Film Review: The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Also known as: Blood Relations (working title)
Release Date: June 15th, 1977 (Tucson premiere)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Music by: Don Peake
Cast: Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace, Russ Grieve, John Steadman, Michael Berryman, Virginia Vincent

Blood Relations Company, Vanguard, 89 Minutes

Review:

“We’re gonna be french fries! Human french fries!” – Brenda Carter

I’ve said this before and I know it upsets some ’70s and ’80s horror fans but I’m not very keen on the work of Wes Craven outside of A Nightmare On Elm Street. But this is, at least, better than The Last House On the Left.

I don’t know what it is about Craven but if I’m being honest, his ideas always feel borrowed and not done as well as what he’s borrowing from. Even A Nightmare On Elm Street came from an article he read about a teen that died in their sleep.

The Hills Have Eyes is very much Craven’s version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. But it’s not a complete rehash of it, it does take some creative liberties and the premise is somewhat interesting but basically a family’s car breaks down and they are preyed upon by a family of cannibals.

This is more action heavy than Chain Saw or other similar films, which is a definite plus for me. It also has a sort of post-apocalyptic Mad Max vibe to it, which is also a plus. But other than those two things, there’s not much else here.

The film, despite its subject matter, is fairly boring. It has some good intense moments, I love Michael Berryman in everything and the family dog was the most badass character in the film but it is really dragged out in spots.

The Hills Have Eyes is one of the rare exceptions when it comes to remakes, as I was never a big fan of it to begin with and I honestly feel like the remake was a big improvement on the story, the overused formula and it even had a deeper and richer backstory. But I’ll review that one later.

Sadly, this film also had a really bad sequel. I’ll review that at some point too.

I don’t know, I’ve probably seen this movie a half dozen times since I was a kid and I never walk away from it saying, “Oh, I get it now. This is deservedly a classic.”

But it does have a great title and an awesome poster featuring Michael Berryman.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other early Wes Craven works, as well as other cannibal killer movies.

Film Review: Live and Let Die (1973)

Release Date: June 27th, 1973 (US release)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: George Martin, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney
Cast: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Julius Harris, David Hedison, Gloria Hendry, Clifton James, Geoffrey Holder, Madeline Smith, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

Eon Productions, United Artists, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Tee-Hee, on the first wrong answer from Miss Solitaire, you will snip the little finger of Mr. Bond’s right hand. Starting with the second wrong answer, you will proceed to the more… vital… areas.” – Kananga

I’ve worked my way through most of the James Bond movies and only have a few left after this one. Granted, I’ve seen them all before but I didn’t review any of them until last year. And since I’ve been doing these out of order, I should note that this is not my first Roger Moore Bond film but it is his first outing as the iconic character.

I know that this one gets a pretty bad rap but it’s one of my favorites. But I’ll explain why.

To start, it came out at the height of the blaxploitation era in American filmmaking and it utilizes that to great advantage. The film has a lot of blaxploitation actors in this from Julius Harris to Gloria Hendry. And while it taps into that vibe well, this isn’t Bond trying to be blaxploitation, it just meshes well with that genre’s style where it needs to.

Additionally, I love the voodoo and magical elements to the film. They may feel out of place and hokey but by the 1970s, Bond movies had started to drive towards cheese. Honestly, this is the most ’70s-esque of all the Bond films and while it feels dated because of that, it still works really well for me. I love the voodoo stuff, especially Baron Samedi, who was brought to life by the always awesome Geoffrey Holder. No lie, Samedi is one of my all-time favorite Bond villains.

The setting of this film was also great. It went from New York City to New Orleans to the Caribbean and in doing that, married the urban blaxploitation vibe with the Caribbean beauty of Dr. No, the first Bond film. In a way this brings things full circle, as Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond had a strong geographic similarity to Sean Connery’s first outing as the character. And both filmed those sequences on location in Jamaica.

I also enjoyed Yaphet Koto in this as the evil Kananga. He was a new kind of Bond villain for a new era where the franchise couldn’t keep relying on SPECTRE as its premier threat. Koto’s work here, really set the stage for some of the other solid villains from the Moore era.

We also get the debut of Sheriff Pepper of Louisiana, who is probably more iconic than the size of his actual role in the series. He’s synonymous with the Moore era but he was actually only in two of Moore’s Bond pictures and fairly briefly. Still, he is a fan favorite and it’s been argued that he was a template for the cops in The Dukes of Hazzard, as well as Jackie Gleason’s Buford T. Justice from Smokey and the Bandit.

Now there are some cringe moments in this like when Kananga blows up like a balloon, floats and explodes. However, those moments are balanced out by the hokey stuff that worked better like the scene where Samedi gets a chunk blown out of his head and he just looks up at it before he shatters like a broken pot.

I love this movie. I get that it is frowned upon by more serious Bond fans but they miss the point. This series should be about fun escapism. This is exactly that.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Roger Moore James Bond movies.

Film Review: Stranded In Space (1973)

Also known as: The Stranger (original TV movie title)
Release Date: February 26th, 1973
Directed by: Lee H. Katzin
Written by: Gerald Sanford
Music by: Richard Markowitz
Cast: Glenn Corbett, Cameron Mitchell, Sharon Acker, Lew Ayres, George Coulouris, Steve Franken, Dean Jagger, Tim O’Connor

Bing Crosby Productions, Fenady Associates, 100 Minutes

Review:

This movie exists as The Stranger and as Stranded In Space. The only real difference is that Stranded In Space was re-released on VHS in the ’80s and it had a new credits sequence that looks very ’80s. This was kind of confusing for the era this was made in and for the overall look of the picture. That credit sequence wasn’t even made up of shots from The Stranger, instead, it was made up of footage from a low budget 1983 sci-fi film called Prisoners of the Lost Universe. I have no idea why the film’s distributor did this, as both movies are completely unrelated.

The reason why I watched the Stranded In Space version of this terrible film is because it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, even with the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots, this was a real bore to get through.

But if I’m being honest, the concept and the plot weren’t bad. A NASA astronaut wakes up in a hospital after a mission that saw his crew get killed. He is told that he has to stay under observation and isn’t allowed visitors or even a newspaper. Eventually, he escapes but soon discovers that the planet is very different because he’s not on Earth.

There’s a lot of cool territory to explore with the plot but this film doesn’t care about being an interesting or engaging film, it would rather take a good idea and then throw it into a shredder.

Like several films from this era that MST3K featured, this one was actually a television show. It wasn’t, however, a couple of random episodes strung together, it was a TV movie used to serve as a pilot. But it falls flat, even if it is more coherent than similar MST3K selections.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: a lot of the other sci-fi films riffed on MST3K.

Film Review: Return of the 18 Bronzemen (1976)

Also known as: Yong zheng da po shi ba tong ren (original Chinese title), The 18 Bronzemen Part 2, 18 Bronzemen II
Release Date: August 14th, 1976 (Taiwan)
Directed by: Joseph Kuo
Written by: Chien Chin, Ting Hung Kuo, Han Meng
Music by: Fu Liang Chou
Cast: Lingfeng Shangguan, Peng Tien

Karlot, Kuo Hwa Motion Pictures Co., Taiwan Li Cheng Film Company, 93 Minutes

Review:

I don’t know if the dubbed version of this that I watched missed a lot of things in its translation but the film was hard to follow from a narrative standpoint.

The main character is a prince. He decides to go through the trials in the temple where all the Bronzemen from the first film are. There is some sort of conflict and the prince isn’t supposed to become a supreme warrior under the monks that control the Bronzemen but he hides his identity and trains to be the biggest badass in China anyway.

There were a few decent fights early in the film but the first half of this picture was really slow and incredibly boring. The action bits helped to break that up but it was a real drag to get through.

However, at about the midway point, things really pick up. The back half of this movie is much better. Things shift into high gear and our prince hero goes through each room and corridor, fighting Bronzemen and trying to survive their other trials.

The physicality in this movie is great, the fighting is above average and the choreography was nice.

Unfortunately, it is bogged down by being too incoherent and for the first half being literal Ambien.

If you do have the urge to watch this, you probably just want to start at about 45 minutes in. I hate saying that but I can’t recommend the first half. The second half is a different film where everything you want in a ’70s kung fu movie is all crammed into half of the normal running time.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Its predecessor, The 18 Bronzemen, as well as other mystical Hong Kong martial arts films of the era.

 

Film Review: City On Fire! (1979)

Also known as: La Cité en feu (Canadian French title)
Release Date: May 24th, 1979 (Germany)
Directed by: Alvin Rakoff
Written by: Jack Hill, Dave Lewis, Celine La Freniere
Music by: Matthew McCauley, William McCauley
Cast: Barry Newman, Susan Clark, Shelley Winters, Leslie Nielsen, James Franciscus, Ava Gardner, Henry Fonda

Astral Bellevue Pathé, Astral Films, Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), AVCO Embassy Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“All it takes is one man, could be anybody… your neighbor, my neighbor… one man to destroy a city.” – Chief Albert Risley

How can a movie that boasts the talents of Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters, Ava Gardner and Leslie Nielsen be absolutely abominable? Well, if it’s an all-star ensemble thrown into a ’70s “made for TV” disaster movie, there’s your answer.

These things were rarely good. Actually, I don’t think they were ever good. Now some disaster movies are fun but those were the big Hollywood blockbusters for the big screen and only the first few at the beginning of the 1970s obsession with urban apocalypse pictures.

This one sees some disgruntled worker deliberately cause a fire at an oil refinery, which is apparently enough to burn down an entire city. Well, if you can suspend disbelief and watch this thing unfold like an unfunny version of Curb Your Enthusiasm where the city is Larry and the fire is spread by everything going wrong that could possibly go wrong at every turn.

City On Fire! is a compilation of brain farts captured on celluloid. There isn’t much about it that is worth anyone’s time and it has no redeeming factors. It’s boring, dumb and you’ll only feel sadness for the talented actors wedged into this flaming shit show.

But hey, it was lampooned on the first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when it was still on local TV in Minnesota. They never resurrected this once the show went national on Comedy Central or the Sci-Fi Channel and that’s probably for the best. It was alright to sit through once and didn’t need to be dusted off and replayed like a few other films from that inaugural season.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other terrible “made for TV” disaster movies.

Film Review: Riding with Death (1976)

Also known as: Codename: Minus One (UK)
Release Date: 1976 (original episodes), 1981 (TV movie edit)
Directed by: Michael Caffey, Alan Crosland Jr., Alan J. Levi
Written by: Leslie Stevens, Steven E. de Souza, Frank Telford
Based on: Gemini Man TV series and The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Music by: Lee Holdridge, Mark Snow, Billy Goldenberg
Cast: Ben Murphy, William Sylvester, Katherine Crawford

Harve Bennett Productions, Universal Television, NBC, 97 Minutes

Review:

“You have any idea who those turkeys were?” – Sam Casey

This is another film that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 that wasn’t really a movie but was actually two television episodes edited into a feature length cut. And like the other examples of this terrible phenomenon, this was an atrocious and unwatchable mess.

However, there was a pretty amusing fight scene in the middle of the movie where one of the two main dork dicks was performing, got heckled and then a bar fight broke out featuring the other main dork dick using his mastery of invisibility to cheap shot rednecks.

Frankly, that weird bar fight is about all that I can even recall from this film that I just watched last night.

There were some sci-fi bits I guess, which is why the dude had invisibility powers, but this was such a mess it was hard not to zone out for most of this film.

I don’t know, unless you’re a hardcore MST3K completist, this one is really friggin’ hard to get through.

There’s trucker stuff, sci-fi wizardry, invisibility kung fu and acting so bad that everyone here could beat out Carrot Top for a Golden Raspberry Award.

As for the rating, it really gets a 1/10. I added that extra .75 for the invisibility kung fu.

Rating: 1.75/10
Pairs well with: Master Ninja I and II, Fugitive Alien I and IITime of the ApesMighty Jack and Cosmic Princess.

 

Film Review: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Release Date: December 14th, 1971 (West Germany)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Cabot, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith, Norman Burton, Sid Haig

Eon Productions, United Artists, 120 Minutes

Review:

“If at first you don’t succeed Mr. Kidd…?” – Mr. Wint, “Try, try again, Mr. Wint.” – Mr. Kidd

Sadly, Diamonds Are Forever is closer to the tone and style of the Roger Moore era than the Sean Connery era. Maybe the campiness that would be front and center in the early Roger Moore Bond films wasn’t really because of Moore but were because the films were a product of the 1970s. Connery’s pictures were more serious until this one but all the others came out in the ’60s. And then once Moore got into the ’80s, his films weren’t as cheesy. I blame the ’70s.

Anyway, this is the worst of the Sean Connery James Bond pictures. This is even worse than the unofficial sequel Never Say Never Again. Frankly, this is one of the worst Bond films ever made. But this is James Bond and it is still quite enjoyable and certainly better than the worst films of the Brosnan era.

I love the old school Las Vegas setting in this movie, it just fit the time and the James Bond mythos well. Plus, Bond going to Vegas was probably long overdue, by this point. But I’ve also always had a love for old school Vegas, its setting, its culture and its style.

I also really enjoyed Charles Gray’s take on Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This wasn’t Gray’s first Bond movie but he got to ham it up in a key role and he’s one of those actors that is just great as a villain. This is one of my favorite roles that he’s ever played, alongside the fiendish Mocata from The Devil Rides Out, which also starred Bond alum Christopher Lee (a.k.a. Francisco Scaramanga from The Man with the Golden Gun).

In this picture, we also get Jill St. John, who has the distinction of being the first American Bond Girl, and the Jimmy Dean, country music and breakfast sausage king.

My favorite characters in the film though, are the duo of Bruce Glover and Putter Smith as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. They plot, they scheme and they get the better of Bond… twice! Granted, they should have outright killed him quickly in both those moments but Bond escaped death and came back to bite them in the ass. They also had a relationship that probably points to them being gay, which was pretty uncommon for a 1971 film that was made for the mainstream.

On a side note: scorpions don’t usually sting people and they typically don’t kill humans, let alone instantaneously.

This film did do some clever stuff too. I liked how Blofeld had decoys and the movie really points out that he has been surgically altering his face this whole time and that it wasn’t just a case of not being able to get Blofeld actors to return to the part.

The biggest issue with this film though is the scale. Following up On Her Majesty’s Secret Service wasn’t an easy task but this film feels smaller, more confined and cheaper. Maybe this has to do with the big salary that Connery needed to come back to the franchise. It was a record setting fee for an actor at the time and it’s possible that it effected the actual production and that the movie had to be made more frugally.

Still, I do love this motion picture. The classic era of Bond from the ’60s through the ’80s is hard to top. These movies are just magic. Even when things don’t work, the films all still have something cool to take away from them. Diamonds Are Forever is no different.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one. But this is actually is closer in tone to the Roger Moore films of the ’70s.