Horror on the Lens: Hands of a Stranger (dir by Newt Arnold)


After concert pianist Vernon Paris (James Stapleton) loses his hands in an auto accident, he is the recipient of a double hand transplant.  Unfortunately, Vernon isn’t happy with having a stranger’s hands and he fears that he’ll never be able to play the piano again.  Even worse, he soon becomes convinced that the hands are evil and are trying to force him to commit murders.

But is it the hands or Vernon’s own unstable mind that’s responsible his actions?

This 1962 horror film was the fourth adaptation of the Maurice Renard’s The Hands of Orlac.  As opposed to other film adaptations of Renard’s novel, Hands of Stranger plays up the ambiguity of whether the recipient of the hands is truly possessed or if he’s just using the hands as an excuse to indulge in his dark side.

Enjoy!

 

A Movie A Day #150: Back to School (1986, directed by Alan Metter)


Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) started with nothing but through a combination of hard work and chutzpah, he started a chain of “Tall and Fat” clothing stores and made a fortune.  Everyone has seen his commercials, the one where he asks his potential customers, “Do you look at the menu and say, ‘Okay?'”  He has a new trophy wife named Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau) and a chauffeur named Lou (Burt Young).  Thornton never even graduated from high school but he gets respect.

However, his son, Jason (Keith Gordon), doesn’t get no respect.  No respect at all.  Jason is a student at a pricey university, where he is bullied by Chas Osborne (William Zabka) and can’t get a date to save his life.  Jason’s only friend is campus weirdo Derek Lutz (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Thornton sees that his son isn’t having any fun, he decides to go back to school!

Back to School is a predictable but good-natured comedy.  It is like almost every other 80s college comedy except, this time, it’s a 65 year-old man throwing raging parties and making the frat boys look stupid instead of Robert Carradine or Curtis Armstrong.  On the stand-up stage, Dangerfield always played the (sometimes) lovable loser but in the movies, Dangerfield was always a winner.  In both Caddyshack and Back to School, Dangerfield played a self-made man who forced his way into high society and showed up all of the snobs.  While Back to School is no Caddyshack, it does feature Rodney at his best.

Rodney may be the funniest thing about Back to School but a close second is Sam Kinison, who owed much of his early success to Rodney Dangerfield’s support.  Kinison plays a history professor, who has some very strongly held views about the Vietnam War and who punctuates his points with a primal screen.

Also, keep an eye out Kurt Vonnegut, playing himself.  Rodney hires him to write a paper about Kurt Vonnegut for one of his classes.  The paper gets an F because Rodney’s literature professor (Sally Kellerman) can tell that not only did Rodney not write it but whoever did knows absolutely nothing about the work of Kurt Vonnegut.

So it goes.

Hallmark Review: The Wishing Well (2009, dir. David Jackson)


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It’s not often that I review two movies from two relatively different sources that are both by the same director, but that’s the case this time. David Jackson is also the director who brought the Halloweentown series to an end with Return To Halloweentown. This time he took on something much easier than ripping off Harry Potter with a miscast lead. It’s about a wishing well! Sort of.

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The movie begins before the title card appears, and we meet Abby Jansen played by Jadin Gould. She will be your smiling one-dimensional little girl for the movie. I mean your Hallmark Bailee Madison stand-in for the movie. Then we cut to stock footage of New York City before we meet our leading lady named Cynthia Tamerline played by Jordan Ladd.

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She works for Celeb magazine where not only is Charles Shaughnessy her boss, but her secretary is Lurch with a nose ring.

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Obviously this movie needs to find an excuse to get Cynthia out with the country folk now. That’s why Shaughnessy calls her in and tells her either publish, perish, or become a nanny for my kids. He suggests that she write a story for one of his other magazines called Great Housekeeping. It’s for people who think Good Housekeeping just isn’t good enough. I thought she chose to write about a woman named Angela and her charity to save the vampire flies, but somehow that will cause her to end up in Slow Creek, Illinois to find a celebrity who may have visited their wishing well. But before that, she looks up Angela’s push to save the vampire fly on CelebrityCauses.us. No affiliation with CelebrityCauses.org. This one has Darcy from A Gift Of Miracles writing for it too.

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This time she ripped off numerous encyclopedia entries about flies, but it is a little odd that she copied from the United Church Of God’s magazine Vertical Thought.

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Anyways, she’s off to Slow Creek, Illinois, which is the “Home of the Wishing Well.” Not just any wishing well, but the Wishing Well. That is till the 2011 Canadian film Wishing Well came out to give them some stiff competition for that title.

She arrives at the hotel where she is going to stay and finds that Ernest Borgnine runs the place. Cynthia is in town for a story that she can take back to Celeb magazine…I thought. Regardless, this is where I am obligated to say that these townsfolk are probably hiding a terrible secret about a Muslim American solider who died overseas and whose father was murdered in the town. I mean the movie has Borgnine, it’s a small town, and Cynthia’s last name is Tamerline which is close enough to Cass Timberlane played by Spencer Tracy in the movie of the same name. That meant while watching this movie, I immediately thought of the film Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) which had Tracy and Borgnine in it. Great movie by the way that I simply updated to a modern context. Here’s the trailer.

But onward with this movie now.

Annoying little girl tells us that wishes come true if you believe and make the right wish. Then we find out that not only is the hotel run by someone Retired and Extremely Dangerous, but that the diner is run by ‘Hot Lips’ O’Houlihan (Sally Kellerman).

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Now Cynthia visits the local paper and finds out that it’s run by the little girl’s dad played by Jason London.

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So this is what happened to Eric Camden’s associate pastor’s twin brother.

Cynthia starts to look into this wishing well of theirs. Turns out it was once a hot attraction, but then this happened.

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Don’t you just hate it when your ex shows up and your wish doesn’t come true, but your ex’s does. Now writer Enid Jones had it out for the well.

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But this isn’t enough for her so she goes to dig in the archives. Long story short, Ronald Reagan once visited their well back in the 1960’s.

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That and a UFO was seen on a farm in Slow Creek. Interesting! What else is interesting is that they didn’t pull this Reagan and a wishing well thing completely out of their ass. Reagan actually did visit a wishing well in Dublin, Ireland back in the 1980s. Hmmm…I guess that means I need to listen to some Irish music while I finish writing this review. Well, Dropkick Murphys (Flannigan’s Ball) is Irish enough for someone who is a quarter Irish and from the Bay Area.

Oh, and since Reagan was mentioned. I guess I need to break out Genesis’ Land Of Confusion as well.

More annoying girl, and then Cynthia wakes up the next day to find out that she is now in the Twilight Zone. She is just somebody who has been hired as a local reporter. She calls up people back in New York City, but they don’t know who she is. She doesn’t try to tell them anything personal that only she would know, but just keeps calling.

This is when you can say the film goes on autopilot. Cynthia becomes more of a fixture in the town and discovers just how important this paper is to its residents. The paper is in trouble and might be bought out soon. The little girl is still annoying. A guy dies and she writes his obituary. Another guy sets his house on fire trying to beat his record for how many of his collectible lighters he can have going at once. I’m not making that up. During the scene where he explains his little game and current record I said to my dad that he didn’t mention this is the third house he’s gone through playing this game. Then she is waking up in bed to a phone call telling her his place is burning down. Of course! She writes an article that moves people about the fire. Finally, the townsfolk watch a meteor storm.

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Then this big city guy’s mustache shows up to buy the paper. It’s okay though because it turns out the guy who died left a huge amount of money to the paper in his will. I guess that’s better than the huge wad of cash in a can from Christmas Land.

Now just in case you thought you were finally getting this Twilight Zone like story, she wakes up on a plane back to New York City to receive praise for the story she wrote for the magazine. Yep, makes as much sense as you think it does. By that, I mean very little. She leaves her job at Celeb magazine and goes back to Slow Creek where smiley and her dad know who she is. Then it just ends abruptly.

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That’s it! It’s quite lousy. Even my Dad said this was a stinker and he’s usually easy to please with these movies. No reason to waste your time with this. Go watch Bad Day At Black Rock instead.

Since I happened to catch her this way. I’m really sorry Jordan.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to throw a coin in a wishing well because I’m shipping up to Boston to find my wooden leg and I can use all the luck I can get.

Shattered Politics #51: Three For The Road (dir by B.W.L. Norton)


three-for-the-road-movie-poster-1987-1020243960It’s a little bit strange to go from watching and reviewing a film like Once Upon A Time In America to watching and reviewing a film like 1987’s Three For The Road.  But that’s one reason that I like doing things like Shattered Politics.  It’s always interesting to see how many different films can all be linked together by common elements.  In the case of Shattered Politics, those shared elements are politics and politicians.

Three For The Road is an 80s comedy.  In fact, it’s one of the most stereotypically 80s films ever made.  Senator Kitteride (Raymond J. Barry) may very well be the next President of the United States but first he has to do something about his rebellious teenage daughter (Kerri Green).  He has arranged for her to be shipped down to a reform school down South.

But who can he trust to drive her down there?  How about the newest member of his staff, Paul Tracy?  Paul looks up to Sen. Kitteridge and has political ambitions himself.  He’s such a responsible guy that, while all of his roommates are busy getting drunk and having sex, Paul locks himself away in his bedroom and studies.  So, naturally, who is cast as this straight-laced, ultra-responsible, uptight guy?  Why Charlie Sheen, of course!

Now, Paul has a roommate who comes along on the road trip with him and Robin.  T.S. is an aspiring writer.  (His actual name is Tommy but he demands to be known as T.S., in honor of T.S. Eliot.)  T.S. is an intellectual.  T.S. is a serial womanizer who is hit on by nearly every woman he meets.  (T.S. always asks them to name their favorite author as a test.)  So, of course, T.S. is played Alan Ruck, who is better known for playing Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Now, to be honest, I’m being a bit snarky here and that’s not really fair to either Sheen or Ruck.  Yes, they’re both miscast but that doesn’t mean that they don’t give good performances.  They both do as well as they can with the material that they’ve been given.  It’s just that the material itself… well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

Three For The Road is not a bad film as much as it’s just an extremely forgettable one.  From the minute it opens with the predictable shots of D.C. landmarks to Paul and Robin falling in love to the eventual revelation that Sen. Kitteridge isn’t the great man that Paul thinks that he is, it all just feels extremely generic.  The film probably works best as a time capsule, a portrait of when it was made.

If you go to Three For The Road‘s imdb page, you can find a comment that was left by film director Richard Martini.  Martini wrote the original script for what would eventually develop into Three For The Road.  I say “develop” because, as Martini explains it, his script was apparently changed and rewritten on a daily basis.  While that’s certainly not a surprising thing to hear, it does sound like Martini’s original version would have made for a more interesting film.

In Martini’s original script, Sen. Kitteridge’s motivation for sending Robin to the institution was that Robin was embarrassing him with her own left-wing political activism.  That would have certainly brought a much needed edge to the film’s politics because, in the film that was eventually made, there’s really no point to Kitteridge being a senator.  He could just as easily have been a wealthy businessman or maybe a college president.  But apparently, once filming started, it appears that the filmmakers went for the least edgy approach possible.

(Martini also commented that, as a result of the actual film being so different from his original script, that he hates to read reviews of the film.  And, needless to say, I don’t blame him.  If Richard Martini is reading this review, please accept my apologies for any bad memories this review may have brought up.)

Three For The Road has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray but you can watch it on YouTube.