Film Review: Machine Gun McCain (1969)

Also known as: Gli intoccabili (original title), Killer MacCain (Denmark), The Untouchables (European English title), For A Price (English alternate title), At Any Price (US working title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Montaldo
Written by: Mino Roli, Giuliano Montaldo
Based on: Candyleg by Ovid Demaris
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: John Cassavetes, Britt Ekland, Peter Falk, Gabriele Ferzetti, Florinda Bolkan, Tony Kendall, Salvo Randone, Gena Rowlands, Luigi Pistilli

Euroatlantica, Euro International Film, 116 Minutes

Review:

“What do you do? Sell women? Sell marijuana? – what d’you do? Where’d you get the twenty-five thousand? I wouldn’t give you twenty-five cents. What d’you do? – you go out and you hustle yourself all over the street. Small time – no dignity! You don’t beg.” – Hank McCain, “That’s why, Hank – I need this chance. I got tired of being small change.” – Jack McCain, “You’re gonna be small change all your life.” – Hank McCain

If you like Italian gangster films, you should actually check one out from Italy, as opposed to American films about Italian-American criminals doing mafioso shit for the umpteenth time. The Italians weren’t just known for spaghetti westerns and sword and sandal movies back in the ’60s, they also made solid horror and badass crime pictures.

Gli Intoccabili, also known as Machine Gun McCain in the United States, is a high octane, gritty Italian crime thriller that stars a badass American, John Cassavetes. This also has a young Peter Falk in it. But the real treat is the lovely Britt Ekland, who I crushed on hard when I was a kid and saw her in The Man With the Golden Gun.

I like this movie but if I’m being honest, it is completely elevated by Cassavetes, Falk and Ekland. Without them, it would have just been a fairly mundane gangster movie.

There isn’t a lot of stylistic flourish to this film, which is surprising being that it came from Italy in a time when that country was experimenting with very colorful and vivid cinematography. I’m not saying that this needed giallo flair but it does look quite pedestrian when compared to what else was coming out of Italy in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

I really enjoyed Cassavetes’ McCain and I totally bought into his chemistry with Ekland. Falk was an absolute scene stealer though and for fans of his most famous role on Colombo, his part here is a real departure from the norm. It’s also worth noting that one of Sergio Leone’s favorites, Luigi Pistilli, has a small part in this. You may remember him as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as well as a member of Indio’s gang in For A Few Dollars More.

I should also point out that movie music maestro Ennio Morricone did the score for this. While it’s not as memorable as his work with Sergio Leone, it is still a nice score that enhances the film and gives it more life than it would have had with a less accomplished composer.

Machine Gun McCain is a film that probably sounds cooler than it is but if I’m being honest, it’s really damn hard to say something’s “uncool” if it’s got John Cassavetes in it.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The Burglars, The Italian Connection, Robbery and Grand Slam.

Film Review: Viking Women Vs. The Sea Serpent (1957)

Also known as: The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (complete title), Viking Women (UK)
Release Date: December, 1957
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Lawrence L. Goldman, Irving Block
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Abby Dalton, Susan Cabot

American International Pictures, 66 Minutes

Review:

“Get your filthy hands off her, you big slobbering dog!” – Ottar

This is one of a few Roger Corman films that has eluded me for years. It’s also one of the few movies that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 that I hadn’t seen until now. But I missed it when it aired, back in the day, and it’s not one that has been all that accessible on streaming services. Maybe that’s due to the broadcasting rights contract they had back in the early ’90s for this film.

Having seen it now, I can say that I didn’t miss out on much.

For the most part, the film is slow and goofy. It’s enjoyable in that hokey Roger Corman way but for a film promising a sea serpent, the monster’s time on screen is pretty minute.

Also, the creature looks exactly like you’d expect being that it’s a simple sea serpent and showcased in a Corman film of the ’50s. It’s basically just a rubber tube with some fins glued to it and a dead, gnarly face. But I love this sort of shit so I can’t hate it. I just wish there was more monster and less pointless conversation throughout the movie.

The majority of the movie is just viking chicks paddling a boat and walking around on an island. This has some action but it’s nothing to write home about.

This is far from the worst Corman picture but it is also far from the best.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other late ’50s and early ’60s Roger Corman pictures.

Film Review: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Also known as: Mad Max 3 (working title), Mad Max III (Philippines)
Release Date: June 29th, 1985 (Japan)
Directed by: George Miller, George Ogilvie
Written by: Terry Hayes, George Miller
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence

Kennedy Miller Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… Dyin’ time’s here.” – Dr. Dealgood

I always thought of this as the worst of the original Mad Max trilogy. However, revisiting it now, just after watching the first two, I think I enjoyed it more than the original. In fact, I have a lot more appreciation for this film after watching it this time. Plus, it was the first time I had seen it since before Mad Max: Fury Road came out four years ago.

Now this doesn’t have the hard edge of the other films and it does feel like a Hollywood recreation of the franchise with a bigger budget, the addition of Tina Turner (a huge star at the time) and the larger scope of the movie. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, though, and I think that Hollywood sort of legitimizing this film series with a larger, more polished production, is probably what gave it the cultural longevity it’s had.

You also have to keep in mind that these films are really all that Mel Gibson was known for in 1985. Lethal Weapon and a much more lucrative, mainstream career didn’t come until 1987.

What makes this work so well, is the fact that Mel Gibson is so comfortable in this role by this point. Even though we got to know him in the first film, everything changes when his family dies and then in the second picture, he was sort of an unemotional husk with just a glimmer of humanity shining through. Here, that hard, outer husk is torn away and we’re left with a man that has found a way to live again. At least, he’s found a surrogate family and something that he must fight for. While that’s similar to the second film, it’s a much more fluid and human journey here. You don’t feel like he’s just playing the hero because it’s something to do and he hates scumbags, you actually sense love growing inside of him.

However, as much as I love Tina Turner in this, her being the primary villain also tames this movie when compared to the others. She kind of likes Max throughout the picture and she’s just a tough woman trying to maintain order in a town full of shady degenerates. She’s not pure evil like Lord Humongous, Toecutter or Immortan Joe and that kind of makes the threat in this film feel like a minor one.

Granted, the big finale which sees vehicle mayhem and the inclusion of a train car is still quite good. I don’t enjoy it as much as the finale from The Road Warrior but it is very close in quality to that one. In fact, this finale is better shot, looks crisper and has some stellar stunts. However, it is less gritty and thus, not as badass as the finale from the previous film. But it is fun seeing the kids in the film get in on the action during this big chase.

Speaking of the kids, there are a lot of them in this movie. But all the ones that have lines and are key characters are really good. This movie could have gone south really quickly with its overabundance of child actors but they certainly add more to the film than they take away.

This is definitely a film with three acts and each act has a very distinct feeling and tone to it. From a narrative standpoint, this is the best structured film and tells the best story out of all four Mad Max pictures.

Beyond Thunderdome gets a bad rap from some and while I wish it had been more of an R rated film than a PG-13 one, I’m still pretty satisfied with it and I think it’s aged pretty darn well.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other Mad Max films, as well as other post-apocalyptic car and biker movies, most of which were ripoffs of this.

Film Review: Captain America (1990)

Release Date: December 14th, 1990 (UK)
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: Stephen Tolkin, Lawrence Block
Based on: Captain America by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby
Music by: Barry Goldberg
Cast: Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Scott Paulin, Ned Beatty, Darren McGavin, Francesca Neri, Michael Nouri

21st Century Film Corporation, Marvel Enterprises, Jadran Film, 97 Minutes, 124 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Assassination isn’t worth the trouble. It took me two years to find Sirhan. Three to find Oswald. The King job alone cost me over twenty million dollars. What do we get for our pains? Saints. Martyrs to the cause.” – Red Skull

Somehow this attracted the talents of Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty and Darren McGavin. Although, I’m not sure why. There couldn’t have been much money for them to make and had they read the script, they probably would have ran away. I mean, I can only assume that they didn’t read the script.

This movie has a terrible reputation and it is very apparent pretty much immediately, as to why. At the same time, it’s not that bad and is almost enjoyable for its cheesiness and its lighthearted, playful nature.

It is very clear that Marvel had no idea on how to make movies with their characters at this point in history. Granted, it’s not Marvel’s fault, as they didn’t have the control they have in modern times and they were just selling off the film rights to their key characters in an effort to stay financially afloat. But this was produced by one half of the duo behind Cannon Films and yet it didn’t even come close to matching their action pictures in quality, gravitas or fun.

Matt Salinger looked the part for Captain America but he wasn’t qualified for the role. Really, no one in the cast was qualified to do anything other than the three actors I mentioned in this review’s first sentence.

Red Skull at least looked cool when he was actually Red Skull. However, for the majority of the movie, he is just a scarred up looking Italian mobster guy. This film also has his daughter, known as Sin in the comics, but she is a poor version of the character that doesn’t amount to much.

The story is hard to follow but mostly just because it’s boring and paying attention is hard to do with this movie, as I’d rather mindlessly scroll social media feeds on my smart phone than try to stay locked on this picture.

I can’t say that this is as bad as Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four movie from 1994 but this makes the 1989 Punisher movie look like the 2004 Punisher movie.

This isn’t a film worth watching unless you enjoy torturing yourself or you love Captain America so much that you’ve tattooed his entire costume under your street clothes.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other terrible early Marvel films like 1994’s Fantastic Four and 1989’s The Punisher but at least that one was much better than this. Also, the ’70s Captain America live action stuff and The Incredible Hulk TV movies.

Film Review: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Release Date: March 14th, 1975 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
Written by: Monty Python
Music by: Dewolfe
Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin

Python (Monty) Pictures, Michael White Productions, National Film Trustee Company, EMI Films, Cinema 5 Distributing, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” – French Soldier

I’ve never been a big Monty Python fan and I know those are fighting words from big Monty Python fans but I don’t care.

It’s not to say that I don’t find some amusement within these movies but once I’ve seen one, it’s hard for me to go back and see them again. But that also applies to most comedy movies for me. Well, except for a few things I am a big fan of like old school Bill Murray movies, the Police Academy franchise (omitting part 7) and a lot of ’80s comedies that I probably only love because nostalgia is a needy whore that must be satisfied every so often.

And that’s the thing with Monty Python movies. I just don’t have the nostalgia for them because they were a decade before my time and I never saw them until I was into my 20s. But also, I’m not a big fan of parody films unless it’s a very small sample of the best of Mel Brooks’ oeuvre.

I do love the cast and a lot of these guys have gone on to be in movies I’ve loved over the years. Especially, John Cleese and Eric Idle. Then there’s also Terry Gilliam, who has gone on to make some solid motion pictures outside of the comedy genre.

I appreciate this movie for being the first real exposure to these talented guys outside of the UK. And it is a funny movie but it’s not something I need to experience, again and again.

From memory, I think that The Life of Brian was the one I liked the most. So I do plan on revisiting that one again soon, simply so I can review it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Monty Python films and projects.

Film Review: Pet Sematary Two (1992)

Release Date: August 28th, 1992
Directed by: Mary Lambert
Written by: Richard Outten
Based on: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Music by: Mark Governor
Cast: Edward Furlong, Anthony Edwards, Clancy Brown, Jared Rushton, Jason McGuire, Darlanne Fluegel, Lisa Waltz, Sarah Trigger

Columbus Circle Films, Paramount Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“No Brain, no pain… think about it.” – Gus Gilbert

While this isn’t as good as the first film, which I do see as fairly overrated, I did enjoy watching this one a bit more. I think a lot of that had to do with this movie being batshit crazy, though.

First off, Clancy Brown makes this entire film work for me. He’s absolutely great in this, completely committed to his role and elevates this picture much more than it deserves to be. While this isn’t on any all-time best horror film lists, his performance here should definitely be considered for lists about monsters or horror villains. He’s simply great and even if he knows he’s in a mostly shitty film, he certainly isn’t phoning it in. Brown makes you believe he is an insane, undead, dickhead sheriff with so much enthusiasm, you can’t deny that the guy is a master of his craft.

The film also stars Edward Furlong, coming fresh off of his film debut in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as well as Anthony Edwards, who will always be Gilbert from Revenge of the Nerds to me, and Jared Rushton, most known as the best friend of Tom Hanks in Big.

This doesn’t feature any returning characters from the first film, even though it takes place in the same town and there are mentions of the characters in subtle ways throughout the movie. What’s weird though, is that this one wasn’t filmed in Maine like its predecessor and was instead filmed in rural Georgia. So the landscape has a different look to it. There are still lots of trees but everything has a different visual feel.

Furlong is the main character and the movie starts with him witnessing his actress mother get electrocuted to death on a horror movie set. He and his veterinarian dad move to this small town. He then draws the ire of the school bully, befriends the fat kid with the mean cop stepdad and then later learns about the “pet sematary” off in the woods.

Of course, one thing leads to another and little Eddie Furlong eventually digs up his dead mommy and re-buries her in the “pet sematary”. She comes back, along with other zombie people like the mean cop, the school bully and a pet dog.

The end is silly, the plot makes very little sense and the motivations of the characters are confusing, especially Edward Furlong turning crazy, realizing his dead mother is murderous and then switching back to normal almost immediately.

There’s some stuff I like in this other than just Clancy Brown, though. The biggest thing that sticks out, is when the school bully is murdered with a fast spinning dirtbike tire grinding into his face. Also, the car chase scene where the zombie cop is trying to murder his family was fun to watch, even if the action played out in a nonsensical way.

Pet Sematary Two is a goofy movie. But it’s that fun sort of goofy that makes a hardcore ’90s horror fan smile. It’s really just one of many Stephen King adaptations or spinoffs from the early ’90s that missed the mark, as far as its source material, but still delivered and entertained in spite of its flaws.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King movies of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

Also known as: Sax Rohmer’s The Castle of Fu Manchu (full title), Assignment Istanbul, Fu Manchu’s Castle, The Torture Chamber of Fu Manchu (alternate titles), Le château de Fu Manchu (France)
Release Date: May 30th, 1969 (Germany)
Directed by: Jess Franco
Written by: Manfred Barthel
Based on: characters by Sax Rohmer
Music by: Carlos Camilleri, Malcomb Shelby
Cast: Christopher Lee, Richard Greene, Howard Marion-Crawford, Gunther Stoll, Rosalba Neri, Maria Perschy, Jose Manuel Martin

Balcázar Producciones Cinematográficas, Terra-Filmkunst, Italian International Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“The formula. With this I can control all things – and all men.” – Fu Manchu

I love Christopher Lee but I have never liked his Fu Manchu movies. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen all five of them and this is the only one I’ve seen more than once and that’s simply because it is featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This is the fifth and final film and it is said to be the worst one. From my experience with some of the others, none of them are good. But this one, in particular, is dreadfully boring and pretty hard to follow.

Full disclosure, I’m not sure if it’s hard to follow due to it being a clusterfuck of bad, nonsensical writing or because it was a real challenge to pay attention and not doze off to sleep or find myself daydreaming for spans of twenty minutes. I’d say that it’s all of the above.

Christopher Lee can usually carry movies, even bad ones. While he is the brightest spot, by far, in this picture, it’s not enough to draw you in or make you care. I think that even Lee was bored with these movies by this point. I don’t want to say that he dialed it in but this was probably just a paycheck and a way to work for a few weeks between Hammer or Amicus productions.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Fu Manchu character anyway, so I don’t have the same sort of enthusiasm for these movies as I do the DraculaFrankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Mummy and other classic horror and literary characters he’s made movies about.

This film is a complete waste of time unless you are an MST3K completist and haven’t yet seen the episode with this mind numbing dud.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: the other Fu Manchu movies with Christopher Lee but none of them are very good.