 35 years after winning an Oscar for The Lost Weekend.  As for Vincent Van Patten, he was the Van Patten who didn’t appear in Mel Brooks films or win an Emmy for his work on Boardwalk Empire.

Peter Graves and Ray Milland vs. the least known member of the Van Patten family.

Anyone know a better place to be?

Val’s Movie Roundup #14: Hallmark Edition


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Love Is a Four Letter Word (2007) – This was really disappointing. I could say something like shit is also a four letter word, but disappointing is really a better word for this movie. The movie is about three couples. The first are newlyweds. The second are an older couple who are getting divorced. The third are the two divorce attorneys handling each end of the older couples divorce. What’s so disappointing is that the beginning of this movie has some of the sweetest, affectionate, and genuine moments between two lovers I have seen in a Hallmark movie. However, it then just degenerates into a pitiful attempt at a 1940’s screwball comedy while trying to keep the emotions of the beginning of the film alive on top of cutting between the three couples to tell their stories in parallel. It doesn’t work! Why couldn’t the movie have stuck with the couple we met at the beginning and just tell a nice simple love story. Is it a sin to follow the principle of KISS when making a movie? That being Keep It Simple Stupid! There’s no reason to waste your time on this movie.

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Jack’s Family Adventure (2010) – This movie is okay, but that’s the problem. It’s so okay that it’s not really worth watching. A guy played by Peter Graves dies and leaves a cabin to his son played by Jonathan Silverman. No! I’m not going to make that joke.

Jack decides to take his family to said cabin because we all know that getting away from city life brings families together. While they are adjusting, a guy called Wild Bill (Peter Strauss) shows up. They all have a good time and the family emerges closer than when they arrived. That’s it! Like I said, it’s just so okay that boredom sets in pretty quickly. Not worth seeking out, but you’ll survive if you end up seeing it.

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Dear Prudence (2008) – Was Jane Seymour always this annoying? I think I have only seen her in Live And Let Die (1973). She is like the living embodiment of the wig from Lies Between Friends. Awful! Well, Seymour plays some TV show host who basically shows you life hack type stuff. She gets sent to a special place in Wyoming. It doesn’t take long for her to stumble upon a crime. I didn’t even know this was going to be a murder mystery going into it. I mean it doesn’t have “murder” or “mystery” in the title to tell me. Sadly, that is so common with Hallmark that I was honestly surprised when she came across blood on a carpet. However, I wasn’t surprised to quickly figure out this was actually shot in Canada. Little tip for Canadian productions trying to pretend they are in the U.S.: Don’t have your Canadian actors say the word “about”.

So in between fantasies of Jason showing up to cut off Seymour’s head, a murder mystery unravels. It’s not an interesting mystery by any means, but Seymour and her trusty side kick giving out all these stupid household remedies for everything will suck any fun you might derive from it right out of it. Skip!

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Murder 101: College Can Be Murder (2007) – This is easily the best entry in the Murder 101 series. Despite “murder” being in the title of the movie, it is actually all about Dick Van Dyke trying to get his bike back after it is stolen. It’s an old bike that has a lot of sentimental value. He of course hires his friend played by his son Barry Van Dyke to help him track it down. It’s so funny! Dick keeps seeing people on campus riding his bike around and tries to chase them down. He never catches them. He goes to the gym to try and get in shape in the futile hope that it will help him catch the thief. Barry keeps going around questioning people all about this bike. Posters are put up all around campus. There’s even a scene where Dick is in class and has what I can only describe as a spidey sense that his bike is nearby. He runs out into the hall to find the thief waiting for him on his bike. A hilarious chase ensues.

I would have totally loved this movie if that was what it was actually about. In reality, the stolen bike is just a subplot. I made up some of that stuff, but he does keep chasing after the bike, goes to the gym to gain speed, and Dick does put up posters. Why couldn’t the movie be one long joke about that bike? Instead, some college professor gets killed by eating an orange. At first it’s natural causes, but after Barry does some dumpster diving to retrieve the orange (how the hell did he do that?) they discover he was poisoned. It all winds up revolving around the saying of “publish or perish”. It’s a decent entry in the Murder 101 series, but I really wanted that bike movie instead.

Horror on The Lens: It Conquered The World (dir by Roger Corman)


For today’s horror on the lens, we present a film from the legendary Roger Corman.  First released in 1956, It Conquered The World tells the tragic story of what happens when it … well, conquers the world.  It, by the way, is one of the most iconic of the 1950 sci-fi monsters.  It is kind of a crab-like thing but … well, just watch the film.  It’s kind of hard to describe.

The film also features future spaghetti western star Lee Van Cleef as the human scientist who foolishly helps It conquer the world.  Van Cleef’s wife is played by one of the greatest B-movie actresses of all time, Beverly Garland.  Hoping to thwart It is Peter Graves who spends the majority of the film riding around on a bicycle.  Also keep an eye out for Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze, who both play soldiers here and who would later co-star in tomorrow’s horror on the lens.

44 Days of Paranioa #1: Clonus (dir by Robert S. Fiveson)


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We live in paranoid times.

When I first started at the University of North Texas, I lived in the Bruce Hall Dormitory and every day, I could count on the fact that there would be at least one fat and bearded resident in the lobby talking about how 9-11 was an inside job and how the only reason we were in Iraq was so Dick Cheney’s buddies could get rich.

By the time I graduated, everyone was convinced that the Republicans were going to steal the election from Barack Obama.  Some people, of course, were hoping that was exactly what would happen because they were convinced that Obama was actually a Muslim from Kenya.

With each passing year of the Obama administration, there’s been a new conspiracy theory.  Some people claimed that Obamacare was actually a Socialist plot.  Others said that the Koch Brothers were behind the Tea Party.  Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street spoke ominously of how 1% of the population exploited the other 99%.  As I sit here typing this, there is undoubtedly a desperate Obama partisan somewhere who is writing up his 100th blog post claiming that the Republicans somehow sabotaged the Obamacare website.

And, of course, living and working in Dallas, I am constantly reminded of the biggest conspiracy theory of all time.  In just a few days, it will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and you better believe that my hometown is currently being invaded by wild-eyed men who are incapable of uttering a sentence without including terms like “grassy knoll,” “military-industrial complex,” and “coup d’etat.”

Yes, these are paranoid times.  Nobody trusts anyone.  All motives are suspect.  With each passing day, it seems that more and more people are convinced that their daily failures and fortunes can all be blamed on shadowy forces.  The world is a random place where a billion stories play out at once and not a single one of them is going to have a happy ending.  People cling to their paranoia for much the same reason that some people cling to their concept of God.  It gives them a false sense of security and reason in an otherwise chaotic universe.

As for me, I may not be a believer in conspiracies but, at the same time, I do find myself fascinated by both the theories and the films that they occasionally inspire.  If movies ultimately serve as a reflection of society’s secret fears, insecurities, and desires, can it be any surprise that so many movies seem to be just as a paranoid as the audiences that go to see them?

For that reason, I am proud to announce that today is Day One of the 44 Days of Paranoia!  For the next 44 days, we will be taking a look at some of the best and worst conspiracy-themed and paranoia-inducing films ever made.

Let’s start things off by taking a look at the 1979 sci-fi conspiracy film, Clonus (a.k.a. Parts, the Clonus Horror).

Clonus opens on a compound the looks a lot like a community college.   Living on the compound is a group of people who all appear to be extremely friendly and trusting.  Every single one of them has a permanent smile plastered across his or her fresh faces.  They spend their spare time jogging, working out, and — well, that’s about it.  At the same time, none of them smoke, drink, or do anything else that could possibly cause any damage to their bodies.

So, at this point, you can probably guess that they’re either Mormons or they’re clones.  (If you’re not sure, take another look at the film’s title…)

When the clones aren’t busy jogging, they’re talking about how much they hope that, one day, they will be allowed to go to “America.”  There’s actually something rather touching about how excited they all get whenever they hear that one of them is getting sent to America.  They’re a bit like the rubber aliens in Toy Story, putting all of their faith in “The Claw” and its ability to lift them up to a better life.  Of course, what the clones don’t realize is that “going to America” is just a euphemism for being put under sedation and having their organs forcibly removed.

Eventually, one clone (played to awkward blank-faced perfection by Tim Donnelly) starts to question just why exactly he and his friends are being kept on the compound.  He eventually escapes and discovers that not only has he been in America all along but that he only exists so that the rich and powerful can harvest his organs.  Donnelly meets an idealistic journalist (Keenan Wynn) who happens to be acquainted with the family of a sinister presidential candidate (played by Peter Graves).  When Wynn and Donnelly threaten to expose the truth, they find themselves targeted by the U.S. government which, in typical conspiracy-film style, is more than willing to kill to protect its secrets.

If the plot of Clonus sounds familiar, that’s because Michael Bay pretty much remade the film in 2005.  In fact, Clonus director Robert Fiveson felt Bay’s The Island was so similar to his film, that he filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement.  But whereas The Island was the epitome of a film that was more expensive than memorable, Clonus is an effectively creepy little film that, though dated, is still occasionally even thought-provoking.  Though it may have been the result of the film’s budgetary limitations, Clonus eschews flashy effects for atmosphere and even the blandness of some of the locations adds to the film’s sense of low-key but palpable menace.  If ever one needed proof that a low budget can occasionally be the best thing to ever happen to a film, Clonus is that proof.  The film is generally well-acted and, best of all, it all builds up to one of those wonderfully downbeat endings that appear to have been so popular in the 70s.

Much like another recent and similar film — the excellent Never Let Me GoClonus works because it’s disturbingly plausible.  It’s a bit of a cliché to say that a film makes science fiction feel like science fact but Clonus is one of those films that accomplishes just that.

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