Film Review: Cannibal Girls (1973)

Release Date: April, 1973
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Daniel Goldberg, Ivan Reitman, Robert Sandler
Music by: Doug Riley
Cast: Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Ronald Ulrich

Scary Pictures Productions, 84 Minutes

Review:

Strangely, I didn’t know about this movie’s existence until a few years ago. The reason I find that strange is that I’m a fan of Ivan Reitman’s work and I also really loved SCTV and that group of Canadian comedians.

I also find it odd that Reitman did a cannibal movie that starred two major players from SCTV before any of them had any real notoriety. As one might expect, this isn’t just straight horror and it sort of parodies the cannibal and gore movies that were popular with audiences of exploitation film.

All that being said, this was a cool experiment. It didn’t hit it out of the park or leave much of a mark but it was one of the very first steps in the careers of three talented people.

Now compared to the things it parodies, this is pretty light on gore. It’s more about capturing the same sort of vibe but having some cheekiness thrown in. It still has a gritty and brooding atmosphere that definitely feels authentic to the time.

However, also like the films it is channeling, it’s also mostly dull. While the black comedy sort of makes up for the lack of real exploitation, it isn’t enough to carry the picture or really salvage it.

Although, I liked seeing Levy and Martin play characters that were somewhat serious. They hadn’t quite grown into decent actors by this point but they are the best actors in the picture.

Reitman would go on to make some of the most memorable comedies of all-time but he was very raw as a director here. The film feels very green and there are some noticeable issues but to be fair, this was also better than similar films that lesser directors put out that wouldn’t go on to do anything worthwhile after starting in schlock.

This really isn’t a blip on the radar when looking back at exploitation cinema but this is something worth checking out just to see some of the earliest work by Reitman, Levy and Martin.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the exploitation films it sort of parodies: Blood Feast, The Organ Grinders and The Wizard of Gore.

Film Review: Eaten Alive (1976)

Also known as: Brutes and Savages, Slaughter Hotel, Death Trap, Horror Hotel, Horror Hotel Massacre, Legend of the Bayou, Murder on the Bayou, Starlight Slaughter, The Devil’s Swamp (alternative titles)
Release Date: October, 1976 (limited)
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Kim Henkel, Alvin L. Fast, Mardi Rustam
Music by: Wayne Bell, Tobe Hooper
Cast: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Roberta Collins, Robert Englund

Mars Productions Corporation, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Name’s Buck… and I’m rarin’ to fuck.” – Buck

A film that was directed by a young Tobe Hooper that features both Robert Englund and William Finley is enough to hook me. Now add in great TV legends Neville Brand and Carolyn Jones and you’ve got me hooked even further. Toss in Mel Ferrer, Marilyn Burns and Roberta Collins and this picture is now boasting some serious f’n talent!

But overall, this isn’t a classic and from a historical and cultural perspective, doesn’t hold a candle to Hooper’s previous film: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

However, this was still an awesome experience and even though I know that I had seen it in my youth, I barely remembered anything about it other than it taking place in a shitty bayou hotel where the owner chases people with his scythe until they fall into a pit where he keeps a large man eating crocodile.

But you don’t really need to know more than that. And frankly, that’s all the film needs to be. One doesn’t need to get bogged down by details and an elaborate story. This was ’70s horror. Just throw boobies and blood at the screen every few minutes and consider it a job well done. Granted, this could’ve used more boobage.

This is gritty and pretty brutal but not so much so that it’s a gore festival. But if you like watching people get slashed by a madman and then chomped by a large animal, this should satisfy.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Tobe Hooper’s other earlier films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Funhouse and Salem’s Lot.

Film Review: The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)

Also known as: The Cars That Eat People (US alternative title), Cars (Germany, Norway), Killing Cars (France)
Release Date: May, 1974 (Cannes)
Directed by: Peter Weir
Written by: Peter Weir, Keith Gow
Music by: Bruce Smeaton
Cast: John Meillon, Terry Camilleri, Kevin Miles, Bruce Spence, Chris Haywood

Royce Smeal Film Productions, Salt-Pan, The Australian Film Development Corporation, 91 Minutes, 74 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“As to our youth, they are idle. They are lazy. The need to work! As that American President said, eh, what was his name? Roosevelt. Roosevelt, yes. The New Deal! Build! They have got to work!” – The Mayor

This Aussie film is a strange little bird.

It’s a very dry, black comedy about a small village that causes car accidents in order to strip cars of their parts and to use the accident victims for weird medical experiments.

Writer and director Peter Weir came up with the idea while driving through the French countryside. He thought the road he was on was full of strange warning signs and found it odd how villages were sprinkled along the stretch of his rural journey.

I think that this film has a real place in history not because of its overall quality but because of its influence on other films that made more of a cultural impact, the original Mad Max for instance, which borrows some of this film’s ideas but executes them better. And then later on, the sequels would borrow some of the post-apocalyptic automobile designs from this picture. Most notably, the spiky cars that were used in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

This film also sprinkles in a bit of horror and sci-fi with a pinch of Bruce Spence, who would go on to be in two Mad Max films, as well as Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Matrix Revolutions.

This is a moderately amusing film but a lot of the comedy doesn’t hit. This could be because the humor is very Australian and some things might not translate, culturally. Also, it is a pretty dated movie when seen through modern eyes.

From a narrative standpoint, this explores some neat ideas but doesn’t really deliver on them. Although the mayhem in the final sequence was pretty enjoyable, as the town’s angry teens in post-apocalyptic cars overrun the big annual festival.

I wouldn’t call this a great movie and it’s almost forgettable, other than the fact that it influenced movies that are better than it.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Peter Weir films and then the original Mad Max, as it has some minute similarities.

Film Review: Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Also known as: Phantom, Phantom of the Fillmore (working titles)
Release Date: November 1st, 1974
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Paul Williams
Cast: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Rod Sterling (voice, uncredited)

Harbor Productions, 20th Century Fox, 91 Minutes

Review:

“[to Beef] Never sing my music again. Not here, not anywhere. Do you understand? Never again. My music is for Phoenix. Only she can sing it. Anyone else who tries, dies!” – The Phantom

This film often gets lumped together in conversations with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The films came out around the same time, share a lot of similarities and have both developed cult followings. However, this film is far superior and I find it strange that it’s cult following is nowhere near as massive as Rocky Horror‘s.

I think this film has the edge in that it was written and directed by Brian De Palma, who was one of the top up and coming directors of the time. He was at a creative high and even though this film merges a lot of genres and is overly surreal and very absurdist, it’s kind of a masterpiece in that all the parts fit together and there has never been anything like this since. Well, at least nothing like this that was anywhere near as good as this.

Additionally, I’ve gone on record multiple times about my general dislike of musicals. Well, De Palma made a musical with this film and it is one of my absolute favorite films of the 1970s. In fact, I dig the hell out of the music in this picture and it all works in a way that makes sense. And I guess it’s not a musical with a traditional musical structure but it is chock full of tunes that progress the story without unnaturally pulling you out of it for the sake of wedging in another musical number.

The film stars actual rock star Paul Williams in what is my favorite role he’s ever had, playing Swan, a demonic record producer.

But the film is really carried by De Palma favorite, William Finley. It’s Finley’s over the top and batshit crazy performance that takes this film to heights it would not have reached without him in the title role as the Phantom. Finley is always great but this truly is his magnum opus, as he gives great range, exudes his passion for this role proudly with every frame and commits to the bit full throttle.

As good as both Williams and Finley are though, the film is also bolstered by the talent of Gerrit Graham. He’s had a lot of great roles within the horror genre but this is Graham at his best, as well. He plays a rock star simply named Beef. His onstage performance is incredible, his comedic timing is superb and he is a big, sweet cherry on top of this already perfect sundae.

And then there’s Jessica Harper. She’s most famous for being the lead in the original Suspiria from 1977 and even has a small role in the 2018 remake. She plays the apple of the Phantom’s eye and she’s terrific. Her performances are also solid and she has a lot more spunk in this film than what fans of Suspiria might expect. It’s really cool seeing her play a role that’s a departure from the one she’s most known for.

Phantom of the Paradise also boasts some incredible visuals. The film feels like a true rock opera of the highest caliber and even if this was made on what I guess was a modest budget, De Palma takes advantage of his surroundings, his sets and the talent he had working on this picture.

The cinematography is damn good and it is greatly impacted by the lighting, as well as the camera movement and shot framing of De Palma. It’s not just the colorful characters on the screen and the stupendous tunes that give this film all of its energy. A lot of it comes from the camerawork and the attention to detail within every single frame of this picture.

I can accept the fact that most people probably won’t view this movie the same way that I do and that’s fine. But from where I sit, it’s a damn fine motion picture that is incredibly unique and a pillar of imagination and creativity.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: I guess The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the closest film to this but it pales in comparison.

Film Review: Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Release Date: July 7th, 1971 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Monte Hellman
Written by: Rudolph Wurlitzer, Will Corry
Music by: Billy James
Cast: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Laurie Bird, Dennis Wilson, Harry Dean Stanton

Michael Laughlin Enterprises, Universal Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Performance and image, that’s what it’s all about.” – G.T.O.

1969’s Easy Rider really left its mark on people, especially the film industry. It’s pretty apparent that it had an effect on this picture, as far as its tone and narrative. But that’s not a bad thing, as Hollywood really started to evolve around the turn of the ’70s. Films got darker, more personal and much more experimental, as indie filmmakers started to redefine what a motion picture could be.

I also find it interesting that this came out the same year as Vanishing Point, which also features a cool car, a plot full of hopelessness and a gritty realness that wasn’t common in films before this time.

Now this can feel like a slow moving picture but it’s got a lot of energy and a strong spirit. None of these characters are all that likable but there’s something about each of them that is intriguing and lures you into their orbit.

I really think that the glue of the picture is Laurie Bird, who plays a character simply referred to as “The Girl”. She is the object of every man’s desire in this film and it is kind of unsettling, as she is very much a minor and isn’t, in any way, glammed up or all that beautiful. She’s pretty obviously a runaway that sleeps her way to free rides across the country with no real direction in life and no personal aspirations to speak of. But her part in this really puts the other characters into perspective, as they are all vying for her companionship, even though she’s just a ghost that comes into their lives for a brief moment in time, probably because she’s got nothing else to do. And ultimately, she bolts at the end of the story, leaving the men pining over her in her dust.

If anything, this film is a strong character study with understated performances, except in regards to Warren Oates’ G.T.O. Oates was stellar in this as a pathological liar, who gives riders in his car a different backstory every step of this journey. But he provided just about all of the personality in the film, even if he comes off as a middle aged loser running away from a life he failed at.

The plot is pretty lose and not focused but it doesn’t need to be, as we aren’t so much concerned with the beginning and the end of this “race” in the film, so much as we are just peeking into the lives of broken people in an era where America sort of had a dark cloud over it between the Vietnam War, the Nixon presidency, a drug boom and coming out of the Free Love Movement.

This will not be a film that everyone will enjoy and those looking for car action should look elsewhere. Maybe check out the original Gone In 60 Seconds. But for those who enjoy films like Easy Rider and Vanishing Point, they’ll probably also enjoy this.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Easy Rider.

Film Review: The Car (1977)

Also known as: Wheels (working title)
Release Date: May 13th, 1977
Directed by: Elliot Silverstein
Written by: Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack, Lane Slate
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, Elizabeth Thompson, Ronny Cox, R.G. Armstrong

Universal Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“[addressing his officers] So look… I want everybody out on the streets. I want you to remember… a young man was killed today, passing through our town… and I don’t like it… I don’t like it at all. Goodbye.” – Everett

The Car is my favorite killer vehicle movie, as it just beats out Steven Spielberg’s early film, Duel. However, unlike Duel, this one has more in common with Christine and Maximum Overdrive in that it features a vehicle without a driver.

What I really like about the film is that it’s a mystery as to who or what is behind the wheel and by the end of it, it’s still unclear other than a demonic face appearing briefly within the smoke of the vehicle’s flaming wreckage.

This is a pretty badass movie, as the meanest looking car of all killer cars mows people down without any hesitation.

Now the only real negative about the film is that there isn’t any blood or even the slightest bit of gore. This is a horror film from the late ’70s, man! Take the kid gloves off and show us some vehicular splatter porn!

I guess that the televised version of this film was heavily edited down but I’m not sure why it needed to be? This is practically PG in how it alludes to violence and doesn’t show anyone actually getting the Gallagher watermelon treatment.

What makes this better than it should be is the fact that the car looks so damn menacing. Plus, it moves like a real predator because whoever was driving it and orchestrating how its movements needed to work within key shots and scenes knew exactly what the hell they were doing.

Sure, there are some cheesy and goofy bits, like the car barrel rolling over two cop cars and the weird French horn toting pothead in the beginning but that stuff works within the framework and tone of the picture.

The character development is also good and no one really seems disposable other than the two bicycle teens that meet their terrible fate in the opening sequence.

The Car introduces you to several characters and it does a superb job of giving them life, even with limited time. For instance, the cop who dies early on didn’t have much screen time but his death hits you in the feels because even with just two small scenes, he was shown to be a good, honorable man.

Additionally, Kathleen Lloyd’s death was a real punch in the nuts. She came off as really likable and she’s definitely one of the people you hoped would survive to the end. Sure, she talked shit to the demon car and some of her disses were corny but it really humanized her and showed her strength as she stood strong against a lethal predator despite showing that she knew she was vulnerable and was very frightened underneath it all. Her death is one of the coolest scenes in the movie though.

James Brolin, Ronny Cox and R.G. Armstrong were all very good too. I’ve never seen Cox play a character that came off as kind of dopey and weak and it’s a real departure from his role as Dick Jones in RoboCop or as the police captain in the Beverly Hills Cop film series.

When I saw this for the first time, I was surprised by how good the main players in this film were. Especially for a late ’70s horror picture that seems like it’s mostly forgotten today.

I also dig the score to this film. The opening credits were eerie and ominous as hell, as they truly set the tone for something dark and brooding.

In a lot of ways, this film reminds me of Jaws, as a killer force of nature descends upon a small, quiet town and starts picking off its citizens one by one until it dies in a explosion caused by the town’s brave sheriff.

The Car is damn good. And it’s just one of those films that I can watch over and over and never get bored with it.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other killer vehicle movies: Duel, Christine, Maximum Overdrive, etc.

Film Review: Horror Express (1972)

Also known as: Pánico en el Transiberiano (original Spanish title), The Possessor (US re-issue title), Panic in the Trans-Siberian Train (alternate title)
Release Date: September 30th, 1972 (Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival)
Directed by: Eugenio Martin
Written by: Arnaud d’Usseau, Julian Zimet
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas, Silvia Tortosa

Granada Films, Benmar Productions, 91 Minutes

Review:

“The two of you together. That’s fine. But what if one of you is the monster?” – Inspector Mirov

It’s been at least a decade since I’ve watched Horror Express but I really didn’t like it the few times I saw it, even though it is one of the 22 motion pictures that teamed up real life best friends Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It also features another one of my favorite actors, Telly Savalas.

I’m not sure why I wasn’t a fan of it, as I liked it this time around but maybe I’m older, more mature, have a better palate and thought that this thing was a bit of a fine wine with just the right amount of cheese to accompany it.

I think that one of the reason’s I never liked it was due to the fact that all the prints and releases of this film are in pretty poor quality. I hope it gets a proper remaster, at some point. But I was able to not let that bother me this time, as I got caught up in the story, most of which I hadn’t remembered other than this being a mummy on a train movie.

There’s a weird twist though, this mummy is actually an alien and he has this power where he uses his glowing eyes to peer through his victims’ eyes and murder them with some sort of brain crushing ability. However, the alien mummy has to kill people to regain his form and his strength but he also can control them like an undead army.

This movie feels like a mix between Agatha Christie’s Murder On the Orient Express and a classic Hammer horror film. But it looks more like the ’70s visual style of an Amicus production. Strangely, this is neither a Hammer or Amicus film but it was able to lure in the talents of Lee and Cushing.

I liked the setting and how the environment was used so well. A train kind of limits what one can do in a horror movie but it never wrecked the plot here and it actually made you feel just as confined as the characters.

The movie uses miniatures for the exterior train shots but they come off really well. That could be due to the poor quality of the print hiding the imperfections but even the big finale, which sees part of the train go over a cliff was pulled off nicely.

I’m glad that I revisited this. I didn’t expect to actually dig it as much as I did this time but sometimes you can revisit something you weren’t fond of and see something new or worthwhile that you may have missed before.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Amicus and Hammer Films of the early ’70s, especially those featuring Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee.