The Take (1974, directed by Robert Hartford-Davis)


Lt. Terrence Sneed (Billy Dee Williams), a tough and suave cop from San Francisco, is sent to New Mexico to help Police Chief Berrigan (Eddie Albert) take down the local crime syndicate.  No sooner has Sneed arrived in town than he’s helping to prevent a prison break and killing gangsters.  Berrigan is impressed and explains to Sneed that the local crime boss is Victor Manso (Vic Morrow).  Even though everyone knows that Manso is crooked, the police haven’t ever been able to put together a case that will stand up in court.  Maybe Sneed is the man who can do it.

What Berrigan doesn’t know is that Sneed is a crooked cop, himself.  As soon as Sneed leaves his meeting with Berrigan, he goes over to Manso’s office and collects his money.  Manso assigns Sneed to work with another crooked cop, Captain Dollek (Albert Salmi).  However, it turns out that Sneed has plans of his own.  While still on Manso’s payroll, Sneed starts to put together a case that might finally take Manso down.

The Take is full of good actors in small roles.  If you have ever wanted to see Billy Dee Williams share a scene with Frankie Avalon, The Take is the film for you.  Avalon plays Danny James, a small-time hood who is arrested and interrogated by Sneed.  At first, Danny is cocky and arrogant but, as soon as Sneed removes his jacket and his watch and makes a fist, Danny starts crying and begging Sneed not to beat him.  Danny is soon turned into an informant and then disappears from the movie.  The beautiful model Kathirine Baumann plays Danny’s girlfriend.  While only wearing a towel, she gives Capt. Dollek the finger and looks amazing doing it.  Sorrell Brooke, who later found fame as Boss Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard, also has a few good scenes as Sneed’s deceptively respectable money launderer.

The Take can be a confusing film to watch because it’s never firmly established just how corrupt Sneed actually is.  Sometimes, Sneed just seems like he’s trying to make a little extra money and then, other times, he comes across as being a full-blown gangster.  Despite being on Manso’s payroll, Sneed seems to be determined to take him down and the film never makes clear why.  Billy Dee Williams is his usual supremely cool self but he seems almost too cool to play a morally ambivalent cop.  More impressive are Vic Morrow and Eddie Albert, who both shamelessly chew the scenery as two leaders on opposite sides of the law.

The Take is often mistakenly referred to as being a blaxploitation film but it’s really just a cop film with a lead actor who happens to be black.  Unlike the best blaxploitation films, there’s no political subtext to be found in the movie.  Sneed could just as easily be a corrupt white detective and, with the exception of one throwaway line, race is never mentioned.  While this is a minor cop film, it features a few good action scenes and, again, it’s your only chance to see two very different pop cultural icons, Billy Dee Williams and Frankie Avalon, acting opposite of each other.  That’s not a bad pay-off for 91 minutes of your life.

Horror on TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.17 “Legacy of Terror” (dir by Don McDougall)


Tonight, on Kolchak….

All across Chicago, people are losing their hearts …. literally!  A string of murders are all connected by the fact that the heart has been cut out of the body.  Could it be the work of an Aztec death cult that’s being led by a centuries-old mummy!?

Carl Kolchak is going to find out!

The episode originally aired on February 14th, 1975.  Wow!  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Enjoy!

The Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Devil Times Five (dir by Sean MacGregor and David Sheldon)


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Initially released in 1974 and also known as Peopletoys, Tantrums, and The Horrible House on the Hill, Devil Times Five is one of a handful of films made about murderous children targeting and killing adults.  In the case of Devil Times Five, the children are five escapees from a mental hospital and the adults are a group of largely unlikable people who have gotten snowed in at a ski lodge.

(In a film like this, it helps that the victims are all too unlikable to really care about.)

When watching Devil Times Five, it helps to know a little something about what went on behind the scenes.  Apparently, original director Sean McGregor was fired when it turned out that, after several weeks of filming, he only had 38 minutes of usable footage.  Several weeks later, a second director, David Sheldon, was brought in to reshoot a good deal of the movie.  Unfortunately, by the time that Sheldon arrived, the majority of the cast had moved onto other projects and the main killer kid (Leif Garrett) had gotten his hair cut for another movie, meaning that he had to wear an ill-fitting wig for the reshoots.

And the end result is a truly weird movie, one that is full of odd continuity errors and strange scenes that were obviously only included to pad out the film’s running time.  Among the most obvious of the continuity errors is the insistence that the characters are snowed in despite the fact that there appears to be hardly any snow on the ground outside.  (This, of course, was largely due to the fact that the reshoots were done in sunny California.)  As for the padding, perhaps the most infamous example is the scene where the five children attack and beat to death their doctor.  This entire scene is shown in slow motion.  It lasts five minutes.

Seriously — and if you doubt me on this, be sure to read Stacie Ponder’s review of the film over on Final Girl — five minutes is a really long time.  It’s certainly a long time to watch someone get beat to death, especially when the scene is underlit and sepia-toned.  It starts out as disturbing but, after the 2nd minute or so, it just gets boring.  And then about 4 minutes in, you start to laugh because you’re just like, “How much longer can this crap go on?”  And then, at the 4:30 mark, you start to get bored again.  Around the 4:55 mark, I realized that I had forgotten who they were killing or why.  And then it was finally over.  Yay!

Incidentally, this is one of those films where, whenever one of the kids is going to kill someone, the kid suddenly starts moving in slow motion.  It was kind of like the music in Jaws.  If the kid picked up an axe but was still moving at normal speed, you knew not to worry.  But the minute that slow-mo started, you knew someone was about to die.

Of course, it takes a while to get around to the killings.  Devil Times Five clocked in at about 88 minutes.  I would guess that roughly 65 of those minutes were pure filler.  We spend a lot of time getting to know the adults at that ski lodge and, for the most part, they’re loathsome.  The oldest and grumpiest of them is even called Papa Doc, perhaps after the infamous Haitian dictator. (And let’s not even start on the film’s nominal hero, Rick, who has a pornstache, a comb over, and an extended nude scene.)  All of the adults spend a lot of time talking about their crumbling marriages and their dying dreams and it’s all very angsty for slasher film about a bunch of killer kids.  There’s even an extended cat fight between Julie (Joan McCall) and Lovely (Carolyn Staller), which involves a lot of rolling around on the floor while the 70s “wah wah” soundtrack plays in the background.

Once the killings do start, however, Devil Times Five actually starts to live up to its potential.  These are some mean little kids!  Once they start their rampage, we get axes in the back, spears to the throat, immolation, death by swing, and one really disturbing scene involving a bunch of bear traps. However, Devil Times Five is probably best known for the piranha scene.  You can legitimately wonder why someone would keep piranhas at a ski lodge but there’s still no denying that you don’t want to take a bath with them.

(Making the piranha scene all the more icky that the victim in the bathtub is played by the mother of two of the actors who played the killers.)

Devil Times Five makes for a strange viewing experience.  It starts out as nothing but filler and then suddenly, almost out of nowhere, the entire film goes batshit crazy.  Devil Times Five has slipped into the public domain, so you can watch it for free on YouTube if you want.  But I suggest tracking down the Code Red DVD, which comes with a fascinating commentary track and an entertaining and candid interview with several members of the cast.

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Embracing the Melodrama #29: The Other Side of Midnight (dir by Charles Jarrott)


The Other Side of Midnight 1977

First released in 1977, The Other Side of Midnight is one of those film that literally seems to have everything a viewer could want: sex, love, betrayal, sex, war, melodrama, intrigue, sex, expensive clothes, private island, see-through nightgowns, sex, hurricanes, murder, a surprise twist ending that involves a convent, and sex.  Did I mention that this film has sex in it, because it so does.

The film opens in Paris during the years leading up to World War II.  Beautiful Noelle (Marie-France Pisier) meets Larry Douglas (John Beck), a handsome American who is serving with the Canadian Air Force.  Noelle agrees to go out on a date with Larry and they get to have the of the movie’s many falling-in-love montages.  Fortunately, they’re in Paris which has a lot of great scenery in front of which they can pose.  Unfortunately, Larry is ordered back to the United States.  He promises Noelle that he’ll return but he never does.  What Larry doesn’t realize is that Noelle’s pregnant — or at least she is until a harrowing scene where she climbs into a bathtub with a wire hanger.

Montage!

Montage!

This is followed by another montage.  Call this the “Out-of-Love-And-Growing-Bitter” montage.  Noelle survives the German occupation by seducing and using every powerful man that she meets.  Along the way, she becomes one of the most glamorous and famous film stars in all of Europe.  Finally, she becomes the mistress of the wealthy and somewhat shady Constantin Demaris (Raf Vallone, doing his best Anthony Quinn impersonation).

Meanwhile, Larry is back in America and, after going through another falling-in-love montage, has ended up married to innocent Catherine Alexander (Susan Sarandon).  What Larry doesn’t realize is that Noelle has hired a detective to keep track of him.  After the war, Larry gets a job as a commercial airline pilot but Noelle secretly arranges for him to lose that job.  Unemployed and desperate, Larry accepts a job to work as the private pilot for Demaris and his mistress.

Montage!

Montage!

Though it takes him a while to recognize her, Larry eventually does realize that his new boss is his former lover, Noelle.  As Larry starts to truly fall in love with Noelle all over again, Noelle starts to pressure him to do something about his new wife.  As is the case with several Hollywood melodramas, it all ends in a courtroom.  The courtroom scenes may not be exactly exciting but they do feature my favorite image from the entire film: at one point, we see that literally every single character who has appeared in the movie up to this point is sitting in that courtroom, all lined up like a bunch of disparate figures in an Edward Hopper painting.

The Other Side of Midnight is one of those big films where a lot of stuff happens but very little of it really seems to add up to anything.  It has a nearly 3 hour running time but it’s story could have just as easily been told in 90 minutes.  Instead, director Charles Jarrott pads out the running time with endless falling-in-love and falling-out-of-love montages.  This is the type of film that never says anything once that it can say an extra three times.

Montage!

Montage!

Susan Sarandon and Marie-France Pisier both give good performances.  Susan Sarandon is likable, even if her character is unbelievably naive while Marie-France Pisier gives a performance worthy of any good film noir but neither one of them has much chemistry with John Beck.  Fortunately, some of the supporting players — like Raf Vallone and Christian Marquand — take full advantage of every chance that they get to chew every piece of scenery that’s available.  Clu Gulager, the father of horror director John Gulager, pops up as well, playing perhaps the only good male in the entire film.

In the end, The Other Side of Midnight (and what the Hell does that title mean anyway?) is a rather silly movie about a bunch of shallow characters wearing beautiful clothes and wandering through wonderfully baroque locations.  Fortunately, I love elaborately decorated locations and glamorous outfits so I enjoyed The Other Side of Midnight despite myself.

Montage!

Montage!

One final thing about The Other Side of Midnight: 20th Century Fox was so sure that The Other Side of Midnight would be a huge success that they used it to blackmail theater owners into agreeing to show an obscure science fiction film called Star Wars.  Theaters would only be allowed to show The Other Side of Midnight if they also agreed to show Star Wars during the week before Midnight opened.

The end result, of course, is that The Other Side of Midnight was a bomb at the box office and Star Wars is still making money.

Below is a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of The Other Side of Midnight.