A Movie A Day #312: Mata Hari (1985, directed by Curtis Harrington)


Europe, during World War I.  The beautiful dancer, Mata Hari (Sylvia Kristel), is in love with two different soldiers, one German and one French.  (The soldiers, played by Olivier Tobias and Christopher Cazenove, are also friends though they are now on opposite sides of the Great War.)  Forced into the world of decadent, high class espionage by Frau Doktor (Gaye Brown), Mata Hari sleeps with everyone, shares information with both the Germans and the French, and tries to prevent more people from dying.  Just as in history, Mata Hari ultimately has to face a firing squad but not before taking part in threesomes, voyeurism, and a topless sword fight.

The original Emmanuelle in a Cannon Film based on the life of the famed seductress Mata Hari?  It sounds like it should be great but Mata Hari is mostly dull.  I’ve read that Mata Hari was heavily edited before it was released in the United States so maybe that explains why the film is so choppy and nearly impossible to follow.  I was never sure who Mata Hari was spying for and, after a while, I no longer cared.  Sylvia Kristel is frequently naked, which explains why Mata Hari was once a Skinemax staple, but Kirstel later wrote that she was addicted to both cocaine and alcohol while making Mata Hari and maybe that partially explains why she seems to be so mentally checked out through the entire film.  I don’t blame her.  I checked out too.

One final note: About that topless sword fight, it sounds cooler than it actually is.

A Movie A Day #97: Dracula’s Widow (1988, directed by Chistopher Coppola)


Since we are looking at and reviewing each and every episode of Twin Peaks, every movie-a-day this month has a Twin Peaks connection.  Today’s entry, Dracula’s Widow, stars Lenny von Dohlen, who played reclusive shut-in Harold Smith on Twin Peaks.

Von Dohlen plays Raymond, the nerdy owner of a Los Angeles wax museum.  When he receives six antique chests from Romania, he does not realize that one of them contains, Vanessa (Sylvia Kristel).  Vanessa is a vampire and soon, she is killing the usual collection of perverts, muggers, and occultists.  She also bites Raymond and turns him into her Renfield.  Under her influence, Raymond even dumps his girlfriend, Jenny Harker (Rachel Jones).

However, Vanessa is not just a vampire.  Vanessa is the wife of Dracula, himself.  When she demands that Raymond take her to her husband, Raymond tells her that Dracula was killed nearly a hundred years ago by Prof. Van Helsing.  (How did Vanessa not already know this?)  Vanessa hunts down and kills Van Helsing’s grandson (Stefan Schnabel) but this brings both her and Raymond to the attention of Inspector Lannon (Josef Sommer).

In the 1990s, Dracula’s Widow was a late night HBO mainstay and it still has a cult following.  I could sit here and count out all the ways that Dracula’s Widow does not make any sense but I’ve got a deadline.  For all of this low-budget movie’s flaws, Dracula’s Widow is saved by the sexy presence of Sylvia Kristel and the atmosphere that can only be provided by neon lighting and a fog machine.  Josef Sommer’s hard-boiled narration, in which he refers to Los Angeles as being Tinsel Town, is another highlight.  As for Lenny von Dohlen, his performance as Raymond feels like a dry run for his turn as Harold Smith.

Dracula’s Widow was the directorial debut by Christopher Coppola, whose uncle Francis would later make Bram Stoker’s Dracula and whose brother, Nicolas Cage, ate a cockroach while making Vampire’s Kiss.

Back to School #29: Private School (dir by Noel Black)


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In my previous two Back To School reviews, I took a look at two classic teen comedies.  Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Risky Business both used and manipulated the standard teen comedy trappings to tell unusually nuanced stories about growing up.  These are films that used the audience’s familiarity with the genre to tell stories that ultimately challenged the viewer’s preconceived notions and expectations.  Having considered those two films, let us now consider Private School, a film that used all of the standard teen comedy clichés to make a very standard teen comedy.

According to the film’s trivia page on the IMDB (how’s that for an authoritative source!?), Private School was “”was supposedly market researched from stem to stern in order to ensure mass teen appeal”.  And it’s true because there’s literally nothing in Private School that you couldn’t find in almost every other teen comedy released in the 1980s.  In fact, Private School often feels like a compilation of clips from other teen comedies.

For instance, the film tells the story of two groups of three.  There’s the three girls who attend Cherryvale Academy: good girl Christine (Phoebe Cates), bad (and rich) girl Jordan (Betsy Russell), and vaguely asexual tomboy Betsy (Kathleen Wilhoite).  And then there’s three guys who attend Freemount Academy.  There’s a fat guy named Bubba (Michael Zorek), a short guy named Roy (Jonathan Prince) and a nice guy named Jim (Matthew Modine).  Bubba is dating Betsy.  Christine is dating Jim.  Jordan is dating no one because she’s too busy trying to steal Christine’s boyfriend.  Roy is also single, largely because adding a fourth girl would throw off the film’s group-of-three dichotomy.

There’s also a lot of boobs, largely because Private School was made to appeal to teenage boys and you really have to wonder how many of them left the theater thinking that all they had to do to get a girl to disrobe was spill some fruit juice on her dress and then suggest that she take it off.  There’s even a scene where Jordan rides a horse naked because — well, why not?

And then there’s an extended sequence where each of the three boys puts on a wig, a red dress, way too much lipstick and then sneak into the girl’s dormitory because cross-dressing is always good for a few easy laughs. Despite their best attempts to speak in falsetto voices,  Jim, Bubba, and Roy make for three of the least convincing women that I’ve ever seen but, to the film’s credit, that’s kind of the point.  It’s a stupid plan that leads to stupid results.

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Of course, the film is also full of terrible adult authority figures.  And why not?  It’s not like anyone over the age of 18 was ever going to watch the film.  So, of course, Jordan’s father is going to be lecherous old perv with a trophy wife.  And, of course, all of Cherryvale’s teachers are going to be a collection of spinsters and alcoholics.  In the end, the only adult who isn’t a raging hypocrite is the friendly town pharmacist (played by Martin Mull) who, of course, is mostly present so he can make Jim feel nervous about buying condoms.

And, ultimately, Private School is one of those films that wants to be racy and dirty (in order to appeal to teenage boys) while also being sweet and romantic (in order to appeal to teenage girls).  The main plot revolves around Jim and Christine’s plans to go away for a weekend so that they can have sex for the first time and the film actually handles this pretty well.  Matthew Modine and Phoebe Cates both have a really sweet chemistry.  They’re a really cute couple and you hope the best for them.  But there’s just so many complications, the majority of which could have been avoided by Jim not being an idiot.  It never seems to occur to Jim that maybe he’d finally be getting laid if he wasn’t always doing things like dressing up in drag and trying to sneak into the girl’s dormitory.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Private School is a terrible film.  As far as boob-obsessed teen sex comedies go, Private School is actually pretty well-done and watchable.  The cast is likable and director Noel Black keeps the action moving.  Even the film’s nominal villain is likable, with Betsy Russell playing Jordan as being more mischievous than spiteful.  But, ultimately, what makes Private School memorable is the fact that it is so predictable, that it does literally contain every single cliché that one would expect to find in a teen comedy.  This is a film so determined to not bring anything new to the genre that it becomes an oddly fascinated study in how to maintain a status quo.

In fact, perhaps the most innovative thing about Private School is the song that plays over the opening credits.  The song — which is called You’re Breakin’ My Heart and is performed by Harry Nilsson — starts with: “You’re breaking my heart/you’re tearing it apart/so fuck you…”

That’s about as close to being subversive as Private School ever gets.

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Lisa Marie Does The Fouke Monster And Five Other Trailers


Isn’t he cute?  That happy little fellow is The Fouke Monster and he’s here because he’s the star of the very first trailer in this week’s edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers.

1) The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)

Before I talk about this trailer, allow me to share a few facts: my family used to live in Fouke, Arkansas!  I’ve been down to Boggy Creek!  I never saw the famous Fouke Monster but I went out looking for him a few times!  Anyway, this is the trailer for The Legend of Boggy Creek, which is a documentary about an apeman that supposedly lives in the area (though, according to Wikipedia, he hasn’t been spotted since ’98 so maybe he drowned or moved to Missouri).  This film is somewhat infamous because it features reenactments of various monster sightings, some of which star people who actually lived in Fouke at the time and who play themselves (and a few of them later sued once the film came out).  It was also the first film directed by Charles B. Pierce, who directed a lot of independent films in Arkansas and North Texas, including the classic The Town That Dreaded Sundown.  Sadly, Pierce passed away last year at the age of 71.

2)  Mean Mother (1974)

This is one of those trailers that I discovered while randomly searching Youtube and, I have to be honest, my first thought was that it was a parody trailer.  But no, after researching the manner, I can say that Mean Mother is a real movie.  It was apparently yet another one of the cinematic offerings of the late Al Adamson.

3) The Night Child (1976)

This Italian film is one of the countless Omen/Exorcist rip-offs that came out in the 70s.  Actually, The Night Child is an indirect rip-off of those two films as it’s actually a rip-off of a previous Italian version of the Exorcist, Beyond The Door.  What I especially love about this trailer is the “Keeping telling yourself, she’s only a child,” line which is obviously meant to recall the “Keep telling yourself, it’s only a movie…” tagline from Last House On The Left.

4) The Young Nurses (1973)

“Meet today’s women…beautiful, liberated, and ready for action!  They’re the young nurses and they’re growing up fast!”  I love the narrator of this trailer.  I’ve heard his voice in several exploitation trailers from the early 70s and he just has a way of delivering the sleaziest lines in the most cheerful, harmless way.  I’d love to know who he was and if he’s still with us.

5) Nosferatu The Vampyre (1980)

Oh.  My.  God.  Okay, I saw this movie a few years ago and I was watching it by myself at 3 in the morning with all the lights off while there was a thunderstorm going on outside and there was this howling wind that kept on making all the windows shake.  I got so scared, it’s not even funny.  This is a remake of the silent classic.  It stars Klaus Kinski, Bruno Ganz, and Isabelle Adjani and was directed by the one and only Werner Herzog.

6) Julia (1974)

“Why don’t you come along and see me this week?  And bring your girlfriend…”  This trailer was specifically designed to promote this film in Australia.  Needless to say, that’s not actually Sylvia Kristel providing the voice over.  

Film Reviews: The Airport Terminal Pack


 Sometimes, you have to be careful which films you choose to watch over the course of the day. 

Such as, last Friday night, I heard the news that Jill Clayburgh had died and I ended up watching An Unmarried Woman.  This, along with the fact that I also watched the Black Swan trailer, led to me dancing around the house in my underwear, en pointe in bare feet, and doing a half-assed pirouette in the living room.  And I felt pretty proud of myself until I woke up Saturday morning and my ankle (which I don’t think has ever properly healed from the day, seven years ago, that I fell down a flight of stairs and broke it in two places) literally felt like it was on fire.  That was my body’s way of saying, “You ain’t living in a movie, bitch.  Deal with it.”

So, come Sunday, I decided to play it safe by watching something that I was sure wouldn’t lead to any imitative behavior on my part.  Since I had previously reviewed Earthquake on this site, I decided that I would devote some time to the movies that started the entire 1970s disaster movie genre — Airport.  Watching Airport led to me watching Airport’s three sequels.

I was able to do this largely because I own the Airport Terminal Pack, a two-disk DVD collection that contains all four of the Airport films and nothing else.  There’s no special features or commentary tracks.  That’s probably a good thing because these films are so extremely mainstream that I doubt the commentary tracks would be all that interesting except to people who love “Me and Jennings Lang had the same lawyer…” style stories.

The movies are a mixed bag of ’70s sexism, mainstream greed, and casts that were described as being “all-star” despite the fact that they featured very few stars.  They’re all worth watching as time capsules of a past time.  Some of them are just more worthy than others.

Below are my thoughts on each individual film in the collection…

Airport (directed by George Seaton)

First released in 1970, Airport was nominated for 10 Academy Awards (including best picture), broke box office records, and started the whole 70s disaster movie trend.  It also has to be one of the most boring, borderline unwatchable movies ever made.  The fact that I managed to sit through the whole thing should be taken as proof that I’m either truly dedicated to watching movies or I’m just insane.  Take your pick.

Anyway, the film is painstakingly detailed account of the every day operations of an airport.  Yeah, sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?  Burt Lancaster runs the airport.  His brother-in-law Dean Martin flies airplanes.  Both of them have mistresses but we’re told that’s okay because Lancaster’s wife expects him to talk to her and Martin’s wife is cool with him fucking around as long as he comes home at night.  I would be tempted to say that this is a result of the film having been made in 1969 and released in 1970 but actually, it’s just an introduction to the sexual politics of the typical disaster film.  Men save the day while women get in the way.  And if you think things have changed, I’d suggest you watch a little film calledf 2012

The only interesting thing about the film is that Lancaster’s mistress is played by Jean Seberg who, ten years earlier, had helped change film history by co-starring in Jean-Luc Godard’s classic film Breathless.  Nine years later, after years of being hounded by the American press and the FBI for her radical politics, Seberg committed suicide.

Airport 1975 (directed by Jack Smight)

As opposed to its predecessor, Airport 1975 is actually a lot of fun in its campy, silly way.  This is the one where a small private plane (flown by Dana Andrews, the star of the wonderful film noir Laura) collides with a commercial airliner.  The entire flight crew is taken out and head stewardess Karen Black has to pilot the plane despite the fact that she’s obviously cross-eyed.  Luckily, since Black is a stewardess, she has a pilot boyfriend who is played by Charlton Heston.  Heston talks her through the entire flight despite the fact that she was earlier seen trying to pressure him into not treating her like an idiot.  Anyway, Heston does his usual clench-jaw thing and if you need a drinking game to go with your bad movie, just take a shot every time Heston calls Black “honey.”  You’ll be drunk before the plane lands.

There’s some other stuff going on in this movie (for instance, Gloria Swanson appears as “herself” and doesn’t mention Sunset Boulevard or Joseph Kennedy once!) but really, all you need to know is that this is the film where Karen Black acts up a storm and random characters keep saying, “The stewardess is flying the plane!?”

Odd trivia fact: Airport 1975 was released in 1974.

Airport ’77 (directed by Jerry Jameson)

In Airport ’77, a group of art thieves attempt to hijack an airplane which, of course, leads to the airplane crashing into the ocean and somehow sinking down to the ocean’s floor without splitting apart.  The crash survivors have to try to figure out how to get to the surface of the water before they run out of oxygen. 

In this case, our resident sexist pilot is Jack Lemmon who has a really ugly mustache.  He wants to marry head stewardess Brenda Vaccarro.  Vaccarro doesn’t understand why they have to get married to which Lemmon responds, “Because I want a wife and kids!”  The film also gives us Lee Grant as a woman who is married to Christopher Lee but who is having an affair with another man.  She also drinks a lot and dares to get angry when she realizes that the airplane is underwater.  While this sort of behavior is acceptable from Dean Martin, Charlton Heston, and Jack Lemmon, the film punishes Lee Grant by drowning her in the final minutes.

Technically, Airport ’77 is probably the best of the Airport films.  The cast does a pretty good job with all the melodrama, the film doesn’t drag, and a few of the scenes manage to generate something resembling human emotion.  (For instance, when the blind piano player died, I had a tear in one of my freaky, mismatched eyes.)  Unfortunately, the movie’s almost too good.  It’s not a lot of fun.  Everyone plays their roles straight so the silly plot never quite descends into camp and the key to a good disaster film is always camp.  This film also has the largest body count of the series, with most of the cast dead by the end of the movie.  (And, incidentally, this film did nothing to help me with my fear of water…)

The Concorde: Airport ’79 (directed by David Lowell Rich)

The last Airport movie is also the strangest.  Some people have claimed that this film was meant to be a satire of the previous Airport films.  I can understand the argument because you look at film like Concorde and you say, “This must be a joke!”  However, the problem with this theory is that there are moments of obvious “intentional” humor in this film (i.e., J.J. from Good Times smokes weed in the plane’s bathroom, another passenger has to go to the bathroom whenever she gets nervous) and none of them show any evidence of the type of wit and outlook necessary to come up with anything this silly on purpose.  Add to that, the film’s story is credited to Jennings Lang, a studio executive.  Studio execs do not take chances.  (Plus, the actual script was written by Eric Roth, who went on to write the amazingly humorless The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).

No, this film is meant to be taken seriously and oh my God, where do I start?

Our pilots are George Kennedy and Alain Delon.  The head stewardess (and naturally, Delon’s girlfiend) is played by Sylvia “Emanuelle” Kristel who, at one point, says, “You pilots are such men!”  “Hey, they don’t call it a cockpit for nothing, honey,” Kennedy replies. 

Meanwhile, Robert Wagner is trying to destroy the Concorde because one of the passengers is his girlfriend who has proof that Wagner has been selling weapons to America’s enemies.  So, he attempts to blow the plane up with a guided missile and when that fails, he sends a couple of fighter planes after them.  Kennedy responds by opening up the cockpit window — while breaking the sound barrier mind you — and firing a flare gun at their pursuers.  

After this, there’s stop over in Paris where Delon arranges for Kennedy to sleep with a prostitute who assures Kennedy that he made love “just like a happy fish.”

The next day, everyone returns to the exact same Concorde — despite the fact that just a day earlier they’d nearly been blown up by a squadron of fighter planes — and take off on the second leg of the flight.  Let me repeat that just to make sure that we all understand what this film is asking us to believe.  After nearly getting blown up by a mysterious squad of fighter planes, everybody shows up the next morning to get on the exact same plane.

Oh, and it never occurs to Wagner’s ex-girlfriend that Wagner might have something to do with all of this.

Now sad to say, Concorde is the one of those films that’s a lot more fun to talk about than to actually watch.  It should be a lot more fun in its badness than it actually is.  Still, the movie has just enough camp appeal to make it fun in a “what the fuck…” sorta way.

And that’s how the Airport series comes to an end.